From the Desk of the President (November, 2011)

I was going to write about the AFSCME Women's Conference in Milwaukee, WI and the Council 5 Convention in Duluth (thank you for allowing me to represent you at both events) but the Occupy Wall Street movement has truly captured my attention and is keeping me occupied - being there, reading about it and watching the reports about the events around the country. So, my article this month is about the Occupy movement. 

To be honest, I was a bit skeptical when the news first came out about Occupy Wall Street. It seemed improbable that any group of people could make a change in the course our country has been on for the past few years - extremely polarized, one group of folks pitting themselves against another group of folks - even when both groups were looking for the same resolution to their problems. However, time has shown that the people - young, old and in-between - involved in this movement are dedicated to sharing their stories and asking for a change that is good for all of us - and that they are here for the long haul.  

This is exciting for some-one who was part of the protests from the 60's and 70's - I was on the tail end of them but they are part of my history. Young folks from all walks of life came together for a common goal - to end the war in Vietnam and to "ask" the politicians to listen to them. The time was one of turbulence and change, requests for peace while protests turned violent. It took a lot of guts for kids who had grown being told to listen to their elders and respect them to stand up to those elders, oftentimes shouting them down, taking over buildings to prove a point and being true to themselves. They were certainly lively times but the outcome was worth it.  

Now we have the Occupy movement and I see many of the same traits being repeated by the young folks involved - as well as the not-so-young folks whose faces I recognize from over the years. The news reports state that there is no stated goal - that the protesters have nothing in common. I say they are wrong. I see bravery, I see respect, I see common courtesy, I see all sorts of people coming together for a common goal - a little respect and dignity - and change in how our government treats us. The common thread I hear from talking to the residents on the Government Center Plaza is that government should help people - not corporations - so that we can all have a decent life. As one young student put it, "I keep trying to believe that I will be able to give my children a better future but I have to find a good job in order to do that. But all the jobs that are out there right now pay so little and have no benefits. May-be I will be 60 before I can afford to have kids....." She is fighting for her future just as we fought for ours. At least those of us from my era believed that we could give our children that better future and would wish that belief would endure.  

Each night I look at the posts from my friends and share them on Facebook. Here are some of my favorites: "If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich." - John F. Kennedy, January 20, 1961 (from I Acknowledge Class Warfare Exists)  

"If you really want to Occupy Wall Street do your holiday shopping at a small Independent Merchant."

"Washington and Wall Street have all the money and power, the media and lawyers, the courts and the police. All we have is 300 million people. Do the math."  

"Occupy the polls. Register and Vote. Change is pragmatic - not automatic."  

"The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing any-thing." - Albert Einstein  

"When injustice becomes the law, rebellion becomes duty." "Put the politicians on minimum wage and watch how fast things change."  

"The liberty of democracy is not safe if people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in essence, is fascism - ownership of government by an individual, by a group." - Franklin D. Roosevelt  

"Politicians should wear uniforms like race car drivers so we can identify their corporate sponsors."

"I want you to stop being afraid of other Americans, of other religions, of other classes, of speaking out.  

You're Americans first. Act like it! If you don't get it, ask an American who does."  

"If you miss the way it used to be - then tax a millionaire, support a union, and buy American."

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world: indeed itís the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead  

"Dear 1%, we fell asleep for a while. Just woke up. Sincerely, the 99%."

And, perhaps the most telling one of all, "If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing." - Malcolm X  

This movement is about taking back that which is ours - the right to look forward to a better tomorrow, to a future for our children and grandchildren, to being able to afford to retire with dignity, to know that all that we have worked for will come to fruition. I am so glad to see that the younger folks are getting it and standing up for themselves and that folks of all ages are joining them. I am also glad that this movement is not about a political party - it is an absence of politics and the presence of all view points from the right to the left and all points in-between. It is about the sad state of our economy which affects all of us 99%er's who are hurting as we try to figure out how to make ends meet. The fact that this has been a peaceful movement - with respect shown by both the participants and the police here in Minneapolis - shows that we can accomplish great things with conversations. I hope that you all have taken the opportunity to stop by the plaza and talk to the folks there - give them support and share stories.  

If the Occupy Movement is still happening when you read this article (and I hope that it is), take some time to walk over to the Plaza and talk to the folks there. You will hear many interesting stories - very similar to our stories. We truly are one!  

Jean