Love is a verb

‎”I live on Earth at present, and I don’t know what I am.
I know that I am not a category.
I am not a thing — a noun.
I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process
— an integral function of the universe.”
~ Buckminster Fuller

We are all verbs.  Not a one of us a noun. Not one a fixed identity.   Thank you Bucky, for articulating something so critical, so crucial,  so clearly.  The liberating power of this deep understanding is a game changer.

Somewhere a few centuries back, we developed the fragmented, Newtonian worldview that haunts us still.  With help from the new power of the zero, we accelerated our reduction of the world to facts and figures, cleaving it apart with a sword of Hubris. .  Our very perception shifted, as we fragmented ourselves, specialized ourselves, as we created a binary world of black and white, of us and them, of either/or.  Nature and spirit a distant other. There was security in this view.  A false sense of security.

Look up! The skyscrapers are falling. Rapid climate change, economic collapse,  ecological collapse, political instability and technological escalation: the only thing we can be sure about is radical indeterminacy.   In the face of this acceleration,  we  have choices to make.  We can freeze in fear, becoming paralyzed. Static. Resistant. Frozen. We can buy stuff or watch stuff or eat stuff, anything to avoid feeling. There’s too much pain out there.

Or we can rise onto our surfboards and surf the power of this wave ~ particle ~ wave of change.  This Tsunami of transformation. We can dive into the frothing waters with joy, celebration and Love, following the currents, not fighting, not resisting, yet not succumbing ~ transforming poison into pearls.

Buckminister Fuller’s gravestone reads, “call me Trimtab.” The Trimtab is the tiny rudder that trims the direction of great ships. We are not trying to shift the steel prow of the oil tanker that is industrial growth civilization, which is clearly on a collision course with limits, heading for the next spill. The next crash. The next dead end. Instead, we are becoming the collective Trimtab for spaceship Earth. We are learning to meet the raging tides of this age of extinctions with radical grace.

We are schools of fish lost at sea, seeking to change course from the bottom of the ocean up. Slowly, then suddenly, with a committed wave of our million fins, we will steer the seemingly immobile forces of top down self-destruction, back towards harmony, towards Love, towards an ever evolving universe story that is as ancient as light.

There is tremendous energy to be found in these days of quantuum leaping. We are facing record breaking weather around this trembling Earth – the hottest, the wettest, the coldest, the driest. But we are also seeing record breaking vision arising everywhere, in this season of transition. Millions of people around the world are creating a new story. We are the largest mass movement in humanities history, and we are a verb.

Welcome to the era of resilience. Of fluidity. Of flexibility.   Balanced with the strength of right relationship, of clear intention.  Free will in service to the Universe made manifest on Earth. Which is Us.

The rigid, the fixed, the unmovable- they will be moved, regardless. Most likely they will snap, crackle, crumble, unable to bend with the winds of evolution.  Unless they (who are Us) learn that we are truly verbs.  How beautiful this understanding that we are evolving.  There is so much joy in this – so much meaning.   How can we not help but be in awe of the stupendous 14 billion year journey that has brought Us to this place of consciousness, of conscience, of self aware Love? A miraculous mirror reflecting the infinite journey back to the creative life force Ourself.

I am in Love with Life.  I can’t get enough of it. I am in Love with this pearl of a world.  I am in Love with humanity. I am in Love with our wisdom – and our folly.  To those who say the planet would be better off without Us, I ask that they reconsider.  For we are integral to this planet.   We are Earth.

We are  in the midst of a great Love story, and part of that story currently involves a separation. Yes, we have lost our way, We have strayed far from our Love.  But still we carry the torch, burning away, buried in Our heart of hearts.

We are in a reckless mid-life crisis, spending all our resources on some useless, big red Ferrari, racing away  from compassion and responsibility, lost in denial, searching for something we’ve always had.  One day, may it be soon,   we’ll crash the damn thing one last time, and come back home, to our true Love, to our true Life, with a much deeper appreciation for all we have left behind.  Carrying new gifts, borne of the experience of separation.  And in that return, we will Love like never before.

Love is a verb. It is something we do, something we live, something we are.   Every dancing cell is alive with Love.  The stars are burning with Love. The Earth gives birth  to Love, night and day.  Death is part of Love. Sadness is part of Love.

The whole spectrum is Love, in action, in motion. Even our illusion of rigidity – borne of fear – is all about Love, about our vulnerability. Our human vulnerability.   We are afraid of truly living, of truly Loving, for to Love is to accept that one day, the Lover will be gone. To open the heart, is to be deeply vulnerable. But to be vulnerable is to flow, to be open, to give and receive.

Yes indeed- all is impermanent, all will be lost. And that is the ultimate source of liberation. So don’t hang on – but don’t let go.   Breathe it all in! Don’t miss out by numbing down or dumbing down or running away.  No matter what is happening, you are Loved, and you are Love.  And it will all disintegrate, dissolve, decompose, be gone in a flash.

Don’t turn from the journey! The greatest show on Earth is this very moment. This very breath. This this very heart beat. This endless Love.   Welcome home to planet Earth. May you Love the Life you Live.

~ Velcrow Ripper

From Me to We: True Love Is a Process of Humility

–by Thich Nhat Hanh

A community of people walking together on a spiritual path has a great deal of strength; its members are able to protect each other, to help each other in every aspect of the practice, and to build the strength of the community. There are many things that are very difficult for us to do on our own, but when we live together as community, they become easy and natural. We do them without growing tired or making a strenuous effort. The community has a collective energy. Without this energy, the practice of individual transformation is not easy.

When we live together in community it becomes a body, and each one of us is a cell in that body. If we are not part of the community body, we will be isolated, hungry, and needy, and we will not have a suitable environment for practice. We can visualize the community body as a forest. Each member of the community is a tree standing beautifully alongside the others. Each tree has its own shape, height, and unique qualities, but all are contributing to the harmonious growth of the forest. Looking at the trees standing steadily alongside each other like that, you can sense the beauty, solidity, and power of a sacred forest.

Our community body is going forward on the path of practice and its eyes are able to direct us. The eyes of the community are able to see the strong points as well as the weak points of every member of the community. By community Eyes, we mean the insight and vision of the collective body of the community, which includes the vision and insight of all of its members from the youngest to the eldest. Although the contribution of everyone’s insight is necessary for the community insight to be clear, it is not just a simple adding up of individual insights. The collective insight has a strength, a wisdom, and a vitality of its own, which surpasses any individual insight. […]

The energy of the community body has the capacity to protect and transform us. As a member of the community, all we have to do is to make our contribution to that energy. This is called community building. It is the most precious work a monk, nun or layperson can do. […]

When we are stubborn, we are not open to listening to others or seeing the limitations of our own way of thinking. We think our way is the best and our ideas are best. We may become angry when our community makes a decision that does not exactly reflect what we wanted. This is the result of our stubbornness and arrogance. We are so sure of ourselves, so sure that our view is the best. This is an obstacle to overcoming our suffering and finding peace and happiness in the present moment.

I have often said that there is no place for pride in true love. True love is a process of humility, of letting go of our individual ideas and notions to embrace and become one with another person or our entire community. When we are proud we can be easily wounded. We are like the tall, dry grasses that do not bend down low in the face of the winds. Instead, they try to remain standing tall and in the process are broken to pieces. Our pride is an obstacle to developing our understanding, compassion, and boundless love. When we are humble we have nothing to fear, nothing to lose. We easily flow with the circumstances that we find ourselves in and are endlessly open to learn, to practice, and to transform ourselves.

–Thich Nhat Hanh in Joyfully Together: The Art of Building a Harmonious Community.

Occupying Tension

By Noah Fischer (appearing in Occupy Love)

After we were evicted from Liberty Park, I spent the early hours of the morning struggling in the streets of Lower Manhattan with a few hundred disoriented and angry people. Cops in riot gear were turning the streets into a maze of steel barricades. We tried to unify our scraggly numbers and rally, but it became gradually clear that the police had the upper hand. Toward morning, the tension in my body gradually eased into defeat.

Among my company that night was a Chinese man patiently trying to unify the hotheaded crowds. He had been a student protester in Tiananmen Square. He said to me, “Movements do not attract activists, they create them.” So even though we seemed to be losing, we were in fact learning. We were stumbling through the dark that night, searching for a path to walk together, and that’s why this is the beginning of my occupation story, not the end.

The story of my life began at the San Francisco Zen Center. My parents, zen teachers Norman and Kathie Fischer, transitioned from lay practice in Berkeley to a monastic life at Tassajara and Green Gulch Farm in the 1970s. We lived at Zen Center until my brother and I left for college. During these years, I absorbed the rhythms, smells, and tastes of monastic California-style zen.

Interconnectedness, sangha, and non-duality formed the language and spirit of my childhood.

