All I want for Christmas is a Global Evolution

Occupy Christmas! With what? How about by giving that which never costs, that which can never have a price tag: Love. The more we give love, the more we receive love. Love is the economic growth we need, not the planet destroying growth of Gross Domestic Product.  Love grows best when given freely. Love is at the heart of global evolution. Love is the expression of our profound interdependence.

For the love of the planet, and each other, we need to awaken from the trance of corporate culture, from the dog-eat-dog-eat-dog world of separation, fear, and mindless consumption, and learn how to create a world of mutually enhancing relationships, of collaboration, creativity, and possibility. A world of love.

I’ve been asking Santa, the earth, the sky, you and me, for a global r~evolution for years now. Guess what? We’re starting to deliver.

There have been some deep tastes of it along the way –  my personal highlights include the Zapatista revolution in Chiapas; the profound creativity and resistance of the anti-globalization movement that began with the WTO protests in 1999; the enormous global day of anti-war marches, organized on the internet, when millions of us marched around the world in the name of peace, simultaneously.  350.org‘s global days of action for climate justice are always spectacular.

South America has seen an explosion of transformation – almost every country is trying some inspirational social experiment. Paul Hawken has tracked what he calls “humanity’s immune response to a planet in crisis”, a kind of Blessed Unrest that is the largest mass movement in history, working for change, that doesn’t even know it exists. We have been part of many beautiful expressions of evolution and compassion in action. (Watch interview)

And then came 2011.   From the Arab Spring, to the European Summer, to the Occupy Movement, to the great strides taken by the Climate Justice movement, and all the other arisings bursting forth, the electric charge of transformation is in the air.  As we gestate through this winter into 2012, my prayers are that as the frost melts, we will burst forth with  creativity, enthusiasm, and love into a global spring that keeps right on blooming into a global summer of transformation.

We need it now, more than ever.   We certainly need it more than another tree full of stuff.

The Eruption of Occupy

Sept 17,  2011 began as a quiet Saturday morning in Brooklyn with my love. Adbusters, media activists from my home terrain of  Vancouver, Canada, had put a call out a few months back: “Occupy Wall Street. Bring Tent.” Someone had posted on Facebook at the time, “are you going?”  I said, “I’ll be there, camera’s blazing.”

But that morning, a part of me wanted to sleep in. I asked Nova,  “Do you think I should go?” She didn’t hesitate: “Go!  Just check it out.  It could be something great.” I packed my camera gear, got on my bicycle and peddled over the Brooklyn Bridge, into the financial district of Manhattan, towards a little park within sight  of Ground Zero,  a park that would soon be re-named “Liberty Square.”

And so began one of the most extraordinary seasons of transformation I have witnessed in my life. It’s as if we’ve taken the famed “red pill” of the Matrix – nothing has been the same ever since.  A pandora’s box of possibilities has been flung wide open, and it can never be shut in quite the same way.  We are awake.

We have been sold a hollow story, of endless consumption, an economic fairy tale that we can have limitless growth on a finite planet, that the extreme wealth of the few would in some way benefit the many, a world where there are no relationships, only transactions.  A world where love itself is a commodity.  We are awake, and we aren’t buying it any more.

On October 15th the Occupy Movement went global.  I was in Times Square at that moment.  5,000 of us took the square, that electric altar to the gods of consumption. The energy was joyous, hopeful, inspired. And then something happened that sent chills down my spine: on the electronic ticker tape that gives the news bites of the day, came the words “Occupy Wall Street Movement Goes WorldWide.” Each time it appeared we let out a cheer. We were occupying the world.

Occupy Goes Global

In the course of making Occupy Love, our feature documentary that charts the global revolution of compassion in action, we have gone deep into the movement here in NYC at Occupy Wall Street, to the epic General Strike in Occupy Oakland, to Occupy DC, Occupy Canada, and Occupy London.

We have filmed with the sister movement, and precursor to Occupy, the Indignado’s of Spain, part of the famed “European Summer,” and with the courageous revolutionaries of Tahrir Square, in Egypt, who helped launch the Arab Spring.

