So I took a week off Facebook, and more or less off Occupy. It was nice to have a rest, but it was eye opening too. Coming back now and peering in (on the Facebook discussions especially), I find it difficult to re-engage. We appear to be fighting one another as much as (more than?) we are fighting “the system”—which is just what said system (of inequality, manipulation, surveillance, oppression, massive disproportionate capital accumulation and environmental destruction) wants. Thank you very much.
As “an occupier” I want, at this point, to focus my energies. I want to work on the various economic, political, and environmental Justice groups that have formed in the movement. I want to write for The Occupied Vancouver Sun and for Occupy Vancouver Voice—and for what or wherever else I can help explore the nature of the social changes we are now necessarily in the midst of—because writing is one thing I can do.
I want, especially, to do everything I can to help stop the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, and any expansion of the Kinder Morgan facility on Burrard Inlet (which is already polluting our harbor and sending massive tankers around Stanley Park every few weeks). To do so means working with and especially supporting the efforts of First Nations and existing environmental groups and agencies. To do so also means, for me, not just to oppose this pipeline or that development, but to oppose the Tar Sands in its entirety, to oppose our society’s dependence upon fossil fuels, and thus to oppose an economic system that deems environmental destruction to be a mere side-effect or “externality” to profit accumulation.
I also want us—anyone open to the idea of working together to change this world and alter its current self-destructive course—to gather in the near future and occupy together once again, in some shape or form—because the political form of this movement has been as significant as its political content, and we have more work to do on this new form, clearly.
I want us to do so out of a commitment to solving the problems we collectively face, and out of a commitment to doing so collectively—whether we know the solutions or not, we need our collective intelligences and imaginations to find solutions. Our governments have no interest in solving these problems—they have made that clear enough—and busy themselves with their main task—fighting each other over power and privilege as they serve the global 1%. We can’t do the same. We have to stop fighting over who is or isn’t “an agent,” or who is or isn’t a “process junky,” or whose “cabal” is more…cabalistic than whose—if we want to get anything done, that is. “Only light can drive out darkness.” We have to accept and allow our differences of focus and approach—as long as we can see that we are all working constructively towards some facet of the big goal, system change.
But—allowing for our differences cannot blur into condoning or enabling abusive behavior. One of the greatest challenges we are meeting is a personal one: how to contribute to a collective project into which “I” might fade or disappear? How to be truly responsible to this collective project, “own” my shit, stand up and admit my mistakes when I must, accept public censure if it is merited, and find forgiveness and acceptance (I am small, imperfect, fragile, make mistakes, know very little, but want with every fiber of my being to help)—and a way of contributing once again. Responsibility is the exercise of the ability to respond. That’s what we’re doing here: responding to each other, and the world around us. Listen carefully to what’s being said. Take it in. Reflect. Cause no harm.
What to do then? The reality is, from the beginning, we have found small groups within the larger movement within which we have been able to “get shit done”—all the while struggling to work with as wide and inclusive a basis for consensus as we can. Let’s keep at this. I don’t think we’re in an either/or situation (either autonomous affinity groups, or complete consensus of the whole movement). “Occupy,” globally, has been very open-source: individuals and groups working on social, economic, and political change have stepped up and done their work under this new banner of unity, this new call for system change. The same has happened within the various urban occupations—including here in Vancouver.
I am increasingly convinced that we will not get very far—and that we will in fact do “just what the system we are fighting wants”—if we put all our energies into hammering out full movement consensus and “official,” “Occupy Vancouver approved” statements and actions. You cannot force real consensus or inclusivity; you can build an “open house,” and hope that as many as possible will come. Keep that house open. Do good work there that in some small way benefits your whole community, your wider society, and ultimately the entire planet. Remember that there are others, in almost every city, doing this too—so your numbers are larger than they sometimes seem. The house (Greek oikos—root of economy/ecology) we’re opening is everywhere. We want everyone to come on in.
This might make me an anarchist, but I’m a pretty rational and open-minded one, I assure you. Here’s the thing: all sorts of people are out there saying and doing things about Occupy Vancouver or in the name of Occupy Vancouver already. And that’s OK—at least, there’s not a lot any of us can do about that. What we need to do—we who are committed to system change, committed to the Occupy movement as a historically significant moment and opportunity, and committed to Occupy Vancouver as our main avenue for social work at present—what we need to do is, do our work. Organize our campaigns. Use our voices. Put out our statements and analyses and calls. Assemble and ACT. Accept our divergent focuses and tactics. All this—as long as it is clear that the ultimate goal being worked towards is system change.
Here’s a simple “code of conduct”:
Work towards social, political, and economic change, together, in ways that do not harm any individual’s abilities to, or self as, we work towards social, political, and economic change, together.
If someone tells you that what you are doing is harmful, stop. Step back. Assess yourself and your situation carefully. Be humble. Take instruction from others—others, by definition, know/have experienced things other than you have. Understand this, and how your actions may have harmed others. Make amends (others will tell you how to make amends). Move forward, again, only carefully, cautiously, when you feel you have the support to do so.
It’s not too complicated, in the end. Cornel West has said, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” I agree—though this is when love is wearing formal dress! When love is in public casually, love is the commons. We, in the Occupy movement, are trying to build a new commons, and to bring justice to all. We’re taking love outside. But remember—love comes with a lot of responsibility. Now—get responding!