Monday, January 02, 2012

Talk is Cheap.

They say talk is cheap. They're right. There's no cheaper way to share information.

We went to the playground yesterday. D4S1* saw two people on the see-saw and said he wished he could teeter a totter. After noting that one of the people on it was a mom-looking person, I suggested he ask if he could join them, as he'd probably be successful. He did, and us parents followed R8S2 over to the track so he could ride his balance bike. We made visual contact every few minutes, but D4S1 is good at hollering if he doesn't think things are right, so he was pretty much on his own.

After a while, R8S2 asked to go play with his big brother. As we approached the zip line area, a woman who I belatedly figured out was the same one from the see saw came up to me and said "I just have to tell you how much fun my son is having playing with yours!" They'd been sticking together ever since the see saw, and having a ball.

We got to talking. I'll call her "Naomi." Her family was visiting from Springfield, Missouri, but she grew up in Orange County. She noted that she'd been homesick the whole last six years since they relocated, and they'd love to come back. We chatted about kids and their personalities, about home prices and their differences, and so on.

She asked about the Rose Parade... they were thinking of going. I couldn't help but share my fortune; I had two grandstand tickets, GREAT seats, and so D4S2 and I would be going. I was looking forward to seeing the Occupy the Rose Parade float.

Blank look. "You know... Occupy Wall Street? Occupy Los Angeles?" Shakes head.

"No... what is that?"

Now, I don't-- didn't, anyway-- consider myself completely disconnected from mainstream culture. Yeah, I make different choices; we don't have TV (we have a TV, which plays DVDs and console games), I don't read a newspaper... I get most of my news from links my friends post, and from my Google News Saved Search for things relevant to homelessness. But it really just floored me: there are still people who don't know that Zucotti Park on Wall Street in New York was occupied around the clock for nearly two full months; that the lawn around Los Angeles City Hall was similarly occupied for two months (starting and ending a couple of weeks later), and that similar protests have happened in cities across the nation.

So... I talked.

I knew little to nothing about this woman's political inclinations, history, background. I had no idea where here sympathies would lie, how her family earned money, what her gut reaction would be. I kept it simple, which is hard; it's complicated. I started with the what: thousands of people setting up camp in public places, in protest of corporate greed, the illegal actions taken by Wall Street firms that precipitated the financial crisis (with no charges filed), the people whose homes have been foreclosed illegally, the aggregation of wealth and political power with the 1%. I mentioned the pepper-sprayed UC Davis students (and even mimed the cop's casual stroll as he sprayed them), but didn't get into Scott Olsen.

Then I mentioned the evictions, the coordination services provided by the Department of Homeland Security, and the next phase, where some people are occupying foreclosed, bank-owned, vacant homes with families who have lost their homes in the financial crisis.

"Wow, I had no idea about any of that! I really need to start reading a newspaper."

And then I got to the really sad part: the newspaper probably wouldn't help much. Where mainstream media *does* cover Occupy, it tends to do so in a somewhat patronizing manner, focusing on things like littering or the homeless moving in, rather than the issues.

[Said in a perfectly reasonable, not at all self-righteous or dismissive, tone] "Well, maybe then these Occupy folks need to get better with the media..."

That's when I explained that they have a lot of people who are pretty good with media... but that there's no way to package this. I pointed out that it's leaderless; that you can't state in succinct, media-friendly soundbites what "the 99%" want. That it's a conglomeration of different ideas and goals and priorities. That it's about being heard, being represented; it's not about picking someone to be in charge and package the message. It's complex, and it has to stay that way, or it stops being what it is.

The boys stopped playing ball with a random family and got on the swings. As we pushed them (these swings are specially designed to be accessible; they're too big and heavy for the kids to swing themselves... which I suspect is why they like them so much), she asked me what I do, and I told her (grant writer for a homeless services agency). She asked me about feeding the homeless, and what I thought about whether it did any good (as a one-time thing). I told her I thought that, if done right, it could serve an important purpose in humanizing people who have felt dehumanized by their day-to-day experience. But on the other hand, hunger sometimes motivates people to connect to services, so isolating feeding people may prolong the time they spend on the street... so it could go either way.

As we headed back over toward the zip line behind our sons, I touched on NDAA and SOPA. She asked what I thought of Obama, and I told her. She confided that she finds herself consciously hiding her political beliefs; she fears what her community's reaction would be if they found out she voted for him. She mentioned religion in a positive light; I recommended The Christian Left, but she wondered what would happen if her neighbors saw she had "liked" it. I gave her some tips on double-talk for those situations ("Oh, I know, but they have some really good Christian messages...") and also mentioned that I have two Facebook accounts: one for work, and one for the rest of my life.

I was so uplifted by our conversation, the ability to share important information about the world with another person, the progress made in that hour... and dismayed by how isolated a person can be thanks to an intolerant community.

So I've decided: I need to talk more. I need to talk about what's going on. I don't need to lecture or advocate or evangelize... I just need to say "This is happening." Then people, like Naomi, at least have an opportunity to make up their own minds about it.

* For the sake of anonymity, I'm not using my children's actual names. I decided to give them codes, like they're Star Wars droids. The first letter is their first initial; the second is the last digit of their birth year; the third is their gender (S for son... it's the same for both, but would be D for any daughters I had in another universe) and the final digit is birth order.

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