Bonjou! from Haiti

Well, I’ve arrived. This novice world traveler departing from New England has successfully endured her first half day of 90 degree temperatures while navigating through Haitian customs at Port-au-Prince and has settled into the Kinam Hotel for the night.

Wow. Haiti is so… different. Different and beautiful. Haiti is one of those places that conjures up so many questions; as an outsider, I know I have so much to learn. It seems that everything here has a story – every person, every piece of artwork, every store and yard of rubbish and building and stray dog. It’s incredibly humbling.

Anyway, this is a short post, as there is much work to do and long days ahead. Just wanted to check in and tell you all that I’m alive and well. Internet (and even electricity) here is a luxury, so I thought I might as well take advantage of it when I can!

Inspired by Nature now available for iDevices

My portfolio book, Inspired by Nature, is now available as an ebook for iPhone and iPad.

Inspired by Nature is a collection of 83 images taken from 2005-2009. It is also available as a physical print book in softcover or hardcover from the Blurb online bookstore.

I like caving

I went caving for the first time yesterday.

It was awesome.

A friend of mine from Antioch, John Dunham, just so happens to be an alumni of nearby Marlboro College in Marlboro, Vermont, and still volunteers for the college to lead caving trips to caves throughout the northeast. I had never been caving before, but thought it sounded like fun, so I joined John and a group of six students from Marlboro College to explore Clarksville Cave near Albany, New York.

Caving is a pretty sweet way to explore a side of Mother Nature that few people experience. We crawled through tiny passages, on hands, knees, and bellies, getting covered in wet clay and trying to avoid the pools of water that had gathered in the gullies beneath the surface. We wedged ourselves into crevices that seemed impossibly narrow, and shimmied ourselves through tight spaces between rocks. I felt my limbs twisting awkwardly at weird angles, my muscles struggling to pull and push my body through the most absurd spaces. Sometimes the cave opened up into small “rooms” rarely big enough to stand in, and in one section, we waded through a cold and shallow river of rushing water in a spacious underground tunnel that reminded me of something out of an Indiana Jones movie.

At one point, while standing in the underground river, we stopped to turn off our headlamps and experienced the darkest of dark. The blackness surrounded us so completely, it was impossible to see anything, and I even was able to brush my eyelashes with the tips of my finger and still see nothing at all, not even the faintest shadow or outline of my hand.

The girls started to sing – I’m not sure what exactly, but they sang in-the-round and their lovely voices filled the cave with the sweet sound of music. Eventually, the song they had chosen to perform came to an end, and their voices faded out, two by two, gently and beautifully, until the only sound in the cave was the loud rushing of the water around us. We stood in silence and total darkness for a bit longer, then switched our lights back on and continued our exploration of the underground world. I could never ask for a moment like that to happen, but when it does, I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart.

When I climbed up out of the cave to grab lunch on the surface, I felt like a groundhog on Groundhog’s Day. According to my calculations, we have six more weeks of winter. Funny when you consider that we’ve hardly had a real winter at all this year!

At the end of the day, I felt like I had been beaten up. I could feel bruises already forming and my muscles were fatigued. I was dirty and tired, wet and cold. My joints ached a little, and I had the distinct feeling that Mother Nature and I had an interesting relationship. I loved the feeling of her abuse, but realized that, unlike unhealthy relationships between people, the challenges she put before me only heightened the rewards she dished out. The thrill I get from being outside in and nature makes the soreness I feel afterward more than worthwhile. I thrive on the adrenaline and endorphin kick I get from physical exertion, and I love nature; put the two together and you end up with one happy Kari.

Nature is therapy to me, and sometimes, I suppose therapy is painful. Therapy forces us to examine our real selves, to dig deep inside and push beyond the barriers that are in our way. Emotional walls or physical ones made of rock and earth, we can gain a lot by conquering them and exploring beyond that which is known. The journeys are not always easy, but they make us stronger, and we are better for them. Perhaps that is why I do some of those “crazy” things others wouldn’t dare to do, like biking across the United States or climbing Mount Washington in the winter.

Or going caving.

We live through experiences not pictures

“Have fun! Take lots of pictures!”

“Yeah, sure.” And I was out the door.

