Here you will find a select sampling of my personal 3 “R’s”- Rants, Reviews and Reporting. In no particular order, as my internal commentary on life as we know it has been a fairly consistent ongoing theme for pretty much my whole lifetime. If something strikes your fancy, feel free to start a conversation in the Comments section… but if you do, please do your best to show some respect. (it’s a free country… if you don’t like what I wrote, go ahead and start yr own blog!)
Why I’m Not Occupying Anything
June 2, 2012
So, we’ve had not quite a year’s worth of the Occupy movement in its various permutations by the time of my writing this. And there has been nowhere that the concept has found more of a naturally embracing home than in my current hometown of Portland, Oregon. Plenty of people I know in the local community have enthusiastically and passionately given up their time, resources, and in some cases, potentially risked their well-being in order to join the movement and to be part of Occupy in its attempt of a long-term camp-in in the downtown parks. Before that ever manifested, there had been a camp-in across the street in front of the city courthouse building, by homeless and disenfranchised people who have settled in to express a perennial, living commentary about the city’s treatment of its impoverished. So, of course, it’s no surprise that Occupy Portland has been such a popular hit and the subject of such ongoing discussion.
Now, I am going to pause long enough to point out that I support the basic premise of a lot of what the Occupiers are saying- at least in principle. After all– Is it true that the majority of global wealth is held by only the smallest percentage of Westernized countries? Yes. Is it true that big government and big business are corrrupt? Yes. Is it true that big gov’t and big business waste a lot of precious resources that could otherwise be used to help our common citizenry, by either letting one another off the hook to develop profit for selfish interests, or by finding new and ever more insidious ways to rip one another off? Of course. Is it true that, every single year, our own government spends more on military defense than on all the social services and health care programs in the nation, put together? Obviously. These things are so ubiquitous at this point that that I don’t feel it’s necessary for me to point them out. If you haven’t noticed exactly HOW ubiquitous these things are by now, I’m sorry but you’re probably way too far behind on the argument for me to be able to help you. Go back and read about Enron and then get back to us.
So, having said that: I thought it over for some time, as I watched the events of our local Occupy unfold, but I just haven’t been able to bring myself to participate.
This is both a new feeling for me, and a reconfirmation of a decision about what path I was going to take in life, from much earlier on. Born in 1969, I have spent much of my life suffused–if not sumberged– in a wash of sociopolitical change, controversy and drastic development. I’ve been around long enough to see Nixon broadcast on nightly news television, through Jimmy Carter, the Republican years, the Clinton years, all the way until now- 2012 and some of the strangest and most bizarre reversals, redux, and outbursts I have witnessed thus far. As a child a family from Chicago, IL it was impossible for me not to get an education on politics and governmental corruption- every week on our local news station, there would go another Alderman accused of criminal charges (somehow they always seemed to manage to remain in office despite this), and there was plenty of open discussion among my old world and rather Bohemian family about the state of affairs. So, I’ve had as contemplative of a stance towards the political scene as I’ve often had towards religion and spirituality (That’s a topic for discussion some other time.)
I’ve been a few places, and I got to see a taste of protest on the street in England, as well as in the United States– No Blood for Oil, Reclaim the Streets, Hell No WTO (the Portland version), our annual Mayday March— and so on. At first, the solidarity and the incredible feeling of power and optimism that goes along with such direct action was heady and felt wonderful to me- As a firey Saggitarius critter, of course taking action and shooting arrows of Truth against the evil tyrrany of The Man seemed right up my alley. People were getting up off their butts and saying something and really trying to make a difference in the world! Even when they were getting their heads bashed in with police shields! Go us!!!
But once I sat back and thought about it some more, I realized that I wasn’t really cut out for that sort of thing. Wouldn’t it be more effective to find ways to get others to work WITH you rather than AGAINST you? Wouldn’t it make more of a lasting impact to identify a set of core values and goals and to live those every day, rather than spend all of one’s time and protesting and simply being reactionary against someone else’s opinions and values? I found that, while I shared an unending amount of idealism with my esteemed protesters, I didn’t have the stuff to sustain that much of an impassioned fight. But I certainly could find ways to make changes in my own life and my own choices. Not saying that mine is the better or more correct way, but it was the way that became most correct for ME. And has continued to inform me from that point forward (which at this point has been for about the past 16-20 years.)
“let’s remember that there are more ways to achieve that kind of success than just staking out a tent in your local park.”
Which brings us back to recent events. So, during the time that Occupy was in full swing, I happened to be talking with a coworker (she shall remain nameless) who had been around long enough to remember protests from the 1960’s. She couldn’t help but be somewhat incredulous about the Occupy efforts. “When people protested in the ’60’s, it was about something,” she opined. “We were trying to get people out of Vietnam. Well yes, and also there were the race riots, people looking for equality. I have no idea what this Occupy thing is even supposed to be about.”
No idea what Occupy is supposed to be about. Mind you, I did try to explain it to her (to the best of my ability), but I didn’t really get much of anywhere. We wound up more agreeing with one another in our confusion, than anything else.
So my analysis, and my choice to sit out Occupy, is based on a few factors. It’s such a broadly based movement that it’s hard to even identify what is going on with the movement itself. The description on Occupy Wall Street’s website, itself, is not much help:
“#ows is fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations. The movement is inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and aims to fight back against the richest 1% of people that are writing the rules of an unfair global economy that is foreclosing on our future.”
