Fred Herman has been a core member of the local Progressive Movement for more decades than anyone can count. Here, Fred offers an insider’s look at Occupy Modesto.
Occupy Wall Street? Sure? Occupy the nation’s capital? Absolutely. Occupy college campuses? Yes, but beware of pepper spray, billy clubs and tear gas. Occupy Modesto? The very idea once provoked giggles. Still, a small, ever-growing group of Modesto area patriots concerned with injustice and a level economic playing field does just that. Peacefully. Non-violently. No tents on public property, no blocking traffic, no arrests or—horrors!—hampering profit-making commerce.
Occupy Modesto (OM) joins Peace/Life Center rallies, waving justice signs and anti-war signs at the foot of McHenry each first Monday. Every extended motorist’s middle finger is dwarfed by 100 honks, waves and smiles of gratitude.
OM gathered at (not “occupied”) the “unemployment office” at 12th and G Streets. Leafleted, talked with the jobless from corporations outsourcing their livelihoods to Asian 12-year-olds working for a cup of rice a day. OM objects to foreclosures, rife in Our Town, making itself felt at auctions in which greedy lenders dispose of stolen Modesto homes.
A satellite Occupy MJC group forming at Modesto Junior College addresses tuition hikes (as chancellor and trustees get raises), reduced staffing and classes, corruption in Sacramento and Washington and local unemployment. OMJC will collaborate in marches and other Occupy groups’ activities.
Participants meet weekly, once in a union hall, but with that unavailable in December, squeezing into Peace/Life Center facilities on 13th Street. OM meets on Fridays about an economy in which the 1% hold all the aces and expect the 99% simply to fold their cards. They plan action, events to heighten public awareness. All by consensus. No votes, no directives from above. One moderates, all are equal.
New York, Oakland and Seattle draw headlines; quieter nearby Occupy cities include Sacramento, Stockton, Sonora and Merced. Occupiers range from students to retirees, all bathing regularly, very few on public assistance or smoking controlled substances. Unions pitch in; organized labor understands that Occupy opponents oppose the basic right to bargain working conditions collectively. OM endorses responsibility, collective as well as personal, and diversity with a tolerance for all views. Deciding by consensus to call it a declaration rather than a manifesto, OM produced this statement of its purposes and intentions:
We … have awakened … to find 1% of people owning 42% of everything. To a nation that spends nearly half its taxes on wars. To a county in which many can’t keep their homes because 15.1% are unemployed, many more under-employed. A country which bails out corporate moguls, but not average citizens, in which people can’t afford to see doctors or obtain medications.
Occupy Modesto—people from all walks of life, ethnicities, ages, religions, political backgrounds, social values, races, genders and orientations – says ‘enough.’ We are peacefully dedicated to changing mass systematic injustice.
Our nation has enough money for war but not for the poor. Enough illegal, unethical and immoral corporate greed. Enough fear tactics. Enough police brutality, Big Brotherism disguised as national security, war on drugs and personal liberty. We ask ‘more.’ More accountability, appropriate allocation of money for quality education, health care, peace, communities and families.
We … stand in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street organizations across the country. In doing so, we unite for justice, peace and equality.
Corporate media, including Modesto’s establishment-oriented daily, first blacked out all mention of this rising tide. When it could no longer remain silent, it focused on bizarre aspects and corporation-instigated police violence.
Casual readers interrupt TV watching to ask, “yes, but what do they want?” Occupy is NOT a list of demands but a crescendo, an ever louder call for change. It may foment no social revolution, but if it changes the 1% vs. 99% to 2% vs. 98%, that will be a start. With 5% vs. 95% we’ll be back to Eisenhower Republicanism. If 10% vs. 90%, righties will call it “commonism.”
OM has room for all. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
By Fred Herman