Occupy Yourself!

My definition of “authenticity” = becoming more conscious about how we show up in the world, and what uncomfortable changes we are willing to make within to find a better way to be with each other. In other words, aligning values with actions. Standing up for your beliefs. Getting “real.”

In general, our society caters to the comfortable world of social norms and status quos – many prefer not to think too hard or have meaningful dialogue. We can allow the system to run us and blame others for our problems. This thinking allows people to apathetically remain unconscious — until the bottom falls out from beneath. Then what?

Then Occupy.

The way I see it, the bottom is falling out (finally), and people are taking unconventional action – which is why the Occupy Movement continues to intrigue and inspire me. It’s grassroots, messy, ambiguous and loud. It’s also creative, community-based, and – Hallelujah — freaks people out, disgusts others, and creates some level of mass discomfort, including police brutality and the bombastic denial of the 1%. But things just can’t remain the same. Is it the breakdown before the breakthrough — or possibly the breakthrough itself?

And because people are taking action in bold and creative new ways, the status quo is predictably reacting, resisting change, and attempting to suppress free speech…riot police with pepper spray and tear gas…and lots of money changing hands in attempts to stifle the mic checks and tent dwellers.

Occupy has exposed the beast’s underbelly of corporate and financial greed and associated political bedfellows. But at its deepest levels, Occupy also challenges us to personally reflect on what changes we each must make to be engaged, empowered citizens, and what we can do to individually and collectively to make a difference.

Case in point: I recently trekked down Telegraph Avenue to UC Berkeley for a Robert Reich speech about Class Warfare in America. Same day as the General Strike at UCB, and the evening of the Mario Savio Youth Activist Awards. To my great surprise, I discovered a diverse mass of 10,000+ people – from professionals to professors, to students and concerned citizens — at Sproul Plaza — the center of the free speech movement in the 1960’s. People were literally hanging from the rafters.

I had unknowingly entered a massive Occupy Cal General Assembly. And I was completely overwhelmed with that jittery feeling of suddenly being thrust into history-making.

So I nestled into one of the many circle discussions, and engaged. A vote was being taken to raise tents that had been destroyed by the Cal Police a few days earlier. It was a democratic and organized process…and the dialogue was interested and thoughtful. To my right was a German UCB exchange student who couldn’t believe he was witnessing an American uprising; to the left a grassroots organizer who had been present in this same plaza 40+ years earlier. Lots of upsparkles and some differing, yet respectful opinions…all tempered with an urgency for action and civic transformation.

Votes taken, circle by circle. Soon thereafter, a dozen insta-tents popped back up amidst this sea of cheering humanity. And we flashed peace signs at the riot police on balconies above us. My inner mantra: “Love thy neighbors, even if they are armed with pepper spray.” 

The evening was filled with fiery hope. When Bob Reich’s speech brought down the house, my heart wept proudly. “The days of apathy are over, folks.”

Yet ultimately, to be sustainable, this movement requires us to reflect on how we integrate our words with action. We can complain and shout and demand change from the ground up, but will we move our money out of the large institutions that almost tanked the economy? Will we flex our consumer muscle and stop shopping at big box stores? Or continue to fill the pockets of the 1% (including working for them) without considering the consequences?

Maybe we invest in our local communities. Move our money. Buy locally grown food. Reconsider our client base or job position. Publicly question authority. Instead of blindly following our leaders, we forge leadership qualities within ourselves and our communities. If we do this inner work, the outer walls will come tumbling down.

Of course, we will always have blind spots, but the point is to reflect and connect – internally and with each other — and truly begin to embody the change we want to see in our institutions, society, and the world.

With a lack of authenticity so prevalent in our corporate and political institutions, let’s courageously align our values with actions – from the inside out.

“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—mak­es you so sick at heart—that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”

~ Mario Savio, Sproul Hall Steps, UC Berkeley,1964

About Beth Waitkus

Gardening as a revolution. Most recently, as Founder & Executive Director of the Insight Garden Program, I built a $1+ million nonprofit that works across sectors to provide experiential, transformative gardening and landscaping training in prisons, participant re-entry programs, and advocacy for systems change at the intersections of environmental, criminal, and social justice. To become environmentally aware, all people need is a little time in the garden, or outdoors -- nature teaches us everything we need to know.
This entry was posted in Associational Life, Citizenship, Community, Grassroots Change, Leadership, Organization Development, Politics, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Occupy Yourself!

