Open Letter to the Occupy Movement from Starhawk and the Alliance of Community Trainers
The Occupy movement has had enormous successes in the short time since September when activists took over a square near Wall Street. It has attracted hundreds of thousands of active participants, spawned occupations in cities and towns all over North America, changed the national dialogue and garnered enormous public support. It’s even, on occasion, gotten good press!
Now we are wrestling with the question that arises again and again in movements for social justice—how to struggle. Do we embrace nonviolence, or a ‘diversity of tactics?’ If we are a nonviolent movement, how do we define nonviolence? Is breaking a window violent?
We write as a trainers’ collective with decades of experience, from the anti-Vietnam protests of the sixties through the strictly nonviolent antinuclear blockades of the seventies, in feminist, environmental and anti-intervention movements and the global justice mobilizations of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. We embrace many labels, including feminist, anti-racist, eco-feminist and anarchist. We have many times stood shoulder to shoulder with black blocs in the face of the riot cops, and we’ve been tear-gassed, stun-gunned, pepper sprayed, clubbed, and arrested,
While we’ve participated in many actions organized with a diversity of tactics, we do not believe that framework is workable for the Occupy Movement. Setting aside questions of morality or definitions of ‘violence’ and ‘nonviolence’ – for no two people define ‘violence’ in the same way – we ask the question:
What framework can we organize in that will build on our strengths, allow us to grow, embrace a wide diversity of participants, and make a powerful impact on the world?
‘Diversity of tactics’ becomes an easy way to avoid wrestling with questions of strategy and accountability. It lets us off the hook from doing the hard work of debating our positions and coming to agreements about how we want to act together. It becomes a code for ‘anything goes,’ and makes it impossible for our movements to hold anyone accountable for their actions.
The Occupy movement includes people from a broad diversity of backgrounds, life experiences and political philosophies. Some of us want to reform the system and some of us want to tear it down and replace it with something better. Our one great point of agreement is our call for transparency and accountability. We stand against the corrupt institutions that broker power behind closed doors. We call to account the financial manipulators that have bilked billions out of the poor and the middle classes.
Just as we call for accountability and transparency, we ourselves must be accountable and transparent. Some tactics are incompatible with those goals, even if in other situations they might be useful, honorable or appropriate. We can’t be transparent behind masks. We can’t be accountable for actions we run away from. We can’t maintain the security culture necessary for planning and carrying out attacks on property and also maintain the openness that can continue to invite in a true diversity of new people. We can’t make alliances with groups from impacted communities, such as immigrants, if we can’t make agreements about what tactics we will employ in any given action.
The framework that might best serve the Occupy movement is one of strategic nonviolent direct action. Within that framework, Occupy groups would make clear agreements about which tactics to use for a given action. This frame is strategic—it makes no moral judgments about whether or not violence is ever appropriate, it does not demand we commit ourselves to a lifetime of Gandhian pacifism, but it says, ‘This is how we agree to act together at this time.’ It is active, not passive. It seeks to create a dilemma for the opposition, and to dramatize the difference between our values and theirs.
Strategic nonviolent direct action has powerful advantages:
We make agreements about what types of action we will take, and hold one another accountable for keeping them. Making agreements is empowering. If I know what to expect in an action, I can make a choice about whether or not to participate. While we can never know nor control how the police will react, we can make choices about what types of action we stand behind personally and are willing to answer for. We don’t place unwilling people in the position of being held responsible for acts they did not commit and do not support.
In the process of coming to agreements, we listen to each other’s differing viewpoints. We don’t avoid disagreements within our group, but learn to debate freely, passionately, and respectfully.
We organize openly, without fear, because we stand behind our actions. We may break laws in service to the higher laws of conscience. We don’t seek punishment nor admit the right of the system to punish us, but we face the potential consequences for our actions with courage and pride.
Because we organize openly, we can invite new people into our movement and it can continue to grow. As soon as we institute a security culture in the midst of a mass movement, the movement begins to close in upon itself and to shrink.
Holding to a framework of nonviolent direct action does not make us ‘safe.’ We can’t control what the police do and they need no direct provocation to attack us. But it does let us make clear decisions about what kinds of actions we put ourselves at risk for.
Nonviolent direct action creates dilemmas for the opposition, and clearly dramatizes the difference between the corrupt values of the system and the values we stand for. Their institutions enshrine greed while we give away food, offer shelter, treat each person with generosity. They silence dissent while we value every voice. They employ violence to maintain their system while we counter it with the sheer courage of our presence.
Lack of agreements privileges the young over the old, the loud voices over the soft, the fast over the slow, the able-bodied over those with disabilities, the citizen over the immigrant, white folks over people of color, those who can do damage and flee the scene over those who are left to face the consequences.
Lack of agreements and lack of accountability leaves us wide open to provocateurs and agents. Not everyone who wears a mask or breaks a window is a provocateur. Many people clearly believe that property damage is a strong way to challenge the system. And masks have an honorable history from the anti-fascist movement in Germany and the Zapatista movement in Mexico, who said “We wear our masks to be seen.”
But a mask and a lack of clear expectations create a perfect opening for those who do not have the best interests of the movement at heart, for agents and provocateurs who can never be held to account. As well, the fear of provocateurs itself sows suspicion and undercuts our ability to openly organize and grow.
A framework of strategic nonviolent direct action makes it easy to reject provocation. We know what we’ve agreed to—and anyone urging other courses of action can be reminded of those agreements or rejected.
We hold one another accountable not by force or control, ours or the systems, but by the power of our united opinion and our willingness to stand behind, speak for, and act to defend our agreements.
A framework of strategic nonviolent direct action agreements allows us to continue to invite in new people, and to let them make clear choices about what kinds of tactics and actions they are asked to support.
