Posts Tagged ‘occupy wall street’

I was thinking today about the idea of how most of us seem to feel like an observer of or commentator on the world around us, more than a participant.  Life seems to keep us so busy, so surrounded by activity and yet with these barriers between us, and without enough time and energy and community spaces to bridge them.  So it’s easy to feel like we don’t really affect those around us, let alone the broader events of our world.

And yet, that’s completely backwards from the way things are.  We inherently make an impact wherever we are, whether we try to or not.  If we keep our head down while we’re out and about, making sure to just stay in our own space and keep to ourselves, we’re just one more person occupying others’ space without really acknowledging them.  It adds to the crowded loneliness of others as well as ourselves.

On the other hand, we can bring our eyes up to those around us, and practice being there with them without really crowding their space.  Some people will want to be invisible, but most will appreciate a non-intrusive yet genuine smile, polite words, kind patience, and respectful/humble offers to help.  In this way, you become someone who has acknowledged their humanity, and welcomed into the space you have shared with them.  It reminds them of their value, and that at least one stranger found them worthy of a positive thought.  To some people, that can make a deeper, more priceless impact than you could ever imagine.

We can also get involved in our worlds around us by seeking out and joining groups with similar interests, online or off.  These can not only help us feel more connected, they can also help us find more ways to participate in our world for the better.  Where there are groups that can help improve the lot of those who need help, we will benefit greatly.

I’m going to link again to my little video on why I’m trying to find ways to be involved with local groups meeting up through the Occupy meme.  I foolishly posted it on a day when I knew Tumblr would probably be busy, so it wasn’t really available before.  It’s some thoughts of mine about the kind of difference I’d like to see in the world, and that I hope to find ways to figure out how to help make real.

Meanwhile, give some thought to how you’d like to feel tomorrow.  Then, before going to bed, set in your mind that you’re going to give it a shot in the morning.  When you wake up, recall that wish, and put it in your head.  It’ll get easier to find and hold the feeling as you practice, and soon you’ll find others around you can feel it, too.

With much, much love ~


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I’ve always felt the biggest obstacle for Occupy is getting the 99 Percent to realize we are all, in fact, the 99 Percent.  We see news reports of the big marches and protests, and think of Occupy being for those who chant slogans and get arrested.  For about 98 Percent of us, that sounds like a pretty radical step to take.  Love or hate, people tend to think that Occupy is for the fringe and the furious out there in the streets and public squares.

Not to say that I’ve been all that engaged.  I’ve been a dedicated fan of Occupy Wall Street since they first hit the news, and was thrilled to see people embrace the Occupy spirit in every aspect of life.  It was a brilliantly galvanizing idea whose time had come, bringing together all the groups that had previously been struggling to coordinate in a consistent and efficient way.  But I had suddenly started writing a book the day before the first gathering in Zuccotti Park, which was occupying my every spare moment, and then some.  I followed Occupy and a zillion other issues as I researched and speed-wrote in a parallel reality, wishing I had the opportunity to get more directly engaged.

Finally, I hit the Tax Day release deadline my subconscious had set for myself, and came up for air, just in time for the May Day General Strike.  I promised myself that if there was an activity I’d be able to make it to for solidarity with my fellow 99 Percenters, I’d be there.  I’d sacrificed a lot of myself for seven months over a message of solidarity that maybe nobody would ever read, and I’d be darned if I didn’t then sacrifice a little to connect with actual people.  So after hosting my sister for a week and catching up with work and family, I started my search.

I was disheartened to find out that Occupy Miami didn’t have more hope for a big May Day turnout, but looked up Occupy Fort Lauderdale and saw that there was a gathering the next day at a church I’d meant to visit, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Lauderdale.  It was only about 20 minutes away, and was scheduled to be right during my baby’s naptime so he wouldn’t miss me.  (And no, Frank, I couldn’t have brought him!  He’s coming off a clingy growth-spurt and never woulda made it!)

