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Some people have asked me recently “What happened to Occupy?”
Here's what I say: I say – 12 months ago, 10 months ago, 8 months ago – Occupy was a flower, a beautiful, astonishing flower that sprang up – when almost noone thought it could grow – out of the hard, cold ground of these Hard Times we are in...
But now, now I say Occupy is a seed. And, I say to them – only fools underestimate a seed. Many inside the Occupy movement are discouraged, some outside the Occupy movement are mocking – they say 'has Occupy died?'.
Last year, I believe, the work of Occupy was to show itself, to express very powerful truths about what democracy is, to witness to the terrible destructiveness of our current system. When I would arrive at this site last year, it was like walking into a miracle – a beautiful garden that had sprung up out of nowhere.
But, there are stages in revolutions. And, living flowers must turn into seeds to grow & thrive & spread (look out 1% this is our expansion phase!).
Now I have a question for you – when a seed is under the ground, can you see it?
But, I ask you, when a seed is under the ground, is it weak?
I heard something both true and beautiful last weekend, at a reading at Joseph Beth by author Janisse Ray. She said “there is no despair in a seed!” It's when a seed is invisible, that it is doing it's most important, its most potent, its most precious, its most unique work.
Now, I admit, this can be scary. The seed's journey underground is a dangerous time. It can die. For those who are cultivating & loving a seed, BUT ABOVE GROUND, it is easy to lose hope, to get cynical. All that suffering you did in the bitter cold & downpours of rain, round the clock, in tents, for days & nights & months – last year? What came of it? Well, it does makes one worry – because when a seed is underground there IS nothing to see!
What are the three big secrets to the successful seed?
1. Water – nourishment. Feed yourself emotionally & intellectually. Don't burn out. Start reading groups. Read history. Read political economy. Spend time with your family & friends.
2. Soil – finding the right place to put down roots.
3. Timing – when come back out from underground
To answer these last two challenges – I believe we face the greatest dangers & confusions. We know our economic & political systems are rotten almost to their core. But, how do we know when we're making basic, revolutionary change to fix these systems, and when we are merely tinkering with reforms that will consume our time. Mere reform is the same as walking north on a south bound train.
In the seed-time of Occupy – I believe that we should be obsessed with this question.
I'm wrestling hard with this question. What is keeping me sane is a crucial insight into the American economy which comes from the great radical, democratic Populist movements of the 1870s thro 1900s. They distinguished between two levels of the US economy.
· On one level was the level of direct producers & reproducers – people who actually made things & cared for things & people. Small farmers, homemakers, neighborly social work & mutual care societies, artisans, skilled crafts. This level was where Adam Smith ideas of free markets & private ownership & voluntary do-gooderism would mostly work just fine. It's an economic & civic system that fits with deep cultural values in America, of liberty AND neighborliness and care for others
· the second level is what some used to call the Cooperative Commonwealth – those are things like banks, roads, trains, education, water, and, now energy and health and military. These are areas of work & caring – where free markets do not work well. These are things that provide infrastructure & support to the first level. They are natural commons (like air and water – that shouldn't be privately owned because everyone depends on them) or public goods & services (the COMMONWEALTH) to which there should be universal access.
The horror of the 20th century is that this second level – the level of the Commonwealth – became dominated by two systems that became more & more undemocratic:
· huge & ever more monopolistic corporations dominate first energy (especially oil & coal) and transport (especially railroads) sectors – bankrolling a very sophisticated & bogus campaign to claim constitutional rights – so they could dominate over small businesses
· other public services & goods – like environmental commons & health – became dominated by a top-down bureaucratic govt regulatory apparatus. The Far Right has been very successful in nurturing legitimate anger at top-down govt bureaucracy – turning that old 19th democratic Populist energy into reactionary Far Right so-called populism