CHARLOTTE, N.C. Michael Zytkow describes the Occupy Wall Street movement as a horizontal line no hierarchy, no preeminent issue, no singular tactic, no age-determined rank.
In short, the opposite of society.
Were all active on equal footing, Zytkow says.
But even the utopian movement has societal dynamics. Among the most noticeable is a generation gap.
Unlike the early days of the Vietnam War protests which were championed by youth, most Occupy movements, including Charlottes, span three to four generations.
Shepherding the next generation
At Marshall Park in Charlotte, where Occupy DNC set up camp, a couple of war veterans have pitched a camouflage tent on a hill, overlooking the 20- and 30-somethings by the fountain below. They sit outside a tent with a sign that says: There was never a good war or a bad peace.
The occasional bearded guy or tattooed girl will slink up to hang out, swap grievances or bum a cigarette.
A prominent figure in the camp is veteran and Asheville resident, John Penley, 60, a former air traffic controller for the U.S. Navy and one of the original Zuccotti Park occupiers.
On Tuesday, before the Occupiers led a Veterans Rights and Free Bradley Manning march to the intersection of Stonewall and South Caldwell streets, he donned a white yacht cap and draped an American flag around his shoulders.
Call him Captain, says Gregory Gifford, 47.
But among the Occupy crowd, Penley says he and his peers, 1960s- and 70s-era activists, have to cede most of the power to the younger generation, only mentoring as needed.
Most of the kids know me, and I feel like Im shepherding in the next generation, Penley said. Im really happy about that.
For me, Zytkow said, Im just ready to soak up all their knowledge.
Baby Boomer Donna Dewitt, an Orangeburg, S.C. resident and leader in the labor-rights movement, said shes inspired by the millennial generation. She worked with youth leaders on the March on Wall Street South and the Southern Workers Assembly.
Theyre organized. Theyre strategic, Dewitt said. They have such good ideas, they just need this older generation to listen.
But some long-time activists dont see a place for themselves.
Paul Maloney still has dents in his skull from the police beatings he got in 1971. Maloney, then 20, was protesting the Vietnam War in Washington D.C., alongside hundreds of thousands of like-minded people.
Forty-one years later, Maloney, 61, is equally displeased with the government the bank corruption, the bailouts, the presidential candidates.
But when the Gastonia resident protested at the Democratic National Convention, it wasnt with Occupy, the seemingly natural contingent.
Most of them dont want to talk to the old guy, said Maloney, 61. Theyre like, What you did was 50 years ago, and this is now. Were here and youre there.
A generational fight
Its an interesting set-up at the Occupy camp, with its mix of young socialists, communists and anarchists. Theyve never been drafted to a war they didnt agree with. They never poured decades of work into a system they now feel has failed them.
You have a generation full of waiters and bartenders with no investment in this country, said 31-year-old Rami Shamir, one of the original Occupy Wall Street protesters in Manhattans Zuccotti Park.
But this makes it easier for them to escape the system they despise.
Meanwhile, most of the dissatisfied 40- 50- and 60-somethings cant sacrifice their full-time jobs, mortgages and car payments to live in a tent, clash with police and buck the government.
So Occupiers like Lauren Digiola, 27, from Long Island, NY, said theyre fighting on behalf of everyone, the 99 percent.
Its a global fight, Digiola said. Its a generational fight. Were all in this together.
Jack Amico, 24, who was part of Occupy Wall Street, said he knows a man in New York City who just paid off his student loans at 55 years old. He told us, Im glad youre fighting the fight we cant fight anymore.
Amico and his fiancée traveled from Wassaic, N.Y., where they now live with 30 other people on a commune. The spot is on a 186-acre farm owned by an old-time activist who, in the 60s, swam in front of a nuclear sub to protest nuclear weapons.
Now the former demonstrator lets the Occupy crowd live on his farm and maintain their own garden. This isnt the beginning, Amico said. We cant keep believing were the only ones. Were picking up the ball where the 60s left off.
Zytkow has hope that as people see how their lives are being harmed by these interconnected issues, the Occupy movement will continue to grow, to absorb people of all backgrounds, cultures and age.
A lot of people before saw protesting for the other, (for) a certain class of people, Zytkow said. But now people are realizing that when we see injustice, we should stand up for it. Observer staff reporter Gavin Off contributed.
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