In this article, guest author ZAINAB AMADAHY explores the power of positivity as a force of transformation in the world. Here at Occupy Love, we are always looking for love in all the wrong places, and finding it. This is an era of unimaginable crisis, and unimagined possibility. It’s time to start creating the new world, that we know is possible. A world that works for everyone and all life. Nothing less will do. Be sure to check out Zainab’s brand new book, Wielding the Force: The Science of Social Justice, which explores emerging science and its relevance to social justice, activism and community organizing. Thank you, Zainab, for articulating and exploring this important subject with such clarity. Big love, Velcrow Ripper
On a panel discussing the relationship between “Love and Decolonization” I once spoke about protocols and ceremonies that are used by Indigenous communities in struggle. These are practiced to keep spirits high, deepen connections among community members and maintain focus on honourable and just outcomes. I noted that such practices allow people to benefit from “good mind” and that there was an increasing amount of mainstream science that demonstrated many advantages to such activities.
Because ceremonies allow participants to give thanks, vision an optimistic future, feel grounded on the land, connect to ancestors, feel responsibility to coming generations and cooperate together, they generate wellness. More than that, they increase the likelihood that communities will achieve their many-faceted goals.
Mainstream science now understands that cultivating thoughts and feelings of generosity, gratitude, optimism, hope, compassion and cooperation are good for your health. Such mindsets help your body heal from stress, heighten immunity, accelerate healing, enhance creativity, facilitate problem-solving and much more.
Of course, this mindset also impacts your relationships, affecting friends, family and co-workers in positive ways. We also know that the more time you spend in an optimistic mindset, the more your body, including your brain, literally restructures itself so it becomes easier to shift your thoughts to optimism.
What’s even more exciting to social justice activists is the impact these mindsets have on our work. New research devoted to assessing the impact of corporate leadership practices indicates that when employees maintain positive and optimistic mindsets the company’s desired outcomes are more likely to be achieved.
Now of course we’re all concerned about applying science to manipulate people in a way that enables others to profit from their work; work that may contribute to the destruction of the environment, increased consumerism and the depletion of resources.
It’s also important to understand that encouraging positive mindsets, even if it positively impacts individual wellbeing, will not resolve the fundamental problem of a financial system that is unsustainable and anti-life. Yet, as activists, we can still learn from the science and apply it in a way that is consistent with our values.
By the way, I’m not suggesting that those suffering from a mental or physical illness need only shift their thinking to become well and effective. That is too simplistic. All life forms on the Earth and beyond are inter-connected and inter-dependent and there are many environmental, social and historical factors that impact our wellbeing. Shifts in mindset can only count for so much. Nevertheless shifts in thinking can create powerful change in our lives and communities.
Also, these findings don’t suggest that negative/unpleasant emotions have no useful purpose. Feelings like anger, fear, sadness, grief and others have a role to play in a healthy emotional life. So-called negative emotions should never be denied, ignored or repressed. In community organizing these feelings can keep you realistic, grounded and safe. The question is, should they motivate you as an activist?
Studies have shown that ‘the carrot is more effective than the stick’ when it comes to motivating people to be and do their best. Research looking at how corporate leadership can motivate workers concludes that “negative emotional attractors”, like creating an environment where everyone fears being fired, will only work for so long. Similarly, we can expect that people motivated by “The planet is dying!” and “Eat the rich!” will only be inspired for so long. We can further expect them to burn out faster as fear and anger invoke the stress reaction, which takes a heavy toll on the body.
However, not every carrot will do the trick. Studies show that, once survival needs are met and a reasonable quality of life assured, even financial incentives (like bonuses and raises) are ineffective at motivating people to work harder, smarter or with more creativity. And none of these motivators generates cooperation.
PEA’s (positive emotional attractors) are far more likely to achieve desired results. An example of a PEA is encouraging workers to see themselves as contributing to some greater good, such as reminding your “team” that selling solar systems helps the planet. Or telling folks that a percentage of company profits supports cancer research.
PEA’s produce improved AND sustainable outcomes. People work harder, are more creative, more adaptable and achieve better results. Additionally, folks who motivate others with PEA’s benefit from all the physical indicators of wellbeing that optimistic mindsets engender.
What this suggests to activists is that motivating each other with the vision of a better world is far more effective than manipulating fears about worst-case scenarios. The more we can create optimistic visions and role model our values of cooperation, kindness and generosity, the more likely we are to stay motivated and inspire others.