So the next day I tucked in my little guy, put on my favorite dress and my best hat, and on a whim grabbed my three sheets of test-run Business Cards so I wouldn’t be scrawling my email address on sheets of paper.  Shy Nyn had to take a day off, and I resolved to meet at least one person I’d want to keep in touch with.

Now to live in the Sunshine State is to embrace the rain, and it was pouring hard as I hit the Florida Turnpike.  Unfortunately, when it pours like that, everybody drives like they are frightened of this strange water that falls from the sky.  I drove safe and kept my focus by singing “Holy shining jewel of love!” over and over to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, something that came up while I was writing and stuck with me.  This put me in a great mood by the time I reached the church, which was blessedly easy to find.

After seeing how scant the participation seems to be around here, I was actually really glad that I had a hard time finding a parking space.  I apologized to the grass as I parked on it, then was glad for my umbrella as I was held up in the parking lot reading the best array of snarky and compassionate bumper stickers I’d seen in some time.  The one I hadn’t seen before was “Socialism: Tax the Rich, More Money for You!”  Given the appeal to self-interest, I just found that hilariously ironic.

As I walked up to the church, I remembered how tickled some people have been about the idea of strong religious support for Occupy Wall Street.  Naturally, a Unitarian Universalist church would be a perfect host to a gathering of unity, but whenever there’s more traditional Christian or Jewish community support, people make a double-take.  And that tickles me, because I grew up with the idea that Faith and compassionate fairness went together like chocolate and peanut butter.  I seriously can’t help but picture it like an 80’s commercial, “You got your Bible in my Occupy!  You got your Occupy in my Bible!

The welcome was of course warm and enthusiastic, and after spelling my name for my nametag the greeters said “Of course, you have to have an awesome name to go with the awesome hat!”  I then went in to scout the tables that were freshly set up, and immediately had the chance to sign a petition for the Citizens for Pets in Condos, a really big issue in a part of the country where most housing is condos and generally only the waterfront condos for the wealthy allow pets.  They didn’t need to explain the importance of the issue to me any more than their table-neighbors who let me sign my support for OURWalmart, the Organization for Respect at Walmart.  (Note to self: make time to visit WalmartAt50.org to read more stories.)

I then went across the way to take a look at a beautifully simple flowchart of the Foreclosure process in Florida, done up by a wonderful woman with the Occupy Fort Lauderdale’s Foreclosure Mobilization team whose name I didn’t quite catch.  It was really easy to follow, and made me realize what a simple process the whole thing was, if you could take a step back and look at it.  She insisted that it really wasn’t a complicated process, so she put together the chart to illustrate that.  This made me finally break out a business card, where on the back I had a link to a free copy of my book (free at least through May Day, in case you’re curious), as I asked her if she had the chance to take a look at Chapter 8 and let me know how well I broke down the tax structure, which to me seemed simple but I wasn’t sure how well I did.  (Typing that now, I see the Chapter 8 / Bankruptcy connection – funny!)  Now I realize she won’t likely have time, but she was kind about it, and it broke the “my card” ice for me.

As I was letting her go, Steve of the Mardi Gras 10 approached me and asked if I could sign in support of those who were fired for attempting to organize for workers’ rights.  I only had to hear the word “unionization” to grab a pen, while he filled me in on their fighting back and upcoming March for Freedom, Not Fear on May 8th.  I thanked him quite sincerely for fighting back, when it would be so easy to keep his head down and try to just ‘get along’.  It is because of people like him that I even have the right to vote, so I genuinely am grateful.  I tried not to gush and moved on so he could get his signatures.

I then made my way to the tables on the other side, overhearing someone saying he was Internet famous.  Very curious, I asked who he was and what he was famous for!  The very genial and boisterously unassuming Marc Luzietti introduced himself, aka chegitz guevara.  He’d said that he was talking with a friend of his from the area, and wherever he travels, he’s asked if he knows chegitz, as there are so few radicals connected with one another in South Florida.  And the funny thing is, because there are so few, of course they know each other.

