Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Year in Occupy and To The Future

Anniversaries are like rest stops on life's journey. They create a moment in time that feels sheltered and safe, a place that is designed for quiet reflection and grounding. In this time-place we take stock of where we've been and how the past fits in with our plans for the future. In the past year of Occupy Everywhere all of us have cycled through many similar phases of progress, stagnation, questioning, brainstorming, reevaluating, renewal; on and forth and back again. It has been a year of experimentation and learning, all created by people who barely knew each other when this first came to be in the fall of 2011.

Contrary to what our critics would have you believe have accomplished more than a few things. We have established a presence in our communities and we have created new relationships and allies. We have brought issues of injustice and the need for change to a broader audience. We have sparked interest and involvement in people who previously felt powerless.

For my part, in my hometown, we have spent endless hours of planning in a tornado of brainstorm, circling madly around a center of Hope. When we have accomplished clear action it is often with the support and collaboration of another group or coalition and those bonds have strengthened the entire community. On the downside there have been times when committees, collaboration and alliance building has put us at risk of becoming as bureaucratic and political as the system that we are supposedly rebelling against.

There have been nothing but good intentions fueling this past year, but good intentions will only carry one so far; according to some they employ you as the road crew on the highway to hell.

Now when I hear people stating that echoing the cry that "Occupy is Dead", I disagree. I think that Occupy will continue in much the same formula that is has for the past year and that process includes continual evolution. Occupy is not dead, but as we move forward we take the actions of this past year and sift through the memories, the relationships we have formed, the conflicts and the moments of glory not all of us have shaken out the same results.

In all the retrospect and examination a few key gems come to light that prompt some of us to reexamine where it is we stand.

The election is probably the most obvious disruptive factor. Anyone who has been through more than a few campaign seasons was able to see that coming. Occupy, in original declaration of intent, pledged to steer clear of political involvement or endorsement. I guess the temptation was just too much for some and although most have managed to keep their political contributions separate from their involvement in Occupy there has been, inevitably, some bleed through. And like mismatched blood types there is some incompatibility.

Another subject that gets a little prickly is the level of involvement with other organizations and more importantly the kind of organizations with which we choose to align. There is hesitancy on one hand to collaborate with organizations that are entrenched in the current system and may receive funding from establishment sources. There are partners who would offer support and solidarity but will not fully agree with the principles of consensus decision making or with respect for diversity of tactics.

Finally there are some people who have either been at this activism stuff for many years or those who may not have been but have taken the time to learn from the past and their mentors. These people who are, frankly, weary of discussing the same cause and effect topics; we are the proverbial choir to which is preached. We are not abandoning education and public discussion, but we are ready to build upon the life choices we have made for years in an attempt to bring about real and tangible social and cultural change.For younger people Occupy has been a training ground of sorts, a place to get their feet wet and feel some empowerment, many for the first time in their lives. To us older folks it provided some focus and a reawakening of the spirit to move forward knowing that someone will follow. If other groups have formed, with varying levels of independence of or interaction with, the existing Occupy groups all the better. Those decisions are not a rejection of Occupy but an expansion and for some people they offer opportunities for participation on a deeper and more inclusive level. The beauty of diversity is in respect, not blind conformity. If we work in separate groups and continue to support and respect other we are are probably going to be more functional, more focused and therefore more successful in creating real and lasting change.

In order for us to allow the natural process of re-formation and branching out we must be self aware enough to recognize that we have for the most part, been raised in a culture that values competition above cooperation. No matter how passionately we feel about our cause, how much we truly believe in solidarity, we have a lifetime of learned behavior lurking within. It happens to the best of us. The key is honesty, with ourselves and others, to be able to face ourselves and admit when ego and competitiveness threatens to whisper the lie that 'we can do it better' or 'we thought of it first' or whatever nonsense it wants us to believe. It is after all that kind of thinking that is part of the mindset that got us into all this trouble to begin with. It is only by challenging that mind set that we can truly embrace our ideas and solutions and move forward to create a world that is more peaceful and sustainable.