Sounds great… and the attempt at bringing together people from all backgrounds, regardless of race, color, creed, or any other type of division that would normally lead to infighting and deterioration within a movement, is laudable. But how are one, a group, even a whole street full of people going to solve “the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations”? Simply: they can’t. It’s a reactionary movement, not one that is focused on acheiving a specific goal.
Additionally, Occupy’s stance of anarchic “no one is in charge” non-leadership has added to the confusion, with people in the Portland scene branching off into any number of causes, interests or protesting that they have attempted to ally with Occupy. The result with this effort has been to completely confuse and consternate both the local government, police force, and average citizens who had tried to go on their way to work and found themselves facing blocked streets for no apparent reason, and with no apparent end to the struggle– historically, because nobody could agree on how to apply direct action principles once our local Occupy park-camp was set up. The camp itself, while it ran for an impressive amount of time, ultimately collapsed under fragmentation, plus the weight of our local crop of junkies, alcoholics, homeless and seriously mentally ill folks who have been circulating the streets with nowhere to go (yet another topic of discussion for later), and who couldn’t resist the mirage of help, home and identity that the Camp seemed to offer them. Those who were trying to occupy Occupy didn’t know how to effectively handle them, and thus it didn’t take long for things to start going out of control.The police eventually moved in and ordered everybody to clean up their mess and go home.
The general ethos in Portland, after Occupy was dismantled, was one of continuing confusion. What was that all about? Who were these people? Why did they get so stubborn about the whole camp thing? Who’s responsible for all that trouble? etc. etc.
Listen, folks. Direct action is great, and direct action can acheive some really spectacular gains. If it didn’t we wouldn’t have many of the things we enjoy today- votes for women, freedom for people who were formerly enslaved and treated–literally–like second class citizens, ending a war that people didn’t support, and so on. But it is just one of many strategies used by social and political activists in order to accomplish their goals. Having seen what I’ve seen thus far, I will also point out that, while it’s one of the most attention-grabbing, it’s one of the most limited. Direct actions are designed to raise awareness in the public view about a cause, an idea, a problem, or an injustice. They don’t tend to last very long, and they are volatile and unpredictable critters, even with the best of intention and planning behind them. It takes a lot of skill, acumen and wise thinking to pull off a truly effective action. Think of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the kinds of marches he organized. His movement incorporated many of the same ideals and spoke out against many of the same ills that Occupy has. And yet people today are plenty clear on what his goal was in marching and what that movement stood for, and his legacy is well admired by many. He’s even got a whole holiday to himself–there aren’t too many activists out there in the world who can claim that one, after all! You can read more about his philosophy and principles here.
Occupy could learn a lot from even a brief history lesson. I feel that Occupy is also a victim of one of our largest social ills today- The “n” word. No, not that one, the other one- Narcissim.
People in today’s American culture are so far inside of it, most of the time, that we forget how much we are catered to by those very institutions we are speaking out against. We have not only grown accustomed to it, and younger generations enculturated to it, but we now expect and demand it. I’m sure you’ve seen many amusing examples of this in your own daily lives (kids with peace punk outfits from Hot Topic, or hippies with all-natural, fair trade organic clothing, complaining about their cell phone service, anyone??) and those of us within more radical circles tend to laugh at the inherent ironies much of the time. But we’re conditioned to them- the problem holds more depth and complexity than just a set of entitled attitudes. We have been manipulated into seeing the world from an insular perspective. It’s part of how you build a consumer-driven culture. And like it or not, we are all consumers. If you truly aren’t, you wouldn’t be reading this online article right now.
What this has done is to create an environment in which we have insular activism. The ideas and principles of Occupy, like the unauthorized protest a few years ago in Portland against, I believe, WTO (that blocked off SW Broadway and the MAX train line during rush hour, and caused a lot of mahyem and personal injury), are perfectly clear to the people who are protesting. But they ARE TOTALLY NOT CLEAR TO NON-ACTIVISTS. The people who succumb to impassioned protest activities these days have not stopped long enough to consider who their target audience is. They just know they are royally P.O.’ed, they are fed up and frustrated at the way things are, and they want to do something about it. Right NOW! They don’t consider how their actions will make a difference in the lives of others, or convey a message. They aren’t talking to the regular, average guy or gal on the street. They are talking primarily to one another, documenting to one another, speaking out to one another. I should know. I get to see many of the posts on Facebook.
If one of my friends who might be within the movement happens to be reading this, I hope that you take my criticisms as helpful pointers. I want to see people succeed in any genuine efforts to make the world a better place. No more crucial of a time than now, no more crucial of a place. Before the groundswell of Occupy chaos, of mounting frustration and inability to cope with everyday life, might send all of the well-intentioned efforts at activism off the rails into something far worse.
But let’s remember that there are more ways to achieve that kind of success than just staking out a tent in your local park. There are all of the daily contributions that people have been making, the ones that don’t make the news, all of the work in the background that moves us ever more gradually towards sustainability, towards self-sufficiency, towards peace, towards better understanding, towards well being and health, towards tolerance and justice. Don’t ignore the possiblity for change that each of YOU, dear readers, can potentially be making every single day. Don’t ignore the potential for creative redesigning, judicious volunteering, random acts of kindness, enlightening discussions, and mind-and world changing that exist once you start thinking about what you CAN do to help pitch in.
… And you don’t even have to occupy anything to do it.
(c) SBA 2012