*Image courtesy of The Truths of Life.
In our society there’s a certain push to keep going.
If you have a headache and it’s a workday, you take an aspirin and keep on going.
If you’re a woman and you have your period, you pretend there are no cramps and you keep on going.
If there’s an ice storm and the roads are dangerous, you drive in to work anyways, you keep on going.
This push to keep going can take over sometimes, becoming the most important drive in our lives.
But all this pushing can strip our humanity, break us down.
I worked at a diner inches from the tunnels to New York City. It was a big, busy place that bustled with business and I ran the evening shift as hostess. I was the 3 pm to 3 am shift most nights. It was one of those jobs that seems surreal looking back. The waitstaff regularly worked twelve, fourteen hour shifts, sometimes twenty. Most of the young ones on the staff stayed high on uppers so they could make it through their shifts and I was propositioned continuously by one of my managers to “take it down to the cot downstairs”.
One night a call came in.
One of the waitresses, a woman in her fifties, found out her husband had just died.
The night manager insisted she work out the rest of her shift…. and she did. She kept on going.
I tried to make her leave or at least get off the floor for a while, but she looked at me with tired eyes, eyes too tired to be scared anymore, and she said, “I can’t. They’ll fire me.”
A little over a year and a half ago Patrick and I were both working at an upstart health food store on Saint Pete Beach. We had everything all planned out. I’d landed a marketing position there, and he’d landed in the supplements department working alongside an old friend from aeons before. We had some money saved in the bank and we were starting to shop around for a cozy little beachside shack within walking distance of work.
Life was good. We’d taken a scary plunge by leaving our jobs (and moving cross country) during the biggest economic depression of our lifetimes, but we’d come out on top of the risk. We had our websites producing a happy side income and there was a genuine sense of belief that all was right in our little world.
That’s where we were one night as we left work together.
Three minutes later life looked pretty different.
We stopped at a red light 100 feet from the entrance of our work.
We sat there waiting, laughing and talking, unaware of the woman who was about to hit us, the woman who was very, very drunk and driving very fast.
Life has a way of changing quickly sometimes. In our circumstance, we both got a free ride in an ambulance, pink slips from our new positions, and too many trips to the doctor’s office.
As I sit here writing this I feel older than my 37 years. I feel the heavy twist of ache in my spine, at the base of my neck, and the too familiar twinge of a collarbone injury that seems so nonsensical it should be humorous, except it just doesn’t seem to go away.
A few days after the accident, I found myself at work, unable to turn my head or use my neck, and doing my best to stuff down pain-created tears as I attempted to do my job.
Ayo took one look at me. She grabbed me by the arm, and she said, “You’re going home now.”
“No buts, you’re going home.”
The tears started flowing at this point, “But Ayo, I can’t. I’ve already been out for two days and there’s the event to plan and,” I whispered this last part quietly, “….they’ll fire me.” I knew this. They’d unceremoniously dumped their last marketing head to get me on board, a fact that caused me a lot of uncomfortable feelings. I’d met their last marketer, seen her work, talked to people she’d talked to, and she’d been a good woman, a good worker.
Ayo knew better though, she said, “It doesn’t matter if they fire you. You’ve got to go home and take care of yourself. You can’t work right now.”
When I see people going and sitting on wall street, gently protesting on wall street, I see people saying a lot of things in our country aren’t right, and one of those things is working conditions.
Sometimes there’s asbestos in the tool your manager wants you to use.
Sometimes there’s toxic fumes in the wallpaper sample factory you work at.
Sometimes there’s a six cent raise after a six month month wait.
Sometimes you work full-time and your honey works full-time, but there’s still not enough to pay for both food and rent.
Sometimes you need to know it’s going to be o.k. to call in to work and say, “I’m sorry but I’m snowed in and I’m afraid to drive in today. Is it all right if I stay home?”
Sometimes you just need a job to go to, any job, and no matter how many applications you turn in to Wal-mart and Taco Bell you still can’t find someone to hire you.
When I work long hours on my online business, longer hours than I would if I had a regular job, I think of that waitress, and I think of everything we said to each other that night. I think of the look in her eyes, and I think about how she knew she’d get fired if she decided to leave.
I also think of Ayo. Ayo died last year, uninsured, of cancer, shortly after she steered me towards the exit doors, sealing my fate (I was let go) and giving me freedom.
Patrick and I, we’d known Ayo for close to 15 years.
Ayo was a proud black woman, fierce and gentle and human.
Ayo had dreadlocks down past her tiny bumm, with seashells woven in to her hair.