Coinciding with the miraculous changing of leaves, Occupy Wall Street began in New York on September 17th but was really sparked by demonstrations in Tahrir Square, Spain and Madison, Wisconsin, months before. The time for transformation was ripe. In the U.S., decades of exponential wealth disparity and war after war against brown people at home and abroad left our society fragmented and spiritually sick. It was not an optimistic time to be a young person.

In the 2000s, as I pursued an art career, I struggled, often painfully, with finding my place in a culture that appeared to revolve around cutthroat competition, celebrity and immense concentrations of wealth. I even felt that creative freedom—the impulse I was following in my art practice—had been confused with greed, privilege and fear of failure. The big picture seemed hopeless. But then, reading about the uprisings in Tahrir and Madison, I began to realize that resistance was possible. Maybe, just maybe, we could heal our world if we woke up and brought our silent struggles into the strong sunlight—if we tried.

In June, I launched an art project called “Summer of Change: a series of numismatic rituals for Wall Street” and with my collaborator, Jim Costanzo, I chanted oratory at bankers and tourists, while throwing hundreds of dollars-worth of U.S. coins on the ground. For the first performance I chanted:
Oh, Wall Street! Your Great Wall is impregnable to marauding Justice, Equality, and Change!

Later, in another of the seven performances, arriving at the Stock Exchange in a wheelchair and wearing a silver mask resembling a giant FDR dime, I pointed at passersby and shouted:
The ship of our great democracy sinks in a rising tide of greed! Working-class Americans are the first to be cast off into the sea. Some stand by and watch this crime from afar. But who will be the next victim?

By the end of the summer, when the Occupy Wall Street protests started, I was all warmed up and right in the center of it.

What was I in the center of exactly? Something new—that was clear from the start. On that September Saturday, hundreds of people came together in Zucotti Park and didn’t go home. This was no ordinary protest. Rather, we were living change in our bodies. We were mending our connection to each other, mending the tender fabric of a society torn apart by emphasis on private space and money markets. We were re-embracing the right to occupy public space and finding our power as citizens in a shared world—the basic power of the people. It was anger that had awakened many of us. But in the park, love reigned. The beginning was wonderful!
There was a daunting task ahead. Inside the park, non-capitalist time and space prevailed: lost souls were meeting like crazy, creative plans were hatching and music rang out. Going a block away you felt culture shock: everything was the same as before in the same old world. And we knew that to get this work done we had to push ourselves, like caterpillars struggling in the cocoon. We had to transform and develop wings. Every day, all day, we marched and shouted and organized, served and ate free food, held assemblies, and struggled with the police. And so we turned from “protestors” into “people acting freedom,” in search of unbroken physical and social space, free of boundaries.

Yet we can’t live in this world without playing roles, like performers on a stage. In our occupy-opera, the NYPD play the role of protectors of the status quo, standing densely in their dark uniforms, with guns, stern expressions and menacing riot gear, or rolling up with trucks full of steel barricades. I know that these men and women are exquisite buddhas, perfectly imperfect as I am, but as the tension builds, they become monuments to un-freedom, following commands that lead them to bash heads against the pavement and to put non-violent people into little cells and slam the steel door shut behind them.

Meanwhile, we who gather together chanting and marching are “protesters.” We seem to be on the other side; we seem to be a menace, even to threaten social chaos. Passersby on the street are our audience. The stage is set and the curtains drawn. We sing our arias through the human microphone. Time and space contract and expand dramatically as these forces dance together.

These tense situations are the jewel of the movement, the master classes that turn us into activists, and we work hard to create them. We have a better chance of dissolving the boundaries that separate us if we first make them visible. But violence can begin here too, so it is important to not truly believe in the roles. I have tried to remember I am not separate from the cops and other actors, even while surfing the tension of these situations.

Early on in the protest I switched sides as an experiment, wanting to explore the limits of this new social space. As an Occupy Wall Street group marched from Liberty Park to the Wall Street Stock Exchange (a daily ritual in the first few weeks), I dressed in a business suit and waited with a small group at the Exchange. When the protestors arrived we heckled them as we imagined a group of young and entitled Wall Street investment bankers might (and sometimes do). I yelled “Get a Job!” loudly in the protesters’ faces, falling deeply into my new role. It felt a little transgressive too, like a man putting on a dress; I hadn’t realized how many unknowns were at play here.

The tension rose, emotions flared. All of a sudden, one of the drummers turned around at me and shouted, “I am a veteran of Iraq, I have PTSD and can’t get a job! Fuck you!” He hit me, hard, with his drumstick, which I was not expecting. The sting on my arm told me that years of suffering, anger, hurt and aloneness were coming forth. Yes, this was theater, but it was also very real—as real as violence, as real our emotions and bodies. In retrospect, it was like the Shosan ritual in which zen practitioners expose their inner life and pain in ceremony, for the sangha to share and support. In my conflict with the Marine, we shared the sting of disempowerment. Later that day I found him and we both apologized. Now we hug every time we see each other.

A few weeks later, I found a way to protest from my core social and economic struggles as an artist. I helped to organize an action group called Occupy Museums, to bring attention to the ways that major cultural institutions disempower artists and benefit the wealthy. One day we marched to MoMA and found a large police force waiting for us. They herded us into the police pen they had prepared for us. We stepped into the cage, yelling, chanting and waving signs; the tension mounted as our outrage filled the enclosed space. The police ushered away passersby who approached us in solidarity, creating a buffer zone around the magnetic human force of our voices and bodies.

In the midst of the tension, I found energy welling up within, but I let it happen, feeling it as energy not anger. I “mic checked,” invoking call-and-response from the group. “Policemen! (Policemen!) /We are watching you/harass citizens peacefully walking/on New York City sidewalks!/What’s going on here!?” Then my body, compressed in tension, started to move, to stride out from behind the barricades to the sidewalk and into the no-go zone defined by the standing line of cops. This was the corridor of greatest tension, full of the possibility of violence. But I found space, air, and life here! I began to widen my movements—now I was almost dancing—and my language opened: “I am free—I know I can be on this sidewalk!” Pointing to the policeman: “You are free! We all are free, let’s march on this sidewalk, we can be here!” Somehow, all of a sudden, we could be here! A surprise reversal of plot! So we marched out from behind the barricades onto the vast sidewalk.

Two weeks after we were evicted from Liberty (formerly Zucotti) Park, we gathered at Lincoln Center Plaza, a vast open space in New York where protest is forbidden. Lincoln Center was showing Philip Glass’s opera, “Satyagraha,” which speaks about the life of Tolstoy, Gandhi and Martin Luther King—all non-violent protesters who have inspired Occupy Wall Street. Lincoln Center is partly funded by Michael Bloomberg, the very man who evicted us from Liberty Park.

Before the end of the performance, hundreds of protesters assembled on the steps of Lincoln Center, blocked off from the plaza by police barricades and heavy NYPD presence. Thus the private and public spaces, which on a normal day would be seamless, were clearly separated. When a few who dared to cross the line were arrested, there were shouts of “shame, shame, shame!” from some of the protestors. We took off our shoes—a Gandhian symbol of dignity—and stood barefoot on the cold pavement, conducting our assembly.

As “Satyagraha” ended and the elegantly dressed audience finally exited into the plaza, they came upon this strikingly theatrical scene: real life protest at the foot of the grand steps! We called out to them in unison to join us, but the sight of the NYPD barricades seemed to paralyze them.

Then all of a sudden Philip Glass, who had been at the performance that night, popped up in the Occupy Wall Street crowd—he had come to read a statement on the people’s mic. We sat down so that people could see him, and the lights from a video camera illuminated his face. He called out the last lines of the opera, a passage from the Bhagavad Gita:

Mic check!
When righteousness withers away
And evil rules the land
We come into being
Age after age
And take visible shape
And move
A man among men
For the protection of good
Thrusting back evil
And setting virtue
On her seat again.

Chanting along with Glass, whose music had been the soundtrack to my childhood, I melted into the crowd, my body vibrating to the shared voice, deeply encouraged by this ancient text. When I looked up, the opera audience had joined us. The buffer zone was gone. We were one big crowd—the 100%! The physical NYPD barricades still stood among us, but they were no longer barriers, absorbed now into our big warm body. Until late into the night we held our general assembly. The police stood offstage, now relaxed. Two separate spaces had flowed into one, protesters had become people again, and the police could then be people too.
After the first day of the occupation in Liberty Park, I went home thinking that the scraggly core protesters would be gone the next day, booted out by the NYPD. But miraculously, this was not so, and from that moment on, I learned to suspend disbelief—to not kill off this unfolding moment in my mind. I learned to trust my body, which was responding to a desire for freedom and connection. I learned to trust hundreds of strangers. When we lost the park, this was only a stage in an unfolding movement. A few weeks later, we were all standing euphorically on the steps of Lincoln Center Plaza, 100% human, pointing with our hearts toward each other, and finding freedom in this way. Who knows what happens next?!

Noah Fischer is a Brooklyn-based artist activist who grew up at Green Gulch Farm, run by the San Francisco Zen Center. He has exhibited art installations and performances in New York and internationally. Since the beginning of Occupy Wall Street, Fischer has completely committed his work to this movement. He is the curator of the No-Eyes Viewing Wall at Brooklyn Zen Center.


