Sunday, October 16, 2011

"May Your Occupations Be Few..."

"...If you would lead a tranquil life." Well, Marcus Aurelius wasn't thinking about this kind of occupation, but the word occupy has been thrown around so thoroughly over the past few weeks that it seems that our tranquil life is a thing of the past. We're occupying everything from Cortland to the Library Book Sale. It's only a matter of time before Madison Avenue picks it up and we're occupying McDonald's or our local Kinney Drugs. Co-option is just minutes away.

Before that happens, though, I have to express my delight at OWS and its worldwide spawn. I grew up in a moment in time when occupation was a standard tool. In my first occupation, I occupied the IHS Board of Ed building to get a smoking area placed outside the cafeteria. (Yeah, imagine that happening today. But it worked.) At Cornell, students occupied Willard Straight Hall. My friend and editor Chuck occupied the president's office at Columbia.

I have always thought that the most important political goal in America must be decreasing the economic divide. That has led me to unfortunate decisions (supporting John Edwards, for one) and has somehow never caught on as a sexy issue with the politicos in power. It was always going to be an idea that percolated upward from below, so the natural evolution was always likely to be the kind of quiet revolution that OWS represents.

Is it the start of something real? Maybe. Maybe some of the students in tents in the park will be stimulated into organizing locally, running for local office, or supporting people like Elizabeth Warren for Senate. Occupation can be a focusing lens; when you are surrounded by like-minded people arguing over ideas, the result can be a lifelong pattern of deep thinking and community action. Or reading history! As Chuck wrote to me after his visit to Zuccotti Park, "It’s interesting... to think that back in the day, we thought of ourselves as the heirs of a vital leftist tradition, bolstered by decades of intellectual ferment and by ongoing exemplars of revolution in the Third World (even if later these mostly proved to be false). Today’s protesters don’t have any of that to lean on. They have to make it up out of whole cloth...."

Today's protesters may look at the disparity in power between players in the Arab Spring and think, "If they can do it, so can we." My guess: It's easier to overthrow a government than to get corporate America to share the wealth. Which does not mean, in any way, that we peasants should stop trying.

No comments: