Another American Way


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When I went looking for Occupy Johnson City, Tennessee, the spiky profile of pickets and placards struck my eye first, and then the people underneath them, but it did not look like a global uprising per se, just an orderly crowd in a parking lot.

But a crowd, there’s a sight, in a town where people mostly drive-thru or drive on. I saw some American flags and a sign that said “God Hates Banks” and figured this had to be it. From across the street I heard one person say a few words at a time, repeated by the crowd in the unmistakable “from this day forward…” cadence of a wedding or a swearing-in, and again I wasn’t sure I was in the right place. As it turned out, the call and response was the people’s microphone, famously re-invented in New York to subvert the ban on amplifiers. Here in Tennessee it sounds like people taking vows. Repeat as one: men in UMW jackets, farmers in their town clothes, college kids, retired schoolteachers, young couples pushing strollers, the wilderness guide in a kilt, the homeless man with the sign in Latin. Really the temptation was to ask any given person, what is the story? Because there is one.

This is Appalachia, home of the forested Cumberland and Wildwood Flower and NASCAR and 18% unemployment and bless your heart. Home of mountaintop removal, wherein coal companies find it profitable to tear the earth’s own flesh from its bones and leave the stunned, uprooted living to contemplate drinking poison, in the literal sense. Birthplace of the Blair Mountain rebellion, where underpaid labor ran up against big capital in an insurrection unlike any other this country has known. That was in 1921, and by many accounts the approval rating of big capital here has not improved. Just this month, a dispassionate Wall Street analysis ranked us the fifth-poorest region in the land. The people’s microphone in this context sounds like a tent revival. It took twice as long to say anything, but induced full participation, which is also very southern, come to think of it.

At length we agreed to march ourselves down State of Franklin Street, and as we stretched across block after block of stopped traffic, people in their pickups and dinged-up station wagons and gas-conscious sedans honked and cheered to see our “tax greed” signs, and did not advise us to get a job or a haircut. The orthodox objections have grown ridiculous. Every system on earth has its limits. We have never been here before, not right here exactly, you and me together in the golden and gritty places all at once, on deadline, no fooling around this time, no longer walking politely around the dire colossus, the so-called American Way of consecrated corporate profits and crushed public compassion. There is another American way. This is the right place, we found it. On State of Franklin we yelled until our throats hurt that we were the 99% because that’s just it. We are.


This article was published in our fifth print issue on November 18, 2011.

This post is also available in: Spanish, Portuguese (Brazil)


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  • Cednie

    Beautiful piece, thank you from one of the 99%.

  • http://twitter.com/Kishin_D Jonathan S

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Participism Isn’t this what we’re asking each other for? Other than specific legal changes, it seems to include everything I’ve seen people crying out for.

  • Karen

    Why don’t you suggest something that will truly impact the banks? They receive millions of dollars every year just because we use our debit card or credit card. Choose one day per month when you promise not to use your bank card. If we all chose the first day of the month, we could stop millions of dollars from going into the bank’s coffers. We would impact their bottom line, and they don’t like that! Post this thought to friends if you are willing to make that one-day commitment per month. (Maybe one day, we’ll be brave enough to choose one day every week!)

  • Shawdude1080

    what do you guys really want from this ? what is the end outcome you are looking for? what do you need to happen to un-occupy Wall Street?

  • Woody

    There is a thing called ‘bearing witness to injustice’. And I think that is what they are doing. It is not a debate, and it is not a goal-oriented exercise. It is not a political party, with a platform. It is a witnessing to injustice. Probably better live with the discomfort, because while they might have to move from place to place, I don’t think they are going away. Thank you Ms. Kingsolver, for being there, and recording this in your wonderful way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=705137425 Josh Flaccavento

    Well spoken, neighbor. Come back down and join us.

  • Dwight

    Better yet, move your accounts and credit cards to local banks and, especially, credit unions. Move your money out of the central banks to local financial institutions which circulate the money locally rather than internationally. Remove your money from the central banks bottom line altogether, and make that money work where you live.

  • Artifact

    Amen and bravo to the person who posted the link to the Participism wikipedia page. Participism is a theory of radical democracy wherein people are organized into councils of 25-50 representing a workplace or a neighborhood, and then this council sends a delegate (directly elected and recallable at any time) to the next council and so on until you reach a level that represents the whole population. That’s a short explanation. Look it up!

  • An2m

    What do “we guys” really want from the 1 percent? How about some reasonable accountability by the corrupt bankers and financiers who hold the rest of us hostage. Send some more to jail for their misdeeds, not JUST Bernie Madoff. End the revolving door between the US Congress and their lucrative post politician jobs as lobbyists. How about REDUCING the wages of CEO’s down to, say, the pay of POTUS! Let’s get back to the tax structure of the 1960′s when we had a rising middle class and college was considered, not only a good idea, but it was affordable, without huge debt.