Pro-social emotions, thoughts and actions inspire and motivate more of the same. This results in more optimism, generosity, cooperation, compassion, kindness, productivity, creativity and an awareness of inter-connectedness. With a mere shift in mindset we can all benefit from an upwardly moving spiral of cooperative, kind and effective people. And before you know it, we’ll be living in that better world we created together.
ZAINAB AMADAHY is an author, community organizer and educator. Among her publications are “Indigenous Peoples and Black Peoples in Canada: Settlers or Allies” for Breaching the Colonial Contract: Anti-Colonialism in the US and Canada. She also contributed to Strong Women’s Stories: Native Vision and Community Activism and authored the feminist science fiction novel Moons of Palmares. Zainab is a frequent contributor to muskratmagazine.com and rabble.ca. Her latest publication, Wielding the Force: The Science of Social Justice, explores emerging science and its relevance to social justice, activism and community organizing. For more information about Zainab’s work: www.swallowsongs.com
Cree organizer Clayton Thomas-Muller provides a deeply personal account of a ceremonial healing walk through the broken landscape of Canada’s tar sands. This year’s walk begins July 4.
A COUPLE YEARS AGO I was asked by the Keepers of the Athabasca to be Master of Ceremonies for a unique event: the first annual walk to heal the Canadian tar sands.
It took place in the region of the most controversial energy project on earth. The idea was not to have a protest, but instead to engage in a meaningful ceremonial action to pray for the healing of Mother Earth, which has been so damaged by the tar sands industry. Members of the five First Nations of the Athabasca region and residents of the nearby town of Fort McMurray, Alberta, tired of the never-ending fight with big oil and its supporters in the Canadian government, had made a conscious choice to protect their way of life. This was done by turning to ceremony and asking through prayer and the physical act of walking on the earth for the hearts of those harming Mother Earth through extreme energy extraction to be healed.
By extreme energy extraction, I’m talking about practices like tars sands mining and fracking, which the oil and gas industry has had to resort to now that most of the easy-to-find liquid crude is gone. By scraping the earth for fossil fuels that are mixed with sand and rock, these techniques do tremendous damage to the places where they occur.
My journey started in Fort McMurray, also know as tar sands boom town. Many have described this place as the land of milk and honey, a place were you can trade five years of your life (and soul) and be financially “set up.” I met with a motley crew of activists, elders, and youth from Fort Chipewyan, Fort McKay, Anzac, and the metro areas of Calgary and Edmonton, as well as some allies who had traveled from as far as British Columbia and beyond.
The plan was to take vehicles to the beginning of the infamous stretch of road that branches off of Highway 63 to form a ring through the tar sands. This road has gained a notorious reputation due to the many people killed in accidents there—including 46 between 2007 and 2012. Its traffic rivals that of downtown New York City, and gets especially heavy during two daily shift changes.
Our plan was to pray, make offerings to the four directions, and walk through the heart of tar sands development as concerned elders, parents, and youth.
Wednesday night a huge “casseroles” demonstration has been called for people across Canada to show solidarity with the Quebec movement. At 8:00 p.m., wherever you are, go outside with a pot and a metal implement and make some noise. Bonus points for meeting up with neighbours while doing it.
FROM VELCROW: Calling all cinematographers! I’m soliciting footage from the Casseroles actions in Quebec and solidarity actions around the world, for possible inclusion in Occupy Love. I need well shot, cinematic images, preferably with a Canon 5-D. Good sound a plus! Send me a facebook direct message if you get some good stuff tomorrow night or at any of the actions. Thanks!
Please click the Facebook link below and confirm that, wherever you are, you’ll make some noise for Quebec at 8PM Wednesday. Invite all your friends and spread this as widely as possible.
IN ALMOST EVERY REPORT on the social movement now sweeping Quebec, including my own, words like conflict, crisis and stand-off figure prominently. Anger is omnipresent. The anger of protesters, the anger of government, the anger of those supposedly inconvenienced. Pundits scream about mob rule, anarchy in the streets and the dissolution of society as we know it.
Don’t get me wrong, there is anger, present of course. But that is not what you see if you take to the streets, or watch CUTV’s live stream. Pundits can’t stop bemoaning the inconvenience to “ordinary” Montrealers posed by these protests. But I wonder, are there any “ordinary” Montrealers left to inconvenience?
