"A study in Science in 2008 reported that we actually get greater pleasure from giving than receiving. Given what we are learning about our cooperative, empathetic capacities, it should be no surprise that psychologists estimate that, on average, more than 80 percent of happiness comes from relationships, health, spiritual life, friends, and work fulfillment. Only 7 percent is about money."
[from Frances Moore Lappé's "Free Your (Eco) Mind" in current Yes magazine (I met her @ Omega at Design by Nature conference last Oct.!):
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From the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies-- http://www.ecostudies.org/events.html ...
Friday, March 23rd, 7 p.m. EcoMind: Creating the World We Want
Join us for a special lecture by a pioneer of the sustainable food movement and the author of more than 18 books, including the classic Diet for a Small Planet. Lappé will present her newest offering, EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think to Create the World We Want. The co-founder of Food First: The Institute for Food and Development Policy, the Small Planet Institute, and the Small Planet Fund, Lappé is an advocate for food democracy, including equal access to nutritious food, and equitable farm labor practices. The event will be held in the Cary Institute auditorium, located at 2801 Sharon Turnpike (Rte. 44) in Millbrook, New York. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Books will be available for purchase. Events are free and open to the public.For additional information about an event, please contact Pamela Freeman via phone (845) 677-7600 x121 or e-mail.
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"Acts of Love" by Chris Hedges
"Why the Media Loves the Violence of Protesters and Not of Banks" by Rebecca Solnit
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From http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/9-strategies-to-end-corporate-rule/free-your-eco-mind ...
ECOSYSTEMS | HAPPINESS | COMMUNITY
Free Your (Eco)Mind
Think like an ecosystem, and you just might save the world.
by Frances Moore Lappé
posted Feb 01, 2012
Gradually it's dawned on me: We humans are creatures of the mind. We perceive the world according to our core, often unacknowledged, assumptions. They determine, literally, what we can see and what we cannot. Nothing so wrong with that, perhaps-except that, in this crucial do-or-die moment, we're stuck with a mental map that is life-destroying.
And the premise of this map is lack-not enough of anything, from energy to food to parking spots; not enough goods and not enough goodness. In such a world, we come to believe, it's compete or die. The popular British writer Philip Pullman says, "we evolved to suit a way of life which is acquisitive, territorial, and combative" and that "we have to overcome millions of years of evolution" to make the changes we need to avoid global catastrophe.
If I believed that, I'd feel utterly hopeless. How can we align with the needs of the natural world if we first have to change basic human nature?
An eco-mind thinks ...
Less about quantities and more about qualities.
Less about fixed things and more about the ever-changing relationships that form them.
Less about limits and more about alignment.
Less about what and more about why.
Less about loss and more about possibility.
Fortunately, we don't have to. A new way of seeing that is opening up to us can form a more life-serving mental map. I call it "eco-mind"-looking at the world through the lens of ecology. This worldview recognizes that we, no less than any other organism, live in relation to everything else. As the visionary German physicist Hans-Peter Dürr puts it, "There are no parts, only participants."
As part of this shift, breakthroughs in a range of disciplines are confirming what we already know about ourselves, if we stop and think about it: That humans are complex creatures and what we do-from raising children to caring for elders to sharing with our neighbors-exhibits at least as much natural tendency to cooperate as to compete.
The view that our species is basically brutal defies the evidence: "There is a very tiny handful of incidences of conflict and possible warfare before 10,000 years ago," says archaeologist Jonathan Haas of the Field Museum in Chicago, "and those are very much the exception." Our species has a vastly longer experience evolving in close-knit communities, knowing our lives depended on one another. The result is at least six inherent traits we can foster, once we learn to navigate the world with the map of eco-mind.
It turns out that cooperating and co-creating explain our evolutionary success just as much as competition does. No wonder neuroscientists using fMRI scans discovered that when human beings cooperate, our brains' pleasure centers are as stimulated as when we eat chocolate!
And what were the evolutionary pressures that turned us into cooperators?
Human beings are creatures of meaning, seeking ways to give our days value beyond ensuring our own survival.
