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.

Courage in Conflict

“The hardest thing for us journalists to convey about the democracy movement sweeping the Middle East, from Libya to Iran, is the sheer courage on display” Nicholas D. Kristof status update on Facebook.

I have heard this from so many people who are on site in the countries where protests are taking place. My daughter, Annie writes on violence and martyrdom in her post from 2 days ago in  Some Thoughts Re: Humans & Violence & Uprising; another woman says this “They showed a video – the faces of the young people who were martyred in Tahrir.  We were weeping, praying for comfort for the families, and praying for the movement to continue.”

Still another person, potentially on the opposite side of the uprising says this: “Putting politics and Israel aside, the most impressive part of the events in Cairo was the fearlessness and courage of the protesting Egyptians.”*

Nicholas Kristof’s column yesterday “Watching Protesters Risk it All” is a passionate op-ed piece on what he has witnessed across the Middle East. His opening words voice the challenge of a journalist trying to articulate, as is their job, the scene through language that challenges us to come into, not stay detached from a situation. He goes on to say“But there’s one central element that we can’t even begin to capture: the raw courage of men and women — some of them just teenagers — who risk torture, beatings and even death because they want freedoms that we take for granted.”

Personally, it forces me into serious thought around courage in the face of attack, whether the attack be physical, verbal or written. Do I have what it takes to stand for what I believe, regardless of the outcome? I’m not sure I do and that is, and should be, troubling to me. Being a major people-pleaser, I tend to back off in the face of confrontation and conflict, only to regret that I was not bolder in using my words to voice my beliefs and opinion.

As an amateur blogger, with my limited words and voice, I urge you to think about these quotes, watch these videos, and no matter what your politics, think about courage in standing up for what you believe to be right and true.

Bloggers Note: The You Tube video linked above is a beautiful tribute – if you watch it and think it worthwhile, please pass on the link! Photo courtesy of Sarah Carr .


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The Spirit of the Revolution

Party in Tahrir – courtesy of Lori Fredericks

The spirit of the revolution is alive and well in Tahrir Square. Just as it served as the epicentre for the protests, it could now be considered the largest party venue in the world! Throughout the last 18 days there have been many points that have astounded the international community. The strength of the protest from people known to be relaxed and full of good humor; the non-violence when it would have been so easy to use the strength in numbers and move in a direction of disorder and fighting; the insistence of demands, not settling for less than a reordering of a system; and the community spirit bringing order and safety to communities throughout the city.

Perhaps it is a characteristic of  western values and the tendency to constantly look ahead that hesitates  in allowing Egypt to have ‘their moment’ without warnings – both cautionary and dire. Or an ideology so focused on American interests that it is blind to the interests of others.

It’s almost like a wedding day – when someone says to you “Well you better enjoy today, because things are really going to get hard and marriage is not easy! Oh and by the way, do you know what the divorce rate is?” And you’re left with a sinking feeling as you look at your new husband in his wedding finery and think “I just said ‘I do’ to that?” Suddenly all the joy and celebration of the wedding is tainted  and the hope and vision for your future lives together is slightly clouded. Do we really want to do that to the Partiers in Tahrir?

Where I struggle as I hear the warnings, is the notion underlying some of the admonitions that Egyptians are not as capable as Americans to think, create, and move forward and that sounds like blatant ethnocentrism to me.

I believe the spirit of the revolution in all it’s creativity and strength will continue moving – first with celebration and then with hard work. More than that, in no way do I believe God has removed his Sovereign hand from either Egypt or the United States.

“I’ve been in Tahrir thousands of times. Wish I were there right now to witness the exquisite joy of freedom’s first taste.” Joel Atallah, Egyptian/Canadian

“Highlights of the gigantic party last night: shabaab chanting “WE’RE ALL GOING TO GET MARRIED!”; the dude on the horse dancing in the middle of Qasr el-Aini”. – Annie Gardner

“The people of Egypt have set an example–not only for the region but for the entire world–with their quest for freedom, human rights, and dignity, as well as their commitment to nonviolence. Throughout the 18 days of protest, the world saw clear evidence of the strength of Egyptian civil society and the eagerness of the citizens to take responsibility for their own future.” Hands Along the Nile Development Services, Inc. (HANDS)

“Americans could learn a lot from the respect and tolerance people here are showing to one another, never mind the incredible artistic creativity being displayed by long-suffering Egyptians as they celebrate their freedoms and attempt to tell other Egyptians, and the world … not to turn their backs on them.” Mark LeVine,  professor of history at UC Irvine.

From Protests to Lattes

Egypt Demonstration – Harvard Square 1.29.11

Maybe the mark of an American protest is that the protester in a moment can go from  chanting pithy and informative slogans to the local coffee shop for a latte of their choice, be it caramel or hazelnut. Therein is the gift we have in our freedom. We are steps removed from wherever the trouble is and so even though we may care deeply about a situation, we easily go back to our normal lives without having to face real danger or show true courage.

The protest that my husband and I took part in yesterday at Harvard Square, while deeply desiring to support Egyptians, cannot compare to the amazing spirit shown in the Egyptian people and what they have endured to have a voice in the future of Egypt. Armed with banners and a couple of megaphones about 200 of us marched from Harvard Square through to Central Square. The march went on to Faneuil Hall but at Central we left, not for a latte, but for a shawarma at a tiny local spot called Falafel Palace.  The shawerma was delicious and we were in high spirits, having been with others who cared about the country and forced themselves away from Al Jazeera’s live stream to gather, but both of us realized we really don’t know what it’s like to not be able to voice what we think, when we think it, and where we want to express it.

It is sometimes tiresome to hear talk of how lucky we are to have freedom,hearing the largely clichéd phrase “freedom is not free”. But the reality is that participating in a peaceful assembly and openly voicing my views with no fear whatsoever (other than mispronouncing something in Arabic) is something I take for granted, and I think most of those surrounding me are the same. When it sinks in that my protest ends with a latte or shawerma, not stinging eyes from tear gas, soaked clothes from water cannons, and a blood filled eye from a baton then I don’t really care if I sound tiresome.  I still think it’s worth publicly documenting that freedom is indeed a not to be taken for granted gift.