For the first time in ten years I felt We the People had Purpose. Purpose with a capital P. And greater clarity than the mainstream mass media would dare admit. As zombies staggered down Wall Street chasing dollar bills recently, at least they gave a damn.
The mainstream mass media think it’s cute when crowds of otherwise “normal people” dress in bloody rags and paint themselves up as zombies to parade about setting new zombie world records. The same media, however, heap scorn and ridicule upon all those “crazy people” costumed as zombies to protest the insane gluttony of Wall Street and its cronies. Well, at least those zombies give more than a frakkin’ hoot. They gave a damn.
When elderly war veterans, middle-age White ladies hobble together down the street with old hippies, tattooed punks, the newly homeless, Native Americans, grizzled union workers, and white-collar office workers, all getting in the way of our fellow 99-percenters willing to slave away for the Puppet Masters among the 1% superwealthy, well, we have an insurrection, folks.
A young man in Downtown Seattle held up his sign and challenged us: “GIVE A DAMN!”
GIVE A DAMN!
Bright, blue letters blazed neon from cardboard on a wooden slat stick.
It’s time. Leave the Parties behind. Coffee, tea, water, and whiskey; milk and soy, almond whatever. It’s time. Time to get to get serious.
On Saturday, October 8, 2011, just the other day, but already feeling like once upon a time, I bussed into Downtown Seattle with my friends Syd and David to participate in Occupy Seattle, the local uprising of dissent inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protests. We met others we knew. People asked us about the protests and voiced support for us from the bus stop and on the bus. I felt somewhat shy as well as proud so sat quietly on the bus with my enormous sign. Earlier, David, Syd, and I chopped down and rewrote my protest poem to make it appropriate for the demonstration. In bold, colorful letters it hollered out loud and clear:
“WHY STOP @ WALL ST.?
OCCUPY THE BANKS!
SEIZE THE FED!”
Once off the bus I held that big sign aloft with pride. As I carried it during the rally and the subsequent march, it sure generated lots of attention and commentary. Those who understood the intricacies of the global financial system including the relationships between the Big Wall Street Banks, the Federal Reserve System, and the international central banking system voiced support.
“Right on!” people said. “Gotta stop the Fed. End the Fed!”
“Yes, go right to the source,” I shouted back. And to a man with questions about what the Fed has to do with all this protesting, I explained the Federal Reserve and stated the proposals ranged from abolishing it to reforming it including placing it under the Department of Treasury. It must at least be placed under transparent public control and be held accountable. He got it. I kept on.
“My stand is we must have public control of the money power similar to civilian control of the military power,” I said.
“Oh, yes,” he said and nodded his head. He really got it this time, and his thoughtful, scrunched-up face relaxed into a smile.
I stood on the sidewalks and curbs of Westlake Plaza and held up my sign. I also accidentally bumped a few people with it, too. My sign was big! Maybe too big! And my shoulders got tired.
Man, I was glad for all that weight training over the years. I held up my sign a long time. Later on the march I knocked some popcorn out of some dude’s cup full of popcorn at a bus stop as I strode by. Oh, he was angry. I apologized and moved forward.
As so many passionate people swarmed around me I felt waves of hope, love, and solidarity. I was on Purpose.
My long-time, dear friend Syd Fredrickson, a veteran activist settling down into the comforts of middle-age life with a job, a home, and a husband, had come back out on the streets. She was outraged at the destruction and dysfunction wrought by the corporations upon our environment and communities. She felt depressed how corrupted the political process was and how beholden many politicians were to the Puppet Masters of the money power.
And she felt hope, something she hadn’t felt in a long time. Syd had mellowed out over the years, however, and had become far more compassionate and loving and less righteous and one-sided. She’s always been a stand for inclusiveness and agreement making, especially consensus. Everybody knew Syd. Everyone loves Syd. And she is a passionate woman, a goddess of smoldering fire.
