Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Occupy the World - I WIll Bring My Drum

“Several people pounded on drums.” - From a Sunday LA Times article, “LA marchers chant ‘We are the 99%’”, buried on page A37.

I attended my first protest in the spring of 1969. I was just starting to grow my hair long. On a chill fall night several months later, I was part of 500,000 demonstrators that marched past the White House as Richard Nixon watched a college football game.

The Vietnam War dragged on another five years.

No one listens, which may explain We the People’s embarrassing lack of participation in the political process. In any given Presidential election, only 6 in 10 of those eligible to vote even bother to turn out. During mid-term elections, a mere 4 in 10 make the effort.

“In democracy we get the government we deserve,” de Tocqueville famously declared. “Government is the problem,” Reagan infamously riposted 150 years later.

My view of life is that we all come equipped with control buttons that are not connected to anything. We press, we press. Eventually, the smart ones figure out that nothing happens and find better things to do.

“I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all,” Vonnegut’s Malachi Constant told us in “The Sirens of Titan.” Forget about our foolish conceits that we are masters of our own destinies. The wise man and fool suffer the same fate, says Ecclesiastes. Nothing changes.

We know that, but occasionally we do suffer relapses. We delude ourselves into thinking that our control buttons are actually connected to something. This happened to me three years ago when I voted for Barrack Obama. “Oh crap. Obama is still President?” I found myself saying over breakfast two days ago at my good friend’s place.

There is something to be said about depressive realism. I was up in LA, spending a long-overdue weekend, catching up. My friend pointed to an article in the Sunday LA Times. Some trend-setters in the gay community were making the scene in high-heels. Clearly, this was far worse than global warming. “When men wear better shoes than the ones I have on ... “ she exploded.

It will only get worse, I reminded her, ever the depressive realist. Should this trend take off in the gay community, then eventually straight men will copy it. In ten years, I let her know, all men will be walking about in stilettos that will put this year’s Prada's to shame.

Ah, there is nothing like spending the weekend ranting and raving with a dear friend. The day before, she and I and her boyfriend and a friend took the Metro down to Pershing Square where a crowd was gathering for an Occupy LA march that had spun out of Occupy Wall Street and was now part of a worldwide Occupy movement.

I was under no delusions. I was fully aware my personal control button remained unconnected to anything, but I was satisfying an insatiable urge to tap it. For the purpose, I brought along my recently acquired Nigerian talking drum. Okay, the drum was probably made in China.

You sling the hourglass-shaped drum over your shoulder and bang on the top hide with a curved stick. With your opposite elbow, you apply pressure to a superstructure of connecting strings to top and bottom hides, thereby regulating the pitch of the drum in mid-beat. The effect mimics human vocal intonations. West African tribes used to employ this type of drum as a sophisticated method of long-distance communication. This days, the drum is valued as a musical instrument.

A virtuoso drummer can literally make this thing talk, but even beginners are capable of coaxing cool sounds of the thing. Besides, I knew how to count to four.

The crowd was small by protest standards, maybe three thousand. Nearly everyone was carrying home-made signs. My friend's sign was filled with a list of all the countries that had universal healthcare.

“New Zealand,” I banged out on my drum. Soon, I was vocalizing other signs in the crowd.

“We ARE the 99 percent,” I beat out, in sync with some of the chanting. We started moving. I noticed two drummers ahead of me. One, an older Latino man, had a set of bongos strapped to his body. He was using drumsticks to project very staccato retorts that carried above the crowd. The other, a college-age lad, was toting an African djembe, which is the classic West African hand drum.

I moved up to join the two drummers. In nothing flat we were banging out simple stuff together, paying close attention, adjusting our beats to the movement of the crowd and the chanting. I was mostly using my drum as a kind of bass drum, in support of the other two drummers. Occasionally, I would break out into some of my own thunking flourishes. The narrow canyons created by the tall buildings on either side acted as a natural amplifier. We were feeding off of each other's energy and that of the crowd. The sum was greater than the parts. The mystics have many names for this - connectedness works just fine.

A mile or so into the march, my Latino companion broke out his water bottle. He offered the kid a drink, then me. The older guy was named Vinnie. The kid was Danny. We fell back into step and resumed our drumming.

“We ARE the 99 percent.”

Yes, we are.

Near the end of the march, we pulled up in front of the large building housing the Bank of America. Our young djembe-player now had both hands free to bang out a cool beat. Another kid with a snare drum found his way to us. A middle-aged African American woman with a djembe joined us. Now we had a real drum circle going. I kept my beat simple but urgent.

THUNK!-THUNK! I pounded. The other drummers filled in with their much faster beats. A crowd gathered around us. A woman started playing a recorder.

All too soon, it was time to move on. Over on the next block was a small park where a small band of protesters had been camping out in a tent city, literally occupying LA. This is where the march ended. I rejoined my friends. Someone came over and handed me a booklet of his poems. I shook hands with my fellow drummers. Time to catch the Metro back.

