Sunday, October 9, 2011

Something That Matters Has Started

An "Occupy Wall Street" rally.

I hope that you've been following "Occupy Wall Street," an ongoing demonstration against socioeconomic inequality and corporate greed in America. (Read its "Declaration" here.) Keeping current with OWS developments isn't easy except through "alternative" news sources. Coverage by the conventional media has been, for the most part, spotty, contemptuous and dismissive, even though this demonstration--or perhaps more accurately, this movement--that began in New York City on September 17 has now spread to more than 80 cities across the country.

I'm heartened by these nonviolent protests, even as I'm deeply distressed by the violence often perpetrated against the protestors by police. It's offensive to see my fellow citizens being harassed, pepper-sprayed, roughed up and beaten with batons. It's also offensive that their abuse is rarely shown, and just as rarely denounced, by the mainstream media. I shouldn't be surprised. The mainstream media are embedded in the very system the protestors are crying out against: a system in which predatory capitalism, represented by Wall Street, is squeezing the life out of American democracy, threatening the futures of all Americans, jeopardizing other nations, and endangering the health of the planet.

I watch these protests from afar, here in South Dakota, wishing I could be there. While the movement has been criticized for not being organized enough, for not being representative enough, for not having a clear enough agenda, and so on, none of this bothers me one whit. These same criticisms are routinely leveled against nascent social movements that have arisen from the anger and agony of citizens who refuse anymore to be partners in their own oppression. Yet such movements have often been this country's best conscience and its most dynamic catalysts for reform when its highest ideals have been betrayed. Simply put, we need them.

This fact is indisputable: the economy of this nation no longer serves the needs of its people (but for a wealthy fraction); rather, the people are now meant to serve the economy. This is backwards. This is wrong. And the people are finally rising up to say so. I hope somebody is listening. The people in this social movement may not yet have strategic clarity, but they do have moral clarity, and that's where it all starts.

This is, I believe, a potentially historic moment in this country. Decisions must be made, now, not by the powerful few but by the rest of us, who for too long have abdicated our own (greater) collective power and acquiesced in our own economic subjugation. It's time to make up our minds. Who do we want to be as a nation? What are we willing to do as citizens to help make it so? With whom are we willing to join to help bring it about?

There is no question who is on the right. The OWS protesters have laid bare the truth that we should have recognized long ago: Our economic system has lost its legitimacy, because it no longer has as its priority the welfare of the people. That same system now directly threatens the legitimacy of our democracy. Last week I actually heard on a cable news program some political pundits discussing the advisability of postponing national elections until the country and its economy are more stable. Imagine: "Let's postpone democracy now for the sake of democracy later." As I said, things are falling apart.

Things are falling apart, and they need to be rebuilt. Rebuilt with creative and courageous moral vision, not to be the same as they once were, but to be the most they can be--not for the sake of the corporations or the banks or this or that political party, but for the sake of the people. All the people. This is a tremendous, even revolutionary, undertaking. OWS is giving us a start on the job. We ignore this citizens' movement, and this critical moment in history, at our own peril. 

I can't go to Wall Street or the other protest sites around the country. But I can demonstrate, speak up, advocate, organize, bear witness to a better way here, where I live. I'm going to find a way to, somehow. There are infinite ways I might do so. I doubt that I'll be carrying a sign or shouting slogans or sleeping in a park until the System finally risks stepping out of its mansion to talk--really talk. But I'm going to do something. And I'm inviting you to do the same.

This historic moment calls on each of us to do something constructive, right where we are, as we're able. In the video below, the young performance poet David Bowden (pictured right) inspires us to "unpack our boxes of brilliant ideas and share something that the world can use":

Paint, all you painters, paint something that captures
Write, all you writers, write something that answers
Build, all you builders, build something that shelters
And start, all you starters, start something that matters

If you ask me, something that matters has already started in New York City. I thank everybody who started it. I thank everybody who's keeping it going. Let's all keep it going, wherever we are. There's too much at stake, not to.

(Note: If for some reason you can't view the video player below, click here to watch.)

Deep peace,
Phyllis Cole-Dai

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