With a smile, she moved through the crowds greeting people while I stood like a silent sentinel. She had a feel for where to go and when, except she was always losing sight of her husband, David Wright, in the crowd, and he, her. I love Syd for her focus on the positive and for championing what’s possible without complaint. She marched around holding up her sign, which read in letters red, blue, green, and red again:
“LET’S CREATE A CARING ECONOMY.
The Extreme Inequality is Killing Us –
Our Commons, our Democracy.”
Sing it, Syd!
David Wright was one of the cofounders of Sustainable Ballard and remains active in many environmental and neighborhood causes. He also focused on the positive and reached out with his simple demand for a new awareness. His sign shouted loud and clear, without any blaming and shaming. It simply declared:
“WE WANT COMMUNITY RIGHTS!”
Profoundly hard-of-hearing like me but much more outspoken, David was in his element navigating the crowds. He was a champion of neighborhoods and communities coming together politically to educate people on sustainable urban agriculture, recycling initiatives, and other actions to encourage people to grow their own food and reduce waste.
This movement began with the first “occupation” in New York City back in mid-September. In Lower Manhattan on September 19, 2011 people from Occupy Wall Street began protesting against “the 1%,” the percentage of superwealthy Americans whose control of Big Banks and large corporations dominate the rest of us, i.e. “We are the 99%!” To the surprise of many, it quickly ignited widespread unrest.
This largely peaceful uprising has now spread to 25 American cities and is merging around the world with other uprisings. There is growing international solidarity against the Global Empire of “the banksters and robber barons.”
Occupy Wall Street is merging with the Arab Spring, the anti-austerity revolts within the European Union, the insurrection in the UK, and uprisings elsewhere for a cry for global democracy and freedom from tyranny. Saturday, October 15, has been declared a day for Occupation Earth. I saw a declaration for “Occupation Everywhere!”
Unlike traditional territorial and colonial empires of old, this attempt at World Empire is financial and economic subjugation disguised as democracy and free market enterprise. The Big Banks, the international central banking system, the Corporatocracy, the G20 and the Bretton Woods Three, the military-industrial-intelligence complexes, and the national security states are interlocked together in a web of global alliances held together by the Financial and Power Elite (the 1%) and their Allies from the 99%.
Guess where the largest concentration of police officers was positioned? Right in front of the entrance to Chase Manhattan. How ironic, too, as Bank of America just across the street was abandoned to the occupation. BoA didn’t seem popular with anyone today, not even the cops, especially after announcing its imposition of high debit card user fees after all that work to get people to switch from using credit cards to debit cards. A well-dressed, middle-aged man accompanied by his wife held up a cardboard sign simply stating “Bank of Asshole.” No one stormed the bank, although the word was out the police in St. Louis, Missouri had to sent SWAT teams out to protect BoA from its customers.
Apparently so many had sought to close their accounts, Bank of America stopped doing so, customers got angry and mad and made threats, and BoA called out the cops. Have you ever noticed “Labor Wars” are called labor wars and not management wars? That the Big Banks and the Corporatocracy are so powerful and so entrenched local governments will used whatever armed forces they have, including the police and state national guard, to protect the banks and corporations and not the general public.
I was glad my wife and I switched from the Big Banks to our local credit unions. There we are owners. My sign shouted “OCCUPY THE BANKS!” While I wasn’t going to charge the cops guarding the doors or throw any rocks, no way, I would join any mob in any attempts to peacefully yet powerfully enter the bank lobby. And it didn’t happen. Wasn’t gonna. Not today, anyway.
Close to 5:30pm we began marching. We marched all the way from Westlake Plaza to across from the Columbia Tower, rallied for about a half hour or more, then marched back. We stuck to the sidewalks most of the way, a few agitated demonstrators went out into the street and wondered why aren’t we taking to the streets like people did in Tunisia and Egypt and even Wisconsin? Like people used to in America? We had agreements with the police to keep it peaceful and not obstruct traffic. Pissing off motorists is not good public relations. Nor being seen fighting with cops. Especially not letting the media focused on a handful of misfit types with wild hair and clothing styles as representative of the rest of us.
