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Sizing up Occupying nephew on Thanksgiving


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Updated: May 9, 2012 10:03AM

It was a strange number calling from some corner of “Occupy” New York: “Hey Unc!” a familiar voice rang.

“Hey, man,” I said to my nephew.

“Did you get the ticket?” he asked, his enunciation ever prim and proper.

“Not yet,” I said regarding the train ticket he’d asked if I could purchase so he could get home to Chicago for Thanksgiving.

Honestly, as a hardworking man, who believes everyman should earn his keep, I had some reluctance shelling out dough for a young man — even a beloved nephew — who was chillin’ in the Big Apple, likely waving some sign and singing some song, on a flowery bed of ease. OK, maybe not flowery. But I was thinking, “Dude, get a job!”

Still, I was prepared to buy the ticket, and was waiting to hear back.

He explained that taking part in the “Occupy” movement had kept him from some creature comforts, like computers, Facebook and home-cooked meals. Not to mention a warm bed at night, home, family.

Intrigued from afar by Occupy, I figured that while on an East Coast business trip, I would hit the Wall Street epicenter, where the movement has drawn young people like my nephew.

My quest: To make heads or tails from what appeared to me from afar as a movement of modern-day hippies trying to wedge out their place in a world — toting the banner of social and political reform in defiance of “the establishment,” which they see as having already leveraged away their future. They seemed defiant, bold and carrying the torch of the First Amendment, reminiscent of the kind of nonviolent protests that have helped safeguard our democracy.

“So when can you leave?” I asked, prepared to buy him a ticket on the first train smoking.

“Uh, not before Sunday evening, maybe Monday, Unc,” he replied. “I promised my friends at Occupy I would hang with ‘em for a couple more days… OK, bye.”

Huh? Does he think I’m his travel agent?

“What the hell?” I said aloud.

Arriving at Zuccotti Park late Friday night, days after New York City police evicted protesters, I thought the same as I surveyed the relatively small remaining band of occupiers outnumbered by officers and mixed with a blend of New York City homeless, though I did not see my nephew. Protesters were identifiable by their placards and a potpourri of impassioned conversations that in the cold, open, New York night air felt like a grassroots revival of sorts, even if their overall message was somewhat disjointed and hard to decipher.

“Everyone’s issue is an issue,” activist Bryan Puertas told me. “Everyone’s issue deserves to get talked about, whether it’s genetically modified foods, or global warming, or health care or student loans, or ending the wars. Everyone’s issue is deserving of conversation and debate.”

“Ditto,” I thought to myself, a firm believer in the exercise of free speech.

While I still can’t say for sure what their endgame is, after spending a few hours at Occupy New York, this much I can: I felt a sense of pride — and also hope for the future — that young people like my nephew care about something passionately enough to stand — or occupy — just to be heard.

I said as much to him days later when he called again. I also told him that the Bible says, if a man doesn’t work, he doesn’t eat. I told him that I had bought his ticket and that his mother and grandmother were looking forward to seeing him. I told him I loved him.

And I told him that while occupying is well and fine, I was now expecting him to get an occupation so he can pay back his dear Unc.

So, welcome home, nephew. And Happy Thanksgiving.

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