Ready for the Revolution?
My first experience with Occupy Wall Street, the current and only hope of a revolution in the U.S., was seeing a chalked message on the asphalt of the bike path I often walk on. I can’t remember the exact wording of it, but in neat, jut-the-right-size letters it invited the reader, as one of the 99%, to go to the website. I did, and discovered that the movement, which didn’t seem to have gained much traction at that point, had been started by the Canadian media literacy group Adbusters. The message only stayed on the walkway for a few days before someone completely washed it off.
A few days later, I saw a big newspaper ad, in red, white, and black, asking, “Ready for the revolution in…?” whatever they were advertising. I cut out the “Ready for the Revolution” part and pinned it to my bulletin board. But a few days ago the thought came to me, “Am I really? What if the revolution turns out to be just as awful in its own way – or worse than – the current situation? After all, despite my beliefs, I’m pretty comfortable here.” I tossed that around for a day or two, and finally realized that, whatever happens in the future – revolution, no revolution, or other things entirely – my best bet will be to try to respond as I’m trying to respond now – according to my best values: with as much love, compassion, non-violence, and non-judgment as possible, while standing up for what I believe is right – inclusiveness, equality, dignity, and direct democracy – with as much courage as I can muster.
I also realize that the best way to affect the outcome, however minutely, is to put in my two cents/my oar/my granito de arena. The last phrase (“grain of sand” in Spanish) comes from the film “Granito,” which I was fortunate enough to see last night at the Good Works Film Festival here in Eugene. It’s a Mayan peasant expression brought to the world by Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchu, a friend of the filmmaker, Pamela Yates. The solution to problems is collective – we all need to put in our grains of sand. Which doesn’t mean we, as individuals, will necessarily approve of the short-term outcome (and all outcomes in our lifetimes are short-term). It’s just the best we can do.
Occupy Wall Street
The powers-that-be are already trying to fit Occupy Wall Street into their own mold, even advising Obama to concede enough to it to win the 2012 presidential election. Todd Gitlin in today’s New York Times is a prime example, insisting that the movement will have to create a specific program as it gains “allies,” all of which, like labor unions, are fixtures of the current system and supporters of the Democratic Party. And we all know what happens to those who work within the Democratic Party, the firmest of all the fixtures of the corporate-and-financial elite-dominated status quo. Any original or even slightly revolutionary idea they ever had disappears into its business-as-usual maw.
The fact that Todd Gitlin was chosen by the Times to write a piece on the subject is instructive in itself. Gitlin, the head of Students for a Democratic Society during the ’60s, now totally co-opted into the system and carrying the tainted whiff of hippies/young people-who-do-their-thing with no long-term consequence, expresses the paper’s hope that the Occupy movement will similarly disappear down the rat hole of history, to be resurrected only long enough for an occasional nostalgic coffee table book. (The Times, of course, is another bastion of the plutocracy, presenting “all the news” it sees “fit to print.” Reading it can be instructive for that reason.)
One bright light in the otherwise misrepresentative (I hope) picture of the new mass movement appeared two days ago on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” when Margot Adler patiently but consistently countered host Neal Conan’s efforts to understand it through a system lens. Adler, still a good ol’ pagan hippie despite her employment by mainstream media, highlighted the new and revolutionary elements in OWS, including its amorphousness – so appropriate at this stage – as did the interviews with folks at the New York occupation site.
No more labels, please! Even “populist” is a word the status-quo-ers have tainted. OWS’s amorphousness could be its biggest strength, containing as it does the very revolutionary concept of inclusiveness – responsiveness to the people, the masses, the 99% who aren’t benefitting from the current system, and all their visions and ideas. (Tea Partiers, you need to join!) Part of this is listening to the voices of the people gathering at the occupation sites. What they have to say is much more important than the tired old refrains of the media hacks they’re befuddling, people with no room in their brains for really new/old/revolutionary ideas, filled as they already are with fear that they’ll lose their jobs and be forced out on the street, too. The street, as one participant pointed out for NPR, where folks are actually meeting face to face, living together, and getting a chance to see what they – and others – are all about. Public honesty.
All such a far cry from the masked, lying “leaders” and politicians usually hogging the stage that it’s no wonder many don’t get it yet. It’s the unknown, a clean slate that you, too, can write on. Stop expecting everything to be all spelled out beforehand, and get involved!