Loving and Supporting Occupy
Some of my most exhilarating moments this past year have been spent with the Occupy movement. Topping the list was the daylong “general strike” in Oakland on November 2, when tens of thousands of us spent a day at the plaza in front of Oakland City Hall and then marched to shut down the Port of Oakland, through which many of the large exploitative corporations do their business. People of all ages, from infants in strollers to octogenarians with canes, gathered in protest and celebration. And then on November 15, when somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 people assembled at Occupy Cal (the encampment at the University of California, Berkeley), I watched the faces of the students. Many had never been part of a large movement of protest and suddenly seemed to get (at least for that moment) the most important lesson that social movements can teach: that history can be made by us little folk, that we need not merely be spectators watching the powerful shape our world, and correspondingly that we have an obligation to build the world we want to live in.
It was forty-seven years ago that I climbed down a rope from the second floor of UC Berkeley’s Sproul Hall, where we in the Free Speech Movement were holding a sit-in to protest the university’s attempt to prohibit us from recruiting on campus for civil disobedience against racism in Oakland. I addressed the crowd of 10,000 students outside and reported on the police violence happening at that very moment inside, and I advocated for a student strike that eventually shut the university down and forced the Regents of the University of California to accept our demands. How exciting for me to watch a new generation beginning to open their minds to the possibility that they might take the reins and become tikkunistas—healers and transformers of our world.
We at Tikkun have rejoiced at the emergence of the Occupy movement, and members of our interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives have actively participated in the movement’s demonstrations, sit-ins, and tent cities all across the United States. Once again, the “realists” have been proven wrong in their prediction that Americans would be too stuck in the dominant discourse of the society to demand change. Even as politicians and the media continue to call for austerity measures to reassure Wall Street and other global stock and bond markets, Occupy protesters have introduced a new set of questions about wealth disparities. Margaret Thatcher’s exhortation that “there is no alternative” to the globalized capitalist system—a claim made famous in the United States by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman—is now seen for the ideological claptrap it has always been.
While the Republicans continue to tout an austerity agenda as the best way to achieve their real goal of dismantling government—thereby freeing their corporate bosses from constraints imposed for environmental, ethical, and social reasons—Occupy has managed to push many Democrats into finally sticking up for their working-class and minority constituents, whom they have largely betrayed for much of the past thirty years. Even President Obama, whose 2011 State of the Union speech did not mention poverty and whose economic policies favored the rich for his first three years in office, caught the wind of change generated in part by Occupy. He has decided to identify with the populist motif that the Occupy movement has helped surface in America.
In popularizing the notion that the 99 percent need to stand up to the 1 percent (the tiny group of super-rich elites who have been pursuing a class war against the American majority), the Occupy movement has made a major contribution to overcoming the divisions within the Left that have emerged due to identity politics’ emphasis on race, gender, and sexual orientation—divisions that the Right has happily exploited. ...
Lerner, Michael. 2012. "Loving and Supporting Occupy." Tikkun. 27(2): 18.