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Occupy Ourselves

December 06, 2011 By: NCVeditor Category: Community, Ecology, Politics, Randall Amster

With Peace in Our Hearts and Power in Our Hands

by Randall Amster

In just a few short months we have reached a point of near saturation in which the modifier “Occupy” has been applied to almost every sphere of our beleaguered political economy. Not every such application has been equally useful, but for the most part the intended meaning of the word has come through in the sense of prying open the inner sanctum of the dominant order, contesting its authoritarian workings, and agitating for new processes based on the burgeoning tenets of egalitarianism and sustainability. The incisive cultural gaze spawned by #occupy has been cast toward every sacred shibboleth of modern society, and the ripples are palpable.

Yet in the process there has been more external consternation than internal reflection. The machinations of the 1 percent are what have largely brought us to the brink of social and ecological demise, so the primary thinking goes. The ruling class has consolidated their power, skewed the benefits toward themselves, passed the burdens onto the rest of us, and continually demonstrated the illegitimacy and inherent tyranny of their reign every time force has been used on peaceful demonstrators. They have done this and are still doing it, and we must confront their wanton ways with diligence and imagination.

There are key truths and critical insights to be found in this narrative, and its teachings have served to galvanize interest and mobilize people around the world. Still, there is a piece of the puzzle missing, one that is harder to own up to and that blurs the lines of culpability in a manner that is inconvenient for the impetus to organize against entrenched power. When we begin to peel back the layers, however, it becomes apparent that they did not take power so much as we gave it to them — and it has largely been our complicity with the forces of our own oppression that has led us here.

This in no way absolves those who would pervert that power for personal gain, nor does it excuse the outright blackmail-type pressures that have been brought to bear upon many of us to accede. But we cannot and must not pass the buck altogether, since to do so both flies in the face of reality and further delivers our power back over to those who would manipulate and abuse it. In fact, the realization that we are equally to blame possesses the corollary virtue of suggesting that we can also put things right and fix the mess we have made of our social structures and the habitat itself.

So here we are: we have occupied the symbolic spaces, the tangible ones, and the subtle ones. Now it is time to Occupy Ourselves, to decolonize our minds and restore our capacity to act from a place of autonomy and collective willpower. We can refuse to comply with oppressive forces, forswear allegiance to their mandates, forgo reliance on their wares, unplug our lifelines to their conveyances, reject their medicalizations and distractions, discontinue our support for their adventurist campaigns, fail to contribute to their bailouts and schemes, ignore their technocratic designs on mind control, cease making demands on their apparatchiks, and avert our gaze from their spectacles. Yes, we can.

Instead of protesting against abominable wars, let us also stop paying for them. Rather than complaining about corporations, usurious banks, and the indentured servitude of the student loan system, we can desist from paying into their coffers. Beyond pointing the finger at bought-off politicos, there is the option of refraining from participation in their sham elections. If we do not like business as usual, let us skip the charade of fighting city hall and occupy it as shelter instead. This is the essential core of the embedded symbolism in the protest encampments, and it follows in a long line of nonviolent civil disobedience from Jesus Christ and Henry David Thoreau to Dorothy Day and Mohandas Gandhi. It is an active principle, and the locus of its engagement is everywhere.

The key is not to bear this weight of noncompliance alone, but to do so in concert and in numbers sufficient to undermine the system’s capacity to continue in its present form. We recognize that the boundaries of the law do not map directly to the dictates of morality, and that much of the legal architecture in our midst is specifically designed to protect wealth and preserve inequality. Still, we also see that laws and norms in some instances can reflect the societal wisdom of the ages, and thus we do not transgress them out of self-indulgence but rather as our solemn duty as agents of promoting a just, equitable, and sustainable world.

Indeed, as Gandhi urged, noncooperation is merely a first step. The ensuing (and more challenging) phase of sustained resistance is the cultivation of constructive alternatives with which we can wholeheartedly cooperate and lend support. For too long we have had our survival pitted against our values, being coerced to participate in oppression and degradation as a condition of mere existence. We have been carefully cultivated to embrace the consensus reality plied by plutocrats, at best maintaining a schizophrenic false consciousness and at worst being consumed by the beast’s ravages. Lacking genuine meaning in our lives, we opt for artificial replacements on sale literally everywhere. We have looked into the void, recoiled in horror, and drowned our sorrows in commercial palliatives.

Now is the time to commit ourselves to finding other methods of coping, ones that challenge authority and reclaim autonomy. This does not mean that we become absolutists or Luddites, but instead that we get to choose which accoutrements of modernity are compatible with the good society and which are little more than artifacts of control despite their market-tested packaging. We can trade technologies for tools, fast food for slower sustenance, corporatocracy for consensus. The next paradigm is already here, having been incubated for decades within the shell of the old, carefully obscured by the vicissitudes of popular culture and crass commercialism; notice how when people begin to approach its realization, they are often met with sheer force to push them back into blithe torpor.

