The Occupy movement is alive, credible and growing in the United States and the world. International in scope, it began just a few months ago in New York City, followed by San Francisco. A few weeks later the protests had spread to 95 cities across 82 countries and over 600 communities in the United States. Ordinary people are standing up to a system which they feel is unequal and unfair. The eviction at Zuccotti Park served only to make the movement stronger.
In a world where the wealthy elite, known in the movement as the 1 percent, have all the power and control, 99 percent of the people feel powerless to effect changes that would make their lives better.
Why the Protest?
People have found that they cannot get help from government. Government's way of dealing with the national debt and economic crisis is to reduce taxes on the rich and reduce benefits to the poor. The focus is still on "trickle- down" economics, which simply doesn't work. After more than a quarter-century, the concentration of wealth at the top has not enriched the bottom. Instead, the rich have increased their wealth, resources and power. It doesn't really matter whether you are a Democrat or a Republican. The government's ideology has become irrelevant to the 99 percent.
People also see that the normal checks and balances in a democracy aren't working. The corporate-dominated government reduced regulations and oversight on banking and environmental policy, which led to the economic meltdown of 2008 and environmental catastrophes. Then, in 2010, the Supreme Court unleashed the power of corporations to further buy the government through corporate personhood. And the corporate-owned media aren't talking about much of anything other than Charlie Sheen and Paris Hilton.
And certainly, the corporate elite with the money won't help. It isn't in their interest.
Critics of the Occupy movement point to the absence of a clearly articulated list of demands and a lack of leadership. Well, the old style of protest doesn't work. This is a new kind of protest with a broad range of people and interests and is NOT organized in the usual manner - from the top down. Armed with Internet connections and empathy, people with different backgrounds and frustrations are coming together to support each other.
Their homemade signs tell their stories: "I'd like to buy a politician but I have no money." "I'm a Born Again American." "I'd Rather Be Working!" They are empowering themselves and each other, moving out of their individual plights of shame and embarrassment to find hope in camaraderie. The message from the people is actually very clear. The existing power structures must change to meet the needs of us all, not just the top 1 percent.
What Are People Doing?
Concurrent with protest, people are initiating change through their actions. We're taking charge. When people find their power, they add meaning to their lives through their individual and unique contributions. One by one, the models for change are everywhere, though you'll never see them on Fox News or hear them through the corporate-owned media megaphones. But look around. They are happening.
People are demanding change in financial institutions.
- The Bank of North Dakota, currently the United States' only state-owned bank, has an AA rating and returned a 26 percent profit to the state. It is a model for the emergence of state-owned and community-owned banks.
- In October, over 650,000 people moved their money from the "too big to fail" banks into community-based banks and credit unions. And the process isn't showing signs of slowing down.
People are demanding changes in the law to protect people and the natural world.
- In 2008, Ecuador became the first nation to grant inalienable rights to nature by adding rights of nature to its constitution. Upholding the law, a judge recently stopped destructive corporate development in a suit brought by ordinary residents on behalf of the Vilcabamba River.
- All over the United States, communities have begun to adopt community bills of rights which elevate the rights of people and nature above the rights of corporations. In the borough of State College, Pennsylvania, the people approved by a margin of nearly 3 to 1 a community Bill of Rights to ban fracking in their community - creating the right to clean water, clean air a healthy environment and community integrity.
People are demanding changes in government to protect people from corporate domination.
- The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported on November 15 that in Washington, the Seattle City Council in a 9-0 vote just issued a lengthy resolution in support of the Occupy Seattle protest and urging action by state and federal legislative bodies. The council included demands that the Bush-era cuts in federal income taxes be allowed to expire. It also commits Seattle to review its financial and tax policies with an aim towards support for the local community.
- In Oregon, a new forum has been instituted putting 24 randomly selected voters onto a panel that makes sure voters get high quality, trustworthy information that separates fact from fiction on ballot measures.
- In Ohio, 1.3 million citizens signed petitions to force a referendum vote on whether to implement Gov. Kasich's assault on collective bargaining rights for public employees. Ohio Issue 2 sent a powerful signal about the ability of working people to challenge corporate power, and they just won decidedly!
