Laurie and Steve

Steve: We’re from Wisconsin, not from [New York City]. We’re in town for our ten-year wedding anniversary. We honeymooned here ten yeas ago, so we come back occasionally to the city to go to shows and stuff. Ten years ago was just a few weeks after ground zero, so we go visit that as well. There are a number of reasons for being here.

How many of us does it take to equal one Koch brother?

Laurie: I’m originally from Northern Wisconsin and am now living in that area again. I am a high school Spanish teacher.

Steve: I was born in Evanston, Illinois but raised in California. I went to a school in Minnesota, so I lived in Minneapolis for many years, came back after traveling and was working for a business college recruiting high school students. Laurie and I met at her high school, and I just stayed.

Laurie: Smart man.

Steve: No reason to leave. I teach American Government at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in Rice Lake. We travel. We have a travel business together, but we’re both teachers.

Laurie: Both of my parents were blue-collar workers. My father worked his entire life in a factory and my mother worked for the telephone office. So, I am a first generation college graduate and there is no way I could have possibly done that without student loans, without grants, and somewhat affordable tuition. That is being taken away from young people. We need affordable education; we need grants, affordable loans, and an opportunity for people to become socially mobile. I see those opportunities being robbed. I cannot comprehend what some of the power people are thinking right now. I can’t, I do not understand how they can be so non-caring about other people.

Steve: Both of my parents were public school teachers, very modest, lower middle-class income, and the attack on public schools is inexcusable, and on teachers. Why? I’ve had republican state reps in my classes and I ask them what the point is. Education is the basis of economic development. They say, “You have to give tax cuts to the wealthy” and it just stops there. The thought process ends. It just makes no sense. You scratch your head, walk away, and say, “We’re going to get you” [laughs].

Laurie: I think too, we’re both fairly politically active in our community. Certainly we will continue to be that way. It does seem at times a little hopeless when organizations can contribute money as though they were individuals, and I sometimes think, “how much money?” For us, we can afford $25 dollars here and there to contribute at times. How many of us does it take to equal one Koch brother? That being said, I won’t give up and I know dozens of people like me, like Steve, who will continue to work. I think it’s a little bit heartening to see young people here continuing on with this, and, actually, all of the movements around the world.

My sons ask me for direction and words of wisdom, “What should I be doing right now? Should I go to graduate school?” I don’t even know what to offer. I do not know what to offer them anymore.

I have two sons, one is 29 and one is 27, and a grandson. My sons have very different stories. One is a graduate from the University of Madison and is still doing jobs here and there, not what one would expect after graduating from a major university, having done well. Health Insurance, both are uninsured. So, there is a concern on that end for people who have taken what they believed are the “right” steps and are getting nowhere. My other son has schizophrenia. There is a lot of concern about people in his position, and there are so many who don’t have access to good medical care, who are lost, like people who we see around here living on the streets. Who’s watching out for them? The medical system is so… I voted for Obama for many reasons, but the primary reason was medical care.

My sons ask me for direction and words of wisdom, “What should I be doing right now? Should I go to graduate school?” I don’t even know what to offer. I do not know what to offer them anymore. It feels like the rules have all changed. My heritage, which is one piece of it, is Native American. In the Ojibwe tribe we have a philosophy of looking seven generations down the road and how will how we are living right now impact people seven generations from now. I just feel like a lot of the decision makers are looking for “how is this going to benefit me at the end of the day or the end of the week,” not for my children, my grandchildren, and so on. We need a different way of thinking and operating. A lot of the concerns and reasons that I support Occupy Wall Street have to do not only, obviously, with my own life, but much about their lives and their futures.

Steve: We have a grandson who we are the guardians of now, and it’s fearful thinking of what is going to be available for him a few years from now. Things are moving in the wrong direction. The way I think our connection with Occupy really struck home is that we were involved early in the protest in Wisconsin over the state legislature’s so called Budget Repair Bill that is essentially destroying public schools and removes the choice of collective bargaining from teachers and public workers. That got us motivated long before Occupy, but a lot of the issues are the same. Governor Walker and the Republicans who took over Wisconsin are funded by Wall Street mega-giants: the Koch brothers, the Koch Industries, and the same thing. We got involved as sort of a local, indigenous union organizing movement, but the connections are brutally apparent with Occupy.

Laurie: And actually, before that even, being involved with the Obama campaign.  So much of what we were all excited about, hoped for, and worked hard for is just frustration right now. We’re not seeing the results, we’re just seeing blockage by money.

I found out about [Occupy Wall Street] by a friend sending online blogs and video clips that we tapped into and that was my first introduction.

I just feel like a lot of the decision makers are looking for “how is this going to benefit me at the end of the day or the end of the week,” not for my children, my grandchildren, and so on.

Steve: There are good video, or Internet connections, of the movement in Wisconsin: One Wisconsin Now, MoveOn, of course, and the Occupy Wall Street live feed. Those just sprang into presence on all of those Internet connections that we were using in Wisconsin as part of the movement there, for the recall effort, the state legislative recall. There were a number of Internet sources in Wisconsin that just picked up Occupy right away. It just spread like wild fire, quickly, over the Internet. Then, later on, the news finally started paying attention to it [laughs].

I teach at a two-year technical college and those students are looking for a certificate or degree that is going to get them into the workforce because they’re older, they have kids, they have families, they’re jobs have failed, and now they’re looking at an attack on public service workers and careers that are intentionally being destroyed by corporate America, by the Koch Industries and people. They’re wondering what their future is too. Their opportunities are disappearing and their income is declining while the one percent is taking all of the money out of the system. It’s fearful for them. They really don’t know if they’re going to have it. We just have to take back whatever power we have in our own hands to straighten things out. So, that’s how we feel about it.

Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange have been the symbol of the center of corporate wealth. It’s broadened, it’s certainly expanded to the stock markets in China and Europe, but Wall Street has traditionally been the symbol of the domination of money over people, around the world. It is important for this movement to stay alive and stay identify with the Occupy Wall Street. Occupy Wall Street essentially means occupying global capital. That means something in Wisconsin because we’re being hit with that. People know what that means. I hope they keep the image going. Here the conversation is, “What do we do next?” Occupying this park it’s just a place. Now it’s got to be a broad political movement. That’s what we are trying to figure out how to make it into. I don’t know the answer to that yet. And I’m not sure these discussions do yet either, but it’s not going to stop.

[I’d like to see] a permanent connection among people, politically, to take on banks and take on companies that control wealth and move that into the hands of local people, through whatever mechanism we come up with. Local businesses, local credit unions, and coops, break up the monopoly. That means rebuilding society ourselves. That’s a huge undertaking. We can’t rely on national political parties. Money can block someone like Obama who has noble motivations but is stymied every time he turns around by power, by money. We have to take the center away from the national institutions and rebuild them ourselves locally. That is way to general an answer but I’m not sure what else.

Laurie: I think I’d like to see a third, substantial political party option built out of this. I’d like to have an option, someone who is more of a spokesman for the people who are here, for the 99%. I really like that comparison of the 99 and the one percent.

[Being out here] feels American. It feels like what we are supposed to be doing. It feels good to play an active part and not just sit in front of an image on the computer or on the television and say, “Oh well. There is nothing we can do.” Well, there is something that every single one of us can do.  If you consider the 99%, that is a lot of people in this country, and I know people who are losing jobs who are hard working human beings. They don’t ask for a lot. So yea, it feels good to me.

Steve: Yea, it feels great. To me it feels like connectedness with people I don’t know but do, in a sort of gut sense. It’s a nice feeling.

My name is Laurie. My name is Steve.


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