I’m lucky in that I have a lot of adventures. Freedom of spirit is a lifestyle choice I made subconciously some years ago, and one I continue to reaffirm every so often, when my restless nature tempts me to defy conventional wisdom and hit the road, or as is more often the case, the trail. I work for a bit, save for a bit, stress for a bit, and then escape to the wilderness in seek of respite from it all.

A few weeks ago, I had agreed to partake in a trip planned by an outdoor adventure company co-owned by two photographer friends of mine. Brooklyn Outfitters was leading its first ever guided winter hike up Mount Washington, the tallest mountain in the northeast and home of the World’s Worst Weather, a title it earned in 1938 when 231 mph winds gusted over the summit.

I packed my bags, debating which camera to bring. Did I want to be able to capture the highest quality images of the trip, or did I want to just make it up the Grand Lady and back down in one piece? From the summit of Mount Washington, the view is strikingly beautiful as one overlooks the entire Presidential Range of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. The hike up travels 4,250 vertical feet over rocky terrain left by glaciers with natural gardens of alpine plants and stunted trees, all of which would be coated in thick layers of rime ice and windswept snow.

There was, of course, no guarentee we would even make it to the summit. Mount Washington has claimed over a hundred human lives, and conditions on the mountain can and do change rapidly. Even a good day can turn into a nightmare on the mountain. Smart hikers who don’t die know when to turn around. The adventure I was about to go on was not for the faint of heart. Undoubtably, it would be one worth remembering.

I finally opted to leave my 5D Mark II and wide angle lens in the car, and decided to carry my much lighter Panasonic GF-1 instead.

The first two miles to Mount Washington are relatively easy, on a broad path through the trees. After this the trail splits, and winter hikers going up the mountain turn onto Lion’s Head, heading up one of the steepest trails to the summit. As we scrambled towards treeline, the views began to open up into something incredible. The cold began to sink in faster. The wind picked up. We had to cover every part of our bodies to prevent frostbite. Head to toe, nothing was exposed, not even the skin on our faces.

The snow glistened and gleamed in the sunshine. Clear days on Mount Washington are not common, but they are beautiful when they do happen and visibility was incredible. Shrouds of white snow picked up by a steady wind streamed over the surrounding ridges like waves rippling over rocks in a stream. The blue blue sky greeted the white snow in perfect harmony where the mountainside hit the horizon. Miniature sculptures of slanted icicles, blown horizontal by the wind, rose from the landscape in crystalline beauty.

It was all mine and just what I needed.

Climbing Mount Washington in the winter is something I’ve dreamed of doing since my first visit to New Hampshire in February 2009. Then, I had snowshoed up a path just east of Pinkham Notch, the Appalachian Mountain Club Visitor’s Center that serves as the hub for folks ascending Washington. It was my first real winter hiking experience, and a bird and nature enthusiast old enough to be my father acted as my guide. The weather was fairly mild and we stayed well below treeline, but the hike was much tougher for me than my seasoned leader. It was then that I learned that people hiked up Mount Washington in winter (was that even possible?) using ice axes and crampons and other mountaineering necessities. It sounded brutal. It sounded awesome. Then and there I made up my mind to try it one day.

Then there was the rest of my life. The blur of grad school. The ever growing pile of work to be done, bills to be paid, and my shapeless future. I’m one of those people that needs a healthy dose of nature, otherwise I freak. I was in the midst of one of my “I don’t feel too good about anything” spells, and freaking was in progress.

Therefore, I decided on therapy in the form of a terrible mountain in the harshest of conditions. She challenged me. On the steep parts, my legs grew tired with extertion, but not with the weight of the world. My throat begged for water. I feared removing my balaclava to drink so I stayed thirsty, but only for water, not for joy. My progress was slow – I have short legs and going uphill is never as efficient for me as it is for some – but steady, and I knew I had it in me. I climbed and kept climbing.

I was determined to make it to the summit. Summitting was more important than pictures to me. I’d take some on the way down if I felt like it.

But I didn’t really feel like it.

My GF-1 was in the brain of my pack and easy to get to. I had on Smartwool liner gloves that would spare my fingers from numbness for a few frames, even in the bitter cold, and I wasn’t even that cold. I had prepared well, and the intense physical effort was keeping me comfortably warm. I was rather enjoying myself.