In her 2009 book Mothers and ?Others, University of California, Davis, anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy challenged the accepted belief that our penchant for cooperation emerged through bonding to fight our neighbors. No, she says. Over most of the 200,000 years we've been around, there were simply too few of us to warrant fighting over territory. Instead, our capacity for cooperation evolved in response to our unique breeding culture.
While other primates generally don't trust others to care for their infants, humans have long turned to aunties, grandmas, and friends to help care for their babies from birth. With these "helpers," children have the "luxury of growing up slowly, building stronger bodies, better immune systems, and in some cases bigger brains," Hrdy surmises.
It is this capacity for cooperation, honed through shared child rearing, that most distinguishes Homo sapiens, claims Hrdy.
Cooperation is made possible by empathy, and it, too, seems to be a capacity deeply carved into us. We see a hint of early empathy in the finding that babies cry at the sound of other babies crying but rarely at a recording of their own cries.
In the 1990s, Italian scientists first discovered what many now see as a cellular foundation of empathy: "mirror neurons" in our brains. When we are only observing another's actions, it turns out, these neurons fire as if we were actually performing the observed actions ourselves. Evidence grows that mirror neurons respond to emotional states as well as actions.
A study in Science in 2008 reported that we actually get greater pleasure from giving than receiving. Given what we are learning about our cooperative, empathetic capacities, it should be no surprise that psychologists estimate that, on average, more than 80 percent of happiness comes from relationships, health, spiritual life, friends, and work fulfillment. Only 7 percent is about money.
Fairness lives within most of us, for we learned long ago that injustice destroys community-the bonds of trust on which our individual survival depends.
Plus, fairness seems to make us feel good, even when at our own expense, Nature reported in 2010. In a simple experiment, pairs of young men were given $30 apiece, while one in each pair got a $50 bonus. The brain's reward center responded in those who got the bonus. No surprise. The surprise came when those lucky men were asked to imagine how they would feel if they got another bonus, or if the next bonus went to their partners. The second scenario, the one reducing inequality, was the one that lit up the brain's pleasure center.
Could our species have made it this far if we were essentially couch potatoes, shoppers, and whiners? I don't think so. We are doers. Our need to "make a dent" in the wider world is so great, argued social philosopher Erich Fromm, that we should toss out René Descartes' theorem, "I think, therefore I am," and replace it with: "I am, because I effect."
The trait seems to show up even in tiny babies. Three-month-olds respond with pleasure to a moving mobile. But a study shows that they "prefer to look at [a] Š mobile they can influence themselves," writes Professor Alison Gopnik in The Philosophical Baby. Plus, "they smile and coo at it more too." For Gopnik, the finding suggests that even the youngest among us enjoy making things happen and seeing the consequences.
In a widely known experiment carried out in the 1970s, Harvard psychologists Ellen Langer and Judith Rodin divided nursing home residents into two groups. In one, residents had choices as to where to receive visitors and when to watch movies; they were also given houseplants to care for. Residents in the second group did not have these choices.
After a year and a half, the Harvard investigators found that fewer than half as many residents in the more engaged group had died. Langer attributes the stunning difference to the enhanced "mindfulness" of those making more choices. I see the outcome ?differently. For me, the longer lives of those responsible for themselves and their plants affirm that we thrive when we feel we have power.
Human beings are creatures of meaning, seeking ways to give our days value beyond ensuring our own survival. The prominence of religion certainly attests to this need. But even the private act of voting may express this need, it dawned on me recently. Rationally, I can easily see that my single vote isn't likely to decide anything. But entering the voting booth, I feel a quiet sense of pride welling up because I know I'm playing my part in a larger human drama-protecting a democratic ideal by my act.
6. Imagination, Creativity, and Attraction to Change
In The Philosophical Baby, Gopnik writes: "More than any other creature, human beings are able to change. Š What neuroscientists call plasticity-the ability to change in light of experience-is the key to human nature at every level from brains to minds to societies." The great evolutionary advantage of human beings is our ability to escape the constraints of instinct, Gopnik reminds us.
Both "using tools and making plans Š depend on anticipating future possibilities," and we can see these "abilities emerging even in babies who can't talk yet."
Human beings' unique capacity for imagination ends this list because-coupled with our plasticity-it is what enables us to envision and make the changes we must in order to draw forth the other five essential qualities. And it is this imaginative self that takes pleasure in the challenge.
