This is the season for harvesting, and All Hallow’s Eve is a domesticated version of powerful old rites we used to employ to stay in tune with the seasons and cycles of life on earth. It is Nature’s downtime, a frightening time of long nights, harsh weather and gathering what we will need to survive until spring comes. To think we are immune to these rhythms is an example of our hubris and arrogance. To believe we can have it our way all the time is equally arrogant. And, we should realize by now that, even if we could live in the sunshine all the time, there is always a shadow side. By the same token, every dark cloud has not just a silver lining, but the potential for lightning.
(I know my tendency to use metaphor may off-put some. I will endeavor to avoid anthropomorphism and pathetic fallacy. Another habit of mine which may annoy others is the citation of authorities. This is a reflection of growing up in a second-generation Jewish American family where the Talmudic tradition of argument still survived, albeit in somewhat tarnished condition. Whenever someone said something outrageous, there was always someone else to ask, “Is that so?” You’d better have an answer and a good argument, or forget it. Over the years, my readings have led me to some unusual authorities whose original thinking --or so it seemed to me at the time-- persuaded me to include their perspective in my understanding of How It All Works. They will be mentioned and referenced from time to time. If you’re not yet acquainted, I commend them to your kind attention.)
* *A few days ago I went to see the Occupation. I wanted to stand and walk on land that had been taken, liberated, as we once said, from the State. It was exhilarating! After work, I walked to the open market across the street and bought a couple bags of apples. I went down into the metro station and took the red line to the Civic Center. Came out on Hill (thank the gods the escalator wasn't out of order) and walked a couple blocks down Temple, through a small crowd of Michael Jackson devotees outside the courthouse. As I reached Spring St., I encountered a crocodile on its way to the Federal Reserve. I might've gone, but my leg really hurts after a block or two, so I walked on to have a look at the Occupation. The lawn surrounding City Hall was covered with tents, posters, cardboard, an apparent hodgepodge of colorful shelters. As I moved around, I saw there were paths, areas set aside for specific activities. The food area gratefully accepted the apples. Dinner was a couple hours away and there weren't any snacks.... There's a church nearby that has offered its kitchen three days a week....
For me - walking around the occupation, observing the occupiers, chatting with strangers - it was delightful. Nothing much was happening, just an afternoon with a few hundred people occupying the public space around the seat of municipal government. Some people were playing music. Quite a few groups were talking/discussing. I caught the occasional whiff of grass burning. There were people at the various service areas, first aid, food, library, media.... It’s a little village, a temporary community of strangers sharing their stories and making a new story together.
Are the times a’changin’? as my brother mused?
A friend asked, “How can the Occupation citizens actually achieve change?”
Another friend wondered, “How long do they think they can keep this going?”
These are three facets of the same conundrum: How to get from Here to There. Each question looks at the problem from a different angle. The more perspectives we have, the fuller will be our understanding of the problem and the better our chances of finding viable solutions. At least one hazard may be that we drown in too much information. Clearly, it’s all about change, changing the social order to something more just than what we’ve got now.
Change will come. That's given. What we want to consider is how we shape the change. As my brother suggested, wouldn't it be cool if people changed, instead of demanding change? One of the things that will happen in these occupation actions is a transformed sense of personal power and personal responsibility among the participants. I know this from both experience and observation. There is great value in seeing "ordinary people" create a sustainable community out of nothing but passion and good will. An example I saw was a "charging station." Someone had set two solar panels on the west lawn and constructed a power station for people to charge their cell phones, batteries, etc. They were also running a sound system, playing unremarkable music....
So, in the Buddhist sense, change will continue. In the marxist sense? Here, I think we're seeing a stage in the process, a potentially significant moment. As I understand the evolution of the "General Assembly" concept (from the 15 May Movement in Spain), everyone who participates will experience democracy, not the phony thing we now call democracy. This is a teachable moment.
23 October 2011