I watch the tweets and try to interpret the strange abbreviations. I look for signs of an upcoming plan to put protesters in the street. At the appointed hour, I’ll try to tune into the protest – and the arrests that inevitably accompany it – via live streaming video. I’ll hold my breath, scouring the jerky images for my son, hoping he’s not getting maced or manhandled by police. Tim is part of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) Twitter team, where he’s better known by his handle, @DiceyTroop. I am thrilled to see him doing what he loves – striving to make the world better – but I am constantly worried, as any mother would be, for his health and his safety.
It’s been about two months since many of the Occupy encampments were closed down, including those in New York and Boston. But the movement is still very much alive, with 80 so-called Working Groups in New York alone and frequent protests at places like Grand Central Station. Tim tweets and videotapes as many of them as he can.
He’s been an activist for years. Having traveled the traditional path to political engagement, Tim now seeks meaning outside the electoral system. He began working for social justice through our Unitarian church in high school. He’s raised money for environmental and human rights groups and worked for Democratic presidential candidates in 2004 and 2008.
Tim moved to New York in 2009 to take a job in computer technical support – he had bills to pay – but he never lost his idealism. He bears a reminder on his wrist, a tattoo he got while studying political science in college that reads simply: “Stay true.” So when he quit his job to devote all of his time to OWS, his father and I were not surprised.
Some of our friends and family are admittedly ambivalent about OWS, even when they agree with the basic premise of corporate overreach. “What’s their solution?” a friend asked. Because protesters take it upon themselves to voice the outrage of the masses, the logic goes, they are responsible for having the answer.
Personally, I’ve never been confused about the message, only baffled that it took as long as it did to bubble up. As I see it, the tentacles of injustice brought about by a misuse of money and influence in our government have been so imbedded in our culture over decades that, like in one of those Magic Eye stereograms, you can only glimpse the hidden picture if you view it at just the right angle. And if you are comfortable, you may not be looking for it at all.
Even though we weren’t surprised by Tim’s full-time devotion to OWS, we are regularly shaken by the results of his work. Early on the morning of November 15, when he was about to leave Zuccotti Park in Manhattan and return to his apartment, he saw the police approaching. He sent his father and me a text: “I love you,” it read. “I am about to be arrested or worse.” With pictures of police brutality on the West Coast fresh in our minds, we were alarmed. Nevertheless, Tim had the presence of mind to post a running account of the surprise raid, including a link to his interview by the BBC, on his blog at diceytroop.tumblr.com. He was one of the last protesters arrested that morning, and, thankfully, he emerged unhurt from the ordeal.
Since then, I’ve tried not to think of the vitriol, from police and politicians irritated by the movement to those who spew insults about OWS actions. I prefer to remember those who have told me how appreciative they are that my son and so many others can endure the indignities and sacrifice of putting their lives on hold to challenge the country’s ruling elite. In a recent Pew Research Center survey, 77 percent of those polled agreed that there is too much power in the hands of a few rich people and corporations.
Tim was home in Foxborough for a couple of days for Christmas and his 28th birthday, and I asked whether it was good to get away for a bit. “You’re never away from it,” he responded while scrolling through his iPhone.
As a mother, I would prefer that an exit strategy to this movement arrive soon. Yet, if that means returning to the status quo, it no longer seems a viable option. We must find a different way forward. Tim’s courageous work has the power to turn me into a nervous wreck of a mother, envying friends with settled children and grandchildren, but it also makes me one incredibly proud American.