All across the country, people are asking "What's next for the Occupy Movement?" Over the last two months, the physical occupation of New York's Zuccotti Park, Oakland's Frank Ogawa Plaza and thousands of other public spaces by concerned citizens across America and around the world has galvanized the public's attention and most certainly raised awareness around the incredible financial inequality that exists in today's society. Achieving this raising of consciousness is in itself a major victory. However, as any longtime activist knows, the space between raising awareness around a particular issue and solving that issue is typically a yawning gulf, and this movement's inability to make clear headway towards solutions has been, at times, painstakingly documented. Despite these shortcomings, the issues have remained front-page news day after day due to nothing but the openly defiant statement of camping in public space.
Now even this most basic tactic is under threat. In a clear exhibition of exactly the type of unfair political influence that the Occupy movement rails against, mayors from across America have been coordinating efforts to use brutal police force to protect the interests of their wealthy business overlords, in open defiance of basic First Amendment rights that once served as the bedrock of our American Democracy. Surely this assault will keep the attention on the movement for at least a bit longer, but what are we looking at beyond that? It seems that the current winds of change will yield, at worst, an outright ban on the most basic tactic of the movement, and, at best, a prolonged battle for the right to peacefully assemble in public space. If the movement is preoccupied with the battle over public assembly, it will make very little headway in the war to create an equitable and just society.
That is why I think it is time for a slight shift in tactic for the Occupy Movement. I don't want to suggest that the tactic of occupying public space be abandoned, for I think it is incredibly powerful and has proven quite successful. However, this tactic has always had a number of flaws, and can never alone lead the way to major changes in our society. The benefits are obvious: it creates major visibility, it provides a central gathering place for people who wish to get involved, and it is generally a thorn in the side of the establishment. However, the drawbacks are numerous: it's practically untenable through the freezing wintery weather, it distracts from the real issues due to the inevitable draconian reaction to the occupation itself, it doesn't in itself move us beyond the aforementioned raising of awareness, and, given that it's the movement's nearly singular tactic, it fails to engage people who are deeply aligned with the goals of the Occupy movement but stop short of dropping everything and pitching a tent in their local public square.
In light of these shortcomings, for the purpose of actually creating a truly just and sustainable society rather than simply denouncing our current situation, I suggest the Occupy movement introduce the #OccupyYourNeighborhood tactic. By this I do not mean that people should be encouraged to encamp in public spaces in all neighborhoods around our various cities. Rather, I am suggesting that people be encouraged to organize in their local communities to effect a real response to the myriad planetary crises that are currently threatening us, both financial and ecological. By shifting the focus from public occupations to community organizing, the Occupy movement will be able render the first two drawbacks (inclement weather and focus on rights of assembly) moot, and begin to both move beyond merely raising awareness and engage the average sympathetic citizen.
What's more, focusing on building resilient local communities with strong local economies and a citizenry prepared to weather the ecological and financial storms of the coming decades sidesteps the dirty little secret that has been swept under the rug in all the excitement of the Occupy protests -- namely, that the main call of the Occupy movement, creating financial equality, does absolutely nothing to address the most important issues facing our society at this perilous moment, that is, the threats posed by climate change, biosphere collapse, fresh water scarcity, overpopulation, peak oil, and the numerous other related crises. If political leaders acquiesced to the demands of "tax the rich" tomorrow, the aforementioned ecological crises would only grow worse as the middle and lower classes would suddenly have more spare change to increase their destructive consumption habits. Would we all then reoccupy to demand a change in our industrial farming practices? After that, would we tackle our insane energy policy with chants of "We are the 99% (who are concerned about the warming of the planet)"? Public demonstration calling for one piece of the larger puzzle at a time is not going to work.
Shifting the focus to resilient community organizing has another powerful effect -- it changes the narrative from "Please do as we ask, Mr(s). Elected Official" to "We don't need your permission, we're going to create it ourselves." The reality is that the meeting of demands will be extremely slow in coming, due both to the generally (perceived) radical nature of most demands and to the glacial processes of our government. The idea that a just and sustainable society can be won primarily through demands made of our elected officials is incredibly naive. The challenges are too manifold and the political will simply doesn't exist on a wide enough scale. Instead of putting all our energy into asking concessions of our political system, we should be working in our own communities to prepare ourselves for the inevitable collapse of the financial system, the warming of the planet and dwindling natural resources. These problems will not be solved by legislation -- they will only be solved by transforming our everyday communities to become more self-sufficient, localized and resilient.
The Occupy movement has been incredibly inspiring. It has served as a touchstone for everyone who has recognized that today's society is patently suicidal, and that things simply cannot go on like this any longer. But it is time to move beyond mere inspiration. We must parlay this unprecedented (in most of our lifetimes) uprising into an effective and lasting transformation. Yes, we must fight for our right to public assembly and push for a more financially equitable society. But let's not lose sight of the more fundamental problems we're facing. Our biosphere is being systematically destroyed to support higher standards of living. Our climate is literally spinning out of control and threatens to render our planet nearly uninhabitable for humans. Our population is exploding beyond sane levels with no end in sight. The only way to address all of these issues is to organize on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis to transform our communities and our lifestyles that feed these problems. The Occupy movement has the ability to spawn this needed organization. As the-powers-that-be deploy police forces across the country to stamp out public occupations, it's time for a judo throw. Phase II of the Occupy movement: #OccupyYourNeighborhood.
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