The primary reason I take photos is because I like to share my experiences and the beauty of nature with others. I like to capture those special moments and special places that I come across on my adventures – be they big ones or small ones – and show them to other people that couldn’t be there with me at the time. Photography is how I connect my life to the lives of others; it is an integral part of my identity.

This I didn’t feel like sharing.

My journey up Mount Washington was in some way private. It was intensely personal. It was me against my self-destructive psyche, against the part of me that was hungry and tired, against my imperfect and out of shape body and my uncertain future. Mount Washington and Old Man Winter were challenging me, not my friends at home or strangers browsing my website. Mother Nature was daring me to fail, not others.

There wasn’t any place else in the world I would rather have been than in those moments as they happened on the mountain. I decided all I wanted from those moments was to experience them, to be fully present. I wanted to live in each moment as completely as possible. I find it easy to get wrapped up in taking photos sometimes. Sometimes photography is a distraction.

Memories are sometimes the most beautiful thing we have. Photographs can capture memories, true, but they can taint them too, because photographs don’t adequately capture a complete experience. Events are experienced through multiple senses simulataneously; they are not two dimensional. Also, our memories aren’t perfect reflections of reality. They have emotions attached to them, and everything we see, hear, smell, and experience is colored by the flavor of our hearts and souls.

In reality, photographs are sorry excuses for memories of experiences. The photographs I would have taken on Mount Washington would only have captured a fraction of what I saw, a small detail of the whole experience, and not with the richness that it deserved.

For example, no photograph can capture the way your nose feels when the hairs inside your nostrils freeze. If you like the cold, like me, it makes you feel alive. Frozen nostril hairs are the sign of impending adventure; I’ve never had frozen nostril hairs and not had a good time.

I don’t remember everything about the trip. I’d like to say that if I close my eyes, I can go back to the mountain but I can’t. The experience came and went, and in my memory some of the details are fuzzy and some are clear as day. A few visuals stick out in my head, like the look of the observatory encapsuled in rime ice, or the alpine garden bent over with the weight of snow and pressure of surviving in one of the harshest environments on earth.

I can hear the squeaky crunch of an ice axe and crampons on frozen snow. That sound is the most distinctive thing I remember of the whole trip, and as I was climbing, as I was using my axe, I was very conscious of the sound, how new it was to me, how I couldn’t quite describe it in words. That stays with me.

The rest, I forget. The memories come and go, washing over me like waves of snow blowing over the mountains.

There are photos from the trip. Brooklyn Outfitters takes photos on every trip, and the guides are often pretty good photographers, as was the case on this adventure. Thanks to them, for the first time in a long time I have photos with me in them doing something cool.

Do I regret not taking my own photos? No. I’ll go back. I’ll climb the beast again. I’ll take photos when it strikes me to do so. But I refuse to be married to my camera and divorced from the world I live in and the entirety of the experiences around me.

How many times do wonderful things happen to us and we think, darn, I wish I had my camera? As photographers, we want to capture the things that happen around us. But it’s important to remember than even the best photographs cannot capture what happens to us.

And what happens to us shapes who we are.

And who we are is more important than the images we take.

When I came home from my Mount Washington adventure, I didn’t have a single photo to share with a soul. My friends, roommates, and fellow photographers were shocked, after all, photography has often been the reason I get out to see and experience all that I have. Yet, I know I made the right choice because my spirit is restored, and I feel whole again.

Next time, I’ll take pictures.

Summit Conditions

Just got a wonderful follow up email from Brooklyn Outfitters detailing some specs for our Mount Washington trip that I thought I’d share:

Route: Lion’s Head Summer route 8.6 miles up 4,250 vertical feet

Summit conditions:

Temp: -14 deg F

Wind: NW 52 mph

Wind Chill Temp: -52 deg F

Frostbite Time: 5 minutes

Not too shabby, ey?

They’ve also posted some photos from the trip including the probably the best adventure photos I have of myself ever. You can check out the trip album on their Facebook site here: (hopefully that link actually works)

We summited!