There’s plenty of room in this struggle for a diversity of movements and a diversity of organizing and actions. Some may choose strict Gandhian nonviolence, others may choose fight-back resistance. But for the Occupy movement, strategic nonviolent direct action is a framework that will allow us to grow in diversity and power.
As teachers and leaders of communities that promote the development of compassion and mindfulness, we are writing to express our solidarity with the Occupy movement now active in over 1,900 cities worldwide.
We are particularly inspired by the nonviolent tactics of this movement, its methods of self-governance, and its emergent communities founded in open communication (general assemblies, the human microphone, the inclusion of diverse voices, etc). These encampments are fertile ground for seeing our inherent wisdom and our capacity for awakening. We encourage all teachers, leaders, sanghas and communities that pursue awakening to join with these inspiring activists, if they have not already done so, in working to end the extreme inequalities of wealth and power that cause so much suffering and devastation for human society and for the ecosystems of Earth.
This movement has given voice to a near-universal frustration with the economic and political disenfranchisement of so many. It offers a needed counterbalance to a system that saps the life energy of the overwhelming majority –– the so-called 99% –– generating vast profits for a tiny handful, without maximizing the true potential for widespread wealth creation in our society. While our practice challenges us to cultivate compassion for 100% of human beings without villifying an “enemy,” our practice also calls on us to challenge a system that causes such clear harm and imbalance.
We share in the thoughtful calls to address massive unemployment, climate change, the erosion of social safety nets, decaying infrastructures, social and education programs, and workers’ wages, rights, and benefits.
Moreover, the current legal structure of large corporations compels individuals to act with shortsighted greed, acts for which they are not held personally accountable. If we aren’t encouraged to act with awareness of our connection to the seven billion humans who share our global community, the social fabric of our society is torn apart by legalized acts of selfishness and fear. These acts are performed in human society, by nonhuman entities, oddly granted the legal and political status of people, which have no ability to adequately perceive or react to the negative repercussions of their choices. The whole planet pays the price.
Most importantly, we believe that individual awakening and collective transformation are inseparable. For members of spiritual communities, mindfulness of the situation before us demands that we engage fully in the culture and society we inhabit. We do not view our own path as merely an individualistic pursuit of sanity and health, and we believe it would be irresponsible of us to teach students of mind/body disciplines that they can develop their practice in isolation from the society in which they live. We are inspired by the creative and intellectual work of the Occupy movement as an essential voice in facilitating a more compassionate and ecologically grounded basis for practice.
The Occupy movement has re-ignited our belief that it’s truly possible to build a culture of non-harm, honesty and respect for all creatures. We recognize our human failings and know that we’ll fail ten thousand times in our efforts to awaken. We now vow to bring our practices and methods of teaching more into alignment with our deepest values.
The structural greed, anger and delusion that characterize our current system are incompatible with our obligations to future generations and our most cherished values of interdependence, creativity, and compassion. We call on teachers and practitioners from all traditions of mind/body awakening to join in actively transforming these structures.
Letter Signed, Ethan Nichtern, Shastri, New York, Shôken Michael Stone, Toronto
Supporters: By signing this letter we believe we can unite in our commitment to align our practice and values and work together to help our society.
Sharon Salzberg Stephen Batchelor Seane Corn Roshi Joan Halifax Testu’un David Loy Dr. Robert Thurman Jack Kornfield Zoketsu Norman Fischer Susan Piver Dr. Gaylon Ferguson, Acharya Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara Tara Brach Trudy Goodman David Nichtern Dr. Judith Simmer-Brown, Acharya Anne Waldman Rev. angel Kyodo williams Adam Lobel, Acharya Anne Cushman Eihei Peter Levitt Sarah Powers Fleet Maull, Acharya Ruth Ozecki Jessica Robertson Rev. Danny Fisher Gayle Van Gils, Shastri Gina Sharpe Koshin Paley Ellison Robert Chodo Campbell Ty Powers Sarah Weintraub Dr. Miles Neale Waylon Lewis Pamela Bothwell, Shastri Ted Grand Maia Duerr Jesse Maceo Vega-Frey Ari Pliskin Seth Freedman Kate Crisp Jessica Stickler Paula Carino Bodhipaksa Laura Kuchynka Elaine Jackson Rev. Karen Harrison Kim Stetz Jessica Li Phillips Sheryl Lilke Sherry Sadoff Hanck Amy Dara Hochberg Jennifer Musial, PhD Dominic Tambuzzo Chap. Mikel Ryuho Monnett, BCC Elizabeth Gosselin Roberta Wall Erica Hamilton Maria Ciccone
They were chanting ”Brokers and Police : standing side by side for the occupation.” I took this photo at Occupy Wall Street on October 24th, and it has gone viral. The dialogue in the multitude of comments on my facebook posting of this photo , besides focussing on the question of whether the pic is real or not, (Yes, man, it’s real) also opens up a much bigger question: does the 99% really want the 1% to join? And are the police part of the 99%?
From the perspective of Occupy Love, we are clearly 100% love, 100% whole. Notions of separation are simply constructs. We need to welcome the 1% - for their liberation is our liberation. We need to welcome the police - yes even the ‘white shirts’ - for we are all in this together.
Right now, at Occupy Oakland, the police have been clamping down with brutality. Like the police that brutalized the protestors in the Civil Rights movement, our greatest power is to meet them with Love. Fierce Love. Martin Luther King’s teachings to the Civil Rights Movement were very very clear - stay non-violent, fill the jail cells if need be, but always, always love. In South Africa, Mandela famously said that until all blacks are free, whites will never be free.
Eartha Harris commented on the pic, “To those who are mocking this, please read my status from today: I’m sitting inside a cafe across the street from the Bank of America outside Occupy Boston. Its filled with suits who work in the financial district, speaking of how much they love and support the movement. I’m hearing these folks describe an existance that sounds like a soft, grey cage…working 12-16 hour days, crunching numbers under florescent lights, moving only their fingers. Regardless of how much $ one`s making,no one deserves to spend their lives like this, just as no one deserves to be without home, food, or healthcare. Just a nice reminder of how diverse this “99%” is. One reason people have no jobs is because companies have downsized and more than tripled the workloads of those few remaining. They have just as much a right, and reason, to call for change as those without work and money.”
