For the last week or so, I have been arguing with other members involved in the Occupy movement regarding a fundamental assumption. They believe that the apathy, short attention spans, and desire for immediate gratification that describe a vast number of Americans are obstacles to the realization of any change in our political system and must be addressed before any other action is taken. In this view, the American people need to be awakened and educated regarding the issues before change can occur. As a developmental educator, a political scientist who specializes in political change movements, and recovering alcoholic, I know from my experience, education, training, and observation that assumption is faulty.
Working in the Occupy movement, I have encountered scores of individuals with passion, intelligence, and willingness to work to achieve the goals of the movement. My chief complaint, voiced by many others in and outside the movement, is that action is not being taken to address the ills facing our country that the movement has identified. I have said since November that the Occupy movement is treading water, wasting its energy doing the same things over and over without any movement forward. That remains the case with the efforts in the groups I have joined, the affiliated organizations I have dealt with, and many of the individuals who are taking the lead in pushing the agenda of the Occupy movement. Everyone is treading water. I was told that Bill Maher even pointed this out recently.
My plan has been and remains a way for the Occupy movement to take the essential, next step. It depends on tapping into the one resource we have, the activists and supporters in and around the Occupy movement. It requires that they take up a document such as the Proposed Petition for Redress and Call to Action that summarizes the principles, grievances, redress sought and action needed as the Occupy movement has identified them and use it to go to the American people to explain the Occupy movement. Here is where developmental education comes into play. The American people are quite capable of digesting the contents of a two page document. It was written with the assistance of five teenagers in my Introduction to Political Science class at Hudson Valley Community College. It has been reviewed, commented on, and revised in a process that began November 8, 2011. It is the lynchpin with which the Occupy movement can turn the American public toward change. The Proposed Petition may be a challenge to some to understand, but that it is why it must be presented in the first instance by occupiers to their friends and family in person. The occupiers are the mentors to their friends and families in explaining what the Occupy movement is all about as described in the Proposed Petition. The first principle of developmental education is to set a high standard, identify the student's strengths and abilities, and use those strengths and abilities to help the student achieve that high standard. All obstacles and weaknesses are ignored. The focus is solely on success.
It does not matter whether Americans are apathetic, have short attention spans, or have difficulty understanding complex issues. Using that assumption as the basis for a plan of action to change the American political system is counterproductive. Trying to address those issues before seeking change puts off change to the indefinite future. I did not realize that others in the Occupy movement that supported my plan assumed the American public is the obstacle to change. When I found out, I said they were wrong. I was castigated for belittling people by saying they are wrong. My "negative" behavior was denounced. The root of the conflict is that the people arguing with me believe I am criticizing their opinions. I am not. I am saying their assumptions are incorrect. They got the facts wrong. And as an educator, it is my job to not only tell people when they get the facts wrong but also to explain what the correct answer is.
The correct answer is that the American people are capable of understanding a two page document explaining the Occupy movement when it is present to them by an occupier in person who is their friend or family member. The correct answer is that people will take a few minutes out of their day to discuss politics, hear someone out and, if they agree, signal their agreement. That process, by the way, overcomes the apathy, short attention spans, and lack of education by ignoring them and pressing on with the lesson. It is that one on one dialogue that has done the most to build support for political change than any other in any movement any time in history. That dialogue is at the core of programs of recovery as well, where one person shares his experience, strength, and hope with someone who is still in the throes of his problems. By that process, they walk out hand in hand, together. And then they share with someone else. Most importantly, the person going in does not do so expecting to change the person he is working with. Rather, he expects to be changed in the process of trying to help another person. That is my plan for the Proposed Petition.
Proposed Petition for Redress and Call to Action
In 1776, representatives of the residents in thirteen North American colonies adopted a Declaration of Independence that set forth the philosophical principles behind their recent and future actions, their grievances against King George III of Great Britain, and the redress they sought. Among other things, that Declaration made note of the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The writer of the Declaration substituted "pursuit of happiness" for "property" found in earlier formulations of those three inherent rights.