Is Lawrence some sort of liberal Disneyland? One with many opportunities to participate in worthwhile activities that are helpful and make us feel good but which, in the long run, do nothing to bring about fundamental change in the inequities and flawed policies that are so evident in our society?
I have had the opportunity to observe Occupy Lawrence, though rather from the sidelines. This movement consists mostly of a core of altruistic, idealistic citizens of Lawrence who are committed to change and who are willing to take on discomfort and personal risk to pursue this.
While there has been assistance offered by many others, there do not seem to be many joining in the public actions. One of the hopes of the Occupy movement was to ignite widespread protest — to engage many who may feel helpless and unheard — but this seems not to be happening. Why so, in Lawrence of all places?
Lawrence, to some of us, is perceived as a hotbed of concern for peace and social justice. Yet these beliefs, and the occasional protests focused on specific issues, do not seem to manifest as concerted, continued political will. Despite the many acts of simple and not-so-simple direct aid to people in need, quiet prayer, discussions over coffee or beer (that examine issues but do not lead to action), well-intentioned sermons and editorials; despite the various groups that organize around various issues and do try to bring about some change, Lawrence really is not very active politically.
In terms of participation in elections, Lawrence has been rather uninvolved. In the general election of 2010 which gave us the Brownback administration, less than half of registered voters in Douglas County voted. Statewide he was elected by 31.5 percent of registered voters and, of course, less than that proportion of possible voters. In 2009, 14 percent of registered voters elected our City Commission. Where is the outrage, the demand for change in a state and national political system that no longer meets the needs of our country?
If you are reading this (i.e., reading the local newspaper and the editorial page, at that) you likely are more interested in your community than is the average citizen. Lawrence certainly is a wonderful place to experience the arts, a vibrant music scene, intellectual stimulation and education, alternative lifestyles, ideas, beliefs, practices. A great deal of volunteer effort and financial support goes into the Lawrence Community Shelter, LINK, Health Care Access, Heartland, Independence, Inc. and others. But is there the will to change the system that makes these wonderful organizations necessary?
Polls suggest that most people are dissatisfied with the state of the economy and the state of our national government. Money talks, and billions are being spent to influence important decisions.
Many have given up on the present economic and political system — ideas for reform vary from a constitutional amendment for election funding reform to idealistic visions of a cooperative government without politicians. Some see hope in a third party. Some still believe the current parties can function better (usually if the party of the believer becomes dominant). Some, of course, are oblivious to what is going on either because their personal challenges are all consuming or because their personal situation is comfortable and seems safe.
I do not want to paint too strong a case. There are Lawrencians who have advocated strongly for real change, in some cases for many years. They serve as guides and examples for many of the rest of us who advocate for our ideals when it is convenient and reasonably comfortable. I would like simply to challenge all the rest of us to consider casting aside the various perfectly good reasons that keep us from joining in a crazy action like Occupy Lawrence. Consider doing something idealistic and quixotic and maybe a little scary. Join in something that maybe will not benefit you but may make the world better for our children or grandchildren. The country, the world needs us.