Let us not fall into the trap of “Us and Them” ~ keeping us divided is a powerful way of keeping us oppressed. Our freedom, our happiness, our lives are inextricably bound together. So let us invite everyone to join us in this incredible time of awakening. We are all the 1%. We are all the 99%. We are 100% human, and it’s time to Occupy Love.
“"A call to “Occupy America” obscures the histories of colonization and resistance that U.S. indigenous and people of color communities often carry with them. The slogan “Occupy Everywhere” also unfortunately evokes colonialist projects. The phrase “Occupy Together” – used by an unofficial online coordination project –avoids this danger by inviting everyone’s participation."
~ John Hayakawa Torok”—This is why it’s important to Occupy Love. We need to be inclusive, we need to be whole, we are all in this together! Read the full article here John Hayakawa Torok is a critical race theorist and card-carrying member of the U.S.A. Green Party.
A beautiful piece by Rebecca Solnit. She has long been an inspiration to me, since the days when I was shooting Scared Sacred my journey to the ground zero’s of the world, searching for hope in the darkness. Rebecca shares my view that there is hope to be found in every crisis, and in this article she traces a year of revolution, from the beginning of 2011 until now. I have a personal hope: I hope to interview her for my upcoming feature documentary. All the pics are by me, taken at Occupy Wall Street.
Dear young man who died on the fourth day of this turbulent 2011, dear Mohammed Bouazizi,
I want to write you about an astonishing year — with three months yet to run. I want to tell you about the power of despair and the margins of hope and the bonds of civil society.
I wish you could see the way that your small life and large death became a catalyst for the fall of so many dictators in what is known as the Arab Spring.
We are now in some sort of an American Fall. Civil society here has suddenly hit the ground running, and we are all headed toward a future no one imagined when you, a young Tunisian vegetable seller capable of giving so much, who instead had so much taken from you, burned yourself to death to protest your impoverished and humiliated state.
You lit yourself on fire on December 17, 2010, exactly nine months before Occupy Wall Street began. Your death two weeks later would be the beginning of so much. You lit yourself on fire because you were voiceless, powerless, and evidently without hope. And yet you must have had one small hope left: that your death would have an impact; that you, who had so few powers, even the power to make a decent living or protect your modest possessions or be treated fairly and decently by the police, had the power to protest. As it turned out, you had that power beyond your wildest dreams, and you had it because your hope, however diminished, was the dream of the many, the dream of what we now have started calling the 99%.
And so Tunisia erupted and overthrew its government, and Egypt caught fire, as did Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, and Libya, where the nonviolent protests elsewhere turned into a civil war the rebels have almost won after several bloody months. Who could have imagined a Middle East without Ben Ali of Tunisia, without Mubarak, without Gaddafi? And yet here we are, in the unimaginable world. Again. And almost everywhere.
Japan was literally shaken loose from its plans and arrangements by the March 11th earthquake and tsunami, and that country has undergone profound soul-searching about values and priorities. China is turbulent, and no one knows how much longer the discontent of the repressed middle class and the hungry poor there will remain containable. India: who knows? The Saudi government is so frightened it even gave women a few new rights. Syrians wouldn’t go home even when their army began to shoot them down. Crowds of up to a million Italians have been protesting austerity measures in recent months. The Greeks, well, if you’ve been following events, you know about the Greeks. Have I forgotten Israel? Huge demonstrations against the economic status quo there lasted all summer and into this fall.
As you knew at the outset, it’s all about economics. This wild year, Greece boiled over again into crisis with colossal protests, demonstrations, blockades, and outright street warfare. Icelanders continued their fight against bailing out the banks that sank their country’s economy in 2008 and continue pelting politicians with eggs. Their former prime minister may become the first head of state to face legal charges in connection with the global financial collapse. Spanish youth began to rise up on May 15th.
Distinctively, in so many of these uprisings the participants were not advocating for one party or a simple position, but for a better world, for dignity, for respect, for real democracy, for belonging, for hope and possibility — and their economic underpinnings. The Spanish young whose future had been sold out to benefit corporations and their 1% were nicknamed theIndignados, and they lived in the plazas of Spain this summer. Occupied Madrid, like Occupied Tahrir Square, preceded Occupy Wall Street.
In Chile, students outraged by the cost of an education and the profound inequities of their society have been demonstrating since May — with everything from kiss-ins to school occupations to marches of 150,000 or more. Forty thousand students marched against“education reform” in Colombia last week. And in August in Britain the young went on arampage that tore up London, Birmingham, and dozens of other communities, an event that began when the police shot Mark Duggan, a dark-skinned 29-year-old Londoner. Young Britons had risen up more peaceably over tuition hikes the winter before. There, too, things are bleak and volatile — something I know you would understand. In Mexico, a beautiful movement involving mass demonstrations against the drug war has arisen, triggered by the death of another young man, and by the grief and vision of his father, leftwing poet Javier Cicilia.
The United States had one great eruption in Wisconsin this winter, when the citizenry occupied their state capitol building in Madison for weeks. Egyptians and others elsewhere on the planet called a local pizza parlor and sent pies to the occupiers. We all know the links. We’re all watching. So the Occupy movement has spilled over from Wall Street. Hundreds of occupations are happening all over the North America: in Oklahoma City and Tijuana, inVictoria and Fort Lauderdale.
We are the 99% is the cry of the Occupy movement. This summer one of the flyers that helped launch the Occupy Wall Street protest read: “We, the 99%, call for an open general assembly Aug. 9, 7:30 pm at the Potato Famine Memorial NYC.” It was an assembly to discuss the September 17th occupation-to-come.
