Thank God it’s snack time. I arrived late and was placed nearly in the middle of this week’s meeting of Occupy Saugerties. The local extension of the national Occupy movement is having their December meeting cum holiday party. The allegedly discontented Occupiers are, for a few seconds at very least, occupied with dinner. It’s a pretty good spread: holiday cookies, ziti, deviled eggs, coffee.
Eyes were on me for a couple of reasons. I’m the second youngest person in the room. And some of them know that I’m a reporter. Ralph Childers addresses me, jocularly, as “the author of that terrible article.” Some people laugh. That’s my role. I’ve been made to feel like part of the team.
Everyone is milling around and hashing out the day. A guy who calls himself Farmer Frank is cutting open some brie while telling me about himself. A middle school girl in the larger conference room to the east is doing cartwheels.
It’s funny to think that this group might some day be influential in Saugerties. Its last meeting was two weeks ago. This week, it’s hammering out a tactic on how to attract the support of local businesses. A couple of younger, more bandoleering Occupiers have drafted up pretty snappy signs. They’re both pictures of the Exit 20 signs, modified, simply with short messages in support of local business.
Kelly Myers has been invited to the meeting. Saugerties Times recently ran an article called “How About a Raise?” detailing Myers’ request for a higher salary for her job as town supervisor. An Occupy Saugerties member took exception, and now there she is, sitting patiently in the corner, enjoying deviled eggs like the rest of us, and awaiting her grilling.
Steve MacQueen, Occupy Saugerties facilitator, asks her to deliver her spiel. She explains that the position has a low salary to start with and that she is rejecting the health-care plan provided for position to save taxpayer dollars. Everyone nods. They can understand where she’s coming from, and the meeting retreats back to circulating ideas and sharing kind smiles. Myers, who only seconds ago had to explain herself to a crew of concerned citizens, is smiling and participating. All is well.
Occupy Saugerties is doing some special things. Over the course of two hours, the meeting got through a volley of introductions, inquiries into several local issues, including the hole created by seasonal local businesses (brought up by political wizard Farmer Frank), involvement of Ulster County Savings in the foreclosure of homes (chalk up another run for Farmer Frank), the privatization of the Golden Hill nursing home, and a rather enlightening and engaging guest speaker.
Occupy Saugerties will meet once or twice a month, with subcommittees and investigative squads whirring like gears. Since the last meeting, the movement has attracted ten or twelve new Occupiers, some transplants from the recently and devastatingly silenced Occupy Poughkeepsie and some genuinely concerned Saugertiesians.
Look at it this way if you’re on fence about hitching up with Occupy Saugerties: you are not joining a Marxist plot to overthrow the grand American system. You’re not challenging the status quo of the American life. You are simply joining a group of citizens who appreciate the democratic process and want to see change produced solely by the public and solely for the public. You are joining a well-meaning and completely friendly community action group. You like ziti.
I think that I made a mistake the last time I wrote about Occupy Saugerties. I think that I made the group sound feeble, a blip on the radar, something to be played with, and something that could evaporate if given autonomy. I think I was wrong.
Occupy Saugerties is committed and well oriented. Its eyes are squarely on the prize: local governmental change and effective integrationist non-partisan goodness. Yes, everyone’s got their own idea, and yes, you can write off the intriguing side effects of a leaderless movement. And yes, meetings can sometimes get a little muddled. But that’s just the nature of beginning something unfamiliar.
I now contend that Occupy Saugerties could actually become the most influential group in town. It’s capable of attracting people from all walks of life: farmers and lawyers, hipsters and old folks, lovers and fighters. It’s as polite as it is inquisitive. It’s warm and accepting. It focuses solely on the greater good of an already great community, promotes local business, and refuses to submit to anti-democratic sentiment.
So seriously, guys, what’s not to like?