OAKLAND, California – Her name is Felicity Nicole Sunshine. She has just died her hair pink to match the rosy dots on her army-style black boots. It is her 31st day of camping in a tent city in front of the city hall in Oakland, one of the most famous and violent offshoots of Occupy Wall Street movement that protests against corporate influence on democracy and a growing disparity in wealth.
Felicity is a 23-year-old artist and she is homeless. It was a combination of her sincerity, two dozen multicolored tents and the spirit of a mini-revolution that endeared me to the whole gathering and evoked memories of the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine.
Its seventh anniversary is just around the corner and if November tantalizes taste buds with Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S., in Ukraine, this month is associated with freezing crowds dressed in orange on Independence Square.
Felicity gave me a tour of the campgrounds and I could not help comparing the American protest with its Ukrainian older sibling.
About 100 protesters who stayed in the tents were homeless, she said; sitting in camping chairs with wood chips and hey spread on the pavement, they left an impression of a traveling circus.
There was nothing funny about their cause though, although many have struggled to explain it.
“We want them to take notice of us,” said Felicity referring to the government. “We want them to separate money from politics, create jobs and stop serving the wealthy. People have gotten so overwhelmed with things, you know, like all these cars, clothes, computers,” she said throwing her hands in the air emotionally.
I could see why she was upset. With Christmas trees already on sale and stores flogging first holiday gifts two months before Santa’s official day, you can’t get a better feel of a consumerism culture than this.
In cafes, it is difficult to find a table without someone using a computer behind it. The newspapers discuss new culinary applications for tablets that will soon replace cookbooks.
This wireless and virtual generation seems to have gone haywire over stuff.
It was different in Ukraine seven years ago. People were also indignant with the government serving the rich. They were demanding fair elections and freedom of speech and assembly.
Most of the protesters were not homeless; quite the opposite – middle class professionals took time off work to camp on Independence Square or if they couldn’t, they brought food, clothing and other supplies to those who needed them.
Felicity Nicole Sunshine, a participant of the Occupy Wall Street movement against corporate influence on democracy and the growing disparity in American wealth. (Yuliya Popova)
Bankers, teachers and doctors camped for the chance to be able to travel freely, provide better education to their children, buy new homes and finally catch up with Western civilizations and the “stuff” they invented.
Felicity has all that. She does not need a visa to travel and she can send her children to school without paying a bribe to the principal. But this pink-haired woman, who said she was an artist, wanted something else, what it is – she struggled to define and it’s her and other protesters’ major weak spot.
The movement, which fever caught on with many big cities in the U.S. and rolled across the border to countries from Australia to Russia, doesn’t have a leader.
Nor does it have a specific set of demands, apart from calling on corporations to reduce their pressure on government and asking people to dump their banks.
In Ukraine, we had leaders and we had specific demands. We had pop singers rekindle the fire with “It’s nearly spring outside the window” in subzero temperatures.
Look where we are now – the igniter of the Orange Revolution Yulia Tymoshenko is in prison, her former ally and now ex-President Viktor Yushchenko called her his biggest mistake on his last day in office and their old-time foe Viktor Yanukovych is running the show again as if 2004 never happened. Is it because we (or they) wanted too much?
Felicity said that whatever happens with their camp (and it was cleared earlier this week), they got what they wanted. She said officials promised to build a new shelter, which she could use, and she made new friends outside the city hall.
Together, they were growing lettuce in a large crate by the lamppost and prayed in a multi-faith tent. They borrowed books from a makeshift library and practiced some form of martial arts with long sticks.
However, this ostensible unity and harmony was tainted by a murder near the campgrounds last week. “It’s Oakland, things like this happen here all the time,” she shrugged.
Neither there was violence, nor there was cabbage growing on Independence Square seven winters ago. There was hope and a belief in the greater good – short-lived but pungent and contagious. In a way, the Ukrainian revolution surpassed the Occupy movement before it even took off. But that doesn’t keep us warm at night.
Kyiv Post lifestyle editor Yuliya Popova can be reached at email@example.com.
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