On Speaking Up: Why I Support Occupy

6 11 2011

My mom recently saw an online photo of her daughter, protest sign held proudly high. “Oh, gawd!” Part embarrassed laugh, part groan; her response revealed a long-internalized instruction to be quiet and polite.

Those were the prevailing lessons of my childhood, too. Be nice, be discreet, keep a low profile. Easy values for a painfully shy, awkward kid to swallow. I didn’t recognize their consequences until later in life.

Be nice… For years I denied my need to write, afraid that sharing my truths would infringe upon and hurt others.

Be discreet… Far too often, I failed to speak out against unjust actions or words, choosing to fade into an accommodating background rather than standing up for those in need.

Be quiet… I didn’t know how to speak up when an adult put his hands on my 14 year old body.

In my early 20’s, I made a new friend. A woman who never wavered in her commitment to speak up for herself and others, and showed not a single iota of fear; I’d never known such a ferocious social justice ally. Words fail to express what a life-changing mentor she was, but I studied her every word, gesture, and action with awe. When she gave me this hand-painted Audre Lorde quote for my 23rd birthday, I felt that she’d bequeathed an invisible sword and shield upon me. That she’d blessed me.

I can hear some of you shifting in your seats. “Fine, Tele, whatever; what’s this got to do with fishing? I come here for the fishing stories!”

Fair enough. The point is, it was a slow, painful journey to learn to use my voice, and I still fall short. Most recently, I’ve been adding my voice to the Occupy Wall Street movement. A march here, a rally there; a no more to my bank and a hello, new team to my local credit union.

But some friends have frowned, “I don’t get it. What’s the point?”  There’s no shortage of articles on the global grievances propelling this movement, so I won’t reiterate those here. Instead, I’ll offer a few of the more personal reasons why this particular fisherman chooses to lend her voice to Occupy.

Because I’m in a high-risk profession that depends on my body’s ability to respond to the work’s demands, yet I don’t have health insurance. Because all summer long, I fantasize about the consequences of a single wrong step on a slippery deck, or one thoughtless moment with a knife. Because I’m surrounded by fishermen who spent decades spurring their bodies to clean faster, haul harder – there’ll be plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead! – as if death was the only thing that could get in their way. None considered arthritic, gnarled fingers, froze-up knees, carpal tunnel that vined its wretched way from wrist to elbow to shoulders that didn’t move anymore, anyway. Few considered fishing’s absence of a 401(k).

Because I’ve heard critics grumble that those people should just get a job, dammit, and earn their way like the rest of us. But I have a job, and everyone in my circle has a job, and I’d challenge any one of those critics to give our job a try for a single day. Because we don’t work – we worship at a lurching, leaping altar of 18 hour days on our boots, no awareness of our stunning surroundings because all we see are the jewel-glistening entrails of the fish splayed open before us, immediately followed by the next, and the next, for what seems like weeks on end. We know the taste of fish madness, when we’re so sleep deprived yet still have to move so fast that we move beyond exhausted and fall into delirium, where we nod into our cold plates of spaghetti and drop into our bunks, our faces stiff with fish blood because it’s a choice between staying awake to wash or go to bed and we just don’t give a damn.  Work is our religion, and we are glassy-eyed zealots.

Because I’ve seen the tragic results of fishermen whose intestines knotted into bowlines of desperation and clove-hitches of silent fear, as they told themselves that maybe they’d find the motherlode, if they’d just fish tougher, drive themselves harder. Maybe they’d be able to make that boat payment, or pay that fuel bill, or send some money home, if they got lucky this one time. But too often, this one time included a nighttime run where they just couldn’t keep their gritty eyes open any longer, or winds shrieking louder and waves grabbing harder than they’d anticipated. If they got lucky, they only lost their boats.

Because the Nerka is only one boat, but we depend on a massive support system to remain in business. Diesel mechanics, fiberglass workers, metal fabricators, gear manufacturers, processing plants and cold storages, freight shipping, grocers, restaurants, and you. For us to make it, entire communities need to thrive.