As I write these words there are demonstrations going on in every neighborhood of Montreal. “Casseroles,” where people leave their houses to bang pots in the street every night at 8:00 p.m., have led to marches everywhere. The police cannot keep up. Far flung suburbs like Vaudreuil and Île Perrot, the anglophone West Island and NDG, South Shore suburbs, Québec City, Sherbrooke, Gatineau, Rimouski, Trois Rivières and the list goes on. Some of these places have never seen a demonstration, certainly not since the days of the quiet revolution. Now their streets swell with hundreds, thousands.
The prevailing question in the media is, how do we end this? Supporters and opponents alike seek a “solution” to put an end to the “crisis”. And we need one, those on the streets need to be heard. Actions need to be taken to address the demands of the masses. But what exactly is so bad about what is happening? Why do we need it to end so urgently?
As this movement goes on, and grows by leaps and bounds, it is increasingly clear that it is not a movement of anger, of rage or of hate. It is a movement of love, of community and of hope. People who would be alone in their houses watching TV take to the streets and march with neighbours they never knew they had. Back when we had real communities, they were driven by the coming together of neighbours each night. Instead of watching TV, we met in the street, we exchanged details of our day and we made plans for our future. Just as the “casseroles” cause us to do now.
Perhaps the most lasting effect of this movement will be to build stronger, more connected communities. Every day that it goes on, more of us meet in the street, build relationships and talk about what kind of a society we want.
This is what Charest is afraid of. This is what keeps the powerful awake at night. If we talk, if we exchange ideas and debate the future of our society, we will want to change it. And nothing terrifies the powerful more than a change to the system which gives them their power.
The most honest reason which can be given for why people are in the street is the simplest. We do not see ourselves reflected in our government. But we see ourselves, our concerns, our hope, our love and our aspirations, reflected in every smiling face we see on the street. For the first time in a long time we are having a real conversation about what kind of society we want. We’re having it with each other, every night when we meet in the streets. And slowly, but surely, we are realizing that we have the power to make our dreams a reality.
Over at Translating the Printemps Erable, a superb volunteer collective dedicated to translating French articles about the movement into English, the administrator recently posted an Open Letter to the Mainstream English Media. It is perhaps the best description of this incredible phenomenon I have yet seen. In it they bemoaned the coverage which focuses on anger, when what we see in the streets is love. They describe the nightly “casseroles” like this:
If you do not live here, I wish I could properly convey to you what it feels like . . . It is magic. It starts quietly, a suggestion here and there, and it builds. Everybody on the street begins to smile. I get there, and we all — young and old, children and students and couples and retirees and workers and weird misfits and dogs and, well, neighbours –we all grin the widest grins you have ever seen while dancing around and making as much noise as possible. We are almost ecstatic with the joy of letting loose like this, of voicing our resistance to a government that seeks to silence us, and of being together like this. I have lived in my neighbourhoods for five years now, and this is the most I have ever felt a part of the community; the lasting impact that these protests will have on how people relate to each other in the city is deep and incredible.
The video below is a simple, black and white video of one night in the life of nos casseroles, but it has gone viral, encapsulating as it does the joy and togetherness of our movement.
We walk past each other every day, but we do not smile. We do not stop to talk, we do not connect. In these protests, in the breast of this movement, we are remembering what it is to work together to make our world a better place. We used to know, in some far distant past, but we have forgotten.
Many in this movement are mad at the media. But in many ways it is not the fault of the journalists, or the pundits who cling to the status quo like a drowning man grasps a life raft.
If you try to understand this movement through the lens of politics as usual, you are doomed to failure. This is a spontaneous, joyful uprising. It is not Astro Turfed, it does not depend on the media or the political parties, or even the unions or student groups for oxygen. It is a fire which has slumbered in our bellies for so long, silent and nearly forgotten.
What the critics and the pundits do not understand is that they are no longer in control. People will no longer nod and agree with their paper or their TV. They can diminish it, can under-report our numbers and exaggerate our violence, but it doesn’t matter. Their words and their barbs cannot defeat the solidarity and love which flows through our streets each night.
People don’t need the media to tell them what is happening outside their door. They can hear it. They can feel it. The genie cannot go back in the bottle. We are awake, truly awake for the first time in a long time. We will not go back to sleep.
