Todd Walton: Occupy Yourself


From TODD WALTON
UnderTheTableBooks
Mendocino

“The young always have the same problem—how to rebel and conform at the same time.  They have now solved this by defying their parents and copying one another.”  Quentin Crisp

In 1972, when I was in my early twenties, I founded a commune in Santa Cruz, California, a collective of eight people (with numerous and frequent overnight guests). We were disenchanted with American society, with America’s wars of aggression, with America’s pyramidal scheme of things, and with America’s environmentally disastrous use of the land, so we decided to explore new (to us) and regenerative ways to interface with the world rather than follow in the destructive footsteps of our parents and forefathers.

To that end, the eight of us shared a house built for a family of four, created a large organic garden (some of us having worked with Alan Chadwick in the university gardens), and pooled our minimal resources for the good of the group. Our experimental community lasted two years before collapsing under the weight of selfishness, immaturity, and a profound lack of preparation for such an undertaking. Our intentions were flawless; our skills and execution abysmal.

Nevertheless, I learned many valuable lessons from that adventure, and my next communal experience was vastly more successful, though it, too, died a sorry death for lack of skills, experience, and commitment by the majority of the participants. We were children, after all, though we had attained the age of adults in other societies; and children, with rare exceptions, eventually need guidance from elders to make the transition from play into self-sustaining living.

A few nights ago, after watching a raft of Occupy Wall Street videos sent to me by fascinated friends, I was reminded of a night in that first commune, when several of us were gathered by the fire in the living room, rain pounding the roof of the house owned by an opportunistic university professor with a penchant for young hippy chicks, the owner of several houses he rented to gangs of youthful experimenters, many of whom I have no doubt would have flocked to the Occupy happenings of today—for the fun and adventure if nothing else.

So there we were discussing Marx and Sartre and Steinem and the tyranny of patriarchal theocratic monogamy mingled with visions of interconnected communes and solar organic farms and grassy walkways instead of cement sidewalks; and mass transit and bicycles instead of poisonous factories and cars and freeways—utopia manifesting in clouds of cannabis—when Pam appeared on the threshold connecting the kitchen and living room and said, “Hey, I totally dig where you guys are coming from and where you’re going, too, but who’s on dishes tonight? The kitchen is totally gross.”

“To heal from the inside out is the key.” Wynonna Judd

A psychotherapist once said to me, “The problem with blaming others for our unhappiness is not that those others aren’t important in the history of our sorrow, but that blaming them for everything interferes with our taking responsibility for what we have done and are doing now.” And one of my problems with blaming Wall Street and Washington and the wealthiest people for the woes of the nation (and the world) is that though many Wall Street operators and politicians and excessively wealthy people are unscrupulous jerks and thieves, blaming them for all our social and economic problems seriously interferes with taking responsibility for what we of the so-called 99 per cent have done and are doing now.

I find it maddeningly simplistic to suggest that we of the 99 per cent are not profoundly involved in the socio-economic systems of our towns, counties, states, and nation. As I read history, until the most recent collapse of the gigantic Ponzi schemes that kept our false economy bubbling along at least since Clinton took office in 1992, many of the people (or their parents) now bemoaning the economic imbalance of our society were perfectly happy to reap the rewards of that fakery, including the promises of fat retirements based on their 401 Wall Street retirement plans, and to hell with the rest of the world and those less fortunate than they. And I am certain the so-called one per cent know this about the 99 per cent, which is why they, the one per cent, do not take the 99 as seriously as they should.

“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart.” Carl Jung

Shortly before Obama became President of the United States, I wrote that unless Obama moved quickly to institute Single Payer Healthcare and nationalize the banking system, within two years we would see massive social unrest. I was wrong. When the Occupy happenings began I thought they might be the start of that massive unrest, but now I doubt anything immediately massive will be sparked. I hope I’m wrong. But when someone sent me a link to an Occupy Kauai YouTube, and thirty seconds into the silly thing I was guffawing, I had the feeling the Occupy phenomenon might be well on its way to self-parody. Can the Occupy clothing line and Occupy Café chain and Occupy app be far behind?

“First they ignore you; then they laugh at you; then they fight you; then you win.” Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Cesar Chavez successfully employed non-violent protest, resistance, and boycott to further their political, social, and economic aims, and we are all beneficiaries of their courage and strategies. I assume some of the Occupy folks have studied the methods of Gandhi and King and Chavez, and I remain hopeful they will eventually decide to emulate those visionaries. Discussing my hope with an avid fan of the Occupy Wall Street folks, I asked, “So would you say the strategy of the occupiers is to not have a strategy?”

“Absolutely,” said my friend, “because to have a strategy is to commit to an ideology, which could quickly become vertical and therefore inherently divisive. This is a horizontal movement so no one is excluded.”

“Excluded from what?”

“From protesting how unfair the system is. That’s the beauty of saying we are the 99 per cent, because that’s totally inclusive except for the few people who have everything.”

