Here in Lexington, Kentucky, “Occupy Lexington” has now been going strong for eight days. Protestors are continually gathered in front of the Chase Bank on Main Street. They are sometimes chanting, sometimes singing and drumming, sometimes meeting–regularly, twice a day–even sleeping outside to keep the site continually “occupied.” (Of course, this is happening all over the country, but I must say: not bad, for a small city in a red state!)
The Lexington protest has drawn regulars from local left-wing activist circles, but many more new people. The mood has been hopeful, joyful, compassionate.
One young occupier frequently shares her story in speeches to the public. After being forced to drop out of university studies because of acute financial debt, and then suffering seemingly interminable unemployment, she attempted suicide. She was only permitted to spend two days in the local psychiatric hospital—a frequent story in Lexington, as it is nationwide, where funding for mental health services is being drastically cut. Occupy Lexington has revived her spirits. She has found a new, supportive community, and she has discovered that she is a leader. She is simply radiant as she rushes about, helping to organize the occupation.
Next door to the protest, Natasha’s Bistro is run by a wonderful Russian emigrant woman with a dash of charming nostalgia for the East Bloc and an impressive number of contacts in the music and theater scenes. Although she did not organize the protest, she senses that the times are changing, and she has been mothering the protestors with an intense enthusiasm, offering them free food and coffee, stopping by to ask how they are doing, offering to turn up the music from her restaurant when the protest gets dull, and even organizing a performance of Howard Zinn’s play Marx in Soho, set to take place this Saturday at the occupation site. When I stopped by the protest one cold morning, Natasha loaned me her big fluffy shawl. (I think she was feeling sorry for me because she thought I had spent the night there—I hadn’t.)
It hasn’t only been Natasha, either; the occupiers haven’t had to buy their own food yet. There has been a steady stream of donations of food, blankets, and other items from other local businesses and individuals. Once, a car slowed down beside the protest, and a ziploc bag of Tootsie rolls flew out the window, coupled with a note of solidarity and encouragement.
Many of the protestors here say that they’ve made more friends in a short time than they ever thought possible. In fact, I have noticed that those who have been participating in the protest more steadily than I have seem almost like a family. (It’s probably what parishes/congregations ought to be like and usually aren’t.*)
It is hard to say whether the nationwide Occupy movement will build into a revolution, be quickly crushed, or simply be co-opted by the Democratic Party. So much is happening at once, and one is uncertain whether to encourage everyone to slow down and theorize more, or whether to simply yell, “All power to the general assemblies!”
But one thing is certain. With the economic crisis worsening and neither of the two major political parties addressing the crisis adequately, people are learning how to care for one another. Although we may not see the fruits of our struggle for economic justice as soon as we’d like–we’ll be in this for the long haul–we will certainly make some great friends in the process. And in a society of increasing social isolation like ours, building true community is not an apolitical act.
*My experiences at my parish have been mostly positive. I am just reflecting upon a debate I once had in a theology class. I argued that there is more communion on picket lines than at Mass. The professor was baffled. I still think I’m right, and I hope to post on that topic at some point in the future.