Special Mention: The Occupy Movements | Citizen Awards | Indy Week
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Special Mention: The Occupy Movements 

Occupy Raleigh, October 2011

File photo by Jeremy M. Lange

Occupy Raleigh, October 2011

The genius of the Occupy movement is its unerring focus on the cause of the economic crisis that engulfs the U.S. and much of the world. Asked insistently, "What are your demands?" "What's your agenda?" movement leaders answer with a single voice: Our only demand is that those in power acknowledge the crisis and tell us what they intend to do about it.

What will they do about the super-rich, the 1%, who grow richer every day at the expense of the planet and the 99% who aren't super-rich and whose very livelihoods the 1% have jeopardized?

Until the crisis is over, they intend to occupy not just public spaces but the public mind.

Indeed, the Occupy movement eschews the idea that it could have any leaders, counting everyone who occupies some park or place or a dream, or who supports those who do, as equal among the 99% whose job it is to rein in the 1%. If you've stood with the Occupiers, or donated food or had a good thought for them, or most important if you've incorporated the language of the Occupy movement into your discussions with friends about how societies should function, you are the Occupy movement.

Just six months ago, members of Congress were threatening to default on the nation's debt, and fingers were pointed all over Washington at people who weren't the cause of the crisis—senior citizens, unions, immigrants, the unemployed. Blaming the victims was as popular and effective as ever.

Then a call was issued in Adbusters, a small anti-consumerist magazine, to "occupy" a real culprit, Wall Street. Like a prairie fire, the idea spread. In mid-September, a few thousand people occupied Zuccotti Park in New York City, near Wall Street. Within weeks, occupations were reported in hundreds of cities across the country and around the globe: Chicago, Oakland, London, Sao Paulo. Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill.

What the Occupy movement did was validate what people knew in their hearts to be true while cutting through the confusion and falsehoods sown by the mainstream media and its owners, the 1%.

In 2012, politicians will try again to blame the victims for high unemployment and environmental degradation. But with millions, even billions of people now conversing openly about the real cause, their flimflam is a lot less likely to work.

So credit Adbusters. But also credit the Raleigh Occupiers, pushed back from the Capitol grounds and then from the sidewalks; they've returned too, and added an encampment off Hillsborough Street. Credit the Durham Occupiers with their protests in The People's Plaza, and the Occupiers in Chapel Hill with their teach-ins ("What is Capitalism? The Game").

Our three local Occupy groups joined to protest Duke Energy's application for electric rate hikes. They mic-checked Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf when he presumed to lecture about good management at N.C. State University. "We won't take your home," they chanted, "but we will take a minute of your time" to protest the way Wells Fargo and the other giant banking corporations hammered their victims in foreclosure proceedings.

There are no famous individuals, no leaders in the local Occupy movements. Or rather, there are too many leaders to single out one or a few. But we will cite, as just one example, Kurt Zehnder, the Raleigh waiter who was among the first to be arrested at the Capitol and the first to return. He's a young man who believes deeply that his small contribution is part of a movement that will change the world.

When will the Occupy movement end? Zehnder was asked. "When corporate influence is removed from politics," he answered. "Maybe never." Not in 2012, anyway.

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