This is an expanded version of an article that appears in the Spring 2012 issue of Inquiring Mind.

© 2012 Inquiring Mind

At U.N. Happiness Summit, A Coal Pile in the Ballroom

By Charles Eisenstein

I spent the day last Monday at the United Nations by invitation of the Bhutanese government (along with about 600 other guests). The event was called “High Level Meeting on Well-being and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm.” I thought, “It must not be very high-level if I am invited.” Nonetheless, there I was among 600 activists, economists, NGO workers, bankers, et al from around the world, listening to speeches by prime ministers and Nobel laureates. Except for the monks, I was the only man not wearing a necktie. But that wasn’t what disturbed me about the meeting.

Let me give you a bit of background. In 1972, the King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, remarked that, instead of gross national product (GNP), the nation should strive for “gross national happiness” (GNH). I believe he meant merely to point out that GNP (or GDP, as is more commonly used today) is a poor indicator of a nation’s well-being. The concept of gross national happiness had traction, though, and it wasn’t long before psychologists and economists were trying to come up with metrics to put a number on the concept. Adding impetus to this effort was a growing awareness among social critics that GDP is a very poor indicator of a people’s well-being. In the United States, real per-capita GDP has risen three-fold since the 1950s, but people are not three times happier by any measure. If anything, they are less happy.

Goods and Growth

That GDP and happiness are poorly correlated actually presents a deep challenge to economic dogma. Economics associates GDP closely with “utility” – that is, with “goodness.” After all, you won’t buy something with your hard-earned cash if it doesn’t benefit you, right? If, for example, you decided to sacrifice some of your leisure time in order to buy a new car, that must mean the car will make you happier than that extra hour of leisure every day. In a free market, two parties won’t make an exchange if it is not to their mutual benefit. Therefore, say the economists, the more exchanges being made, the more total benefit is being had. That is why, in economics, it is those things that are exchanged for money – and only those things – that are called “goods.”

The fact that economists were at the podium questioning the equivalence of happiness and GDP is a hopeful sign, a sign of a deep crack in the foundation of the economics discipline. But it is one thing to say there is more to happiness than economic growth; it is quite another to propose that economic growth is inimical to generalized happiness. None of the speakers advocated an end to growth – that would be called, in the present vocabulary, economic stagnation or recession. Instead, they invoked, again and again, “sustainable development,” a phrase I must have heard 30 times. The main message seemed to be, “Of course we will continue to have economic growth and sustainable development, but alongside it we should adopt policies that foster the well-being that GDP doesn’t measure.”

The Federal Palace Restaurant in Hong Kong offers this advice on happiness. Photo credit: Guy Kawasaki/Erno Hannink. Used under Creative Commons license.

Economic growth is sacrosanct for a reason: without it, our money system disintegrates. Because money is created as interest-bearing debt, without growth, debt tends to rise faster than the ability to service it. For a time, borrowers can be lent even more money with which to service their debts while they wait for the return of growth; but if growth doesn’t return, they will go bankrupt. As this process proceeds, debt-to-income ratios rise, wealth concentrates in fewer and fewer hands, and a Marxian crisis of capital looms: a vicious circle of falling wages or employment, shrinking demand, falling profits, more layoffs, and so on. In times of high growth, a portion of that growth can go to enrich the owners of capital, and everyone else can get richer, too. But when growth slows, there isn’t enough wealth left for “everyone else” after the interest has been paid.

So it is in Europe today: “Austerity” means that more and more of a nation’s income will go toward debt service, and more and more of its assets will be transferred to its creditors. And if growth doesn’t resume, this process will never end until the entire population are paupers. Around the world, whether for nations or for individuals, financial policymakers adhere to the same plan: Grow your way out of debt. The only alternative is some sort of redistribution of wealth – through debt forgiveness, for example, through inflation, or through Gesellian negative-interest economics. There is no alternative that preserves the wealth of those who have wealth.

Thus it was that, at the conference and in the World Happiness Report that accompanied it, while there were a few nods to the ecological limits of growth, there was no mention of addressing Third World debt, consumer debt, or the financial system that depends on it. This was the coal pile in the ballroom – obvious but unmentionable, for acknowledging it would mean, inescapably, a radical transformation of our entire society. The circles represented at this “high level” conference have not reached the point yet of countenancing anything as radical as ending the debt system. But they will soon. As ecosystems and cultures unravel, the party isn’t as much fun anymore even for those at the top.

Debt and the Erosion of Well-Being

Without addressing debt, I’m afraid the world won’t make much progress in happiness. You see, it is not only that GDP and GNH are not equivalent; further growth in GDP cannot even happen without eroding the basis of human well-being on Earth. What exactly happens when GDP grows? GDP is defined as the sum total of goods and services exchanged for money. So, if neighbors look after each other’s children, no service is rendered; it only becomes a service when they pay for day care instead. If a culture practices subsistence farming on communal land, no goods are being produced. The food only becomes a good when they sell it to each other; so, too, the land when they divide it into private property and rent it out. Any potential to monetize what was once free is a business opportunity, a lending opportunity. Without such opportunities, banks cannot lend new money into existence. Without new money, the old debts quickly become unpayable. And because the new money comes along with even more debt, the system always needs to grow; the realm of goods and services needs always to expand.

So here is a dilemma: The way the realm of goods and services expands is by transforming nature and social relationships – the very things that the World Happiness Report cites as essential to happiness – into products and services. In order to keep the financial system functioning, we are destroying the basis of human well-being.

Here are some of the many examples of how economic growth policies directly destroy the essentials of happiness. Economic growth turns social reciprocity and gift relationships (two components of GNH) into paid services. It converts pristine ecosystems into sources of timber or minerals. It converts silence into noise, starry skies into urban lights, kitchen gardens into supermarket purchases, mom’s cooking into fast food takeout. It replaces the village storyteller with the TV cartoon, mothering with day care, outdoor play with video games. A society that still has these former things intact, and meets its needs without much money, is called, by economists, an “undeveloped market.” The process of liquidating social and natural capital is called “development.” Clearly, our conception of sustainable development is begging for scrutiny.

It is not enough to call for education, national pride, or religious teachings to stem the tide of globalization when the money system drives that tide. When rural youth leave the farm for the slums of Cairo or Bangkok, the glamorized images of Western consumption that draw them usually have an ally in economic conditions. Possibly, it is that local produce cannot compete with imports thanks to free trade policies and perverse subsidies for mechanized agriculture and transport. And what is behind the free trade policies, the subsidies? We would like to blame greed, but, at the bottom, I find something more banal – the pressure to pay the bondholders, or to get an extra half-percent return on investment, or to reduce a fiscal deficit. Debt pressure is endemic to the system, and it pushes the commoditization and marketization of everything and everyone. Ecological protection, cultural diversity, local agriculture, and fair trade are all under assault when nations are forced to liquidate natural resources, to convert agriculture to commodity production, to open markets and eliminate protections on labor in order to keep servicing their debts to the international banking system. The effects of debt pressure reach into personal life in wealthy countries, too. We would like to enjoy more leisure (listed in the report as important for happiness), but how can we when we have student loans to pay, credit cards, mortgage debt?

At the conference, Swami Atmapriyananda recited an old teaching story about a fisherman lounging at the wharf. A businessman comes up and asks why he isn’t out there fishing. “I already caught enough today to feed my family.”
“But if you fish more, you could sell the fish and make money.”
“Why would I want to do that?”
“With the money, you could buy more boats and hire other people to man them.”
“Why would I want to do that?”
“Well, then you could make even more money and retire.”
“Why would I want to do that?”
“Then you could spend your days lounging on the wharf and only fishing as much as you pleased.”
“But that’s what I’m doing right now.”

During the Q&A at the end of the conference I offered a variation to this story. The businessman tells the fisherman he could make more money. “Why would I want to do that?” Because if you don’t, you won’t be able to make your debt payments and I will seize your boat!

In summary, debt drives growth, and growth drives debt. This system erodes many of the things that are essential to human happiness – such as community, leisure, and nature – but as long as there is room for new growth, the system can keep going. Today, though, we are running out of nature to convert into goods – the planet just cannot sustain much more exploitation. We are also running out of social relationships that aren’t yet monetized. This crisis of growth has been delayed for many decades through colonialism and technology, extending the domain of money, but it is upon us now. The result is rising indebtedness and growing misery, as each extension of growth comes at higher and higher cost.

Human Nature and the Easterlin Paradox

A key paradox in the field of happiness research illuminates this situation. Known as the Easterlin Paradox, it observes that, while national happiness doesn’t rise with national income, nonetheless, within a nation, those with higher incomes are generally happier than their compatriots; moreover, wealthier nations generally rank higher in measures of happiness than poorer nations. With a few notable exceptions (Costa Rica, Thailand), the happiest countries on Earth are the Western industrialized democracies.