I started to notice after the passage of Bill 78, and the mass demonstration of May 22, a change. Not only in the streets, but online. As the “casseroles” spread, so did their footprint on the social networks through which we express ourselves. Friends who had always hated protests, right wingers, misanthropes, apolitical types and everyone in between began to post pictures of themselves with pots and pans outside their house.
My Facebook feed, which is normally full of cute pictures and a hodge podge of random posts, unified. It coalesced in a way I had never seen before. I now notice, and am surprised, if I see a single post unrelated to this movement.
Twitter, which had largely been ignored by Francophone Quebeckers, is now swollen with tweets about the protests. The way we come together in the streets has spread to our online presence. We share and comment and talk. We come together as citizens of a community, galvanized by a common cause.
This movement may yet fail. It may be co-opted, or lose track of its goals. It may fizzle or be beaten, as so many other movements have been. But there can be no denying that something extraordinary is happening in Quebec.
If we, as a society, as a people, are to make a stand against the governments which cut taxes on the rich and corporations and then plead poverty as they dismantle our society, our communities, it will be here.
If a line in the sand will be drawn, it is here, in the streets of Quebec. The battle for a better world starts in this city, this glorious, madcap city whose joie de vivre flows through the veins of each and every one of us like a river.
Join us, speak your solidarity from the rooftops, call out our name. Because here in these streets, a revolution has started. A fire which burns for a better world.
Call me an idealist, call me a dreamer, call me anything you like. But this is a moment in time we will tell our children about. Together, we can start something here that spreads like wildfire across this continent. What happens next is up to us.
To paraphrase Robert Frost: Two roads diverged in the woods, and we — we took the one less traveled on, and that has made all the difference.
The Occupy Movement has been characterized by, and criticized for, its lack of focused objectives. Originally gathering around issues of economic inequality and debt, it soon ballooned to include every progressive issue under the sun, and then some. Yet amid the cacophony of proposals and messages, we could always detect a hint of a unifying theme. We sensed that all of these issues are somehow connected; we sensed that we were protesting something. What was that thing? What is it now? What is it about current actions to, say, stop the excavation of Alberta’s tar sands that makes them Occupy actions? What does ecosystem destruction and climate change have to do with financial inequality?
Just as we suspect, both arise from the same source. Inequality and environmental degradation are written into the rules of our financial system on a level so deep they are nearly invisible. To see how, let us start by asking, Why is it that there is money to be made by excavating the tar sands, but not by protecting the wilderness and the indigenous way of life there? After all, money is a mere social agreement, created by human beings. It is a story – a system of interpretations of symbols that defines value. How have we come to assign value to those activities that are destroying Earth?
The answer has to do with how money is created: as interest-bearing debt. At any moment, because of interest, the amount of money in existence is always less than the amount of debt. The only way to avoid defaults, unemployment and concentration of wealth is for new money to be constantly created through further lending. Lending can only happen and loans can only be repaid when there are profitable investment opportunities: the creation of new goods and services. That is, it can only happen in the presence of economic growth. When the economy stops growing, debt rises faster than income, defaults rise, employment falls, and the concentration of wealth intensifies.
When you fall in love, it’s all about what you have in common, and you can hardly imagine that there are differences, let alone that you will quarrel over them, or weep about them, or be torn apart by them — or if all goes well, struggle, learn, and bond more strongly because of, rather than despite, them. The Occupy movement had its glorious honeymoon when old and young, liberal and radical, comfortable and desperate, homeless and tenured all found that what they had in common was so compelling the differences hardly seemed to matter.
Until they did.
Revolutions are always like this: at first all men are brothers and anything is possible, and then, if you’re lucky, the romance of that heady moment ripens into a relationship, instead of a breakup, an abusive marriage, or a murder-suicide. Occupy had its golden age, when those who never before imagined living side-by-side with homeless people found themselves in adjoining tents in public squares.
All sorts of other equalizing forces were present, not least the police brutality that battered the privileged the way that inner-city kids are used to being battered all the time. Part of what we had in common was what we were against: the current economy and the principle of insatiable greed that made it run, as well as the emotional and economic privatization that accompanied it.
This is a system that damages people, and its devastation was on display as never before in the early months of Occupy and related phenomena like the “We are the 99%” website. When it was people facing foreclosure, or who’d lost their jobs, or were thrashing around under avalanches of college or medical debt, they weren’t hard to accept as us, and not them.
