Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Occupying Our Voices

How might our view of ‘them’ be different if we at home viewed the Occupy happenings not as a ‘movement’ but as a society being built before our very eyes?

Societies are made up of various components, the first of which is an actual gathering of people living and working in the same geographic area, in other words, a community located in time and space.

The stage-setting for various children’s stories about magical places often begins with a description of the place: what it’s like and how it’s different from where children usually live.

And maybe that’s a good lens through which to ponder Occupy Wall Street, especially for those of us on the outside.

The communication practices in Occupy Wall Street, such as General Assemblies, are designed to allow each community member and visitor to have a voice and for that voice to be heard, both literally and figuratively.

What might it mean for the central ethos of a society to be just that: assuring that the members of the society can each and all be heard?  What lies at the heart of such an ethos?

Some well-known givens in the United States come to mind: the free expression of thought; the protected rights of protest and the seeking of redress; respect for the individual.

But there are other aspects to the idea of being heard as playing out in the Occupy society-building enterprise as well: acceptance of all; valuing voices out of the mainstream of the society; responding to even unpopular voices with, at a minimum, a listening ear; connectedness, by virtue of a process which welcomes and embraces all; peacefulness with neighbor as Occupy’s truths are communicated firmly and persistently, but generally with respect.

Take a look at their signs and you’ll get a better sense of what’s happening here. . . You know things are messed up when librarians start marching . . . If only the war on poverty was a real war, then we would actually be putting money into it . . . When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace [my favorite, not least of which because the woman holding the sign stands beside a policeman making the peace sign] . . . I love humanity.  Let’s figure this s---- out together . . . I am a human being, not a commodity . . . You can’t arrest an idea . . . Due to recent budget cuts, the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off . . . The experience we live is of our making . . . Education in personal finance should be required like math, science and history . . . The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion. . . A better world is possible . . . It’s easier to buy a gun than my education . . . I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one . . . You have the right to remain silent, but I don’t recommend it. . . [held by a baby] If I can learn to share, you can too. . . 

There are, of course, other signs, other voices, not so humorous, clever, or even kind.  But, it strikes, me, the revolutionary thematic of Occupy Wall Street is not the demand that things change, but the real, genuine, enacted belief that they can, one voice at a time.

So as new societies emerge in tent cities across the United States and the world, society-building is happening right alongside . . . free health care clinics are springing up, food is shared, alternative energy sources to power their needs are explored and used, problem-solving is happening in collaborative ways, resistance to external pressures to disband, to ‘create’ a cohesive message (translate: give us a 60-second sound bite for the evening news) is firm, consensus building is happening, and those on the ‘other side’ are viewed not as enemies but as allies-in-waiting.

And it all began with one radical idea: lifted voices don’t create change . . . lifted voices actually are change.

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