The SEIU sponsored an event at the Dorrence in downtown Providence; not too far from my residence for the week. It
included karaoke and an open bar. The college student inside me was ecstatic. Surprisingly so, I did not really drink much this weekend even though I had ample chances to do so. Instead, I kept a clear head and talked a filmmaker and later someone running for the state legislature in New Mexico. Their stories were more intoxicating than a jack and coke could have been in that moment in time.
From that point on, I slowly but surely realized an emptiness inside of me. This conference had a lot to offer but something needed to happen beyond that. I was among activists but we were all in our own little bubble for a majority of the week. That bubble was named the Rhode Island Convention Center. If you weren’t a Netroots Scholar like me, getting into that bubble would cost you $300 at the least.
There was much less than $300 in the collection jar on the Occupy Providence site I visited; just a few feet outside out of the convention center and across the street from my hotel. The pound of the occupiers’ drums woke me out of my slumber that evening. Instead of attending the Netroots sponsored block party, I decided to sit down and talk with some of the occupiers. For the first time, I felt like I was closer to the problem and I actually saw and heard firsthand what was mentioned in workshops and panels.
Some have been unemployed for more than a year. Many come from families with dwindling household incomes and underwater mortgages. Most admitted their lack of political knowledge in relation to the participants of the Netroots Nation conference. One said that did not let that deter her. One woman expressed her frustration with the Obama administration and ‘less than liberal agenda.’ All were skeptical about what Netroots represented. Some would even go as far to say that those interests were in some respects similar to those of the conservatives. One woman posed a question as to what being a true progressive encompassed.
Now I would not go as far as to question the motives of my progressive peers. I have seen many passionate causes in the course of two days. While I admire the work done in preparation for this conference, the amount of money spent for the sake of fellowship made me really distraught. You can obviously understand my conflict seeing as it was a good portion of that money that secured my spot in Providence for the week. Those in the progressive movement understand the power of the dollar bill just as well as their conservative counterparts. While money is needed to fund quality operations, I was often left wondering if the pursuit of the dollar bill caused us to focus on the wrong things.
Everyone has something they are passionate about and this is the time to connects, but what happens after this? How do we implement change on the local level? Everyone has a title and a card but how can we really make change? Those were and still are a couple of the questions I continue to ask myself. Occupy Providence has shown me that all it takes is some courage to really get something done. Something empowered some of the people I met that night. They did not let their lack of political knowledge deter them. Instead, they fight because there are just some things they expected from their country that they are not getting right now.
When I head back on that long train ride to DC, I definitely know I am thinking of ways to get my community politically involved, especially the young people. This is not over yet. Something has to come out of this weekend. If nothing else, I have a new sense of obligation to empower those who feel they have no power.