“But a few people don’t have everything and the situation is much more complicated than some infantile delusion that one per cent of the population is determining everyone else’s fate. Among many other things, we do elect the charlatans passing the laws favoring the fat cats, don’t we?”

“Of course, but we don’t want to make this too complicated. By keeping things simple no one feels excluded.”

“I feel excluded.”

“That’s because you like things complicated. You want everyone to push for taxing corporations and socialized medicine and free education and shrinking the military. Talk about divisive.”

“Dream in a pragmatic way.” Aldous Huxley

Last night I had a wonderful dream in which I wrote the end of this article. In the dream I was madly in love with the Occupy Wall Street people and compared them to the disenchanted rebels and counter culturists of my youth in the 1960’s and 1970’s. I compared Occupy Wall Street to the Be Ins of those mythic times, and I wrote eloquently (as one does in dreams) about how the only agenda anyone had at those Be Ins was to “be there now” for whatever might go down, so to speak. Then, still in my dream, I thought of the television show Laugh In starring the young Goldie Hawn and Lili Tomlin; and in that marvelous way of dreams, Laugh In andOccupy Wall Street merged, and the protests became funny and sexy and good.

I think my dream was partly inspired by a slide show I watched before going to bed. Marcia sent me a link to a Huffington Post slide show of the Wall Street Occupation, a montage of compelling images that might have been shot in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury during the mythic Summer of Love in 1968, though I’m not saying the Occupy folks are a bunch of latter day hippies, but rather that they are as disenchanted (yet hopeful) as we were forty years ago, and they are passionately seeking alternatives to the earth-killing system that currently holds sway over our country and the world.

The article in my dream ended with lyrics to a beautiful song that made me cry. I wish I could remember the words, but they did not survive the transition to my waking state. What did survive was the feeling that just as we didn’t have an agenda forty years ago when we waved goodbye to the old ways and set out to figure out new ways that made more sense to us, neither do the Occupy people have an agenda other than to take things one day at a time, to be there now, to be good to each other, and to see what might evolve. So hurray for them, and by association, hurray for us.
~
(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser November 2011)
~~

3 Comments

I had a dream as well. Several men were having a discussion attempting to understand some situation, each disagreeing with the other. I attempted to add something and was repulsed. This went on some time when I discovered I was awakening while still dreaming. But, I then fell back to sleep and the dream continued in another venue, but with the same discussion. After another long argument with no agreement, I again found myself awake while continuing to dream. This time I had had enough and completed awakening. Once I had awoken, it was clear to me that the dream was about all the social, political, and economic chaos that is happening and the inability of any to grasp a solution. So much for my wasting time keeping up with the news.

Gandhi was faced with another version of this situation with the British playing the role of government/bankers/corporations. Very early, while still in South Africa, he discovered it didn’t help to get angry and determined to make love the center of his actions and trust insight to guide him, which didn’t necessarily happen quickly. All were equal in his eyes and when traveling he usually stayed in the poorest neighborhoods, often with untouchables. One of his major successes was taking the cotton trade away from the British. The British had a monopoly in purchasing cotton from the Indian peasants, which they sent to Great Britain for weaving into cloth that was subsequently returned to India, all at great profit. Gandhi learned to spin thread and taught peasants to do so and weave their own cloth, thus cutting the British out of the game. Subsequently, he was seldom found without a spindle in hand. After that and other similar actions, the British gave up. This was surely the most successful mass movement of all time, maybe the only one.

The story didn’t end there. When it became clear they had won, the Hindus and Muslims proceeded to slaughter each other. Only a short while after he was gone, the Indian government become the same sort of bureaucratic mess as had been the British one. Now, sixty years later, India has a far worse wealth differentiation than the U.S. and the corporations are running wild.

So, is it hopeless? Actually, Gandhi did show a way, which is one of personal simplicity, caring for others regardless of whom they might be, and self-reliance. The young people involved in the OWS may just be the sparks, but the present government/bankers/corporations monolith is far more powerful than the British were – unless this truly rotten economic and political system implodes as seems increasingly possible.

I like the expression “personal simplicity”. Several years ago I wrote an article about lawns, their origin and place in the current economic picture. While researching the topic, I learned that Americans spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year, not millions, billions, on the growing and tending and cutting and watering of useless, highly polluting patches of grass—and we still do. These are many billions of dollars we could be spending on many more important things. I then researched how much money Americans spend on shaving cream, otherwise known as canned soap. Billions more. On video games and big screen televisions? Hundreds of billions. On cell phones and cell phone services? Hundreds of billions. On cars and gasoline, of course, we spend trillions. I bring this up to agree with you and Gandhi, and to affirm that the 99% are not the victims of the 1%. We are victims of what we do. We are, in Buddhists terms, the owners of our own karma. Our actions determine our happiness and unhappiness. Blaming others as a strategy for positive change is pointless except as a baby step in the awakening process that leads to meaningful action, both personal and societal.

Sorry, but we are VICTIMS of the 1%. To say that we are not would be a lie.

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