Here we were, my friend Colleen O’Connor and I, standing on the sidewalk in front of the Yellowstone County Courthouse, two grannies against greed, members of the newly formed Occupy Billings.
My sign read, "Bring home our jobs now." Hers said, "Pray for Scott Olsen, Marine Veteran, Iraq and Oakland," complete with an 8-by- IO of his bloodied face that we’d lifted off the internet.
The night before, Colleen and I weren’t so sure we were brave enough to “come out," not referring to our sexual orientation, but our political one.
"What if we get on some kind of blacklist?" she asked. We were thinking of Homeland Security and the Patriot Act, the legislation that gave gaggles of government employees access to our email, our phone calls, our medical records and, and, and.
Did questioning the powers that be make us the pals of terrorists?
"Nah," we reassured each other. "This is America, right‘?" We had the right of peaceful assembly, of free speech.
Besides, our children and grandchildren couldn’t find full-time jobs with benefits. Or full-time jobs without benefits, for that matter. We needed to do this, We wanted to do this.
We agreed to meet at my place at 2:30 the next afternoon to buck each other up and make signs.
Colleen arrived in a timely manner with the stuff placards are made of, as well as lunch, After fortifying ourselves with Coke (the kind in bottles from Atlanta) and bagel sandwiches, we set to work. The placards turned out OK, but the staple gun didn’t work.
We headed for the courthouse with our signs unattached to our sticks. A practiced protester kindly fetched gorilla tape from his vehicle and we were in business.
Two officers of the law appeared briefly at the beginning of our demonstration along with a police dog and walked toward us, then did an about face and disappeared around the corner, never to return.
Was that a warning? We weren’t sure. I chose to take it as a fortunate omen, The Billings Police have always been my friends.
Later, a firefighter on duty went by and waved, as well as a sheriff ’s deputy. Whoever you were, many thanks.
It was rush hour on Friday afternoon. Drivers honked. Some waved. One woman frowned and shook her head. A few supporters drove around the block and came back for another look and one more beep ofthe horn. A man in a pickup that looked like it was held together with baling wire opened his window and shouted, "1’m one of the 1 percent. My other car is a Mercedes."
Then he waved and turned left from 27th Street onto Second Avenue North.
Which brings up a misconception of just who we are. "We are the 99 percent and so are you. Come join us," said a fellow picketer’s sign.
Occupy Billings is nonpolitical. We are Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, conservatives, liberals, free thinkers, left and right, We’re just fed up with Big Money ruling our lives. And we are, to the best of our ability, nonviolent.
Our scariest response came from a lone man who appeared to be in his 50. He rolled down his window and told us that when we started assassinating people, he’d join us.
Colleen The Bold shouted back, “We’re peaceful. We’re not planning to kill anyone." He, too, hung a left onto Second. We all looked at each other and let out a collective sigh.
Unfortunately, our nut case circled the block and returned. This time, he was followed by a police car, and we saw him no more.
Initially all of our group were old enough to join the Gray Panthers, but as the clock hands wended their way to- wards 5 p.m,, several college students, energetic and inspiring, showed up with giant signs, one of which read "End Corporate Greed."
As the traffic at our corner increased, so did the honks and waves. I was surprised and heartened to see that our sup- porters were of all ages, socioeconomic levels and ethnic groups. Finally, the traf- fic thinned and we disbanded at 6 p.m.
On Saturday the response was a bit less cordial, Someone claiming to be a U.S. marshal walked over and showed one of the demonstrators his I.D. "He was really kind and accommodating," she said, "He told us that, according to federal law, we could only stay for 20 minutes in one place or we could be arrested. I thanked him and we walked up and down the block at regular intervals."
Next, a man tried to join up who was toting a sign denigrating Attorney General Steve Bullock and his support of the Montana Corrupt Policies Act of 1912, a law that struck the first blow to the Copper Kings’ stranglehold on the Montana Legislature. He’d brought his own cameraman and posed next to our Occupy Billings signs.
Occupy Billings policy does not allow the naming of candidates and other individuals. We’re interested in ideas and solutions: what unifies us: not what tears us apart.
When asked to leave, the man moved a whopping 12 inches while his compadre snapped away with his trusty digital, We moved and the two moved with us.
True to Occupy’s nonviolent stance all across the country, two or three members talked to the man, inviting him to the Sunday General Assembly where he could state his opinions, since he claimed he supported what we were doing. He was a no show.
One final point. Occupy Billings is for the retention of the Montana Corrupt Practices Act of 1912, since we are against large, anonymous donations to political campaigns at any government level, especially the state.
The General Assembly met, as advertised on the website, at noon Sunday. It turned out to be a pure democracy.
To start, after introductions, we created our own agenda by making a list of proposals, trying to state them in just three or four words. Then the group discussed each item in an orderly manner, voted and discussed again until we reached a consensus.
It was a lengthy process, but really strengthening for Occupy Billings, since everyone had a voice. It sure beat Robert’s Rules of Order.
After going through our democratic process, we grabbed our signs and ended the weekend with one last demonstration. We were greeted with more honks and two new people joined from the street. A couple with Wyoming plates rolled down their windows and shouted "Right on!" They’d just done the same thing with Occupy Sheridan on Saturday.
Occupy Montana believes that Big Corporations and Big Money do not "Pro— mote the general welfare," but rather the bank accounts of the few. Here’s just one Montana example. Remember when diesel was the cheapest fuel? Now it’s the most expensive. Large oil corporations can sell diesel fuel for 2.5 times more in Great Britain than they can get here, put- ting the squeeze on our ranchers, farmers, and truckers.
To quote that great Republican, Abraham Lincoln, Occupy Montana stands for the idea "that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." We the People are the government, and we aren’t dead yet. Congress can’t get its act together, but we can.
The next demonstration is from 4-6 p.m. Friday at the Yellowstone County Courthouse.