Occupy Bellingham started soon after the establishment of Occupy Wall Street on Sept. 17, 2011. The power of the image and the message of that protest brought a crowd of about 500 local citizens marching in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. We brought attention to ever-increasing corporate power and the selfishness of those who caused the Wall Street collapse of 2008. We marched chanting "we are the 99 percent" and "this is what democracy looks like." We had police escorts who were friendly and did not interfere. Even in the presence of "counter" protesters who tried to incite confrontation, we stayed true to the principle of non-violence. The "crowds" dwindled as Occupy Bellingham worked to become a functional entity using the principles of consensus. At times, in the early days, there was confusion and tumult as we studied and talked about the new principles we were learning. As with Occupy Wall Street, there was an encampment at Maritime Heritage Park. We served meals and conducted general assemblies, which fostered community spirit and furthered the work of the Occupy movement.
In these early days 17 citizens decided the best action to take was to act on their belief in freedom of expression and to courageously risk arrest for their acts of civil disobedience. They were arrested. These cases are now settled after two years, as reported in the March 1 Herald by James Kozanitis.
In the meantime, Occupy has been busy. We study, guided by our hearts and concerns for the injustice we see around us. We are learning how to organize and build structure that fosters innovation and creativity. We are learning to cooperate and collaborate. We have found a "home" at the Alternative Library where we hold general assemblies and working group meetings. Young people we meet remind us of how hard it is to find a meaningful job to meet their basic needs. Homeless people are back at Maritime Heritage park with the same needs we called attention to, back in the beginning.
We have a website that links us to free and accessible progressive information. We've come to understand how money power has privatized profit and socialized costs of damage to our environment, schools, our communities and commons. Our mission statement says we will "peacefully call out, expose, and oppose the unregulated corporate and capitalist economic structures that are derailing America's democracy, further oppressing our citizens and causing a collapse of the ecological life structure of the planet." We say enough of the inequality we see in our community. Nearly everyone agrees.
Yet, somehow, ordinary citizens are in a state of near catatonia due to the overwhelming nature of today's inequalities and the struggles of common people. The overwhelming Reagonomic propaganda of the past, tax breaks for the wealthiest, increasing militarism and lies about our public schools, teachers, unions, immigrants, the poor, the incarcerated and Native Americans have resulted in a learned helplessness.
We walk the talk of our mission statement. We make friends and share experiences; carpooling and mustering with allies to stand up for clean air, water, health care, democracy, open government, worker's rights, fair wages, peace and a transition to a equitable economic system. We rejoice when a member gets health care after 35 years and grieve when a member who has no car gets his bike stolen.
We shine light on injustice with banners on the freeway, holding signs in front of banks, marching in parades, giving teach-ins (ALEC, Trans-Pacific Partnership, 99 percent Spring Training, May Day Worker celebration, MoveToAmend), meeting with elected representatives and collecting petition signatures. Members travel out of state to oppose egregious actions that are harming our planet.
As we researched and talked about the issues and ideas, they are now incorporated into our safer-spaces agreement, vision, mission and demands for the future. These are available online at occupybellinghamwa.org.
We realize there are barriers to our mission: four decades of deregulation, de-unionization, privatization and free trade agreements. We share the knowledge that our county abounds with people who are working towards another way of living together and "we willingly and courageously accept responsibility of co-creating a more loving, vibrant, resilient and democratic Whatcom County." Occupy Bellingham is still here. Join us.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Ronna Loerch collaborated with fellow Occupy Bellingham members Debbie Cantrell, Dianne Foster, Margaret Hashmi and Alyce Werkema to write this opinion column. For more information about the organization, go online to occupybellinghamwa.org.