The Observer made it out to the Occupy Little Rock march on Saturday, hoofing it with around 500 other citizens from the Riverfest Amphitheatre to the State Capitol, with stops along the way: the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, Stephens Inc., the Bank of America branch, and others. It was a lovely day for a revolution — comfortable, bright, with the sky like a blue bowl upturned over the world.
The cleverness of the Occupy protest signs have struck a chord in our wise-ass heart. One sign we saw said simply: "Where's the Cake?" Another said: "Alice Walton is .016% on sooooo many levels," an apparent reference to both Ms. Walton's status as a gazillionaire and her recent arrest for driving while tippling over in Texas. In addition to the tongue-in-cheek signs, there were rectangles of cardboard bearing quotes from MLK and Gandhi, who might well have been marching themselves had they not had the misfortune of dying and leaving us all to our fates.
As the protest passed the branch of Arvest Bank at Broadway and Capitol Avenue, two men in ties and white shirts came out on a balcony overlooking the street and peered down at the protest. A man in a knit cap looked up at them, cupped his hands to his mouth, and shouted: "Jump!" We know we're probably going to have to spend a few more centuries in Purgatory for laughing at that, but we did.
In front of Stephens Inc., a young woman stepped to the microphone attached to a bullhorn and began reading a speech about economic injustice. At the back of the crowd were old grayheads. "Welcome to the 21st century," one of them told the other. "She's reading from her iPhone."
On the steps of the State Capitol, a soldier in a blue uniform sat in the shadow of the railing, listening to speeches by the protestors. Aaron Stewart of Sherwood knows exactly how long he was in the Navy: nine years, 11 months and one day. He enlisted at 18 years old, and got out in 2010.
"It's not a Democratic problem. It's not a Republican problem. It's not left or right," Stewart said. "The process itself has inherently fallen apart. The people are no longer being represented. The corporations are being represented. I understand the basic human need to protect their personal wealth, what they worked for and personally gained through sacrifice. There's nothing wrong with that. That is the American Dream. Where the problem comes in is: When these people get in a position of power, they lose focus on what the real world is about. We're supposed to be preparing this country for our future. They forget about that. They get these dollar signs in their eyes, and all they worry about is getting more money in their pocket. They're using taxpayer dollars to do it, and they stopped caring about the people."
Before the march even began, the word went around that anyone with a stick attached to their sign risked arrest. The marchers discarded their sticks, then took to the street, the crowd sidewalk to sidewalk and a block long, chanting, police closing intersections and an officer on a motorcycle leading the way, blue lights flashing. Gliding along with the protestors down Markham — the traffic halted, streetcar idle at the foot of the Main Street Bridge and the driver standing in the door watching it all pass — The Observer saw a little girl of maybe 5 standing on the sidewalk in the shade of the trees. She had her hands over her ears, and a woman we assumed to be her mother crouched behind her. As The Observer passed, the girl turned her head, on the verge of tears, and spoke to her mother.
"I'm scared," she said.
As the marchers rolled on and past her, The Observer thought: Join the club, sweetheart. It's undoubtedly going to get worse before it can even start to get better.