Thursday, October 20, 2011

Molly vs. the 1%


Last weekend I took Molly to see the Occupy Wall Street protests. Now, regardless of what you think of the protest's politics, I thought it was important for Molly to see what a protest was, and understand what making a stand was and what it looked it, and the (hopeful) effectiveness of collective voices to be heard. Before we went down, I tried my hardest not to give her any input on my politics. I wanted her to see things and try to understand things for herself.

I told her that the reason why we were going was because "people were upset about something" and that we were going to "ask them what was upsetting them so that we can understand and see if it is something that we agree with or not".  So, I really didn't want to influence her too much with my politics, but I also am not so naive that I do not realize that by going and talking to them, she is being influenced already. So my plan was to see if we could also find counter-protestors and ask them the same things.

One of the things that I struggle with as a parent is raising Molly to be her own person. Sure, values need to be taught to a child entering society. But I want her to develop her own values. I want her to see and experience as much as she can and understand things on that level, instead of just inheriting her parents' beliefs.  That isn't to say that I want to keep my beliefs from her, but rather, try to instill an open mind in her. I'd be perfectly content if she grew up being a right-wing, conservative, gun-loving cheerleader for an American football team, as long as she was willing to listen to the other side before knee-jerking to a decision.

So, anyway, the trip to New York was an easy drive. Jessica was working that day, so it was just the two of us. We managed to park on the street (for free) six or seven blocks from the protest and made our way down there.

My first impression of the protest was that Zuccotti Park was that it was much smaller than I imagined. It was rather dense with people, but the park and protest area is a much smaller area than I expected. Anyhow, we walked around through the park and I told Molly to look around for a little while and that she should eventually pick someone there to ask questions to. While we walked around, I felt content. I haven't felt that content in a long while. But there was something about the serenity of the place that was just inviting to me.

We walked past the impromptu cafeteria serving free food (there were pizzas and various dishes of vegetables to take), a "people's library" whose books were rather left-leaning, a medical tent which Jesse Jackson would two evenings later stand to defend, and a number of little sub-communities within the park. I prompted Molly to find someone to talk to and she eventually found a group of 20-somethings sitting on a collection of sleeping bags. Two women and two men. I told them that my daughter had something to ask them, but then Molly suddenly became shy and didn't want to talk directly to them. She wanted to whisper her questions in my ear and I would repeat them to the group. Her first question was, "Why are you upset?"

The answers were a little over her head for the most part, but Molly did get the understanding that they were upset that people were being greedy. Molly then asked through me, "What can I do to help so you won't be upset anymore?"

The answers, again, were a little over her head. But what Molly took out of it was that she should try not to be greedy.

Molly didn't have anything else to ask, but I chatted with the group for a little while and eventually I decided to move on. We passed by a man making buttons on the spot for free and Molly wanted one of the buttons. She didn't care about the message on it, but was most enthused about the fact that it was hot pink.

We wandered around a little more and an older woman saw Molly's button and smiled at her. She asked Molly, "Do you know what that says?" Molly responded with, "I can't read." So she read it to Molly and then asked her if she knew what it meant. Molly's pin read, "The rich get bailed out. The poor get sold out." Molly said that it meant that people wanted to help the rich people instead of poor people because that way, maybe they would give them some of their money. The woman was surprised at Molly's explanation of her pin (though Molly did cheat; I explained to her what her pin meant when she picked it out). Molly then asked the woman what the woman's pin said, and she read it to Molly. I stepped back and watched the two of them. Molly talked with her for about ten minutes. Molly wasn't shy anymore and asked her why she was upset and what she could do to help her. It was probably my favorite moment of being in New York. The two of them talked and exchanged ideas for a little while and then eventually she had to go.

Molly and I wandered around a little longer and I told Molly that we should probably talk to at least one more person. I told her that since there are so many people here, we should try to hear more voices to understand why different people are here. Molly picked a couple of cute hippie-chicks in a circle with a guy playing guitar. She came over to talk to them, but sat back from the circle for a little bit, a little shy.

