Saturday, December 31, 2011

Responding to the Call

Reading this well-written article made me think. I'm not sure that continued mass action against the 1% is essential (although it is certainly useful from time-to-time). What I think is essential now is that we turn our focus to those who are attracted to what we're doing, and remember what attracted us and them to our movement.
There is work to be done: thousands of families are losing their homes every day, more and more people are without adequate food and clothing, etc. Our movement thrived because so many have fallen through the cracks and they saw that some of us were willing to stand up and say no to the system that allowed that to happen. We welcomed them into our camps and we did our best to help them there. Now that most of the camps are gone (if only for awhile, while we regroup) those people still need our help.

So while I agree that mass action is useful - and I completely support this call for mass action - I think it's essential that we put as much or more energy into thinking about how we're going to provide for each other what the 1% will not: a community that actually cares for itself and that does not throw its members to the wolves when they are least able to defend themselves.

I have said before that the outcome I envision for the Occupy Movement is not the destruction of the 1%, but to make them irrelevant. I believe it's true that there is nothing they offer that we cannot provide for ourselves. But we have been trained by them to view each other with suspicion - especially those who cannot (we have been conditioned to think "will not") carry their own weight. The biggest obstacle we face lies in changing our own thinking; in recognizing how we have been taught to despise each other and making the conscious choice to overcome that conditioning.

Start by taking an honest look at how you view the homeless; or how you feel when you are approached by someone who is clearly mentally ill. Don't judge yourself or them, just be conscious of what's happening inside you. Do what you must to keep your sense of security, but always keep the primary focus on the thoughts you have about these human beings: your brothers and sisters who are desperately calling out for someone - anyone - to show them some love and compassion.

It is not my intention to preach; to place myself above or beyond anyone else. I have been afraid of the homeless and the mentally ill for most of my life. I have avoided them: not always, but often. I have crossed streets to keep from having to face them. We all have. But this changed when my own life began to fall apart: when I recognized that what has happened to "them" could happen to me too. In fact, I learned that it was the fear of it happening to me that fueled my tendency to avoid them.

Not long ago I read a book called Breakfast at Sallys by Richard LeMieux: a once wealthy publisher from Poulsbo, Washington (just a few miles from where I now live) who lost everything and found himself homeless and sleeping in his van in a Bremerton, Washington church parking lot. This book changed the way I view the homeless and the desperate among us, and I believe I have been changed for good.

So if you agree that our essential mission as a community is to provide for each other what the 1% has taught us not to provide: real compassion and real action to help each other - but you find yourself afraid, as I have been, to reach out to those who need your help most of all, read Breakfast at Sally's and see if it doesn't have the same transformative effect on you that it had on me. Peace.

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