My Week at Occupy Wall St -- Orange County
I have spent the past week at Occupy Wall St in Orange County in Irvine. Occupy is not a Zeitgeist Movement event, but it is a meeting place of people who are feeling and acknowledging the failings of our current system. People of many different backgrounds are passionate about alerting the public to the dangers of our economic system and they desperately want it changed.
There is a good deal of time spent on the operational needs of this "village," as it is called. I am inspired by the way people are relating inter-personally and organizationally. People are working cooperatively, not competitively, and that has created a real sense of community. There is a large food tent, where donations from the public are stored, and people can eat and drink what they need. The village is growing organically, not by some predetermined blueprint. It is open to ideas from other occupations, but has found on some occasions that the logistical characteristics of other locations do not help the flow in Irvine, so they are modified to fit the needs of Irvine's village, for now. Its structure is emergent.
There is deep-seated commitment to leaderlessness, and self-expression, even while recognizing the risks involved of intentional misrepresentation. For example, a general theme of Occupy protesters is that endorsing a particular political candidate is not the solution, but there are a couple of people who have shown up with Ron Paul posters. Thankfully, they have not remained very long. I would say the majority of protesters understand that politicians are bought by the highest bidder, and they cannot be relied upon to protect people's access to life goods.
Personally, my experience has been intense, productive, and exhausting. I've engaged with a lot of people from completely different cultures, ages, educational backgrounds, and personal perspectives. I let them know that while I share the perspective that our current system is failing and has led to a towering income disparity between the 99% and 1%, I understand this problem to be systemic. I made a short speech to the group on the first day of occupation to let them know that even if we got rid of the top 1%, the next group would rise to take their place. I have a sign that reads, "The answer is NOT jobs" next to a picture (posted herein) of an Asian girl working at a sewing machine with a Nike logo. I have another sign with an image taken from the Zeitgeist Media page that shows two men holding bats while shaking hands with the question, "How can we trust each other if this is business?" A journalist working with the OC Register took a picture of me with that sign and it's on their website: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/occupy-323151-irvine-city.html?pic=2 (picture 16) My message to him while he was "interviewing" me got a little garbled, but I realize that it didn't fit within the standard sound byte meme of contemporary journalism.
Perhaps one of the most interesting discussions I had was with a man who grew up in China, but has lived in the US for several years now. He was telling me that during "Communism," children were encouraged to follow their interests in careers which they enjoyed. He said the difference in earnings between doctors and janitors was quite small, so money could not be an incentive for any single career path. In discussing other elements of society, we arrived at a cultural norm, which instructed people to subjugate their interests for that of the collective. This is a common theme in collectivistic societies. In America, the norm is the reverse (individualism). All social interests are expected to be secondary to self-interest. As I see it, both are out of balance. The decision to elevate one's interests above the collective or vice-versa are matters that cannot be resolved in abstraction. We do this somewhat naturally in other settings. For example, if I'm out with a group of friends and they all want to go to a cafe, I will go even though I don't drink coffee. I won't go everyday, but sometimes, I will go for their sake. To understand this point, which seems rather simple, but has far-reaching effects, takes education. I don't mean education in the traditional sense of learning a discrete subject such a math, but of education in the sense of how to relate to others and what the dynamics of group interaction are. I think religions see themselves as having roles in this sphere of education, but they get so clouded by speculations and rituals that the real work remains undone.
Maybe I'm wrong, but I think it's fair to say that humans often have narrow perspectives. There is so much information out there that a single human brain has to filter out a lot simply to function. People who honestly investigate one topic in depth usually fall into the field of science, and their findings surprise us because they do not frequently confirm common assumptions. Once this pattern of exploded assumptions is repeated, people begin to realize that their knowledge is always tentative. With that in place, there is more space to look at oneself and one's reactions to new ideas. It also can lead to greater compassion, along the lines of, "If I've been wrong so many times, maybe other people are also victims of misunderstanding, and their actions reflect that misunderstanding." The solution then is about education: emotional, physical, intellectual, and social.