#OccupyWallStreet is a lesson on listening

Originally posted at AMERICAblog

Adrienne Marie Brown is the former executive director of the Ruckus Society and a person who knows a thing or two about non-violent protest against powerful forces. She recently visited Liberty Plaza and #OccupyWallStreet. Part of her the goal of her trip was to find answers about how the political ecosystem in the occupation is working, particularly in terms of who is there, who isn’t there, and whose voices are dominating the conversation. There have been a number of thoughtful and serious critiques of #OccupyWallStreet as being dominated by white men and not a welcoming environment for people of color. While Brown does find an overly white crowd, she also is heartened by its diversity and the openness in the movement. Her writing on these dynamics alone make the post worth reading.

But as it has been a frequent subject on this blog, I think her comments on #OccupyWallStreet’s demands or lack there of are important:

the major critique I have heard of this effort is the lack of demands, and multitude of messages.

my thought so far is, humans have a multitude of cares, of passions…trying to lockstep us into one predictable way of being is the essential desire of corporations, because if you can predict what people will want and do, then you can profit off of coming up with appropriate products and activities for them. this movement is instead making it as easy as possible to enter, no matter what passion brought you to the square.

and in terms of the demands, it seems the central demand is to build and expand a conversation that is long overdue in this country, a conversation which doesn’t have simple cut and dry demands. we are realizing that we must become the systems we need – no government, political party or corporation is going to care for us, so we have to remember how to care for each other.

and that will take time, and commitment, a willingness to step outside of the comfort of the current and lean into the unknown, together. to listen to each other across all real and perceived divides.

I think this is a great encapsulation not only of what #OccupyWallStreet is but how it has the power to ignite real change across America. It sounds so simple, but listening to each other and listening to what this movement is saying is critically important. The objections people have are not radical, they’re pure and heartfelt. As Mike Konczal noted in his analysis of the We Are 99% tumblr, people are asking “free us from the bondage of our debts and give us a basic ability to survive.” The requests are basic, but stem from a similar, brutal experience of life in America in the twenty-first century. When Brown is writing about us becoming the systems we need, she is tapping into this sentiment and the ways in which the community that is #OccupyWallStreet is already seeking to be the answer to its own question.

There will undoubtedly be many more discussions on who #OccupyWallStreet represents and what the people participating in it are seeking to achieve. The occupation has entered its fourth week and is in hundreds of cities around America. It has achieved a standing as a cultural and political movement that I know that I personally did not expect was possible. For me, the success and the passion of the people taking part in this has fundamentally challenged my pessimism about the prospects for a popular movement around economic injustice in America. This is, in my view, largely because the willingness of the people involved to listen to each other and to come together in solidarity with each others’ difficult experiences as part of the other 99% of America without any real political power or economic security.

One thought on “#OccupyWallStreet is a lesson on listening

  1. I agree with this very very much, both you and Ms. Brown. I am really interested in thinking about strategies to actively support that conversation– how we can provide support, not by formatting it, but just by giving people a place to sit down and break bread together. We need bread at these protests.


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