It’s raining. It’s been raining since noon. It rained for 8 hours yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that. The forecast is for more rain tomorrow. It must be October in the highlands of Panama. Let me check.
Yep. It is. Raining…in the highlands of Panama and it is October. I just looked out the window, checked my calendar and verified those facts. I may be mad, but least I know where I am and what day and month it is!
So. I’m supposed to be writing for a paying contract, but instead I am looking all over the internet and following the Occupy Wall Street demonstration obsessively. I am thrilled to see it going viral…Occupy the London Stock Exchange. Occupy Orange County. Occupy Sylva, NC. I thought, yesterday on Saturday the 15th, about going down into Boquete and standing outside Global Bank with a sign saying, “Occupy Goes Global,” but, it was raining and I wimped out and came home and took a nap instead. What’s up with that?
The fact is, I just can’t be bothered, anymore. Brutal, unflattering truth. I spent the better part of my working career years advocating for social justice, demonstrating for women’s right to control their own reproduction, and protesting wars. At the end of it (which for me occurred in March, 2003), I was so depressed I just dusted off my jeans, wiped my hands, cleaned out my closets, walked away and moved to Panama. I was tired. I was defeated.
Where was I in March, 2003? My 17 year old daughter, a friend, her 20-something daughter and I were marching in a Code Pink demonstration in Washington, DC against the imminent invasion of Iraq. The upcoming war was was so, so wrong on so many levels. We knew it. All 20,000 or so of us who bothered to show up in the crisp, brilliant, cold sunshine of that pre-spring day knew it. We had our hand painted banners. We had our posters. We wore our pink scarves and knitted hats. There was street theatre—mimes, clowns, dancers, drummers, flautists. There were singers—“We shall overcome…”. There were people walking. There were old people in wheelchairs. There were children, frolicking in the festive atmosphere. There were a few young and middle-aged men. There were LOTS of women, of all ages, and all colors. And there, on the roof tops looking down at us, were lots of scary men in black with submachine guns on turret mounts aimed down at us. And there, along the sidewalks, were lots of uniformed policemen. And there, in front of the White House, were lots of concrete bunkers to keep us away, and more police, and more men in black with more machine guns. Were they scared of us?
As we marched, the mood changed. What started out light, became dark. I grabbed a black marker from someone and wrote an impromptu sign on the back of my previously rainbow hued “Peace Now!” platitude. I wrote, “Regime Change, NOW! Impeach Bush!” I intentionally approached every single policeman along the long, cold route and said, “Thank you for protecting my constitutional right to peaceful assembly. Thank you for protecting the Bill of Rights.” Many looked at me blankly. WTF? A few glared. A few, it seemed, nodded. Just barely.
I didn’t get arrested that day. A mere handful did. By the time it got to that stage in the afternoon, there just didn’t seem any point to it. I went out with my daughter and friends and a radical cousin and drank a bottle of wine in a Vietnamese restaurant where I am certain I was served grilled cat. (Why else was I having a choking, asthmatic allergic reaction that was ever ONLY brought on by cats?).
The whole thing was extremely disheartening. The day vanquished every last ounce of activism I possessed. I couldn’t understand why the people, the American people, MY people, weren’t ALL out in the streets—first disputing the give away election of 2000, then the Patriot Act that disemboweled the Bill of Rights I grew up reciting and revering (I grew up in that kind of family), and now this, the invasion of a country that had NOTHING to do with 9/11? (But who had lots of oil…).
I had already been to Panama post-2000 election coup d’etat, had already made a tentative decision to move there, pre-9/11, and that cold, clear day in DC merely cemented that decision. This wasn’t my country any longer. I didn’t believe anymore in the democratic process as the way to social change. I no longer believed that ‘right makes might’ and that if only we kept at it, kept protesting, kept organizing, Camelot would prevail against the war machines of the greed grinders. I felt alienated. I no longer belonged. I wanted out. I wanted a little farm somewhere…a place where I could grow things, be creative, live away from the constant onslaught of bad news getting worse.
Fast forward. I’ve been here, in Panama, going on 8 years now. It’s a peculiar, funny, endearing, odd little country. Aspects of it are corrupt as can be—though nothing to compare to what has been perpetrated in the US by Wall Street, the Federal Reserve, and the Congressional lobbyists on behalf of corporations. Panama isn’t perfect. But, it’s a nice place to be and opportunities still abound. I am thriving here in my new life, which bears very little resemblance to my old life in the US, where I was a professional career person, married woman, mother of three. (You can read about that particular transformation in my book, Risking Everything: Coming Out in Coffee Land. Shameless plug.). I’ve learned to speak, read and sort-of write Spanish. I’ve learned how to grow coffee and medicinal herbs and how to transform them into high quality marketable products. I have uncovered a deep streak of capitalistic entrepreneur in myself. I grow, make and sell things. I like the satisfaction inherent in that cycle. Life is good.
So, on this rainy, rainy October evening, why am I surfing the net and reading about the Federal Reserve (great link: http://www.bigeye.com/griffin.htm), scanning alternative news sources (http://www.readersupportednews.org/), posting frenetically on Facebook about Occupy Wall Street, and—for god’s sake—tweeting on Twitter?? I’m 60 years old! Who tweets at 60? And I don’t even live there anymore—I voted with my feet and left!! What’s up with all that?
The only answer I can come up with is that, at heart, I still feel like an American. I was born there. I grew up there. The values and ideals of what America once stood—was intended to stand for—are branded in my mind. When I could no longer bear to identify with the bastardization of those ideals, I left. I am now an expatriated American. I have no desire to go back. Still…my heart and mind are with those young and not-so-young people who have risen up and said, “No! Enough!.” I so do wish you well. I am so happy that you are finding your voice, your power. It feels, almost, like a breath of optimism, of possibility. However, I fear for you, as well.
I once had the great honor and privilege to spend a whole private day with Myles Horton, co-founder of The Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. (Check him out on Wikipedia for an interesting read). He embraced and taught the principles of non-violent protest. He led the coal miners of the Cumberland Plateau to unionization. He taught the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks and the young girl who braved the National Guard and KKK in Little Rock, Arkansas how to “do” non-violent protest in the style of Ghandi. He told me, that day, what he told them. “You have to know what you believe in. Then, you have to be willing to walk up to the line they have drawn and then walk cross that line, knowing that they might kill you. And, sometimes, they don’t kill you.”
Thomas Paine wrote, over 200 years ago: “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” Thomas Jefferson, my ideological hero, stated emphatically: “Every generation needs a new revolution.”
The Occupiers, and those who support their active dissent against the unbridled greed of the multinational corporations and Wall Street bankers, they are the patriots of today. Perhaps, at last, the people will rise up in revolution, peaceful one prays, and effectively turn the tide of current events to a more sane, just, and reasonable path. I have my doubts.
For Jefferson also said: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
Oh, I wish you Occupiers courage, and creative intelligence, and conviction, because in the face of the greed for power that you are challenging, you will need every ounce of it in order to cross those lines, knowing that “they,” the Powers That Be, may, in fact, kill you.
However you can, support the Occupiers. Be with them. Join them. Send them money. Or, at the very freaking least, Tweet them! and let them know that they are not alone.