Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned as an activist since the birth of the Occupy Wall Street movement on Sept 17, 2011.
Personal Empowerment = Social Empowerment
As we learn to accept and allow folks to use their own individual voices, the group is empowered. With OWS we are learning how to bring the best out of people rather than just condemn or judge them for their personal style, spiritual beliefs or political views. Welcoming new people to the movement should be a major focus of our activities if we want to succeed. The 99% is just waiting for someone to come along and say, “Join our side – we are all getting screwed by Wall Street and the multinational corporations!”
Last year we marched in the streets, set up occupy camps, and were arrested by unsympathetic corporate controlled police and political officials. Having been empowered personally by our connection to the movement and its values, we can now begin to build that world we have all been dreaming about.
This year people are at stage two of the process. In 2011 we focused on confronting the power structure with our demonstrations. We were an infant throwing a tantrum – crying and hoping to evoke sympathy from our parental authorities.
But on the one year anniversary of the movement it is perhaps time for us to stop asking the question, “Why won’t the political, religious and economic elite reform the systems that oppress us?”
The answer to that question is obvious. The economic power structure is not interested in supporting any governmental, religious or financial reforms, let alone a global social revolution. Changing the system would be detrimental to their own self-interests, and butting our heads up against a brick wall becomes tedious after a while.
Instead, I beleive that we are now empowered and compelled to build this new world ourselves – DIY!
We are no longer waiting for any of our so-called “leaders” to do the work for us. Our infantile stage has now passed and it’s time for us to mature as a movement, to put the past behind us – the political repression, and the negative corporate media propaganda.
Bottom line: it doesn’t matter what CNN or NPR say about Occupy Wall Street! Most of the US media doesn’t understand the altruistic, loving spirit of this movement, anyway. These values are foreign to them. They are only interested in asking, “Where’s the money?” “Where are your political candidates?”
So, in their eyes the movement has been a failure, but the real transformation has been on a personal level with everyone involved in OWS. Our collective eyes have been opened because we have been educating one another. And our apathy is gone because we now feel empowered to effect the changes we want within our own communities – our households, our neighborhoods and our cities.
In reality, the Occupy Wall Street movement has now turned a corner. A paradigmn shift has taken place over the last 12 months which has brought us to this moment where occupy activists across the nation and around the world are finally becoming aware of one another and are acknowledging their solidarity. Students across the country have been marching in solidarity with the students of Montreal. Orgainzers from the Idignados movement in Spain have been talking with occupy groups in the US. Hordur Torfason has addressed American occupiers on how Iceland managed to create its peaceful revolution. US activists have corresponded with Anna Hazare about the social justice movement in India. Wherever one looks on the planet, you will find people activley involved in the transformation of their society.
If this pro-democracy/anti-corruption movement is to succeed in the US, it will have to join forces with and become a full partner in the global movement for peace and freedom. We must listen and learn from our sisters and brothers throughout the world who are working to overcome corporate/state oppression. The movement can be easily stamped out in individual nations, but no one can stop something that is happening all over the planet in unison!
Many of the US activists have found roles within their own local occupy groups and in their local communities. Hundreds of Occupy working groups have been taking on a number of local and regional issues including the Keystone pipeline, Citizens United, GMO’s, anti-labor union legislation, student debt, attacks on the rights of immigrants, police brutality, homelessness, unfair tax policies, etc. Wherever the need arises for support of the poor and middle class, occupiers seem to be there. www.interoccupy.org
In Seattle folks are showing the way. Despite the usual infighting and burn-out isssues, the Occupy Seattle working groups have survived and some are actually flourishing. Operation “Mic Check” has conducted numerous money drops and organized flash mobs. The Student Noise Brigade marches every week. Activists in Seattle are organizing to open a free university and library as a response to student debt.
To combat hunger and poverty, groups in Seattle are providing free food disribution programs. And now some occupiers are talking about forming a local worker controlled coffee co-op to counter the mainstream culture of corporate greed.
With the urging and support of occupiers, the Seattle City Council and Washington State State Representative Bob Hasagawa are calling for the establishment of a publicly owned state bank as a way to bypass the rampant corruption and financial speculation taking place on Wall Street.
So, the lesson of the occupy movement has been, “Don’t wait for national leaders to create these new sustainable and equitable systems – build them yourself!”
Wall Street banksters are not going to reform themselves, no matter how many protests we stage, and regardless of how many activists are arrested. Since the infamous Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, money has become the only focus of national political campaigns. Any talk of abolishing the electoral college or of adopting publicly financed elections is ignored by both Washington, DC and the corporate media.
But even if our elected representatives refuse to listen to us, the hard work still must be done. At some point in this process, any objections or harassment from political officials will seem irrelevant because these new systems will be established at the local level without their assistance. The harsh austerity measures currently being forced on this country gives politicians a free license to cut all public funding for projects which promote the health, education and safety of our communities.
Apathy and a sense of powerlessness have been two of the typical symptoms of a consumerist society. People have come to believe that nothing important ever happens unless major corporations, the media, politicians or celebrities are invovled. The Occupy movement has proven that kind of midset is totally false and it’s counterproductive to personal and social development.
If your state refuses to set up a publicly owned bank, you can create a whole new underground economy through bartering and networking at the local level or within your own small community. Transfer your money from Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Chase to a small local bank or credit union.
If the local government is allowing people to go hungry – feed them! If they are uneducated teach them valuable skills.
The change has to start somewhere! It’s very obvious that our political leaders are unwilling to challenge the corrupt economic and electoral systems that have brought them to power. Our elected representatives are not going to take care of the people because they’re far too busy bailing out their corrupt friends on Wall Street!
WIth the limited resources available among the occupy groups, great things have been accomplished already and much more can be done to turn the tide of corporate greed and effect change in our own commuities. Our most valuable resourse is, of course, people. The knowledge and skills that these individuals possess will be the necessary tools we need to transform our society.
As we continue to bust the myths about our powerlessness, we must also understand the “power of non-importance”. What I am referring to here is the fact that because the movement has been largely dismissed by our political leadership as ineffective and unimportant, we have actually gained more freedom to organize. It is better for that us that the “powers that be” ignore us rather than see us as a direct threat to their system. In this way, we are able establish our new set of values and co-operative social arrangements in obscurity – below the radar, so to speak.
Without the media’s magnifying lense observing our behavior, it may be easier to work on the many of the group projects that occupiers have created. If you take away the negative corporate media scruntiny, you will most likely have a less insecure and less objectified movement. We are, after all, not really just “occupiers” anymore – we are individual human beings with real lives, authentic aspirations and important issues to tackle.
The media says, “You have no goals!”
I say, “Tell that to the activists who are trying to stop the homeforeclosures and end fracking!”
They say, “You have no organization!”
My response: “Explain that to the thousands of people who have been participating and organizing together at regional and national occupy conferences and forums in Gainesville, Des Moines, Olympia, St. Louis, Philadelphia, New York City, etc.”
The corporate media myths are a lie. We are now entering a new era of confidence and action. You may not see mass demonstrations and encampents at the parks, but if you look closely underneath the curtain of censorship, you willl find a highly effective and relevant social justice movement that is slowly transofrming American and global society. We are probably in a situation much like the abolitionists after the Missouri Compromise, or the Dred Scott decision. Our campaign for economic and social justice has been ignored and vilified by the media, but eventually our goals will be met. We are the future…
The uprising against Wall Street in New York City inspired an entire nation of activists to protest political and financial corruption.
It’s becoming quite obvious to me lately that the rumors about the death of the occupy movement have been greatly exaggerated…
Originally published in Truthout.