On Martyrs and Occupy Movements

My daughter lived just a block from Tahrir Square throughout the Arab Spring. She learned what it was to wear gas masks, take care of eyes that had been tear gassed, and continue daily life despite soldiers in full riot gear and tanks ready for action at the end of her street.

So when a friend asked her what she thought about the “Occupy” movement she paused before making her reply.

“It’s ok.”….”But you need a martyr”. 

He looked at her in shock.

While she doesn’t will anyone to die, I know what she meant. She meant you need a passion that hasn’t yet been identified, you need a common cause that moves people so deeply they are willing to die to see change, you need a tension that says “We feel this so deeply that we are willing to give all for this cause”.

A year after Occupy is there a passion and tension to the movement that demands action?

Protests began in Tunisia because a man set himself on fire after being systematically refused a permit to operate as a street vendor. It was corruption at the deepest level. Protests in Egypt began way before the 18 days in January, starting instead with the brutal beating and death of a young man in Alexandria, Khaled Said, who had a video that would expose police corruption. He was planning to make the video public when he was beaten in broad daylight outside of a coffee shop. He later died of those wounds. The nauseating wrong of this act was so evident it could not be ignored – so people rose up to protest his death and the environment that made his murder possible. In both cases, people could no longer be bystanders, they had to act.

So what do you do in a case where it’s “White Collar” corruption and crime? No one has died. No one has set themselves on fire. Instead the wrong is more insidious showing itself through its victims — a 26 year-old drowning in school debt, a 50-year old laid off 2 years ago who cannot get a job,  young families so busy trying to make ends meet that, as much as they may believe in the idea of an “Occupy” movement, they can’t take the risk of losing their livelihood. These are victims too be sure — victims served live on china platters at the table of corporate greed. But are they martyrs?

Indeed you don’t have to die to be a martyr. The definition also means “One who makes great sacrifices or suffers much in order to further a belief, cause, or principle”

But who is the Khaled Said of the Occupy Movement? 

Occupy Wall Street protesters have taken over ...

Do too many of us still have too much that is good to give it all in sacrifice for an unknown outcome? Or Is it that we no longer know how to come together for a cause in this country? Are we so fractured politically and geographically that what makes sense in one area, namely Zuccotti Park, seems foolish in another?

A year ago I wasn’t sure what I thought about the movement. Having grown up in Pakistan as well as spent so much time as an adult in the developing world, my perspective often runs counter-culture.  I may feel like I’m the 99% and the school loans from my children may look that way, but the reality is that when compared to most of the world, I have more than plenty. And so I’m still not sure what I think of the movement.

And I’m not willing to give my all for a cause that I’m not sure about.

What do you think? Have you been willing to “suffer much for a cause”? Why were you willing? And would you give all for the Occupy movement? 


We Are The One Percent

I knew there was something bothering me about the slogan used in the Occupy Wall Street Protests. Maybe it was when a man burst into a restaurant screaming “$@%& the Patriot Act” – what did the patriot act have to do with the 99%?  Or maybe it was two people, dressed comfortably in coats and shoes, rudely interacting with the immigrant man who runs the fruit stand on the corner as he politely asked them to move away so people could buy fruit. Was I seeing legitimate protesters, passionate for change, or was I seeing anarchists with no real agenda or solutions?  On Sunday I realized that I had not yet identified what really troubled me after a friend posted a challenging picture on her Facebook wall.

We are the 1%. Others do not live like we do in the United States. Remembering the starving babies and toddlers in Pakistan, their bones sticking through translucent, dehydrated skin, their lips puckered at a mom’s empty breast – they are the 99%. Moving on to Somalia, women and children walking towards the borders to escape extremists and famine, a double threat, almost falling to the ground in exhaustion – they are the 99%. Or how about Kolkata, slums burgeoning with people, poverty inescapable.

We, with homes to go to, bikes to ride, ability to protest without fear, heat in the winter, fans in the summer, and lattes once the protest is finished – we are the one percent. Perhaps what we need is to be saved from ourselves.

Bloggers Note: There are legitimate frustrations from the Occupy Wall Street group, and I agree with many of them. The money given to Wall Street was money ill spent. The outrageous salaries and bonuses given to many is mind-boggling. But, just as in public health when we get a message wrong and have to rethink it, as well as rewrite it, in order to get the response we want, I believe the “We are the 99%” messaging needs to be rethought and retooled.