"This is real patriotism. This is real citizenship. This is real democracy... This is not an insane group of people who just want to tear the system down."
What is the Occupy movement really about? What is it trying to accomplish? These are the questions that sympathizers and critics alike continue to ask.
Contrary to popular belief, Occupier Mike McCarthy insists it’s not simply about a bunch of rabble-rousers camping out in a park. “This was about reclaiming public space. We’re affirming that right,” he explains. “But that’s not the point. The point is there are a great many things we have not been discussing as a society.”
McCarthy is a living, breathing challenge to most people’s preconceptions of the Occupiers. He is not a socialist, anarchist, aging hippie or over-earnest college kid, but rather the working class son of a conservative Christian home, and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. While the movement is leaderless and non-hierarchal, he is unquestionably one of Occupy Providence’s most prominent and articulate voices. When he’s in Burnside Park, there is a near constant stream of people approaching him for advice, feedback and ideas. Dan Yorke and Buddy Cianci bring him on the radio to discuss the issues, and he represents the movement in meetings with community organizations and leaders like Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare and the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless.
Occupy Providence stands out among the many similar protests around the globe. For one, it has been largely devoid of incident, with far fewer arrests and violence than most. That is partly due to the dialogue happening between the authorities and the Occupiers. The City Council considered a plan to allow them to stay in the park indefinitely. Commissioner Pare met with them about ensuring the safety of both protestors and law enforcement personnel. It has also been actively organized, working with nonprofits, for instance, on a December 10 rally at the State House pushing for legislation to combat homelessness.
With an election year upon us, the Occupiers will have a chance to be a part of the national conversation over the direction of this country – and in that, Mike McCarthy’s voice is sure to be heard. He and the rest of the Occupiers will still be out reclaiming public space. “You’ll find me and my friends in inconvenient places that we’re probably not invited to,” he says. “It’s our right as citizens to dream up new things – I’m going to be asserting that right.”
• Was raised in Newport.
• Joined the JROTC in high school, and later served in the Navy as a medic.
• Last January, his animation “The Future of Rhode Island Students,” which spoke out against the Board of Regents’ proposal for a three-tiered high school diploma system, was shown at a Rhode Island Department of Education forum.
• Was just accepted into Leadership Rhode Island's 2012 class.