Sometime ’round midnight on Saturday night, I made the decision to attend an Occupy protest meeting the next day in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I’ve been following the protesters, and I’ve been wanting to join up, but I currently reside in such a remote area of South Dakota that it’s nearly three hours to the nearest small city. That small city, friends, is Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It’s home to many banks and credit card companies, so it is actually a unique place to organize protests. The state of South Dakota is conservative, and as such, they are inclined to be very supportive and welcoming of the big financial businesses doing business. Certainly, a group of protesters will be greeting with skepticism and perhaps even hostility.

The group I met with was small, but dedicated. These protesters, like many throughout our U.S. cities, are in it for the long haul, to effect real and substantial change. Many also want to start conversations on the issues they care about, and the group is dedicated to nonviolence. Protest groups are being infiltrated by nonprotesters who seek to create violence and agitate. Well, that’s to be expected, of course. The protesters as a whole, though, are nonviolent.

The group was also diverse. There were gypsies in patchwork pants along side accountants wearing khakis and polo shirts. The common themes is that people are motivated to eliminate the abuses of corporations and the wealthy, to create more equality, and to eliminate the influence of money in politics. Each person has their own motivation, their own issue that is close to their heart. Looking around the group, I couldn’t help but think that most of the people there were your typical “next door neighbor” type. These protests will be long term because people from many different classes and walks of life are feeling the pinch of living in a society that has become imbalanced and unaccountable.

So, I am officially an activist. An activist, says wikipedia, is an intentional effort to bring about social, political, economic, and environmental change. While something like voting is an activist effort, an activist is usually someone who seeks to directly mobilize the public. An activist may be politically active, but she or he usually is more intentional about drawing public attention to societies ills.

The motivation for me, personally, emerges from my religious convictions. I am not the first Christian activist, not by a long stretch. The 1960s civil rights movement is a classic American example of Christian activism. Other examples in American history include: the work of Quakers, Mennonites, and other groups to oppose war, Evangelicals in the 1800s who worked to improve the prisons and other conditions for women and the poor,  Sojourner Truth and the underground railroad,  a coalition of Abolitionists who sought to eliminate slavery, Christian women who helped win the right to vote, and various American Christians who opposed the murder and displacement of American Natives.

Then, of course, there were the prophets. They held various protests to draw attention to the injustices in the Israelite community and to draw the people back into a right relationship to each other and to God. These guys were hardcore protesters.

As I said in my first post, our nation needs everyone to engage these issues, even those of you who are skeptical of the Occupy movement. No one is happy with the state of the nation. Whether you are a Republican or Democrat, a liberal or conservative, there is a sense that power is being concentrated in the hands of the wrong people. Perhaps it is politically naive to say this, but personally, I would love to see Tea Party supporters engage these issues. One of the guys I chatted with at the meeting yesterday talked about this very thing, how he shares with the Tea Party a concern for expanding government. My tendency right now is to think that we have much more in common than we have differences.

Power to the People.

Links:
Occupy Sioux Falls Facebook pageHere is Barbara, whom I met last night, featured in a video of news coverage
Occupy Sioux Falls, brief write up: http://www.ksfy.com/story/15661452/occupy-sioux-falls
Occupy Sioux Falls Occupies 12th Street : “Their goal is to achieve a more inclusive, more democratic and more accountable economy.”

Here is the official Occupy Sioux Falls website. Right now it only has a live stream of the Occupy Minnesota campaign: http://www.occupysufu.org/

Note: This post is part of an ongoing series of posts following the Occupy protest movement. The original post title was “People Power.”

6 thoughts on “Occupy #4 – My first protest meeting

  1. Nice going Erdman. There’s an Occupy Boulder that’s been meeting weekly, and this afternoon they’re going to decide whether to occupy from noon to 8 every day. One of the things that’s dissuaded me is that the “usual suspects,” who have traditionally organized protests in this town, seem to be attempting to manage the Occupy intervention. I’ll not go today, but if they go ahead with the daily occupation I’ll eventually make an appearance.

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  2. What is it about “the usual suspects” that makes you hesitate? Is it the idea that these protests could become “handled” rather than operating out of the will of the collective?

    Thus far one of the most incredible and yet unappreciated (and underreported) aspects of the protests is that a new kind of democracy seems to be in action. People proceeding without a front man or fearless leader. I think that whichever Occupy movements can remain led by the sheer energy of the collective will accomplish incredible things.

    The debate, as I understand it, often centers on whether to define objectives and demands or to remain ambiguous and try to garner more and more numbers from those who are disenfranchised with business-as-usual American society. I favor the latter. Let the media and others criticize the movements for lacking goals and objectives. Those will emerge. Just build numbers. Besides, everyone is united around the common theme of empowering the people, economically and politically. That seems to be enough of a common objective to last us for a long while. Make the tent as big as possible to allow as many of the 99% to join as are willing.

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  3. From a distance it seems like a good movement. If its hallmark is to be a kind of experiment in participatory democracy, then neither the demands nor the media exposure would really capture the flavor. The “usual suspects” to whom I refer are the people who traditionally organize protests, which typically consists of a handful of golden oldies from 60s activism holding up signs at the streetcorner. Having participated in several I came to find these events disheartening. The Occupy movement occupies that same streetcorner, and notices of their activities are disseminated, at least to me, by the same old protesters. One of the appealing features of OWS is that it has brought in new blood, most notably younger people and laborers. It’s what I hope to see when I finally go down there, though there aren’t many union members in this town.

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  4. I do hope you’ll do a bit of blogging about your experience. I think that each Occupy movement in each city will take on a bit of its own local flavor, which is good. Hopefully, though, as you say, there will be a good bit of new faces, particularly young people, to propel it along. I have been very encouraged by the protests. Surprised, but very energized. The same young people who mobilized to help elect Obama are now taking to the streets, which seems to be the next important step if we are going to draw attention to the issues we care about.

    I look forward to reading about your experiences. I also hope that you will have a chance to get involved in some of the working groups that plan and organize.

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  5. The Occupy movement is such a disaster right now that no one in or with the Tea Party will have anything to do with it. Ever.

    There is no upside for the Tea Party to associate with the Occupy disaster. Especially after the Tea Party PAID to rent out public spaces to have their events and then the Occupy groups just moved on in and just took up space WITHOUT PAYING like the legal, civil, clean, organized, well-behaved Tea Party groups did.

    Tea Party members are not OK with cities showing PREFERENTIAL TREATMENT to the Occupy protests by allowing them to use space without paying the usual fee for the day. You won’t see the Tea Party associating with the toxic Occupy groups.

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