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Occupy Optimism

November 14, 2011

Interesting visit to Occupy Providence during the Coalition of Essential Schools Fall Forum. I am struck by how much these young people are working to figure this out. And there is a fair bit to figure out, which to me, explains the portrayal of Occupy as lacking clarity (so far).
There are multiple learnings for the occupiers. First is simply learning to live with less (or close to nothing). No TV, no video games, no electricity….For a generation raised plugged in (and often zombified by computers, Wii, gameboys, and other corporate supplied distractions, this non material world is a new (and hopefully awareness raising) discovery.
Then there is creating a community living together in a confined (and possibly illegal) space. Meeting new people, figuring out systems, working out norms is challenging enough, Throw in homeless or drug addicts and others who drop in and there is a whole bigger challenge of safety and self policing that is far from easy.
There is a major education effort, as young folk try to figure out the issues—military spending, feminist history, the convoluted tax code, political power, advertising and marketing, labor relations, globalization, environmental degradation, and the whole economic system…Somehow, I don’t think most 20 somethings have spent the last decade studying these complicated issues. And with each Occupier having a somewhat different priority, aligning all these into a coherent picture will take time.
For me (and probably others of an older generation), it seems that it should be somewhat easy to set out a vision and demands for change. I have been thinking of this for 30+ years. At some point, there may be a place in this movement for us older folk, but for now, it seems this is a time for the younger generation to figure this out themselves for a while before inviting us older folk in.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is what to do to change what is clearly a failing system even if there was clear agreement on the issues and “demands.” Again, the route for change I think most older folk recommend is through electoral politics. While this may be the right course eventually, it is not all that promising based on past results. I imagine a lot of occupiers feel they worked the electoral game to elect Obama and that hasn’t had dramatic results. The political system seems rigged to benefit the 1% with the power and money. Maybe politics is the only route for change in a democratic society, but since this hasn’t looked like the most productive body in recent years, I think the occupy movement is right to look for other means for change. Unfortunately, what these other options might entail is not immediately apparent—Boycotts? Teach-ins? Protests? Some new format we cannot imagine yet?
I don’t think the occupy movement will die off when the weather cools. While the encampments might go away, the 99% are desperate for change. It’ll take a while for the younger generation to educate themselves on the injustices they have been led to ignore. But the cause of greater fairness encompasses a wide swath of the American population. As we learn together, I think we may find a path for change.

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