The Irish Hunger Memorial, so close to Wall Street, commemorates the million Irish peasants who starved in the 1840s, while Ireland remained a food-exporting country and the landed gentry continued to profit.It’s a monument to the exploitation of the many by the few, to the forces that turned some of our ancestors — including my mother’s four Irish grandparents — into immigrants, forces that are still pushing people out of farms, homes, nations, regions.
The Irish famine was one of the great examples of those disasters of the modern era that are not crises of scarcity, but of distribution. The United States is now the wealthiest country the world has ever known, and has an abundance of natural resources, as well as of nurses, doctors, universities, teachers, housing, and food — so ours, too, is a crisis of distribution. Everyone could have everything they need and the rich would still be rich enough, but you know that enough isn’t a concept for them. They’re greedy, and their 30-year grab for yet more has carved away at what’s minimally necessary for the survival and dignity of the rest of us. So the Famine Memorial couldn’t have been a more appropriate place for Occupy Wall Street to begin.
The 99%, those who starve during famines and lose their livelihoods and homes during crashes, were going to respond to the 1% who had been served so well by the Bush administration and by the era of extreme privatization it ushered in. As my friend Andy Krollreported at TomDispatch, “The top 1% of earners enjoyed 65% of all income growth in America for much of the decade” just passed. “In 2010,” he added, “20.5 million people, or 6.7% of all Americans, scraped by with less than $11,157 for a family of four — that is, less than half of the poverty line.” You can’t get by on less than $1,000 a month in this country where a single visit to an emergency room can cost your annual income, a car twice that, and a year at a private college more than four times that.
Later in August came the website started by a 28-year-old New York City activist,we are the 99 percent, to which hundreds daily now submit photographs of themselves. Each of them also testifies to the bleak conditions they find themselves in, despite their hard work and educations which often left them in debt, despite the promises dangled before them that (if they played the game right) they’d be safe, housed, and living a part of that oversold dream.
It’s a website of unremitting waking nightmares, economic bad dreams that a little wealth redistribution would eliminate (even without eliminating the wealthy). The people contributing aren’t asking for luxuries. They would simply prefer not to be worked to death like so many nineteenth-century millworkers, nor to have their whole world come crashing down if they get sick. They want to survive with dignity, and their testimony will break your heart.
Mohammed Bouazizi, dead at 26, you to whom I’m writing, here is one of the recent posts at that site:
“I am 26 years old. I am $134,000 in debt. I started working at 14 years old, and have worked Full-Time since I turned 20. I work in I.T. and got laid off in July 2011. I was LUCKY, and found a job RIGHT AWAY: with a Pay Cut and MORE HOURS.â€¨ Now, I just found out that my Dad got laid off last week - after 18 YEARS with the same employer. I have debilitating (SP! Sorry!) O.C.D. and can’t take time away from work to get treatment because I can’t afford my mortgage payments if I don’t go to work, and I’m afraid I’ll lose my NEW job if I take time off!!! WE ARE THE 99%.”
Some of the people at we are the 99% offer at least partial views of their faces, but the young IT worker quoted above holds a handwritten letter so long that it obscures his face. Poverty obscures your face too. It obscures your talents, potential, even your distinctive voice, and if it goes deep enough, it eradicates you by degrees of hunger and degradation. Poverty is a creation of the systems against which people all over the planet are revolting this wild year of 2011. The Arab Spring, after all, was an economic revolt. What were all those dictatorships and autocracies for, if not to squeeze as much profit as possible out of subjugated populations — profit for rulers, profit for multinational corporations, profit for that 1%.
“We are not goods in the hands of politicians and bankers,” was the slogan of the first student protest called in Spain this year. Your beautiful generation, Mohammed Bouazizi, has arisen and is bringing the rest of us along, even here in the United States.
The People’s Microphone
Its earliest critics seemed to think that Occupy Wall Street was a lobbying group whose chosen task on this planet should be to create a package of realistic demands. In other words, they were convinced that the occupiers should become supplicants, asking the powerful for some kind of handout like college debt forgiveness. They were suggesting that a dream as wide as the sky be stuffed into little bottles and put up for sale. Or simply smashed.
In the same way, they wanted this movement to hurry up and appoint leaders, so that there would be someone to single out and investigate, pick off, or corrupt. At heart, however, this is a leaderless movement, an anarchist movement, catalyzed by the grace of civil society and the hard work of the collective. The Occupy movement — like so many movements around the world now — is using general assemblies as its form of protest and process. Its members are not facing the authorities, but each other, coming to know themselves, trying to give rise to the democracy they desire on a small scale rather than merely railing against its absence on a large scale.
These are the famous Occupy general assemblies in which decisions are made by consensus and, in the absence of amplification (by order of the New York City police), the people’s mike is used: those assembled repeat what is said as it’s said, creating a human megaphone effect. This is accompanied by a small vocabulary of hand gestures, which help people participate in the complex process of a huge group having a conversation.
In other words, the process is also the goal: direct democracy. No one can hand that down to you. You live direct democracy in that moment when you find yourself participating in civil society as a citizen with an equal voice. Put another way, the Occupiers are not demanding that something be given to them but formulating something new. That it involves no technology, not even bullhorns, is itself remarkable in this wired era. It’s just passionate people together — and then Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, text messages, emails, and online sites like this one spread the word, along with some print media, notably the Occupied Wall Street Journal.
The beauty and the genius of this movement in this moment is that it has found a way to define its needs and desires without putting limits on them that would automatically exclude so many. In doing so, it has spoken to nearly all of us.
There is the terrible rage at economic injustice that is shared by college students looking at a future of debt and overwork, as well as those who couldn’t afford college in the first place, by working people struggling ever harder for less, by the many who have no jobs and few prospects, by people forced out of their homes by the games banks play with mortgages and profits, and by everyone the catastrophe that is healthcare in this country has affected. And by the rest of us, furious on their behalf (and on our own).
