If we get Occupy right, we get everything right
[Editor's note: The following post was published in its original form here.]
WHEN I FIRST heard the call to Occupy Wall Street, I knew it was big. I knew it would be more than just a “protest.” This felt different than the usual march to voice specific grievances. It was a call for something more profound — much deeper — than even the original participants realized as they gathered their signs and tents.
I knew because I’d been following the various manifestations of this movement for over a year, working with Velcrow Ripper as he traversed the globe working on his new film, Evolve Love. The premise is complex to capture, but simple to state: humanity is waking up.
On Sept 17, 2011, 2000 people showed up at Zucotti Park. On Nov 26, 2011, they are still there.
The mainstream media, if they aren’t busy denigrating the movement and highlighting its flaws, are still grappling with how to cover it. Who are the leaders? What are the demands? No answer has been given. Instead, they Occupy.
Early on, journalist Naomi Klein recognized the significance as well. She called it “The Most Important Thing In The World Now“:
Yesterday, one of the speakers at the labor rally said: “We found each other.” That sentiment captures the beauty of what is being created here. A wide-open space (as well as an idea so big it can’t be contained by any space) for all the people who want a better world to find each other. We are so grateful.
“Why are they protesting?” ask the baffled pundits on TV. Meanwhile, the rest of the world asks: “What took you so long?” “We’ve been wondering when you were going to show up.” And most of all: “Welcome.”
At its heart, Occupy is not a protest. It’s about creating space. It’s about modeling a new way of being, that requires a fair amount of “unlearning” the way society and human nature has been taught. It’s asking the question: why? Why are things they way they are? Is it, in fact, human nature to be greedy, violent, and cruel? Or is it possible that these are symptoms of a systemic order?
Occupy Wall St is also about rejecting a system that has, at its core, drifted violently out of balance. It has become life destroying – and no amount of material wealth will stave off the underlying sadness of that realization. Author Charles Eisenstein wrote a brilliant op-ed titled “No Demand Is Big Enough” that captured this sentiment:
We protest not only at our exclusion from the American Dream; we protest at its bleakness. If it cannot include everyone on earth, every ecosystem and bioregion, every people and culture in its richness; if the wealth of one must be the debt of another; if it entails sweatshops and underclasses and fracking and all the rest of the ugliness our system has created, then we want none of it.
No one deserves to live in a world built upon the degradation of human beings, forests, waters, and the rest of our living planet. Speaking to our brethren on Wall Street, no one deserves to spend their lives playing with numbers while the world burns. Ultimately, we are protesting not only on behalf of the 99% left behind, but on behalf of the 1% as well. We have no enemies. We want everyone to wake up to the beauty of what we can create.
On Oct 15, almost one month after Occupy Wall St. began, global chapters erupted around the world in solidarity.
From London to San Francisco to my hometown, Vancouver, thousands took the streets in support. It was a beautiful celebration of a community desiring to create change. And when the day was over, many people packed up their signs, and did what you do after a typical march. You go home and continue with your life.
Except for a core group that stayed to, you know, occupy. And that’s when the trouble started.
Turns out that tenting in a public space, on public land, becomes a problem for the authorities. They’d rather you shuffle on and keep moving. While I was less surprised by the response of the city staff, I was disheartened by fellow progressives that were quick to dismiss Occupy Vancouver for its lack of cohesion and characterization as nothing more than “drugged out hippies.” They joined the ranks of the opposed and demanded the occupation shut down.
Yet not many recognized the true value of holding space. The Art Gallery had become a modern day ‘agora’ – a place where citizens were able to gather, discuss, and debate the challenges of our day. Everyone was fed, sheltered, and respected. And when you commit to include all others, you also invite in the shadow. The encampment becomes a microcosm of the larger shadow of the city.
As the Occupy movement refused to dissolve, they began exposing the systems of power that have long operated in the darkness. In Oakland, riot police tear gassed the crowds and severely injured Iraq war vet Scott Olsen. All Occupations faced ongoing and direct intervention by police. All the while, the media and onlookers continued to ask: what are your demands?
