Brian has been involved with Occupy Maine since last fall and initiated Occupy Maine TV. He is a college student concentrating in Behavioral Health, but also takes courses in communications and the media. He has a past career as a chef. This interview is part of a series by Doug Bowen of Occupy Maine, Portland with people who are active with Occupy.
What draws you to the Occupy Movement, Brian?
Well, the Occupy Movement for me has been a long time coming. Probably once I got out of high school, my brain had developed enough to see the terrible injustice that was going on, and that was 25 years ago. It was just before then, I think that the Exxon Valdiz disaster happened and the American people essentially paid for it, through increased gas prices and the people who volunteered to clean it up. I remember that was my first taste that something was wrong. Then I had friends from Seeds for Peace, also people I met from the Soviet Union, marched with them here, went out and got drunk with them, that was long ago.
Citizens United was really the last straw for me, where I ended up not only angry at the Supreme Court decision, but surprised that the whole country didn’t start carrying torches. I remember I was in Washington DC and Bush and the war in Iraq. There were hardly any protesters there. What country do I live in?
So once it happened, once people started occupying in New York City, and I didn’t expect it to last long, I was so thankful it did, and once I saw it in Monument Square, there it is, it’s a long history.
Did that feel like the moment you could begin to express all those thoughts and feelings that had built up?
Absolutely, I’ll tell you it actually affected my psychology. I deal with depression and take medication for it, and when this happened, when this whole movement began, it gave me hope, you know, and it was hope that I didn’t think was left anymore, especially after Citizens United, and when no one said anything and it just washed over the news, and the country was asleep, in a complete coma, an irreversible coma is what it felt like. I talked to other people – same feelings, they just felt so oppressed. Things were so unchangeable, there was no way to change things ourselves. All I was doing here was writing petitions, on-line petitions and I would show up at some of the protests at the senators’ offices, and protest against George W and the war, once in a while, but there was such low turnout.
Do you think that after all that had happened in this country, that Occupy helped you feel empowered instead of powerless?
Yes. I know there were bigger protests around the country, but here in Portland there were a few about the Iraq War and a few about impeaching Bush and even there were some protests against Tom Allen, our congressman then. I remember him telling us directly there were more important things do. I was just dumbfounded. That really told me a lot. Yeah, these were the people I had allied myself with, against the Republicans. I knew how money bought things, but didn’t realize how completely it buys everything. I didn’t know it was bipartisan, and hey, I volunteered for the Obama Campaign, because I wanted national healthcare. I cried the night he was elected, I thought we’d see change – and I’ve cried every day since, you know what I mean? So it didn’t feel like anything happened, until the Occupy Movement happened, that I felt somewhat empowered. Again. I think that delivered me from being a shut-in. I went to school, came home and I can tell you today that I have friends, now I have friends. There was a time in my life when I didn’t think I would.
It’s funny how different all of us look and from different backgrounds too, from Branson the lawyer to some who are very homeless. If anyone had asked me a year ago would there be community, I didn’t even know what community was, to me a year ago, community was an abstract thought and now I think I understand what that means. We have a community here and I have people here who I can say are my friends. It’s amazing. I didn’t have that for a long time, I didn’t think I would make friends again. It’s such a good thing, and empowerment is the word. The Occupy Movement meant more than just political and social change. It meant local community.
What kind of impact would you like to have on the Occupy Movement?
The impact I’m choosing to have is to try to do this television show as one form of outreach to others, not only the people who are already in our community, but also people who aren’t in our community yet. Occupy Maine TV: my idea about that is that I noticed early on the misrepresentation by the news. Obviously its no surprise that the corporate media puts corporate spin on and I knew that even in our general assemblies, even though they can be rough to be in, no one was documenting what was happening, no one was getting the true history of it and I was very fearful that no one would. I wanted to make sure we had a way of combating media coverage that is slanted to the point of misleading information. Misleading, that’s a nice way of saying lies. When the media lies to us, purposefully misleading us, I knew we needed to document this movement, this history in the making, and we needed a way of showing other people that the corporate media is that – media for the corporation. It needs to be through a community lens, our own rather than a corporate lens. If that in turn has an impact on the Occupy Movement, that’s great.
I’ve had great help from Regis, Bob, Holly, Andre, Kara, Jennifer, Allen. I hope to focus more on being positive, on us being positive. Not just fist in the air angry, but the things we accomplished. The maypole thing. I wish we’d set a whole segment around it. Talk about the maypole history and what our wishes are. That was about community, that was positive, about change, not just about angry people – we have reason to be angry, but not everybody likes to see that way all the time. We’re making a record of what we accomplish, not just what we’re angry about.