Marc was there with One Struggle South Florida, who had brought a very nice Volume I, Edition I of the mini-paper captioned “Anti-Capitalist News and Analysis”.  I got to meet the brilliant Stephanie McMillan before I realized she was the cartoonist of Code Green. (I’m a fan, and there’s a Code Green on the back of the paper!)  I asked her how she got involved with One Struggle, and it turns out she’d founded one years back, and recently they decided to revive it.  Good timing, I figured.  I brought out my card again and we talked about my book, which ended up being the anti-Atlas Shrugged without my quite meaning to start out that way.  Given the title is When Atlas Shirked, she pointed out that it’s a much better story if that was my intention all along.  I agreed, and really it’s not far from true, so that’s now my story and I’m sticking to it.  All the Politics, Half the Page-Count!

I wanted to talk more with Marc, but I was too hard to hear from across the table so I went to slip in behind him, those at the table next to his being momentarily away.  He told me it was too tight and I’d never make it, to which I replied, “Watch me.”  I ungracefully moved down and he helpfully moved a seat over, and filled me in on just how small the radical group in the area is, as he’d mentioned before.  There were only about 18 in their group, which didn’t surprise me.  I mean, I let him know it surprised me at first when I moved down here, as it was super easy to find groups a few hours north in the much smaller Gainesville, and even easier in Salt Lake City.  (Shout-out to the Rudies and the Straight-Edge of the early 90’s!)  He said that most major cities there’s an easier time, but when he’d come down from Chicago, there was like nothing.  He didn’t even find the group here until he happened to pass a protest on his way to work.

A friend of his came up and ribbed Marc about missing a gathering because he had to work, then launched into how he was going to kick off a speech at an upcoming gathering.  He asked what we thought about Obama opening up oil drilling or somesuch with the idea that it would remove our dependence on foreign energy sources, which we both figured was a political grandstand with no actual effect.  Marc then went on to explain about the fuel reserves and the extremely cost-ineffective nature of the oil left on our soil, and that’s when I realized that things I figure are self-evident from my months of engrossing myself in major political crises like what Marc was explaining… aren’t as well-known among the politically involved as I’d thought.  It actually surprised me that all needed being said, which humbled me in my assumptions.

Marc, his friend and I then debated for a bit about whether the Democratic Party was ever for the people, and I argued that we at least had a window of history where those who were actually getting stuff done at least had a sixty/forty… okay, fifty-one/forty-nine majority.  He then reminded me about being the original party of segregation and having to be dragged into supporting civil rights, and we agreed that essentially, America has always been a one-party system: The Money Party.

The song playing then switched over to Give Peace a Chance, and Marc said he had a love-hate relationship with it. I agreed, but he actually had a real good reason versus it just being overplayed.  He was at a protest in Chicago once, and the song was being led by a woman who was a bit off-key.  Worse, the news coverage managed to capture just her singing in the mic without the large crowd’s vocals or even presence in the footage.  Conversely, a small group of fifty or fewer pro-war protesters were there, and the news team managed to get a photo of them at such an angle that implied they were a gigantic crowd versus this one “crazy woman” (because clearly, singing about peace makes one loony, particularly if one is not blowing the roof off Carnegie Hall with the performance).

That’s about when I borrowed their pen and started scrawling the word “FREE” atop the back of my business cards and staked out my empty space at the table to hand them out, at Marc’s suggestion.  After slipping under the table real quick for a mug of some of the best coffee I’ve had in forever, I sat back down to listen to Marc’s and Stephanie’s conversations with friends and putting my card into peoples’ hands.