How to explain this paradox? One might critique the findings of the report on methodological and conceptual grounds. For example, could “happiness” signify different things in different cultures? Perhaps it has taken on associations of Western-style “success.” Or, perhaps, it only measures how people compare themselves to a socially constructed standard. The accepted explanation for the paradox is that people are, by nature, competitive and are, therefore, unhappy when they see people around them who are wealthier than they are. If that is the explanation, one can only shrug one’s shoulders. Absent totalitarian communism, people will always vary in their abilities and fortune. At best, it suggests the prescriptions of mainstream political liberalism – more equitable distribution and welfare state services to ameliorate the effects of disparities. The economists present were comfortable with this level of change which, admittedly, in the current political environment, is already beyond the pale. I would be happy if the liberals got their way, but they will not. We cannot afford it – if “afford” means, as it does today, to keep the wealth of the creditor class intact. Along with everybody else, the liberals are working against debt pressure, which conspires to erode the social safety net and intensify wealth concentration still further. There is no escaping the need for systemic monetary reform.

The dynamics of growth and debt reveal another, more disturbing explanation for the Easterlin Paradox. The reason that lower-income nations are unhappier is simply that the basis of happiness there has been strip-mined, converted to money, and exported to creditor nations. And, of course, within these creditor nations it is the same – only a very few people enjoy the benefits. Most people there are debtors, as well, and suffer from the same depletion of the natural and social capital.

Where does happiness fit in life? Photo credit: Paul Downey. Used under Creative Commons license.

When the elements of well-being have been stripped from a culture, when its communities, its traditions and stories, its relationship to the land, its cultural identity, its natural resources are all gone, then its people have only money left to sustain themselves. Basic human needs do not change; but when an economy is monetized, the many ways its people meet these needs collapse into one way – money. Once that has happened, of course, it is true that happiness will depend on money. So, the explanation for the Easterlin Paradox is not that we compare ourselves to our fellows and are envious of their success; it is that the success of one comes at the expense of another. One man’s wealth is another man’s debt.

From this perspective, it is clear why economic growth doesn’t increase happiness. If monetary transactions merely replace things that have been lost, they won’t increase “utility” or well-being at all. For example, if I take your land and sell it back to you, if I destroy your culture and sell you entertainment, if I destroy systems of reciprocal labor and force people to buy and sell labor, if I pollute or privatize the water so that you have to pay for potable water, if I destroy your indigenous systems of healing and learning so that you must pay for medicine and education, if I impose debt on a population so that people must pay to even exist, then no one is actually better off. Instead, we have a situation where a shrinking minority can obtain at least the measurable factors of happiness, while the majority can’t even obtain those. And this state of affairs is irremediable, as long as we are stuck in a scarcity-inducing, debt-based money system.

Measuring Happiness

It is not surprising that the economists and dignitaries couldn’t acknowledge how fundamental this crisis actually is. They are, after all, deeply invested in the present system. But even the most conservative among us sense, I think, that superficial efforts to promote happiness are doomed, that some inexorable force is working against them. Though they might respond to this helplessness with pretense or cynicism, there is hope, too. Some of the speakers were from outside government and academia, and when they enunciated principles wholly at odds with mainstream economic philosophy, the audience came alive – professors, World Bank employees, NGO workers, and grass roots activists alike. If nothing else, the conference was significant for bringing such voices into a high-level conversation on economics.

There was, at the conference, an undercurrent of radicalism that would have supported a deeper critique. It surfaced a few times: Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla mentioned the need to reconceive what development is; Dr. Vandana Shiva spoke of the horrendous effects of economic development on Indian agriculture and questioned whether happiness can really be measured; Dasho Karma Ura spoke of the “joy of slowness,” the value of silence in nature, and other things fundamentally inimical to development as we know it. “In the GNH paradigm,” said Dasho Karma Tshiteem, “time is life, not money.”

One after another, the Western professors at the podium proclaimed, “Happiness is something we can measure,” and each attendee received a 100+ page World Happiness Report ranking the happiness level of each country according to a variety of measurements. While I had questions about the methodology and unexamined assumptions behind the data, my main question was, “Why is it so important to measure happiness?”

For one thing, if happiness can be measured, and if we understand the purpose of government to be maximizing the happiness of its people, then we can continue to apply the same mindsets and methods of the technocrat to governance, merely replacing GDP with a quantified measure of GNH. This would fulfill Jeremy Bentham’s 200-year-old ambition to make a science of governance. For a long time, we have sought through economics, political “science,” and the “social sciences” generally to engineer a more perfect society. If only we could be more rational, more scientific! Running society becomes something like a math problem.

Members of the intellectual establishment will not give up this ambition easily, for their careers are dedicated to it, valorized by it. If social engineering has largely failed, perhaps that is because we aren’t doing it well enough. We need better data! If GDP is flawed, let’s replace it with a new measure. That the whole ambition to quantify everything and to base decisions on the maximizing of a number is insane does not occur to them, for it lies at the foundation of a a 400-year-old intellectual tradition going back at least to Galileo. In science, only the measurable is real.

Even more alien to the technocrat would be the notion that the progressive quantification of the world is hostile to human happiness. Today we see the encroachment of the realm of money, of the commodity, of property, into the domains of the commons and the gift. We might add to Dasho Karma Tshiteem’s observation and say that only when we measure time can the equation “time is money” take hold. Perhaps it is the immeasurable that is key to happiness. Proposals for GNH metrics seek to measure the number of one’s social relationships; but can it measure their quality? We might measure leisure time, but can we distinguish hours spent in mindless dissipation from those spent in intimate connection? The danger, in making choices by the numbers, is that we develop those things that can be measured and neglect those that cannot. That is why, on a personal level, it is foolish to make choices based on money. On a collective level, too, that is why we have so many huge but ugly buildings, copious but unnourishing calories, pervasive but impersonal entertainment. And it is why those outside the measurement systems – such as the indigenous and other species – have been sacrificed on the altar of growth.

Happiness isn’t a product that can be measured, bottled, and sold. Photo credit: Jarno. Used under Creative Commons license.

To be fair, the desire to measure happiness is well-motivated. While I didn’t hear it explicitly stated, a natural next step after establishing a GNH measure would be to monetize it, in the sense of internalizing costs that are presently externalized onto our well-being. For example, if we decide that healthy ecosystems are important to happiness, we could tax their depletion. Some of the economists present at the meeting advocate just this. Robert Costanza, for instance, is a leading figure in ecological economics who advocates the valuation of “ecosystem services.” Once so valued, we can easily manage their use through green taxes and similar measures. I sympathize with this idea of finding ways to make products and processes that involve the despoliation of the planet prohibitively expensive. We must also keep in mind, however, that the immeasurable might be even more precious. Without this awareness, we risk committing monstrous acts. What if, for instance, we assign a value to a certain rare species of turtle, and find that the revenue generated by paving over its last habitat and building strip malls exceeds that value?

I am not sure whether, ultimately, the designs of the economists can be consistent with the spiritual teachings that certain of the monks brought to the conference. It seemed that the economists were salivating to get their hands on a new arena of utility-maximization. Even if their motivation is to apply the tools of their trade for the good, those tools are based on a worldview that has unhappiness built into it. It might, in this case, be as Audre Lord said: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

Human Nature and Selfishness

Primary among the axioms of economics is the assumption of selfishness – that human beings seek to maximize their rational self-interest, at least in most situations. After all, if you have a choice between paying more and paying less, you pay less. Everyone tries to get the best deal. Yet some of the spiritual leaders at the meeting enunciated a very different conception of human nature. They spoke of the interconnected nature of being and, drawing applause from the audience, of the importance of altruism and loving-kindness as a basis for happiness.

The World Happiness Report, however, was more equivocal. True, it devoted a brief section to the correlation between altruism and happiness, citing studies that show that people who volunteer tend to be happier than those who do not; but it also argued that people’s own happiness diminishes when the people around them increase their income. Consider the following passage in the report:

But the more general finding is that comparator’s income reduced happiness and this has been strikingly confirmed in many laboratory experiments. One neuroscience experiment involved the task of guessing the number of dots on a screen. Good guesses were rewarded by a monetary payment. Each subject was paired with another subject, and after each of the 300 trials the subject was told the accuracy of his own guesses and the associated income he would receive, as well as the same information for his “pair.” At the same time fMRI scans measured the blood oxygenation in the subject’s relevant reward center (the ventral striatum). Blood oxygenations responded strongly to both the subject’s own income (positively) and to the pair’s income (negatively). The negative effect of the pair’s income was at least two thirds as large as the positive effect of the subject’s own income.

What are we to make of this? One might conclude that, just as economists tell us, human beings are indeed motivated by self-interest, and that this self-interest generally corresponds to money. Moreover, happiness measures also correlate fairly strongly with income. But, we might also ask, in what situation is it normal to envy the success of another person or to gloat over their failure? It is normal in a competitive situation, and our money system immerses us in perpetual competition. Because money is created through lending at interest, there is always more debt than there is money. We are always in competition for never-enough of it. The more monetized a society in which we live, the more this condition colors our perceptions, so that, quite naturally, we accept it as human nature.

