[Taking a hint from Tony D'Souza (Ivory Coast 2000-02, Madagascar 2002-03) about focusing on what's happening in America (and around the world) I have emailed a few RPCV writers and asked them to drop me notes from their cities. Paul Eggers (Malaysia 1976-78) in California commented the other day on the pepper-spray incident at U of Davis. And soon we'll have reports from Dublin, Switzerland and Cairo. But first Tony D'Souza tells us what is happening in St. Louis, Missouri, where he is encamped for a few years as his wife earns her MFA and he cares for their two young children. Here's Tony's take on the gateway city.]
St. Louis: Mutual Assured Destruction
We’ve had 51 Occupy-related arrests so far here in St. Louis, daily protests outside Bank of America, union-led marches to the MLK Bridge, and the requisite forcible eviction of the tent encampment from the downtown city park. Covering it for the alternative weekly Riverfront Times, I’ve been feeling more like a radio than a print journalist: everyone in these protests has a camera; what can I contribute with another photo of the same event?
All the cameras have created an atmosphere of Mutual Assured Destruction between the Occupiers and law enforcement…one false move and you’re up on YouTube, knee-capping your own side and outraging millions like the Pepper Spraying Cop. The Occupy St. Louis protesters eschewed yelling “F— the police,” for the first 41 days of their action here, then when the fleet of paddy wagons finally rolled up to haul them away, the F bombs started flying for a grand total of five minutes. Of course that was all that was reported by most news outlets.
St. Louis, like a lot of formerly industrial American cities, isn’t located in St. Louis anymore; it’s in a ring of sprawling suburbs that begin at the city’s western limit. The people there, uniformly white, don’t come into the urban center; the downtown park Occupy St. Louis has been squatting in-as pointed out by one RFT reader-has long been a ‘blighted wasteland.’
Still, the message boards after my stories about Occupy seethe with right-wingers telling Occupiers to ‘get a job,’ and, ’stop crapping on the sidewalk.’ But mostly, they’re incensed that Occupy drove Macy’s Christmas-tree lighting ceremony out of said wasteland, which none of them would have attended anyway. Think of the children!
There’s been such a focus on isolated events-a shooting in Oakland, a rape in Philly-to smear the whole movement, it’s clear the opposition is taking Occupy seriously. I just have trouble understanding what they find so threatening about a bunch of liberal arts majors who couldn’t make a Molotov cocktail if they were handed glass bottles, rags, gasoline, and instructions on how to make Molotov cocktails? (Besides, all the American liberal arts majors who do know how to make Molotov cocktails are apparently over in Egypt.) Occupy is talking about those things-economic inequality, unemployment, corruption-that are affecting everyone, even in the suburbs now. It’s hard not to be sympathetic to people making sense.