That’s how I got to meet Jarek Loovali, who moved here from Estonia “way too long ago”, as he put it.  He mentioned how tough (or was it strange?) it was to come here from Estonia, where they had free healthcare, free secondary education, and support for their people.  I commented how there are so many Americans who’ll laugh off Estonia as “a small backwater country with nothing”, and yet there, people have so much more they share with one another.  Jarek commented that he thought it was easier for smaller groups to come together like that than larger ones, which really is about spot-on.  I supposed it was a matter of “Oh, these are my family, I can help them!” versus what we’ll have here, of “But not those people, THOSE aren’t my family, and I can’t let them take what’s ours” or somesuch.  It was time for a coffee refresh, so back under the table I went so I could be ready for the meeting’s start.  I made it back just in time to find the table-neighbors returned, but not minding my squatting one bit.

And that’s how I found myself handing out info on a Christian Progressive Political Galifesto between a one-time Socialist Florida Congressional Candidate on my right, and the South Florida Raging Grannies on my left. I didn’t catch the name of the marvelous woman with the long grey braids, but she had the kind of presence that was unassumingly dominant in a kind sort of way.  I thanked her for sharing her space and shared my card, which she accepted while trying to very tactfully admit that she’s not Christian, but she respects a lot of Jesus’ message.  I let her know that’s perfect, because my project tried very hard to illustrate how a very valid Christianity is incredibly generous and community-oriented, dedicated to taking care of those around us.  That struck a note, because she expressed some frustration with the gulf between what Jesus seemed to teach, versus all the harm that’s done in his name.

We had to break that off, as Reverend Gail Tapscott kicked off the meeting.  We heard from Hatian immigrant Romane Petit about the commonalities of the struggles faced in Haiti and here, and from Steve in the difficulties faced by himself and his coworkers.  One strong example was the woman who was working three jobs at minimum wage to support her five children, and couldn’t afford health insurance even though it was offered through the union.  Following him was Alex Johnson to talk through the foreclosures process in  Florida and how to fight it, but about halfway through I spotted the back of a familiar head.

It was Enrique, one of my favorite baristas at Your Big Picture Cafe, where my son loves to go flirt and play with Legos while chatting along with us as only a 17-month-old can do.  (For the record, they’re all my favorite, and Jasmine we’ll miss you terribly!)  He was there with Food Not Bombs, yet another group I’d kinda heard of but not fully connected to in my psyche until meeting them.  I ended up chatting with him and his friends for a while, missing some of the meeting and losing track of time.  (Thanks for the coffee folks, the food looked great but I wasn’t very hungry so I left it for others!)

It was a very busy time for them, so soon they had to go, and I happened to run into one more guy I’d spotted and wanted to hand my card to, just a’cause.  He was interested in what I was up to, and we sat outside chatting for a while rather than going in.

My new friend was Frank, who said he’d recently been of the planning committee, but as of last week was taking a break to take a step back.  (I’m sorry I forgot your last name, Frank, but it was a highlight of my weekend to be able to talk with you!)  He asked if he could read my project online or if he’d have to print it out, and I advised him that printing it out would be quite a bad idea, as it’s about 500 pages.  He very politely balked and asked if I had an editor, and then seriously insisted, had I an editor?  I answered yes, but it was a quick volunteer job, and I’m afraid my style is so “incorrect” it worked against the generous help…  (And yeah, I’ve got a technical writer and also an avid reader going over it again, making a few more corrections, but I figure it’s more important to own up to an correct my mistakes than freak out and hide them away in shame.)

Regardless, I asked him where he’s from, and he ran through the different places he’s been since Jersey, where he was originally from, and then quoted Robert Frost to say that if there’s any place he can go that has to take him, it’s here.  And as I told him, anyone who quotes Robert Frost makes me happy.  I mentioned where I’m from and what I do, and talked about “helping make sure what we can afford to offer and what we need to charge”, and he questioned the “we”.  “Don’t you mean they?” he asked?