Not Mount Washington. I actually didn't take a single photo yesterday while hiking up Mount Washington (I'll explain more in a future blog post), but did take the scenic route to North Conway, where I met up with my group. These snow caked trees were visible from one of the few plowed pullouts along the Kancamagus Highway.

At approximately 1PM yesterday, myself and the six others in my trekking party reached the summit of Mount Washington, home of the world’s worst weather. We were greeted by 52 mph winds (with stronger gusts) that made the summit feel much colder than the balmy -14 degree actual temperature (probably about -40 or so). We stayed on the summit for no more than 15 minutes – just enough time to change out some layers, get a quick snack and drink of water, and snap a couple group photos – before heading back down the mountain the way we had came. It was cold, it was beautiful, it was amazing.

I made the trek with an awesome group from Brooklyn Outfitters. I’ve known BKO’s founders before BKO existed, and I’ve been itching to get out on an adventure with them. So when co-founder Stetson Hundgen suggested I come along for their first guided winter summit attempt of Mount Washington (something I have dreamed of doing since I first stepped foot in New Hampshire in February 2009), it was hard to say no.

Now I’ve dealt with a good number of guides and led a variety of trips for universities, camps, non-profits, and outdoor adventure and education companies myself, so I’d like to think I know a good guide service when I see one. Let me tell you, these dudes from the city can hang with the locals any day. Good trips, where guides provide an experience that is challenging but fun, carefully calculate risks to keep the group safe without interfering with the fun part, and know when to be serious, when to be relaxed, and just how much instruction to give to make participants feel supported but not babied, are an absolute joy to be on. I honestly can’t think of enough good things to say about Brooklyn Outfitters, so I’ll just stop gushing now and simply encourage anyone in the New York City area to take a trip with them at some point.

Thank you so much Brooklyn Outfitters and everyone who summited Mount Washington with me. Even though we’ve come off the summit and returned home, because of you guys I still feel like I’m on top of the world.

Click on the link above to check out Brooklyn Outfitters’ other awesome trips departing out of New York City. They have another Mount Washington trip planned for February, so if you are feeling adventurous be sure to sign up!

Hiking up Mount Washington tomorrow!

Tomorrow, I’ll be heading up Mount Washington, home of the world’s worst weather, with my friend, photographer Stetson Hundgen and his outdoor guide company, Brooklyn Outfitters. We’re hoping to get all the way to the summit, but conditions look pretty gnarly right now. Looks like Old Man Winter arrived just it time to make the trek challenging!

Tuckerman's Ravine, Mount Washington, trail, trail sign, White Mountain National Forest, White Mountains

Tuckerman’s Trail : Prints Available

The last time I hiked up to the summit of Mount Washington, it was a balmy day in July 2010. The mountain is an entirely different beast come winter, and I’m excited to meet her head on.

You can check out summit conditions (updated every 15 minutes) via the Mount Washington Observatory website. Follow the weather throughout the day on Sunday to see what we’ll be up against.

Wish us luck!

Finally some snow!

After an unseasonably warm and dry winter, we’ve finally got some snow in central New England! A few inches fell yesterday and some more today, and we might get even more snow overnight. Woohoo!

Here are a couple of photos I snapped at Bradley Draper Memorial Forest on Gilmore Pond in Jaffrey yesterday while on assignment for NEFF.

A woodland trail leads through the snow drenched hemlocks and hardwoods.


The distant shoreline, partially frozen ice, and the lip of a snow covered boulder create a minimalist landscape scene looking out across Gilmore Pond.

The Keystone XL Battle is not over

I originally wrote this on November 11, 2011, but didn’t publish it immediately because I instead submitted it as an op-ed piece to the Washington Post. The guidelines of many big newspapers, such as the Post and New York Times, require that submissions are completely unpublished, in any form, including personal blogs. Such big papers also can take up to two weeks to accept or reject submitted writing, and in that time this piece became a little dated, and I never got around to self publishing it after it was rejected. However, I did put a lot of time into writing this, and with all the new controversies surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline, I’ve decided to post it to my blog in its original form. Was I the only one who saw the “delay” as a cop out at the time? Bill McKibben, perhaps you need my phone number…