Most humans desire to resolve dilemmas as quickly as possible. We are uncomfortable with uncertainty. And yet it is the uncertainty that gives the Occupy movement its unique resilience.
I found the following passage by author Michael Mead, in his book “The World Behind the World”:
“Choose one side of a dilemma and the other side resurfaces with a vengeance. For picking one side or being “one-sided” about a true dilemma only delays and even intensifies the issue. Choose one side and the conflict will return at a deeper level at some future time. That’s the nature of the genuine dilemmas of life in this left and right, dark and light, abundant and empty world. Only when the tension of opposing forces can be held long enough does a genuine solution appear that can dissolve the tension and renew the flow of life at another level.”
It took almost 55 days before Rolling Stone contributor Matt Taibbi became the first mainstream publication to finally get it. He confessed to having totally mischaracterized the movement in its infancy. In How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the OWS Protests he wrote:
Occupy Wall Street was always about something much bigger than a movement against big banks and modern finance. It’s about providing a forum for people to show how tired they are not just of Wall Street, but everything. This is a visceral, impassioned, deep-seated rejection of the entire direction of our society, a refusal to take even one more step forward into the shallow commercial abyss of phoniness, short-term calculation, withered idealism and intellectual bankruptcy that American mass society has become.
If there is such a thing as going on strike from one’s own culture, this is it. And by being so broad in scope and so elemental in its motivation, it’s flown over the heads of many on both the right and the left.
You don’t have to dig deep to realize the global banking system is out of control (watch the divisive but very entertaining ‘The American Dream‘ to give you an idea). A system built on debt begets a Machine that demands infinite growth on a finite planet. What is the answer? Perspectives like those shared by Zeitgeist and Thrive blame a shadowy elite pulling the strings at the top.
Yet again, looking deeper, we realize the elite are simply better at playing the game. To demonize them as the 1% is to enforce the old habits of Separation. As Charles Eisenstein puts it in his book Sacred Economics: “We are all puppets, but there is no puppet master.”
Certainly, we can condemn the decisions and structures that wreak untold havoc on our communities and the natural world. And we must also recognize how we are complicit in perpetuating this very same system, those parts of ourselves that are both the 99% and the 1%.
The Occupy movement has the opportunity to offer a third perspective.
This week, many of the global occupations have been attacked, bullied, harassed, and in some cases destroyed. Some mainstream outlets are tentatively claiming that Occupy Wall St. is finished. And yet, to believe the Occupy Movement is just a few tents in a park is missing the point entirely.
Don Hazen writes in To Change the Country, We Just Might Have to Change Ourselves:
As Eve Ensler, global activist and author of The Vagina Monologues says, “What is happening cannot be defined. It is happening. It is a spontaneous uprising that has been building for years in our collective unconscious. It is a gorgeous, mischievous moment that has arrived and is spreading. It is a speaking out, coming out, dancing out. It is an experiment and a disruption.”
Of course, nothing concrete has changed, yet. But the possibility of change — really, the necessity of change — is now in the middle of our nation’s politics and public discourse. This alone is an incredible achievement because a few short months ago, many millions of us essentially had no hope.
I believe it is now time for the Occupy Movement to come out of beta. We have realized that we suffer from a severe lack of imagination, and are crying out for a potent new vision of the future. I believe I have experienced a taste of this new vision, what Charles Eisenstein calls “the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible.” And it is because of this that I can demand nothing less.
Allow me to share a potential vision:
What if the Occupy Movement truly is the latest manifestation of the paradigm shift that is rippling around the planet, what Paul Hawken calls “the blessed unrest”? What if this shift is characterized by a new recognition of the self, one that no longer betrays ourselves as separate beings in an indifferent universe, but realizes we are conditional upon all the relationships we share?
I am because you are.
What if we experimented and perfected this alternative model of being, and deployed it along the vast global information network already encircling the globe? What if this model allowed us to grasp the array of crises plaguing our lives and the planet as actually interconnected – and to truly understand one was to understand and change them all?
What if we called this shift of inter-being by its true name?