But the veil is now lifting — and consciousness once raised has a way of finding daylight. Occupy camps can be destroyed from coast to coast, but the essential illumination of protest and its eternal promise remains. This is the time to come back twice as strong, working harder and smarter, demonstrating our resiliency as a crucial factor of social and ecological survival. We will hang together, so that we do not have to hang alone. In the end, we come to realize that there is only us as we confront the true oppressor that lies within ourselves and our own complicity. In this, we find that all oppressions are interlinked, internalized, interposed, and interdependent. The struggle to surmount them lies just as much within us as it does with the robber barons in their lairs.

We can do this, and we must. I do not believe that the power has ever actually left us, but more so that we have had our attention pulled toward false idols and their machinations as the source of influence and authority. Today, we see the seeds of the better society growing up through the cracks in the hegemonic facade everywhere, sprouting forth with renewed vigor after an imposed dormancy. We will not be the consumers of this world, but its co-creators; we will not be witnesses to its destruction, but participants in its resurrection. Now, with peace in our hearts and power in our hands, the time to reclaim both ourselves and our world is upon us. This is our generational task, our shared responsibility, and our best hope for salvation. Let us meet it willingly, together.

Randall Amster, J.D., Ph.D., is the Graduate Chair of Humanities at Prescott College. He serves as Executive Director of the Peace & Justice Studies Association and as Contributing Editor for New Clear Vision. Among his recent books are Lost in Space: The Criminalization, Globalization, and Urban Ecology of Homelessness (LFB Scholarly, 2008), and the co-edited volume Building Cultures of Peace: Transdisciplinary Voices of Hope and Action (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009).

12 Comments to “Occupy Ourselves”


  1. Also appearing on Common Dreams today: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/06-1

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  2. Reasoner101 says:

    I agree with the sentiment that we need to be the change we want to see, and that all we control are our own actions. But the idea that somehow we can transform our society by refusing to vote seems counter-productive to me. The reality is that others will vote instead of us, and they will vote for the war machine and EPA-wrecking carbon polluters and…well, we all now what we’ve got. I feel we need to Yes, Occupy Our Hearth/Occupy Ourselves, BUT then do the opposite:www.OccupyGovernment.org.

    Randall, please check that, and the free, post-partisan non profit http://www.BeYourGovernment.org system that it is part of, and let this board know what you think. Thanks for your great work.

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  3. Randall Amster says:

    We can certainly have governance without government, and we can register our “votes” outside of elections. The negative result you mention, where we wind up with “the war machine and EPA-wrecking carbon polluters,” is already here under the present system. The point of this piece was simply to ask us to think about the myriad ways in which we cooperate with an unjust system, in the tradition of civil disobedience as articulated by people like Thoreau, who wrote: “Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.” The call is to go beyond electoral voting, to voting with every action we take. Thoreau continues:

    “All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men. When the majority shall at length vote for the abolition of slavery, it will be because they are indifferent to slavery, or because there is but little slavery left to be abolished by their vote. They will then be the only slaves. Only his vote can hasten the abolition of slavery who asserts his own freedom by his vote.”

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  4. And let’s not forget the role for women to play in this movement and in the pursuit of a new Congress. It’s a shame that there are so few women in Congress, and Congress needs an overhaul (for the 99%) in general. So putting the two together is a great call to action, one recently (co-)penned so eloquently by Liz Abzug: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/liz-abzug/occupy-equalism_b_1130183.html

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  5. I was just writing today about the inter-relations of oppressions–specifically rape culture within human society, and between humans and the environment. I love your positive vision here–stay true to it!

    More at Transition Times: http://bethechange2012.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/challenging-rape-culture/

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  6. Those of us who are part of the ‘developed world’, and the leading players in the ‘developing world’ have certainly cooperated with the capitalist plutocrats in their investments and profits.
    By implication we have been involved in the exploitation and enslavement of the workers of the world: the 1.3 billion in China; the 1.2 billion in India; the 1.8 billion young people; the 2.2 billion children; the 3.5 billion who live in the urban areas of the world.
    Many of these people are trying to survive on $2 a day as part of their exploitation by the plutocrats from the USA, Russia, China, the EU, the Middle East, Japan.
    The plutocrats and their advisers, including their fund managers, have quite deliberately taken advantage of the corruption of governments, of the lack of ownership laws, of the poverty of the citizens, of tribal conflicts, so as to promote their projects for mining, drilling, farming, logging.
    The recent ‘Arab Spring’ events have shown clearly the luxuries of the leaders and the poverty of the citizens.
    It is time for the citizens to stand up, to be counted, to oppose, and OCCUPY.

    go to http://www.kelvynrichards.com
    A Discourse: Social Ecology

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  7. The Declaration of Supercedence, on a similar page: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exFkTEjIL5s

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  8. Very good advice on most, but I would suggest that for the political solution, we must first have our own debates and come to our own consensus BEFORE going to the elections. Then, we can go as one large mass to vote for OUR candidate, even if we have to write it in. We simply cannot rely on the currently fixated system to help the masses decide on the last hour.

