Occupy Wall Street, Island Style

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - October 19, 2011
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I fell into step with Jim Brewer a couple of Sundays ago. We were both in Chinatown, both on our way to an 11 a.m. general assembly meeting of the Honolulu manifestation of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Brewer was making a twofer out of it; one of his dogs, a tiny one, dangled from a leash at his feet.

Brewer has been active in one movement or another for as long as I can remember. I first noticed him a quarter century ago as he stood in a lonely, silent vigil for workers’ rights outside the Capitol. He’s run for several state offices, marched in countless demonstrations, and hosted an Olelo Television program on peace and justice issues. He’s currently running for president as a member of the Green Party. His black-and-white, low-budget handout promises “Common Sense in the 21st Century Our Freedom Struggle Today Is Between ‘Democracy and Corporatocracy.’”

Between adoring looks down at his dog, Brewer said: “We’re in the midst of the second Great Depression, and the worst may not have happened yet.”

When we arrived at Chinatown’s Dr. Sun YatSen Memorial Park adjacent to Hawaii Theatre, no more than 25 mostly young people had gathered around a statue of the Chinese political reformer at age 13. The assembly’s numbers would grow to perhaps 50.

Several homeless were scattered around the park, heads on their backpacks, asleep. One young man came dressed as a banker: black top hat, black suit jacket, black shorts, white shirt, tie and Monopoly money spilling from his jacket pocket. Most of the rest dressed and looked like college students, more graduate than undergraduate.

The discussion revolved around a variety of issues: procuring local, organic food for the group; whether its numbers are large enough to sustain a permanent occupation (they weren’t); announcement of a demonstration at the Gandhi statue at the Honolulu Zoo later in the day (we needed more notice); securing a website; support from Hawaii unions (several Local 5 organizers are in attendance); and relations with the police.

Two policemen, dressed in aloha shirts with large HPD patches attached to their sleeves, stood uneasily at the edge of the crowd. They’d parked their wellmarked van in full view.

One speaker cited the good relations enjoyed with the police at their two previous meetings. Another urged embracing the police: “They’re part of the 99 percent with the rest of us.” Another retorted: “Police are supposed to act like your friends, but they’re not.”

Brewer, who’d been leaning quietly against a tree, requested to speak: “There are police and there are Hawaii police. On the Mainland, police protect your enemy from the picketers. In Hawaii, it’s the other way around.”

An attractive older woman chastised the young people for lacking a single, coherent message: “You need to be seen as something other than a bunch of hippies.” One of the young people replied: “It’s not about a single message. It’s about getting arrested.”

“Just gathering to be arrested for no reason?” asked a young woman.

The discussion went on and on.

But if anyone expected arrests or disorder this Sunday morning, they would be disappointed. Civility reigned. The assembly operated with a series of silent hand gestures sent out from the Occupy Wall Street organizers: hands up-raised to show agreement, down to show disagreement, hands in a steeple to make a point of process, crossed at the wrist to block action on a proposal until more thoroughly discussed.

Hands flew up and down throughout the hour. No one spoke without raising their hands and being recognized.

Arrests? Not even close. “This is easy duty,” whispered one of the police officers.

That it was. I’ve seen more disorder at a faculty meeting frequently. No arrests, though.

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