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OGR 2012 : Diane Baum, forging a new way of communication

This 62-year old activist points to Grand Rapids' long history of activism.
Underwriting support from:

/courtesy of Diane Baum

The diversity within the Occupy movement is often highlighted as one of its greatest strengths by those involved, even by those outside of the movement who are familiar with its anatomy and intentions. From October 2011 and on into 2012, more than 600 communities across the country have seen some version of Occupy, most of them stemming from Occupy Wall Street. Occupy Grand Rapids is a collection of all orientations, creeds, and backgrounds - and each of these protesters has a voice. Diane Baum, a 62-year-old mother of two, is just one microcosm of the diversity within the movement, yet she has just as much influence on the decision making and mechanics of the local effort as anyone else involved.

Adorned in a pink kerchief, dark red-framed glasses, and a black and gray striped sweater, Baum describes herself as an abstract intellectual, poet and anti-schooler. She encourages everyone to drop out and emphasizes her view by stating that “you don’t need a class” to gain a skill or proficiency in a particular field. She adds, "At least if you're going to rack up debt, don't go into debt to go to school." Baum, sandy-haired with a calm demeanor has, however, earned degrees from the University of Michigan, University of Rochester and University of McGill in Montreal. When asked if the interview may be recorded she jokingly replies, “Just don’t sell it to the F.B.I.”

“I don’t care what other people think of Occupy,” she says when asked how the movement might be viewed years from now. For Baum, Occupy is important because it is forging “a new way of relating to one another [and] a new way of communication.” She feels that Occupy is “way better than anything that has ever happened in this country, protest-wise.” She is greatly drawn to the movement because it is comprised of a wide range of activists that “run the gamut” and as a bonus, she says, the movement offers “cool art” and “cool graphics.” While elaborating on some of the possible causes of the Occupy movement, she purports that the young white male demographic, in particular, is agitated. She furthers: When this demographic is upset, “[the establishment or the government] have made a mistake."

Grand Rapids has traditionally been viewed as a more conservative area when it comes to activism, protest and civil disobedience, particularly by those who are unfamiliar with the true history and background of the city. Baum, however, does not agree. She refers to a long history of labor rights activism in the city. She points to the Grand Rapids Furniture Strike of 1911, which saw more than 6,000 furniture laborers cease work and walk out of over 50 furniture factories across the city. 

Baum is quirky, but amiable. Though the interview focuses on her involvement in Occupy, she maintains a friendly smile and shifts focus now and then. “Do you want to be a writer?” she kindly asks. When asked, in return, if she votes, she contemplates whether voting does anything but admits that she has always voted, and says that if Ron Paul does run in the upcoming election she will vote for him. “My big issue is foreign policy,” she says.

Born in Grand Rapids, Baum proclaims that she is unsure if she is retired or unemployed. She says she is not a feminist and that she is deeply and religiously Jewish (“by birth and by choice”) and regularly attends synagogue. Her 24-year-old daughter, who accompanies her for the interview, attests to this. Baum often refers to her daughter throughout the interview for guidance with some of the questions. She mentions that the “religious left” is the most fun. Her roots in activism can be traced all the way back to her adolescence, when she would get socialist-anarchist publications from a newspaper stand on Wealthy Street.

Baum adores the Grand Rapids area. She talks about the great food and refers to the region as an “ecotopia.” She has lived all over the country (including New Mexico and Alaska), but feels that there is nowhere quite as enjoyable as the Grand Rapids region. When asked about her parents, she says they simply want to be a part of the middle-class and that there is really no history of activism in her family.

Baum refers to Nietzsche’s philosophy on the contrasting forces of Apollonians and Dionysians in relation to the current social and political climate of the country. Nietzsche wrote in The Birth of Tragedy, "Wherever the Dionysian prevailed, the Apollonian was checked and destroyed.... wherever the first Dionysian onslaught was successfully withstood, the authority and majesty of the Delphic god Apollo exhibited itself as more rigid and menacing than ever." The world is made up of these two personae and when they clash, tragedy is inevitable. Baum herself is independent and unique; it would be difficult to ascribe her with either of these personalities.

Perhaps the reference is better applied to the collective of everyone involved in the Occupy movement. Occupy GR definitely has those individuals who could be considered Apollonian and those who might be viewed as Dionysian. Nevertheless, the movement seeks the same common goal and works together to achieve that goal, leaving its potentially conflicting ideals at the door.

Therein lies the essence of Occupy for many who participate, especially for Baum. As far as the outlook for the country in the near future, she decides that it “depends how much fascism” is present within the government and the political state of the country. Baum’s views on the future of this country are rather dour, but honest. This woman, who considers herself an average voice enveloped in the Occupy movement, left us with one final poignant notion: “Live long enough: you’ll violate every principle you’ve ever had.” 

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Great article on one of GR's best citizens.  Very kind and intriguing individual...and a great poet too!