  1. Excellent post! You make some great points here about what it means to be an agent of change. I agree with you that in order to successfully bring about progressive change, we need to consider what the Occupy Movement means from every angle, including our everyday words and actions. Your post is an important reminder about how we show up on a daily basis and the opportunity that exists to align all of the choices that we make to our values- from the food we buy, who we work for, and how we choose to participate in society. For me, striving to behave consistently with my values is a good example of what it means to be “a work in progress.”

  2. Patty Beach says:

    I’ve been inspired by the Occupy Movement too. I love your post as it gives me a way to support it more actively. I would be interested to know if OD types are supporting it in other ways conducive to our craft. I’d like to conduct a mash up event that uses Block’s community building methods with a group of citizens inspired by the Occupy Movement.

    • Beth Waitkus says:

      Hi Patty, great to hear from you! I’m not sure about other OD types…I’m heading to NYC this weekend, and am going to meet Steve Pile downtown and see what’s happening. I think the best way to get involved is to show up at General Assemblies and make your voice heard…or find someone is intimately involved, and then try to influence from that direction. I’ve been thinking of providing more press counsel than OD, but I’m always thinking strategically and systemically, so will see what evolves.

      If you put it out there that you want to do a mash up event, then I’m sure you’ll have takers, and PB’s work is certainly relevant! I will re-send you the paper I did on his community work if you like and you can pass it around… Big hug, Beth

      • Patty Beach says:

        I’m jealous – Occupiers and Steven Pile – that sounds lovely. Please hug everyone for me.
        I recently went to NYC with my daughter as a tourist. We caught a few glimpses but didn’t mingle really. I regret that it would have been a good lesson for us both. I opted though for it to be her trip for her birthday. Had it been mine I would have pitched a tent.

  3. stephenpile says:

    Occupy Yourself. Occupy my community, my space, my network. The symphony that connects thinking people all over the world. Yet I wonder if we are mad enough, I wonder if we will continue to live in an American Dream in place of a grim reality that more and more are experiencing. When I read Lundberg’s “The Rich and the Super-rich” in the late 60’s I was outraged. ~200,000 people out of 2 billion, 1 in 999, ruled America via their wealth, much of it inherited. The book was labeled a “bombshell” and then quickly ignored. Today we’ve moved to an even more outrageous concentration of wealth. Did OWS bring back a convicting awareness? Our congress is largely owned, itself greedy for individual power and wealth. The intellectual dearth, the pandering to ignorance there is appalling. So we must occupy ourselves, our communities, and create sustainability at the local level. Are we up to it? I think we all believe we could catch the brass ring to wealth, and when we see the wealthy on the one hand we express anger at the disparity and on the other think we will join them. So we sell out to a dream, and cut slack to an exec who gets a 25 million dollar bonus for a business turned south, with employees laid off, but not before slashing retirement and healthcare benefits “to save the business.” OWS changed none of that, hardly amusing the 1 in a 1000 (the 99/1 mantra is off by an order of magnitude). I do believe and hope that leaders are emerging, forged from the tent cities, and I expect we’ve not heard the last of them. We need a 3rd political party, no a non-party that gives the finger to what has become a privileged, power-brokered system, but I fear I will not live long enough to see it. A government that is at least half women, and no one with 200$ haircuts and a posed face.

    One of my first jobs out of college 40 years ago was to lead a project to improve working conditions in a large synthetic rubber manufacturing plant. I remember talking with one of the operators, who refused to talk much about his appalling working environment, but left me with, “Young man, all I need is an acre of peas and a one-eyed mule.” I guess he was ahead of his time about going local.

    I think OWS was, is like the tremors that foretell an earthquake. I suspect the earthquake, however, may be a long time coming. So I’ll hang on to my little farm in Arkansas, and store seeds that don’t self destruct after one planting.

    Stephen Pile, TriBeCa, Manhattan

  4. he blog was how do i say it… relevant, finally something that helped me. Thanks

  5. stephenpile says:

    Whoops, I meant 200,000 of 200,000,000 not 2 billion (For the U.S. in the 60’s), but the .1 % is still correct…

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