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Why I Occupy – Diane Emerson

April 13, 2012

Photo by Kendall

Every person has a story to tell about what is important to them. A story about decisions they have made and the motivating factors for those decisions, whether it be family, friends, economics, ethics, or some other reason. Every person has a story to tell about an event that changed their life. A turning point when they decided to get involved in something or a time they turned away. Every person has a story to tell that that they think is important enough that others should know about it. Perhaps it is a cause they hope will change the lives of others.

We are all storytellers. Each of us has a unique voice and each voice has value in the world; each voice imparts a perspective unlike any other person in the world. We at the Portland Occupier want to hear your voice, your perspective on why you are involved in the Occupy movement. We would like you to tell us in your own words “Why I Occupy.” If you want your story heard, please email us at portland.occupier@gmail.com and tell us why you Occupy.

by Diane Emerson

Seeking love and affection any way I could, I found myself pregnant at 15. Knowing I did not have the parenting skills necessary to raise a child, I gave her up for adoption. Then I went on a drive to prove to the world that I was a good human being. With no help from my family, I got myself through college, and, eventually, with the help of my husband, graduated with an MBA. My goal: to be vice president of a Fortune 500 company. Why? This was the ultimate measure of success for a woman in this country. I worked hard, stuffed my feelings far down into my soul, and started climbing the corporate ladder.

As I climbed, I noticed that the difference in pay between myself and the people reporting to me got bigger and bigger. This made no sense to me. These people were working just as hard as me, and had specialized skills I didn’t have. I couldn’t even DO some of their jobs! At one point I asked the human resources people if I could give some of my pay to my team. That suggestion was met with disbelief, and the response that the HR department was working to increase the disparity, in order to provide people a greater incentive for for working their way up. I kept silent.

Eventually I reached the point where the VPs started inviting me to their homes on the weekends. I knew what that meant. They were seeing if I would fit into the tight social circle which exists at that level. I talked antiques and gardening with the wives, and golfing and global economics with their corporate husbands. I listened to them discuss their homes in Florida, their fishing and golfing trips, their travels to Europe and the Caribbean.

It became clear to me that they only socialized with others at their level within the corporation – tightly held in their carefully constructed bubble of safety and ignorance. I realized that if I actually reached my long-held and hard-fought goal, these people would be “my friends”, my social circle. It sickened me. I realized that if I actually reached my goal, I would be desperately unhappy, and would have to muzzle my voice and my life 24/7. I saw that the huge salaries were part of an ego game, to which everything was sacrificed. Nothing else mattered. I toyed with the idea of going along with the game, and changing the corporation from within. But I would have been alone in my efforts, and it would have been overwhelming.

So I quit. I quit the company, and ended up quitting my 20-year marriage and my country, and I moved to New Zealand to start a new life. I became an independent business consultant and focused on helping New Zealand entrepreneurs and small businesses succeed. Then 5 years ago, I moved into the gift economy – giving my time and skills to individuals and small nonprofits around the world who were dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor. I had no home, no car, and no worries. A year spent volunteering for people with disabilities in Kashmir, the most militarized place on earth, was the beginning of my activism.

Then, while volunteering for the Catholic Worker movement here in the US, Occupy was born. Now here was a cause that could handle everything I had to offer, and more. I had a plane ticket to take me back to Geneva in March 2012. I cancelled it. There is nowhere else on earth I can do the most good to help the world than right here in the U.S., in the heart of the beast. But this time I am not alone. I am surrounded with like-hearted people. Together, we will create the world we dream of. A world of acceptance, shared values, integrity, transparency, meaning, affection, love, and community. Everything I sought after since childhood is wrapped up in this package called Occupy.

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