It’s Easier to Occupy Wall Street Than It Is to Change It
by Martin Zehr, aka Mato Ska
Writing about Occupy Wall Street is unquestionably an exercise in futility. Those of us in the baby boomer generation have the impulse to wrap our arms around them and sigh in recognition of the sense of exasperation, desperation, and righteousness that engulfed us in our youth. We understand that when things get worse and we have no control of events, we want to stop the world from its “normality.” When political leaders fail to inspire us with a common vision, we seek a new identity, a new vision, and a new world. There is no question that the election of President Obama has resulted in neither hope nor change. And we know: “It’s not fair!”
Those of us removed from the protests are watching our own biographies unfold again and we grasp to see it done right this time. Fix this thing here, do this thing there, and every little thing is gonna be alright. But, as soon as we intrude in the drama, we become interlopers in the “movement.” We are, in point of fact, outsiders who fail to grasp the dynamic and the new zeitgeist that has reconfigured the world around us. 1968 comes to our minds as the global social order heaved and the world was challenged for not living up to our standards and expectations. Today, we see turmoil in the Middle East, North Africa, and Greece. In 1968 it was France, Czechoslovakia, China, and Vietnam. But that was then and this is now.
Words, nothing but words. The young people out there pitch their tents, we pitch our rhetoric. We are on the outside looking in. Greens send a message of support saying “Right on! Now join us and finish the job by getting elected.” But, even Greens are aware of how closed the electoral system is and how difficult real reform is. Revolution appeals in its apparent ability to wipe the slate clear. Occupy Wall Street abounds with anti-capitalism. All revolts seek to sweep clean the vestiges of the old. We have witnessed that the old order has a logical continuity after the smoke of revolution clears. The Thermidor stands erect through habit, through economics, through culture and through history. The people seek normalcy — the simple ability to live our individual lives without the trauma of changes that turn our worlds upside down.
Today, young people fear the future and old people fear the present. Fear has intruded and we seek a return to normalcy. “FIX IT!” is the cry. We don’t like it. Young people seek to reconfigure the forces that stand in the way. Old people seek to protect what we have. Politicians posture and feed the lions of change for their own advantage. Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party are both expressions of the fear and frustration of people. We are all abandoned on a runaway train and none of us like it.
But, we are being spoon-fed, and the same fear that evokes protest paralyzes logical thinking. It pushes us to grasp for straws and look for simple solutions. We find ourselves repeating the rhetoric of the cable stations and radio talk shows. We take our politics from comedians and actors as if they had some God-given insight. Our panic has spread and we invite it to grow. It has stretched to various degrees to cities and universities across the country.
The stock market remains open. Wall Street has always been occupied during work hours. Banks seek to confront the cold economics and people scream at them. Ninety percent of Americans work and continue to go to their jobs. But even they feel the fear. Those of us unemployed and over sixty are weary and worried that the future is behind us, not in front of us.
There really is a point where a society begins to disintegrate. The social contract is violated. The fear overrides all other emotions. Fear of climate change and catastrophic weather, fear of economic insecurity, fear of impending doom for humanity and the planet that envelops us. The words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt come to mind: “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” It shuts down our strongest attributes as human beings. It shuts off communication with those we share a common destiny with. It makes us live behind locked doors and see every new face as a threat to us.
We have dug ourselves into this hole. Those who would seek to blame others fail to distinguish between what has happened in the past and what we can do together to fix what is broken. What it took to break the economy is not the same as what it takes to fix it. Structural reform enables us as a society to reconfigure the institutions that have so much influence in our lives. Working WITH our neighbors enables us to pool our resources and energy for constructive purposes. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. We need to be tough and resourceful. We need to find new solutions. We need to move forward with a new vision and not backwards.
We have not yet faced the Depression or the World War of our prior generation. We know that many of us will need to help others. We know that things to come will not be as “good” as things in the past. Let’s not project beyond our ability to predict what is to come.
Let’s talk to others and meet with others. Let’s take to the streets and work in the elections. Let’s do so with candor and vigor. Find our own voice that speaks to our own concerns and needs. Let’s build new organizations and establish new mechanisms that go beyond opposition and venture into creation. Occupy Wall Street, by all means. But recognize that it will still be there when all is said and done. It is simply the concrete expression of the economic activity of billions of individuals around the world.
How we work together will prove as important as what we do to try and solve the problems. If we are willing to listen we can learn. When we utilize the strengths of some and the distinct strengths of others we find that new alternatives emerge. I have worked in banking. I have worked in public schools. I have worked in a hospital. The success of each setting is not simply what we do as individuals as much as it is what we can accomplish together. In a Multi-Disciplinary Treatment Team the array of professionals who interact daily with the patient come together and review the patients’ progress and problems. They discuss behaviors and issues. They look for the appearance and the realities behind the appearance. They share perceptions and develop hypotheses of appropriate interventions that address the realities.
This goes to the issue of developing bioregional entities in planning and resource management. The model for development that we need in economic development, in housing, in resource management, and in food supply cannot come through globalization. We have broken the law of diminishing return and are now paying more than we are benefiting from our outsourcing, our contract out, and our importing from China. Developing regional mechanisms means we can get an accurate picture of what is needed in our communities. The streets provide no solution through demonstrating. They can provide us a public forum, but the power remains in the multinational corporations unless we reconfigure the bodies which make the decisions that impact our lives.
When we sit across the table we can define our needs and concerns and establish priorities within our communities that are based on working with our neighbors, rich and poor, and moving forward in a decisive manner. “The era of big government is over” — so President Clinton told us. But still we are economically paralyzed and politically misled. Our voices are drowned out, not only by corporations but also the countless advocacy groups that fund the duopoly and work to maintain the status quo. We have learned painfully that demonstrations will not demilitarize our economy or prevent military interventions. We have learned that poverty will not disappear by the Federal government declaring war on it. We have seen how public education in urban schools in the last fifty years has shown a steady decline in the face of numerous efforts by the federal government.
We have also seen how the city of San Francisco has established medical care as a priority with its own model of health care in its Healthy San Francisco program and community clinics. We have seen how water planning in Texas and New Mexico can be inclusive of users and stakeholders, utilizing the science and including the impact of decisions on the environment. We have seen how cities and counties, like El Paso and Orange County, are using new technologies in water treatment and desalination to increase the water supplies to their communities. We have seen investment firms establish distinct priorities to promote green development in our communities through private firms like Progressive Asset Management. We have seen the success of the state bank in North Dakota. Other models are out there and are developing today. Newer ones can emerge.
To go from Wall Street to Main Street means we are constructing the new scenarios for our future together. It means that we are listening and working to define solutions to problems. It means that we put our money (and our time and our energy) where our mouth is. It means that we no longer wait for someone else to “FIX IT!” but are developing the tools that we as a society need to fix what’s broken. Let’s not obscure that fact that in spite of the massive impact of Tahrir Square, the net result was still military rule. Our challenge is whether or not we can create as well as we criticize. Can we make the future better than the past?
None of us are secure on our own. But no one is expecting that. The scripts of childhood, to be independent, need to be developed into the mature grasp of our mutual dependence on one another and our capacity to heal and help others. We are not simply observers subject to the torrent of history. We are the shapers of it as well.
Martin Zehr is a Green Party member who lives in San Francisco and has been active in water planning in the Middle Rio Grande region of New Mexico. He writes political articles on the need for third parties, the contemporary failures of public education, the Kurdish national movement, and water management and urban planning. He was given the name Mato Ska in a traditional ceremony, and is a Peace and Dignity runner.