Occupy Together: Mind the Gap! Hits the Streets
By Shannon Hughes
October 07, 2011
Yesterday afternoon, I headed out of the NETWORK office with Matt, Eric, and Maggie to #occupyDC. Armed with Mind the Gap! info sheets, petitions, and stickers, we ventured into the crowd of people rallying at Freedom Plaza. At one entrance to the plaza, I traded a Mind the Gap! sticker for a flyer that read, “We are citizens, professionals, students, activists, parents, unemployed workers, voters, and the underrepresented who represent the 99%. We are interested in separating money from politics and improving the country’s infrastructure to fix healthcare, education, environment and the economy. We are a nonviolent, peaceful solidarity movement with Occupy Wall Street, and other Occupy Together events around the world. Together, we can shift power away from the top 1% and back to the people.”
It seemed as though Mind the Gap! had stepped out of this blog and into the streets of DC through the hearts of some very passionate people. The crowd was diverse in age and agenda, even the speakers – from a stage cloaked in a giant Constitution – covered topics from the tar sands pipeline, to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, to racism, the national budget, and corporate greed. Winding through the plaza to read signs, we stumbled across many messages, a man dressed as a “Corporate Hog” (complete with suit and snout) and a shantytown of cardboard boxes that passersby were personalizing with painted windows and flowers. The painted boxes had each been stamped with the word “FORECLOSED”.
I decided to engage someone sitting on the perimeter wall; he wore a few buttons indicating that he might be interested in hearing our Mind the Gap! message. He took the sticker I offered, but when I tried to hand him a Connection magazine about Mind the Gap! He said, “Oh, I don’t need that. I’ve been on NETWORK’s mailing list for years!” He had traveled from Minneapolis to be a part of the Occupy DC rally. A pair of women wandered by, and after my initial sticker, they asked if NETWORK was religious. Explaining that we were founded by Catholic nuns, they exclaimed, “Oh! We are the product of Catholic nuns! . . . I mean, they weren’t our mothers. They were our teachers!” Dorothy Day quotes and Pax Christi signs and t-shirts sprinkled the plaza. I felt energized, and proud of the people of our church.
On my metro ride home after dinner, a man sat down across from me, next to a women who was quietly working on a crossword puzzle. He grinned as he peeled off a sticker from his coat and explained to both of us, “That’s from the rally!” He had traveled from his home in Vermont to the march in New York on Wednesday, and from there decided to join the DC crowd for a day. Curious, I asked him what this movement meant to him. “This is about taking back our government, and our rights,” he began. He felt that people had the right to gather and express their opinions, and the violence of the police against protestors in New York had moved him to action. The women next to him nodded earnestly. He talked about the military budget, and the difficult economic situation we face. I told him about Mind the Gap! and he asked for information so he could find us online. He turned to the other woman. “What about you?” he asked. “Who do you work for?”
“A contractor for the Department of Defense,” she answered quickly, “I’m just an architect. And we do contract for other people, but mostly the DoD.” After a short pause she added, “But I would always support people’s right to gather nonviolently.” We all smiled.
She asked about Vermont, and talked about bringing her Boy Scout troop up to hike and camp. He told a story about his nephew, an Eagle Scout. The door opened to my stop, and I thought for a moment about continuing the ride, and the conversation, but I needed to get home, so I thanked them for sharing some of their story with me and stepped off the train.
I was grateful for the chance, yesterday afternoon, to tell people what this movement meant to me and to Mind the Gap! I was grateful to find like-minds gathering on the square, to hear and see that other Catholics felt their faith called them to take action in shaping a just economy. But perhaps I am most grateful for the reminder that I got on the metro last night: that people at a rally or in a metro car are strangers with different stories who, despite our differences, have allies in each other. And together we can achieve something good.
P.S. The above photo appeared on the Washington Post’s online edition here. Can you spot our NETWORK banner and Associates Eric and Matt?