Why Occupy Kankakee Matters
It’s important to note right away that I have a full time job (I’m a public school teacher, working in the very urban Kankakee school district). I also have health insurance for my entire family (the premium of which consumes $400 of our month income, and still leaves us with an additional $30 co-pay anytime we visit a doctor). All bills in our household are current; my wife and I are both current on our student loans (which collectively drain $450 dollars from our monthly incomes). We have no cable bill. We maintain few material desires. If we use a credit card, it’s done so responsibly, and we maintain no or low balances. We eat healthy (we’re vegetarians) and we’re happy to spend our fiscal resources on organic and small batch foods. We don’t have much to show after our monthly expenses are met, but we float, and sustaining ourselves is currently more important that hording money. Therefore I’m not involved in the occupation because I need a job. I don’t need health insurance. I’m not asking for the government to pay back my student loans. Instead, I’m involved because I’ve learned and had enough. An emergent class of pirates has taken over the American nation. Pirates have been voted into Congress. Pirates have gained control of the regulatory agencies. Armies of pirate lobbyist flood the federal and state capitals. Pirates are stationed outside our collective taxpayer’s bank account. Pirates readily loot our fiscal treasure. Pirates pillage their way across America state by state, and at our expense, pirates rape and pollute our common resources to build their own personal fortunes. There have always pirates—greedy, self-serving people—for as long as there have been people. The American system was designed to keep the pirates at bay. But the system failed. The pirates have gained control. And now I’m done with them.
I learned about Occupy Wall Street on September 17, 2011. That’s the day people first officially gathered in New York’s Zuccotti Park. The movement was actually the inspiration of a group of Canadian activists from Adbusters, which describes itself as “a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age.” I’ve read about and followed the occupation since day one. Interesting, I thought. First there was the Arab spring. Now there’s the American late-summer. And they started the movement outside the very gates of the problem. Where will it go?
The occupation went forward. Tens of thousands of independent, previously disconnected people suddenly found that they shared feelings similar to the New York occupiers. Occupations appeared in Oakland, Seattle, Raleigh, Chicago and scores of smaller cities. And I found myself to be one of those people who shared those feelings of collective frustration.
The occupations are about a nation of people awakening. Awakening to what? I read the alternative press. I’ve read first-hand accounts from the occupiers currently flooding the social media. I talk to others. I continuously find that everyone has their own reasons for being frustrated, and that everyone is awake at different levels. The comments and articles and photographs and videos online clearly show leaderless gatherings of people who have come together for their own reasons, but collectively, they all demand greater justice and greater equality; justice and equality are righteous and reasonable causes; calls for both are important, and especially right now, given the national circumstances. Individual participation and taking control of one’s destiny, it turns out, feels good.
I’m not content to simply follow the national occupation narrative. I’ve decided to become an active participant, even if my actions have only (so far) been hour long participations at two occupation events. In October, Amanda and our five year old daughter Alice went to Occupy Chicago. And on my own, on Saturday, November 19, I participated in Occupy Kankakee.
The leadership amongst the occupiers on the corner of Court Street and Schuyler was refreshingly anonymous. The sign-in sheet was pleasantly missing. It was simply a place where you could go if you believed things needed to change, and that change would only come through active participation.
The consensus amongst the people gathered on the Kankakee street corner was that things are totally screwed up and out of balance, and the pirates running the system will only be evicted if we engage them, and ultimately kick them out.
My biggest problem with the nation’s police force in regards to the occupation movement (think New York and Oakland) is that they seem clueless about the “balance” they are striving to maintain. The current balance is clearly designed to benefit the pirates—which means the police are striving to maintain an “imbalance.” The occupation seeks to disrupt the current imbalance in order to restore a truer balance. I know. It’s flipped around. I believe the pirates want to keep the nation’s police force confused; I believe the pirates drill the mantra into the nation’s police force that the current balance must remain the current balance, and that any teetering of the totter is to be met with resistance. Kankakee’s police officer who approached Saturday night’s occupiers, however, was cool. He seemed interested in questioning the occupiers so he knew where they intended to be stationed, not so he could call his peers and crush our heads; and he dismissed himself by saying that if there was any trouble, dial 911 and he’d be right there.
Kankakee is not New York or Oakland but like every occupation across the American nation, it’s important. Local occupation is important because the occupation has literally become a living organism, and every individual participant represents one small—yet important—cell in the body of the larger thing. I predict that the occupations will go indoors during the winter months, and the ability to monitor and diminish the feelings of a million individuals is beyond the pirate’s capabilities. I predict that the living organism will gain mass over this American winter, which gives me all the more reason to anticipate the coming American spring.