Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hard Times on Main Street

From the first time I saw their graphic, a ballerina dancing on the iconic trademark of the largest brokerage house on Wall Street, I knew there would be a day I'd look at Occupy Wall Street, OWS, without using media filters, editorial analysis and or fatuous fat-headed TV talking heads as surrogates. Saturday was that day.

OWS is a bit like the three blind men holding different parts of an elephant who attempt to describe it based on what they have in their hands, never realizing they lack a larger context. OWS is also equal parts window into the soul of many Americans and also a mirror whose reflections and meanings vary from person to person.

I'm a Child of the Sixties and have the Uriah Heep and Hot Tuna albums to prove it. I've grown old, if not up, with a wife for nearly thirty-four years (our anniversary is this Friday) and two (now adult) children who finds himself at times hanging on by his fingertips to what he, like neighbors and acquaintances, worked so hard to build as large amounts of it disappear into a vapor of derivatives-based investments Gone South for a winter (recession) that's lasted nearly half a decade.

We think of ourselves as Middle Class and often feel our times and lives are hard. For those who had less than we did to start, they have even less now and their lives and times are harder. The hand to mouth existence has gotten much shorter and much faster. Everyday is a struggle to keep from biting your own fingers. Since the Founding of the Republic every generation presumed to assume it would get at least as far as the one before it. That uninterrupted tide of rising prosperity crested and no one can say when the ebb will stop.

As we here in Norwich rebuild our city from the downtown outwards to both increase our Grand List and enhance our community quality of life, we have to realize what we are doing is but a drop in the ocean when placed it in the context of national economics. Those with jobs work longer hours for fewer dollars-benefits are now often rumors, and rates of unemployment and foreclosures climb as quickly as a growing sense of helplessness and hopelessness.

These aren't abstractions or debate points and counter-points. We are at the place where the road and the sky collide, where families must choose between food or health care, quality education or essential public safety as they struggle to hold on to their homes in pursuit of the lives we think of as the American Dream.

The men and women I saw and met Saturday in Manhattan's Zuccotti Park were business as unusual for these United States. They are every kind of people of all ages and have in common their lack of shared commonality. Like those who call themselves Tea Party Patriots, they believe in their country but have despaired of their government and traditional non-government entities, like financial institutions, working for and towards a greater communal good.

To see the Occupy Wall Street movement as a flash in the pan or one brief, angry gesture because it has yet to formally develop and advance a platform of grievances is to do it, and those who see it as perhaps our last great opportunity for a Second American Revolution, a grave disservice.

It has us taken as a country a very long time to get here, to this most dangerous of places in this most perilous of times. Slogans and drive-by populism will not rescue us this time-only we can save ourselves by talking with, not at, one another and learning to listen if we ever to ever build the Next American Dream.

I was less than five minutes away from the World Trade Center, where construction continues 24/7 to rebuild the heart of the economic center of the United States and the world. The designs are awe-inspiring and their flawless execution and transformation into glass and steel sculptures is more than a celebration of what we so casually and carelessly call the American Spirit.

They are the quiet and confident response to a fear that disquiets so many, that we cannot fix all the other ills that ail us as a nation. Teary-eyed by their beauty and majesty I am overwhelmed by the energy, focus and resolve it has taken to build them and know like little else that because we can do this, we can do anything.

In the swarms of people who are at the heart of the OWS movement at Zuccotti Park in Manhattan on Saturday, I saw a young man, no more, perhaps, than in his middle thirties, who could have been my son, or yours, holding a hand-made sign that read, "I have no idea where this will lead us. But I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange."
-bill kenny

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