While standing on the fringe of a crowd today at the Occupy UMass rally I had a conversation with a veteran of the civil rights movement.
We talked about many things, notably, the fragmentation of the modern left. He argued that the civil rights movement had as many goals and aims as it had individuals, just as the current occupy movement is being portrayed as having.
I don't mean to conflate the great successes of the civil rights movement with what is still just a small amount of protestors. That being said, if a week ago someone told me the occupy movement would still have life and be growing today I would probably not have believed it. A fundamental change of this system is something that a lot of Obama voters were close to being open to. Maybe a shift in the US really will take place. I still think it is highly unlikely but that brings me to the most striking part of my conversation today...
I asked the gentleman to whom I was speaking what he remembered most vividly about being a member of the civil rights movement. His response was "I remember being afraid". I asked him if he was afraid of being jailed, or of violence, or something else. His response was "I was afraid of being ignored. If during a protest/sit-in, people had just looked at us and laughed and moved on, this man would still be sitting at the back of the bus".
The broader point here is that acknowledgment (even if it was negative), from the powers that be helped give the civil rights movement legs during its early phases. At this point I have to ask... have things gotten bad enough that the members of the 99% in the streets are ready to make themselves noticed by the ruling class? There have been hundreds of arrests in various cities, and mainstream media coverage (here is an article from earlier today in the NYT). According to reports from some of my colleges at UMass (thanks Dan), the local branches of Bank of America now have armed guards outside while open for business. Is it possible that the ruling powers are taking notice? And this will give strength to the occupy movement as my new friend claims happened half a century ago?