Are the Occupy Movements Enough?
By Oscar Basulto, Guest Writer
pLAywriting in the city
On Thursday morning, passengers on the westbound 720 bus, out of Downtown LA and headed to Westwood, reacted in three distinct ways to the driver’s announcement of a detour we would be taking to get around street closures on our normal route. The passengers were either angry, confused, or apathetic. The exclusively angry ones immediately exited the bus. The exclusively confused ones, initiated an inner red-alert and in the following order, scrambled; intellectually, emotionally then physically to process the information they had just received. Some actually exited the bus before the last of the exclusively angry ones got off, but some anguished through this process and missed the initial exodus and were forced to await the next one, on the corner of First and Beaudry… their adventures were just beginning. Another confused group processed the detour under yellow-alert conditions and survived it just fine. The apathetic group just kept that 1000 yard stare. The driver did not mention the cause of the street closures, but anyone who caught a whiff of the news that morning before leaving for work, knew that protesters were planning to occupy certain intersections and other areas of the Financial District to demonstrate “against economic inequality and the excesses of the financial system.” (REUTERS)
It took a long time to get around the closures and I was overhearing a call the lady next to me was making, presumably to someone at her work, informing them she was going to be late. She referred to “damn closures” and “fucking hippies” in her description of the situation. And I thought, “shit.” Though the intent of the action taken by protesters was in part to advocate for the working people on that bus, it looked like those working people appreciated it very little. For most people, their immediate priority is to stay out of the poor house, especially those with mouths to feed. The woman on the phone’s, day to day life is hard enough, we all know how it feels to get the day off to a bad start, and many also know how bad it can feel to be responsible for someone’s bad day. We have reached a crossroads. Camps are beginning to be dismantled and busloads of angry, confused and apathetic working people are roaming through hilly Downtown streets. Are the bankers seeing a light at the end of the tunnel? Not enough has been accomplished by the movement, because Occupy on its own, is not enough to bring true change. How can it engage everyone? It can’t because the 99% are as diverse as they are vast in number. Who else is going to engage them? With the multitudinous intelligences and abilities possessed by our species, any one of them can be used, through conscious effort, to do so.
I belong to a play reading group at East LA Rep. Earlier this year, we met one weekday evening to hear reports from two of our members, one who attended the TCG National Conference and one who attended the Director’s Lab West. Their reports and our subsequent discussion centered around our collective and individual purposes as a group and as artists. It led to each of us sharing why we are involved in the arts. When it was my turn to share, I said was there that night because places like East LA Rep and Casa 0101 gave me a chance to become an artist. It is an opportunity they extend to anyone truly committed, though resources are scarce. I’ve seen tiny, timid, schoolgirls, transform into fire breathing, ass-kicking poets and slay their first audiences. I’ve heard colleagues give testimony of the life saving role that art has played in their lives. Art is a powerful tool, and artists can wield that tool to do extraordinary things in extraordinary times. I will use this opportunity extended to me by the editorial staff of this blog, to openly commit myself to use my art to engage and advocate for the 99. I will use it to tell stories inspired by the lives of the 99ers who are my friends and family, both present and passed. The simple actions of writing and performing these stories are political acts and I hope to faithfully chronicle their experience. The intent is to inform upon this moment and galvanize those my art will engage. My conscious efforts are mine alone, but are in solidarity with others and together, we are working to the same end. And that is to get us all to rethink what is perceived to be just. To take the reins of this historic moment and show how that the growing gap between rich and poor is really bad, and if left unaddressed in a conscious manner, it will lead to some really bad things. That is my bottom line, as an artist, the fire lit under my creative ass, the stakes. Not everyone in the 99 will be engaged by my art in the same way, some may take exception to what I put out there and that’s ok, because there are other artists who will engage those I do not. There is plenty of art to go around and we can all live in the same time and space. Just like there really are plenty of economic resources around for everyone, and we can all have enough to live comfortably in the same time and space. Creating such a world is a tall order, this is true; some say, impossible, this is not true. Who’s in?
Oscar Basulto is a native Angelino, raging Chicano pacifist, and theatre artist. From the TV towers of Mount Wilson, he can look West and on a clear day see the entire geographic basin where he’s lived at least 90% of his life, a fact he both loves and does not love.