I, along with a great many others, have been watching the Occupy movement face the imminent eviction from many of the places they have camped out and am wondering what the end result will be. But as a writer, I must confess that I’m a bit mercenary about what I’m waiting for – I’m not terribly optimistic about the movement’s ability to affect any real social change, but I am waiting for the great stories that can come out or be created, regardless of the outcome.
I’m hoping, anyhow. I think about the potential of stories like Dorli Rainey, the 84-year-old who was pepper-sprayed in Seattle, or the overdose victim in Vancouver, or the support of St. James Cathedral in Toronto, and I have the smallest glimmer of optimism for some grist for my storytelling mill. I hope for that moment where the protest takes on more than just the weight of a news soundbite and enters the collective consciousness, where it becomes impossible to ignore.
Enter “The Great Narrative.” You know, the protest story that is treasured and shared for generations. The kind of narrative that emerges when a great many people are willing to put their hearts, families, and indeed lives on the line for what they believe. Think Kent State. The Million Man March. Gandhi’s non-resistance. Tiananmen. Or more recently, Iran, Egypt, Libya, Syria.
Occupy's initial story was engaging enough, albeit unfocused, but it would seem that the movement has become watered down. When the main story these days seems to be either how various mayors are working through the least confrontational way to evict the occupiers or how public support is shifting after a month of almost nothing at all, I think the opportunity for the great narrative – the story I and the world are waiting for – has been lost.
Finally, there is an uncomfortable reality about great narratives – they often come at great cost. And they do so because those involved are willing to risk everything. As the movement winds down, I realize that the opportunity for generation shifting has been squandered because, really, little has been risked or sacrificed. When I hear the protesters compare themselves Egyptians or Syrians in their quest to shed oppression, I’m a little embarrassed by what the rest of the world must think about “our” story and how we view sacrifice.
Are the Occupiers willing to risk everything so the world will listen? I wonder, given that most of the Occupiers can, at the end of the day, go home to their safe, warm homes in safe cities and towns.
Has the freedom we enjoy effectively squashed what the great narrative can accomplish?