Sunday, November 6, 2011

We the people

Okay, so I lied. I was going to tell you about my new apartment, how on my first night in my bright red room (complete with a peace sign tapestry and a Frida Kahlo beaded curtain), I was serenaded at 2 in the morning by my downstairs neighbours wailing the Credence Clearwater Revival Woodstock hippie classic song "Who'll stop the rain," and that I've got huge pair of fishnet-clad plastic legs kicking out of the window across from my room.

But something else happened - I went to Oakland for the General Strike, a part of the Occupy Oakland movement. Oakland is across the Bay from San Francisco, and in parts, is rather downtrodden and economically depressed. However, it is also an incredible intersection of all types of diversity. It has also become a central focus in the Occupy movement due to, among other things, the police assault on a peaceful protester who also happens to be an Iraq war vet. Last week, the organizers of the movement called for a general strike, encouraging everyone to stay home from work and school and join them at the site in solidarity.

Now I've been thinking a lot about the Occupy movements and am increasingly fascinated and excited by what is happening. People are self-organizing with relatively little hierarchy and direction, ensuring everyone is fed (mostly) ensuring everyone is safe (though I understand in Ottawa there have been very scary claims of sexual assault). The movements are finding creative ways around barriers set in their midst (such as at Wall Street, where they've developed an extremely clever human microphone system after a noise volume regulation was issued) and providing spaces where people can learn, discuss, meditate and share. When I found out about the General Strike, I felt it was an opportunity to finally get involved. And so I packed myself on to the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, "I'm joining a credit union" sign in hand, and headed east.

Chanting reached my ears as I got off the train, and I emerged into the sunlight amongst young folks, old folks, people of a vast diversity of race, religion, gender, sexuality and socio-economic status. The energy in the area swept me up immediately in an embrace of solidarity. Now I'm not really the kind to get sucked in emotionally but seeing so many people out to really change the status quo brought tears to my eyes more than once.

I wasn't able to stay the whole day but watched with wonder as the movement shut down the ports and with anger as they had to face an ugly clash with police (which the media singularly focused on, rather than the thousands of people who took to the streets). I was inspired by the folks who, facing foreclosure on their homes, went into the a bank branch with furniture and set up a living room in which they sat, refusing to leave and saying to the bank that since they had taken their homes, they had no where else to go.

There is such power in this movement, my friends, such overwhelming, positive energy. I am starting to think that we are at a turning point. People are frustrated that the lie of "work hard and you'll succeed" that they were sold is clearly not coming to fruition. People are ashamed that they can't provide for their families and tired of sitting back as their communities fall apart. These occupy movements, along with the Arab spring and the riots in Europe, are, I hope, heralding in a new paradigm that is more equitable and fosters cooperation and community decision-making.

They don't have all the answers bundled in neat little talking points, and they don't need to. If governments around the world can't figure out how the solve the problems, why the hell should the people have it all figured out. What they have figured out is that our society is failing and things have got to change.

I recognize that this posting is not really as humourous as the others, and I promise I'll return to my silly self in the next posting. But in the meantime, Iencourage all of you to do one thing to help move forward this extremely exciting societal change. Join a credit union and then explain to your big bank why you are breaking up with them, write a letter to the media about what's happening, bring the Occupy movements in your area warm drinks and food, talk to your friends and colleagues about it, participate yourself. This is the people's movement. Let's all be a part of it.

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