A pleasant October evening near the Liberty Memorial, and members of a loose-knit group of protesters calling themselves Occupy KC are, well, occupied.
Some thump on drums. Some keep an eye on a solar panel connected to a pair of car batteries. Others distribute literature, or tend to the small signs that line the campground’s perimeter, or engage the curious in conversations about money and debt and “economic and social justice.”
Stella Dreamwalker sits in a small prayer circle and chats about the gathering, and the movement, as a sweet smoke circles overhead.
“It’s individualized, and it’s collective. It’s peaceful and positive,” Dreamwalker said. “It is a return to a way of compassion and caring for one another that hasn’t been seen in a long time.
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“But we are back.”
Back for what?
Across the country, politicians, pundits and academics have been arguing that question for days, trying to get a grip on a street-theater-based protest movement that started in New York and quickly spread nationwide, including to Kansas City.
Some see the Occupy effort as a left-wing version of the conservative tea party, a characterization both sides explicitly reject. Others contend that the protests reflect a familiar populist distrust of established institutions, from corporations to Congress. Still others are more critical, comparing the protesters to an unfocused mob.
“I don’t know what they want exactly,” said Charles Moran, a political science professor at Rockhurst University. “They’re just disenchanted — it’s the power structure, it’s the banking system, it’s Wall Street. I don’t think it has any staying power.”
Occupiers, however, argue that they do have concrete concerns, including a focus on reforms to guarantee economic justice.
Protesters in Kansas City have criticized tax benefits for the wealthy and “moneyed interests.” Others have echoed the libertarian, anti-foreign intervention positions of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul.
Occupy protesters elsewhere have issued more specific demands, including forgiveness of debt, an end to the Federal Reserve system, and reform of campaign finance rules. And there have been sharply worded critiques of the nation’s wealthiest people and “fiscal recklessness” that led to the Wall Street bailout in 2008.
But Occupy KC also insists on what it calls “horizontal democracy,” with full rights for anyone who wants to be heard at daily meetings. That can make it hard to pin down precise policy goals, participants conceded.
It’s more about the music than the lyrics, at least for now.
“We don’t have the exact answer at this moment,” said Tyler Crane, an Occupy KC participant who has emerged as a spokesman for the movement. “But we know all the issues we have. Step one is to get the community together. Step two is, let’s figure out exactly where we want to go.”
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