I am under no illusions about the fact that my control button is not connected to anything. No one listens. But, on this day at least, someone heard our drumming.

8 comments:

Lizabeth said...

Yes, we are the 99% and too many of us are suckers. We get pulled into one issue politics and ignore the bigger issues. We vote the party our parents voted for. We throw away our power. We listen/watch sound bites while the written "news" sources have become unlabled opinion pieces. Thats those of us that bother to vote--the rest of us throw what little of our power remains away completely. Some of us forget that most of big business lies and lies and lies.
Most of the regulations on big business are gone, most of the powerful unions are gone and the ones that are left hireW managers from big business.
We are only fooling ourselves if we pretend there is not a class division in our country--and most of the top 1% couldn't care less about the rest of us. And they control the media that reports our protests..
Our only remaining weapon is our vote. So at least vote for whoever you think will do the least harm over multiple issues. We need to change the mindset that its ok for FEMA to be out of money. Having most of the 99% actually vote is the best and only way to start.
Oh, and if a balanced budget is so important, wouldn't the easiest way to get it be to bring our troops home from the trillion dollar wars.
Hey---hows that for depressive realism?

John McManamy said...

Hey, Lizabeth. Fully agree. I'll probably be writing more on this. :)

Joanne said...

If we were living in a democracy we might be to blame for our government, but our government is bought and paid for by non-humans: corporations, unions, large nonprofits, PACs, etc. These organizations's actions on our government are not controlled by their millions of human stockholders, members, contributors, etc., but by a relatively tiny number of executives. It is this fact that explains why our government is feeding our traumatized vets seroquel in such quantities that they spend more of their entire rx budget on only one other drug and why it's not only legal for disability insurance to discriminate against those with serious mental illness but also illegal to try to sue those companies for that discrimination. Lets not even talk about the government supporting the conversion of virtually all soy and corn to a Monsanto monoculture (remember the potato famine!) and threatening our allies if they don't accept these GMOs into their food supply. Organizations have agendas and budgets, but not one has a soul or more than a temporary conscience.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Joanne. I fully concur. I just read a book, incidentally, that said the Inca cultivated THOUSANDS of varieties of potatoes.

Lizabeth said...

The thing is if all the 99% voted, the corps and Pacs, etc. would not matter quite so much---oh they will always have some infuence but if the politicians realized their "friends" alone could NOT get them elected and KEEP them elected some things might change.

Somehow, most of us have been raised to believe in the goodness of others. It might be a good idea to remember that too small is not good (minorities get picked on) and too large is not good(Humanity gets lost)

And it is not smart to vote for a President of one Party then saddle him with a Congress from the other and then complain that nothing gets done. Especially when the other Party's agenda is to make the President look bad so they can get back into the White House.

Watch who runs the National Comittees of the Parties--Sometimes they have more power than those elected. We have to show them the power of the 99% too.

STEP ONE, IT DOESN'T MATTER WHO YOU VOTE FOR, JUST EVERYBODY VOTE. That will scare the bigwigs. This is, you understand, a long range project.

And when you are reading/listening or watching politics, follow the money as to who owns the media.

See--still depressive realism

John McManamy said...

Hey, Lizabeth. Love your depressive realism. :)

Wayne Brown said...

Although I do not see anything wrong with Bank of America making a profit anymore than I see with all of the internet companies who make our blogs possible making a profit, I do agree with you about healthcare. Healthcare for everyone is long overdue in America! If we can firgure out how to put a man on the moon and on a space station, then certainly we can make sure everyone has the healthcare we need. I write this as I try to figure out how I'm going to buy my $700 worth of meds to treat my bipolar disorder. I really don't know what the answer is, but I do know that the policians need to work together for a time to make this healthcare thing work. Something that we can afford would be helpful.

Thanks for your site. It is helpful to me. I enjoy reading it. I look forward to your future posts.

John McManamy said...

Thanks Wayne for your comments. Just to clarify - I don't think anyone objects to banks making honest profits for honest work. But we seriously object to the type of gross criminal activity from banks and other institutions that brought the world to the brink of economic collapse. We also object to the fact that many of these institutions profited from their malfeasance while taxpayers footed the bill. Finally, no reform happened.

We're still not out of the woods yet and the whole system could collapse any second. Numerous mainstream experts have commented on this.

Bottom line: Our economy is run for the benefit of those who make obscene profits gaming the system at the expense of the rest of us. This has always been the case, but the malignancy has reached stage 4 status.

I used to be a financial journalist. I'm glad I'm no longer one. This stuff is simply too depressing to immerse yourself everyday in.

As for your meds - I know you are in the same situation as many many others, and I think I may have to change my thinking on the stuff I write on bipolar treatment. In other words, if you and a good many others cannot afford meds - or a good psychiatrist that knows how to prescribe correctly - then I need to focus more on non-meds ways to manage our illness.

I already do this, but now you've really got me thinking.