When we first descended on Liberty Square we had the lofty goal of creating our own “Tahrir Square,” a claim that at first seemed outlandish, even presumptous,  but today we have taken – and lost – and taken squares all over the planet, creating a global network of occupiers, and we are only just beginning. What this movement of movements is attempting to do is nothing short of re-inventing the world.

It is both a return to our shared roots – we are all indigenous to somewhere – and a new global cross pollination, which has been helped with the interconnectivity of the internet.  We are falling in love, again, and again, with each other, and the planet. It is the profoundly public love that is justice.  It is the power of empathy and interdependence, of knowing in one’s heart that if your belly is empty, or your home has been foreclosed, then I too am hungry, I too have no  shelter.

It is the compassionate desire, that everyone on this planet, and all life, be offered the opportunity to “live well” as they say in Bolivia. The Aymara indigenous concept of “Living Well” contrasts with the western paradigm of “living better.” We have been taught to want more and more – to consume, to amass material goods at the expense of the environment, rather than to live well, in a world in which everyone’s needs are met while staying in deep harmony with the natural world.

We in the west are living in a deep cultural pathology, addicted to consumption, distraction and destruction. As a result, we are not a happy people. Buckminister Fuller has done the math – we can feed, clothe, educate, and keep well everyone on this planet. No problem – scarcity is a construction of a dysfunctional system.

The crisis we are facing is propelling us into a great love story, the greatest love story on earth. The time is now. 2012 promises to be extraordinary. I can’t wait to be surprised! We are waking up, and love is in the air. Thank-you for all you have given. Keep on giving, keep on unwrapping your gifts and sharing them with the world. My winter wish is for a global evolution of the heart, so that humanity may become a blessing to each other and this earth. Occupy Love!

~ Velcrow Ripper, Dec 24th 2011
Vancouver, BC

PS. We need your love! Please give to our crowd funding campaign so we can continue to make Occupy Love.  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!

Open Letter from Starhawk and ACT to Occupy

Open Letter to the Occupy Movement from Starhawk and the Alliance of Community Trainers

The Occupy movement has had enormous successes in the short time since September when activists took over a square near Wall Street. It has attracted hundreds of thousands of active participants, spawned occupations in cities and towns all over North America, changed the national dialogue and garnered enormous public support. It’s even, on occasion, gotten good press!

Now we are wrestling with the question that arises again and again in movements for social justice—how to struggle. Do we embrace nonviolence, or a ‘diversity of tactics?’ If we are a nonviolent movement, how do we define nonviolence? Is breaking a window violent?

We write as a trainers’ collective with decades of experience, from the anti-Vietnam protests of the sixties through the strictly nonviolent antinuclear blockades of the seventies, in feminist, environmental and anti-intervention movements and the global justice mobilizations of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. We embrace many labels, including feminist, anti-racist, eco-feminist and anarchist. We have many times stood shoulder to shoulder with black blocs in the face of the riot cops, and we’ve been tear-gassed, stun-gunned, pepper sprayed, clubbed, and arrested,

While we’ve participated in many actions organized with a diversity of tactics, we do not believe that framework is workable for the Occupy Movement. Setting aside questions of morality or definitions of ‘violence’ and ‘nonviolence’ – for no two people define ‘violence’ in the same way – we ask the question:

What framework can we organize in that will build on our strengths, allow us to grow, embrace a wide diversity of participants, and make a powerful impact on the world?

Continue reading “Open Letter from Starhawk and ACT to Occupy” »

Occupy Samsara ~ Support From Spiritual Teachers

 

An Open Letter from Buddhist and Yoga Teachers and Leaders in Support of the Occupy Movement

Posted on November 6, 2011

As teachers and leaders of communities that promote the development of compassion and mindfulness, we are writing to express our solidarity with the Occupy movement now active in over 1,900 cities worldwide.

We are particularly inspired by the nonviolent tactics of this movement, its methods of self-governance, and its emergent communities founded in open communication (general assemblies, the human microphone, the inclusion of diverse voices, etc). These encampments are fertile ground for seeing our inherent wisdom and our capacity for awakening. We encourage all teachers, leaders, sanghas and communities that pursue awakening to join with these inspiring activists, if they have not already done so, in working to end the extreme inequalities of wealth and power that cause so much suffering and devastation for human society and for the ecosystems of Earth.