- Missoula, Montana, voters, by a 4 to 1 margin, just passed a nonbinding resolution calling on the US Congress and state leaders to amend the US Constitution to say that "corporations are not human beings." The measure, similar to others across the country, targets the US Supreme Court decision of 2010, Citizens United, which allows unlimited corporate spending to influence elections, candidates and policy.
People are finding new ways to live and contribute.
- 10,000 people in Seattle, Washington, recently attended workshops to learn how to live off the land - canning, farming, beekeeping and raising chickens.
- Elders are returning to the labor force, bringing wisdom and experience to create new, socially conscious businesses. In San Francisco, Gary Maxworthy launched Farm to Family, and, in 2010, is distributing more than 100 million pounds of fresh food to needy families in California. His source? Discarded tons of blemished but wholesome fruits and vegetables that were not up to supermarket standards. His example is spreading to other communities.
People are finding new management models in which everyone is important and included in decisionmaking.
- Mondragon, Spain. Mondragon Corporation put workers, not shareholders first, and the company continues to thrive after its inception in 1956. This model is gaining US adherents, especially in the Midwest. Mondragon Corporation offers a working example of a local economic democracy that continues to function and serve the community.
- In Cleveland, Ohio, Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, a nearly $6 million facility, is 100 percent owned by its 50 employees, who live in the surrounding community. The cooperative is showing surprising growth and greater job satisfaction for all.
- Colors Restaurant, New York City. Seventy-three mostly immigrant, low-wage restaurant workers formerly at Windows on the World, a high-end World Trade Center restaurant, after 9/11 founded the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United) which now boasts 8,000 members. Out of ROC-United has come Colors restaurants, owned and operated by workers of color - showing the way toward dignity and respect! And they are succeeding!
What Am I Doing?
Perhaps it is now time to occupy one's own life. Are there power inequalities lurking in the shadows of my own private life? Take a look.
A good place to start might be with money. As our current universal language, money is the conversation through which our voices are bought and sold. In support of reducing power disparities, every financial conversation needs to be a win-win. The person buying a product, service or other goods needs to feel good about the purchase, and the person selling it or making it needs to feel good about what he or she got in return. Direct transactions work best because we see the face of the laborer or the farmer or the artist. We can see the joy in a smile of appreciation - and it affects us strongly. We must strive to get as many "middlemen" and speculators as we can out of the way.
Some win-win financial strategies include:
- Buy locally. Look around in the neighborhood to find a local electrician, a local farmer. Buy arts and crafts from a local artist or craftsperson. The expression of joy in the face of the other lasts longer than the money.
- When you can't buy locally, examine the corporate ownership. Do a little checking on the Internet before you buy. Before you buy a big-ticket item such as a computer, do some Internet research. While there are absolutely no computers made and assembled in the United States, some companies are more egalitarian than others. Find out who makes the computer and how that worker lives.
- Barter. Trade your skills or products for another's that you need. Artists and craftspersons have long used bartering as a way to get things they need, such as dental or medical services. Volunteer farmworkers labor worldwide for food and housing, and the person-to-person interaction affects the other's life.
- Simplify. Cut back to what you need instead of all you want. We Americans are bombarded continually by advertisements and marketing ploys promoting buying. If you can start from an "I need" statement before walking into a store, you're on the right track. And things in your house that you don't use, you don't need. Give or trade or sell them to someone who does.
The single most important thing we can do in our lives is to consciously consider our human actions. Every day. Every hour. Every minute. All over the world, there are individual acts of courage, kindness and creativity that help right the wrongs perpetrated by the top 1 percent. We are all connected, and we need to remember that our actions do affect the whole.
- Consider projects you engage in. Aim for collaboration and cooperation instead of autocratic control. If you see something that is occurring that offends you regarding the treatment of people and/or the natural world, speak up or find some way to suggest another approach. If you are hiring a gardener or a builder or a beekeeper, enlist their expertise toward the success of the project instead of assuming you know best.
- Consider the effects of each small action. Did you help a friend in need? Even the trivial - a smile at the bank teller, letting a person into the traffic ahead of you, etcetera. All of this matters.
- Consider a way to add your voice to the protest if you are unable to march. People are sending emails, writing blogs and buying pizza to help support the Occupy protesters. Others are donating money to help support the protesters through the winter.
In Zuccotti Park, an anonymous woman brought soup to protesters camping out in the cold and only said, "I wish I could do more."
She already had.