If humans are all the above, then why in the world do we mindlessly participate every day in a social ecology that generates so much destruction and misery for so many?
For me, answering that question starts with acknowledging that the six magnificent traits above are only part of being human. But history, as well as laboratory experiments in which we are the guinea pigs, reveals that most of us have every bit as much ability to be competitive, selfish, and even horribly cruel.
So, given those potentials, why are we choosing the traits that are getting us, and the rest of life on the planet, in such trouble? And what will it take to bring out those six strong traits and use them to change where we're headed?
Here's where the eco-mind comes to the rescue.
Seeing with an eco-mind means fully appreciating the power of context-including conditions we ourselves create-to determine the qualities we express. So the question for humanity seems relatively straightforward:
Which social rules and norms have proven to bring out the worst in humans, and which bring forth the best while protecting us from the worst?
Here's my take. At least three conditions have been shown over our long history to elicit the worst in us:
1. Extreme power inequalities. From historical oppression to today's unprecedented economic disparity.
2. Secrecy, which allows us to evade accountability-as occurred when the financial industry, operating without transparency and public oversight, brought the global economy to its knees.
3. Scapegoating, where we create "the other" to blame, whether it's kids crying "he did it" on a playground or citizens at a town meeting shouting down a congressperson.
We need to reverse those three dangerous trends and, instead, disperse power, enhance transparency, and foster mutual accountability.
All three negatives seem to arise with ferocity in cultures premised on lack, where continuous rivalry is presumed. Sadly, each has been on the rise in the United States for at least three decades. And within our culture's mental map, it all feels inevitable. Our empathy and enjoyment in cooperation, our deep sensitivity to fairness, and our need for meaning, efficacy, and creativity-all are stifled in societies where power is tightly held and opportunities shut off for so many.
For me, it's no surprise, then, that scholars uncover a "strong relationship" between the extent of economic inequality and mental illness across countries. This mismatch between the things we know bring out the best in us and the cultures we live in helps me understand why depression has become a global pandemic.
With an eco-mind we stay focused on the social ecology we ourselves are creating that denies us the best in our species' own nature. Knowing all this about ourselves, our challenge seems clear: We need to reverse those three dangerous trends and, instead, disperse power, enhance transparency, and foster mutual accountability. In the process, we will create a culture of alignment with nature in which human needs are met in ways that dissolve the presumption of lack.
The key is what I call "Living Democracy," which consists not only of accountable forms of governance but also of a daily practice: a set of values-among them inclusion, fairness, and mutual accountability-that infuse everything we do in daily life. It is living what Oxford physiologist Denis Noble observes about biological systems in his book The Music of Life: "There are not privileged components telling the rest what to do. There is rather a form of democracy [involving] every element at all levels." The interaction of those components, Noble says, creates the shape of life.
Rising Sea Levels:
The View from a Canoe
Decades ago, the legendary journey of the open-ocean canoe Hokule'a revealed secrets of Hawai'i's past and sparked pride in native culture. Now, a voyage around the world offers a new generation lessons about Earth's uncertain future.
With this understanding, opportunities to be effective appear everywhere: We can build citizen movements, replacing "privately held government" with elections and governance accountable to citizens. And we can rebuild our own mental maps by doing the hard work of actively nurturing our own positive proclivities rather than taking them for granted. Just one specific example: When students at the University of California, Santa Cruz, decided to launch a student-organized sustainability course, collaborating with the administration in order to green their campus, they realized their success would depend in large measure on how well they practiced what I call the "arts of democracy"-such people skills as active listening, mediation, negotiation, and creative conflict. They got training, stuck with it, and their course has spread to other University of California campuses, touching the lives of thousands.
With an eco-mind, we know that if we're all connected, we're all implicated. We look bravely at our nature and realize we don't have to cajole others to be "better." Whew.
Instead, we can get on with creating social rules and norms proven to elicit the best in us-which is plenty. We then have a chance of making this century's planetary turnaround an epic struggle for life so vivid and compelling that it satisfies our deep needs for connection, fairness, and meaning.
