Monday, November 14, 2011

Occupy Wall Street - Training Ground in Garbage Removal

I was touched by the reflectiveness of a post by Genju over at 108 Zen Books about, among other things, the Occupy Wall Street movement. She writes:

letting go. That was pretty dominant in the two weeks past if only as a realization that I can be releasing my death grip on all manner of fixations, metaphors of Self, and craven desires and what is apparent to the eye or ear could be as simple as a “yes” or “no.”

I practiced this noticing on our (now) annual trip to NYC where we met up with friends, one of whom was running the NYC Marathon. In the days before the race, we toured around the city and as Chaplains we felt it was important to head down to Occupy Wall Street to bear witness to the beginnings of this very powerful shift in societal awareness – as confusing as the process may seem at times. Personally, I still don’t quite know what I feel about it all but I was intent on bringing myself to that place of discomfort and watch the “yes” and “no” surface over and over again. Since the beginning of the Occupy movement, I’ve felt a huge level of discomfort, edging on the hyper-vigilance you might feel if you think you’re being blamed for enjoying unearned assets. I’m beginning to hate those websites that tell you’re part of the 1% or the 99%. (I’m neither unless you consider a global or restricted range as a measure of income.) I dislike now feeling the need to justify what I have, what I bought, what I pictures I upload to Facebook, what trips I take, and what my groceries cost.

I resonate with her discomfort. All the judgments about being wealthy, being poor, and the rest were there before Occupy began, but now it's so much more out in the open, which can definitely be unnerving. As an active member of our Occupy group here in Minnesota, I've been called numerous names over the last month. I and my fellow Occupiers have often been dismissed as lazy, privileged bums, never mind that the majority of us have either spent years struggling to make ends meet, or are completely broke and homeless.

Various "personal responsibility" narratives get trotted out over and over again by public officials, members of the mainstream media, and others, all operating on the basic assumption that if people just worked harder, followed the rules, and kept their shopping impulses under control, they'd be fine. Never mind that in many cases, working hard and following the rules has led folks to the unemployment line, or the underemployment line. Never mind that the entire economy is built on people not controlling their shopping impulses. Never mind ...

Occupy has been a great training ground for letting go of all that noise. Of not internalizing garbage, and also trying not to exude garbage as well. Furthermore, it's an endless schooling on the workings of greed, hatred, and ignorance. I was a part of a conversation the other day which turned way ignorant for a few minutes as two men, one a middled-aged white man and the other a young Native American man, spoke about how Somali immigrants were being handed everything under the sun tax-free. As this shift in the conversation happen, I felt myself getting really pissed, and almost let that enter the conversation. Instead, I decided to just shut up and wait until something else came to my mind.

Finally, it dawned on me that this is the age old pattern of poor people against poor people. Of hatred and ignorance keeping those often suffering most divided.

And so I said to these guys "In my experience, almost none of what you are saying is true. The vast majority of recent immigrants are struggling as much or even more than you are. However, regardless of what you think of that, this is a classic case of the poor pitted against the poor. And it's exactly why nothing seems to change because we sit and fight against each other over small things, instead of come together over all that we share."

There was an immediate shift in the conversation at that point, one that I serious doubt would have happened if I had just torn into these guys.

These kinds of interactions are happening all over the place right now. Strangers, or relative strangers, attempting to speak their minds about complex social issues, and having the opportunity to learn how to listen, pause, and find a common thread between the views being shared. It's messy. Unnerving at times. Some people just can't handle sustained engagement, but I see others really making the effort.

This could be a tipping point towards a more just and engaged society. Perhaps world even. I'm well aware that it all could end and go back to some slightly altered variation of the current "normal," but life isn't worth living if you don't dream big, huge even. So, I'm opting to stand in possibility, to plant whatever seeds I can towards a dream that may or may not come.


Algernon said...

Encouraging post at a time I am feeling very discouraged with the nearest Occupy movement in Las Cruces, New Mexico. So much infighting! Proles against proles. It's become a fractious campout.

Nathan said...

I just read your post. Sorry to hear it's gotten so fractured down there. We have struggles as well in our group, but at this point, it's still hanging together.

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There is so much trouble when I went in Wall street.

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