Monday, May 21, 2012

Profile of an Occupier
We have all seen them on the nightly news, on youtube, twitter, and of course facebook. The amorphous but vocal Occupy movement that started back in 2011 in Zuccotti Park. The movement is still active globally, and Occupiers of all colors and nationalities can be found everywhere from Spain to right here in Corvallis. But who exactly are these occupiers, what do they want, and why are they here?

I sat down with one such occupier, Eric Coker, at the local Interzone campus coffee shop to see exactly what it was that motivated him to join the Occupation over other social justice movements or political movements. He arrived on time and dressed like a normal adult college students in cargo shorts and a t-shirt.

An educated and articulate man Eric isn’t the picture of the Occupation most of us are use to seeing on our screens. Absent are the Guy Fawkes masks, dreadlocks,protest language, and gauged earrings while the passion for social justice, social equality, and pragmatism remains.

When asked about almost any social or economic issue Eric had a ready and articulate answer. When asked about how some have pointed out that many of the occupiers are from a privileged class and that protesting economic inequality from one’s IPAD was inherently hypocritical, Eric strongly disagreed. "We are all part of the privileged class and being a part of the privleged class does not prevent one from commenting on social inequalities", he said.

He felt that the Occupy movement recognized the privilege of race, gender, and economic status by virtue of birth, and that other groups by not recognizing these things could never solve the problems that are besetting our nation.

He also stressed that being part of the privileged class does not preclude one from pointing out the inherent social injustice of the society in which one lives. If anything he felt that it was the civic responsibility of the privileged classes to come to the aid of those who were either less fortunate by virtue of their birth or by virtue of the baked in inequality of our current consumption based economic system.

Unlike what has been primarily distributed over the web Eric was quick to emphasize the need for cooperation and bridge building between faith groups, political groups, and social justice groups versus the need for more protesting. "While it might get me in trouble i do recognize that there is certain amount of overlap between the Tea party and Occupy." Eric pointed out however that the Occupy chapter in Salem had tried to have a group meeting with the Tea Party but that it had broken down because of the wide differences of opinion on basic terms and on social wedge issues.

Wedge issues and social rights issues were the primary reason that Eric became involved with the Occupy movement. While both of the movements are populist in rhetoric, they differ very widely on the social issues from women's rights and homosexuality, to the death penalty and other social rights issues. The one thing Eric was vehement about was that Occupy and he were not bound to any one party or ideology, "I support whatever works, it is not about ideology it is about practicality" he said.  

While he and the greater Occupy movement do see political protest as a viable means of civic engagement, it clearly isn’t the only methodology they are following.

At the recent city council meeting where they gave a presentation on why the city of corvallis should be moving their money. Instead of playing the Code Pink obstruction game of distraction and disturbance the occupiers, almost ironically, waited their turn, gave articulate speeches when called upon, and only during a natural lull in the meeting did they quickly chant, “Move Our Money” and link arms with “duct tape” chains.

Aside from actions against the banking industry Occupy and occupiers like Eric are interested in social justice and social equality. 

One of the main drivers of Eric and Occupy is a passion for social justice, and this is something that is not just rhetorical. Occupy Corvallis is actively working to try and improve the living conditions of the homeless by helping to bridge communication gaps between City hall and main street and by networking with existing social justice groups. One such action is going to be a meeting with the chief of police and the mayor where suggestions will be made to try and discourage police from abusing and profiling the homeless while also offering solutions to help in transferring homeless individuals back into productive society..

At a glance

Eric Coker contact info
Occupy Covallis