We were the 99% 

Occupy Missoula: Where are they now?

Page 3 of 3

"9/11 is about capitalism," he says.

In an effort to grow markets and profits, the United States has repeatedly intervened in the operations of foreign governments. Such meddling makes people in those countries angry, Bostrom says.

After 9/11, Bostrom came to believe that capitalism is an inherently unhealthy force, one that breeds anger across the world. "I wasn't a person who any longer could utter the words, 'Oh, we just need to recover the middle class," he says. "If we recover the middle class, then it assumes and presupposes an upper class and a lower class ... And if you're okay with that, then I guess just admit you're for class. You're for dividing society."

click to enlarge Missoula City Councilman Dave Strohmaier addresses the Occupiers in 2011. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • photo by Chad Harder
  • Missoula City Councilman Dave Strohmaier addresses the Occupiers in 2011.

Bostrom's evolving belief system was reinforced during a 2008 trip to Chiapas, Mexico, where he first encountered the Zapatistas. The community of roughly 140,000 Mexicans of Mayan descent have blended Marxist and indigenous ideology to create an autonomous government—and a whole economic system—that operates from the bottom up.

In 2009, Bostrom returned to Chiapas and lived there briefly, studying the Mayan language and soaking in the idea of Zapatismo itself. By the time Occupy emerged in 2011, Bostrom was ready. He hoped that it was just the vehicle he was looking for to bring Zapatismo, a classless system, to America.

"We have to change our economic system," Bostrom says. "To what? How are we going to do that? That was what I thought Occupy was supposed to solve."

But, like others, Bostrom quickly grew disenchanted. The problem for him was that the Occupiers could not agree on any shared ideology to guide the movement.

click to enlarge Rick Gold says that Occupy is still active in the community. “People are still out there who care and are doing good work,” he says. - PHOTO BY CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • photo by Cathrine L. Walters
  • Rick Gold says that Occupy is still active in the community. “People are still out there who care and are doing good work,” he says.

"I kept saying, 'So, what do you all want to do?'" he recalls. "'Do you want to march on a bank? Okay, what's that going to do?'"

When Bostrom withdrew from Occupy, he redoubled his commitment to an intentional community that he had formed years earlier with a core group of friends. Part study group and part agnostic church, the group of between 12 and 20 people meets weekly to share a meal, check in and teach each other about culture and politics.

Three months ago, Bostrom and his intentional community joined another social movement. The International Organization for a Participatory Society, composed of radical political heavyweights including Michael Albert, Chomsky and David Graeber, the professor credited with creating Occupy's 99 percent theme, launched last year. Bostrom and his friends saw I Ops, as it's known, as an ideal fit.

Bostrom, who teaches high school Spanish, especially appreciates that I Ops has a mission statement, a set of guiding principles and a cohesive ideology, something Bostrom says Occupy lacked.

I Ops aims to replace capitalism with what the group refers to as "participatory socialism." Similar to the Zapatista way of doing business, it's composed of a classless economy and a self-managing polity. To date, the group has 3,200 members across the world. The local chapter meets at 7 p.m. on the last Wednesday of the month at the Missoula Public Library.

•••

On a rainy day the week before the Fourth of July, a gaggle of stragglers lies on large bags underneath the Caras Park pavilion as Out to Lunch vendors begin to pack up their tables into trucks and vans. Rick Gold peers out over the park, scanning it for familiar faces. Finally he spots one.

"Laura!" Gold yells, hustling over to meet Laura Jensen, who, like Gold, is one of the original Occupy Missoula members and among the few who remain regularly active in the movement today.

Jenkins has responded to Gold's call on social media to help make signs in advance of the group's second annual Fourth of July picnic, which kicks off at 11 a.m. at the north end of Higgins Avenue. Six people indicated they would meet with Gold in advance to help prepare for the event. But 20 minutes after the designated meeting time, Gold and Jensen are the only ones to show up.

Gold shrugs it off, attributing the lackluster response to the rain. He sounds optimistic when saying that 300 people have responded to the "Occupy Peoples' Energy Independence Day Parade/Picnic" Facebook invitation. About 50 came to the inaugural event last year.

click to enlarge Missoula teacher Jay Bostrom was involved in the early stages of Occupy Missoula but eventually grew disillusioned. He’s now part of an intentional community affiliated with The International Organization for a Participatory Society. - PHOTO BY CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • photo by Cathrine L. Walters
  • Missoula teacher Jay Bostrom was involved in the early stages of Occupy Missoula but eventually grew disillusioned. He’s now part of an intentional community affiliated with The International Organization for a Participatory Society.

Gold is a lifelong activist and, as such, accustomed to political and social movements that ebb and flow. He has long dark hair with gray streaks, a thick mustache, and he wears a frayed green suede hat adorned with crow and pigeon feathers. He smokes hand-rolled American Spirit cigarettes. Many locals know him as the man who, along with his partner, Nan Cohen, sells incense downtown near the intersection of Higgins and Broadway.

Gold seems a patient man. He says he's protested against nuclear energy and the United States' military engagements, as well as to raise awareness about income inequality. He remains hopeful that one day he'll poke at the right domino and a whole stack of injustices will come tumbling down.

His patience is most apparent when he responds to criticisms of Occupy's consensus model. "I think that we have to learn how to listen to one another better and honor one another better for all of the work that we're doing," he says. "If you do something to modify consensus, you're always leaving somebody out ... Connecting with other people who have other emotions and other ideas ... that's something we have to learn how to do—together."

Despite Occupy's lack of visibility these days, Gold says that it's still alive. He says members volunteer to feed the hungry through Missoula's Food Not Bombs chapter and an Occupy Missoula working group continues to meet to assist homeowners subjected to foreclosure.

Gold also continues to engage with Occupy movements across the northwest. He recently returned from Occupy Eugene, which is still active by protesting against genetically modified foods and federal intrusions into privacy, and also maintains a free medical clinic.

Gold acknowledges that Occupy Missoula's ranks have waned, but he says its spirit remains alive under different names and affiliations.

click to enlarge Crystal Kingston, a University of Montana student, made a documentary about the Occupy movement. - PHOTO COURTESY OF CRYSTAL KINGSTON
  • photo courtesy of Crystal Kingston
  • Crystal Kingston, a University of Montana student, made a documentary about the Occupy movement.

"People are still out there who care and are doing the work," he says.

Debby Florence, for instance, left Occupy about a month after the first general assembly meeting. She became overwhelmed when debates among the Occupiers took a negative turn, and she felt ill-equipped to handle the friction.

The situation proved formative. In an effort to learn skills that would help her better deal with such challenges in the future, Florence returned to school last year to earn a master's degree in social work.

"I feel really thankful that I had that experience," she says of Occupy Missoula. "I've gotten a lot out of the mistakes that I made and the mistakes that were happening around me. I continue to look to that as a really good example of earnest, dedicated, really well-meaning people coming together and having things go wrong."

Occupy may not have changed the country, but it still made a difference.

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