Because my family’s well-being is directly linked to yours. Because I don’t clean every fish to bloodless perfection, handling each with care and precision, just so my neighbors can’t afford to buy them. I want you to be able to enjoy this gorgeous, heart-healthy wild salmon. I want you to take pleasure in preparing a meal, sitting down with your loved ones, and when you bite into that first, sunset-colored flake, I want your eyes to close in reverence and your lips to curl in delight. Because every day on the ocean is a gift, and I want to be able to make a living while sharing this gift with you.

And that is why I support Occupy.

Alaska Represented, Occupy Bellingham, 10.14.11

And you, sweet reader? Does speaking up come easily or hard for you? Where are the places that you use your voice, and where are the places you falter?

Special thanks to you, SB. I heart you.



31 responses

7 11 2011
Elizabeth Young

I speak through my blog and through forums I believe will make a difference. Unfortunately I don’t believe the ‘Occupy’ movement will make one iota of difference whatsoever to anything. It’s goals are too nebulous and our banking system intrinsically bound to democracy. We all need to be the change we wish to see in the world and that involves far more than illegally squatting in tents downtown. I really appreciate you allowing me to share my opinion here and am glad you can speak up for what you believe in.

7 11 2011

Thanks for stopping by and kicking off the comments, Elizabeth! I agree that blogs and discussion forums are fantastic platforms where we can all effect change – that if nothing else, we create discussions and expand our thinking. Those discussions take on powerful life: I’m certain Bank Transfer Day wouldn’t have received a fraction of the mainstream coverage it did, or the public participation, without the context OWS built over the past 2 months. I’ve watched friends who never gave a thought to their finances – apart from whether they had enough money to go out that night or not – suddenly engaged, analyzing the interest rates and community contributions of their local credit unions before closing out their bank accounts. Regardless of what else is achieved, that’s what I see as having made a tremendous difference: the power to create an international dialogue about power, money, inequity, and our individual options to support something different. I’ve been moved by the diversity of its participants – all political ideologies, elders, families with small children, professionals, blue collar workers, students – and look to other non-violent civil disobedience actions that led to momentous change. Can the equivalent happen today? I don’t know… But I’m thankful to everyone who contributes the effort that’s right for them – blogging, public forums, letter writing, voting, donating, marching, and yes, physically occupying. Could it be said that Rosa Parks was illegally squatting in that front seat? Talk about an action that contributed to change! 🙂

Thanks again for coming by, Elizabeth – I’m thankful for your comment.

7 11 2011

Good going! OWS does make a difference. It creates awareness and dialogue. That can’t be a bad thing. The news networks on tv are in the wrong loop, corporate and without much integrity, they have been forced to realize how pitiful their reporting is and how embarrassing it is to report for them. Never get my new from TV. Only want to read it.

Thanks for sharing.

7 11 2011

Yep, Herb & Laura, I’m with you two on the news. Cap’n J and I were in Tunisia 4 years ago, where we were introduced to Al Jazeera news. I was astonished to see the depth and quality of what a TV news channel could actually offer – if you went outside of the US. I still watch it online occasionally; pretty fascinating to compare their reporting with what American broadcasters funnel to us.

My best wishes to you both, and thanks for contributing to the discussion!

7 11 2011

“Because we don’t work – we worship at a lurching, leaping altar of 18 hour days on our boots…”

I can feel the strength, the conviction in the entire essay. You do have a strong voice. The part about needing communities to thrive particularly resonates with me as it is part of what I am trying to get at in my work, getting people to see that interconnectedness and participate before something tragic happens in their own community. Nicely written, Tele.

7 11 2011

Yes! I absolutely see where you’re going with your work in this area, and think it will be a very powerful aspect of your message. “Getting people to participate before something tragic happens in their own community” – that’s the key right there, isn’t it? On the whole, preventative measures and foresight haven’t been our strength.

I’m so looking forward to following the adventures of your work and the discoveries you have along the way. Thanks for being such an ally to the women and men of the waters, Cedar.