And then there is the joyous hope that things could actually be different. That hope has been fulfilled a little in the way that an open-ended occupation has survived four weeks and more and turned into hundreds of Occupy actions around the country and marches in almost 1,000 cities around the world last Sunday, from Sydney to Tokyo to Santa Rosa. It speaks for so many; it speaks for the 99%; and it speaks clearly, so clearly that an ex-Marine showed up with a hand-lettered sign that said, “2nd time I’ve fought for my country, 1st time I’ve known my enemy.”
The climate change movement showed up at Occupy Wall Street, too. What’s blocking action on climate change is what’s blocking action on all the other issues that matter: it would cut into profits. Never mind the deep future, not when what’s at stake is quarterly earnings.
A dozen years ago, after the wildly successful revolt against neoliberal economic policy in Seattle, the slogan that stuck around was: “Another World Is Possible.” I was never sure about that one because in crucial places and ways that other world is already here. In a YouTube video of the New York occupation, however, I watched an old woman in a straw hat say, “We’re fighting for a society in which everyone is important.” What a beautiful summation! Could any demand be clearer than that? And could the ways in which people have no value under our current economic regime be more obvious?
What Is Your Occupation?
Occupy Wall Street. Occupy together. Occupy New Orleans, Portland, Stockton, Boston, Las Cruces, Minneapolis. Occupy. The very word is a manifesto, a position statement, and a position as well. For so many people, particularly men, their occupation is their identity, and when a job is lost, they become not just unemployed, but no one. The Occupy movement offers them a new occupation, work that won’t pay the bills, but a job worth doing. “Lost my job, found an occupation,” said one sign in the crowd of witty signs.
There is, of course, a bleaker meaning for the word occupation, as in “the U.S. is occupying Iraq.” Even National Public Radio gives the Dow Jones report several times a day, as though the rise and fall of the stock market had not long ago been decoupled from the rise and fall of genuine measures of wellbeing for the 99%. A small part of Wall Street, which has long occupied us as if it were a foreign power, is now occupied as though it were a foreign country.
Wall Street is a foreign country — and maybe an enemy country as well. And now it’s occupied. The way that Native Americans occupied Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay for 18 months four decades ago and galvanized a national Native American rights movement. You pick some place to stand, and when you stand there, you find your other occupation, as a member of civil society.
This May in Ohio, a group of Robin Hoods literally lowered a drawbridge they made so they could cross a “moat” around Chase Bank’s headquarters and invade its shareholders’ meeting. Forty Robin Hoods also showed up en masse last week in kayaks for a national mortgage bankers’ meeting in Chicago. Houses facing foreclosure are being occupied. Foreclosure is, of course, a way of turning people into non-occupants.
At this moment in history, occupation should be everyone’s occupation.
Baby Pictures of a Revolt
Young man whose despair gave birth to hope, no one knows what the future holds. When you set yourself afire almost ten months ago, you certainly didn’t know, nor do any of us know now, what the long-term outcome of the Arab Spring will be, let alone this American Fall. Such a movement arrives in the world like a newborn. Who knows its fate, or even whether it will survive to grow up?
It may be suppressed like the Prague Spring of 1968. It may go through a crazy adolescence like the French Revolution of 1789 and yet grow beyond its parents’ dreams. Radiant at birth, wreathed in smiles, it may become a stolid bourgeois citizen as did such movements in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the reunited Germany after civil society freed those countries from totalitarianism.
It may grow up into turbulence as has the Philippines since its 1986 revolution ousted the kleptocracy of the Marcos family. Revolution may be assassinated young, the way the democratic government of Mohammed Mossadegh was in Iran in 1953, that of President Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, and President Salvador Allende’s Chilean experiment on September 11, 1973, all three in CIA-backed military coups. On behalf of the 1%.
Whether a human child or a child of history, we can’t know who or what it will become, but it’s still possible to grasp something about it by asking who or what it resembles. What does Occupy Wall Street look like? Well, its siblings born around the world this year, of course, and perhaps in some way the American civil rights movement that began in the 1950s.
There was a national uprising in the United States no less spontaneous in its formation during the great depression of the 1870s, but the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 was violent, while the Occupy movement is deeply imbued with the spirit and tactics of nonviolence. The last Great Depression, the one that began in 1929, created a host of radical movements, as well as the Hoovervilles of homeless people. There are family resemblances. The marches and actions against the coming invasion of Iraq on February 15, 2003, on all seven continents (yes, including Antarctica) are clearly kin. And the anti-corporate globalization movement is a godmother. And then there’s a sibling just a decade older.
Zuccotti Park is just two blocks from Wall Street, and also just a block from Ground Zero, the site of the 9/11 attack. On that day, it was badly damaged. This September 21st, my dear friend Marina Sitrin wrote me from Occupy Wall Street: “There are people from more diverse backgrounds racially, more diverse age groups, including not just a few children here with their parents, and a number of working people from the area. In particular, some of the security guards from the 9.11 memorial, a block away have been coming by for lunch and chatting with people, as has a local group of construction workers.”
If the Arab Spring was the decade-later antithesis of 9/11, a largely nonviolent, publicly inclusive revolt that forced the Western world to get over its fearful fantasy that all young Muslims are terrorists, jihadis, and suicide bombers, then Occupy Wall Street, which began six days after the 10th anniversary of that nightmarish day in September, is the other half of 9/11 in New York. What was remarkable about that day 10 years ago is how calmly and beautifully everyone behaved. New Yorkers helped each other down those dozens of floors of stairs in the Twin Towers and away from the catastrophe, while others lined up to give blood, desperate to do something, anything, to participate, to be part of a newfound sense of community that arose in the city that day.