And then came the people who’d been damaged far more, the psychologically fragile, the marginal, and the homeless — some of them endlessly needy and with a huge capacity for disruption. People who had come to fight the power found themselves staying on to figure out available mental-health resources, while others who had wanted to experience a democratic society on a grand scale found themselves trying to solve sanitation problems.
And then there was the violence.
The Faces of Violence
The most important direct violence Occupy faced was, of course, from the state, in the form of the police using maximum sub-lethal force on sleepers in tents, mothers with children, unarmed pedestrians, young women already penned up, unresisting seated students, poets, professors, pregnant women, wheelchair-bound occupiers, and octogenarians. It has been a sustained campaign of police brutality from Wall Street to Washington State the likes of which we haven’t seen in 40 years.
On the part of activists, there were also a few notable incidents of violence in the hundreds of camps, especially violence against women. The mainstream media seemed to think this damned the Occupy movement, though it made the camps, at worst, a whole lot like the rest of the planet, which, in case you hadn’t noticed, seethes with violence against women. But these were isolated incidents.
That old line of songster Woody Guthrie is always handy in situations like this: “Some will rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen.” The police have been going after occupiers with projectile weapons, clubs, and tear gas, sending some of them to the hospital and leaving more than a few others traumatized and fearful. That’s the six-gun here.
But it all began with the fountain pens, slashing through peoples’ lives, through national and international economies, through the global markets. These were wielded by the banksters, the “vampire squid,” the deregulators in D.C., the men — and with the rarest of exceptions they were men — who stole the world.
That’s what Occupy came together to oppose, the grandest violence by scale, the least obvious by impact. No one on Wall Street ever had to get his suit besmirched by carrying out a foreclosure eviction himself. Cities provided that service for free to the banks (thereby further impoverishing themselves as they created new paupers out of old taxpayers). And the police clubbed their opponents for them, over and over, everywhere across the United States.
The grand thieves invented ever more ingenious methods, including those sliced and diced derivatives, to crush the hopes and livelihoods of the many. This is the terrible violence that Occupy was formed to oppose. Don’t ever lose sight of that.
Oakland’s Beautiful Nonviolence
Now that we’re done remembering the major violence, let’s talk about Occupy Oakland. A great deal of fuss has been made about two incidents in which mostly young people affiliated with Occupy Oakland damaged some property and raised some hell.
The mainstream media and some faraway pundits weighed in on those Bay Area incidents as though they determined the meaning and future of the transnational Occupy phenomenon. Perhaps some of them even hoped, consciously or otherwise, that harped on enough these might divide or destroy the movement. So it’s important to recall that the initial impact of Occupy Oakland was the very opposite of violent, stunningly so, in ways that were intentionally suppressed.
Occupy Oakland began in early October as a vibrant, multiracial gathering. A camp was built at Oscar Grant/Frank Ogawa Plaza, and thousands received much-needed meals and healthcare for free from well-organized volunteers. Sometimes called the Oakland Commune, it was consciously descended from some of the finer aspects of an earlier movement born in Oakland, the Black Panthers, whose free breakfast programs should perhaps be as well-remembered and more admired than their macho posturing.
A compelling and generous-spirited General Assembly took place nightly and then biweekly in which the most important things on Earth were discussed by wildly different participants. Once, for instance, I was in a breakout discussion group that included Native American, white, Latino, and able-bodied and disabled Occupiers, and in which I was likely the eldest participant; another time, a bunch of peacenik grandmothers dominated my group.
This country is segregated in so many terrible ways — and then it wasn’t for those glorious weeks when civil society awoke and fell in love with itself. Everyone showed up; everyone talked to everyone else; and in little tastes, in fleeting moments, the old divides no longer divided us and we felt like we could imagine ourselves as one society. This was the dream of the promised land — this land, that is, without its bitter divides. Honey never tasted sweeter, and power never felt better.
Now here’s something astonishing. While the camp was in existence, crime went down 19% in Oakland, a statistic the city was careful to conceal. “It may be counter to our statement that the Occupy movement is negatively impacting crime in Oakland,” the police chief wrote to the mayor in an email that local news station KTVU later obtained and released to little fanfare. Pay attention: Occupy was so powerful a force for nonviolence that it was already solving Oakland’s chronic crime and violence problems just by giving people hope and meals and solidarity and conversation.