Like all good recovery, it begins within.



Monday, October 15, 2012

Achilles Stiletto, Sex and Feminsim

On a chilly damp afternoon a handful of activists huddled in a small park pavilion to discuss Important Issues of the Day. The group was mixed by gender and race (although predominately white and majority male) and among the topics was the role of women in activism. As we often do we digressed into the larger subject of Feminism as it is perceived through the lens of each participant. "Feminism" as a topic is pretty broad subject, if you will pardon the pun, and the conversation was initially intended to pose the question of how to get more women involved in activism. In the process of brainstorming the conversation turned to examining potential barriers that exist which may prevent women from participating.
Ultimately these conversations frequently boil down to the same stuff, the different and sometimes conflicting views of what it means to be a feminist. It is both amusing and frustrating that most women I know agree that we all share the same basic desire and goal, to be treated equally and respectfully as co-creators of culture and society. It's the definition of what it means to be a "productive member of society" and the means by which this is accomplished that gets the whole movement gummed up. I believe it is our dualistic all or nothing thinking that gets in the way. That, and the most favored target of that kind of thinking-sex.
How is it that some women insist it is their right to dress "slutty" (and it is) and yet these same women look down their noses at their sisters in the sex trade? How is it that women, often those who are powerful advocates for workers rights, fail to take seriously the formation of worker managed unions in the sex trade? Why is it that a Woman's right to chose doesn't address the way we give birth when we chose to do so?
Sex and sexuality (including reproduction) is probably our most vulnerable place, our Achilles heel, or Achilles stiletto if you will. Personally at age 54 I no longer have a desire to dress provocatively, but when I was younger yes, I enjoyed playing dress up. I think there is far too much emphasis on how we dress and with whom or how often we have sex than on who we are in the remaining hours and days of our lives.
But it makes perfect sense in our culture that this is the ring in which the fight gets dirty. It is the place we as women are the most competitive, jealous and insecure. All the images of sexuality that are used to sell products are a training ground on the lessons of "how to get a man" which translates to how to 'win out' over the competition.
We are affected by these images from the time we are old enough to notice advertising, or catch a glimpse of Cosmo  in the grocery store checkout line as our little girl hands reach innocently for the candy that is placed right next to the magazine rack. Daytime television is packed with hour after hour of 'real life paternity testing' and women physically fighting over who gets the winner of said test, while the men who have been cleared of parental responsibility jump, dance and gloat as the audience chants "whore, whore, whore". The winner gets the babydaddy, the loser the bastard child and is therefore somehow less desirable a woman and mother.
What kind of a society does that? The producers of these shows claim they are only giving the viewers what they want, as if they are providing some kind of public service.
Ok so these examples represent the commercialized lowest common denominator of society and most of us activists like to think we are above and beyond all that (even though I'm sure it seeps in on a subliminal level especially in the early formative years). I'm even more disturbed by what I hear coming from the so called sophisticated echelons of society. The academic world has never been the pinnacle of objectivity it claims to be and this is especially evident in Social and Cultural studies. Based on my experiences over 20 years ago and what I'm hearing from current students, professors of womens' studies are not immune to their own personal bias and no matter how subtle the delivery, they pass those biases onto their students. And then there is always the Flavor of the Month, the favored theoretical perspective, of any given era.
Thankfully, I couldn't tell you what it is this year. But I can tell you I have some concerns that it hasn't yet risen above that elitist, entitled framework that has produced most theories for...well forever most likely.
By the end of our conversation yesterday there seemed to be one uniting belief that we need to talk to one another openly and respectfully within a safe environment. This would be an environment where all former beliefs and preconceptions are left at the door, from Jerry Springer to Womens' Issues in Contemporary Society. In order to be safe we need to walk through that door with open hearts and minds, and with the knowledge that we are in the same ring fighting the same battle...and we are not the enemy.
2012, Jennifer Hazard