Frances Moore Lappé wrote this article for 9 Strategies to End Corporate Rule, the Spring 2012 issue of YES! Magazine. Frances is author of the legendary best seller Diet for a Small Planet, and many other books. She is co-founder of the Small Planet Institute and is a contributing editor for YES! Magazine. This article draws on material from her latest book, Eco-Mind, Nation Books, 2011.
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From http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/02/20-2 ...
Published on Monday, February 20, 2012 by TruthDig.com
Acts of Love
by Chris Hedges
Love, the deepest human commitment, the force that defies empirical examination and yet is the defining and most glorious element in human life, the love between two people, between children and parents, between friends, between partners, reminds us of why we have been created for our brief sojourns on the planet. Those who cannot love-and I have seen these deformed human beings in the wars and conflicts I covered-are spiritually and emotionally dead. They affirm themselves through destruction, first of others and then, finally, of themselves. Those incapable of love never live.
"Hell," Dostoevsky wrote, "is the inability to love."
And yet, so much is written and said about love that at once diminishes its grandeur and trivializes its meaning. Dr. James Luther Adams, my ethics professor at Harvard Divinity School, cautioned all of us about preaching on love, reminding us that any examination of love had to include, as Erich Fromm pointed out in "Selfishness and Self-Love," the unmasking of pseudo-love.
God is a verb rather than a noun. God is a process rather than an entity. There is some biblical justification for this. God, after all, answered Moses' request for revelation with the words, "I AM WHO I AM." This phrase is probably more accurately translated "I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE." God seems to be saying to Moses that the reality of the divine is an experience. God comes to us in the profound flashes of insight that cut through the darkness, in the hope that permits human beings to cope with inevitable despair and suffering, in the healing solidarity of kindness, compassion and self-sacrifice, especially when this compassion allows us to reach out to others, and not only others like us, but those defined by our communities as strangers, as outcasts. "I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE." This reality, the reality of the eternal, must be grounded in that which we cannot touch, see or define, in mystery, in a kind of faith in the ultimate worth of compassion, even when the reality of the world around us seems to belittle compassion as futile.
"The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt," wrote Paul Tillich.
There are few sanctuaries in war. Couples in love provide one. And it was to such couples that I consistently retreated. These couples repeatedly acted to save those branded as the enemy-Muslims trapped in Serb enclaves in Bosnia or dissidents hunted by the death squads in El Salvador. These rescuers did not act as individuals. Nechama Tec documented this peculiar reality when she studied Polish rescuers of Jews during World War II. Tec did not find any particular character traits or histories that led people to risk their lives for others, often for people they did not know, but she did find they almost always acted because their relationship explained to them the world around them. Love kept them grounded. These couples were not able to halt the destruction and violence around them. They were powerless. They could and often did themselves become victims. But it was with them, seated in a concrete hovel in a refugee camp in Gaza or around a wood stove on a winter night in the hills outside Sarajevo, that I found sanity and peace, that I was reminded of what it means to be human. It seemed it was only in such homes that I ever truly slept during war.
Love, when it is deep and sustained by two individuals, includes self-giving-often tremendous self-sacrifice-as well as desire. For the covenant of love recognizes both the fragility and sanctity of all human beings. It recognizes itself in the other. And it alone can save us, especially from ourselves.
Sigmund Freud divided the forces in human nature between the Eros instinct, the impulse within us that propels us to become close to others, to preserve and conserve, and the Thanatos, or death instinct, the impulse that works toward the annihilation of all living things, including ourselves. For Freud these forces were in eternal conflict. All human history, he argued, is a tug of war between these two instincts.
"The meaning of the evolution of civilization is no longer obscure to us," Freud wrote in "Civilization and Its Discontents." "It must present the struggle between Eros and Death, between the instinct of life and instinct of destruction, as it works itself out in the human species. This struggle is what all life essentially consists of."
We are tempted, indeed in a consumer culture encouraged, to reduce life to a simple search for happiness. Happiness, however, withers if there is no meaning. The other temptation is to disavow the search for happiness in order to be faithful to that which provides meaning. But to live only for meaning-indifferent to all happiness-makes us fanatic, self-righteous and cold. It leaves us cut off from our own humanity and the humanity of others. We must hope for grace, for our lives to be sustained by moments of meaning and happiness, both equally worthy of human communion. And it is this grace, this love, which in our darkest moments allows us to endure.
