An Alumnus Reports from the Field: Occupy The Globe

I don’t remember when I first started reading about the Occupy Wall Street Movement last year, but I do remember where.  Facebook.  People started posting about Occupy, asking why nobody was reporting on it.  At first I thought the word Occupy was code for something I didn’t understand.  Having lived outside the US for over seven years now, I’m often out of the loop when it comes to matters of pop culture.  I read the New York Timesreligiously online everyday to stay in touch with my country and the city I call my hometown, but I had not seen anything about Occupy.  Why were we not hearing about it?

If there is something I believe in more than ever after living in China for the past seven years it is the right to freedom of speech and to a free press.  When I thought the word Occupy was code for something else, my perception was also influenced by years of learning code words my Chinese friends use to get around the “Great Firewall” of internet censorship they take for granted and find creative ways to circumvent.  But, I am an American and our Constitution guarantees us the right to freedom of speech and a free press.  Why was the reporting on the Occupy movement being squelched?

The Chinese government is having a field day with this.  Just today, May 28, 2012, the China Daily, an English language newspaper published in China, printed an article saying that harsh criticism of Beijing caters to needs of the US election, and it took a jab at Washington’s annual report on China’s human rights, saying that the US government’s crackdown on protesters in the Occupy Wall Street demonstration is the real illustration of American democracy and denial of free speech.  In a report, Beijing demanded the US stop its double standards, saying the US turned a blind eye to its own woeful human rights situation and remained silent about it, using the lack of reporting on the Occupy Wall Street Movement as the prime example of this.  In other words, who are we to judge?

Another thing I believe in more than ever after living in China is capitalism.  It’s very hard to be judgmental about capitalism and the global economy when you have observed how capitalism can help people pull themselves out of poverty.  As someone who grew up with nothing, who went home from school everyday wondering if my family was going to be evicted from yet another ratty house or apartment my parents were renting, I understand the scrabbling and scraping that survival entails.  I also know what it feels like to pull yourself out of meager circumstances, along with the help of others, and I know what it feels like when you have enough money in your pocket for the first time not only for your basic needs, but for your future as well.  I lived through this as a child and young adult and I lived through it again teaching young Chinese people how to open up their own small businesses.

The Chinese people I know don’t have time to be concerned with the Occupy Movement.  They are too busy trying to scrabble and survive and too busy working to spend the time it takes to navigate around the layers of censorship the Chinese government has cloaked around the word “occupy” on the internet.  The notion of the Occupy Movement is in the ether, though, and if the government can’t keep artificially propping up the economy and the phenomenal growth rates continue to slow down, the reason for the government’s existence—preventing luan (chaos)—will be called into question.  There are no secrets in China and once people have time on their hands because the work has dried up and word gets out about Occupy I will be watching to see how long some semblance of an Occupy Movement can be sustained in China, if at all.

I will also be watching to see if the Occupy Movement can be sustained in the USA or in the rest of the world for that matter.  The idea of leaderless, nonviolent resistance is a beautiful thing.  But like all ideas, the execution is where success or failure happens and so far, in the execution of the Occupy Movement, I think that the lack of solid leadership has been a detriment.  I believe in this movement, believe in the power of nonviolent resistance and would like nothing more than to see a sustained global solidarity complimenting a sustained global economy.

My world is wider now from having lived abroad and I believe in the power of joining hands across continents to accomplish great things.  My deepest hope is that the Occupy Movement figures out how to move forward and finds leaders who can help it grow and mature and move forward.  With the mess the world is in now, the Occupy Movement is more necessary than ever.