As the summer months approach, Occupy Wall Street is reemerging from its winter hibernation. But we shouldn’t expect the same beast. Tired of chaos, activists in Bremerton are re-organizing the movement to appear as tamer, wiser and more localized.
BREMERTON, Wash. — “We’re going to figure out what to do instead of sit here with our feelings,” Jo Walter announced to the 20 or so people gathered inside Kitsap Unitarian Church on April 14. The group had sacrificed a sunny Saturday morning in favor of attending “The 99% Spring” non-violent action training and Walter, an Occupy Bremerton member, was facilitating the assembly.
Instead, the church classroom was filled with older folks, most of them long-established active members of the peninsula community. No inflammatory signs or V for Vendetta masks, just people saddened by the country’s income inequality and sick of feeling powerless about it.
Ray Garrido hails from Olalla, where his wife, Charlotte, is re-running for South Kitsap County Commissioner and, according to him, 45% of the houses are foreclosed.
“It’s not right that I can do as well as I’m doing and people two doors down from me are losing their homes,” Garrido said.
Tom Fairchild is the Chairman of the Kitsap County Human Rights Council and Vice President of the Peninsula Community Health Services. He’s been bouncing around different denominations for years, trying to find a church that’s truly inclusive.
“We’re social justice folk,” he lamented, “why can’t we just unite together?”
While many in the room had long histories in activism, it was Kathleen Kish’s first time at an event like this. The Bremerton nurse had lost her best friend to illness last June. She died without health insurance after months of unemployment, a “victim of the economy.” Kish’s voice strained when she shared her story, her guilt for not spotting the sickness sooner.
“A lot of people don’t realize that it could happen to them,” she said. “Maybe she was put here to move me to make change.”
The 99% Spring workshops were sponsored by MoveOn.org and invited any interested person to participate. Just a click of the mouse would provide volunteer facilitators with the necessary materials — pamphlets, workbooks and an instructional video.
“Any kind of collaboration is good,” she explained. “We need to move this forward.”
The attendees were eager to do just that. While the instructional video lectured on the origins of the Civil Rights Movement and called for ample self-reflection and role-play, the group clamored for the “meat and potatoes” of the meeting — the solution to this whole economic mess.
It was immediately clear that protests and tents were not the answer here. Even Sonny Kalabom, the only self-proclaimed hippie in the room, agreed it was time to calm down and try a different approach.
“I’ve been through all the fights and the battles,” Kalabom recalled of her WTO riot days. “I even got maced and everything.”
Now, she planned on working from the background and making her preferences clear as a consumer.
“As a citizen, we only have one vote, but we have a whole bunch of them in our wallet. Start voting with your money,” she instructed. “Go to Mom & Pop stores instead of the big chains.”
“If we’re going to change the world, maybe we should change the neighborhood first,” Garrido said to approving nods. Walter grabbed a marker and began penning suggestions on a huge sheet of green paper. While tackling the national economic divide seemed impossible, the room had no shortage of ideas for local fixes. They included providing information resources to homeowners in danger of foreclosure, moving the county’s financial holdings to a local credit union and counteracting home-shattering deportations for frivolous traffic violations with Bremerton’s Immigrant Assistance Center.
Kyli Rhoads, the youngest member of the training at 27, was the first to mention the May Day General Strike, Occupy’s biggest upcoming event this year. The movement asks all its members, here and internationally, to take a stand by walking out of work and school on May 1. The Seattle branch of the event hopes to dramatically “shut down the city” and asks it participants to generate a rebellious game plan.
Rhoads was having none of it.
“Chaos doesn’t really accomplish much,” she said. Instead, she believed that day should be devoted to visibly aiding the community with neighborhood clean ups and etc., and associating normal people’s faces with OWS in the process.
“We’re not rabble-rousers,” she concluded. It’s just “getting the media there to see it.”
So starts the humble re-branding of Occupy. With UW Election Eye as its witness.
Follow Ilona Idlis on Twitter: @IlonaVik