Brendan

I grew up in a small town called Westminster, Maryland; it’s about an hour outside of Baltimore. Not much to it: agricultural area turning into a suburb of Baltimore, which brings all kinds of fun and excitement. There were a lot of drugs in my high school and it was a downer, but what are you going to do?

Everywhere I go just talking to people because that’s what Occupy is to me. Not “hey, these are our demands,” because, well, we don’t actually have the ability to make demands. We have no power, which is part of the problem. We’re starting the conversation.

I’m a licensed merchant mariner and I sail. It’s kind of a long story, all and all. I went to college mostly just to learn “stuff.” I took all of the things my father ever taught me and used them in horrendously inappropriate ways. He was big on the whole “it doesn’t matter what grade you get as long as you tried your best and learned something.” Well that means I learned a lot and didn’t do some of the work; that didn’t go well. I kind of, accidentally, double majored in theater and philosophy because those were classes that just sounded like fun to take. I ended up working in restaurants in Baltimore for a long time. I started out as a server/bartender, eventually was managing some places, and I woke up one day and realized I was absolutely miserable doing that. I had a nice apartment, a big TV, a really comfortable couch (I still miss the couch, it was a really good couch), all that stuff you’re supposed to have—a very respectable library. I was in a good part of town. I got to go out and party a lot. I just couldn’t do it anymore, so I quit and signed on board a sale boat. Now I’m a licensed merchant mariner and I sail. I’m not making nearly as much money, I work a lot harder, and get a lot less sleep, but I’m happy. I think that’s kind of key.

I’ve been sailing for three years now; I’m headed south. I was sailing up in the Great Lakes but it’s getting cold. The lakes are going to freeze in another month or so, and then there is no sailing at all. So, I’m bugging south, hopefully have some work down there. I may be actually getting to help build a tall ship next summer: freakin’ awesome.

I was still managing a restaurant when the collapse happened in ‘08. We had an opening for a part-time server. We put an ad on Craigslist and we had 300 applicants the next day. I took 300 applications! I was going through them and looking at them; I had an application for a part-time server from a guy that had 10 years as an aeronautical engineer. That’s not good. I’m not dogging on the service industry, I had a lot of fun and made a lot of money. I know people that are amazing at it and will do it forever, and probably make more money than I’m ever going to make. But the aeronautical engineer should probably be doing something with airplanes. They keep saying how it’s going to get better, it’s going to get better, but we’re not really seeing that. Yes, the economy is bouncing back; the stock market is back too, last I saw. The banks are making record profits. My parents 401(k) is still about half of what it was. So now they can’t go out and spend money as they used to. Again, the guys at the top aren’t reinvesting it the way they keep saying they will. The “job creators” are going to come in and save us; well unemployment is not going down near fast enough and we’re about to bring a bunch of troops back from Iraq.

I’ve been involved with Occupy for about a month now. I’ve been following it pretty much since the beginning. It started out as just a couple of hiccups on the news site I read: “Oh there’s some people camping out in a park who are angry about something. No one really knows what, but they are angry about something.” I’d been watching it progress slowly, figuring out more and more what it’s about, and feeling more and more strongly about it. So, here we are. People talk about how we’re like the Hooverville or the Bonus Army. Well, we may be looking at a real bonus army soon because there aren’t the jobs for another 150 thousand people, or however many.

I actually stared up in Erie, Pennsylvania. I was working up there at the time. They have a small occupy event…I was with them for about three weeks. I got more involved than I really intended to and started getting really emotionally invested in something I knew I couldn’t keep because I had to leave. My job is seasonal. I’m headed south for the winter. It got me thinking, “What can I do? I’m going to Florida, what can I do?” Then I thought, “Well, I’d been following the live streams of all these places, talking to people around the country and around the world over the Internet, I should go visit.” I figured I would stop at a few of the bigger “Occupys” along the way; see what’s going on and try to pick up some pointers, try and see how we can help the smaller guys get their thing going.

So, I’m actually just going on a grand tour; from here I’m probably going to Philly, and Baltimore, DC, Norfolk, Memphis, Nashville, Atlanta, Tampa, Orlando…Everywhere I go just talking to people because that’s what Occupy is to me. Not “hey, these are our demands,” because, well, we don’t actually have the ability to make demands. We have no power, which is part of the problem. We’re starting the conversation. We’re talking to people. Every night, at the gazebo up in Erie, some guy would come by and say, “What the hell are you guys doing here at four in the morning? It’s cold out. What are you doing?” We had a big white board covered in information. You’d walk him over and be like, “hey man, this is what we’re doing. We’re talking about this. I’ve been waiting for you to show up. I’m here to talk to you. So lets talk, man.” I think it’s been successful in that. The national conversation is changing. We’re talking about stuff that we weren’t talking about before.

So that’s kind of my thing; I just walk around and talk. Earlier today we had bunch of bread that got donated and we couldn’t keep it anywhere, so I carried it around the park. So, I’ll just kind of do whatever they ask me to do.

When I was up in Erie, they had a gazebo and we were trying to make wind blocks. Working on boats I know how to tie things to other things really well, so I did a lot of that. My background, the theater and philosophy thing, has certain advantages. I like to think I am fairly well spoken, and more importantly, I try, wherever I am, to be a voice of reason. I’m that guy who says, “Hey, lets all take a minute, have a cigarette, and calm down because shouting doesn’t help.” You look at the history of any movement of any big thing, even, my favorite example, though it’s kind of unfair to equate the two, the Irish oppression by England; they were so busy infighting that they couldn’t stand against an outside force. We need to stay strong with each other even if we don’t agree, even if we are pissed off at each other, we have to stay calm. We have to stay rational. Passion is amazing. Passion is beautiful and it is inspiring, but you have to hone it. I know that some of the smaller camps I’ve seen, there’s just been screaming without listening, without thought.

