Occupy Phoenix: People, Not Products
One Man’s Address To The Crowd Went Beyond Slogans And Directly To The Core Of The Movement
By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine
Oct. 18, 2011 — In between the hundreds of speakers that took the microphone and voiced their grievances on the first day of Occupy Phoenix protests in Cesar Chavez Plaza on Saturday, one protester stood out.
He was a young and physically imposing Native American man and he had a message for the rest of the protesters that both affirmed and chastised their cause. He took the microphone around 2 p.m. with a bandanna over the lower half of his face and reminded the crowd of a group of peoples that existed outside of either the "99 percent" or "1 percent" of their chants.
While speaker after speaker took the microphone and started "We are the 99 percent" chants, this man went in a different direction.
"I am not the 99 percent," he yelled. His chant was followed by repetition from a large contingent of the crowd, many of who looked confused and seemed simply hooked in by the "mic check" atmosphere.
"The American Dream is my indigenous nightmare," he told the protesters.
This statement garnered a few cheers and responses, but the majority of the crowd fell silent. They did not seem to disapprove of the message. Rather, they seemed shocked by it.
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The silence and attention they immediately directed to the speaker seemingly indicated that he was right. They had forgotten about the victims of Manifest Destiny, that age-old American adage that justified the forcible removal of native peoples from their land in what is now the United States on the principle of divine providence.
Even though countless signs at the protest rallied against those that "stole the American Dream," these protesters forgot about the theft of land and livelihood that the American Dream was built on.
The man, with a voice that remained both calm and forceful throughout his speech, told the crowd that without recognizing and attempting to right the injustices committed against native peoples during the founding and building of America, they will never be able to effectively address the corporate greed and government malfeasance that they are protesting against.
It is simply a symptom of a larger problem, the latest signifier of a manipulative and destructive trend that started over 200 years ago.
"We can only move forward if we recognize the injustices of our past."
He went on to paint a picture of the dire plight of many Native Americans in this country, a plight that goes largely unnoticed and unrepresented in mainstream society—including at the Occupy protests taking place nationwide.
"On the reservation we wish for 9.8 percent unemployment," he said. "But we have 24.9 percent unemployment."
The crowd remained attentive, soaking up the message and the man giving it. Not only were his words striking, but also the way he delivered them stood him apart from other speakers from the day. He was both vengeful and compassionate. Articulate and pissed off.
"We wish only 14.6 percent of our kids lived in poverty," he said. "Instead, 25.6 percent of Native American children live in poverty.
While other speakers throughout the gathering preached the mixture of the virtues of anger and eloquence, this man's speech embodied them. His voice came out crisp and clear, but still maintained a sort of riotous energy. It held the crowd's attention like few other speakers could.
He then went back to the "mic check" method, signifying he wanted the crowd to repeat him by speaking in short, spaced out phrases, a method the protesters were intimately familiar with by this point in the day.
"We will not exploit indigenous peoples," he chanted.
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And the crowd echoed his sentiments.
Telling the protesters that only when they fix the underlying societal ills facing them,can they hope to end the systematic proliferation of corporate and government greed.
He talked about the ways in which the predation that victimized indigenous peoples is now attacking the majority of Americans through economic means. An inequality between real wages and production began in the 1970s and has only grown worse over time, he said.
He talked about the ways in which the credit system works along with the corporations and the government to perpetuate a cycle of debt and reliance amongst the majority of people in this country.
"You now have become financial slaves," he said.
Finally, he expressed a sentiment that was lost for a large part of the day. He expressed the idea that only through personal action can the protesters bring about change. Instead of government regulation or laws, the people have to force a fundamental societal change in order to free themselves.
"We will stop consumerism and return to humanism," he said prior to handing off the microphone and walking off the stage.
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