Saturday, October 29, 2011

 Images from OccupyLA
The Welcome Tent: OccupyLA -- 21 October 2011
The Free Library: "A library is not a luxury. It is a necessity."
The Meditation Temple
First Aid and Massage

Tents on the lawn around LA City Hall
Pumpkin Head Patch

Animal Rights posters

Friday, October 28, 2011

OccupyLA 2

     Hallowe’en is a week away and as the #OWS movement grows, I see several things happening in response that are a bit scary, and others that are quite hopeful. Although the police response in some places --Chicago & Oakland-- has been terrible, the latest surveys say that 60% of those polled are in support of the #OWS movement. I think that is amazing! Next week there may be lots of parades, and perhaps some marches? more occupations? It is the moment for “Trick or Treat!”
     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
Eagle  Rock

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Occupy Los Angeles 1

  During the days of awe...
       Saturday was Yom Kippur and tomorrow is (observed) Columbus Day. I haven’t been downtown yet to the tent city at City Hall. I have watched a few hours of the live-stream from New York, LA and DC. This is so exciting! Thousands of people have taken to the streets and are occupying public spaces in a dozen cities! The Occupy Wall Street action began three weeks ago, in response to Adbusters’ call. (The magazine is one of my favorite occasional periodicals.) The common chant, “We are the 99%,” has broad resonance. To me, it appears that small communities of activists are staking out space, staging marches, attracting attention from the police, and quickly outgrowing the space they’ve occupied. The handful of “organized” people in New York said they’d begun with supplies for two weeks, but run through everything. Volunteers, donations and a spirit of generosity were providing for people’s basic needs.
     The live-streams have been moderated by various participants, across a wide range of perspectives. Interviews invariably begin with, “Why are you here?” Answers are as expected: “I can’t find a job.” “I lost my house.” “I can’t pay my student loans.” People who have been badly hurt during the current economic upheaval have come with their grievances. They are seeking redress. They have seen the top 1% get richer and richer while the rest of us continue to lose our personal and common wealth. As yet, I have not heard any single demand arise. General Assemblies are forming at each occupation, and people are talking, but no list of demands, agenda or manifesto has appeared. There are certain to be documents and drafts of documents circulating. I want to see them! And I want to find the best, most interesting ones and send them around.
      This is a teachable moment, a pre-revolutionary moment.
* *
What is being taught? What is being learned?
     Every learning situation is different and unique, but there are fundamental questions the learner and the pedagogue should raise. The answers will be displayed in several dimensions, from recorded “hard data” and well-defined objectives to ephemeral observations of how learners “feel” and the identification of teachers’ unconscious biases of teachers. What is taught and what is learned are sometimes not the lessons we intended. What we observe about this “teachable moment” ought to help us figure out how to best take advantage of the opportunity.
     The teachable moment arises in situations when our vulnerability and our trust in authority are challenged. An example of a teachable moment, taken from my student days, may be helpful. By the fall of 1967 I had decided to defy the government’s order to report for military service. Like many young people, I had no interest in taking part in the war in Vietnam, or any war, but I registered anyway and was issued a draft card. I suppose it was meant to rouse some sense of patriotism. As a student, I completed the forms to postpone my service. My cooperation wasn’t coming from allegiance to the flag or any semblance of duty to my country. It was motivated by fear. I was afraid of the stigma of “refusing the call,” as well as the hardships of incarceration for refusing to serve. I knew this, intellectually and viscerally, but it wasn’t until another student talked about it that I understood how that fear was reinforced and used to manipulate us.
     The student, David Harris, asked the men in the audience (it was an anti-war rally) to take out their draft cards and read what it said on the back. Basically, it was a threat to fine the registrant (me) up to $10,000 and imprison him for up to five years if he destroyed the card or failed to comply with Selective Service orders. This piece of paper was the material reinforcement of the fear I was meant to feel. It was a symbolic and physical instrument of state power and social control. By law, I was required to carry it in my wallet. The draft card was a teaching tool, and what it taught was not love of country, but fear.
     As Walt Kelly sagely observed, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
* *
Things to do? Something Is Happening ...
     The Occupation (#OWS) appears to be very fluid. As learning environments, each occupation is unique, but all are temporary, mobile, open and inclusive. Very different from the usual classroom. Who are the teachers? Who are the learners? What are the “objectives” and who defines them? What is the curriculum and who decides that? Is there a trend toward discussion, away from lecture? How are arrangements made for “class meetings”? Is there a class project? a practical application of what’s being learned? Are there links to other “classes” at other occupations? I think there is a great deal of useful information and experience that can be shared, but making the connections between occupations is essential. This could be a first attempt to distribute power (information) horizontally on local, regional, national and global scales. (More on this from Jeremy Rifkin: The Empathic Civilization, & YouTube.)
      The first point to understand, I think, is that this is not the revolution. There is no foolproof recipe for revolution -- each is unique to its time and place -- but there are some common features that precede the overthrow of the state. One of these is the “oppressed classes” (the 99% ?) beginning to get past the divisions that have separated them. Antagonists are forming coalitions. A feature yet to come is the broad understanding that privilege is power. The practical work of building alternative and parallel social structures to replace the state that’s about to be smashed must continue or be initiated. These are some markers along a possible path toward a fair and sane future.
       I hope the lessons of the Occupation are clearly stated and shared as they emerge:
  •  This is what democracy looks like: an open, inclusive and transparent process.  
  •  All sovereign state power is the expression and exercise of the will of the privileged: the law will always protect power and privilege.
We have to do our homework.
9 October 2011
Eagle Rock