Talking with people before the General Assembly in DC, and spending time in the Occupy Tucson encampment, leads me to two basic conclusions: Occupiers are passionate about the dire and urgent need for change; and they are adrift, ungrounded, and searching for a foundation that could anchor that change. They don't understand how things got to this point--the root cause--nor do they have a sense of what it would take to turn things around--or at the very least head in a different direction. And please be aware that I'm speaking in generalities here. There are individuals within the occupy movement who are very aware of major aspects of this.
There is also a perception, echoed by much of the left/liberal media (the right/mainstream media is so far off-base in all of this they don't even factor into the discussion), that the core issue is Wall Street greed and corporate power in the financial and political arenas. That if we can just "green" and distribute the economy more equitably, and get money out of politics, everything will be fine. Well, I'm still waiting for someone to explain exactly how we're going to circumvent the laws of thermodynamics and not only increase the number of slices of our finite planetary pie, but allow them all to grow infinitely larger.
But that's another conversation, although it must take place sooner rather than later. As environmental lawyer and former dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies Gus Speth says, "Our challenges require moving beyond incremental reform to systemic change that addresses the root causes of our current distress."
When the problem is systemic, the best place to start is everywhere at once. Since that is impossible (or at the very least presents logistical difficulties), Wall Street is as good an initial target as any. But, as I keep pointing out, there will be no economy on a dead planet. What too many seem concerned with regarding our financial system--on the political right and left--is loss of personal affluence and convenience; with the need to change their lifestyles, which they believe are suiting them just fine, thank you very much, if the greedy 1% would just share a bit more. This may be the main reason the 99% have yet to actually join the Occupiers. Global warming--which makes today's Robber Barons look like pikers--brings sustaining life itself into question, and we place it on the back-burner to our ultimate peril. And Peak Oil and other dwindling natural resources (forests, copper, freshwater, topsoil, fisheries) are intimately intertwined with both financial collapse and climate catastrophe.
My caution here is that we may be focusing our energy on the wrong initial target, and this is another important conversation we should delve into honestly and resolve quickly. However, as long as we're connecting the dots towards a clear common goal, it may not make much difference where we start. All of it must be dealt with. However, clarifying that common goal is going to become even more important as the occupation wears on.
The occupiers deeply, and rightly, sense that things are not going well, and it's not just because orthodox economic growth indicators are in the toilet and getting ready to disappear down the sewer. It's because they are being personally affected by unemployment, increasing debt, decreased purchasing power of what little money they do have, loss of so many of the natural places they enjoyed in their youth (or even last week), increasing toxicity of body and ecosystems, and a decreased connection to community relationships that have been paved over by advancing urban sprawl and an industrial mindset that requires longer hours of servitude for fewer material rewards--and no emotional or spiritual ones.
So, it's really no great mystery that occupiers should be feeling adrift and ungrounded. They are part of a culture that has lost its mooring and its way; that has forgotten what makes life meaningful and enjoyable. A culture that can only offer addictive substitutes for these losses. Where passive TV viewing substitutes for a natural sense of creativity, where shopping substitutes for psychological and spiritual health and well-being, where innovation is purchased rather than contributed to, where abusive relationships are clung to because no others are available. This is a culture that has forgotten that money can't buy happiness; it can only contribute to the GDP by buying anti-depressants. In record quantities. For an ever growing segment of the population.
Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone is wondering what the future of Occupy Wall Street could be or move toward. Michael Rectenwald of Citizens for Legitimate Government says we have a flawed praxis due to lack of a coherent theory. Dave Lindorff of This Can't Be Happening writes in regard to developing a response to global warming that he simply doesn't know what to do. I believe there is a path--and a rather practical one at that--and I believe it meets the requirements expressed by Naomi Klein, writing in The Nation (and so many others making this same point such as Chris Hedges), to present a coherent narrative and a systemic, practical alternative that is congruent with the natural systems all else emerges from.
Here's what my wife Allison and I have been working on for the last year--as we refine our past decade's worth of research and activism--to address these needs and concerns: Coalitions of Mutual Endeavor
It is necessary to both criticize and stop systems that concentrate wealth and power; systems that are ultimately destroying our one and only life support system--popularly referred to as planet Earth. We must understand how these systems are setup and held in place. However, it is even more necessary to develop and implement an alternative system that is not based on exploitation, inequality and fear. And if the goal is to create a sustainable future that has justice, equity, and democracy as integral aspects of its foundation, then it must work with, rather than against, the creative nurturing force of life itself.
The fundamental self-organizing principles of the Occupy movement (even though they may not yet recognize them as such) work to facilitate collective action. This adheres rather closely to the manner in which life itself tends to work. The next step would be to begin getting good at and refining non-hierarchical methods of organizing, communicating, and decision making, and then start applying them to improving the quality of life of the 99%--which necessarily includes providing opportunities for all to be responsibly contributing members of their community. The latter often tends to be referred to as work, although I prefer the term--and its deeper meaning--right-livelihood.
The tools to do this are available. If we apply them together, we can succeed.