“Stinky hippies?” Yeah, a few. So what? Maybe if people who’ve never camped out before in their lives would spend a few nights down in the streets without regular bathing and shaving they might get a clue. They might even look and smell like “stinky hippies,” too. Oh, shudders! Imagine being soldiers enduring weeks and months of constant combat in terrain from Afghanistan to Iraq. Go watch Restrepo, the award-winning documentary film about the Battles of the Korengal Valley and then talk about stench.
I have to roll my eyes at these kind of derisive comments by middle class pretenders. There were all kinds of people. Real flesh and blood human beings. Well-dressed people rallied and marched, too, even a few in suits but more in business casual. People of different ethnic groups and ages. All kinds. Even military veterans in dress uniforms. The wars of Empire left many of them “all fucked up” with blown off limbs, shredded genitals, and unhinged minds while the big corporations profited from their labor in defense of Big Oil, military contracts, and “free trade” with “democracies.”
Either the banksters and the corpo-corpses in their ignorance and greed don’t understand the bottom line of business is not money but human beings and their relationships, or, in a more sinister way, they do understand as to exploit people while they can.
Earlier this Saturday Native groups came out for Indigenous People’s Day as a counterweight to Columbus Day. Anti-war protestors showed up and joined in. So did labor union men and women. There were children. Not a lot, but they ranged from babies to teenagers. Many marchers appeared to be middle-aged people who were fed up with banks, corporations, and the corruption in government.
I saw Muslims and Jews and Christians, or to be more accurate Jews and Muslims in the traditional clothing associated with their religions and Christians praying openly when a minister took the stage and called out to Jesus to save everybody. I ran into Pagans I knew, recognized Buddhists, and even saw a sign or two by what appeared to be a small cluster of Atheists. I would imagine people from a variety of faiths stood together in the plaza. Many students crowded around. And many who were unemployed, underemployed, deep in debt, overtaxed, uninsured, and had been foreclosed upon. One held up a large sign echoing recent news one million military veterans are unemployed.
“SERIOUSLY?? ONE MILLION JOBLESS VETS – SERIOUSLY!!”
Our numbers, however, felt disappointingly small. Perhaps a thousand people were involved earlier in the day, and maybe 400 then 600 later during the march. Maybe a thousand again at the end. I heard Portland, Oregon had many more, and they’re a smaller city.
Near the plaza a small number allowed themselves to be arrested for blocking an intersection or crossing the street when ordered to move or not move by the cops. Those who honked their horns in support of the demonstrations were pulled over and ticketed by the cops, especially if they honked after 10:00 at night. We got many honks from drivers earlier in the day, cheers, thumbs up, and curious looks. Even the customers on the notorious Duck amphibious tour buses seemed to support us and one of their drivers pumped his fist. Cabbies pumped their fists in support, too. Right on, damn right.
“MR. OBAMA, TEAR DOWN THIS WALL STREET!!”
Thus shouted a sign in neat, stenciled letters held up high on a tall slat by a well-dressed White gentleman in his 60s. He was professional, silent, solid, and full of grit. A “stinky hippie?” I don’t think so.
“END CORPORATE POWER NOW!” sung out from ragged cardboard. Seems pretty clear to me. You?
“END THE FED!”
An old man scooting along in a wheelchair with that hanging off his back. Yes, end the Fed. We locked eyed and nodded. Both gave the other thumbs up. We knew. Go to the source.
“COLLEGE USED TO GET ME A JOB!” shouted a sign held aloft by a young woman. Being a Liberal Arts graduate, I had my opinions about the purpose of education, it ain’t about the job, and my opinion here doesn’t matter. I get her point. And I support it.
A young blonde woman all dressed up purple for white-collar work raged under her cardboard sign. Hers shouted in blue and red:
“I Went to the UW and all I got was a SHIT-TON of DEBT!”