There was, for example, a huge commissary organized on Chelsea Piers that provided free food, medical supplies, and work equipment for the people at Ground Zero and also helped find housing for the displaced. It was not an official effort, but one that arose even more spontaneously than Occupy Wall Street, without leaders or institutions — and it was forcibly disbanded when the official organizations got their act together a few days later. Those who participated experienced a sense of democracy amid all the distress and sorrow, a tremendous joy in finding meaningful work and deep social connections, and a little temporary joy, as they often do in disaster.
When I began to study the history of urban disaster years ago, I found such unexpected exhibitions of that kind of joy again and again, uniting the generative moments of protests, demonstrations, revolts, and revolutions with the aftermath of some disasters. Even when the losses were terrible, the ways that people came together to meet the occasion were almost always inspiring.
Since I wrote A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, I have been asked again and again whether economic crisis begets the same kind of community as sudden disasters. It did in Argentina in 2001, when the economy crashed there. And it has now, in the streets of New York and many other cities, in 2011. A sign at Occupy San Francisco said, “IT’S TIME.” It is. It’s been time for a long time.
No Hope But in Ourselves
The birth of this moment was delayed three years. Argentinians reacted immediately to the 2001 crisis and to long-simmering grievances with an economy that had ground so many of them down even before the government froze all bank accounts and the economy crashed. On the other hand, our economy collapsed three years ago this month to headlines like “Capitalism is dead” in the business press. There was certainly some fury and outrage at the time, but the real reaction was delayed, or decoyed.
The outrage of the moment did, in fact, result in a powerful grassroots movement that focused on a single political candidate to fix it all for us, as he promised he would. It was a beautiful movement, a hopeful movement, much more so than its candidate. The movement got its lone candidate into the highest office in the land, where he remains today, and then walked away as though the job was done. It had just begun.
That movement could have fought the corporations, given us a real climate-change policy, and more, but it allowed itself to be disbanded as though one elected politician were the equivalent of ten million citizens, of civil society itself. It was a broad-based movement, of all ages and races, and I think it’s back, disillusioned with politicians and electoral politics, determined this time to do it for itself, beyond and outside the corroded arenas of institutional power.
I don’t know exactly who this baby looks like, but I know that who you look like is not who you will become. This unanticipated baby has a month behind it and a future ahead of it that none of us can see, but its birth should give you hope.
Here’s a moving submission from Patrica Arias… thanks Patricia!
From a third world mother heart weary of witnessing the cold machine of cruel materialism crush our families, our hopes and our kids future…I thank you.
Once I wrote ‘mothers of the world lets awaken those we love , these ones that pseudo-live in a sleepy mood narcotized by the system…lets rekindle the ancestral fire where women have gathered since the dawn of time lets awake them in our kitchens our living rooms our bedrooms…’
Ah! you have awakened and joy fills the heart .
The echoes of your brave stand resound like joyful bells throughout all our Americas, from the cold forests of north america to the deserts and forests of our south america…
we the people are awakening, we have found our voice and the call is clear, ding dong each of you, find your vibrational tone and sing for all humanity.
At the darkest hour of this cultural night you are the Light bearers that dispell denial … the newborn culture of Love peace and understanding is birthing…morning is breaking at last… the eyes of the world are on you and it is already a better place because of you. Thank you !!!
Here’s a lovely submission from Maia Duerr. Thank you!
I spent this morning at Occupy Santa Fe.
Among the hundreds of people who were there to march to the Round House (our capital building) and then peacefully assembled on the lawn there, about 15 of us offered a meditative presence. This was the first “official” Liberated Life Project event, cooked up with a number of people from my spiritual home, Upaya Zen Center, as well as other kindred spirits who joined us. Our banner read, “Occupy the Present Moment.” And we had a great time.
Two days ago, I wrote an article with Roshi Joan Halifax. We ended the article with this reflection : “Can Occupy Wall Street succeed? It can, if it continues to place generosity and compassion before greed, and to recognize the power of interdepen dence, causality and selflessne ss.”
Based on everything I saw this morning in Santa Fe and have heard coming out of NYC and other parts of the world (with the exception, perhaps, of Rome where things got violent), chances of success are looking very good.
This is perhaps the only major demonstration I’ve been part of (and I’ve been in dozens, centered on issues like labor rights, ending the war in Iraq, and nuclear disarmament) where our meditation actually felt a bit redundant. Certainly not unnecessary, because everyone who took part in it expressed appreciation for a space in which to find our center and return to our breath. But redundant in the sense that among the larger crowd we were part of, everyone had already tuned in to a vibe of peacefulness, joy, and nonviolence.
It became abundantly clear to me that this movement is based in a real honor and respect for kindness, for making sure every voice is heard, and that needs are addressed as best as possible.
A quote from Arundhati Roy has been very much on my mind the past week:
“Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness — and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe. The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling — their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability.
Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them.
Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
The other quote that kept coming to me today was one from Mother Teresa:“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
This collective of people — all around the globe — is remembering that truth. We’re waking up to it, to use a Buddhist phrase. We are changing the story… we are no longer believing that we are beholden to corporations, but rather to each other. We are creating rather than merely consuming.
Something magical is happening here… it’s impossible to say where this will all lead, but keep an eye on it, for sure. And better yet, get involved.
I, for one, am headed back there right now. I hear Food, Not Bombs, will be serving dinner to the crowd.
Integrity, to Buckminster Fuller, represented the degree to which any design or system actively enhances the regenerative processes that support life on Earth. Thirty years ago, he wrote the cautionary tale Grunch of Giants to warn of the immediate dangers posed by the lack of integrity within the “invisible, abstract, and completely ruthless” empire of corporations that control the world’s finances. Dubbing this corrupt system theGross Universal Cash Heist (GRUNCH), he argued that, as a non-living entity, it was incapable of recognizing how its legal mandate to maximize monetary gains by socializing risks and privatizing profits were in direct opposition to the long-term requirements for human survival.