The police attacking the camp knew what the rest of us didn’t: Occupy was abating crime, including violent crime, in this gritty, crime-ridden city. “You gotta give them hope, “ said an elected official across the bay once upon a time — a city supervisor named Harvey Milk. Occupy was hope we gave ourselves, the dream come true. The city did its best to take the hope away violently at 5 a.m. on October 25th. The sleepers were assaulted; their belongings confiscated and trashed. Then, Occupy Oakland rose again. Many thousands of nonviolent marchers shut down the Port of Oakland in a stunning display of popular power on November 2nd.
That night, some kids did the smashy-smashy stuff that everyone gets really excited about. (They even spray-painted “smashy” on a Rite Aid drugstore in giant letters.) When we talk about people who spray-paint and break windows and start bonfires in the street and shove people and scream and run around, making a demonstration into something way too much like the punk rock shows of my youth, let’s keep one thing in mind: they didn’t send anyone to the hospital, drive any seniors from their homes, spread despair and debt among the young, snatch food and medicine from the desperate, or destroy the global economy.
That said, they are still a problem. They are the bait the police take and the media go to town with. They create a situation a whole lot of us don’t like and that drives away many who might otherwise participate or sympathize. They are, that is, incredibly bad for a movement, and represent a form of segregation by intimidation.
But don’t confuse the pro-vandalism Occupiers with the vampire squid or the up-armored robocops who have gone after us almost everywhere. Though their means are deeply flawed, their ends are not so different than yours. There’s no question that they should improve their tactics or maybe just act tactically, let alone strategically, and there’s no question that a lot of other people should stop being so apocalyptic about it.
Those who advocate for nonviolence at Occupy should remember that nonviolence is at best a great spirit of love and generosity, not a prissy enforcement squad. After all, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who gets invoked all the time when such issues come up, didn’t go around saying grumpy things about Malcolm X and the Black Panthers.
Violence Against the Truth
Of course, a lot of people responding to these incidents in Oakland are actually responding to fictional versions of them. In such cases, you could even say that some journalists were doing violence against the truth of what happened in Oakland on November 2nd and January 28th.
The San Francisco Chronicle, for example, reported on the day’s events this way:
“Among the most violent incidents that occurred Saturday night was in front of the YMCA at 23rd Street and Broadway. Police corralled protesters in front of the building and several dozen protesters stormed into the Y, apparently to escape from the police, city officials and protesters said. Protesters damaged a door and a few fixtures, and frightened those inside the gym working out, said Robert Wilkins, president of the YMCA of the East Bay.”
Wilkins was apparently not in the building, and first-person testimony recounts that a YMCA staff member welcomed the surrounded and battered protesters, and once inside, some were so terrified they pretended to work out on exercise machines to blend in.
I wrote this to the journalists who described the incident so peculiarly: “What was violent about [activists] fleeing police engaging in wholesale arrests and aggressive behavior? Even the YMCA official who complains about it adds, ‘The damage appears pretty minimal.’ And you call it violence? That’s sloppy.”
The reporter who responded apologized for what she called her “poor word choice” and said the phrase was meant to convey police violence as well.
When the police are violent against activists, journalists tend to frame it as though there were violence in some vaguely unascribable sense that implicates the clobbered as well as the clobberers. In, for example, the build-up to the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, the mainstream media kept portraying the right of the people peaceably to assemble as tantamount to terrorism and describing all the terrible things that the government or the media themselves speculated we might want to do (but never did).
Some of this was based on the fiction of tremendous activist violence in Seattle in 1999 that the New York Times in particular devoted itself to promulgating. That the police smashed up nonviolent demonstrators and constitutional rights pretty badly in both Seattle and New York didn’t excite them nearly as much. Don’t forget that before the obsession with violence arose, the smearing of Occupy was focused on the idea that people weren’t washing very much, and before that the framework for marginalization was that Occupy had “no demands.” There’s always something.
Keep in mind as well that Oakland’s police department is on the brink of federal receivership for not having made real amends for old and well-documented problems of violence, corruption, and mismanagement, and that it was the police department, not the Occupy Oakland demonstrators, which used tear gas, clubs, smoke grenades, and rubber bullets on January 28th. It’s true that a small group vandalized City Hall after the considerable police violence, but that’s hardly what the plans were at the outset of the day.
