The Arab Spring in conjunction with Occupy Wall Street and its associated spin-offs have made me a believer in the idea that we are looking at a period in history that is set to turn the future on its head, but it remains to be seen just how revolutionary it will be. Are we looking at the next 1776, where the world’s greatest powers are being brought to their knees by a rag tag group of guerrillas, or are we looking at another 1968, where many people screamed about the war, and people in France screamed about capitalism, but ultimately little was done to curb either?My recent visit to a General Assembly meeting for OccupyNOLA has me confident that the group of people being assembled to combat injustice have the passion to channel the atmosphere of 76’, but will unfortunately be even less remarkable than 68’. The reason? Their main priority is to make a lot of noise, not necessarily overthrow an oligarchy. It’s an important statement to be sure, and I hope many will listen, but I have to wonder who it is that will actually be convinced to take the kinds of radical actions they advocate. If anyone has the passion to implement the changes they seek, it’s certainly them, and I really think they would be better served by a more results-driven mentality, rooted in the idea that they are the ones with the power to change the world. To that end, I think they should stop trying to outsource that task to the very people that are preventing that change from happening (namely the politicians and corporations). Does OccupyNOLA honestly think that if they scream loud enough, the politicians will vacate their offices and the corporations will give up their money?
In their defense, the totality of our experiences indicate that those kinds of radical changes have rarely come about through anything less than armed insurrection. OccupyNOLA, by their own accord, is a non-violent movement, so a Che Guevara-style purge of the people in power is not likely to happen.
What can we do then? There is no doubt that these injustices are heinous. How can it be that the top 10% of earners control 90% of the world’s wealth and resources? Can this society even approach a modicum of justice if the disparity between the haves and have-nots is this high? If the politicians and corporations are refusing to take the kinds of actions that would eliminate this injustice, what are the people left to do?
We can organize!
Yes my friends, governments and corporations are just organizations of people. If we expect to counter their influence, we must become organized ourselves.
In order to do that, we must accept that there is nothing truly stopping us from creating the kinds of changes we seek. Sure, the problems are systemic, and trying to live sustainably in a horribly exploitative system requires one to basically live off the grid, on their own farm, eating the food that they themselves produce. But the system does not work if it doesn’t have our cooperation. Some folks think that in order to step out of the government’s control, you have to eschew all forms of control. That means, no authority, no order and no accountability. These are tenants that many in OccupyNOLA embrace with a certain kind of religious zeal, but being an anti-authoritarian anarchist is really a wrong headed way to get the kinds of changes we seek. In fact it is probably the best way to ensure that the institutionalized powers win every time. It is also cynical in a way because it signals we’ve already lost the fight before it has even begun. It says that we are not empowered and instead must resign ourselves to screaming out our frustrations and hoping that people with the power to fix our problems will go and do it for us.
Instead of this self-defeating attitude, I think it is important that we believe in ourselves, and that we recognize we have the ability, no matter what the limitations are, to make the kinds of changes we seek, or at least adapt to the situation enough that we can create a more sustainable living situation for ourselves. If there is anything truly stopping us, it is our own laziness and complacency.
Look, change is hard. Defeating poverty is hard. Closing the gap between the rich and the poor, is hard. However, it is NOT impossible. We aren’t talking about hurricanes, earthquakes and asteroids here. These are man-made problems, and ultimately, they will have man-made solutions. But if we’re not willing to sacrifice much and subject ourselves to grueling work loads, nothing will ever change. Screaming about it will do nothing.
But taking action is not enough either. It has to be the right kind of action. The way we figure out what the best actions are is by inviting other people into the decision making process. No single person is ever going to come up with all of the answers, so we need to organize ourselves and leverage our resources strategically if we want to make the kinds of substantive changes that will truly change our world for the better. Some say that this is the role of government, since they are the prime example of human organization, but I suspect that appealing to the government and the corporations will be ineffective because they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. If we wait for the government to act on our behalf, be prepared to wait a very long time.
However, hope is not lost. There are other platforms of organization that are worth considering. Recrear New Orleans is perhaps one of the best platforms out there to help facilitate real, results-driven change. It recognizes that the best ideas are out there, swimming in a pool of the collective human consciousness. If we are to harness the power of those ideas, we have to accumulate them through a grass-roots and open-source process. Putting together a non-profit of five or six brilliant people will always have limitations because you only have five or six minds to pull from. Recrear New Orleans basically shatters that old conception by making the city’s 350,000 inhabitants its incubator of ideas and potential man-power. Through this populist method, Recrear harnesses the power of organization without falling prey to the nepotism that corrupts government or the greed that corrupts corporations.
But at its core, Recrear recognizes that no matter what the idea, or who’s behind it, it will not succeed if it is not focused on results. To get results, you must have structure, accountability, order and control. It is important to note that these are the same elements that reinforce the strategy of the institutionalized powers to keep us oppressed, as OccupyNOLA will remind you over and over, but they are not, in and of themselves, the root of all evil. They are merely tools, and they have both good and bad applications. If we come together and use them for good, nothing will be able to stop us. If we refuse to touch these tools for fear of their corrupting power, then other people will pick them up and they will use them against us. In our effort to take a principled stand, we will have resigned our future to one where society is one giant game of poker, and the Devil deals the cards, just like it is now.
OccupyNOLA is refusing to play the game to make a statement about how evil it is. Recrear NOLA recognizes that the game is already evil and attempts to make everyone else the dealer.
Who will win? Only time will tell, but I’ve already placed my bets.