Perhaps selfishness is not human nature; perhaps it is an artifact of our system. Someone recently told me a story about an anthropologist who put a basketful of sweet fruit near a try and told some children that whoever got there first would win the fruits. The children all joined hands and ran there together. When the anthropologist asked them why, they responded, “How can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?” Perhaps this, and not the above social psychology experiment, exemplifies human nature. Or, perhaps, human nature is not an immutable absolute, but arises through the the interplay of biology and culture.

In a gift-based culture, it is obvious that each person’s well-being depends on the well-being of others. In a usury-based culture, it is not so obvious. Your misfortune is my good fortune, because that’s one less competitor for never-enough money. When one is in debt, it is hard to experience the “joy of slowness” that Dasho Karma Ura spoke of. For many people I know, debt is a powerful source of stress. Marriages fall apart because of it, health breaks down. Recently, an elderly man in Greece even killed himself to escape his debts. There is academic research demonstrating a correlation between debt and psychological distress.1

Barriers to Interbeing

Why wasn’t debt and the money system mentioned in the conference? It is all well and good to voice lofty intentions to uphold the things that the debt system is destroying, but if that system isn’t addressed as well, those intentions will never be kept. I am not surprised that it wasn’t mentioned, because the money system lies at the heart of today’s world order. To advocate creating money in a different way than through interest-bearing debt is heresy. Economists, in particular, are wedded to this system, so I was not surprised that they didn’t highlight its incompatibility with so many of their criteria for happiness. The best they could do was to say, “High income does make people happy, but other things do, too. Therefore, we must pay attention to these other things even as we strive for continued economic growth.”

One might easily say that the economists have hijacked the Gross National Happiness movement, neutering its implicit radical critique of economic growth. They seem to have turned it away from the deeper questions, not only regarding the money system, but also the worldview upon which it rests – the reductionistic philosophy of measurement, number, and control, and the vision of a world of separate, competing selves. Yet even they resonate with teachings that run counter to that worldview. Perhaps they are doing the best they can, within the limits of their operating paradigms, to bring about a more beautiful world.

Unfortunately, these operating paradigms doom such efforts to failure. It is not just the money system that is at stake here. Underlying our debt-based system is a certain view of human nature, human identity, and our relationship to nature that is, like the money system, in crisis. A system that engenders competition makes sense in a world of discrete, separate selves, striving first and foremost to survive and reproduce in a world of Other. But that sense-of-self is becoming obsolete; many of the religious speakers talked of the interconnected nature of being, of interbeingness, of the larger We. Even the economists acknowledged the importance of connections and community for happiness. But when we have a money system that fosters endemic disconnection, any efforts to promote happiness will be fighting an uphill battle. We saw what happened when the sincere intentions of Rio ran up against financial reality, and its hopefully promises came to nought. Let’s not repeat that mistake. It is time to confront the fact that our spiritual values, which are evolving toward oneness or interconnection, are at odds with our institutions, which embody separation. Our economic institutions are chief among them, and cannot be excluded from the happiness conversation.


1 See for example S. Brown et al. / Journal of Economic Psychology 26 (2005) 642–663. The researchers disaggregated debt from income and assets. Savings have a positive correlation with reported life satisfaction, but not as strong as the negative correlation between debt and life satisfaction.

#GrowOccupy – Why Occupy Will Never Be Co-opted

New York Subway

There has been a great deal of talk in the Occupy movement around the fear of co-optation. The latest round of debate has been around the 99% Spring movement. Adbusters has sounded the alarm with the cry “#DefendOccupy.” The basic premise of the current debate is whether is a bogeyman that is stealing the ideas of Occupy for its own ends, which some claim are as a “front group” for the democratic party.

In reality, the 99% Spring movement is a coalition of 60 different grass roots groups, one of which was Move On, none of whom are claiming leadership. The impetus, which aims at training 100,000 people in direct action techniques, certainly draws inspiration from Occupy, and explicitly uses the 99% terminology that Occupy popularized.

For me fear mongering on the part of Adbusters and others is simply that – fear. Division. Separation. And harkens back to very old fashioned elitist energy that I have encountered in movements throughout my experience as an activist.

It makes me a little sad. We need to grow the spirit of Occupy, not divide it into ideological factions. It’s a meme, and to try to “protect it” is hypocritical – one of the ideas behind Occupy is the spirit of open source.

No one owns Occupy. So everyone owns it. You can’t have it both ways – either it is an organization, which needs to copyright itself, or it is true to it’s principle. Open, shared, available to all. Or at least, the 99%. Which we at Occupy Love expand to the 100%.

Continue reading “#GrowOccupy – Why Occupy Will Never Be Co-opted” »

Mad, Passionate Love — and Violence

By Rebecca Solnit

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 Meaning Is Love. Occupy Valentines!

Love is something we do. It’s active, it’s action, it’s process, not product. Don’t wait around for love! Be love, do love, fiercely. Love is not fuzzy, it’s not packaged, it’s not pink, it’s as red as blood, it’s life itself, and it’s not for sale. Occupy Love!

 It’s that time of year again ~ love is in the air. Or at least in the shop windows.   A day to celebrate love is certainly a great idea.  Too often love is neglected, forgotten, or misunderstood.   As with everything these days, Valentines Day has become yet another opportunity to turn the sacred into a product.  But if there is one that cannot be sold, it’s love.   The moment it becomes a commodity, it is no longer  love.

So let’s Occupy Valentines Day – and every day – with Love. True love. That fierce love, the love that is justice, the love that is compassionate, passionate, alive. The love that recognizes that all things are connected.

But just what do we mean by that word love?  In the last few years of shooting Occupy Love, I’ve asked many people to explain it to me.  Almost every answer has been different, and yet they all work together. That shows just how big love is. There are many kinds of love – from the love between lovers, to the love between molecules that binds them together and enables matter to exist.  From the love between the stars, to the love between humanity and the planet.  The love from our hearts to the source of creation itself. To the compassionate love that compels us to create a world that works for everyone, a world that works for all life.  Love is the current than runs through everything. Love connects the dots.

Most of the time, when I’m writing about love, I’m talking about the larger love, the universal love.  But personal love is also a refraction of this great love, the love that is the creative source itself. When individuals fully connected to the source of love come together as whole beings, true intimate love becomes possible.  A love beyond insufficiency and dependency, beyond all the many pitfalls on the path to romantic love.

Our society doesn’t offer us great role models – too often, romantic love is depicted as yet another dreary commercial transaction.   I’ll give you this, if you give me that.  Possession, ownership, control, fear, none of this is a part of true love.   True love is not a transaction – it’s a relationship.  It’s a process. It’s ever evolving, it’s ever deepening, it is always calling us to evolution, to authenticity, to liberation. True Love wants what’s best for the other, always.  For we are bound together in a beautiful web of mutuality.

Today my love, Nova Ami, and I, announced our engagement.  Our love is ever evolving, and we have decided to publicly declare our commitment to each other.  Not as a transaction, not as a statement of ownership, but as a declaration that we want to journey through life together, through love together, as deeply as possible. With the support and witnessing of our community.

Nova loves to joke that when I started this film I was Mr. Love.  By the time I’m finished, she says, I’ll be Doctor Love.   If I do make it to that place, where I can truly embody the love I am, moment to moment to moment,  it will be thanks in no small part to her incredible love.  She offers me the greatest gift I have ever received – unconditional love.  Nothing is more spacious, nothing gives me greater strength, nothing is more empowering, than this.  Yes, love is always there within me, but to receive that constant reminder from another, who mirrors and reflects that love back to me, is incredibly expansive.  At the same time, her love is completely grounding, supportive –  a practical rapture. And I offer her unconditional love too.  It is as natural and effortless as breathing.

We made this video together, our first creative collaboration,  to celebrate and to  share our love.  We wove our personal love story together with the great love story of life itself, through the words of our friend and spiritual teacher, Hawaain Native elder, Kumu Raylene.  She teaches that all life is love. “The essence of one being, or one creation, is love. Through our experiences of life, it at times can be buried deep within. But it is within. It is not something outside of ourselves. It is not something outside of anyone or any thing. It’s a part of who we are, always has been.”

This understanding helps a great deal – because we can stop looking for love. It can never be lost.  So relax! When you recognize that love is the ground of being, everything becomes much less laborious.  There is a spaciousness that emerges.  More than just a thought, you can feel into this, open into this realization.   Roshi Joan Halifax told me that, “being awake, is love.”  To be truly present, to show up, to be mindful, to be here, fully – that’s love.   To let go attachment, and delusion, to participate in each moment, moment to moment, that’s love.

