“Don’t criticize what you can’t understand.” –Bob Dylan
So, you took off from work on May 1 but opted to not explain about May Day to any of your co-workers. Little did you know that you’d be recognized in footage on the evening news and find yourself face-to-face with a skeptical colleague, who ponders: I don’t get it. What do the occupiers want? Why is there no clear agenda?
You: Um, have you heard of a little something called the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City?
Colleague: Yeah, maybe, kinda… but still, everyone says they lack a coherent message.
Mic Check: Pardon us, but all the comprehensive and meaningful agendas like “Yes We Can” and “Hope and Change” and “Shock and Awe” were already taken.
Colleague: I read in the papers and saw on TV that…
You: Whether you label them liberal or conservative, most major media outlets are large corporations owned by or aligned with even larger corporations, and they share a common goal: to make a profit by selling a product — an affluent audience — to a given market: advertisers. Therefore, we shouldn’t find it too shocking that the image of the world being presented by a corporate-owned press very much reflects the biased interests of the elite players involved in this sordid little love triangle.
As they ponder this unexpected dose of reality, up walks a second co-worker, who asks: But who are the leaders? Why don’t they have any leaders?
Possible first reaction: How’s the whole leaders/hierarchy/top-down concept exactly worked out for us — or any life form? Why would a movement for change replicate relics from the omnicidal system we are seeking to replace as soon as possible?
More accessible reply: Go to your local occupation, participate, communicate, listen, and learn because (as usual) the reality is diametrically opposed to the conventional wisdom: Everyone at Occupy is a “leader.” It is a movement comprised of thousands of “leaders” from all walks of life — working collectively and sharing skills — without the spirit-crushing hierarchies and chains of command.
Now, you’re drawing a crowd and this includes Mr. Googler who recites something he’s quickly dug up via his favorite search engine: “At the time of the November 2011 eviction, Brookfield Office Properties, which owns Zuccotti Park, put out a statement, which read, in part: ‘Sanitation is a growing concern. Normally the park is cleaned and inspected every weeknight … (but) the protestors refuse to cooperate … and as a result, sanitary conditions have reached unacceptable levels.'”
Deep sigh, then reply: Firstly, why would you automatically take a press release from a real estate company at face value? (pause for effect) Better question: Have you ever wondered why we’re discussing the allegedly unsanitary conditions at a one-square-block park in the midst of an urban landscape when, for example, 81 tons of mercury are emitted into the atmosphere each year as a result of electric power generation; every square mile of ocean hosts 46,000 pieces of floating plastic; every second, 10,000 gallons of gasoline are burned in the United States; each year, Americans use 2.2 billion pounds of pesticides; and every day, 13 million tons of toxic chemicals are released across the globe?
Co-Worker #2: C’mon, what about all the damage I heard was done to the trees and plants in the park?
You: If you wanna talk damage, let’s recognize that thanks to the dominant culture, 80 percent of the world’s forests have already been cut down while 200,000 acres of rainforest are destroyed every 24 hours. Since most of the rainforest clear cutting is done to make room for the grazing of doomed cattle, bear in mind that every burger made with rainforest requires the destruction of 700 pounds of living matter: 20-30 plant species, 100 insect species, and dozens of reptiles, birds, and mammals.
Up walks some guy from the mailroom, who adds: All I know is that thanks to Occupy, New York City is wasting millions in overtime to cops assigned to the protest.
You: If you wanna talk about money wasted on thugs, let’s compare that amount to the 54 percent of American taxpayer dollars that fund the largest ‘occupation’ force in the history of humanity, e.g. the U.S. Department of Defense — the planet’s worst polluter, by the way.
Co-worker #3: Why call the cops thugs when they’re just doing their job?
Thanks to your own search engine use, you share this tidbit from the Nuremberg Tribunal: “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”
Meanwhile, the first skeptic is still stuck on his original point: I don’t understand why they won’t just list their demands.
