A Mask for All Seasons

Watching videos of the Occupy Wall Street protests, I notice the growing number of people wearing “V” masks, as in the mask worn by the main character in “V for Vendetta.” Some wear them over their faces and some on the backs of their heads. Curious, I thought.

Obviously, we have no heroes, except for a fictional character who originally appeared in the pages of the ten-issue comic book series. No masks of President Obama or the various Republican hopefuls. Scary thought, seeing more than one Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann at any given time. Maybe they haven’t yet been commercialized, but in these weeks leading up to Halloween, surely some small child must be asking to go trick or treating as one of the figures who are as plastic as their masks would be.

When my children were young, I dressed the eldest as Caesar Chavez. I think he was about four. He wore a sandwich board with a message in support of the farm workers union, a straw hat, and a big grin. In our suburban, middle-class neighborhood no one got it. Until we came to the “hippie” house. My son got lots of treats, and I was offered one too. I declined, of course.

I had seen “V” the film but was told that it strayed from the original plot. Last week I ordered it from Netflix, and when the red envelope arrived, I popped it in and watched again. It had less impact this time, so I decided to go all the way and went online to borrow the graphic novel through the regional library system. Then I thought, what if “they” are checking my checkouts. Will I be suspected of plotting some criminal behavior?  After all, we are fast approaching November 5. “Remember, remember the fifth of November” references the date upon which anarchist Guy Fawkes was caught in the cellar of Parliament with barrels of gunpowder and subsequently hung, drawn and quartered for his part in the Gunpowder Plot. Nasty way to go.

The protests have, for the most part, been peaceful. As I watch them on television, the old spark reignites and I consider joining a local group. Perhaps I’ll Meet Up with other 60s leftovers standing with the young, demonstrating because of the timeless issues that somehow seem never to be resolved. Justice, truth, and freedom. The goal of all superheroes. Masks and disguises have long been part of revolutionary movements. But where are the new superheroes?

I checked Amazon to see if they sell the “V” masks, and sure enough, they do. Under six bucks with free Super Saver Shipping. What a deal. I added one to my Wish List. You just never know.

The protesters are not against big business. In fact, they would love it if corporations stuck around and offered them decent-paying jobs. They are not against capitalism. They just want a fair share of it. They want to be able to pay their student loans, have decent jobs, marry, buy a home and raise a family. Radical, that American Dream.

Most media pundits and politicians have no clue as to what those forced into this underclass are experiencing. I recently worked on a tag sale held at a senior housing complex. It was to raise funds to buy extravagances like coffee, napkins, maybe some cheap Christmas decorations from WalMart. We sold all sorts of items at very low prices. I had bagged up clothing outgrown by my own young grandchildren according to gender, size and season. A young father with two-year-old twin girls came in looking for warm winter clothing. I was able to offer him enough to outfit both of them for under ten dollars. He nearly wept. Me too.

Seniors aren’t doing so hot either. Most pay about a third of their Social Security income to supplement Medicare, and still they are not covered for dental work, including dentures, hearing aids, or eyeglasses. What does it mean to someone who nets $400 a month and needs a hearing aid or dentures, each of which can easily exceed $2,000, or eyeglasses, the biggest rip-off of them all. Maybe the reason that elderly driver in front of you is going so slowly is that he can’t afford to see. Like hearing and seeing aren’t health issues nearly as important as erectile dysfunction or sagging chins.

Health care, the environment, peace, civil rights/liberties and economic security are the top issues of the Gray Panthers, an organization of activists that was founded by Maggie Kuhn in 1970. Kuhn (died 1995) and five friends who mounted their opposition to the Vietnam War, were first dubbed the Gray Panthers because of their ages, but the group developed into an intergenerational, international multi-issue organization working “to create a society that puts the needs of people over profit, responsibility over power and democracy over institutions.”

In keeping with these issues, the Gray Panthers National Board is going to be at Occupy Washington, DC (Freedom Plaza, Pennsylvania and 13th Street) on Saturday, October 15, 2011, at 2:00 p.m. “to show our solidarity with the action.” The new generation of Gray Panthers now uses Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to get their word out.

I have to wonder how the mainstream media will react to increasing numbers of elders among the protesters. Up until now they have carefully omitted them from the coverage, instead concentrating on the youngest, expecting them to be the least knowledgeable. But our young and often pierced, green and blue-haired brothers and sisters are informed and well-spoken.

Maggie famously said, “We are the risk-takers; we are the innovators; we are the developers of new models. We are trying the future on for size. That is our role.” As for the young protesters, we were once them, we gray heads, and it is time that we rejoined the fight, because there has never been more at stake. For all of us.

Sheila Velazquez lives and writes in Northwest Massachusetts. Her work is informed by decades of experience with unions, agriculture, public health, politics and her support of populism. She welcomes contact by email: simplelifestyle101@yahoo.com. Read other articles by Sheila.