The action on January 28th that resulted in 400 arrests and a media conflagration was called Move-In Day. There was a handmade patchwork banner that proclaimed “Another Oakland Is Possible” and a children’s contingent with pennants, balloons, and strollers. Occupy Oakland was seeking to take over an abandoned building so that it could reestablish the community, the food programs, and the medical clinic it had set up last fall. It may not have been well planned or well executed, but it was idealistic.
Despite this, many people who had no firsthand contact with Occupy Oakland inveighed against it or even against the whole Occupy movement. If only that intensity of fury were to be directed at the root cause of it all, the colossal economic violence that surrounds us.
All of which is to say, for anyone who hadn’t noticed, that the honeymoon is over.
Now for the Real Work
The honeymoon is, of course, the period when you’re so in love you don’t notice differences that will eventually have to be worked out one way or another. Most relationships begin as though you were coasting downhill. Then come the flatlands, followed by the hills where you’re going to have to pedal hard, if you don’t just abandon the bike.
Occupy might just be the name we’ve put on a great groundswell of popular outrage and a rebirth of civil society too deep, too broad, to be a movement. A movement is an ocean wave: this is the whole tide turning from Cairo to Moscow to Athens to Santiago to Chicago. Nevertheless, the American swell in this tide involves a delicate alliance between liberals and radicals, people who want to reform the government and campaign for particular gains, and people who wish the government didn’t exist and mostly want to work outside the system. If the radicals should frighten the liberals as little as possible, surely the liberals have an equal obligation to get fiercer and more willing to confront — and to remember that nonviolence, even in its purest form, is not the same as being nice.
Surely the only possible answer to the tired question of where Occupy should go from here (as though a few public figures got to decide) is: everywhere. I keep being asked what Occupy should do next, but it’s already doing it. It is everywhere.
In many cities, outside the limelight, people are still occupying public space in tents and holding General Assemblies. February 20th, for instance, was a national day of Occupy solidarity with prisoners; Occupiers are organizing on many fronts and planning for May Day, and a great many foreclosure defenses from Nashville to San Francisco have kept people in their homes and made banks renegotiate. Campus activism is reinvigorated, and creative and fierce discussions about college costs and student debt are underway, as is a deeper conversation about economics and ethics that rejects conventional wisdom about what is fair and possible.
Occupy is one catalyst or facet of the populist will you can see in a host of recent victories. The campaign against corporate personhood seems to be gaining momentum. A popular environmental campaign made President Obama reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from Canada, despite immense Republican and corporate pressure. In response to widespread outrage, the Susan B. Komen Foundation reversed its decision to defund cancer detection at Planned Parenthood. Online campaigns have forced Apple to address its hideous labor issues, and the ever-heroic Coalition of Immokalee Workers at last brought Trader Joes into line with its fair wages for farmworkers campaign.
These genuine gains come thanks to relatively modest exercises of popular power. They should act as reminders that we do have power and that its exercise can be popular. Some of last fall’s exhilarating conversations have faltered, but the great conversation that is civil society awake and arisen hasn’t stopped.
What happens now depends on vigorous participation, including yours, in thinking aloud together about who we are, what we want, and how we get there, and then acting upon it. Go occupy the possibilities and don’t stop pedaling. And remember, it started with mad, passionate love.
Rebecca Solnit is the author of 13 (or so) books, including A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster and Hope in the Dark. She lives in and occupies from San Francisco. She will be featured in our upcoming documentary, Occupy Love.
Copyright 2012 Rebecca Solnit
The Economy of Love
Here’s a short video featuring Rebecca Solnit, a hint of the upcoming documentary “Occupy Love.”
THE MISTAKE WE MAKE is thinking the corporations are separate from us. The mistake we make is thinking that corruption is only a political issue. The mistake we make is thinking that by eliminating the system we eliminate the problem. It’s true we live in a world dominated and exploited by the few, and it’s true that the systems we live by no longer support us; but it’s also true that there is a deeper cause at play…
The very consciousness which objectifies life as a means to an end – as an exploitable commodity – is the very same mindset which seeks to hate, condemn, and fight these structures of power. But we cannot fight violence with violence or create peace through war. Even those we oppose are our brothers and sisters, and only a consciousness which sees this can create another way.
Without a deep realization of our unity with all of life, including those behind the systems which exploit us, then we will simply create more of the same. For it is fear and separateness which create systems that dominate and destroy.
