Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Unforgettable Fire or The Coming Reinvigorated Insurgency of Occupy

The summer was hot, burning with the rising temperatures of global warming.  We had spent the past nine months occupying our times, our minds, and our hearts in tents, parks, city squares, and even front lawns. And it wore us out, but it was all for an idea. An idea that does not fit within the normal bounds of identity. We transcend political parties, oppressive police tactics, and the mind-numbing apathy of the corporate media. Our idea is very simple: togetherness. We occupy tents in public places to create a discourse. The woes and ails of the world have reached such a red line that if we do not address them immediately we will continue to spiral downwards into the abyss of capitalism. For twelve long months we have stared down into the abyss and it has started to stare back.

We reclaimed the public commons so that we could bring into public light the fact that the rich are cheating on Wall St, the planet is burning, and legislatures are making laws and wars on political gambits. True progress is established when people participate in a public process that directly influences the nature and projection of their own communities' values. In that world everyone has equal access to housing, food to eat, clothes on their backs, gainful crafts and trades, and freedom to choose the course and direction of one's life including who they marry and what god(s) they worship. We tried to lay the roots of such a world with our encampments. 

This was very effective for a time. Gathering at campsites in the middle of a city was a great way to network and maintain a war-room-like setting in an easily accessible area. We were always on alert and always in the zone. We supplemented the philosophers' amphitheater with daily actions. We were at war with capitalism and we were invading. That kind of energy will give you the courage to take on hell with a water gun but also burn you out into ashes of the revolutionary you once were. Some maintained. From the National Gathering to S17 working groups from around the country have worked tirelessly to plan and carry out mass gatherings and actions against the centers of power in America. But even these took their toll.

But after S17 there seems to be a renewed energy in the air. When we came out en masse in New York City this past week we came out organized, restless, and fired up. I think we remembered what it felt like to be on the front lines of the class war. The NYPD did exactly what we thought they would: they snatched people, beat people, and packed their paddy wagons like sardines indiscriminate of legal right or privilege. If you were holding a sign you were the enemy. But the blood of the martyr is the seed of the church. Every one of those 185 sisters and brothers helped us realized that we are getting to them. We were at least well organized enough to present a threat. They took us off the streets just so we wouldn't have access to the public ear. Because we are speaking sense. We are trying to tell you the truth: that big corporate and private money have highjacked our democracy and it is time we took it back.

I think S17 reinforced that simple feeling that we are doing the right thing. As I sat in jail for 32 hours I had a lot of conversations with people who live the lives that some of us only theorize about. And everyone of them told me the same thing: "I like what you're doing but I don't like the way you do it." The people are ready to believe in a revolution they just want to be reminded. But after a day and a half on a freezing cold steel bed in a stinky moldy stone cell I remembered why I keep going. Because my friends were there. When I got out of jail I was met with the people that I have come to love through this movement. Some of my best friends in the world waited long hours late into the night to see me safely home. Only a stone statue could hold back tears in such a moment. But as I stepped outside into the rain my tears were washed away. And they washed away year one of Occupy Wall Street. God was in the rain and had resurrected me for year two.

The sun metaphorically shone quite brightly the next morning. The coffee tasted like protest, the bagel tasted like civil disobedience, and the kiss tasted like inspiration. I was ready to come back to Philly and get to work. Since I got home this Wednesday morning at 2AM I have been to five protests, blockaded a Governor in an art museum, and marched to the tune of "Shit's fracked up! Shit's fracked up and bullshit!" I have a fire in my soul and the only thing to quench it is justice. Our movement, it appears, turns with the seasons. Last fall we set up camp to organize. In the winter we operated indoors from civil disobedience to active organizing. In the summer we came together on mass scales from conference calls to National Gatherings. Now we know each other. We have evolved into a network of activists capable of influencing public opinion on a national and international scale. 

Fall has come and I think we have noticed the need to relight our fire. As the leaves turn red and yellow we must dawn our field jackets and report for duty. Because the public is paying attention. The election season is upon us and people, whether conscious of it or not, are susceptible to thoughtful reflection on issues. We must allow ourselves to be on the right side of history and rise to the occasion. And if you can read between the lines you will notice an infrastructure being built that can withstand oppressive police forces and traditional limits. Because we have learned a year's worth of lessons and are ready to light the fires of protest in our cities and apply those lessons. Again, we are ready to occupy. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ashes and Anarchy or Activist Burnout and the Prudence of Patience

A dear journalist friend of mine recently asked me about my thoughts on and experiences with activist burnout. Since I had recently emerged from the ashes of my own burnout, I felt inclined to write the following post:

Activist burnout is a soul-retching, paradigm-shifting, and horribly necessary experience. What began for me as a passionate zeal had to extinguish in a wisp of  exhaustion. I had to learn the hard way because I'm stubborn. I would work 20 hours a day, I would eat and drink only the crumbs from the lunchline, and I would only sleep when tiredness literally overcame me. I would have done anything as long as our Vision was realized. Because I had woken up. And I needed to ring the bells in the town square so that others could know it was time. It worked. We were able to mobilize a national energy around an idea: a gathering. And that gathering would be conceived of, planned, and carried out democratically. It was hard work, but we did it with passion. 

You see I think passion is as essential as breathing. When the world is in peril and you feel like you have been chosen you are compelled forward, energized by your own drive. True change comes when those who have the privilege and ability to act do not fail to act but embrace their destinies and serve their neighbors by fighting for a better day. We are those people and it is a 24/7 job- twice. 

If I get down to brass tacts I guess I would have to recount the most stressful week of my life. That would take more time than either of us have. Suffice it to say that I did not sleep much, I rarely ate, and I took on way too much. I wanted it to succeed. I wanted to see people from every corner of the country sit down and the table of sister-and-brotherhood and have a conversation about their lives. To this end they produced a Vision. And because I believed in that dream I pushed myself to my physical, emotional, and spiritual limit. But I came out the other side a better man for it. But lessons hard learned are not lessons easily forgotten. 

As I carry forward in this struggle of life and revolution I have found that I must temper my passions and meditate on those things that make our cause worthy. In that silent place I can find peace. That peace is necessary for the calm resolute posturing of a revolutionary. For in the end we must hold fast to our creed to give peace a chance. We preach and we proclaim that we must be the change we want to see in the world yet we neglect to discipline ourselves in a sustainable and balanced manner.  I submit this suggestion to you humbly for I have been hardpressed and trampled by my own rash and reckless behavior. When I was a child I spoke like a child and when I was a child I acted like a child. I have learned better. I have grown up through the pressure cooker of on-the-job training. I was irresponsible with my health, my time, and my emotions. But hindsight is the only lens of clarity. 

So, as I think about activist burnout I find myself smirking a shy smile because I know it was necessary. I knew i had to work myself ragged because this had to happen. History was calling and we would answer. And we did. But it came at a price: my ego, my health, and my perspective. Now, I am a more patient, disciplined, and humbled man. I now know I have limits and- through a very traumatic experience- know exactly what those limits are. I would submit to my sisters and brothers around the world committed to fighting for a more just world to be patient, deliberate, and wise. Because wisdom is more valuable than a host of actions and gatherings. If we can collectively commit ourselves to wisdom and patience then we can produce a vision that will culminate in goals, a strategy, and tactics. But only a calm and measured person can create such campaigns. An oak may stand strong in the midst of a storm but a hurricane will uproot it and toss it to the wind. A palm tree is flexible, bending and swaying with the wind. We must be as the palm tree and cling to our fate even in the hurricane of injustice. But we must be planted strong and flexible. We must temper ourselves and become wise in the eyes of all because perception is reality in the corporate television era.