Thursday, December 29, 2011

What's Next for the 99%?

The Occupy movement in Vermont has felt widespread support from the community. But it has not been adept in including those supporters in its process. How can folks who identify with the Occupy Wall Street movement be part of the movement? Surely not by attending a General Assembly! There would never be enough room for everyone!

Folks active in the movement and folks who are not, I think, have this common interest: To find a meaningful way for every Vermonter who is sympathetic to the concerns of the Occupy movement to participate and propel the change we want to see. From down here on the ground, "How can we extend our sense of empowerment to the full diversity of the 99%?".

There are deep questions about what those concerns actually are, and what the values are that drive those concerns, but answers to the question might be simpler than expected, and more interesting, for supporters of the movement.

Many of the values and methods of the Occupy movement come out of Anarchist thought. Like the Trojan horse and liberal democracy, it carries within it the seeds of its own destruction, and the seeds of profound creativity. These seeds invite anyone to participate, to define a purpose and a goal, and pursue it. In an interesting coincidence, it distills to the state motto of Vermont: Freedom and Unity, That our personal freedom is protected by our unity, that our unity is lost if we exercise our freedom to the detriment of those around us. It is a profound paradox, and the ignition point of potentially profound creativity.

Which means that the answer to the question "What are the goals of the Occupy movement?" is probably held within you. YOU know exactly what those goals are, because you help to define them and express them. When you act on them, you participate in creating the world we all want to live in.

But doesn't the Occupy movement have goals? Aspirations? Isn't there an organization setting policy? If I am not signed up and paying dues, how do I (or does anyone) know I am part of the movement? How do I know I will be accepted as contributing, and how do I gain some control over what other people are doing? If there is no authority, no hierarchy, no precise definition of the ideals of the movement, "How do I find the boundaries of what is possible?". Who will hold me accountable for my actions?

As I understand it, yes, there are goals and aspirations, and no there are not. Chief among them is liberation from hierarchy, so no one else decides for you what they are. So no, there are no goals and aspirations which are dictated to you. The values goals and aspirations are determined culturally, by conference, collaboration, and relationship. The dues you pay to join this movement are the efforts you make to discover your power, and to connect with other people who are discovering their power. They are the efforts you make to create relationships with other Occupiers in which you are a leader among leaders. The dues you pay are contained within the effort you make to work out your actions as an equal member of a community, in which your team is equal to every other team, in which our clusters of teams (working groups, trust groups) are equal to that of every other across the nation and the world.

Americans are generally not accustomed to non-hierarchic cultures, where privilege is eschewed. The culture of Occupy intends to change that. Occupy your heart. Occupy your humanity. Occupy your authority. Occupy your right to be. Occupy your being. Occupy with us.

To me, the Occupy movement is fundamentally about building a culture and building community based on that culture. Privilege withers where people insist on relationships of equality. Community is the chief strategy for combating the ills of privilege, and it relies on mutual accountability. We are accountable to each other because we are all equal in our authority. This is the root of our freedom and our unity. We can do what we want to, but expect others to sometimes disagree, and tell us as much. Since there are no police, no priests and no judges, we can keep doing what we want to, with whatever support we might or might not get from the rest of the community. It is commitment to prosperous coexistence which holds us together. It is the understanding that "I must make the world safe for you so that you will want to make it safe for me.", which compels mutual accountability and doing the right thing.

As a person accustomed to the hierarchy of American society, emerging into equality has been a profound experience. By itself, I don't think this vision is sufficient for managing the affairs of the world, nor even of a small state like Vermont, but the vision isn't complete. And the vision is a culture, an evolving organic cluster of possibilities, not a rigid set of rules which preordains the solutions. We all get to participate in creating the world we want to see, and we do have some great challenges to meet!

Once you know that you identify with the Occupy movement, all that anyone needs to do to participate, then, is form a group - two typical forms are working groups and affinity (or trust) groups* - develop a plan, and take action. This openness might seem utterly cavernous. There are numerous ways to get grounded.

The first is the most natural in a new, uncontrolled environment: To ask "Why am I here?". Your sense of connection to the Occupy movement is your reason for participating. Another good question is "What do I want for myself and the world that connects me to the Occupy movement?". And, "How can I put force behind the change that I and the Occupy movement advocates?". Answering these questions leads you to specific actions that you might want to take.

If you are already active, in an anti-war group, in domestic violence education, in promoting community solidarity, in feeding people, if you are doing these things to empower people, to build a culture of mutual care, you are already involved. Now, just say to people, "This is my Occupation!".

Other ways include reading the blogs, "friending" or "liking" the Facebook pages, picking up some of the new books about the Occupy movement, surfing the internet for news and discussion, and generally engaging in self education. One place to start is our web page, Probably the best way is to connect with people who are active in the movement. The General Assembly is a logical starting point for meeting folks, but not necessarily the most friendly. They are business meetings and do not conduce to conversation. A new person would attend to find out what the current business is, and to be there at the end to meet other people. Another way is to join an existing working group.

Beyond these actions, I would have to ask you, "What do we who are active in the movement need to do to connect with you and assist your organizing?". What are the natural channels of communication where you would expect to see us and you do not? How can we help you in ways that we are not? What needs doing that we are not doing, so you can connect? Answers to these questions can be entered as a comment to this blog. Later, with demand, communication will open and we will become more adept at connecting with you, and the full diversity of the 99%. There will be channels. We need to work on them. (There is no organization and no one is full time!)

In recent conversation, some of us have come to see movement development not as recruitment, but as communication and empowerment. Our job is not to tell you or anyone what is right or how to get there, our job is to establish those lines of communication, to empower people to act in accord with conscience, and fuse these diverse interests into a unified effort. Our goal, I think, is to connect us to each other, to build the community that becomes the world we want to see.

This is what the Occupy movement is about for me. The other issues, such as the decay of democracy, profligate consumerism, pathological corporate greed, are expressions of the way our society has failed to achieve our goals. Along side of the destruction of a corrupt, bankrupt system, we have a vision of a new world which is really the only world that is sustainable. Any thing you can do to help us get there is part of the plan, and a great way for you to participate.

(* Foot note: A "working group" is a committee. It is defined as being open to anyone, and as operating by consensus. An "affinity group" - aka "trust group" - is a small cluster of people who work and train together, and because membership is by agreement of the members, bond and develop trust that is not possible in a working group. Other groups using other definitions are also possible, at the discretion of the participants. The key is that the participants decide how to implement their values, with an expectation of mutual accountability.)

P.S. Anyone with the patience to join a still incubating working group, and interested in building the communication channels for the 99%, might look up the google group for Community Development , a working group whose mission is "Visioning our future and our success, as a community and a movement, in the full diversity of the 99%", for the entire state of Vermont.


Jennifer said...

Hey Steve. I enjoyed reading your latest blog entry. It is quite intense.

If I were to visit specific places to spread the word about Occupy Burlington/ Vermont I think some of your points would be great to share.

Maybe we can talk about this at the next info/outreach meeting.

Thank you for directing me to your blogspot.


Cecile Green said...

Hey Stephen! Thoughtful article! I love your attention to the need and potential of relationship. Look forward to discussing further with you... See you soon.