The Occupy America Drum Beat

Listen to the drumming in the rain. A heartbeat to Occupy America.

Listen and start walking. The walk below is in Chicago. But the drum beats everywhere.


Before dawn. Walking upstairs from the subway under the lights of the Chicago Theater. Into the cold dark rain of the empty city streets. And I could hear it. The drum. The echoes bouncing off the towers tumbling from blocks west. From the financial district. As if the drum had arrived alone before the people showed up.

The Artist and the Drumbeat

Turning left on Randolph Street past the studios of the Joffrey Ballet.

And the drum beat for the dying embers of all the artists under fire in a coming world where swirling ballerinas hung suspended in mid air because the funding for dancing had gone dry. “There is a budget deficit you know. So we’re sorry. But there is just no place for you to land. We’re out of money.”

While unborn story tellers, painters of pictures, sculptors with hands dipped in clay, poets gone silent looked up and saw the dancers. And then they all went still.

With no way to make a living with their art, the drum beat rose to a lyric for all the artists sitting in soulless cubicles. The fortunate ones cause they had day jobs. For the moment. They had jobs in the cold autumn rain. That lyric for the soul sucked artists went:

How the hell can a person

Go to work in the morning

Come home in the evening

And have nothing to say.

The dancer freezes in mid air. All is quiet except for the drum beat.

The Politically Entitled and the Drum Beat

You walk a few steps east. In front of a hot dog stand. A black Escalade with tinted windows pulls over. Out pops the Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel. His companion, a 6’5” African American man in a $1,000 suit. The two men talking and laughing together. As if they had known each other all their lives. The Mayor blends, with his companion, into the flow of sidewalk traffic. The Mayor just wanted to walk his last few blocks to work. Smiling. Looks like the happiest guy on earth.

As the Mayor and his “friend” pass, you notice the headline of a newspaper staring out from a box. You slide the coins in and begin to read as you walk. The story is about how the Mayor gave raises to himself and his inner circle.

You think first of all the decisions he’s made that have been solid. The gentle perception you have drawn from seeing him with his kids when no one is watching, the toughness he’s shown in trying to govern a very tough town. Now come raises for the inner circle.

And this phrase takes hold: “The politically entitled.” As it does, you can hear the drum beat. The politically entitled. Why do I give raises to my friends? Why do I keep the circle of power closed? I do it because I can.

You remember all the ways you tried to break into that inner circle of the politically entitled. All the years of trying. Buying the illusion that your little program and policy proposals could even be read in the inner circle. Scratching to where you actually got a phone number of the Mayor’s patronage chief Matt Hynes, clocking in now, the newspaper tells you, with a salary of $180,000.

You did get his phone number. A phone number from the inner circle. Those are rare. But you had one.

Oh, and a new way of thinking about connecting people and jobs. Something that really was unique. And a completed book and training program to make it real. So you called. And of course were shocked but not surprised when the calls were never returned.

You are not part of the politically entitled. The Hynes family had been working on the deal making, the horse trading, and the withdrawal of support for those who really could make a difference, working on it for two generations. The great blogger “Driftglasses’ quote on the two rules of politics comes to mind:

1. Rule #1: There is a club.

2. Rule #2: You’re not in it.

Of course you didn’t get calls returned. The insider didn’t know you. Because you are not in the politically entitled class.

Sour grapes? Taking your ball and going home? Bitter and not being let in to a club where you will never belong?

Could be.

So you keep walking.

The Prophet and the Drum Beat

You cross the street. Under the engraved Marshall Field and Company sign on the Macy’s store. Sitting on the sidewalk. Huddled in the rain. Face hidden. Coughing. Obviously ill. He holds a sign:

I am a veteran. I am hungry.

As you approach, this happens in a nano second, a scraggly bearded long haired guy with the eyes of time squats down. His face is even with the veteran on the sidewalk. You see Mr. Scraggly Beard make eye contact with the vet and say:

“Who needs a doctor? The healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this means: I’m after mercy, not religion. I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”

And as the drum beat rises, the scraggly bearded one presses a $50 bill, I am close enough to see this, into the dirty hand of the coughing veteran on the sidewalk.