This movement has given voice to a near-universal frustration with the economic and political disenfranchisement of so many. It offers a needed counterbalance to a system that saps the life energy of the overwhelming majority –– the so-called 99% –– generating vast profits for a tiny handful, without maximizing the true potential for widespread wealth creation in our society. While our practice challenges us to cultivate compassion for 100% of human beings without villifying an “enemy,” our practice also calls on us to challenge a system that causes such clear harm and imbalance.

We share in the thoughtful calls to address massive unemployment, climate change, the erosion of social safety nets, decaying infrastructures, social and education programs, and workers’ wages, rights, and benefits.

Moreover, the current legal structure of large corporations compels individuals to act with shortsighted greed, acts for which they are not held personally accountable. If we aren’t encouraged to act with awareness of our connection to the seven billion humans who share our global community, the social fabric of our society is torn apart by legalized acts of selfishness and fear. These acts are performed in human society, by nonhuman entities, oddly granted the legal and political status of people, which have no ability to adequately perceive or react to the negative repercussions of their choices. The whole planet pays the price.

Most importantly, we believe that individual awakening and collective transformation are inseparable. For members of spiritual communities, mindfulness of the situation before us demands that we engage fully in the culture and society we inhabit. We do not view our own path as merely an individualistic pursuit of sanity and health, and we believe it would be irresponsible of us to teach students of mind/body disciplines that they can develop their practice in isolation from the society in which they live. We are inspired by the creative and intellectual work of the Occupy movement as an essential voice in facilitating a more compassionate and ecologically grounded basis for practice.

The Occupy movement has re-ignited our belief that it’s truly possible to build a culture of non-harm, honesty and respect for all creatures. We recognize our human failings and know that we’ll fail ten thousand times in our efforts to awaken. We now vow to bring our practices and methods of teaching more into alignment with our deepest values.

The structural greed, anger and delusion that characterize our current system are incompatible with our obligations to future generations and our most cherished values of interdependence, creativity, and compassion. We call on teachers and practitioners from all traditions of mind/body awakening to join in actively transforming these structures.

Letter Signed, Ethan Nichtern, Shastri, New York, Shôken Michael Stone, Toronto

Continue reading “Occupy Samsara ~ Support From Spiritual Teachers” »

Occupy the Snowstorm!  Yesterday was day 43 of Occupy Wall Street, and we were hit by a freak sn

Occupy the Snowstorm!  Yesterday was day 43 of Occupy Wall Street, and we were hit by a freak snow storm.  As is “the new normal” in this era of rapid climate change, record breaking extreme weather and storms are happening everywhere.   It was particularily unusual to have a huge snowstorm like this while trees were still in full leaf, causing serious power outages affecting 1.8 million people, according to the New York Times.   At Occupy Wall Street, it also offered a taste of the challenges ahead when a more lasting winter weather settles.  Spirits were strong with the people I interviewed, and the love was alive.  There is some question as to how long we can stay, especially as conditions worsen.   There are those that hope the movement will simply disappear.  Not likely.  Yes, no doubt we will contract, but let’s use the coming changing season to go deeper, plant our roots and then burst up with the spring sun, and take this movement even further.  Indications that we are in for the long run include a planned gathering of Occupy Together movements from all the different cities on July 6th, 2012.    There will be some hardy souls who keep on camping through the winter. For those of us who just can’t do that, keep coming down, bring hot chocolate, music, and winter fun.  Check out one of the Occupy Winter facebook pages for ideas of how you can help.    We are just beginning. The time is now. Stay warm and stay strong!

Standing Side by Side for the Occupation

They were chanting  ”Brokers and Police : standing side by side for the occupation.” I took this photo at Occupy Wall Street  on October 24th, and it has gone viral. The dialogue in the multitude of comments on my facebook posting of this photo , besides focussing on the question of whether the pic is real or not, (Yes, man, it’s real) also opens up a much bigger question:  does the 99% really want the 1% to join?  And are the police part of the 99%?  