7 11 2011
Village Farmer

Bravo to you Tele for striding into the deeper waters of personal conviction. Of course all good begins within, and we are all one. However before we concede that populist based movements are inconsequential, let’s remember the power of Ghandi, Martin Luther King, the Eastern Bloc countries, and the ongoing Arab Spring. Individually and collectively the mighty fall regularly

7 11 2011

Some excellent examples that we’d do well to study. Thanks for these reminders, Dad.

You know, it’s been a while since we’ve participated in some demonstratin’ together. Hmm…

7 11 2011

Every voice counts. The changes are already happening. Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase have dropped their newly instituted $5 monthly service charge for debit card use. The more people who move their accounts to a local credit union or small bank will eventually break the backs and the grandiosity of the “too big to fail” greedy conglomerates. You tell ‘em Tele.

I was so distressed by the BP Gulf oil spill I had to write about it even if nobody who might read my blog cared. http://backcountrywriter.wordpress.com/2010/07/13/when-will-we-ever-learn/ Just wanted to share that on a blog where I know they do care.
The state of healthcare in this country is criminal. The Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax includes two separate taxes. One is Social Security and the other is Medicare. How is it that we must pay these taxes but they are considered entitlement programs that the federal government can raid at will, or end altogether? And somebody please explain to me how and why they tax unemployment benefits? Stay heart healthy with all that salmon because younger fishermen will not likely be able to collect Social Security benefits before age 70, if the programs haven’t been discontinued by then.

9 11 2011

Thanks so much for sharing your post, CJ. I felt similarly when the Gulf spill happened – an utterly impotent horror and despair.

I’m thinking about the way we shake our heads when there’s an individual who’s dismissive of his boat’s maintenance, someone who shrugs off preventative care and precautions, waves away the stories of older fishermen who mention, “You might wanna watch out for _________, that really did in this other boat when he didn’t care of that.” And we raise our eyebrows, think, “Hope that guy’s not in our insurance pool,” and figure it’s just a matter of time before he’ll learn what could have been some avoidable lessons. But when entire industries demonstrate that same imprudence and short-sightedness, we’re all suffer the consequences of the disastrous lesson.

7 11 2011
Nancy Mendnehall

Right on Tele!!! Occupy is the first step. I am worried that my two fishermen sons don’t have health insurance for the very reasons you state. They are 45-53 and at that age where it starts to matter a lot. Recently the state of Alaska did raise their fishermen’s fund allowable to 10,000, which was a big, big improvement. But it costs $250 to get into a doc to get a prescription for sinus and as you know that’s not work related they will say.
My daughter is in Seattle and she has been to Occupy a couple times. She is one of those instructors that got laid off at UW.
The cost of groceries in northern AK– I don’t know how people make it. Our freezer is full but we are the lucky ones.
Keep writing; keep speaking up!

9 11 2011

My best wishes to your daughter, Nancy – what a perfect example of the population who’ve been doing everything “right” and are still feeling the struggle. Thanks for sharing this.

So, are you in AK now, Nancy? Hope that you and yours are all battened down safe and sound; I can’t believe the size of that storm hitting out west. Please do let us know that you all made it through okay after it passes!

7 11 2011

I’m singing with you sister! Let our voices be heard! Beautifully written! As Benjamin Franklin said “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately”. Those that are cynical will not change the system.
OWS is a spark for the rest of us to wake up and start the fire.
Keep writing Tele. We need your strong voice!

9 11 2011

Thanks for chiming in, Gwen! It’s a good song, isn’t it? 🙂

7 11 2011

Big hails to Occupy Bellingham from Occupy Portland!

10 11 2011


7 11 2011
Thomas family

We love your voice!

7 11 2011
Joel Brady-Power

It has been a beautiful thing to bear witness to you finding your voice, and as your voice gains eloquence and strength the dam of reservation, fear, and insecurity will crumble before the river of your knowing and conviction, and I stand with you.

7 11 2011

Thanks Tele! Way to go. Way to be courageous. (And specific!)

