Don’t discount message

Peggy Dobbins wanted to see up close the young people who have been saying what she believes is on nearly everybody’s mind. So one day she walked from her Atlanta residence to Woodruff Park, home of the Occupy Atlanta encampment. (Police cleared the park overnight Tuesday, and it remained empty Wednesday).

Back in the day, she had been a protester/advocate in her own right who opposed the Vietnam War and supported the women’s liberation movement. She was arrested in 1968 at a Miss America protest. And as a University of Alabama assistant professor of sociology, she introduced “Sex, Race and Class” as an academic course.

At the Atlanta encampment, she noticed that participants were younger than she was during her protest days. She surmised one other thing about the occupiers, who’ve been portrayed — and occasionally come across as — zany, misdirected and misguided in media spots.

“We were passionate and idealistic and committed to building a better world in our time,” she told me, “but we were not patient with each other and were not open to people who disagreed. These young people are so much more patient and open with each other and those who are not of their culture. They are raising the issues and, if you go down there, you will see that their agenda is to raise the cry, to be the emperor’s new clothes.”

Critics paint the Occupy movement as a rudderless ship, leaderless with no agenda. We are accustomed to carefully crafted scripts with processes that supposedly dictate outcomes. We like neat, monolithic packages. Black, white. Democrat, Republican. Liberal, conservative.

No doubt, there’s plenty to criticize about the Occupy movement, especially this Atlanta bunch. The demand to City Hall to rename Woodruff Park Troy Davis Park boggles the mind. Still, don’t discount the message wholeheartedly.

Dobbins invoked a word often used by her husband, Michael Dobbins, a part-time Georgia Tech professor and former Atlanta commissioner of planning and development. He has suggested that urban planners steer clear of “solutionism,” to not approach a problem by searching for that one, tidy, definitive answer.

Yet it’s something our nation apparently craves — packaged platforms and agendas that settle what ails. And because of that, we want the Occupy movement to proffer plans and courses of action that could potentially resolve their worthy concerns. To be a well-run operative.

Perhaps that’s not its role.

“I am thrilled to see that young people have raised an issue that has been on everybody’s mind, to say that 99 percent of us are suffering and the rest are benefitting.” Dobbins told me. “We have been knowing this. As their movement spreads, maybe it will force the kind of political changes — at least in democracy — that relinquishes corporate control of the electoral process, and that will lead to tax reform. Hopefully, elected officials — and others responsible to a democratic constituency — will see that they need to do more. They are raising the issues.”

And in a democracy, there’s nothing wrong with that.