And I explained that I did mean “we”.  Oh I don’t get too wrapped up in identifying with the company I work for, but I also don’t believe in trying to separate myself from what I do.  Where I participate in what the company does, I own it.  It’s my decision, it’s my work, and that makes it “we”.  I get frustrated at times though, and we talked about how hard it is to have patience with others, particularly when they don’t always have patience with you.

“But that’s the thing,” I said, “because the measure of who you are as a person is not how others treat you, but how you treat others.  Especially if they aren’t treating you so well.”

“That’s a pretty hard thing to remember,” Frank laughed as he said, or something to that effect.

I laughed, too.  “Oh definitely!  I never said it was EASY!  Just that it’s important.  So it’s worth the effort.  The important bit is to not let the frustrations bottle up.  You have to keep them in a bucket, and pull them out now and again with a friend, to let them out with some Recreational Griping.”

The term tickled him, and we talked a little more about the importance of letting off steam, and the concept of Master Teachers.  I was talking about the people who are most frustrating in life being those who can teach us the most, and he referred to the teachers of the autistic child in his life who call the children Master Teachers for their unique perspective.  For example, a six year old calmly explaining something to a teach who had spent years in graduate school attempting to master.

And that was when I heard the Raging Grannies were starting their bit, so I had to bid Frank goodbye with my thanks for the lovely chat.  I had stayed longer than I’d thought my ears would make it, and I didn’t want to miss their song in support of the Postal Workers, who’ve always been there for us.  (And not just my family friends growing up, I seriously love the U.S. Postal Service and want to see them get a fair deal.) Once they were done, I dropped the last few of my cards onto the table where Jarek was with the rest of the mini-papers, and he said he’d get them handed out as we said goodbye.

I got the chance to say goodbye to my friend with the grey braids before I went, and she laughed off my compliments with a “Yeah, we were a real professional group, you could tell!”  I dismissed her dismissal by insisting I thought they were perfect, and was grateful for it.

Then it was time to go.  So I collected my umbrella from outside the door, and trekked back past all the merry bumper stickers to my car.  And on the windshield was a final little connection from my first reaching out to the Occupy movement.  There were three feathers right in front of my eyes, like a miniature angel had popped by with its blessings from the realm between the righteous and the wicked, where everything is Shades of Grey.  (I presume the pigeon was not harmed in the shedding of these feathers.)

And that really was the perfect way to sum the whole thing up.  People can tend to think of Occupy as a hard-edged band of rabble to whom everything is an Us versus Them of Black and White.  As though they’re just another case of You’re Either With Us or Against Us.

But that’s not it.  It’s not even close.  Because we all have this sense of something not quite right in the world, of there being something we’re supposed to be or have that isn’t quite coming through.  Some of us turn to our community for answers, some to a church, some to politics, and some to all three.  But however and whenever we seek out a way to fix that feeling of brokenness, the fact remains that it’s up to each of us to make our own solutions, however we can.  Even the top 1% of the top 1% who are doing so much to harm those around them, they also bear the same problems and responsibilities of a fractured world.

So in this quest against that feeling of Something Not Quite Right, there is no Us, and there is no Them.  There is only team We the People, and nowhere is that open-hearted community more genuinely felt than the welcoming arms of Occupy groups and those who comprise them. The marches and protests and fighting against police-state abuses are very important, but equally or even more important are the meeting of minds and hearts that don’t always agree, but struggle to find the common ground from which we may all move our world forward.

So if you’re looking for ways to try a new patch-job on that aching hunger in your soul, I strongly recommend you take a look at the resources on Occupy Together to find a group near you. If there isn’t one, or if for some reason you can’t make it in person, start following an online community, maybe even add a comment or two. You don’t have to put yourself on a police line to make a difference.

Just please, remember, Occupy isn’t an exclusive club, or even a militant movement.  It’s a mindset of exercising your Inalienable Rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, and protecting those rights for others.  Even if you keep to yourself, make it a point to be more mindful of who and where you are, and occupy your own space.