So in our willingness to stand up for what we believe in, there must be a deeper understanding of our role. Our path is one of great responsibility and reverence for all of life. We must hold our outrage and self righteousness within the truth that knows the way. We must surrender our confusion to love and our minds to our hearts. We must be clear that the role we play through occupation is a tool and never an identity.
If we fail to do this we may lose ourselves in conflict. We may burnout from anger and deplete ourselves through hate. We may fight with those that can help us and repel those we seek to inspire. So let us realize that real change occurs within the hearts of each of us. Can we face the darkness within our own minds, or will we project it onto those we oppose?
I have watched people react with judgment and divisiveness, and I have watched people respond with love and unity. I have watched people defend a system which destroys for profit, and I have watched people envision a way of living that works in harmony with all of life. I have watched people react with anger and outrage, and I have watched people respond with compassion and understanding. I have watched people react with violence and oppression, and I have watched people respond with peace and empowerment.
We need to live our dream now and create our future now. It’s not enough to say we want peace, whilst responding to injustice with violence; and it’s not enough to fight against something without creating what we’re for. Every movement, cause, and occupation is a living example of what’s possible globally. Every community which faces its problems with love and awareness demonstrates this potential. And every individual who chooses to embrace their pain, rather than deny it, provides hope and possibility for the collective.
Peaceful action arises from peace itself, justice from justice, and love from love. Do not become that which you protest against. Discover that change is now and within you, and not as some future promise. Be that which you desire, that which you’re for, and that which we need. Discover it’s here already and not withheld or lost. Discover you are that and share it – there’s no need to demand it with tears. Let your movements express this change, not fight against its lack. Let your actions arise from this change, not lead you further from it.
So let us approach those who write the rules of oppression with astounding compassion and enlightened respect. Let us set aside our beliefs for open and honest communication. And let us occupy the spaces that bind us with light in our eyes and love in our hearts. We don’t have to agree with someone to hear them, and we don’t have to like them to respect them. But we must always be the change we wish to see. Let us begin here and now – with the seeds of war we perpetuate. Let us begin with ourselves – the only thing we control. Are you in peace when you shout for peace? Do you embody what you demand?
If we respond with judgment they will oppress us. If we respond with opposition they will fight us. If we respond with violence they will destroy us. But if we respond with love, compassion, and understanding; there will be no power for them to infiltrate, no hate for them to corrupt, no violence for them to imprison.
In the face of love they will be powerless, in the face of compassion they will be confused, in the face of understanding they will be dumbstruck. In the power of love their love of power will seem obsolete and futile. This is the only thing they don’t know how to fight, and this is the only thing that can create a future worth fighting for.
Georgia Simone Servant of love, artist of words, sacred activist. Hopelessly devoted to sharing movements of love, and supporting you on your journey into the heart: www.lovemovements.com
What it will take
Is a resistance to the system that we’ve come to embrace
For no other reason than just because it is
For resistance is to question what we’ve been led to believe
Not necessarily lies, but stories
Stories that have become truths in the synapses of our minds
Bonds so tight that even though we recognize them we still
Can’t break free.
But recognition is where it all begins
When questions and childlike innocence form the stem that grows up and out
Piercing through convention and unimagination
Like the roots of a tree busting through concrete sidewalks and building foundations
The story has an end, like all stories do
But this story ain’t a fairytale
The princess doesn’t get the prince
The frog stays a frog
The witch eats the kids
And this is OK because coming right behind it is something new
Truth, love, honesty, connection, vulnerability
Words that have lost meaning amidst
The six o’clock news, Facebook, and pornography.
These words are on the lips of a new generation
As well as an old generation
Because wisdom has no age limitations
The awakened spirit is not exclusive to an esoteric crowd jockeying for position
They’re on the lips of teachers, doctors, and bus drivers
Construction workers, soldiers, and the unemployed
Those who get scowled at to, “Get a job, hippie!”
And, even if they don’t know it yet, they’re on the lips of
Those who do the scowling.
Because there is no “us” and “them”
Lakes vs. clouds
Flowers vs. mountains
The moon vs. the earth
The separation is causing annihilation
We must reconvene on the scene
Where community is the top priority
And where we stare in each others’ eyes
With understanding and compassion
And fashion for ourselves
A new reality.