My dear friend and spiritual activist, James O’Dea, formerly of Amnesty International and the Institute of Noetic Sciences (a potent combination, which shows you the breadth of James himself!) compared love to a keyboard, that has all the ranges – from the deep difficult low frequencies, that can very sad, connected to the vast oceans of suffering that we all will experience as part of life on planet earth, all  the way up to the high, ecstatic frequencies.

James emphasized the schizophrenic split that we so often experience, between the head and the heart: “the head is a poor master, but an excellent servant, and the heart is a poor servant, but an excellent master.  And that’s probably BS, because we’re past masters and servants.  It’s time to end that game, and move towards the integral moment, where we have the loving mind, and the thinking heart.”

In this rushing world of endless distraction, there is much to block love.  Like the sun going behind the clouds, it is never gone. It is always there, we just need to remember. Re-connect.  Re-awaken.   Love is a process, as is awakening.  The moment we try to possess any realization, any state, and stage of awakening, it slips away from our grasp.  For grasping itself is not-love.   Spaciousness is love. Trust is love. Letting go is love.   Letting go of what?   Fear, attachment, anger, hatred, delusion- let them go.

Breathe love.  Every breath can connect us with the ground of being.  Occupy love, moment to moment to moment. Not in the past, not in the future – right now. But just Being is not enough.  It’s easy to get comfortable, to want to stay in that perfect state of bliss, but love is a verb.  It calls you to action – loving action.

Love has infinite arms to embrace the suffering of this world.  Compassion calls us to action.   Love in action is a great, limitless source of meaning.   It doesn’t have to be something big – a billion small actions can mean a whole world of change.  Of course, if you are a big dreamer, go for it, dream big!  But if your gift is something small- do it well, do it honestly, do it truly and in the law of inter-being, you will be doing all actions.

Angaanaaq, a Shaman from Greenland, warned me, “to never fall in love.  Because everything that falls, even the leaves, will eventually hit the ground. Instead, we can become love itself.  What kind of love?  Unconditional love.”

Rather than falling, how about we rise in love.  Rise into unconditional love.  Why settle for anything less?  The unconditioned heart/mind is the primordial state, that essential being that we all are, beyond the filtering, beyond the cultural smokescreen that buries the deeper truths. It’s time to reclaim love!  Let us support each other, always, with presence, with mindfulness, with full connection, recognizing and celebrating our interdependence.  May the whole world rise in love. The time is now!

Occupy Oakland’s Declaration of Love

The following resolution was passed by the General Assembly of Occupy Oakland, creating an official Occupy Oakland action on Tuesday, Feburary 14th, Valentine’s Day.

Photobucket Photobucket

In the interest of diversity of tactics, and the spirit of love that we feel for our community, we propose a direct action to take place on February 14th.We encourage our fellow Oakland residents to join with us to express our love for each other, and our beautiful city, on a march through the downtown Oakland area. Participants should wear red and/or pink in celebration of Valentine’s Day, and are encouraged to bring flowers, bubbles, Valentine’s candy to share, glitter, confetti, and flower petals…

This is to be a completely non-violent, family-friendly action, and will be open to all who are interested in joining us in an expression of love for our community and each other.

It has been unofficially titled

Make Love, Not War

in a throwback to the sixties when tens of thousands of anti-Vietnam war protesters confronted police and the National Guard; when “Make Love, Not War” was scrawled all across America on the subway walls and tenement halls.

Those days are gone, but left are the iconic images showcasing this diary. They remind us how any protest movement that dares to take the streets in pursuit of their right to freely assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances will be met by overwhelming, panicked force by the powers-that-be.

Occupy Oakland is adding a new twist to the old tactic, since it is hard to put a flower down the barrel of a tear gas grenade:

In the event of potentially oppressive police presence… couples will be encouraged to stop marching and kiss in the streets…

Which, if some photographer or livestreamer is in the right place at the right time, might well create an iconic image for Daily Kos writers of 2050 to reference!

Time and place information about the rallies and march:

…the rallies starting at 6 PM will be at Fox Park, at 19th & Telegraph, and NOT at the Plaza. This is to include all of our fellow Occupiers who have unjust stay-away orders from the plaza!At 6 PM, we will hold a “Make Love, Not War” rally in solidarity with Syria, Egypt, and other nations whose people are currently suffering from state and/or police repression.

At 6:30, we will hold a “Reproductive Health” rally, complete with safer sex supply giveaways.

At 7 PM, we will have our “Hella <3 Oakland” march through the downtown area.

by jpmassar

Reprinted from  the Daily Kos

All You Need (to Protest) Is Love

Occupy V-Day wants you to challenge corporate conceptions of romance.


Occupy V-Day encourages the public to use Valentine’s Day to challenge our cultural (and pop-cultural) conceptions of love and romance and to provide their own definitions.

Love–according to one line of thinking, anyway–is our first and most important education in social justice. To love someone, religions and therapists and poets and various sitcom episodes tell us, is to care about their well-being as profoundly, and as constantly, as you care about your own.

If love works this way, there can be no oppression within it. There can be no exploitation, no stereotyping, no tyrant to hand down laws to the populace, no populace to revolt. There can only be the fact of mutual care; all rules, in this small republic, are consensus-based, and all rights are equal rights. Love does not erase the facts of our social reality, but it illuminates them; through complete absorption in the particular, it reveals the shakiness and incompleteness of our relation to the whole. Everyone you meet could become as important to you as yourself, should you love them. You won’t love them all. But at least you can recognize the particular and human in them, and commit to fight against the structures that degrade or erase it; at least you can work to create a culture that grants each person the humanity that you have learned to see in others by loving.

According to one line of thinking, anyway. According to another line, love is the reason you really, really need to finish shopping–or at least get a decent restaurant reservation–by February 13.

Samhita Mukhopadhyay, executive editor of Feministing and author of Outdated: Why Dating is Ruining Your Love Life, is launching a fight against, as she put it in a phone call, the “corporate or even political systems [that] shape how we think about love and romance.” And she is picking the stickiest, sappiest, most cardboard-heart-prone day of the year to do it.

Her project, Occupy V-Day, encourages the public to use Valentine’s Day to challenge our cultural (and pop-cultural) conceptions of love and romance, and to provide their own definitions: The Occupy V-Day blog suggests that you “shout about the lack of queer visibility in sexual rights politics,” “blog about how traditional ideas of romance perpetuate gender inequalities,” or “have a sexy conversation by candlelight with your partner about structural inequity.”

In practice, the Occupy V-Day Tumblr is wildly diverse: There are signs protesting the idea that “every kiss begins with Kay,” odes to single bliss (“I get the whole bed to myself”), updates on Prop. 8 and same-sex marriage, and vows of love and support for sisters, friends, and pet dogs. And, of course, someone who posts (more than once!) about “sheep-like seekers of romance” and informs the world that people in love are “basically high on drugs” and that “true love is forgiving them” for having a relationship. That last bit may be unseemly, but anyone who has broken up with someone in early February can probably relate.

Mukhopadhyay cautions against a shallow critique of the holiday on one hand–“you can say you don’t like Valentine’s Day, but you can still support heteronormativity”–and the dangers of self-obsession as activism on the other. She sees the project as a way to interrogate intimacy, and illuminate how it’s shaped by the greater social context.

She made the choice to tie this project to the language of the Occupy movement, Mukhopadhyay says, because both movements speak to “the desire to have different power relations in your life, but [while] talking about how larger forces produce these social structures.” When it comes to intimate relationships, she says, this conversation is often neglected.

“We literally do not have the tools,” she says. “And I think recognizing that it’s this larger structural problem where we do have very limited roles… Our power within that is very limited. I sound like such a Marxist! But I feel like recognizing it and connecting it to this larger context helps people feel less alone.”

Where Mukhopadyay is looking to Occupy love and romance, and to open them up for a wider narrative, filmmaker Velcrow Ripper is finding love within the Occupy movement himself. He is making a documentary, “Occupy Love”, about the human connection and passion at the heart of Occupy and other movements.

“I have travelled around the world tracing this phenomenal year of change, of global transformation,” Ripper told me in an e-mail, “and I have found that the underlying thread that connects the dots is really love. It is a love of justice, it is a love of humanity, and it is a deep sense of interdependence.”

Ripper says we live in “a nightmare paradigm of a commodified world, a lifeless world of objects, separation and scarcity. We are awakening to a new possibility, where the true abundance of this Earth is no longer hoarded. Where relationships are not transactions. Where your well being is my well being is the planet’s well being.”

Some of this may seem like an impressively fuzzy way to think about, say, campaign finance reform. But then, it also speaks to the fact that one thing radicals have always done best is to re-envision the relational status quo.

Similarly, it may seem silly at first to focus on Valentine’s Day as a force for radical change–“I’m a media producer,” Mukhopadhyay told me when I asked her why she chose the holiday. “It’s a great hook”–but in fact, Occupy V-Day is part of a long lineage of feminist projects that challenge the conventions of romance by starting with what we take for granted. This line stretches through bell hooks’s popular bookseries on love, through the V-Day campaign against sexual and relationship violence, and even to Emma Goldman’s writings against marriage.