7 11 2011
Donna Daniels

And I might add on the Fisherman’s Fund – not a good program! I have very rarely seen it help those fishermen that need it. But they are more than willing to take money from your AK fishing license fee. I am thankful for the small bank of mine that is a true community bank – privately owned and they know your name when you walk thru the door not your #. Hats off to you Tele! Unfortunately, I was one raised with the “seen not heard” mentality! And unfortunately as well, too many of us have sat back without a word until now, when we see what a disgusting state we are in and think “OMG – how did this happen”! And I am one who does think OWS will help!

10 11 2011

Yes, I’m also looking forward to being known by name at our new credit union… Their membership skyrocketed over the past few months, but I suspect bringing in a plate of smoked salmon appreciation will help Cap’n J and I stand out!

That “be seen and not heard” message didn’t do any of us any favors, did it?

7 11 2011

Bless you, Tele!

8 11 2011
Dennis Parent

As a fisherman, small business owner, and full participant for better or worse in our free enterprise system, I too have been thinking a lot about the Occupy Movement. Over recent decades, average Americans have been on the losing end of the big, impersonal game called global capitalism. We don’t need to quit the game, nor blow up the game board. As I see it, the Occupy Movement is all about re-writing the rules in order to make the game more fair (again) for the 99%. At least, I hope that is the case. Many millions of Americans are currently on the sidelines, watching and evaluating the protests at this time, deciding whether to support it. Major social change grows out of such small beginnings…. just like the Columbia River grows from modest headwaters. Will the current widen and speed up?
I hope I see more people my age (fifties) at the next big event.

8 11 2011
Karl Baker (@kbaker6)

Hi Tele, well written and compelling piece. I was reporting on OWS their first day in Zuccotti Park and, I must admit, at the time I didn’t think it was going to cause much of a commotion. Boy was I wrong.

It was good to find your site here in cyberspace, and I was pleased to put it on my blog roll. Too few of us commercial fishers are blogging.

8 11 2011

This is such an amazing piece. The fact that you articulate so beautifully why you are participating in the Occupy Movement fills me with a hope that isn’t projected onto a politician, but on what the people can do when united. It is only the beginning stage of the movement and personally, I don’t even think we have a full vision what it will look like in time. But it is growing…and people are unified, and I truly believe there will be change. Way to go, Tele!

10 11 2011
Uncle Jed

A big thumbs up Tele! Cann’t wait to march with you!

16 11 2011
Coco Rivers


I found your blog through Annie and really enjoyed your perspective. I am a proud OWS supporter and applaud you for taking a stand. In fact, I tweeted you for those folks that just don’t seem to get it :).

You should check this out: http://alturl.com/cub7n

16 11 2011

So good to meet you, Coco! I’m a big fan of Annie’s work, and am delighted that you stopped by. Thanks on the tweeting – I’m fumbling through the Twittersphere, don’t really know what I’m doing out there and haven’t put much energy into learning yet, so thanks for promoting Hooked out there. Best wishes (and your Thanksgiving menu sounds amazing!)

20 11 2011
Kevin Larson

Hi Tele ! May I add my voice to those laudatory ones above? Your treatises here are stunningly communicative from a technical writing perspective, and it seems you are more than just merely gifted that way. But through the larger prism of a 73 yr old, who shares and shared much of the same type of early formation that you describe, I only note that the moving reality evident here is the total blossoming of a kind, highly perfected soul. Is it any wonder why both of your parents, my life-long friends, are so stupendously
proud? I was and am touched. Enjoy this medium, enjoy this life, enjoy your muse. Happy Thanksgiving! Kevin L.

24 11 2011

Kev! Your comment was a particularly touching surprise – thanks for that. My love to you and Indi, with gratitude for the gift of your longstanding presence in Aadsen lives. Hope you two enjoyed a lovely day.

19 12 2011
(FL) Girl with a New Life

Ah, sounds like my mother and your mother had a few things in common. Throughout my twenties I would write in notebooks and hide them from myself, because I was so afraid of my own voice–afraid of being discovered. And sometimes I still find them, at completely unrelated moments, a page of something brilliant lost in the middle of phone numbers and recipes. It makes me work that much harder at living in my truth, because I owe it to the shy, lost, little girl I once was.

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