I'm up early after little sleep, still jet-lagged but excited to report back after my first day here in New York. I arrived at JFK Airport late Friday and got a cab to Brooklyn where I am spending nights. The driver was highly critical of the protestors and cynical about who ran the country and whether it could change. He had worked his way through college and had a four-year accounting degree, but could only find work as a driver. Still, he thought the young people at Occupy Wall Street should go out and get jobs and do their best to make it in the system. As it turned out, he was Egyptian, and he was proud of what his fellows had done in nonviolently overthrowing Mubarak. But, he said, everyone knew what they wanted—an end to dictatorship and a change to democracy. It's not so easy here.
Occupy Wall Street has caught the imagination of people all over the world. It has also been criticized and treated with contempt. Is this movement capable of triggering the great social, economic, and political shifts that are needed? I believe that the answer to that question depends upon us.
The driver shared with me that he had been to see the Occupy Wall Street demonstration, and he didn't like it. When I arrived early Saturday, I could see why someone who didn't know much about the movement would be put off. It seemed like a haphazard conglomeration of people, tents, books, music, food, and signs with a variety of messages, some of which I agreed with and some not. Tourist buses came by every few minutes, and small groups of people were sitting cross-legged in circles on the ground. The human mike was used every few minutes for announcements. I walked through the crowded park, following the flow of traffic past the tables focused on various aspects of the occupation: legal, media, schedule of events, food, health, silk-screening t-shirts, button-making, etc. I was on sensory overload, not yet having found my grounding in the midst of all the activity.
Things started looking up when I joined a discussion of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) Mission Statement Working Group. (Anyone can join.) Its task was to discuss whether OWS should have a mission statement and if so, what it might look like. Of course, any recommendation would be taken back to the General Assembly (GA). I felt right at home. It was a similar conversation to the one we had just had the night before at the Peace Center in Nevada City with a local OWS-NC working group.
This conversation is still ongoing, both in Nevada City and here in New York. It's important for us to have a big tent, so as many people as possible can come in. It's also important for us to have clear goals, so people can know what we stand for. In listening to someone speak yesterday who was from London, I realized that the goals can't just focus on US domestic policy. This is a global movement. More to be said about that later. Also, building a participatory democracy is an important goal in itself, and it will take time. And practice. That's what we're about.
Later I found the “Protest Chaplains” from Union Seminary, and had some interesting conversations with them. A priest from the nearby Episcopal church was there, as well as other clergy. There was an Interfaith altar, meditation circles, and offers for prayer.
In the afternoon I went to an initial meeting on the consensus process used at General Assembly meetings. It was fascinating, and even more so later when the GA actually met and followed this process. I have facilitated consensus-based meetings, and I've participated in meetings run by consensus that have included hundreds of people. This was the most clear and streamlined way of facilitating a large group that I have seen. This could have been the topic of this whole blog, but that will have to come later. Today I plan to attend a facilitators training, so I can bring what I learn home.
For now, I'm on my way to attend worship at Judson Memorial, a progressive church in Manhattan, with my hosts, who tell me that one Sunday people marched from the church to join the protestors. After church I'll go to Liberty Plaza and see what there is to see and participate as I feel moved to do. I'll let you know how it goes.
As for the question of whether or not this movement can trigger great transformation, I do have hope. I'll leave you with a quote from my book (Shaking the Gates of Hell: Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization):
"In resistance to the institutions and systems that destroy the earth and crush the life out of people, hope comes alive. As we withdraw our consent to these Powers, practicing noncooperation, finding or creating life-supporting alternatives, what has seemed impossible becomes possible because we are willing to pay the price to make it so. It is like the difference between being a spectator in the stands and being a player on the field. As Dorothee Soelle said, 'Only when we ourselves enter the game and bind our own life inextricably to the game's outcome does hope arrive.'”