From the perspective of Occupy Love, we are clearly 100% love, 100% whole.  Notions of separation are simply constructs. We need to welcome the 1%  – for their liberation is our liberation. We need to welcome the police – yes even the ‘white shirts’ – for we are all in this together.  

Right now, at Occupy Oakland, the police have been clamping down with brutality.  Like the police that brutalized the protestors in the Civil Rights movement, our greatest power is to meet them with Love.  Fierce Love.   Martin Luther King’s teachings to the Civil Rights Movement were very very clear – stay non-violent, fill the jail cells if need be, but always, always love.  In South Africa, Mandela famously said that until all blacks are free, whites will never be free.  

Eartha Harris commented on the pic, “To those who are mocking this, please read my status from today: I’m sitting inside a cafe across the street from the Bank of America outside Occupy Boston. Its filled with suits who work in the financial district, speaking of how much they love and support the movement. I’m hearing these folks describe an existance that sounds like a soft, grey cage…working 12-16 hour days, crunching numbers under florescent lights, moving only their fingers. Regardless of how much $ one`s making,no one deserves to spend their lives like this, just as no one deserves to be without home, food, or healthcare. Just a nice reminder of how diverse this “99%” is. One reason people have no jobs is because companies have downsized and more than tripled the workloads of those few remaining. They have just as much a right, and reason, to call for change as those without work and money.”

Let us not fall into the trap of “Us and Them” ~ keeping us divided is a powerful way of keeping us oppressed. Our freedom, our happiness, our lives are inextricably bound together.   So let us  invite everyone to join us in this incredible time of awakening.   We are all the 1%.  We are all the 99%.  We are 100% human, and it’s time to Occupy Love.

Please join Occupy Love on Facebook.

Occupy Hope

A beautiful piece by Rebecca Solnit. She has long been an inspiration to me, since the days when I was shooting Scared Sacred  my journey to the ground zero’s of the world, searching for hope in the darkness.  Rebecca shares my view that there is hope to be found in every crisis, and in this article she traces a year of revolution, from the beginning of 2011 until now. I have a personal hope:  I hope to interview her for my upcoming feature documentary. All the pics are by me, taken at Occupy Wall Street.


Dear young man who died on the fourth day of this turbulent 2011, dear Mohammed Bouazizi,

I want to write you about an astonishing year — with three months yet to run. I want to tell you about the power of despair and the margins of hope and the bonds of civil society.

I wish you could see the way that your small life and large death became a catalyst for the fall of so many dictators in what is known as the Arab Spring.

We are now in some sort of an American Fall. Civil society here has suddenly hit the ground running, and we are all headed toward a future no one imagined when you, a young Tunisian vegetable seller capable of giving so much, who instead had so much taken from you, burned yourself to death to protest your impoverished and humiliated state.

You lit yourself on fire on December 17, 2010, exactly nine months before Occupy Wall Street began.  Your death two weeks later would be the beginning of so much. You lit yourself on fire because you were voiceless, powerless, and evidently without hope. And yet you must have had one small hope left: that your death would have an impact; that you, who had so few powers, even the power to make a decent living or protect your modest possessions or be treated fairly and decently by the police, had the power to protest. As it turned out, you had that power beyond your wildest dreams, and you had it because your hope, however diminished, was the dream of the many, the dream of what we now have started calling the 99%. 

And so Tunisia erupted and overthrew its government, and Egypt caught fire, as did Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, and Libya, where the nonviolent protests elsewhere turned into a civil war the rebels have almost won after several bloody months. Who could have imagined a Middle East without Ben Ali of Tunisia, without Mubarak, without Gaddafi? And yet here we are, in the unimaginable world. Again. And almost everywhere.

Japan was literally shaken loose from its plans and arrangements by the March 11th earthquake and tsunami, and that country has undergone profound soul-searching about values and priorities. China is turbulent, and no one knows how much longer the discontent of the repressed middle class and the hungry poor there will remain containable. India: who knows? The Saudi government is so frightened it even gave women a few new rights. Syrians wouldn’t go home even when their army began to shoot them down.  Crowds of up to a million Italians have been protesting austerity measures in recent months. The Greeks, well, if you’ve been following events, you know about the Greeks.  Have I forgotten Israel? Huge demonstrations against the economic status quo there lasted all summer and into this fall.

