The following post – currently appearing in Nation of Change and Truthout - is an updated and slightly edited version of a post from earlier in the year about Occupy’s May 1st day of action. To celebrate Occupy’s 1 year anniversary, I’m re-releasing this piece with an altered theme more appropriate to today and the road ahead.
Why are we occupying? Or to put it another way – what’s wrong with the world?
Of course, most of us know what’s wrong with the world. We know about the poverty, war, violence and disease. We’re conscious of the injustice, but not fully conscious of it, because frankly, we have enough to worry about in our own lives. As such, we’ve come to accept these injustices as simple facts of life – prepackaged side effects of the human condition, as natural and intertwined with our existence as water to a stream, beyond our capacity to effect in any significant way. This collective sense of powerlessness and default apathy is why we’re occupying.
Our growing sense of isolation and disconnection, whether from ourselves, from those next door to us, or from those producing our food and products halfway across the globe, is why we’re occupying. Our forced support of perpetual war waged for and by the 1% - whether explicitly with speech, or implicitly with inaction and tax dollars - without ever paying mind to the true causes and motives behind it, is why we’re occupying. Our failure up till now to connect the dots and realize that the benefits of a cheap iPod, lovely as it may be, would be far outweighed by the benefits of a truly just world free of exploitation, is why we’re occupying.
The fact that most of us are too busy being exploited to realize we’re being exploited – too busy greasing the cogs of our economic system to notice how the fruits of our labor never fail to float up and out of our reach - is why we’re occupying, as is the fact that most aren’t able to do anything about this exploitation even when we do notice it. While some of us are lucky enough to have jobs and careers that give real meaning to our lives, allowing us to take full advantage of our talents and fulfill our destiny, most of us have jobs devoid of meaning and dignity, yet full of the feeling that we are fulfilling someone else’s destiny. Our recognition that the ruling class’s seat at the top of the pyramid is prepared and propped up by the working class is why we’re occupying. Our knowledge that it’s actually the CEO who is the most dependent among us, and that the ones truly indispensable to our society are not bankers, lobbyists and politicians, but workers, teachers and engineers, is why we’re occupying.
Indeed, the fact that we have an economic system which functions in the same manner as a virus is why we’re occupying. Just as a virus’s only reason for existence is to expand, without regard or awareness of the effect of its expansion on its host body, our economic system pursues its infinite expansion without regard or awareness of its effect on human welfare or the environment. Though the earth is finite, it is sustainable, so we reject, in the words of Michael Nagler, “the inherent contradiction of an economy based on indefinitely increasing wants – instead of on human needs that the planet has ample resources to fulfill.”
We’re occupying because we also reject the notion that selfishness must be the driving force in our world. We believe, contrary to propaganda, that most people in our world are not selfish, and would rather work together than constantly compete against each other. We believe the only ones who really care about things like power, corporate monopolies and global dominance only make up, say, 1% of the population, making it seem only logical that we should have an economic system which reflects the values of the 99% of us who don’t care about such things. The fact that most of the decisions which have a profound impact on how we go about our daily lives are made by folks in Washington or Wall Street, rather than in our communities by the people actually affected by those decisions, is why we’re occupying. The fact that power rests only with those who lust after it is why we’re occupying.
We’re occupying because another notion we don’t buy into is the presumption that the profit motive can have no outcome other than the best possible one. We understand that the success of McDonald’s has nothing to do with having the best burger, and everything to do with having the most cutthroat business plan. We understand that building prisons, waging wars, polluting the environment, and paying employees inadequate wages are actually quite profitable. Sustainability, economic justice and true equality? Not so much. We understand that being ruthless and unscrupulous is an economic advantage, and being truthful and virtuous is an economic disadvantage. We understand that money is treated as more natural and inviolable as nature itself, and that too often our place and perceived value in society is determined solely by how much of it we make, or how much of it we make for someone else. We understand that, whether or not you believe in climate change, our ability to adequately address it or any other pressing issue is greatly compromised when our shortsighted need for profit always skews our vision of the whole. We’re occupying to suggest new motives and new values going forward.
The fact that you might not have known why we’re occupying, and you didn’t get and maybe still don’t get what Occupy Wall Street is about, is why we’re occupying. And who can blame you? Just like you don’t have the time or energy to really do anything about the world’s problems, you probably don’t have the time or energy to do the deep digging and deep thinking required to get your news and views from any source other than the corporate outlets conveniently floating on the surface. It’s understandable that you wouldn’t see the inherent conflict of interest of a handful of for-profit corporations with their own interests telling the world's story to the majority of people in this country. The fact that it's so hard to be truly informed, and that it's in the 1%'s interest for the majority of us to be uninformed, is why we're occupying. The fact that it’s entirely possible you haven’t heard a thing lately about the numerous growing people’s and consciousness movements all over the world, but it’s equally possible you’ve heard plenty about the latest stupid thing some athlete or celebrity said, is why we're occupying. The fact that you think the Occupy movement is dead simply because the corporate media isn’t reporting on it is why we’re occupying.
To counter the charge that it's unrealistic, and overly idealistic, to want to bring about real change in our world, as well as the trusty "life’s not fair" rationale always used to justify injustice, is why we're occupying. We didn't accept that line of reasoning during the civil rights movement, and we don't accept it now. We think it’s far more unrealistic to think that a small cadre of elites will be able to keep up their never-ending pursuit of power consolidation and mass manipulation without waking us up in the process. We think it’s far more unlikely that in 100 years, humanity will still be playing this game of perpetual one-upmanship, instead of picking up the far more efficient and beneficial manner of interacting with each other in honesty, cooperation and genuine respect.
Perhaps the biggest reason we’re occupying is to simply exercise that ever-cherished American value of freedom. Just as our business leaders are free, celebrated and encouraged to act in their own self-interest, we are free to act in ours. And by the way, even if you don’t support the Occupy movement, whatever you think the Occupy movement is about, we respect your view, because another reason we’re occupying has to do with our political system – the way it thrives and prospers from pitting us against ourselves, encouraging us to demonize each other while discouraging us from disagreeing civilly.
The fact that this post is completely and utterly inadequate in expressing why we're occupying, is why we're occupying. But that's OK, because like year one, this post is just the beginning.
Happy anniversary, Occupy Wall Street!