Encoded Conversations

The food table at Occupy Madison's general assembly

Yesterday, being Tuesday, I had lunch with other Realtors.  I don’t talk much during these lunches – I go because they’re a great way to leech a variety of knowledge from other Realtors without having to learn it via experience myself.  I frequently walk away from these lunches irritated with their priorities and their outlook, but better informed.

The conversation over yesterday’s lunch focused on comparing various local school districts.  All of the other Realtors were older than me (most Realtors are older than me) and they spent a great deal of time waxing nostalgic for when the Madison school district was the desirable one, while the suburban schools nearby were considered shabby.  Apparently things have switched.  Now, Verona, Middleton and Oregon have the more attractive school districts.

I may have spotted this movement's answer to the Tea Party's adoption of the Gadsen flag

I was listening to this conversation very intently, in part because their understanding of current perceptions don’t match mine.  Finding out what great transition had occurred to demote Madison schools, why on earth they seem to think sending your kid to West high is tantamount to child abuse, was really important to me.  They talked about their reasons, but even though I hung on every word, I couldn’t figure out what they were saying.

“The way I see it, kids are still so moldable in elementary school, it doesn’t matter if they get exposed to certain things you wouldn’t want.  As long as the family moves before middle and high school, and most of them do, it should be okay.”

The whole conversation was like that.  There’s something unsavory in the Madison schools that your kids could be exposed to if you attend.  I couldn’t figure out what that unsavory element was, though.  Poor people?  Black people?  Hispancis?  Hippies?  The conversation was coded thoroughly, and I didn’t have the key.  They’re worried about something, and everybody else in the conversation seemed to know what it was.  Maybe I would if I’d been around town longer, or if I had kids.

Most of the people in this photo were occupying the Capitol before occupation became all trendy

This isn’t the only time I’ve been in this situation.  My second time in Madison, when we were looking for an apartment, the property manager for the very last place we saw, the only place that met our very basic requirements, upon hearing about the other places we’d seen said, “Well, the equal housing protection act won’t let me tell you what kind of people don’t live here.  But this is a time when people are getting home from work, so if you look around the parking lot, you’ll see that the people in those places aren’t here.”  Don and I walked away deeply confused about who two people moving up from the South side of Chicago (and at least in my case, sorry about it) are supposed to have filled in for “people.”  We never figured it out, be remain offended on their behalf.

Perhaps it’s just my brain over-decoding things where it can consequent of being thwarted, but I’m starting to read the constant questioning in regards to the Occupy Wall Street movement along the lines of, “What are their goals?” and “What do they hope to accomplish,” as a code for, “I feel okay, why don’t they?”  and “They can’t accomplish anything.”  This is probably unfair of me; most of the people asking those questions are likely as sincerely fuddled as they claim.  But I can’t help wondering how the answer to “What is that?” isn’t obvious.

I still remember screaming when Bush answered Wall Street's collapse with very un-capitalistic bail-outs. And then screaming louder when the only other angry people willing to get organized were the Tea Party.

It’s what happens when a swath of disaffected people start talking to each other while they’re still invested in society.  It’s the precursor to something big.  That something could be anything from the French revolution to the dissolution of an entire generation’s political and social investment.  It’s what comes before the London riots, the Arab spring, the existentialists taking over Parisian cafes.  It’s a generation waking up to say “What the fuck?” and trying to solve it with conversation and jazz hands.

I’m in such deep wait-and-see mode over the whole thing I’m not even willing to put my current opinions in writing – they’re changing with each new story from a different city.  But I will say this: The Occupy Wall Street people are not afraid to name their enemy.  They are not afraid to list his crimes.  And they are not afraid to confront him directly.  The coding in their conversations centers on running from anything like hierarchy or leadership, from stepping on the toes of allies.  And their codes are transparent.  If they accomplish nothing else, I hope they carry that much out the other side of this.  I like knowing who “those people” are.

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