What hope do you have about the impact Occupy can have on society?
I hope that we evolve as human beings, that this is about becoming more egalitarian. If you threw me into a senator’s position and I can get showered with money and sex and whatever is turning me on, I might start to like being in that position and defend it and might even lie and turn my head. I think that’s human nature, for both Republicans and Democrats. Nobody’s born evil, well, maybe some people are, but I doubt that, we’re all sort of outcomes of our society.
Wouldn’t it be great if this movement were the beginning of keeping that stuff in check, making sure our leaders are rotating or find a form of government that is truly horizontal. Wouldn’t it be great if we began to frown upon anybody going to war over natural resources. The original question was, what would like to see come out of the movement? I feel it’s not a political revolution, it’s a social revolution. That’s why the Occupy Movement is not a political party.
Talking about community, if only we had a couple of generations of taking care of each other, taking care of the planet, putting that first rather than profits and comfort and ease and whatever this addiction is, its not just that we’re addicted to oil, which is true, but we’re addicted to comfort and convenience as Americans, for sure. Comfort and convenience is a good thing too, but not at the price of people starving, dying or being bombed.
We are addicted to escapism, and they, whoever they are, just want to give us more and more. Again, the powers that be, if they’re taking all this money, all this power, and thinking of ways to keep coming back, just like a drug dealer, and I think sadly that’s human nature and wouldn’t it be great if over the course of generations we can breed it out of us?
Aren’t you describing there being another aspect to human nature as well?
Yes, its already there, whether it be the dominant aspect...You know what? Maybe it is the dominant part. Just take a small number of people, that’s all it takes. I think it would be nice if we keep each other in check, before we come to the point we’re at right now, where we have to put ourselves in the line of fire and be clubbed and arrested for non-violent protest. Americans: you look at your fellow Americans being beaten on television and even the announcer says that they’re nonviolent and yet they’re getting beaten and arrested and you’re not even doing anything about it; the rest of the 99% are just glazed over. They should be saying, “what the hell’s going on.”
Does it seem like you’ve been preoccupied by these kinds of things for a long time?
I have been and that’s why I bring a lot of energy to it, a little too much at times, a little too much passion at the time, once in a while, and I always regret it when I do. Its work, to cultivate it without burning it, you know?
Do you generally like the way Occupy Maine is functioning now or are there changes you would like to see take place?
That’s a good one. I would like to chat with my lawyer on this – no, I’m just kidding. The first thing to say is that I am never satisfied with anything. So whether that be a perfectionist attitude, my own life, I was never satisfied. The thing is, I’m never satisfied with my own performance. Even when things are ticking well, I will always look for ways to make them tick better or faster. So I’m not satisfied with the way Occupy Maine is working, and that isn’t because people are poor at what they’re doing, just like the television show. None of us has done a bad job, what we did is we threw a canoe into the water and all jumped in and started paddling, and none of us knew how to paddle a canoe, but we’re getting better as we go. We’ll even find out where we’re going, once we know how to paddle the canoe. And so its just going to take time for all of us to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
It wasn’t as if we’d had any guidance or training in how to do this?
Right. And what was happening in the 60’s was good as the base, but this is different, different times, the laws are tougher, it’s a whole different world, and we are different people. So it’s a different ball game. Now we have to throw 30 people into the canoe.
I think Occupy Maine has very similar challenges to other Occupies around the country, I keep hearing that. I see some of the many different groups that we’re doing; obviously I don’t want to say that you can’t do that, but I’m perplexed by the fact that we’re all working for the same thing, but that people want to go off and make it a separate group, but still call it Occupy and I really feel that’s dangerous for us. I think sticking together is the better bet. If we were all out in the ocean and our boat had sunk, like this country, and if we all started to swim off in our own direction – we all want to find land and save ourselves - we’re going to have a lot better chance if we stick together, so that’s a way of looking at it.
So, I think unity is important and I hope we focus on that here in Occupy.
Do you think some people in the movement might be worried that standing united might mean curbing individual liberty and autonomy?
For sure. I do think that. I know the general assemblies are difficult and are a turn-off, so why do that when I can have my own group here, and take 3 of the best people from the general assembly? We’ve lost quite a few, though some of them have come back. Some have gone to New York. I’ve thought about that, but I think it’s important to stick to the “points of the fingers” in Alaska, Washington state or Maine. Ah, the GA, its rough. It’s also beautiful.
A teaspoon of empowerment is like a glassful of water in the desert, that’s how Occupy Maine is for me.