You: Demands do not challenge the power structure. Demands validate the power structure. If we have to ask the 1% to modify some of their behavior, we are acknowledging and accepting that the possibility of change is their choice and we thus authenticate their freedom to exercise their power over us. Plus, of course, they’ve long figured out that offering the occasional minor concession further reinforces this tacit arrangement.
In addition, a demand often removes an issue from its larger context. The 1% have little problem with the rabble focusing on single issues, say, student debt or campaign finance reform. While those debates have their place, they’re still only symptoms of a disease now in its terminal phase.
Mic Check: The “problems” exposed by OWS are not merely flaws within a basically fixable system.
The conversation wanes as your co-workers begin to realize that they can’t effectively debate armed only with corporate media sound bites — until a loud voice is heard from the back of the office: Ah, those damn losers should just shut up and get a job.
This brings some people back to the conversation and provides you with an excellent opportunity to defend the movement from its most common straw man attack.
You: How do you know who does or doesn’t have a job? Besides, in choosing this tack, skeptics like you ironically ignore the economic issues that spawned OWS in the first place while tacitly offering support for maintaining a rigged system based on rampant inequality — a system that offers nothing but misery.
It appears the “get a job” crowd would rather aim their growing anger and fear at a random protestor they believe may not have a job than at the global criminals responsible for consuming, poisoning, and killing our shared ecosystem.
Mic Check: Even if every jobless occupier found paid work, it wouldn’t do anything to rescue our dying ecosystem.
One more try from the voice in the back: Yeah, whatever, the occupiers are just selfish and lazy.
Before you reply, make a mental note to send everyone you know a link to the blog called: At the Heart of an Occupation.
You: If you feel compelled to flippantly toss around the word “lazy” when discussing people you’ve never met, please allow me to suggest a new perspective.
Lazy: Allowing the professional propagandists of the corporate media to do your thinking for you.
Not Lazy: Volunteering your time and energy (under constant threat of arrest) to cook organic, locally grown food to feed the homeless.
Lazy: Staying home and judging OWS without any research or personal interaction.
Not Lazy: Giving up a tenured academic position in another state to come live in a tent in a NYC park and work tirelessly for social justice.
Lazy: Pretending everything is fine and that America is the land of opportunity.
Not Lazy: Facing up to the myriad crises facing all life on the planet and recognizing the urgency of these crises.
Lazy: Giving a few bucks to a charity or writing an annual check to some mainstream eco-group and feeling like you’ve done your part.
Not Lazy: Standing up to relentless police repression and brutality without even a hint of retreat or surrender.
Lazy: Being a willing consumer of material goods and cultural conditioning.
Not Lazy: Imagining an alternative form of human culture and beginning the process of making it happen.
Take a deep breath, make sure they’re still with you, and toss this in: What’s happening is the cultivation of an alternate model of human culture. Several man-made hierarchies, constructs, and barriers have already been (at least) temporarily smashed. What OWS is modeling is a far more cooperative, creative, participatory, tolerant, and downsized way of living.
Voice in the back: Well, good for them, I guess… but it’s not my thing to get involved with politics and protest and all that. Why should I?
Here’s where you drop one more nugget from the Nuremberg Tribunal: Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. Therefore they have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring.
Mic Check: It’s our duty to get involved.
The voice in the back is silenced but that first skeptic leans in and whispers: So, how do you think it will it all end?
You smile, place your hand on his shoulder, and whisper back: Occupation does not end. So, let’s not waste time imagining potential endgames when we all know that a successful movement must be an enduring process.
Are there legitimate issues about and within OWS? Of course… but that’s precisely why we need you to see past the propaganda and bring your skills and gifts to the movement so it can continue to evolve.
Mic Check: If you find yourself in a similar conversation, see if you get at least one participant to join you at the next Occupy event. Nothing explains Occupy better than participation.
Mic Check: Perhaps we need to create a “Bring-a-Friend to Occupy” Day soon?
We are the 99%. Expect us. Join us…