Yeah, I get it. My wife can’t seem to pay her student loans off decades after she graduated. Took me many years, too. Student loans cannot be discharged in BK, in a bankruptcy. They are set up as a form of legalized loan sharking. Ever heard of the industrial-academic-financial complex? The money mill feeds the academic mill feeds the industrial mill and around and round till the whole damn wheel broke off and crashed. It was too lopsided and out of balance, corrupt and rotten to the core. And its own employees conditioned to think they’re helping people, people who are so desperate to get in because that’s what they’ve been led to believe they do what desperate people do; go to loan sharks. It’s nice if the loan shark office looks good and carries some degree of credibility up front, but it’s all a racket.
“GIVE A DAMN!”
That guy with the goatee and cap was everywhere with that neon blue sign. More power to him. I chugged a long with my big sign, feeling old, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t hear for the love, but I was here because I love, and I care.
I only witnessed two openly hostile people. One young White woman in the passenger seat of an SUV who maintained a steady “Fuck You” middle finger at us as her driver sped down the street. The other was a tall, Black man who came over to those sitting down in the street blocking traffic and complained to them. “Look, I support your cause,” he said. “But why block the busses, huh? Why block the busman? We folks trying to get home, we got things we gotta do, too, so why block the busman, huh? Why not just keep marching? Why block the busman like that, huh? Shit, people, let the buses through.”
After about 7:00, I caught a bus home, too. I had a household full of people to get back to. Wife, kids, and foreign exchange guest students awaited for me to return home. Friends were over for a surprise visit and dinner. It seemed another world, and I didn’t transition well. While supporting the general themes of the Occupy demonstrations, my family and friends wanted well-articulated positions from the protesters with clarity of proposals advocating what they stood for and not simply long lists of complaints and self-victimizing.
Everyone there generally supported Occupy Wall Street, but didn’t want riots nor wanted to hear self-declared victims whine how persecuted they are on a drama triangle of their own making. Furthermore, people down there, regardless of how terrible things are, and they are terrible for many folks, have to get hate out of their hearts.
Well, I was down there. I saw some hate, more anger, but little rage. I did see many expressions of love, forgiveness, and compassion. Most of these expressions seemed sincere and were also backboned by firmness. President Obama’s lack of spine and the Republican lack of heart exasperate the majority of people not just downtown in Occupy Seattle but in every conversation the grim power plays between Democrats and Republicans arise. Many loathe the “Dimocrap-Repugslug” two-headed snake with the head of a braying donkey on one end and a mud-slinging elephant on the other. People were fed up with political parties. There even seemed to be growing sentiment against third parties.
I felt moved and inspired by my experience of Occupy Seattle. This is even so despite the at times chaotic and disorganized aspect of the protests, such as late starts, communication delays, and the lack of cohesion between some of the groups down there together. I experienced a wonder and an awe I had not felt in over a decade. Indeed, I felt hope, and I’m not one to usually waste time hoping.
People are fed up. That is clear. This is a rising up of the masses in a spontaneous manner. Both the Democrat and the Republican Parties don’t seem to quite know what to do with this insurrection. Both are also trying to co-op the movement. Tea Partiers and Coffee Partiers find things to hate and to love about this unexpected revolt with riots. (At least so far.) But people on all sides are frakkin’ fed up! And both sides constitute the 99%. People are dismayed, angry, and even ashamed. Many feel despair.
“THEY GOT BAILED OUT, WE GOT SOLD OUT!” many shouted.
In countries around the world people everywhere are fed up with the current economic and financial situation. We are furious about the tyranny of the Big Banks and the Corporatocracy upon our lives in all areas, not just politics. This Saturday coming up, October 15, remember, is Occupy Earth, so please make a point to go down and offer support.