The expanding occupations and protests around the world directed towards the global economic system testify to the prescience of Fuller’s critique concerning the lack of integrity within manufactured scarcity. The myriad of issues driving unrest reflects a rising awareness that the challenges facing humanity cannot be effectively addressed in isolation. They are in fact interconnected symptoms of a dominant socio-economic environment that is not designed to adequately support 100% of humanity.
Fuller argued that we must begin to transform this dysfunctional system by recognizing that it confuses money with wealth. He maintained that money is “a medium of exchange and a cash accounting system,” while wealth is the “organized technological capability to protect, nurture, educate, and accommodate the forward days of humans” that arises from supporting the integrity of living systems. Based on his calculations of world resources, human trends and needs, he demonstrated that it would be possible to support all of humanity at a better standard of living than ever before if the production capacity and technical know-how of global society were properly applied. Instead of fighting to tear down the existing system, he sought to harness its technological and economic forces to shift “from weaponry to livingry” through the problem-solving approach he called comprehensive anticipatory design science.
~ David McConville, President of the Board, Buckminister Fuller Society
The following piece was submitted to Occupy Love by Shannon Harris. Thanks Shannon! I’ve edited it to fit the ethos of this page. One thing I would like to note - we are actually the 100%. There is no us and them, so it’s important to recognize that the 1% is also us. We are 100% love. One way to look at this that might be helpful, is this: consider that there are parts of yourself that are greedy or confused at times, angry or contracted, etc. etc. You don’t need to hate those shadow parts of yourself - love them, and bring them into consciousness, so you can heal. It doesn’t help to deny or repress them. So let’s love the 1%, so they can be liberated too. We’re all evolving together here. ~ Velcrow Ripper
If you can’t make it to a protest, the following is something you can do from home or work to help.
Love is stronger than fear. You’ve been raised to think Love is only for pop songs and romantic comedies. Love is MUCH bigger than “romantic love.”
When I say, “You are Love” I am speaking literally: you are part of the big, vast Love that connects us all. Because you are Love, you can tap into this incredible power – it is what you’re made of.
How to Defeat the Fear Mongers with Love
1. First, get rid of fear you’re carrying. Imagine a tube like a garden hose at your tailbone that sends any negative energy you carry to the Earth’s centre, where it can be healed. Send all energy that is not yours down the cord into the Earth. This is called grounding.
2. Fill your space with the energy that connects us all. Imagine it pouring through the top of your head.
3. Get a feeling of love – the big vast love— going in your heart. Remember a time when you felt open to Love (not a sexual moment). Focus on your heart area – it’s not your physical heart, but the region of the body called the heart chakra. Just a little to your right of the physical heart.
4. Imagine your heart is full, and you’re releasing a stream of love towards your “target” (like taking the cap off of a fire hydrant). You can send it to police, you can send it to other protestors, you can send it to a person across the aisle from you on the subway.
That’s it! Sending love is completely non-violent. The power grows when people do it together. Give it a whirl with your friends, family, and even pets.
Love really knows no distance – you can send it across the world just like you’re sending it to someone in the same room. If you’re watching a livestream of a protest from home, you can help by sending love!
Please feel free to copy and share. This is info that has been passed down — I’ve only arranged the words. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask. - Shannon Harris
It’s time to
rock the nation,
rock this occupation.
It’s time for people to peacefully fight back.
Tell Congress and the media we’ re taking the mic back.
Tell the jaded it’s that long-awaited revolution.
Put away the pepper spray and re-read the Constitution.
These cops are paid to go crazy, yo.
But we’ re peaceful.
Don’t tase me, bro.
We came to incite insight,
unite and discuss this.
We came to hang, and to bang the drums of justice.
with our love and our light.
the earth and the sky,
and live with all beings
as a planet-wide tribe.
Occupy the divine mind residing inside.
See, I’m the type writer
that’s known to light fires
and prone to inspire
the moment’s own higher desire.
‘Cause history knows it’s the time
for resisting the team at the scene of the crime.
Tell your friends I ll meet ‘em there at Freedom Square.
They can’t stop us, from Seattle to Chiapas.
It’s our mission to envision
what comes after the catastrophe.
How do we move past
the capitalist disaster?
Our communities need us.
We are all leaders.
How could we ask for anything less than the future?
“'When the 1 percent live at the expense of the 99 percent, a rebalancing is certain to occur. If we can trust in the space where, on the one hand, we are fed up with economic instability and ecological degradation and, on the other, we value interconnectedness, we are doing the same thing collectively that the meditator does on his or her cushion. We are trusting that something loving and creative will emerge from this space that we create.” ~ Michael Stone”—http://matadornetwork.com/bnt/remaining-human-a-buddhist-perspective-on-occupy-wall-st/
As soon as I saw Michael Angelo Bosch, I knew I had to interview him. He was clearly a big tough dude with an equally big heart.
"I believe this Occupation is not only to bring to light the injustice about corporate greed here in America, and the lack of understanding or regard about people’s needs by our politicians, but also solidarity to what is happening around the world: the injustice to humanity. We’re here to have a global awakening, and inform the powers that be that enough’s enough. This is why we are out here. Because what you see here is a new paradigm shift - a people’s revolution."
"What’s love got to do with it?"
"Love can transform and change your life. People want change, but they don’t want to change themselves. But it’s individual people that have to change morally, mentally, physically and spiritually. I’m totally a believer in the power of love. And I love you people!"
"Thanks for what you are doing."
"It’s soldiers like you and I, soldiers of Agape Love, that can help transform this country. This is not just happening in America people, this is a global awakening, this is everybody waking up. They’re fed up, disgusted, some are confused, they don’t know which way to go, or how this will turn out, but if we utilize our people power, utilize the power of love, through kindness humility and respect to everybody on this planet, we’ll find solutions, we definitely will."
"They want to put this into a box. The media are always saying ‘angry protestors’ - but we have to transmute the anger into love, because anger is going to burn us out."