As you knew at the outset, it’s all about economics.  This wild year, Greece boiled over again into crisis with colossal protests, demonstrations, blockades, and outright street warfare. Icelanders continued their fight against bailing out the banks that sank their country’s economy in 2008 and continue pelting politicians with eggs.  Their former prime minister may become the first head of state to face legal charges in connection with the global financial collapse. Spanish youth began to rise up on May 15th. 

Distinctively, in so many of these uprisings the participants were not advocating for one party or a simple position, but for a better world, for dignity, for respect, for real democracy, for belonging, for hope and possibility — and their economic underpinnings. The Spanish young whose future had been sold out to benefit corporations and their 1% were nicknamed theIndignados, and they lived in the plazas of Spain this summer. Occupied Madrid, like Occupied Tahrir Square, preceded Occupy Wall Street.

In Chile, students outraged by the cost of an education and the profound inequities of their society have been demonstrating since May — with everything from kiss-ins to school occupations to marches of 150,000 or more. Forty thousand students marched against“education reform” in Colombia last week. And in August in Britain the young went on arampage that tore up London, Birmingham, and dozens of other communities, an event that began when the police shot Mark Duggan, a dark-skinned 29-year-old Londoner. Young Britons had risen up more peaceably over tuition hikes the winter before. There, too, things are bleak and volatile — something I know you would understand. In Mexico, a beautiful movement involving mass demonstrations against the drug war has arisen, triggered by the death of another young man, and by the grief and vision of his father, leftwing poet Javier Cicilia

The United States had one great eruption in Wisconsin this winter, when the citizenry occupied their state capitol building in Madison for weeks. Egyptians and others elsewhere on the planet called a local pizza parlor and sent pies to the occupiers. We all know the links. We’re all watching. So the Occupy movement has spilled over from Wall Street. Hundreds of occupations are happening all over the North America: in Oklahoma City and Tijuana, inVictoria and Fort Lauderdale.

The 99%

We are the 99% is the cry of the Occupy movement. This summer one of the flyers that helped launch the Occupy Wall Street protest read: “We, the 99%, call for an open general assembly Aug. 9, 7:30 pm at the Potato Famine Memorial NYC.” It was an assembly to discuss the September 17th occupation-to-come.

The Irish Hunger Memorial, so close to Wall Street, commemorates the million Irish peasants who starved in the 1840s, while Ireland remained a food-exporting country and the landed gentry continued to profit. It’s a monument to the exploitation of the many by the few, to the forces that turned some of our ancestors — including my mother’s four Irish grandparents — into immigrants, forces that are still pushing people out of farms, homes, nations, regions.

The Irish famine was one of the great examples of those disasters of the modern era that are not crises of scarcity, but of distribution. The United States is now the wealthiest country the world has ever known, and has an abundance of natural resources, as well as of nurses, doctors, universities, teachers, housing, and food — so ours, too, is a crisis of distribution. Everyone could have everything they need and the rich would still be rich enough, but you know that enough isn’t a concept for them.  They’re greedy, and their 30-year grab for yet more has carved away at what’s minimally necessary for the survival and dignity of the rest of us. So the Famine Memorial couldn’t have been a more appropriate place for Occupy Wall Street to begin.

The 99%, those who starve during famines and lose their livelihoods and homes during crashes, were going to respond to the 1% who had been served so well by the Bush administration and by the era of extreme privatization it ushered in. As my friend Andy Krollreported at TomDispatch, “The top 1% of earners enjoyed 65% of all income growth in America for much of the decade” just passed.  “In 2010,” he added, “20.5 million people, or 6.7% of all Americans, scraped by with less than $11,157 for a family of four — that is, less than half of the poverty line.” You can’t get by on less than $1,000 a month in this country where a single visit to an emergency room can cost your annual income, a car twice that, and a year at a private college more than four times that.

Later in August came the website started by a 28-year-old New York City activist, we are the 99 percent, to which hundreds daily now submit photographs of themselves. Each of them also testifies to the bleak conditions they find themselves in, despite their hard work and educations which often left them in debt, despite the promises dangled before them that (if they played the game right) they’d be safe, housed, and living a part of that oversold dream.

