The 99% (That got off the bus)

Tiny - Posted on 20 October 2011

I was on the #5 Fulton bus yesterday, taking in the nuances of my race (ie: the human race): the gratuitous and over modulated cell phone conversations, texting, bad perfumes/colognes and the incessant foot tapping of a guy a few feet away, occupied by music piped into his ears via a pair of white plastic headphones.  I looked at my fellow passengers.  How many were unemployed, looking for work, looking for something?  How many were barely surviving? 


Some folks entered via the rear of the bus with clipper cards while others entered with or without proof of payment.  Many of these folks are newcomers to the city (How can I tell? I’m a native with 47 years in).  They get on the bus with the air that the bus never existed until they arrived—and they connect, somehow, with others like themselves, creating a nice warm, insulated sense of community or community as they see it (in their own minds)—at least for the duration of the bus ride.


In many ways the city bus is a metaphor for the state of humanity.  Many have been standing a long time while others, just getting on, manage to get an instant seat.  Who gets to sit and who is willing to sacrifice their seat is the question that settles and crystallizes in the consciousness as glints of sun pass through the window.  Then the realization sets in:  I am sitting with the 99%


I began thinking about the Occupy San Francisco Protests, and other occupy mobilizations that have taken hold across the country.  The occupy protestors call themselves the 99%, as opposed to the 1% who control most, if not all the wealth in this country.  I watched footage of the protests on the news and took part in the Occupy March that converged on the headquarters of Wells Fargo Bank last week.


As I marched I thought about the protests that took place nearby on Kearny Street 30 years ago, when elderly Filipino and other elders fought eviction from the International Hotel.  The fight was against the destruction of Manilatown—which had fallen victim to unbridled capitalism, carving away at the Filipino community on Kearny Street until all that was left was the International Hotel—which the owners wanted to demolish in favor of a parking lot.  And even before that, the Filipino elders, when they were young, organized actions and strikes such as the Delano Grape Strike and strikes against plantation owners in Hawaii.


It’s good that the Occupy SF movement—part of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, the 99%-- are jumping on board and realizing what our elders realized long ago, that the economic system we’re beholden to is unjust and out of control.  But, as in the case of the Muni bus—just because you’re on board doesn’t mean that no one else has been on board before you arrived.  And why weren’t you on board sooner?  Could it be it was because you were occupied?  With cell phone, ipad, ipod, email, cellphone, job?  You’re not getting what you’re worth, you feel gipped out of that chunk of apple pie or piece of the stolen American rock that was on the horizon.  All this begs the question: What are you worth and who defines it?


Back to the #5 Fulton bus.  An elder in an electric mobility chair was on board with his 3 grandchildren and their mother.  It was a packed bus and the elder began the process of exiting, which was somewhat arduous because people on Muni are reluctant to move, and, if they are apt to move, find there is no where to move to.  Just as the elder approached the exit door, his chair malfunctioned.  The elder started pushing buttons to no avail—the chair would not move.  The bus was immobile and the passengers sat, some snickering, impatient at the delay.


As we tried to figure out the workings of the chair, all the people on the bus—at least 99%--got off through the back door and boarded another bus approaching from the rear.  There we were, an elder in a chair that wouldn’t move, his 3 grandkids, their mother and the bus driver and me.  99% of the passengers emptied itself from the bus like proverbial rats from the sinking ship.  “Stop” I said, “We’re part of the 99% too”.  But nobody heard, they were on the bus that was moving.


Finally, after tapping, turning and twisting this lever and that, we got the chair to move manually.  With a few pushes we got it off the bus.  While on the sidewalk, we struggled with the chair.  We finally called the fire dept., which was, ironically, 2 blocks away.  The elder was an immigrant, likely from Eritrea.  His grandkids were beautiful, so was their mother.  We waited for the Fire Department to come as the bus pulled away. 


It was amazing how quickly 99% of the passengers got off the bus.  Maybe it was because they were occupied.


...if " 99% of the passengers emptied itself [sic] from the bus," leaving 6 passengers ("an elder..., his 3 grandkids, their mother") that means that the bus carried 600 people. That's quite a bus.


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