    Given there are more than enough people to figure that out and organize some effort there, we must take real steps toward the other actions you suggest. You mention to get off their financial grid by many ways but offer no specific steps to take. While many can do this on their own, the majority of people need leadership to do this. They need the tools to make it a no-brainer decision. Even choosing to buy “organic” today means absolutely nothing… in fact less than nothing because they will end up paying a premium for the same non-organic junk. Where do they go to choose genuine organic? The same can be said for virtually every other decision.

    Seeing this coming a few years ago I began a list of such things. As an inventor and engineer, I have created a few others. Adding the Arab Spring and Occupy adventures this year to the mix and a group simply formed for action on these items. To be clear, it’s not advocating anything. It’s to create the tools that people can simply choose to very easily retake control. We have identified 20 specific tools that can take the vast majority back to self reliance without the compromises normally attributed to any type of ‘off grid’ lifestyle. We’re not too organized yet and still working on the last half of the Action Plan step sub-documents, but it’s really building with a strong set of values.

    If you want to see what it will really take to get this country back without reliance on anyone else, please visit the Facebook group, “Occupy Prosperity”. With a little help, we can make these tools so attractive that people will choose them even for their current materialistic reasons. My name is linked directly there. Join us and start some real action today.

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  9. Interestingly, I was the only commenter on Truthout who agreed with Randall Amster, and I may be the only one here as well. He was immediately attacked by hordes of political operatives and dupes just as I am whenever I suggest people not vote. Here’s the comment I posted on Truthout:

    Randall Amster hit a nerve because he’s 100% right, particularly about not voting in sham elections. Here’s why:

    http://www.bradblog.com/?p=8972#comment-453729

    But most forums are infested with political party operatives and Amster is casting pearls before swine. All other forms of noncompliance are futile if you continue to delegate to government the authority, power, and consent to treat you like a terrorist for engaging in them.

    Amster is suggesting that we Occupy ourselves, not vote for people to do our work for us, because becoming part of a system that works against us will either corrupt them or leave them powerless. It is the system that is the problem, not the political parties and players. We need to change the game and refusing to vote is the ultimate game changer.

    Randall Amster’s vision is clear because his heart is pure. Those whose hearts are tainted with politics as usual lack ears to hear, brains to understand, and hearts that care.

    Kudos!

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  10. Randall Amster says:

    Tom Engelhardt has some interesting things to say on the elections/voting topic today (http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175478/):

    “The only problem: however strange all this may be, it’s not, at least in the old-fashioned sense, an election nor does it seem to have much to do with democracy. The fact is that we have no word for what’s going on. Semi-democracy? Unrepresentative democracy? 1% democracy? Demospectacracy?”

    “It’s true that, on November 6, 2012, Americans will enter voting booths and choose a candidate for president, and that makes this an ‘election.’ But thinking of it that way won’t get you far. It’s also true, that, on January 20, 2013, a newly elected president will step into the Oval Office. What any of this has to do with democracy, as opposed to spectacle, influence, corruption, the power of the incredibly wealthy to pay for and craft messages, and the power of media owners to enhance their profits is certainly an open question.”

    “It’s clear enough — or should be by now — that the electoral process has been occupied by the 1%; which means that what you hear in this ‘campaign’ is largely refracted versions of their praise, their condemnation, their slurs, their views, their needs, their fears, and their wishes. They are making money off, and electing a president via, you. Which means that you — that all of us — are occupied, too. So stop calling this an ‘election.’ Whatever it is, we need a new name for it.”

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  11. Really? The only topic seems to be who gets credit for finding out what to rename elections to. (other than don’t participate so we can let a smaller percentage make the decision for us.) I’ll tell you what they should be called. Rigged elections. There. Now can we discuss some action?

    If we held a national online non-stop debate among the people and removed parties from the discussion, we could decide collectively what we all supported and THEN find our own person (current candidate or not) to run. With that consensus, no rigged election could stand up to our vote. There, the political side is handled too.

    Now for what the people can do. Get the hell off the financial grid. Every part of it is rigged against them. From commercialization, to advertising, to stock scams to subsidies to taxes and tax breaks, you cannot win. Ah, but to get off the grid in any industry, one must have the tools available. Just like getting off the electrical grid requires a viable, affordable and non-compromising system one can purchase (which is our step #2), people can’t take this path until that system is available. And these type of solutions simply don’t get funded by traditional methods. One guess why.

    The good news is we don’t need 10% of the country to support this. We only need a couple thousand people willing to put a little effort behind it. A well known person with a popular blog could get us to that point rather quickly.

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