Above all, please, learn the courage and self-confidence to Occupy your own space.  And when you find you need some help in that, you don’t have far to look.  There’s people all around you willing to stand by you and Occupy Together.

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You know how when you’ve got something new in your life, it’s like suddenly reminders of it are showing up all around you?  Somehow you know that they always had to be there, it’s just that now you’re noticing them.  At the same time though, it absolutely feels like they’re there simply because you’re looking for them.

That’s how I felt once I started really getting into the theology and politics of When Atlas Shirked.  When I started writing about…

  • The difficulties faced by pregnant women and especially teens, news started really hitting me about so-called Personhood Initiatives were leading to the criminalization of and punishment for difficulties with pregnancy, or even accidents.
  • Toxic economic and ecological conditions in factory towns, Revered David Bouie invited the Koch brothers to visit his home in the cancer-plagued neighborhood of a town I visited family in just over a decade ago.
  • Efforts to prevent “those people” from voting, Voter ID and other disenfranchisement efforts were hitting the news full-swing.
  • A sinister national firewall used to silence criticism and dissent, then the next say SOPA comes out so much worse that I actually have to rewrite that section
  • Puppeteering of public opinion through manipulating peoples’ emotions of fear and disgust, science starts reporting again on the primal nature of disgust and how disgust shapes politics
  • Sexual abuse and assault in the workplace and the military, a wave of articles reference statistics on incidents and reporting, particularly in the military.
  • Religious freedom in the military, and I start finding the infiltration of the American military by extremist sectarians that are so relentlessly aggressive in turning the armed forces into their taxpayer-funded missionary force, a group of soldiers have to struggle to fight for their right to serve under the American Constitution, not these sectarians.  (And 96% of those soldiers are Christian, just not the same kind as the extremist sectarians.)
  • The labyrinthine mishmash of the industrial food business and start seeing folks talk about the effects of GMO on public health (despite some GMOs starting to fail), and states tried to pass laws that would make it illegal to document abuses by the agricultural industry
  • The importance of sharing a non-reactionary, Christlike perspective on Christianity, and the news out there seems to push more and more the idea that Christianity = Extremist Judgmentalism, making it harder for people of faith to connect those around them with their story.
  • Oh right, and the day after I started writing, a group of folks had a little get-together in Zuccotti Park.

Anyway, I know none of these are new issues.  But in a crash-course of just a few months, they all started hitting me over the head in wave after wave of new perspectives.  Things that I thought I understood, I found myself questioning and re-evaluating, growing alongside Liz as I explored through my own experiences what she might be trying to say about her own, alternate world.

I do realize that most of what I linked up there is pretty depressing.  It’s a bunch of mega-downers, a cavalcade of all that’s going wrong in our world.  But note that most of the links are from groups that are working on solutions to these issues.  I didn’t feel surrounded by gloomy problems, but by courageous people staring straight into the void, and rather than blinking, start lighting up their candles to fight the darkness.   I haven’t even touched all the beautifully wonderful examples of positive change from Yes Magazine alone!

And that’s what continued to drive me to write.  It’s what helped me feel so electrically engaged, despite all the heartaches of peoples’ tragedies, despite the downward trajectory of national trends, and despite being sick with a sequence of colds and flus from the last two weeks of December through much of February.

I felt the passionate optimism of all those out there, working hard in their own ways to help our world overcome our crises, calling to their communities to join them in building a better future.  This inspiration carried through into Liz Franklin’s ceaseless faith in the power of Love in her own world, giving me greater hope for how it can transform ours.

That’s why I kept my eyes and ears open to the cavalcade of coincidental news, working almost obsessively to help it shape what I was trying to share.  That’s why I let myself feel driven to push this out so hard, so fast, getting Liz Franklin’s story into written form.

Of course, now that means I need to find a way to take this message of hers, and get it to folks in a way that someone else out there can actually read it, maybe even benefit.  Funny how that works, huh?

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