Viktor Frankl in "Man's Search for Meaning" grappled with Eros and Thanatos in the Auschwitz death camp. He recalled being on a work detail, freezing in the blast of the Polish winter, when he began to think about his wife, who had already been gassed by the Nazis although he did not know it at the time.
"A thought transfixed me," he wrote, "for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set down by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth-that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart. The salvation of man is through love and in love."
Love is an action, a difference we try to make in the world.
"We love our enemy when we love his or her ultimate meaning," professor Adams told us. "We may have to struggle against what the enemy stands for; we may not feel a personal affinity or passion for him. Yet we are commanded for this person's sake and for our own and for the sake of the destiny of creation, to love that which should unite us."
To love that which should unite us requires us to believe there is something that connects us all, to know that at some level all of us love and want to be loved, to base all our actions on the sacred covenant of love, to know that love is an act of will, to refuse to exclude others because of personal difference or race or language or ethnicity or religion. It is easier to be indifferent. It is tempting to hate.
Hate propels us to the lust for power, for control, to the Hobbesian nightmare of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Hate is what people do when they are distressed, as many Americans are now, by uncertainty and fear. If you hate others they will soon hate or fear you. They will reject you. Your behavior assures it. And through hate you become sucked into the sham covenants of the nation, the tribe, and you begin to speak in the language of violence, the language of death.
Love is not selflessness. It is the giving of one's best self, giving one's highest self unto the world. It is finding true selfhood. Selflessness is martyrdom, dying for a cause. Selfhood is living for a cause. It is choosing to create good in the world. To love another as one loves oneself is to love the universal self that unites us all. If our body dies, it is the love that we have lived that will remain-what the religious understand as the soul-as the irreducible essence of life. It is the small, inconspicuous things we do that reveal the pity and beauty and ultimate power and mystery of human existence.
Vasily Grossman wrote in his masterpiece "Life and Fate":
My faith has been tempered in Hell. My faith has emerged from the flames of the crematoria, from the concrete of the gas chamber. I have seen that it is not man who is impotent in the struggle against evil, but the power of evil that is impotent in the struggle against man. The powerlessness of kindness, of senseless kindness, is the secret of its immortality. It can never be conquered. The more stupid, the more senseless, the more helpless it may seem, the vaster it is. Evil is impotent before it. The prophets, religious leaders, reformers, social and political leaders are impotent before it. This dumb, blind love is man's meaning. Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness. But if what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer.
To survive as a human being is possible only through love. And, when Thanatos is ascendant, the instinct must be to reach out to those we love, to see in them all the divinity, pity and pathos of the human. And to recognize love in the lives of others, even those with whom we are in conflict-love that is like our own. It does not mean we will avoid suffering or death. It does not mean that we as distinct individuals will survive. But love, in its mystery, has its own power. It alone gives us meaning that endures. It alone allows us to embrace and cherish life. Love has the power both to resist in our nature what we know we must resist and to affirm what we know we must affirm.
© 2012 TruthDig
Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.
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TomDispatch.com / By Rebecca Solnit
Why the Media Loves the Violence of Protesters and Not of Banks
The grand thieves invented ever more ingenious methods to crush the hopes and livelihoods of the many. This is the terrible violence that Occupy was formed to oppose.
February 21, 2012 |
When you fall in love, it's all about what you have in common, and you can hardly imagine that there are differences, let alone that you will quarrel over them, or weep about them, or be torn apart by them -- or if all goes well, struggle, learn, and bond more strongly because of, rather than despite, them. The Occupy movement had its glorious honeymoon when old and young, liberal and radical, comfortable and desperate, homeless and tenured all found that what they had in common was so compelling the differences hardly seemed to matter.
Until they did.
Revolutions are always like this: at first all men are brothers and anything is possible, and then, if you're lucky, the romance of that heady moment ripens into a relationship, instead of a breakup, an abusive marriage, or a murder-suicide. Occupy had its golden age, when those who never before imagined living side-by-side with homeless people found themselves in adjoining tents in public squares.
