Saturday was a beautiful day in a beautiful city: Kansas City, MO. OccupyKC held a march through the center of urban Midtown and a fair estimate would be roughly 500 people. The numbers don't compare to OWS or other cities around the world, but for a Kansas City civic protest, this is pretty damn good.
I want to highlight some thoughts on the march but mostly about a personal experience I had immediately following the event that led me to feel very strongly that if we want this movement to gain continued momentum through the cold months of winter, we need to organize a significant community outreach plan.
I'm not going to start soap-boxing on the need for a slogan, or a list of demands or a "unifying message"... yet. I won't lie - I also felt that to succeed in really changing this country - there needs to be a set of demands that our puppets in all levels of government need to hear in order to cut their strings from their corporate puppet-masters. But we need to scare the bejesus out of them with numbers first so they really sit up and pay some attention.
For the second time in my life I feel that we can do this.
Kansas City, MO has traditionally been one of the most segregated cities in the U.S. with Troost Avenue - a north-south running corridor - being the "border" between black and white in Missouri (the smaller of the two urban centers - Kansas City, KS - is an integrated city with working class white, Latino, Asian and African American citizenry). The march took us east over this border (from "white" to "black") and into a park where several speakers presented to the crowd of about 500.
Many of the organizers and speakers were African-American or bi-racial decent. The majority of the marchers were Caucasian decent. This was something I noted from the very beginning (in case you are wondering, I'm white) as we started the march.
The march down a few short blocks into Troost Park was exhilarating. The organizers did a great job of keeping the energy high and the protesters on the sidewalk for minimum traffic disruption. I also have to thank the KCMO police for being polite, pleasant and low-key as they stopped traffic at major intersections for us (WHAT a contrast to other cities that weren't so lucky).
The rally in the park at the end was a string of presentations, each briefly detailing how the political and economic system in this country is rigged for the rich and powerful. Every speech made you angry or full of sorrow for the hardship the speaker might have been personally experiencing at the behest of the banks, or their former employers, or the state. Some speakers were advocating for more attention to be drawn to a fight against a corporate interest - such as the battle for clean air that rages now as Congress tries to neuter the EPA's power to regulate.
The small group of friends I came with were all reflective and energized as we left the park. We stopped for a drink before we disbanded at a nearby popular bar a few blocks west of the park.
It was there that I met Athena and Rick (names changed), a young African-American couple. I went bounding up to their table with a stack of leaflets that I had volunteered to hand out at the park. Rick had not even heard of OWS in New York let alone anything happening in KC just a few blocks from their home; Athena had a vague high level recollection of the movement in New York, but that was it.
Fast forward to the next day. There was nothing in the KC Star on the local protests, just a nationally focused article of the worldwide day of Occupy. A friend that saw one of the news channels said that a brief report noted that there were 50 protestors (yes, 50, that is not a typo). The other local TV stations reportedly had nothing.
Back to my complete conversation with Athena and Rick. I took the time to explain why I was marching on that day. That "We are the 99%" was about how the majority of US Citizens are - or should be - in this together and it's time to stop pointing fingers at each other and direct our anger at the system that allows 1% of the population to control 40% of the wealth and all of the power while We The People fight over the scraps.
I asked them if they would come to the next major event and asked them to take a small flyer about its details. Athena enthusiastically took one. I asked her if she had any friends that would be interested. She said "hell yeah, I work in a gift-shop!" and grabbed every single flyer that I had in my hand and stuffed them in to her purse.
Finally, I have to add one more point: it was a bit of a struggle to find information on the event on Saturday. Yes, there is a website and a FB page but one has to ask to be invited to the FB group (I understand their hesitancy to make it a free for all). The website didn't have up-to-date info on the march until the day before the event.
I also want to clarify - I don't feel that MoveOn or any other official Democratic Party advocacy group should be allowed to take over. This is a movement for all of the 99% if they just want to join us.
My proposal (if you're not already rolling this out OccupyKC?... I know I am not in the "planning committee"):
is to take it to the community organizations via the old fashioned phone calls or personal visits. Go to the churches; go to the YMCA's; go to the clubs all around this town that can spread the word.
Because I feel that we could blow the doors off any type of civic protest event this city has seen for a long time.
In closing, the only time I have been in such a large crowd of people in KC was when Obama came to visit three weeks before the 2008 election (80,000 people in attendance). People bought the Change rhetoric because we knew then that this country was in trouble. Well, we're still in trouble and it looks like it's going to be up to us to really change it.
The key is to communicate the "us" to more of the 99% in a big way.
Let's get big crowds going EVERYWHERE so the media elite can stop ignoring us or stop classifying us a hippie drum circle.