Love, according to one line of thinking, is our first and most important education in social justice. According to another line of thinking, it’s a reason to buy your partner some romance on a certain day of the year. But according to a third, perhaps more truly radical line of thinking, we don’t know what love is yet. We don’t live in a world that has allowed us to experience it freely. It’s only when we all start talking about love, together–pushing the limits of our own imaginations, and challenging each other to take nothing for granted–that we can find it.

Reposted from “In These Times”


Sady Doyle is an In These Times Staff Writer. She’s also an award-winning social media activist and the founder of the anti-sexist blog Tiger Beatdown (

More information about Sady Doyle

Occupy The Dream – MLK and the Power of Love

“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

Today the Occupy Movement will be engaging in global actions centered around the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The heart of Dr. King’s vision offers wonderful inspiration for the movement – one that is deeply rooted in love.  King’s approach to activism was all about “love in action.”

The activists of the civil rights era faced incredible repression and brutality, yet remained firm in their conviction to love, their conviction to non-violence.  This gave them tremendous “moral capital.”   Violence, as an activist tactic, very rarely is successful.  It is speaking the language of the opressor, and they respond with even greater violence.  But the images of loving activists in contrast to brutality, is poignant, moving and transformative. It opens the hearts of the undecided, and calls them to join in the quest for justice.   Those who seek to undermine the Occupy Movement, or any activist movement, invariably point to acts of violence.

King taught that while legislative changes were important, such as desegregation (a focal point for the movement at that time),  unless we also change our hearts and minds, we would end up with,  “a society where men are physically desegregated and spiritually segregated, where elbows are together and hearts apart. It gives us social togetherness and spiritual apartness. It leaves us with a stagnant equality of sameness rather than a constructive equality of oneness.”    He beautifully said that, “we are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.”

Dr. King’s greatest vision was that the world would come together in a “Beloved Community.”  The civil rights movement represented an attempt to created that Beloved Community in microcosm. Today, within the Occupy Movement, we can also create this kind of community, founded on compassion, non-violence and mutuality.  This is turn can help lead to the tipping point, towards that day when we are able to live in a world that works for everyone.  King’s profound dream was to enlarge “the concept of brotherhood to a vision of total interrelatedness.”

 If he were alive today, I believe Dr. King would have recognized the incredible potential of this remarkable time in history.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

By remaining firmly grounded in love, we are practicing “prefigurative politics.”  Instead of waiting for some far off dream of a peaceful, loving world, we are living it, right now, in real time.  The principles of participatory democracy, central to the Occupy Movement, allow us to practice a world where everyone is important.  Having a leaderless movement is also a radical step – we all are leaders today.

Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh has said that in this era, “the Buddha is the Sangha.”  This means, the community is the new Buddha.  It’s time for us all to wake up, and tap into our collective wisdom.  We are moving beyond the top down hierarchal structures that have dominated all areas of life in the past – from politics to spirituality, from culture to economics. It’s time for a new era, an era of shared power, of horizontality. This is the way ecosystems work – complex webs of systems within systems, supporting, nurturing each other in webs of checks and balances.  It’s time that we integrate fully into the planetary body, recognize our profound inter-connection, striving always towards mutually enhancing relationships.

The field of possibility expands exponentially each time any one of us truly steps up to the plate, and opens our hearts. How joyous, to live the realization that the greater the  brilliance of any one of us, the greater is the radiance of the whole.  We can go beyond that outdated dog eat dog eat dog isolating, disconnecting model of the corporatocracy, into a new world, where we care for each other in networks of compassion. Let us truly, deeply, authentically occupy the dream, the dream of a world that works for all life, where each and everyone of us is a shining star in a constellation of love.

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.


MLK Occupy Events


This is an exciting time in history! Let’s make the most of it. Please join me on Martin Luther King Day, January 16 2o12 at 4 pm PST for a a special tele council in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Occupy Movement. I’ll be discussing King’s legacy of the “Beloved Community” emerging all over the world today, sharing my journey from Occupy Wall St, to Occupy Oakland, Occupy London, the M15 movement of Spain, the revolution in Tahrir Square, the meaning of “Occupy Love” and more. Learn more and sign up here – it’s free! 


This January 15th all over the world, Occupy is holding a  #J15 Worldwide Candlelight Vigil For Unity on the  birthday, and in the spirit of Dr. King’s vision for racial and economic equality, peace, and non-violence.  Candlelight vigils will take place at 7pm in each time zone to unite our world in a global movement for systemic change.

Wherever you are, let’s join together and light our flames for  this beautiful vision.  Be creative – you can create your own vigil if you can’t find one near you.   Learn more at



National Day of Action on January 16.
16+ Cities. Occupy the Federal Reserve!

When: January 16, 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM (unless otherwise noted)
Where: The Federal Reserve Bank closest to you

Washington, D.C. • Atlanta • Boston • Chicago • Cleveland • Dallas • Kansas City •Los Angeles • Minneapolis • New York • New Orleans • Philadelphia • Richmond •San Francisco • St. Louis • Wilmington, DE

Members of the African-American faith community have joined forces with Occupy Wall Street to launch a new campaign for economic justice inspired by the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Faithful to its philosophical origin, the “Occupy the Dream” coalition has called for a National Day of Action on Martin Luther King Day – Monday, January 16, 2012 – to focus attention on the gross injustice visited upon the 99% by the financial elite.  More info at :


Studio Occupy has a wonderful project related to this: “To honor Rev. Martin Luther King’s birthday, Occupy Wall Street is privileged to welcome African-American clergy as they join the movement to address economic inequality and social injustice. Dr. King’s dream made history. Now OWS needs yours! What’s your dream for your community? For the future? Grab your phone or webcam, make a video of your dream, and upload it by January 16th – Dr. King’s birthday. We can create history together. Let’s Occupy the Dream!”  Learn more at:  Studio Occupy


Van Jones, one of my all time visionary activist heroes, who is featured in Fierce Light: When Spirit Meets Action  , has launched an initiative called “Rebuild the Dream.”  This weekend, for MLK day, they are calling for meet-ups acrsos the country to celebrate Dr. King and link the Civil Rights Movement with today’s struggle for an economy that works for all. Neighbors and friends will gather to watch the great video they have created, plus engage in a special discussion about how we strengthen our movements in 2012. Find an MLK Meet-up near you, or host one of your own.


PS. We need your love! Please give to the Occupy Love crowd funding campaign so we can complete Occupy Love, our feature doc that captures the global (r)evolution of compassion inaction.  Sharing the link and telling your friends helps a lot too. We believe this movie is going to be of tremendous service to the planet. In Theatres 2012 – with your help!


2012: Love’s Evolution Is My Resolution

There are no manuals to read, no rules to follow, other than the open book, of the heart.

Love’s evolution is my resolution, my revolution, my solution. The time is now.   2012 is upon us. The beginning is here!

I’d like to offer you an invitation, an invocation, a wake up call.   Wake up!  (Zen hand clap) It’s time to come to our senses, and wake up!  Listen – can you hear the alarm bells ringing? Can you hear the cries of Mother Earth?  Can you hear the cries of Her children? Can you smell the stench of an industrial growth addicted civilization rotting from the inside out?

Look – have you noticed the species going extinct minute by minute, the disappearing bees, the melting glaciers, the rising seas, the expanding deserts, the suffering skyrocketing out of control, the politicians that act like childish lunatics, the greed crazed gamblers of Wall Street throwing dice while the whole world careens on their roller coaster of illusion,  bubbles of hungry ghost money ballooning, ballooning, soon to burst yet again, banks expecting bail outs while millions  lose their homes amidst the deafening roar of collapsing economies drowned by the noise of the dream factories of mainstream media encouraging us all to be selfish children seduced into a cycle of endless consumption by heartless corporations  hellbent on using up everything this sacred earth can offer as fast as possible?

We’re filling our hearts and minds and bellies with  junk food,  junk television, junk video games, junk movies, junk music,  junk toys,  junk fears, junk violence, junk dreams,   junk junk, junk and more junk for a society of junkies.

Wake up!  (Zen hand clap) It’s not too late, it’s never too late to seize the day.  Wake up!  (Zen hand clap) It’s time we realized that this planet is having a near death experience.   And therein lies the hope.

Continue reading “2012: Love’s Evolution Is My Resolution” »

Fanning the Flames of Love : An Interview with Velcrow Ripper

 My films are intended to be both a reflection of the heart of the times, and a catalyst, fanning the flames of love. ~ Velcrow Ripper


ALIVE MIND:  Occupy Love is the third film of the “Fierce Love Project.” It comes after Sacred Scared (Special Jury Prize of the Toronto Film Festival), an uplifting pilgrimage through war-torn places around the world, followed by Fierce Light, a film about bringing together spirituality, and activism.  Is there a logical progression to these films? How would you relate Fierce Light to Sacred Scared and Occupy Love?