All sorts of other equalizing forces were present, not least the police brutality that battered the privileged the way that inner-city kids are used to being battered all the time. Part of what we had in common was what we were against: the current economy and the principle of insatiable greed that made it run, as well as the emotional and economic privatization that accompanied it.
This is a system that damages people, and its devastation was on display as never before in the early months of Occupy and related phenomena like the "We are the 99%" website. When it was people facing foreclosure, or who'd lost their jobs, or were thrashing around under avalanches of college or medical debt, they weren't hard to accept as us, and not them.
And then came the people who'd been damaged far more, the psychologically fragile, the marginal, and the homeless -- some of them endlessly needy and with a huge capacity for disruption. People who had come to fight the power found themselves staying on to figure out available mental-health resources, while others who had wanted to experience a democratic society on a grand scale found themselves trying to solve sanitation problems.
And then there was the violence.
The Faces of Violence
The most important direct violence Occupy faced was, of course, from the state, in the form of the police using maximum sub-lethal force on sleepers in tents, mothers with children, unarmed pedestrians, young women already penned up, unresisting seated students, poets, professors, pregnant women, wheelchair-bound occupiers, and octogenarians. It has been a sustained campaign of police brutality from Wall Street to Washington State the likes of which we haven't seen in 40 years.
On the part of activists, there were also a few notable incidents of violence in the hundreds of camps, especially violence against women. The mainstream media seemed to think this damned the Occupy movement, though it made the camps, at worst, a whole lot like the rest of the planet, which, in case you hadn't noticed, seethes with violence against women. But these were isolated incidents.
That old line of songster Woody Guthrie is always handy in situations like this: "Some will rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen." The police have been going after occupiers with projectile weapons, clubs, and tear gas, sending some of them to the hospital and leaving more than a few others traumatized and fearful. That's the six-gun here.
But it all began with the fountain pens, slashing through peoples' lives, through national and international economies, through the global markets. These were wielded by the banksters, the "vampire squid," the deregulators in D.C., the men -- and with the rarest of exceptions they were men -- who stole the world.
That's what Occupy came together to oppose, the grandest violence by scale, the least obvious by impact. No one on Wall Street ever had to get his suit besmirched by carrying out a foreclosure eviction himself. Cities provided that service for free to the banks (thereby further impoverishing themselves as they created new paupers out of old taxpayers). And the police clubbed their opponents for them, over and over, everywhere across the United States.
The grand thieves invented ever more ingenious methods, including those sliced and diced derivatives, to crush the hopes and livelihoods of the many. This is the terrible violence that Occupy was formed to oppose. Don't ever lose sight of that.
Oakland's Beautiful Nonviolence
Now that we're done remembering the major violence, let's talk about Occupy Oakland. A great deal of fuss has been made about two incidents in which mostly young people affiliated with Occupy Oakland damaged some property and raised some hell.
The mainstream media and some faraway pundits weighed in on those Bay Area incidents as though they determined the meaning and future of the transnational Occupy phenomenon. Perhaps some of them even hoped, consciously or otherwise, that harped on enough these might divide or destroy the movement. So it's important to recall that the initial impact of Occupy Oakland was the very opposite of violent, stunningly so, in ways that were intentionally suppressed.
Occupy Oakland began in early October as a vibrant, multiracial gathering. A camp was built at Oscar Grant/Frank Ogawa Plaza, and thousands received much-needed meals and healthcare for free from well-organized volunteers. Sometimes called the Oakland Commune, it was consciously descended from some of the finer aspects of an earlier movement born in Oakland, the Black Panthers, whose free breakfast programs should perhaps be as well-remembered and more admired than their macho posturing.
A compelling and generous-spirited General Assembly took place nightly and then biweekly in which the most important things on Earth were discussed by wildly different participants. Once, for instance, I was in a breakout discussion group that included Native American, white, Latino, and able-bodied and disabled Occupiers, and in which I was likely the eldest participant; another time, a bunch of peacenik grandmothers dominated my group.
