Occupy Baltimore: I joined, how about you?

I was a terrible revolutionary.

My natural inclination while sitting on one side of any fence is to wonder what the other side must feel like.

I joined the Occupy movement because I genuinely care about what the financial institutions are doing to the good people and the communities of this country.  I think big corporate banks are the epitome of evil.

However, I also work for a bank. I enjoy a good salary and lots of perks and I have no intention of stopping any time soon. That’s why my protesting outside of the great Satan, Bank of America, with a handmade sign felt, how should I say this, hypocritical?

My presence in the center of McKelden Square with a mic in my hand felt more like a performance than a protest. Since I am practiced at theater and the spoken word, my performance and I were well received but, even though I spoke my truth passionately and honestly, I felt like an imposter.

Rally outside of City Hall appealing to the Mayor to let the Occupiers exercise their right to assemble.

I was the capitalist pig in the room of revolutionary socialists.

But when I was in a room of capitalist pigs I WAS the revolutionary socialist.

It was a bit of a pickle to find myself in.

I also realized quickly that I have no patience for the truly democratic process.

Giving everyone a chance to voice their opinions individually made for very, very long meetings where nothing got decided.

I found that, even in the Occupy movement, there were natural leaders and followers. Some speakers inspired while others simply irritated. I’m not supposed to admit this, I know, but it’s true and I’m not the only one who noticed.

Cliques developed and allegiances were formed. It’s human nature.

I began to envision the state of the country that a total revolution would make manifest and it looked like chaos. I wasn’t ready to commit to that.

Oct. 4, 2011 Occupy Baltimore. It was held at McKeldin Square, at the Inner Harbor, Baltimore, MD. Several other protests have happneed since then. (Photo by Bill Hughes)

It was clear to me that immersion into the Occupy movement was not going to be the perfect fit for me but I still wanted to support them because I believe, at my core, that they are correct about what needs to change.

I joined a group called B.H.E.A. R.D. (Baltimore Higher Education Alliance for Real Democracy) and I participated in many stimulating educational programs and events that they put on.

I joined in with organized protests that were addressing specific issues that I could whole heartedly throw my support into.

There was a beautiful protest about the youth prison that Baltimore intends to build right next to the adult jail in the city. The idea of the protest was to build a little red schoolhouse and place it in the center of the fenced off lot that would be the building site for the prison.

Hundreds of us turned up and lifted the pieces of the makeshift school over the fence. Six teachers climbed over to construct the school.

The piece of the roof was missing because we were stopped before we could get it all over the fence but the teachers didn’t mind.

“Baltimore city schools have been suffering from leaky roofs for years now.” One teacher explained to the cheering crowd.

Makeshift school house teaches me about the responsibility of freedom.

The teachers gathered in a circle and listened as one teacher read a passage from the writings of Frederick Douglas who wrote that “It is easier to build strong children than it is to repair broken men.”

The school teacher read the days lesson and the protestors outside the fence repeated every word of what they said. It was wonderful to watch these loving people make their point so beautifully despite the fact that they were surrounded by police in riot gear.

The media wasn’t there. They had been pushed back at least four blocks away so that they couldn’t document the swat team coming in. No one but the protesters witnessed them forcibly removing the teachers as they sat outside their school house reading inspirational passages.

It was a surreal experience to see loving, non-violent people being literally dragged off to jail.

This Bill Hughes’ photo was taken from the Oct. 2001 protest.

I wanted to join them but I was worried I would be late for work in the morning. Central booking, I’m told, takes 24 hours.

The crowd chanted, “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?” as the police did no more or less than their job. I was upset but deeply interested in the guards who stood expressionless with their weapons and protective gear as hundreds of strangers shouted at them: “Shame!”

One guard was on the other side of the fence from where I was. I asked him what he felt about all this. I asked him if he believed the jail was the right thing. He said I would be surprised if he voiced his opinion. He revealed that he has friends who are in jail right now. He admitted that he would have a lot to say about this youth prison but that he would lose his job if he said it.

Then he told me he had kids to take care of and I heard him choke up a bit.

He was on our side but he stood there with weapons against us. He believed as we did but he went against those beliefs to put food on the table for his family.

I felt a kinship with him as I knew I was making my own compromises in life. It gave me a great deal to think about and I am thinking about it still.

It occurs to me that there is more than one kind of prison.  Broken men can be found trapped on either side of any fence.