United States President Barack Obama today announced that he will delay the decision of whether or not to approve the 1700 mile Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would bring dirty, toxic tar sands from Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas. Tar sands are terribly inefficient fuel sources; huge quantities of water are needed to heat and separate oil from the other materials in tar sands. In order to make the tar sands viscous enough to be pumped from the earth and through the pipeline, toxic chemicals must be added to the crude material. The process is so wasteful that it takes roughly two tons of tar sands to produce a single barrel of oil, and the process of mining and refining tar sands releases two to four times the amount of greenhouse gases as the production of conventional oil (which isn’t all that great either). Tar sands are dirty, toxic, and inefficient and promoting them is an awfully terrible idea.

So when Obama’s administration announced that the decision as to whether or not to approve the pipeline was going to be pushed off until early 2013, after the 2012 election, I found it hard to feel as victorious as Bill McKibben and other Tar Sands Action advocates. Sure, I’m glad the proposal wasn’t approved, and I’m darn proud to be one of the 12,000 demonstrators who protested outside the White House this past Sunday, but there is a lot of language surrounding the decision to postpone the decision that worries me.

For one, there is a lot of talk about alternative routes. Nebraskans adamantly oppose the tar sands, concerned that the chemicals will ruin their farmland and further threaten the already endangered Sand Hill crane. They showed up in droves to the November 6th protest, wearing “corn fingers” that touted “Stop TransCanada Pipeline” and “No Oil in Our Soil.” Clearly, they made an impression.

Alternative routes don’t sound like a good idea to me. While I applaud the President for realizing the risk of cutting through Nebraska’s sand hills with a giant pipeline full of dirty, crude oil, I’m positive that putting a tar sands pipeline anywhere is a bad idea. The only acceptable alternative is to stop the pipeline altogether, something the President seems afraid to do.

Obama, put your big boy pants on. While campaigning in 2007 and 2008, you said “Let’s be the generation that frees itself from the tyranny of oil.” You said that the government should invest in clean energy and green jobs. So when faced with the decision to kill the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that really doesn’t have anything positive going for it, why the hold up?

The pipeline will not create green jobs. In fact, it will destroy as many jobs as it creates, and it will destroy our environment along with it. In a November 5 article, the Washington Post revealed that pipeline proponents grossly overestimated the number of jobs the pipeline would create, and a report by the Cornell University Global Labor Institute suggested that the number of jobs lost from potential pipeline disasters, increased health care costs, and increased cost of gasoline due to diverting tar sands oil to the Gulf Coast will negate any employment gain from the pipeline’s temporary jobs.

And what of the oil? Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and chief executive officer feels that the Keystone XL pipeline is vital for the U.S. economy and Canadian economy. “If Keystone XL dies,” he wrote in an emailed message, “Americans will … continue to import 10 million barrels of oil from repressive nations, without the benefit of thousands of jobs and long-term energy security.” Well, Mr. Girling, a little bird told me that U.S. Republicans refuse to vote for legislation that would guarantee that the oil from the pipeline would not be sold overseas, and those jobs you speak of don’t exist. So where does that leave your argument?

Unfortunately, it seems that Canadian parliament supports the Keystone XL pipeline. “We remain hopeful the project will be decided on its merits and eventually approved,” said a spokesman for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. “Our government will continue to promote Canada, and the oil sands, as a stable, secure, and ethical source of energy for the world.” Mr. Harper, are you out of your mind?

Tar sands oil is toxic and inefficient. Creation of the Keystone XL pipeline would create some jobs, but temporary ones, and would kill at least as many. It would endanger the health and lifestyles of millions of Americans and Canadians, many of which will lose their homes and farmland when TransCanada uses eminent domain to seize property for construction of the pipeline. Further development of the tar sands will continue to pollute our air and water, and will contribute catastrophically to a rapidly changing global climate.

I like you Obama. You’re charming, you’ve managed to stay pretty scandal free, and you’re a heck of a lot better than the alternative. But you seem cowardly right now. Bill McKibben says I should praise you for your most recent move, but I’m finding it hard to want to pat you on the back for this one.