I feel this is the reemergence of the Cultural Creatives spearheading change. Cultural Creatives were first identified back in 2000 by sociologist Paul H. Ray and psychologist Sherry Ruth Anderson. They saw those who transcended and moved beyond the old paradigms of right vs. left, of conservative vs. liberal, of the spiritual and religious vs. political-environmental-economic activists, of progressives vs. traditionalists as the Cultural Creatives.
There were estimated to be 50 million in America and 80-90 million in Europe back then with more elsewhere. The Cultural Creative Awakening was prematurely snuffed out along with the Anti-Corporate Globalization Revolts of the late 1990s/early 2000s after 9/11 and the Global Long War on Terror. The dramatic trauma of the 9/11 attacks and the anvil and hammer of the Patriot and related Acts rearranged priorities.
Recall the violence of the Anti-Corporate Globalization Revolts. They were large-scale riots involving many tens of thousands of people in a global revolt. Most of the people I saw in Occupy Seattle had no desire to repeat such violence. The Cultural Creative integration of spirituality and political activism was vibrant and evident even if the label “Cultural Creative” is no longer in the public awareness.
I saw a tremendous effort on both sides to keep things peaceful when I was downtown. Even the few arrests were staged and relatively peaceful. One guy went around patting his chest with one hand and quietly reminded people to “occupy your heart first.” A burly Christian minister, a Black man dressed in an open, heavy coat, strode out into the streets before a phalanx of police, turned to face his fellow protesters, and shouted “No more blood! Keep it peaceful!”
He spun around slowly in all directions, a giant of a man, his face contorted with righteous indignation. This time he bellowed:
“REMEMBER, NO MORE BLOOD!”
I was reminded six days earlier by a Buddhist teacher to not make the other my enemy. Toward the end of my beginner Vipassana or Insight Meditation course, Rodney Smith, an ex-monk and Buddhist teacher here in Seattle, spoke for emotional self-control. “Feel your emotions, of course, just don’t allow them to run you. You have choices here.” After I raised my hand and asked how do I maintain such equanimity during street protests and described Occupy Wall Street, he nodded and said, “I got it.”
“It’s fine for you to go out into the streets and protest,” he said, “as long as you don’t make those on the other side your adversary.”
I kept reminding myself of his words as I watched both the police and some of the more agitated demonstrators. In some ways, we were all on the same side.
Many of the police officers expressed support at least for the general ideas expressed by many the protesters. The cops seemed much better trained to handle crowds as well as to attack and arrest. I hope this largely peaceful aspect continues throughout these protests everywhere.
Was there rudeness and provocations from a few on both sides? Yes, from a few protestors acting like asses to cops ticketing drivers and fining them $114 for honking in support especially after 10pm. So far it was very unlike my experience in the 1999 Battle of Seattle against the WTO. During the struggle cops attacked demonstrators and innocents alike to provoked much of the fighting while small bands of anarchists and looters took advantage of the chaos to engage in hit and run vandalism.
I was most impressed by my friend David Wright. Fearless and confident, he reached out to the Seattle Police as fellow human beings. He often went over to shake their hands and say “Thank you” for their service. David explained to those cops who would listen what he could about the Occupy Wall Street movement. In return many cops voiced support for the movement. Education was a major component to success. David saw us all as human beings. “Everyone down here is part of the 99%,” he muttered. Then he shouted out loud in unison with many others as he pointed to fellow marchers in the streets:
“WE ARE THE 99%!
YOU ARE THE 99%!”
I sang it, too. The roar of the protesters, the drums, the honking of car horns, and the guitars and banjos drowned out my voice. A man dressed in the American flag screeched upon a whistle, while another blasted the air wide open with a vuvuzela, a South African horn made famous for its strident buzzing during the 2010 World Cup soccer games.
At one point David quickly scribbled together a sign for the cops, scrawling:
“POLICE: YOU ARE THE 99% TOO! JOIN US!”
