As the Occupy Caravan roars east, organizer and Occupied Wall Street Journal editor Michael Levitin will be filing dispatches from the road. Here’s another dispatch from Reno.
The mainstream media in Reno, like most places across the country, didn’t cover the May 1 protests. On that day, more than 200 people showed up here across from City Hall, and there was a heavy union presence: from the Railroad Workers of America and CWA to the Carpenters union, government workers and the IWW. Funny thing, isn’t it, when the press stays away?
They’ve also stayed away from any mention of “The Feed,” also known as “The People’s Dinner,” which Occupy Reno hosts every Saturday, feeding citizens by the hundreds outside a homeless shelter. “That’s where we put all our resources,” says Ben, whom we met at our Occupy Caravan stop in Reno. “We cook it, we serve it, we deliver it. And the media still won’t cover it. We have a huge humanitarian crisis and everyone wants to ignore it.”
Humanitarian crisis. The words seem almost too big, too foreign-sounding, to have relevance at home. Yet that’s exactly what Reno, with its blown-out numbers of unemployment and foreclosures, is clearly in the middle of. So what is to be done in a crisis like this one—call it something other than it is, and pretend that it isn’t happening?
That’s the question Ben and another occupier, Abear, posed to me as we sat out late on Monday night on a picnic bench at the Strega bar, smoking rollups and drinking pints. Abear, who is thick and bald and wears thin glasses, partially blamed the denial of the crisis on his area’s demographic: “Too many rednecks, too many Fox watchers, and hills full of billies,” as he said. People in Reno are too busy listening to a diversity of outrageous right-wing talk shows and “not enough people have lost their cable.”
“It’s gotta get a lot worse before it gets better,” he added. “Nobody’s questioning the actual system—capitalism. Nobody wants to have that conversation.”
In response, Ben suggested two approaches the Occupy Movement could coalesce behind to strengthen its numbers as it enters its second year this fall: one is finding ways to show that normal people are suffering also—that we’re not alone—and that we acknowledge ourselves to be “the remnants of a once-mighty middle class” without trying to hide it.
The second is building the anti-war message to a pitch where it can have true impact on an economic and political scale. “We’re paying for these wars, so give us our money back,” he said. “We need an anti-war peace brigade, one that says: you’re not spending our money the way we want? Then we’ll stop paying taxes.”
Saying no to paying taxes. Unthinkable? Not really. The question for people in struggling Reno is: who will be the first to try it—and when?