Ayo wore the traditional dress of her ancestors, gorgeous multi-colored African gowns.
Ayo never apologized, she never held back her words, her thoughts.
Ayo spoke out when she saw something wrong, she spoke out for change, even when it cost her.
Ayo said we all need to remember we’re people, we’re human, and we need to remember to treat each other like humans.
The lost art of gentleness starts within.
We can offer gentleness to other people in the world, but the place it will often have the most impact, and the place where it is least frequently shared, is towards ourselves. It’s the lost art of self-kindness, the lost art of nurturing.
Today, wherever you are, if you’re at work or at home, right down the street or at the other end of the world, today be a little softer with yourself, give yourself a break, take a few deep breaths, give yourself a hug. Nurture your inner woundedness, be kind to yourself.
And then think about what’s going on around you, think about how you’re being treated.
Is it fair? Is it right?
Think about an old woman in her sixties, cleaning houses for her living. Think about that old woman slipping and tripping, breaking two ribs, breaking her arm. No health insurance. No sick pay. Think about that old woman losing her house, losing everything she spent a lifetime working for, because she had to take six months off to recover.
Is that the human way we treat our workers in this country?
Do we suck them up and throw them out when we’re done, picking up a fresher batch that still has some energy left in them?
Have workers in this country turned into production terminals, producing, producing, producing like the milk cows on our factory farms, to be discarded once the first signs of wear have begun to show their signs?
We choose our limits.
We decide if it’s crossed a line.
Are you human, beautiful and strong?
Are you slave, tired and cowed?
Real change happens when we make it happen.
Real change happens when we examine the society around us and determine if it’s working correctly.
Our human world needs very little. Fresh food. Enough food. Protection from the elements. Shelter. Communities. Learning. Libraries. Health care.
It’s a simple list, a human list.
An old activist became cynical and shut her eyes, until the time when the people spoke up again.
How could she keep her voice from rising to join the others?
How could she quell her heartsong, stay silent in the face of so much grace, majesty, humanity?
I stand for Ayo.
I stand for the homeless man with an unset break in his arm sitting in a park, the one who’d been turned away at the emergency room doors.
I stand for the waitress, working through the night as her husband’s body grew cold.
I stand for me, one person finding a way to simplify, reshape a human reality, in an out of control world ruled by dollar signs.
I am one small voice and I am the 99%.
*Edited to Add: Resources and Further Reading
Perspectives from some of my minimalist friends regarding Occupy Wall Street
Meg from Minimalist Woman: Open:Occupy Wall Street
Chase from Unbridled Existence: Nine Lies About Occupy Wall Street
Annie from Annienygma: Want to Really Hurt Wall Street?
Business Insider: Charts: Here’s What the Wall Street Protesters Are So Angry About. If you only read one thing about Occupy Wall Street, I recommend it be this article. It’s coherent, precise, practical, grounded in fact and studded with charts.
We Are the 99%: A tumblr with 89 pages of submissions sharing the stories of the 99%. I shared one story of 99% here, because I’ve always been long-winded, but the stories on this blog are the stories of a people, the stories of you and me. If you read just one thing other than the Business Insider chart, I recommend you read some of the stories shared here. This tumblr blog has the chance of changing a world.
Adbusters: A large backer of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Adbusters is a Canadian based magazine that has been in print circulation for many years. It is an ad free publication which relies on subscriptions and donations of photography and articles to continue. It is a powerful resource. I have long been a fan and supporter of the work Adbusters accomplishes. (Top video resource)
Adbusters Occupy Wall Street: This is the link to the main Occupy Wall Street hub on Adbusters. There is a lot of information on this specific campaign page and it can be difficult to find from the home page, so I gave it it’s own link. (Top video resource)
Occupy Wall Street: This site is a meeting place for keeping up to date on tactical information behind the scenes. It is designed less as a way to share a message with the public and more as a way to ensure more bandaids make it to the medic tent, and carpool rides are organized. If you plan on becoming active with the occupation of wall street, this is your main go-to resource.
Occupy Together: Occupy Together provides a resource for continued information about the worldwide Occupation concept. You will find concrete calls to action here, as well as news and information on the movement. Occupy Together started a directory before moving it off-site to the Meet-up group mentioned next.
Meet-up Occupy Together: This is a meet-up listing space for all of the different peaceful protests happening globally that are using the occupy concept. If you want to find like-minded people in your area of the world, or create a meet-up this is the place to go.
15 October: A day for the global world community to express their thoughts in the streets. A non-violent event offering the chance for world change. It is happening in 951 cities and 81 different countries and it is happening on October 15th 2011.