“Mic check!” yells a man in his late 20s. He is wearing glasses, a military cap, a white shirt and jeans — some look for a revolutionary.
“Mic check!” he yells a little louder, and the protestors filling this artery of McPherson Square turn to look.
“In 15 minutes!” he shouts as loud as he can.
“In 15 minutes!” the crowd shouts back.
“We will be meeting!”
“We will be meeting!”
“Under that big, beautiful oak tree!”
And now everybody knows.
The protestors are on their eighth day here, though judging by their encampment it looks like the first. The commissary has less food than my apartment kitchen, the library (a table) has about two dozen books, and the “take-a-smoke, leave-a-smoke” bin wouldn’t last a day near my grad student friend, and he’s on the wean.
“It’s coming along,” says a man hand-rolling a few more cigarettes just before he jumps into the path and over to his friends sitting on their faded
The showing is healthier than I expected. About 60 to 80 people are shifting in and out of the park, and the signs laying about the statue of General McPherson announce their causes.
“Make Love Not Money” and “Overeducated, Underemployed” are common themes — dollar signs are blots on the cheerful messages. Some signs are pro-abortion, others anti-gun. Many call for higher taxes and many to end the two-party system.
At least one participant has committed a confused, uncertain paragraph against religion, God and the status quo in red sentences on a white board. I spend the afternoon guessing who wrote it.
The meeting under the oak tree, the one called by the bespectacled man, is also confused and tentative. Termed the “General Assembly,” it gives no information as to what these people are for.
The conversation instead focuses on practical matters: How to avoid arrest for sleeping in the park, what to do about earlier clashes with demonstrators from nearby Freedom Plaza, how to get women more involved in the discussion and a request for the welcome committee to be more welcoming (I am sympathetic).
“What gives me hope, what makes my heart soar,” says an older Tallahassee man just before I leave, “is we got people from 18 to 80. When you got that broad a spectrum, it’s bound to work.”
But I am not so sure. The average age at this protest has to be older than 30. At the meeting, it is much higher. The younger people (few of whom appear college-aged) have largely stayed near their sleeping bags.
Our country is becoming increasingly stratified. Wages are stagnating for lower paid workers and exploding for those at the top. College graduates are facing low unemployment, while those with only high school educations are facing very high rates.
Even our share of inequality as measured by test scores is second highest among developed countries. Otherwise very different groups of people seem to be viewing themselves as losers in an unfair game — the Tea Party and Occupy D.C. are some of the more visible reminders of this frustration.
At the same time, the diversity of these groups may be making their cohesion difficult. The lack of notable leadership from within the Tea Party comes to mind, as does the unfocused nature of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Without leaders and a specific message, these people will struggle to improve their situations.
Yet, the spirit in McPherson square is remarkable. I expect the commissary, library and “take-a-smoke” bin to become better stocked.
But when the weather becomes cold, when hunger sets in, and many realize the length of their fight, will they keep going? I see the younger people leaving, as well as those with warm apartments. Those who stay will show how serious they really are.