Barry Rosen, Occupy Oakland.org, November 18, 2011 in Open Mic
Now we, and millions of other Americans, wonder aloud and to our selves — what’s next for the Occupy Movement. The occupation of public spaces as a tactic for gaining sympathetic attention has, it seems, run its course. Public opinion is often moved by media outlets fronting for corporate public relations teams, grand-standing political demagogues, and the herd of paid prime-time television operatives.
Risks to popular support (over 50% of Americans now support the “it’s not fair” message of Occupy, twice the number who support the Tea Party), including self-inflicted ones, have been widely discussed and debated — e.g., diversity of tactics vs. non-violence principles is the louder voice in Occupy General Assemblies, mounting public costs for police, fire and sanitation, adverse affects on local business, and public health concerns.
The news updates about Occupy in the popular press over the last few days haven’t been flattering. The negative slant influences café and lunchroom conversations: “why do they have to be so violent?” even though 99% of our Occupiers are not. By way of contrast, thousands of Americans are cast into the emotional violence of homelessness and despair each week. Tenting out somewhere is a practical consideration for many of them. (Why not in the plaza of an international investment bank, or the lawns and courtyards of public institutions that provide passive or active support to the policies that immiserate the many?)
I have confidence that the Occupy communities will transform, from earth-grounded caterpillars to colorful butterflies. Many, many people are going through some form of transformational process now. Whether it’s the elders who are either remembering their 60s fire or wondering about Medicare, the family bread-winners who feel the intense pressure of maintaining a safe and secure household, or young people concerned about their futures — we are all questioning the “status quo,” “the way things work around here,” “who stole my cheese.”
We are engaged in a collective conversation, call it the “Occupy Consciousness” conversation, that asks us to consider what it means to be a responsible American, an awakened human being, and to consider Rabbi Hillel’s words: “If I am not for myself, then who am I for? If I am not for others, then who am I? If not now, when?”
An Occupy Consciousness conversation starts with a fact and a question, no one best question, but a question worthy of our capable minds and courageous hearts. Here’s an example:
Fact: Almost 20% of working age, and working-able people (people who want to work) in our country are either unemployed or under-employed. What responsibility do we want our elected representatives to take (at each level) in helping solve this problem? What responsibility are we each willing to take?
Fact: CEOs of the largest companies received, on average, $11.4 million in total compensation last year. Overall, CEOs of the 299 companies in the AFL-CIO Executive PayWatch database received a combined total of $3.4 billion in pay in 2010, enough to support 102,325 jobs paying the median wages for all workers. Average CEO compensation is 343 times worker’s median pay, the widest gap in the world. Why has that happened? What should/can be done about it? What can I/we do to turn the tide of greed?
Asking these questions (and so many others that address the disparities of wealth and opportunity in our society, and the rigged construction of the economic system) at family dinner tables, campus dining rooms, retirement community social halls, church gatherings, in protest gatherings — is a conversation that will fuel the transformation of Occupy into many educational, mobilizing, and action groups – and gird the will of core activists to continue their efforts through the winter chill into an American Spring.
Barry Rosen, Berkeley, CA