Although I have been in East Africa for more than six months, I have followed closely the Occupy movement and have been keenly interested in the issues that have been raised and the agenda for moving forward.
I have the following observations:
This movement has energized many who have not been awake or participating. Many of the people who were most active and vocal in this movement were leading happy, easy, productive middle class lives 3-5 years ago.
For some in this group there was little or no awareness of the fact that millions of people in America, never made it to middle class status and lived lives of abject poverty in the land of opportunity. There was two very different Americas, but so many people were not aware of this. Before I left Santa Barbara, I spent about one year interviewing, getting to know, advocating for and offering assistance to homeless people. I found that middle class white women who had owned homes two years ago were living in their cars, some sleeping at the beach or on State St. Most were embarrassed, ashamed, had no idea what to do nor did they fully understand all that had gone wrong to cause them to end up homeless.
Most residents in Santa Barbara are at least literate and therefore able to read and write, gather and process information. This is not true for so many in America. At one time, I served as Co Director of a literacy program in Newark, N.J. the intention of the founder was for it to be a GED program, however most of the applicants could not read at the 9th grade level so we had to change it to a literacy program. Most of our students were grandmothers, who had raised children who had gone to college. These women lived in a housing project called Stella Homes. They were so ridiculed for coming to class we had to move the program to a local church. These women were hard working, resourceful, honest, loving human beings, yet they could not read and write. They had raised children in this awful place who had gone on to be productive members of society.
What is my point? The Occupy Movement has given us a chance to become aware of the suffering of others as well as ourselves. While, we have a right to challenge the elite, big corporations and leaders who have sold us out, we must also ask ourselves how have we participated in the systemic oppression and marginalization of others.
Before Obama was elected the first time, I worked hard to energize a nationwide tour called One America. I am asking you to consider this as an option for moving our nation forward. Specifically, if we blame the Republicans and leave any voice out, this movement will fail! If we took buses, cars, bikes and campers on the road criss crossing America, with music, dance art, poetry, art, drama and film creating safe spaces for healing conversations to happen that would be a big start in the healing of our nation. We could ask people in cities across the U.S. to host people of a different political party, or religious affiliation or sexual orientation, race, culture. We could create dialogue groups and support people in learning about who we all are as Americans. The Face of America has changed. This change is permanent. Whites will soon be in the minority. How do we help prepare for that? How do we learn to co create? How do we learn to celebrate and honor our diversity. How do white people and middle class people learn to lead from behind? How do we learn to give up power?
I am troubled by the segregation of America, still in 2012. In Santa Barbara, I go to events hosted by the black community, usually a few whites come unless it is the King celebration or the black film festival. I go to events hosted by Pueblo and I am often one of a few blacks. I go to speak on behalf of the LGBT at UCSB and I am one of a few straight people there. I go to parties in Montecito and often I am the only black person there. We can change this. Not long ago, I had lunch with a Caucasian man in this 70's, a prominent member of SB society. He told me that he had never had a black friend, or a close relationship with a black colleague. We can change this.
The youth of America deserve the credit for the Occupy Movement - mostly white middle class youth. We the baby boomers, can support, fund, advise, mentor them and allow them to be out in the front if we do this Tour. They have the vision and they do not have the baggage that we carry. If we support them, they will lead us to where we want to go
I have learned, since coming to Africa that the problem is really not race. In Uganda there is tribalism and deeply entrenched class divisions. I see the world and the problems differently.
If you have an interest in helping to mobilize and lead such a nationwide tour that would start in the spring and continue for 4-6 months,hitting key cities across the U.S. please get back to me and let's invite others to join the conversation.
Blessings and love Audrey Addison Williams