It’s a website of unremitting waking nightmares, economic bad dreams that a little wealth redistribution would eliminate (even without eliminating the wealthy). The people contributing aren’t asking for luxuries. They would simply prefer not to be worked to death like so many nineteenth-century millworkers, nor to have their whole world come crashing down if they get sick.  They want to survive with dignity, and their testimony will break your heart.

Mohammed Bouazizi, dead at 26, you to whom I’m writing, here is one of the recent posts at that site:

“I am 26 years old. I am $134,000 in debt. I started working at 14 years old, and have worked Full-Time since I turned 20. I work in I.T. and got laid off in July 2011. I was LUCKY, and found a job RIGHT AWAY: with a Pay Cut and MORE HOURS.
 Now, I just found out that my Dad got laid off last week – after 18 YEARS with the same employer. I have debilitating (SP! Sorry!) O.C.D. and can’t take time away from work to get treatment because I can’t afford my mortgage payments if I don’t go to work, and I’m afraid I’ll lose my NEW job if I take time off!!! WE ARE THE 99%.”

Some of the people at we are the 99% offer at least partial views of their faces, but the young IT worker quoted above holds a handwritten letter so long that it obscures his face. Poverty obscures your face too. It obscures your talents, potential, even your distinctive voice, and if it goes deep enough, it eradicates you by degrees of hunger and degradation. Poverty is a creation of the systems against which people all over the planet are revolting this wild year of 2011.  The Arab Spring, after all, was an economic revolt.  What were all those dictatorships and autocracies for, if not to squeeze as much profit as possible out of subjugated populations — profit for rulers, profit for multinational corporations, profit for that 1%.

“We are not goods in the hands of politicians and bankers,” was the slogan of the first student protest called in Spain this year. Your beautiful generation, Mohammed Bouazizi, has arisen and is bringing the rest of us along, even here in the United States.

The People’s Microphone

Its earliest critics seemed to think that Occupy Wall Street was a lobbying group whose chosen task on this planet should be to create a package of realistic demands. In other words, they were convinced that the occupiers should become supplicants, asking the powerful for some kind of handout like college debt forgiveness. They were suggesting that a dream as wide as the sky be stuffed into little bottles and put up for sale. Or simply smashed.

In the same way, they wanted this movement to hurry up and appoint leaders, so that there would be someone to single out and investigate, pick off, or corrupt.  At heart, however, this is a leaderless movement, an anarchist movement, catalyzed by the grace of civil society and the hard work of the collective. The Occupy movement — like so many movements around the world now — is using general assemblies as its form of protest and process. Its members are not facing the authorities, but each other, coming to know themselves, trying to give rise to the democracy they desire on a small scale rather than merely railing against its absence on a large scale.

These are the famous Occupy general assemblies in which decisions are made by consensus and, in the absence of amplification (by order of the New York City police), the people’s mike is used: those assembled repeat what is said as it’s said, creating a human megaphone effect. This is accompanied by a small vocabulary of hand gestures, which help people participate in the complex process of a huge group having a conversation.

In other words, the process is also the goal: direct democracy. No one can hand that down to you. You live direct democracy in that moment when you find yourself participating in civil society as a citizen with an equal voice. Put another way, the Occupiers are not demanding that something be given to them but formulating something new. That it involves no technology, not even bullhorns, is itself remarkable in this wired era. It’s just passionate people together — and then Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, text messages, emails, and online sites like this one spread the word, along with some print media, notably the Occupied Wall Street Journal.

The beauty and the genius of this movement in this moment is that it has found a way to define its needs and desires without putting limits on them that would automatically exclude so many. In doing so, it has spoken to nearly all of us.

There is the terrible rage at economic injustice that is shared by college students looking at a future of debt and overwork, as well as those who couldn’t afford college in the first place, by working people struggling ever harder for less, by the many who have no jobs and few prospects, by people forced out of their homes by the games banks play with mortgages and profits, and by everyone the catastrophe that is healthcare in this country has affected. And by the rest of us, furious on their behalf (and on our own).

