Welcome to the occupation

The weather is warm but breezy, and there are focused joggers zipping past mothers with strollers and teenagers staked out on downtown street corners, trying to entice drivers-by into a quick fundraising car wash.

Over at Cesar Chavez Plaza however, the scene is anything but ordinary. Here the park is filled with more than a hundred people as part of the ongoing Occupy Sacramento movement.

Occupy Sacramento is the local offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, the Manhattan-based series of protests that started in mid-September as a call to action against the 1 percent in this country who hold most of the wealth and power.

In the month since its inception the Occupy movement has spread not just coast-to-coast but worldwide; in recent days, similar Occupy demonstrations have popped up in cities such as London and Rome, Barcelona and France, Toronto and Hong Kong.

I honestly didn’t think it would last this long, but in the last week I’ve felt my cynicism shift into something resembling a glimmer of hope.

Unemployment rates are still high, the housing market still in the gutter, and the idea of affordable, accessible and comprehensive health care still a pipe dream for most.

And, perhaps, finally, we’re sick of it all.

Better yet, we’re angry.

Angry enough to light the fire beneath a grassroots movement that’s traveled from the downtown New York City’s corporate concrete jungle to California’s state capital—a city long defined by its slow pace.

But while the scene here on Saturday is relatively quiet—save a shirtless guy hoarsely shouting “Keep the peace! Keep the peace!”—it’s hardly sleepy.

Today the park thrives with activity; there are information booths and a sandwich station where volunteers prep lunch for the demonstrators. There’s a voter-registration table and a place to learn more about Occupy Sacramento. Nearby on a corner, a preteen boy waves a colonial-era American flag—a nod, perhaps, to tea party ideals.

A recent Time magazine poll, however, shows that the ultra-conservative grassroots political party is losing favor—54 percent of those surveyed reported a “favorable impression” of the Occupy movement compared to the 27 percent who think favorably of the tea party.

Across the park on another corner across from City Hall, two teen girls tout their allegiances via handmade signs—“We will no longer remain silent” spelled out in purple glitter—while nearby, a mother, sitting beneath the watchful, immortal perch of Cesar Chavez, keeps an eye on two toddler-aged sons, playing carefree in the sun.

Nearby, a young man leads a group of approximately 40 people through a game that seems to involve shouting out names of big money offenders.

Walmart!” “Target!” “Blackwater!” “Bank of America!

A young boy—8 years old, perhaps—pipes up with a suggestion: “the Pentagon!” Everyone cheers. It is, perhaps, a silly game. A silly game that, on the surface, doesn’t seem to have a point—or at least one that leads to a tangible action or outcome.

But it’s just one moment in this timeline, in this groundswell of discontent. Later, protesters will march to the Capitol; in the evening, they’ll gather for a communal dinner and organizational meeting.

So what will come of it all?

I’m not anti-capitalist per se, but I am anti-greed, and that’s a philosophy that’s hard to define. What do I want from the Occupy movement? What does anybody want?

What will we get? Will the Occupy movement disintegrate or build up into something real—a new tea party-styled political party, perhaps?

For now the movement is still largely symbolic and undefined. But with the 2012 elections just a year away, with our collective standard of living continuing to erode, it’s more important than ever to turn symbolism into effort, philosophy into action, anger into solid, tangible goals.

Otherwise, we’re just shouting into the void.