Yesterday here in Rutland Vermont was gloomy, windy, chilly and damp. Rain started the day before 7:00 am, ended it at about 2:00 pm, and threatened all day. I have to dry out my tent, tablecloths and camp chair today, plus replace price tags on my stock that got ruined by the rain as I was packing up at the farmers market. Oh, and dry my stock so none of the metal parts tarnish from the damp. Not a great day to be out.
That didn’t stop the folks who showed up at 10:45 am to stage the Occupy Rutland protest. They were right across the intersection from the farmers market, in front of the downtown coffee bar, wrapped around the corner on the sidewalk.
I wended my way through them a couple of times, on coffee runs. They were incredibly civil, stepping out of the way for pedestrians to get through, staying on the sidewalk so they didn’t cause problems with traffic. I did a couple of head counts from the market, and at its peak the protest had close to 100 souls out there.
Some of the signs were to be expected; “We Are the 99%” and “Don’t Fear Anonymous, Fear Your Government”. Some were humorous, like “I Can’t Afford a Lobbyist”. Others expressed the poignant desires of the protesters, like “Imagine No Greed”. A flag of the planet Earth from space flew over the protest for the two hours they were there.
As has become standard at the Occupy Wall Street protests, the group repeated every phrase of every speaker. The folks in New York started that as a way to make sure everyone heard everything that was being said because the city had forbidden a p.a. system. So while they probably didn’t need to do that here in Rutland, they did it anyway. I was there while a nurse spoke about the need for healthcare for life, and a disabled teacher spoke of her fears for the social safety net.
I also spoke with the representative of Anonymous who was there in his Guy Fawkes mask. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. My question to him was “Guy Fawkes stood in front of the English king and admitted his part in the [Gunpowder] plot. Why do you hide behind his face?” He took no offense, and calmly explained that he and his fellows don’t want the message obscured by any one personality, so they wear the masks. They chose Guy Fawkes because he was a revolutionary, even if he failed. My sense, after speaking with him, is that the Anonymous protesters have only a tenuous connection to the internet hackers; sharing the general philosophy but not the execution. I can live with that. The hackers are morons, the protesters are sincere.
All in all, it was a typically Rutland social protest. It wasn’t confrontational on a personal level. People driving by who supported the protest honked their horns. Market vendors who knew some of the protesters waved in support as they snuck out the back of their tents to watch. The police drove by a few times to check on it, but never felt they had to intervene and stayed away.
With a city that in its entirety is part of the 99%, there wasn’t going to be a lot of opposition to the protest. As a city we are experiencing the recession at its worst. There are dozens of applicants for every convenience store clerk opening. Full time jobs are practically nonexistent, as every regional and national chain store practices “part-time only” hiring. We see first hand the profligate waste driving the high cost of medical care; the verde antique facing stone in the medical center atrium is beautiful, but was it necessary? As the rarest type of building stone in the world, it is the most expensive. That money could have gone elsewhere, to reduce costs. Our schools are stripping the expressive arts (art, music and theater) from the curriculum; I’m booked in November into a craft show to support those programs at a village elementary school – the parents are doing all they can to raise money to keep art in the school.
The problem is so pervasive, so huge, it seems that there is no way to avoid the utter destruction of our civilization. I know that sounds incredible; “civilization” is such a large concept, a seemingly permanent concept. How can it be destroyed?
It can be. Look at history. Egyptian civilization was destroyed by internal politics and the Roman empire. The Roman empire was destroyed by economic inequality, politics and external stresses. Western civilization, Greco-Roman civilization, descended into the Dark Ages with the rise of Christianity. Europe’s 99% didn’t even have the means to own the land they farmed. The 1% owned the land, owned their labor, owned their homes… owned their souls.