This country is segregated in so many terrible ways -- and then it wasn't for those glorious weeks when civil society awoke and fell in love with itself. Everyone showed up; everyone talked to everyone else; and in little tastes, in fleeting moments, the old divides no longer divided us and we felt like we could imagine ourselves as one society. This was the dream of the promised land -- this land, that is, without its bitter divides. Honey never tasted sweeter, and power never felt better.
Now here's something astonishing. While the camp was in existence, crime went down 19% in Oakland, a statistic the city was careful to conceal. "It may be counter to our statement that the Occupy movement is negatively impacting crime in Oakland," the police chief wrote to the mayor in an email that local news station KTVU later obtained and released to little fanfare. Pay attention: Occupy was so powerful a force for nonviolence that it was already solving Oakland's chronic crime and violence problems just by giving people hope and meals and solidarity and conversation.
The police attacking the camp knew what the rest of us didn't: Occupy was abating crime, including violent crime, in this gritty, crime-ridden city. "You gotta give them hope, " said an elected official across the bay once upon a time -- a city supervisor named Harvey Milk. Occupy was hope we gave ourselves, the dream come true. The city did its best to take the hope away violently at 5 a.m. on October 25th. The sleepers were assaulted; their belongings confiscated and trashed. Then, Occupy Oakland rose again. Many thousands of nonviolent marchers shut down the Port of Oakland in a stunning display of popular power on November 2nd.
That night, some kids did the smashy-smashy stuff that everyone gets really excited about. (They even spray-painted "smashy" on a Rite Aid drugstore in giant letters.) When we talk about people who spray-paint and break windows and start bonfires in the street and shove people and scream and run around, making a demonstration into something way too much like the punk rock shows of my youth, let's keep one thing in mind: they didn't send anyone to the hospital, drive any seniors from their homes, spread despair and debt among the young, snatch food and medicine from the desperate, or destroy the global economy.
That said, they are still a problem. They are the bait the police take and the media go to town with. They create a situation a whole lot of us don't like and that drives away many who might otherwise participate or sympathize. They are, that is, incredibly bad for a movement, and represent a form of segregation by intimidation.
But don't confuse the pro-vandalism Occupiers with the vampire squid or the up-armored robocops who have gone after us almost everywhere. Though their means are deeply flawed, their ends are not so different than yours. There's no question that they should improve their tactics or maybe just act tactically, let alone strategically, and there's no question that a lot of other people should stop being so apocalyptic about it.
Those who advocate for nonviolence at Occupy should remember that nonviolence is at best a great spirit of love and generosity, not a prissy enforcement squad. After all, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who gets invoked all the time when such issues come up, didn't go around saying grumpy things about Malcolm X and the Black Panthers.
Violence Against the Truth
Of course, a lot of people responding to these incidents in Oakland are actually responding to fictional versions of them. In such cases, you could even say that some journalists were doing violence against the truth of what happened in Oakland on November 2nd and January 28th.
The San Francisco Chronicle, for example, reported on the day's events this way:
"Among the most violent incidents that occurred Saturday night was in front of the YMCA at 23rd Street and Broadway. Police corralled protesters in front of the building and several dozen protesters stormed into the Y, apparently to escape from the police, city officials and protesters said. Protesters damaged a door and a few fixtures, and frightened those inside the gym working out, said Robert Wilkins, president of the YMCA of the East Bay."
Wilkins was apparently not in the building, and first-person testimony recounts that a YMCA staff member welcomed the surrounded and battered protesters, and once inside, some were so terrified they pretended to work out on exercise machines to blend in.
I wrote this to the journalists who described the incident so peculiarly: "What was violent about [activists] fleeing police engaging in wholesale arrests and aggressive behavior? Even the YMCA official who complains about it adds, 'The damage appears pretty minimal.' And you call it violence? That's sloppy."
The reporter who responded apologized for what she called her "poor word choice" and said the piece was meant to convey police violence as well.
When the police are violent against activists, journalists tend to frame it as though there were violence in some vaguely unascribable sense that implicates the clobbered as well as the clobberers. In, for example, the build-up to the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, the mainstream media kept portraying the right of the people peaceably to assemble as tantamount to terrorism and describing all the terrible things that the government or the media themselves speculated we might want to do (but never did).