And then there is the joyous hope that things could actually be different. That hope has been fulfilled a little in the way that an open-ended occupation has survived four weeks and more and turned into hundreds of Occupy actions around the country and marches in almost 1,000 cities around the world last Sunday, from Sydney to Tokyo to Santa Rosa. It speaks for so many; it speaks for the 99%; and it speaks clearly, so clearly that an ex-Marine showed up with a hand-lettered sign that said, “2nd time I’ve fought for my country, 1st time I’ve known my enemy.”  

The climate change movement showed up at Occupy Wall Street, too. What’s blocking action on climate change is what’s blocking action on all the other issues that matter: it would cut into profits.  Never mind the deep future, not when what’s at stake is quarterly earnings.

A dozen years ago, after the wildly successful revolt against neoliberal economic policy in Seattle, the slogan that stuck around was: “Another World Is Possible.” I was never sure about that one because in crucial places and ways that other world is already here.  In a YouTube video of the New York occupation, however, I watched an old woman in a straw hat say, “We’re fighting for a society in which everyone is important.” What a beautiful summation!  Could any demand be clearer than that? And could the ways in which people have no value under our current economic regime be more obvious?

What Is Your Occupation?

Occupy Wall Street. Occupy together. Occupy New Orleans, Portland, Stockton, Boston, Las Cruces, Minneapolis. Occupy. The very word is a manifesto, a position statement, and a position as well. For so many people, particularly men, their occupation is their identity, and when a job is lost, they become not just unemployed, but no one. The Occupy movement offers them a new occupation, work that won’t pay the bills, but a job worth doing. “Lost my job, found an occupation,” said one sign in the crowd of witty signs.

There is, of course, a bleaker meaning for the word occupation, as in “the U.S. is occupying Iraq.” Even National Public Radio gives the Dow Jones report several times a day, as though the rise and fall of the stock market had not long ago been decoupled from the rise and fall of genuine measures of wellbeing for the 99%. A small part of Wall Street, which has long occupied us as if it were a foreign power, is now occupied as though it were a foreign country.

Wall Street is a foreign country — and maybe an enemy country as well. And now it’s occupied. The way that Native Americans occupied Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay for 18 months four decades ago and galvanized a national Native American rights movement. You pick some place to stand, and when you stand there, you find your other occupation, as a member of civil society.

This May in Ohio, a group of Robin Hoods literally lowered a drawbridge they made so they could cross a “moat” around Chase Bank’s headquarters and invade its shareholders’ meeting. Forty Robin Hoods also showed up en masse last week in kayaks for a national mortgage bankers’ meeting in Chicago. Houses facing foreclosure are being occupied. Foreclosure is, of course, a way of turning people into non-occupants.

At this moment in history, occupation should be everyone’s occupation.  

Baby Pictures of a Revolt

Young man whose despair gave birth to hope, no one knows what the future holds. When you set yourself afire almost ten months ago, you certainly didn’t know, nor do any of us know now, what the long-term outcome of the Arab Spring will be, let alone this American Fall. Such a movement arrives in the world like a newborn. Who knows its fate, or even whether it will survive to grow up?

It may be suppressed like the Prague Spring of 1968. It may go through a crazy adolescence like the French Revolution of 1789 and yet grow beyond its parents’ dreams.  Radiant at birth, wreathed in smiles, it may become a stolid bourgeois citizen as did such movements in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the reunited Germany after civil society freed those countries from totalitarianism.

It may grow up into turbulence as has the Philippines since its 1986 revolution ousted the kleptocracy of the Marcos family. Revolution may be assassinated young, the way the democratic government of Mohammed Mossadegh was in Iran in 1953, that of President Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, and President Salvador Allende’s Chilean experiment on September 11, 1973, all three in CIA-backed military coups. On behalf of the 1%.

Whether a human child or a child of history, we can’t know who or what it will become, but it’s still possible to grasp something about it by asking who or what it resembles. What does Occupy Wall Street look like? Well, its siblings born around the world this year, of course, and perhaps in some way the American civil rights movement that began in the 1950s.