I wanted you to be my President because you launched your 2008 bid for the White House on an ethical foundation that spoke of compassion for our country, our planet, and its people. I wanted you to take office because I thought you would make the lives of Americans better, because I felt you had good judgement, good morals, and wanted the best for us.

Where is that President now?

What happens, Obama, if you don’t get reelected in 2012? By pushing off your decision about Keystone XL, you are gambling with more than just your Presidency. You are gambling with our health. You are gambling with our trust. You are gambling with the future of our planet, the planet you will leave your little girls. Why take that risk?

By pushing off your decision, Mr. President, you are leaving an open door, and that door is a closet with skeletons and ghouls and goblins inside. You are betting that those of us who have supported you won’t start to worry about your commitment to the environment and public health, and that we will continue to support you in the 2012 elections. You are betting that proponents of the pipeline will bank on you signing off on the disaster in 2013, and will vote for you over conservative candidates who openly support Keystone XL. You are betting that you will win in 2012 and even get the chance to make that decision.

Maybe you’d rather lose the election in 2012 and allow a Republican to make that decision because you are too scared to take a definitive stand yourself.

HOPE. I elected you because I had hope for the future and your presidency. I still do.

While you are still in a position of power, make the right decision, Mr. President. Do what is the best for your country, for your people. Trust that making the right decision will lead to your reelection in 2012, and will ensure the prosperity of the people and country you swore to serve.

Kari Post
New Hampshire

Why we need the Occupy Movement

When I first heard that a bunch of ordinary people had begun camping outside of Wall Street in opposition to the disparity of wealth and power in our country, I was impressed. I’m easily one of the 99% that the occupiers represent, and their presence at Zuccotti Park has brought worldwide attention to a growing problem in our society. Since the Wall Streets protesters first took up residence near Wall Street on September 17th, the occupation has spread globally; hundreds of thousands of people have flooded occupations on every continent (except Antarctica, which lacks a permanent sustainable human population).

This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to visit Occupy D.C. McPherson Square (Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States, has two occupation movements, one in McPherson Square and one at Liberty Plaza) and spend a few hours there prior to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline protest at the White House. Upon approaching the park, my heart filled with pride and excitement as I saw the small tent city plopped in the middle of our urban capital, just blocks from the White House. Yet, as I walked down the concrete pathway leading through the square, I began to feel like I didn’t belong, as if this occupation didn’t actually represent me.

I tried not to be too quick to pass judgement, and stayed awhile, observing the people at McPherson. It was clear that for some, occupying had become their full time occupation, while others were obviously visitors from elsewhere, and a bunch fell in between, indistinct as to what their connection (or lack of) with the McPherson Square movement was. In residence were unkempt vagabond types, granola crunchy hippie types, working class folk, artists, caretakers who could cook, clean, and provide basic medical care, families with small children, blacks and whites, young and old, and others you would expect to see representing the 99%. I saw not a single suit or tie.

McPherson Square had a kitchen that provided three meals a day to occupiers and a medical tent off limits to the media. There was a tent with cold weather clothes and spare blankets for people needing to stay warm on cold nights and a media tent where folks could stay up to date (and keep the rest of the world up to date) on the occupy movement. Also, a small library of eclectic books and an overflowing waste center complete with recycling but no compost.

The Occupy scene at McPherson Square in Washington DC, complete with posters, tents, and members of the 99%.

None of this was the problem (except maybe, the lack of compost). I hadn’t expected to see white collar suit and tie business men on the streets playing chess with the homeless. The problem, for me, was what this occupation meant, what it and the people who brought it to life, who were it, stood for. The problem for me were the signs.

There was an area of grass where dozens of signs, written on scrap cardboard, fresh poster paper, and pieces of fabric, were placed for all to see. Signs also surrounded the statue in the center of the square and decorated tents and lawn space throughout the occupation. Among these were messages like “Keep your filthy hands off my American dream” and the ever popular “This is what democracy looks like” mixed with quotes from various famous people, recommendations to provide medicare for all and cancel all debt, a variety of interesting definitions of the 99%, and a sign promoting the legalization of marijuana. As much as I wanted to back the occupation, I honestly couldn’t support half of the messages its members had scribbled down.

