So, I don’t know about you, but I am really excited about Occupy Wall Street and the activism that is sparking up from it around the country. I’ve also been thinking a lot about the phrase “half-assed,” and its little-used counterpart “whole-assed.” Also, the difference between a life-dream and a fantasy. My thoughts went this way:
I was on my way to the Occupy Seattle rally on Saturday, and my brother asked me what I was going to protest. “I’ve hung out with those guys camping out in Westlake plaza. They all have something different they’re protesting.” And he’s right, if you look at the signs. It’s everything from campaign finance reform to veganism. And when you add in the fact that they’re sleeping out in the rain so everything is tarped, making the plaza look like a badly-equipped tent city, not to mention the requisite traveler kids with the requisite pitbull on a rope, and the random lady who’s a little off her rocker and is wandering around with her army jacket pulled up and her breasts swinging naked in the rain, the whole thing feels a little bedraggled, fringy, and yes, half-assed.
Then I went to the rally. They had a mike set up, for anyone to speak at, to answer just that question: why are you here? For over an hour, I stood and listened as people spoke: an Iraq vet, a Holocaust survivor, two Unitarian Ministers, a Teamster, a band of militantly vegan children, a nurse, students, experienced organizers, an eloquent homeless woman and an uneloquent tranny woman, a hip-hop artist, several folksingers, a man in a suit who spoke to “appeal to our reason,” local author David Korten, an ex-I-banker, a Native woman, a young man I did get-out-the-vote work with last year whom I never had heard more than mumble — it went on. And yes, each person put their own color in their reasons, and many people said things not everyone agreed with (don’t even get me started on militant vegans — I don’t care if they’re kids), but it formed a kind of cacophonous unity, each thing pointing to this more foundational thing: this underlying disparity. This lack of real democracy.
If we’re talking about 99% of people, that leaves space for a lot of different needs, opinions, and voices in this effort. And really, this is what democracy is: listening to all the voices. Right? We don’t even need to like each other all that much, because we’ve got this sweet little other, that dastardly 1%, to use as a foil. In a country so divided by left and right, that’s a nice change.
Just as democracy is a farce when it caters to the 1% of Americans who are gazillionaires with their own pet corporations, a democratic movement becomes half-assed when we let the few folks who can camp out in the plaza represent 99% of the country. Don’t get me wrong: I am thrilled they are out there, in Seattle, in New York, and everywhere else. That’s a really great start, and I see some super inspiring work going on, with the model of decision-making and amorphous leadership, and with the way this has resonated out across the country and the world. But this has to be more than a bunch of themed urban camp-outs if it is to be more than a symbolic statement. The fact that there were demonstrations in over 1,500 cities around the world on Saturday makes me confident that it is already becoming more. I think this thing could go past making a statement on the problem, to actually changing things, but the protesters can’t do it without the rest of us behind them. We need to put in our whole ass here (or at least 99% of it) if we want to bump anything. Think of it this way: the booty is the body’s center of mass. Where your ass goes, you follow. It is, to put it more genteelly, the tipping point.
I guess what I’m saying is, the more people claim their identity as being part of the 99%, the farther this is going to get. The less we get distracted by the multiplicity of messages and the pit-bulls on the ropes and think about what we really want to see change, the more likely things will change. Which brings me to my other topic: dreams and fantasies. To me, the difference between a dream and a fantasy is that a fantasy is something you daydream about, but you a) would not actually like to see happen, or b) never actually work to make happen. Dreams on the other hand, are the visions guiding your bumbling forward motion.
So my question is, where do we hope to get? What do we dream these protests could spark? Would we really want what we’re dreaming? And what are we doing to make it happen?
I want dreams, both for myself and for you and for the world, that I can pursue whole-assed. That’s what I want, and that’s what I want to do.