And the drum beat sings,

“And the years

That I spent lost

In the mystery

Fall away

Leaving only the sound of the drum.”

The Character and the Drum Beat

You keep walking towards Michigan Avenue. Cross and up a slight incline into the lobby of the Prudential Building. A breakfast place in the corner of the lobby. Inside, your pal. The character, Lester Lapczynski. Red plaid jacket. Black cheap hairpiece like a comb over gone very wrong. Lower lip protruding so that you need to always sit out of range of his mouth to avoid getting seriously sprayed. Usually never leaves the bar. But this morning he agreed to breakfast. Approaching the table you see he’s already ordered. 3 plates of bacon. Just bacon. And black coffee.

“Lester. Bacon? You’re only having bacon?”

“What else do you need Roger?”

“Well I. . . “

“So what is it today Roger? Feeling sorry for yourself or worried about the world? Which is it today yuppie scum?”

“Lester, I don’t have the money to be a yuppie scum anymore.”

“Ah. Feeling sorry for yourself huh? The whole nobody reads what you write, nobody listens, you’re not in the, what did you call it, the politically entitled club. Or whatever that line of crap of yours was . . . that it?”

“No I . . .I’m fine. I’m making it. More than most folks! I’m in the 99%. But who isn’t!”

“Pfft,” Lester shoots a bit of bacon from his mouth that goes half way across the room. Lemme ask you a question college boy. It’s the one you been thinking about. A question about all this Occupy Wall Street, occupy my car, occupy my basement stuff. Here’s the question. What does it all mean?

“Lester, I have no idea. Not a clue. I’m just trying to listen. Trying to tell the stories. I’m letting the people in the streets tell me. Not the other way around. I’m just trying to tell the stories.”

Lester was quiet for a moment. Something rare. “You’re just trying to tell the stories, are you?”

I nod my head. “Course nobody wants to hear them . . . I’m not in any kind of publishing club anymore than I’m in a politically entitled club. No one’s gonna pay me. . .no one will read this. . . .”

“Ah ah ah!” Lester held up his hand in a stop motion. “Go back to that part where you actually said something smart.”

“What part?”

“Think dumb ass. Before the ‘poor me’ part. What did you effen SAY!”

“I said I had no idea what this movement was really about. Not really. I am here to listen. And then all I can do is tell the stories. Whether anyone cares or not. Whether anyone reads them or not. I can only tell the stories”

Lester nodded. Took another slice of bacon. And said, “There might be hope for you yet, kid.”

There was a heartbeat of silence.

And again I heard the drum.

4 Responses to “The Occupy America Drum Beat”

  1. rictresaRicTresa Says:

    Linked you Roger.. if you are on FB, look me up.

  2. Ted Schneider Says:

    I agree I am not sure what the Occupy movement is about except perhaps to tax the rich (which is fine by me). What I don’t get today is how the very people elected to represent us and the nation basically look out for themselves and their inner circle of friends, business partners etc. The money is there, it just needs to be reallocated. I often wonder if the polititcians had similar salaries and benefits as the majority of us would they still want to hold public office.

  3. Paulhaider74 Says:

    Roger, this is great stuff. I love those lyrics from the John Prine and Jackson Browne songs. Personally, I always walk to the beat of a different drummer, a Jewish drummer named Max Weinberg. I attended the “Stand Up, Chicago” rally on Monday, October 10 on Michigan Avenue; it was truly inspirational as I walked with my “Jobs Not Cuts” picket sign, and I was walking behind a young man who was beating a snare drum.
    Paul Haider, Chicago

  4. Gwendolyn Glover DeRosa Says:

    Once again, Roger, you’ve said what needed to be said and you said it best. In the story is the truth, the beauty, the light. Just write the stories. Thank you.

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