Something is happening around the world-- is it ready to happen in Springfield? We'll find out at least some of the answer tomorrow.
Thursday I went down to the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen with Ruben and Christina to pass out flyers. I haven't been down in about four months, and I've never seen it so crowded. I had conversations with a lot of people, including folks who volunteer at the kitchen and who told me that people who were homeless were sleeping in doorways and abandoned buildings all over the city.
"They go up to Worthington St. Shelter and they're told there's no room, even though the shelter promosed to always make room for them," one woman said. This didn't surprise me; I've heard it before, and made calls to Worthington St. on their behalf where I've been told it was "all a mistake" and to send them back. But what about the people we don't hear about?
I saw my friend Ahmed come in for lunch. We nodded to each other. He and his two daughters are refugees from Iraq and had been living in an apartment in West Springfield before it was destroyed by the June 1 tornado. He's going to Springfield Technical Community College, right across the street from Arise, and a few times a week he comes in with a bag of bread and vegetables that he's scrounged from somewhere, leaves it in our office, and then he or one of his daughters comes back to pick it up later in the afternoon.
The flyers we were passing out were about a rally, this Monday at 5:30 on city hall steps, called "Take Back Springfield." Arise, as members of the No One Leaves coalition and as founders of Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield, is involved in two areas where corporate control in our city is hurting our people: the foreclosure crisis, typified by Bank of America, and the effort to stop a biomass plant being built in our already asthma-plagued city by Palmer Renewable Energy. Empty houses, polluted air-- if we don't fight back, we don't stand a prayer.
But on the back of the flyer, we let people know that there has been a call to Occupy Springfield on the same day, starting at 8:30 in the morning at Court Sq.! We don't know any of the people organizing it, and the timing of the event is not what I would have chosen-- but there you go, it's happening.
In some other cities with an Occupy presence, I know there has been great solidarity between college students, the un- or under-employed and the homeless people who have joined them-- sometimes with political understanding and sometimes because it's safer to sleep out with a crowd than under the bridge. I can't say I see the potential for that kind of solidarity in Springfield, however. Maybe I'm not dreaming big enough. But I think the average person in Springfield still sees homeless families and individuals as lazy, stupid or drug-addicted cheaters. Yup, some people fit that category--just as there are non-homeless people who cheat on their taxes, treat sick days as vacation days, pad their mileage accounts and get over on the system in every way possible. but that's not most of us, and never has been.
The Occupy movement has a slogan: We are the 99%. It's true that if you earn less than $1,137,684 a year, you are in the bottom 99%. But really, it's the top ten percent that hold more than two-thirds of this country's wealth. The median income in Springfield is $36,235. So the median income for Springfield puts us in the bottom 20%!!
I remember the days when I could stop at Savers every couple of months and look for clothing bargains. I remember the days when I could buy an occasional book without trepidation of its impact on my utility bills.. I remember when I didn't have to take my medication every other day in order to make it last. A lot of us remember those days, right? We don't want much, just enough. And these days, we're not getting it. Why is that? Because wealth is being distributed upward at an astounding rate, and it's been going on for thirty years. Yet many of us continue to think that if we're not making it, it's our own damn fault. We continue to think as individuals rather than as members of a society whose strings are being pulled by the elite few. We work harder and longer for less money, and we stand in line at the convenience store for a chance at MegaMillions.
So here we are. People all over the country are starting to get it. Are we ready in Springfield? I don't know. Maybe Occupy Springfield will be small in numbers and easily dismissed or maybe tomorrow will be the opening gambit in a movement that will grow over time until we have built the power we need to make change. That's up to us-- me, and you, and the guy sleeping in the doorway and our neighbor across the street. Hope to see you there.