While I can't say I agree with all of the sentiments expressed on these signs at Occupy Washington DC, I have to admit, some of the slogans were awfully clever.

At one point, the gentleman who passed out snacks from the kitchen came around with a pack of cigarettes, feeding the nicotine addition of McPherson’s vagrant protesters while puffing on one of his own. As someone who thinks smoking is one of the most unattractive and disgusting of habits (and has personally been affected by how deadly a habit it is), I was appalled. (It is sadly ironic that so many who advocate for public healthcare and the environment are addicted to sucking clouds of noxious carcinogens directly into their bodies from pollutants produced by greedy corporate persons who, without a doubt, value profit over the lives of human beings.)

My initial reaction was one of feeling disenchanted, almost as if I had been played the fool. Here I had been, a supporter of the people’s movement, avidly following news of Wall Street and elsewhere, even updating my Facebook status to read “Occupations are occupying my heart. I love the 99%!”, and I was not even sure I agreed with these people, or even that I actually had very much in common with them. I felt silly, hurt, and even a little betrayed, as if I had placed my trust in those brave enough to sleep on the streets for me, and they were somehow letting me down by being less than perfect.

Fear not, though. A few days of reflection (and much needed rest) have opened my eyes to the beauty of the Occupy Movement, and a thing of beauty it truly is. At Occupations, different views and beliefs are represented, often honestly and openly. Individuals can represent their individual beliefs, regardless of their age, gender, class, culture, or lifestyle. I don’t agree with all the messages that individuals at the Occupy Movements have come up with. Frankly, I don’t have sympathy for those who won’t work, or who have landed themselves deep in debt because they’ve lived for years frivolously beyond their means, and I think anyone trying to endorse the legalization of marijuana when there are so many other problems with our world has got their priorities seriously mixed up…

But many have taken to the streets and are making their voices heard. Including people who are in debt solely due to college loans and now find themselves overqualified and underpaid for the jobs that are available in our current economic crisis, unable to pay back their loans faster than the interest that accumulates on them. Including people who have never had debt up until recently, when job cuts left them unable to feed their families, pay their rent, or get medical care. Including people whose taxes have been used to bail out greedy corporations and banks, throwing our own country further into debt. I am one of those people, and, if you live in the United States, you are too.

A crowd gathers for a discussion about corporate big business agriculture vs local sustainable family farms at an assembly in McPherson Square at Occupy Washington DC. The conversation was facilitated by a Pennsylvania area farmer who has donated fresh produce and straw to DC's movement to help feed protesters and keep them warm on cold autumn nights.

Perhaps the Occupy Movement lacks a clear voice, but it does send a message. Occupations are a visible, living, breathing reminder that all is not right with the world. They are a sign that the corruption that permeates our society has not gone unnoticed, and that the disadvantaged refuse to keep laying down, mute and blissfully ignorant while the 1% unfairly and immorally touts its power and wealth. The Occupy Movement provides opportunities for discussion and a means to educate the greater public about what is wrong and what is right with our country. The fact that we can Occupy speaks to being American, and living in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” That is something to be proud of (and thankful for). The fact that so many unsettled people have caused such a huge scene and nothing has yet changed (and perhaps nothing will for quite some time) speaks to absurd power of the 1%. And if that doesn’t scare you, re-read what I just wrote; it should.

So, despite the fact that the message of Occupy Wall Street is still poorly defined and largely unclear, the Occupy Movements have initiated a dialogue, a conversation, about our current state of being. The Occupy Movement has created public awareness about the inequities of our current system, a system failing to guarantee to all the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as it supposedly should.

Need proof? There is a growing movement of 1 percenters who support and stand with the 99%. That is a bold statement to make, and one we likely would never have seen prior to a movement like Occupy Wall Street.

The occupation of occupations is education. I don’t care whether they realize that or not.

I don’t need to agree with all of the viewpoints expressed at Wall Street or in D.C. to be one of the 99% represented by the Occupy Movement. Or to benefit from it either. Thanks to some courageous souls who were so fed up with the injustices of our system that they set up tents near Wall Street in protest, a mass movement of social consciousness has occurred, and people have started talking. The public is becoming an informed public.

Most importantly, a conversation has begun in which the 99% are no longer silent.

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