There was a national uprising in the United States no less spontaneous in its formation during the great depression of the 1870s, but the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 was violent, while the Occupy movement is deeply imbued with the spirit and tactics of nonviolence. The last Great Depression, the one that began in 1929, created a host of radical movements, as well as the Hoovervilles of homeless people. There are family resemblances. The marches and actions against the coming invasion of Iraq on February 15, 2003, on all seven continents (yes, including Antarctica) are clearly kin. And the anti-corporate globalization movement is a godmother.  And then there’s a sibling just a decade older.

Cousin 9/11

Zuccotti Park is just two blocks from Wall Street, and also just a block from Ground Zero, the site of the 9/11 attack. On that day, it was badly damaged.  This September 21st, my dear friend Marina Sitrin wrote me from Occupy Wall Street: “There are people from more diverse backgrounds racially, more diverse age groups, including not just a few children here with their parents, and a number of working people from the area. In particular, some of the security guards from the 9.11 memorial, a block away have been coming by for lunch and chatting with people, as has a local group of construction workers.”

If the Arab Spring was the decade-later antithesis of 9/11, a largely nonviolent, publicly inclusive revolt that forced the Western world to get over its fearful fantasy that all young Muslims are terrorists, jihadis, and suicide bombers, then Occupy Wall Street, which began six days after the 10th anniversary of that nightmarish day in September, is the other half of 9/11 in New York. What was remarkable about that day 10 years ago is how calmly and beautifully everyone behaved.  New Yorkers helped each other down those dozens of floors of stairs in the Twin Towers and away from the catastrophe, while others lined up to give blood, desperate to do something, anything, to participate, to be part of a newfound sense of community that arose in the city that day.

There was, for example, a huge commissary organized on Chelsea Piers that provided free food, medical supplies, and work equipment for the people at Ground Zero and also helped find housing for the displaced. It was not an official effort, but one that arose even more spontaneously than Occupy Wall Street, without leaders or institutions — and it was forcibly disbanded when the official organizations got their act together a few days later. Those who participated experienced a sense of democracy amid all the distress and sorrow, a tremendous joy in finding meaningful work and deep social connections, and a little temporary joy, as they often do in disaster.

When I began to study the history of urban disaster years ago, I found such unexpected exhibitions of that kind of joy again and again, uniting the generative moments of protests, demonstrations, revolts, and revolutions with the aftermath of some disasters.  Even when the losses were terrible, the ways that people came together to meet the occasion were almost always inspiring.

Since I wrote A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, I have been asked again and again whether economic crisis begets the same kind of community as sudden disasters. It did in Argentina in 2001, when the economy crashed there. And it has now, in the streets of New York and many other cities, in 2011. A sign at Occupy San Francisco said, “IT’S TIME.” It is. It’s been time for a long time.

No Hope But in Ourselves

The birth of this moment was delayed three years. Argentinians reacted immediately to the 2001 crisis and to long-simmering grievances with an economy that had ground so many of them down even before the government froze all bank accounts and the economy crashed. On the other hand, our economy collapsed three years ago this month to headlines like “Capitalism is dead” in the business press. There was certainly some fury and outrage at the time, but the real reaction was delayed, or decoyed.

The outrage of the moment did, in fact, result in a powerful grassroots movement that focused on a single political candidate to fix it all for us, as he promised he would. It was a beautiful movement, a hopeful movement, much more so than its candidate. The movement got its lone candidate into the highest office in the land, where he remains today, and then walked away as though the job was done. It had just begun.

That movement could have fought the corporations, given us a real climate-change policy, and more, but it allowed itself to be disbanded as though one elected politician were the equivalent of ten million citizens, of civil society itself. It was a broad-based movement, of all ages and races, and I think it’s back, disillusioned with politicians and electoral politics, determined this time to do it for itself, beyond and outside the corroded arenas of institutional power.

I don’t know exactly who this baby looks like, but I know that who you look like is not who you will become. This unanticipated baby has a month behind it and a future ahead of it that none of us can see, but its birth should give you hope.   

Love,

Rebecca

Copyright 2011 Rebecca SolnitRebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit is an activist and the author of many books, including:Wanderlust: A History of WalkingThe Battle of The Story of the Battle in Seattle (with her brother David), and Storming The Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics. Her most recent book is, A Paradise Built in Hell, is now available. She is a contributing editor to Harper’s Magazine