Saturday, October 15, 2011

#OccupyWallStreet: the process is the goal

The coverage of the #OccupyWallStreet movement provided by the Waging Nonviolence blog has been great.  Also, here is an article by Tim King on the Sojourners blog with his take on it:

Like many of my contemporaries, I found the non-violent protests in Egypt that led to regime change earlier this year terribly inspiring. But, also like many in my generation, I never thought such a movement could happen here.

I had seen people my age start successful businesses, become pop-stars and even play a key role in partisan political campaigns, but I had never seen them develop and sustain a social movement.

Sure there have been more focused shifts around issues like educational equity, LGBT rights or global poverty that my generation has had a hand in shaping, but nothing that quite had the look or the feel of what I imagined the anti-War or Civil Rights movements of the 1960s to have been. I assumed we — my contemporaries ( I’m 27) — simply didn’t possess the interest or the will-power to accomplish something that big.

I was wrong.

It isn’t clear yet what immediate or enduring effects the Occupy movement will have on our current economic or political situation. But, there are three things that I believe have the potential to significantly shape a whole generation — and perhaps the future of our nation.

First, a generation — my generation — is learning how to act. More importantly, we are learning how to act collectively. And what makes this of lasting significance is that we are seeing some results.

For much of its life, my generation has the ability to broadcast our thoughts and ideas around the globe, 24/7, but we hadn’t felt heard … until now. An epic shift has occurred in the last few weeks, a transition from wide-scale disconnection and disenchantment because of our perceived (at least) voicelessness with the powers that be, to seeing responses to our message calling for justice and transformation from around the country and the world.

Right now, across the nation high school students, college kids and legion twenty-somethings are watching their peers create something positive and powerful that has been amplified worldwide. Whether we start sleeping outside or not, a lot more dreams seem possible. The vision my friends and I have for our futures — and, more importantly, for the futures of the least of those among us — is catching on at home and abroad. It’s infectious, resonating deep in the hearts and minds of our contemporaries around the globe. They, too, want to act collectively and watch as their efforts bring about lasting, positive change.

Second, the members of my generation are invigorating democracy. The democratic processes in our country seemed like little more than so many lackluster reality TV shows. It had a veneer of authenticity but we couldn’t shake the feeling that somebody was standing just out of the camera shot, scripting the “real” dialogue and pulling all the strings.

Anyone who thinks that the Occupy demonstrations are, at their roots, about “socialism” or “communism” isn’t listening. It’s all about the democratic process. While the movement has not coalesced around a political party or a particular policy platform, it has radically embraced the idea that one person and one vote are supposed to count.

Going forward, that’s going to make things challenging. Democracy — especially direct democracy — isn’t easy. I have great hope that the Occupy movement’s current systems of decision-making will be rooted to the discipline of democracy as they continue to evolve.

Third, #OccupyWallStreet protesters believe that part of their responsibility is to model within their individual and diverse “Occupy” locations, a sort of alternative community. Such an idea has long existed in Christian and other religious traditions. Some faith communities live in the midst of society while trying to model a different way to live and relate, while others have separated themselves from society in order to, they believe, better live out their beliefs.

In either paradigm of engagement, the purpose of each faith community is similar: To lift up a mirror to society in general and model alternative ways of living that others may choose to follow or not.

The #OccupyWallStreet movement probably won’t look like it does right now next year or the year after that. The demands they are making right now might not be the same demands they will make in five or ten years. In order for this movement to have the same sort of impact that the Civil Rights Movement did, it will need to grow, develop and be sustained over decades, not months.

If the end result of “The Occupation” is tens of thousands of young people who believe it is our responsibility to:

1. Act with others for social change;

2. Invigorate democratic processes;

3. Model life-giving alternatives to the systems they are protesting;

then no matter what else it accomplishes, it will have been successful.


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