VELCROW RIPPER:  Indeed there is –  the films are about about the “Heart of the Times”  of this unique period in human history, from the millennium to 2012. It is a time of enormous crisis, and enormous possibility.   The overall theme is, how can the global crises that we are facing lead to the evolution of humanity?

Scared Sacred takes us on a journey to ground zero’s of the world – places like New York City during 9.11, Afghanistan, Hiroshima, Bosnia, Cambodia, Israel and Palestine.   In each of those places, I discovered some of the most remarkable individuals I have ever met.  I found that there were two things that the survivors all had in common, that helped them get through the crises they faced with their spirits transformed, not crushed:  having a source of meaning, which was different for each of them, and taking action.

This lead to the second film, Fierce Light: When Spirit Meets Action, which  explores the relationship between spirituality, and activism.  There has long been an artificial divide between these two important aspects of human society, and this film explores the power that is released when the two come together.

In Occupy Love  I ask the question: how is  the economic and ecological crises we are facing a great love story?   I have gone beyond the word “spiritual” to the deeper, and more universal word, “Love.”   The last lines of “Fierce Light” are, “another world is here, right now: listen.”  On the sound track you can hear the rumblings of a volcano, the sleeping woman – who is now wide awake.  Occupy Love explores this  awakening, this revelation of  our shared heart, and our shared oppression, and the process of working together to transform the bankrupt system of today into a world that works for all life.  The Occupy movement, and the related movements that are erupting around the world, from the Arab Spring, to the European Summer, are all a part of this awakening. I recently showed Fierce Light at Occupy London and people were really struck by how the movie predicted the arising of Occupy.  The films truly have their finger on the pulse of the times. In fact, Fierce Light was a little ahead of it’s time.

ALIVE MIND: From Desmond Tutu to Gandhi’s granddaughter, from Darryl Hannah to Congressman John Lewis and thousands of anonymous activists around the world, you show that the potential for ‘soul force’ exists. Fierce Light conveys the idea that another world is possible. Do you hope that it will actually contribute to unleash this potential for change?

VELCROW: I have seen Fierce Light transform people again and again.  Real world change begins in our hearts, and a powerful documentary, done with art and the voices of those imbued with true soul force, has the ability to ignite and inspire us to become the change we want to see in the world.   My films are intended to be both a reflection of the heart of the times, and a catalyst, fanning the flames of love.

ALIVE MIND:  Besides being profoundly meaningful and inspired, Fierce Light is an extremely beautiful documentary, in which graceful glimpses of natural light are recurrent patterns. What part does the image play in your filmmaking in general and in Fierce Light in particular?

VELCROW RIPPER: Image, and sound – the language of cinema – has the ability to move us as true art can, at a level beyond only cognition, to the soul level,  the heart level, to our deepest core.  There are many great films out there that move us intellectually, there are great films out there that inspire our outrage, but what keeps me going is the excitement and inspiration I get from  capturing the depths of the times with my camera, editing and sound design.   I aim to create an immersive, heart opening, transformative experience.  And when you watch my films, if you aren’t in a theatre, please use headphones or good speakers!   The sound is very important – sound has a special way of going beyond the intellect.  Don’t get me wrong – the intellectual aspect is also very important.   What excites me is an integral experience that reaches  the full spectrum of the human-  heart, mind, body, and shadow.  It’s all part of us, and when any part is left out you feel a lack.  Non-literal images have a way of reaching a broader range than the same old same old “say apple see apple” approach of conventional documentary production.  I actually come out of an experimental film background, so the imagery of my docs reflect my early,  utterly liberated approach to filmmaking.  Documentary imposes it’s own constraints, but I am always pushing at the edge of those limits.

ALIVE MIND Commenting on the protest that spurred in Quebec City in 2004 against the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, you are asking “What would I do if I did not have a camera in my hands? Would I want to pick up a rock and throw it right back at these dehumanized Plexiglass faces?” What stance do you adopt when you shoot in the midst of demonstrations? Does being an engaged filmmaker mean taking a step back from neutrality in those situations?

VELCROW RIPPER I don’t believe in neutrality.  That comment, which was a rhetorical question, was answered by the film: I would do what Carly Stasko does at that moment – she dances.   My response to repression, violence and corporate dominance is to be as contrasting to that as possible – liberated, non-violent, and creative.  That is the way to transform violence, not by speaking it’s language back at it.  Neutral? Not in the slightest. I am part of the movements I document, I come from the inside. The most biased of coverage is to be found in the mainstream media – they have such a narrow frame of reference, and have had a profoundly negative influence on global society, with their news bites, the fact that they are profit motivated and corporate dominated, and always focus in on the violence of any given situation without greater context.   How many times have I seen reports of “violent protestors,” when in fact the protestors are peaceful, and it is the police that are violent.  Or, as is sadly often the case, there are a few agitators (often police infiltrators) or angry young men, who create the violence, and a whole movement gets tarred with an ugly brush.

ALIVE MIND On Sept 17, 2011, at Zuccotti Park, the epicenter of Occupy Wall Street, you’ve asked a giant FDR dime, “How could the global crisis we are facing become a love story?’ You made a short-film out of it, entitled Summer of Change: Occupy Wall Street.

Have you been personally involved in the movement since then? What are your future plans?

VELCROW RIPPER  I have fallen in love with the Occupy Movement.  I was at Occupy Wall Street since day one, travelled to Occupy Oakland for their epic general strike and just returned from Spain, where I was filming with the Indignados, Egypt, where I was covering Tahrir Square and the Egyptian Revolution, and Occupy London.  I was looking at the roots of the movement, tracing it back from the European summer, to the Arab Spring, and looking at where the movement has evolved.   The film is now called “Occupy Love.”   The original project, Evolve Love, may come out after, or will be integrated into this movie.  Two years ago I asked writer Naomi Klein, “how could the crisis we are facing on the planet become a love story?” And she laughed, and said that her and I do the opposite – she points out how bad things are and I look for the love.  Last week I saw her at an action and she gave me a big hug and said, “history has re-arranged itself to prove your thesis.”

The Occupy Movement, and the much bigger, and deeper global spirit of transformation from which it arises, is the love story I have been looking for, all my life.   In Fierce Light I reference Paul Hawken, who in his book “Blessed Unrest”, talks about a global movement of movements that is emerging all over the world, what he calls “humanities immune response to a planet in crisis”, the largest movement in history.  And the remarkable thing about that movement is that it is self organizing, and it didn’t even know that it existed.  The Arab Spring, The European Summer, and now the Occupy Movement, is that movement standing up, looking around, and discovering itself. And right now, this is the greatest love story on earth. This movement is rooted in interdependence, and is the opposite of the selfish, lifeless, dog eat dog eat dog world promoted through the vast capital of the corporations.   We need to do everything we can to nurture this evolving movement, our ever evolving global society, and keep it moving always in the direction of love, in the direction of life.  Love is the movement. We are the 100%

Occupy Love has just launched an IndieGoGo campaign to help fund the completion of the film. This is a commmunity funded film – if we are to get it made, we need your help. Please support us if you can, or help out by sharing the link.  Thanks!

Velcrow Ripper  is an award-winning filmmaker with dozens of films and videos under his belt, including Scared Sacred, winner of the 2005 Genie (Canadian Academy Award) for best feature documentary, and Special Jury Prize at the Toronto International Film Festival. Bones of the Forest, his 1995 environmental medittion, won nine major film awards, including a Genie and best of the festival at Hot Docs. Ripper’s latest film is Fierce Light: When Spirit Meets Action. This award winning feature doc’s message of hope and change is delivered via magnificent visuals.  He is currently shooting “Occupy Love” a feature documentary which chronicles the heart of the Occupy movement, and beyond.

This interview with Occupy Love director, Velcrow Ripper, was done by the folks at Alive Mind Cinema, the U.S. distributor of Ripper’s award winning feature doc, FIERCE LIGHT: When Spirit Meets Action.   The original interview can be found here.

Photo: Ian MacKenzie “There is a sign in Liberty Plaza proclaimin

Photo: Ian MacKenzie

“There is a sign in Liberty Plaza proclaiming, ‘occupy everything’ and its sentiment arrives at the essence of the situation.

Yes, occupy everything, starting with your own heart. Otherwise, it will be commandeered by the forces of the church, the state, the corporation, the bully on your block, the passive-aggressive friend who is ‘just here to help,’ even the demands of your own egoist agendas that bore to indifference the heart of the world and soul of the age.

If you don’t recognize your humanity, who will? Who is more qualified to occupy your life than you? Who is closer to the situation? Who else is qualified to arrive at an original take of the question at hand?

And you might find the place to make a stand in the struggle to retake your essential self is in public space, among throngs of others engaged in like-minded struggle … among others who have heeded a similar call and thus have arrived in those equally troubled locations — the U.S. public arena and the American heart.

Occupy your own heart; the soul of the world longs for your companionship.”

~ from article by Phil Rockstroh