Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Occupy, now what?

Occupy Detroit
Occupy Detroit (Photo credit: Cocoloco Photography)
By Sarah Morrigan

I did not come across this article until last night, just as Occupy Portland is readying itself for its anniversary.  This piece was written shortly before our eviction from "our parks" by the Rev. David Alexander, the senior minister at the New Thought Center for Spiritual Living in Lake Oswego, and even now speaks very powerfully with a deep insight rooted both in history and spirituality.

Alexander writes:
I believe that the Occupy Movement arose from a consciousness that was "fed up" - tired and weary of the inequity of our world. Similar uprisings in the Middle East - the so called Arab Spring - arose from a similar place in consciousness, a desire to be heard, seen and validated as a being of significance in the world. This is a universal desire - something that we all want. We all have the need to be heard, seen and feel as if we matter to the world - that our presence makes a difference and that we live in a world where we are empowered and can direct our life with purpose. Whenever one wakes up to the awareness that they have been oppressed or suppressed the natural desire is "take control" to make one's presence known and felt. Once this occurs, the door opens to the next step - to take restorative action. But before restorative action can take place there must be a grounding in a greater awareness of who we really are. Without this grounding restorative action turns to reactionary and retaliation action. This is the difference between effective social change movements and ineffective ones. (Emphasis mine.)
Much has been said of Occupy and its alleged weaknesses, among which is the lack of coherent message or demands.  While the Occupy Movement has always been multi-issue, diversified, and decentralized, attempts at crafting any type of declaration (Remember the "Declaration of Occupy Portland"? Whatever happened to that?) have faltered.  The Occupy Movement generally suffers from the lack of awareness of who it really is -- and while powerful as a slogan, "We are the 99 percent" is too vague and only implies that this movement is against the One Percent, without ever telling the world what it is (or wants it to be known) for.

Alexander is certainly not alone in this assessment (even back in November 2011 when the headiness of Occupy was still in the air).  Andrew Ross Sorkin, a New York Times columnist, also concurs:

The problem with the movement, as many other columnists have pointed out before, was that its mission was always intentionally vague. It was deliberately leaderless. It never sought to become a political party or even a label like the Tea Party... Given the way the organization — if it can be called that — was purposely open to taking all comers, the assembly lost its sense of purpose as various intramural squabbles emerged about the group’s end game... The messages had become decidedly too mixed. ("Occupy Wall Street: A Frenzy That Fizzled", Sept. 17, 2012)

Not surprisingly, the post-eviction Occupy Portland became mostly retaliatory and reactionary.  From the "Re-Occu-Fest" to "F.T.P." marches, to various "diversity of tactics" actions, the movement diverted much of its potentials, energies and money on what only appears to be an anti-police action in reaction to the pain of Nov. 12-13, 2011 event.  To many Occupiers' credit, Portland organized a couple of coordinated actions during this time, namely, Occupy The Port in December and Shut Down The Corporation F29 (Feb. 29, 2012) Action Against ALEC, as a whole the movement dwindled and dissipated over time.

We must ask ourselves again at this point what brought the Occupy movement into existence.  It was a collective frustration with the broken, dysfunctional Institution -- political and financial -- and a profound global awareness that stretched from Tunisia to Toronto to Tokyo that the world is messed up and we the people must reclaim it to rebuild it.

Alexander further writes: "But this movement becomes grounded in a deep spiritual understanding that we are all in this together - we must make a world that works for everyone." 

At the onset of the Occupy Movement we had this awareness.  Behind the slogan "We are the 99 percent," we were once an extremely diverse community as far as ideological persuasions and socioeconomic  backgrounds were concerned (not necessarily in the area of race and ethnicity, however).  Things began to unravel when this sense of solidarity and unity began to erode and infighting and factioning took their place.

The minister asks:
The Occupy Movement must now decide which type of movement it is going to be. Phase 1, frustrations over the inequalities and inequity of our systems, has come to an end. The collective attention of a nation has been obtained. The next phase is about action. Will it be restorative action that seeks to unite us in a collective consciousness of the 100% that needs to work together to build a world that works for everyone - or will it be reactionary and retaliation action that continues to divide our world into "us (99%) and them (1%)" categories that must fight each other for supremacy and control? The answer lies entirely in what type of vision the movement collectively grounds itself in. How the Occupy Movement handles itself in this transition will be the most telling aspect of its destiny. (Emphasis mine.)

As Occupy Portland is in the middle of its 52nd week, just a few days short of its anniversary, what do you think?  We need this grounding.  Our transition from the "phase one" to wherever we are now has been haphazard at best.  Occupy Year Two is a great opportunity to revisit the Occupy visions and messages -- and find a way to move forward to rebuild and restore this broken world.

The Rev. David Alexander's original article, "Occupy Movement: Phase 2: Now What?" is at

This is not an official statement or position of the Interfaith Solidarity.  Opinions are solely of their respective authors.
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