She asked them why they were there and what was upsetting them and as she listened to them talk, Molly scooted closer and joined the circle. One of the girls had markers to make protest signs and she and Molly drew on the piece of cardboard she was sitting on while they talked. I chatted to the girls and listened to the guitar and sat in on the circle. I realized that if I didn't have my daughter with me, I probably would have decided to stay right there through the night.

However, I did have my little girl, so we eventually decided to move on.

Now, as a dad wandering around with his five-year old and getting her to ask questions, I got a ton of comments of, "You're such a great dad!" and "Wow, you're a wonderful father." Ego-stroke aside, it made me realize the paradox of being a father and taking your kid to things like this. Having Molly there made me look a lot more appealing than I would have looked on my own. However, having Molly there meant that I could not capitalize on the adoration and fool around with some fun hippie chicks. I could leave Molly at home, but then I won't attract the adoration of the hippie chicks nearly as easily. So it's a no-win situation. Unless, of course, I bring my wife next time and ask her to watch Molly while I fool around with the cute hippie chicks. But, I suppose, that brings about its own problems.

But anyway, the protest has drawn a collection of odd-balls, as every protest does. It's a shame because they are the ones that the cameras are drawn to, just as the cameras at a Tea Party protest are drawn to the guy dressed like a minute man with tea bags hanging from his hat sitting in a lawn chair. However, beyond those people, it was a very interesting collection of people of different backgrounds.

I don't think that the protests really suffer from a lack of message, but just a lack of endgame strategy. Hopefully the Democrats will not be able to co-opt the protest movement and turn it into a brand like the Republicans did with the Tea Party. I would like to see them remain independent. However, I also understand that would make any endgame strategy even harder to obtain.

I think in recent weeks, we've seen the popularity of the Occupy Wall Street movement grow and  a number of conservative pundits are no longer bashing or dismissing the movement as a whole, but rather are saying that they should be protesting the White House and not Wall Street. That's actually a huge step toward acceptance. There is also some legitimacy in that as well. I don't care that he has a "D" in front of his name on the teevee and that Fox News hates his every step, but President Obama is anything but liberal when it comes to policy. Still, the frustration isn't at Washington alone, but also at the way people are viewed by these corporations. I don't know what the endgame will be, but at least they are being noticed. Like their politics or not, they are brave to be out there.

Anyhow, Molly and I found a small collection of counter-protestors and I wanted her to talk to them to understand their view. There were six or so people in a group. One of them was dressed like Uncle Sam and another was holding a sign that said, "I am the 53% and I am paying for you to be here." So we went to talk to them. Molly was shy again, so I asked through her, "What are you upset about?" The one man began to answer, but a woman interrupted and began to rant about our buttons and mentioned the "nigger" president. It was at this point that I decided that we should leave.

I was really disappointed about that on a number of levels.

It is hard to counter the Occupy Wall Street protests. And, honestly, counter-protests tend to draw more of the fringe than a regular protest. But what would a counter protest stand for? More CEO luxuries? More government subsidies?

Regardless, it was an opportunity lost for them. And one lost for Molly to hear both sides of the argument. And again, it is a counter-protest and you get the fringe element in that. I really hate the fact that my experience with them has probably reinforced some people's beliefs on how "the other side" is.

There was also a group of Hassidic Jews, each holding a palm leaf in one hand and a lemon in the other hand. They were asking everyone who passed by in the crowd, "Are you a Jew? Are you a Jew?" I decided not to bother letting Molly ask them what they were about. Though I was and still am very curious.

Our day in New York then ended with lunch and a bus ride through Downtown Manhattan, followed by a subway ride from Times Square to Wall Street. Molly was great the entire time, like she usually is, and I had a blast with her. The drive home, we listened to music and she would ask me questions about the protest and what people said and we would discuss it more.

I know that if I were to ask her now what the protest was about, she probably wouldn't remember much of it. That's what being a five-year old is like. But hopefully, in fifteen years, she'll remember to ask people about what they think and believe and listen to everyone before she makes up her mind.