Some of this was based on the fiction of tremendous activist violence in Seattle in 1999 that the New York Times in particular devoted itself to promulgating. That the police smashed up nonviolent demonstrators and constitutional rights pretty badly in both Seattle and New York didn't excite them nearly as much. Don't forget that before the obsession with violence arose, the smearing of Occupy was focused on the idea that people weren't washing very much, and before that the framework for marginalization was that Occupy had "no demands." There's always something.
Keep in mind as well that Oakland's police department is on the brink of federal receivership for not having made real amends for old and well-documented problems of violence, corruption, and mismanagement, and that it was the police department, not the Occupy Oakland demonstrators, which used tear gas, clubs, smoke grenades, and rubber bullets on January 28th. It's true that a small group vandalized City Hall after the considerable police violence, but that's hardly what the plans were at the outset of the day.
The action on January 28th that resulted in 400 arrests and a media conflagration was called Move-In Day. There was a handmade patchwork banner that proclaimed "Another Oakland Is Possible" and a children's contingent with pennants, balloons, and strollers. Occupy Oakland was seeking to take over an abandoned building so that it could reestablish the community, the food programs, and the medical clinic it had set up last fall. It may not have been well planned or well executed, but it was idealistic.
Despite this, many people who had no firsthand contact with Occupy Oakland inveighed against it or even against the whole Occupy movement. If only that intensity of fury were to be directed at the root cause of it all, the colossal economic violence that surrounds us.
All of which is to say, for anyone who hadn't noticed, that the honeymoon is over.
Now for the Real Work
The honeymoon is, of course, the period when you're so in love you don't notice differences that will eventually have to be worked out one way or another. Most relationships begin as though you were coasting downhill. Then come the flatlands, followed by the hills where you're going to have to pedal hard, if you don't just abandon the bike.
Occupy might just be the name we've put on a great groundswell of popular outrage and a rebirth of civil society too deep, too broad, to be a movement. A movement is an ocean wave: this is the whole tide turning from Cairo to Moscow to Athens to Santiago to Chicago. Nevertheless, the American swell in this tide involves a delicate alliance between liberals and radicals, people who want to reform the government and campaign for particular gains, and people who wish the government didn't exist and mostly want to work outside the system. If the radicals should frighten the liberals as little as possible, surely the liberals have an equal obligation to get fiercer and more willing to confront -- and to remember that nonviolence, even in its purest form, is not the same as being nice.
Surely the only possible answer to the tired question of where Occupy should go from here (as though a few public figures got to decide) is: everywhere. I keep being asked what Occupy should do next, but it's already doing it. It is everywhere.
In many cities, outside the limelight, people are still occupying public space in tents and holding General Assemblies. February 20th, for instance, was a national day of Occupy solidarity with prisoners; Occupiers are organizing on many fronts and planning for May Day, and a great many foreclosure defenses from Nashville to San Francisco have kept people in their homes and made banks renegotiate. Campus activism is reinvigorated, and creative and fierce discussions about college costs and student debt are underway, as is a deeper conversation about economics and ethics that rejects conventional wisdom about what is fair and possible.
Occupy is one catalyst or facet of the populist will you can see in a host of recent victories.
The campaign against corporate personhood seems to be gaining momentum. A popular environmental campaign made President Obama reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from Canada, despite immense Republican and corporate pressure. In response to widespread outrage, the Susan B. Komen Foundation reversed its decision to defund cancer detection at Planned Parenthood. Online campaigns have forced Apple to address its hideous labor issues, and the ever-heroic Coalition of Immokalee Workers at last brought Trader Joes into line with its fair wages for farmworkers campaign.
These genuine gains come thanks to relatively modest exercises of popular power. They should act as reminders that we do have power and that its exercise can be popular. Some of last fall's exhilarating conversations have faltered, but the great conversation that is civil society awake and arisen hasn't stopped.
What happens now depends on vigorous participation, including yours, in thinking aloud together about who we are, what we want, and how we get there, and then acting upon it. Go occupy the possibilities and don't stop pedaling. And remember, it started with mad, passionate love.
TomDispatch regular Rebecca Solnit is the author of 13 (or so) books, including A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster and Hope in the Dark. She lives in and occupies from San Francisco.