I am reminded, too, of Paul Hawken’s vision of “Blessed Unrest,” his depiction of vast waves of activism in all areas emerging against the forces of Empire around America and the world. To his great surprise and delight instead of only a few hundred thousand groups he discovered over two million groups. Their numbers continue to rise. No one leader rules over anyone. No one overarching idea unites them. But a worldwide network of activist groups network together on issues local to global. They often disagree on many points, and agree on many more.
This movement has great promise. It evokes many of the protests that erupted during the beginnings of the First Great Depression including the Bonus Army Revolt of 1932, a peaceful protest and camp-in by the veterans of World War I. The Bonus Army was crushed violently by U.S. Army forces under Republican President Herbert Hoover.
Occupy Wall Street also has much in common with and many in it are inspired by the civil rights marches, freedom rides, sit-ins, and anti-war rallies of the 1960s and early 1970s. Many of those resulted in violent riots, too, so much that some historians refer to the turmoil of that time as a disorganized, multifaceted civil war or quasi-civil war.
Now so many more want peace. They want peace. I want peace! People demand peace! Liberty! Justice! Respect! Love! Power! Blessed Unrest is peaceful, loving, and powerful.
I stand with the Cultural Creative viewpoint here – we need creative action in all areas, spiritual and physical, heart and mind, spirit and soul. I value the integration of spiritual action and political activism. I uphold the power of prayer and the focus of meditation while taking a stand for urgent action in the here-now of our physical, mundane reality.
My biggest heroes are those who, despite their deep character flaws and they all had them being human beings, turned from violence to nonviolence and were able to build political activism upon a foundation of spirituality. These heroes of mine are from fairly recent history. Three still live today although they’re elderly. My heroes are Attorney Mohandas K Gandhi of India, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. of America, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, also of South Africa. There are others of equal valor, but these are the ones I remember from all the many candles blazing on the cake.
Ten long years after the horrors and mayhem of 9/11, a long-wiggling chrysalis has given birth to a new, more mature, and wiser butterfly. The names may no longer be the same, but the Cultural Creatives, the Anti-Corporate Globalization movement, the Blessed Unrest network of networks, and the Postmodern digital revolutionary entrepreneurs are emerging and mixing in whole new ways from the chrysalis. Already the results are astounding.
And as people shouted and sang along the way, one man with a bushy beard darted and ran among his fellow marchers. One man on a mission, he dashed about patting one hand over his chest and reminding us all to occupy our hearts first.
Adam Kahane quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., at length throughout his 2010 book Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change. We share the same hero, and King’s writings inspired the title of Kahane’s book. Theologian-philosopher Paul Tillich also inspired Kahane. Addressing power and love as what they are rather than what people think they do or lead to, Adam Kahane affirms Tillich’s realizations. For all three men power is the drive to recognize and achieve one’s purpose and the love the drive to unite and become whole.
Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote in “Where Do We Go From Here?” a title that feels almost prescient these days, about his take on power and love. King felt people confused power and love with their polar opposites so much that love, unfortunately, became “identified with the resignation of power, and power with the resignation of love.” You can almost hear him sigh.
“Now we’ve got to get this right,” King goes on. “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.”
What King said next underlies and unites all the crises converging today, including the ones bringing people out in droves to Occupy Wall Street, Seattle, and cities around the world. “It is precisely this collision of immoral power with powerless morality which constitutes the major crisis of our time.”
Yes, now that we’ve occupied the streets and challenged the Mammon of Wall Street, we have to work together to determine where we go from here and what are out next steps.
First we remember over and over again to occupy our hearts.
Do that, and we will truly, finally, after all these millennia, transform our species. Occupy Wall Street! Occupy the Banks! Seize the Fed! And, yes, occupy your heart.
As the Dalai Lama said, “World peace must develop from inner peace.”
You have to care.
William Dudley Bass
October 10, 2011
NOTE: Originally published in At the Brink with William Dudley Bass @ http://atthebrinkwithwilliamdudleybass.blogspot.com/.
Copyright © 2011 by William Dudley Bass.