"If these were angry protestors you’d have a lot of militant groups out here, or anti-government militia types. You’d have all these types of organizations that would want to take advantage of the situation. But there are brothers and sisters in there that diffuse the situation before it gets out of hand. We don’t want racists or people that want to start trouble, that want to come in here and break this up. And as soon as we see that, using caution and proper judgement, etiquette and respect, we surround them, we talk to them, and we get them out of the park. This is not about that."
"Sometimes people think love is weak, or love is wimpy, but you are clearly a tough guy. For the dudes out there, can you tell them that love is actually strong?"
"Absolutely! I received a transformation because of some of things that happened in my life. I do security - I do security for the Park (Occupy Wall Street), and I also do security professionally. I’m a big man, and I know how to take care of myself. But I also know that under kindness and humility, the power of love can open up the true person you are."
"we need to go beyond having a critique/counter analysis/alternate systemic plan for society – we have to actually DO everything differently, aligned with a different set of core principles for existence."
especially our movement building.
how do we LIVE compassion, justice, love, accessibility, in alignment with this planet and with the people on it? how do we live our values?
as we are, so it (our work, our movement) will be.
for the majority of us, myself included, this means VAST ongoing transformation from how we are currently living and being. and as we transform, we see more things that need transformation, within ourselves and the world.
it is so important to cultivate our patience, our thoughtfulness, our willingness to slow down and seek the wisdom of those not already part of our movements – not to get them in step with our point of view, but because we need their lived experiential wisdom to shape solutions that will work for the majority of living beings.
it is imperative to regenerate our curiosity, our genuine interest in different opinions, and in people we don’t know yet – can we see them as part of ourselves, and maintain curiosity, especially when we want to constrict and critique?
can we each take our little spark from the fire that has started and truly let it breathe enough to grow?
“"They are telling you we are not Americans here. But the conservative fundamentalists who claim they are really American have to be reminded of something. What is Christianity? It’s the Holy Spirit. What’s the Holy Spirit? It’s an egalitarian community of believers who are linked by love for each other. And who only have their own freedom and responsibility to do it. In this sense the Holy Spirit is here now." ~ Slavoj Zizek”—http://occupywallst.org/article/today-liberty-plaza-had-visit-slavoj-zizek/
“"In the ecological age, we are beginning to understand that we are connected beings, that the welfare of any species or people is aligned with our own. I think the ultimate purpose of Occupy Wall Street, or the great archetype it taps into, is the revolution of love. If the 99% defeat the 1%, they will like the Bolsheviks ultimately create a new 1% in their place. So let us not defeat them; let us open them and invite them to join us. " ~ Charles Eisenstein”—http://www.realitysandwich.com/occupy_wall_street_no_demand_big_enough
And I didn’t just say that so that hundreds of you would shout “I love you” back, though that is obviously a bonus feature of the human microphone. Say unto others what you would have them say unto you, only way louder.
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.”
~ Naomi Klein
It is difficult to comprehend a 21st century movement from the perspective of the 20th century politics, media, and economics in which we are still steeped. In fact, we are witnessing America’s first true Internet-era movement.
Occupy Wall Street is meant more as a way of life that spreads through contagion, creates as many questions as it answers, aims to force a reconsideration of the way the nation does business and offers hope to those of us who previously felt alone in our belief that the current economic system is broken.
It models a new collectivism, picking up on the sustainable protest village of the movement’s Egyptian counterparts, with food, first aid, and a library. ~ Douglas Rushkoff
Professor Cornel West, one of my heroes, recently addressed the General Assembly at Occupy Wall Street. His words were amplified using the “people’s mic” - in which each line is chanted by the group so everyone can hear. Cornel is aligned with the tradition of that great activist of love, Martin Luther King Jr.
CORNEL WEST: There is a sweet spirit in this place.
GENERAL ASSEMBLY: There is a sweet spirit in this place.
CORNEL WEST: I hope you can feel the love and inspiration…
GENERAL ASSEMBLY: I hope you can feel the love and inspiration…
CORNEL WEST: Of those Sly Stone called every day people…
GENERAL ASSEMBLY: Of those Sly Stone called every day people…
CORNEL WEST: Who take a stand with great courage…
GENERAL ASSEMBLY: Who take a stand with great courage…
CORNEL WEST: And compassion…
GENERAL ASSEMBLY: And compassion…
CORNEL WEST: Because we oppose…
GENERAL ASSEMBLY: Because we oppose…
CORNEL WEST: The greed of Wall Street oligarchs…
GENERAL ASSEMBLY: The greed of Wall Street oligarchs…
CORNEL WEST: And corporate plutocrats…
GENERAL ASSEMBLY: And corporate plutocrats…
CORNEL WEST: Who squeeze the democratic juices…
GENERAL ASSEMBLY: Who squeeze the democratic juices…
CORNEL WEST: Out of this country…
GENERAL ASSEMBLY: Out of this country…
CORNEL WEST: And other places around the world…
GENERAL ASSEMBLY: And other places around the world…
CORNEL WEST: I am so blessed to be here…
GENERAL ASSEMBLY: I am so blessed to be here…
CORNEL WEST: You got me spiritually break-dancing on the way here…
GENERAL ASSEMBLY: You got me spiritually break-dancing on the way here…
CORNEL WEST: Because when you bring folks together…
GENERAL ASSEMBLY: Because when you bring folks together…
CORNEL WEST: Of all colors…
GENERAL ASSEMBLY: Of all colors…
CORNEL WEST: And all cultures…
GENERAL ASSEMBLY: And all cultures…
CORNEL WEST: And all Genders…
GENERAL ASSEMBLY: And all Genders…
CORNEL WEST: And all sexual orientations…
GENERAL ASSEMBLY: And all sexual orientations…
CORNEL WEST: The elite will tremble in their boots…