As many of us try to sort out specifically what the Occupy/Decolonize movement means to us, which issues we want to focus on, what changes we want to see, we are discovering that the movement means many things to many different people. That’s one reason why I like this Facebook page, Occupy: The People’s Changes and Solutions, which asks everyone to post their number one issue or concern they’d like to see Occupy address.
I think many of us are starting to realize that for this movement to realize true change, it needs to be about more than rebelling against what we don’t want. We need to start focusing on what we do want, and working and living those changes. I hope there will be more posts here on this topic, by several bloggers, on many aspects of this issue. (Please indicate in the comments or email occupiehome at gmail.com if you’re interested in writing a post!)
One issue that concerns me is the “us against them” attitude I see in many comments on Twitter and Facebook. I have seen through the “us against them” goggles for much of my life, and I often don’t realize I have those goggles on because they’re so comfortable. They fit so well. But they distort the world. The water is really much more murky than it appears.
I’ve read on signs, on blog posts, in tweets, on Facebook rants, that all bankers or all people who work on Wall Street or all people who work for certain big banks are “crooks,” “predators,” or are the one percent. I feel sad and worried when I read these statements. One reason these statements bother me is that they are not factually accurate; most of those people are not the one percent. I’d like to find out who all the one percent actually are, but I haven’t had a chance yet to do the research. I know most of the people listed by Forbes as the top ten richest people in America are not bankers. Do you know who they are? Here’s a hint: most of the ten richest people in America have the last name Walton or are part of the Walton family. Who are the Waltons? They are the owners of Wal-Mart.*
In addition to the fact that it’s not accurate to assume that everyone in a certain industry is the one percent, I’m bothered by equating the people who work for institutions that have done damage with the institutions, themselves. One of the central topics of the 99 percent movement — one that I strongly agree with — is that we must find a way to banish the Supreme Court decision that declared that corporations are people. Corporations are not people. I think there is consensus in the Occupy/Decolonize movement about this. It’s an idea that would be laughable if its effects weren’t so tragic, wide-reaching, and destructive.
At the same time, I think it’s important to remember that people are not corporations, either. Someone who works at Bank of America or Goldman Sachs is not Bank of American or Goldman Sachs. They are people, like you and me. They have favorite meals or holidays. They have parents, children, and siblings. They eat and sleep and pee and poop. Corporations don’t do or have these things. The manager or even owner of a branch of a multinational bank is not the one percent.
But even the people who are the one percent are still people. Corporations must be held accountable for their actions, and the people who make those decisions that adversely affect other humans, other species, and the earth are responsible for their own actions, too. At the same time, it’s important to me that the Occupy movement not paint with such a broad brush that we lose track of the humanity of all people.
Yes, many police officers have acted in ways that I find very upsetting, have been violent, have hurt and terrified people. I cannot condone those actions. Does this mean all police officers are horrible people or have perpetrated violence? I don’t think it does. In fact, I know that there are police officers who do support the Occupy movement.
Those of us who Occupy at home can help the movement by doing research into what exactly we want to change and how we want to bring those changes about. We can look into who pays which lobbyists to influence which elected or appointed officials, and what the results of that have been. We can write legislation. (Did you know that yes, you, a regular citizen can work with your elected official to write legislation which they can sponsor?)
We can tell our stories. We can educate each other about the corporate interests tied in with certain charities and decide we are going to find better ways to help those the charities are supposed to be helping. We can teach each other — over dinner, in blogs, on boards or list-servs, on Facebook pages — about what it’s like to be a single mother working as a nurse, or a university professor who has bipolar disorder, or a person with MCS living in a tent in the desert, or a teenager who got kicked out of their family for being transgendered, or an African-American vocational rehabilitation counselor who has to buy bottled water for his family to drink because his tap water is polluted with PCBs. And yes, we can also listen to what it’s like to be an experienced police officer who is trying to talk down amped up rookies who have gotten riled when protesters told them they are a disgrace to the uniform or that their mothers would be ashamed of them. We can empathize with a midwest bank manager who is scared for his safety when his place of work is surrounded by hundreds of people chanting that he is a crook. We can influence the direction of this movement by how well we listen to everyone and work for everyone to get their basic needs met and not confuse the actions of a corporation or its CEO with the value of the lives of all the people who work for that corporation.
We can all agree that corporations aren’t people. We need to change the twisted law that says they are. While we do so, we must remember that people are not corporations, either. Everyone’s lives and needs matter. Many of us feel very angry when our humanity is denied by taunts from people who say occupiers are “hippie trash,” or by suffering physical and psychological harm from police officers when practicing our First Amendment rights, or by being told to “go back to your country” because we have dark skin. Let us not meet violence and dehumanization with more violence and dehumanization. Instead, let’s recognize all people’s humanity and that all sentient beings have needs. From this place, let us continue to work to meet those needs.
*I’m working on a post about Wal-Mart. I would like to see people in the Occupy movement become aware of the practices of Wal-Mart that are detrimental to people in the US and abroad, and to change our relationship with Wal-Mart.