A week ago or so in Memphis, the occupy Memphis kids sat down with the Tea Party kids and had an amiable conversation that everyone agreed was pleasant. There were things they agreed on and things they didn’t agree on; it got tense for a minute, but you know, they talked. And that is what this is. It is us getting a voice out there and saying “hey, this is not OK. This is a problem.” And people are starting to listen. So, I’m stoked about it. My being here today is entirely a product of wanting to help out, really, the smaller movements. Where I’m going in Florida, I’m just south of Daytona; they’re trying to start a movement down there. They’re right now trying to decide whether or not they are going to physically occupy a space or not, or if they are just going to be in solidarity with the 99% thing and have there GAs at the mall everyday.  Maybe, by talking to enough people at these other “Occupys” that are doing well, or not doing well, I can help them. I can give them some information and say, “Hey, here’s what I have seen. Oh, by the way, New York and Atlanta send their love.”

I hope it works. I hope that we get fair practices in politics. I hope that we have social programs that actually help people.

It’s a little awe-inspiring, really, to be apart of something this big. This started with a couple of angry people sitting in this park. On the last count I heard, it was about a month ago, there were 3.5 million people around the world. That’s insane! Yea, there are a lot of people in the movement that I don’t agree with. A lot of ideas that I think are a little nuts, or even just overly idealistic. But, at the end of the day, we are all here because something needs to be done. To get to be a part of that, and to hopefully aid in that…even if it is just carrying a bag of bagels around, it’s humbling to get to be a part of this. To realize that you are a piece of something so very large that could actually, kind of, change the world. At least that’s what we are hoping.

For me, some of the big stuff is campaign finance reform. That needs to happen because right now we don’t have power. We have the vote, absolutely, you’ve got to vote for someone or you’re not making a choice, but it doesn’t really matter who you vote for anymore. I am tired of choosing between the lesser of two evils. I really am. And I’ve only been voting for about ten years. I’m tired of that game. I want a guy that I can believe in, that I think will do his best to do the right thing, and when he does something wrong, will have the guts to look the camera straight on and say, “Man I’m sorry. I tried.” But we are not getting that. We are getting corporations donating huge sums of money now as people, because you know corporations are people (which is still weird). And it turns out that when you give somebody 100 million dollars, they owe you, and that’s a problem. I don’t know if it’s THE solution. Personally I’d like to see that whole system made public. You run for president, you get your 500 signatures, you get ten million dollars, show your receipts at the end. You are allowed to spend 10 million dollars on your campaign, and that is it. That’s what I would like to see. I went to school for theater and philosophy; I am not an economics guy, and I’m not a politics guy. I don’t know the answers, but it makes sense to me. The disparity of wealth in this country is another huge issue. I’m sure guys have heard the stats a million times already: 400 families have a combined wealth greater than the bottom 150 million people. I for one, I don’t speak for everyone, am not saying no one should be rich; you want to be rich, you want to bust your ass or just get really lucky and become a billionaire, cool, rock on man. But it’s not an issue of “fair.” Life is not fair, tough shit. It’s that it is economically unsustainable. The last time the disparity of wealth in this country was this bad was before the great depression. If the guys at the top are sitting on their money and they are not spending it, and the guys at the bottom can’t because they don’t have any, the economy can’t move, and that’s kind of where we are.

I hope it works. I hope that we get fair practices in politics. I hope that we have social programs that actually help people. Personally, I’m rooting for universal health care, because God knows I would like to go to a doctor and I can’t. The last time I went to a doctor I had strep throat so I had to; because I don’t have insurance, it cost me $900 to get a bottle of Penicillin that I knew I needed while walking in. I looked at the doctor and said, “Hey, strep throat. Penicillin?” He was like, “Yup. $900.” I hope that the movement can hold itself together and stay strong. One of the biggest things that worries me is what’s happened here in New York. If New York falls, it’s going to be a huge moral blow to the rest of us. There are some camps that are strong enough that I think will handle it, but I hope the people here realize how many eyes are on them and how much we’re all on their side, that we all need this. As a nation we do. The system is not functioning properly and we need to get it back on track. This is, kind of, the best way to do it. There is something to be said for that. When your best rational answer is, “Screw it. I’m going to sit in a park until I get beaten with a nightclub, and then come back the next day. And sit some more.” When that is your best recourse, well maybe we need to look at this. And it’s happening. Congress is starting to look at reinstating Glass-Steagall, which is huge. It was there for a reason. They got rid of it for no apparent reason and now they’re realizing that might be a mistake. It didn’t happen when the economy collapsed. It didn’t happen when we got our new progressive, liberal president. It happened when thousands, upon thousands of people were in the streets shouting, “This is wrong.”  So, we’re getting little wins here and there; we’re probably never going to get credit for it, and that’s fine. I’m not here for glory; I’m here to make things better. I’m hopeful. I go through moments of, kind of, depression; this morning was rough. There were only a couple of people here, but it’s nice to see the crowd showing up again.

My name is Brendan.

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