When does the present become the past, and at what point in this chain of events is history actually made? An interesting metaphor has recently been proposed, rekindling a long winded historicist debate–this is the “metaphor of historical distance.” In a discussion of this idea, Hollander, Paul, and Peters maintain that, “Distance and perspective: this is what historians have long regarded as indispensable prerequisites for historical interpretation.” Yet it would seem that the issue of historical distance means as many things to as many historians who may ponder about the idea to begin with. How much time actually needs to pass in order to allow enough perspective to make unbiased and logical historical interpretations?
This oral history project tested those rocky waters. It has been roughly thirty-two months since protestors took to the streets all across the United States. Actually, it was bigger than just the United States. It was international. The protestors came with their signs, their slogans, and most boisterous of all—their tents. One blogger for the New York Times, Nate Silver, estimated that over 70,000 protestors took to the city streets across the United States on October 15, 2011. The vast majority of the media attention has coalesced around the events that occurred in New York City, and with good reason. The occupation of Wall Street was symbolic of almost everything the entire movement stood for. However, dozens of other occupations occurred throughout the country. The Midwest protests were generally smaller than the protests that took place in the large cities on the east and west coasts. This is certainly true of Occupy Dayton, the primary focus of this oral history project.
If anything is clear from the copious hours of research that have been dedicated to this project, it is that people still do not know what to make of Occupy. Was it a protest? Is it a movement? Whatever it is, people are talking about it—a lot. Occupy remains to be an active topic of discussion. Everyday my RSS news feed fills with at least half a dozen news articles that hit with the keyword Occupy in the title. Gauging the topic by present conversation, a historian might be inclined to think that the event will be remembered as significant. However explaining this more concisely would certainly be subjective at this point. The historian may argue that we need more time to gain the proper perspective and understanding of such a recent event. Can we only see history from the rear view mirror, or maybe we just are not ready to look for it in the first place?
This was the context in which the Occupy Dayton oral history project began…