I was always embarrassed of my parents because they were very loving and supportive. They would show up to all four performances of the play that I had less than four lines in. When I was reprimanded by the school for performing in the talent show as the co-writer/director/star of a ten minute skit riddled with masturbation jokes my dad stood up and yelled at the staff head of the “hearing committee” for making a sham of the public educational system. I always had more fans in the stands than minutes played at soccer games. They made me an unwilling activist from the age of 10.
My dad was not just a part of every peace protest he was the one at the beginning of every email thread that started every peace protest, and I hated it. It’s embarrassing to get dragged into town on a cold December Saturday to chant “No More War!” because you don’t have plans that allow you to excuse yourself from protesting because you look and talk like you’re twelve and your friends are starting to have sex. And it’s embarrassing to discover your voice cracking at age 16 through screams of “Drop Bush, Not Bombs.” I confused my teenage angst with disgust for the way the movement was run. I was looking for errors in the way we presented ourselves – searching for flaws in the message – claiming a higher understanding of the morality that we were supposedly together to espouse; all because I had delivered upon myself the role of critical thinker – of the prophetical voice of reason in the confused mayhem of longhaired wishful thinkers stuck in an era where they had the ability to change things but didn’t have the internet.
They said: “Show me what democracy looks like.”
I said: “This is what democracy looks like.”
Then in my head I continued: “But was Winston Churchill right? And if this is democracy, is democracy simply a futile exercise ultimately aimed at finding solace in like-minded accompaniment? Is democracy purely a therapeutic activity for a group of individuals needing a loudspeaker on which to hear their voice?”
Fuck Winston Churchill.
Faith is a belief not based on proof or necessarily evidence. I understand the animosity some people have towards it as one of those people, but I think it’s important that we understand that that absence of rationality is linked to the same emotions that make us human. It’s sometimes okay and necessary to release logic. It’s just important to direct that release of logic in a positive direction. Therefore I choose optimism. If I am to have faith, I have it in hope – the idea that improvement is possible. It may be irrational, but it seems to be a reasonable way to improve.
Before this gets too Oprah, I want to tell you what I first saw when I came to Zucatti Park in late October.
There was a vibrant group of individuals no longer concerned with individual goals. Flashbacks to my days in the midst of Vietnam protest veterans at first filled me with trepidation. There were the same telltale signs of futility – signs, songs, and repetition. Repetition was my least favorite. It’s what I always hated about marching down the streets of Bangor, Maine. Someone would yell “No Blood For Oil” and the rest of us would be expected to yell the same, as though we all had the exact same belief on what our oil policies should be. Sure, I agreed with the idea that the blood to oil exchange rate should be zero, but I didn’t think that was the only reason to stop our descent upon Iraq – and I wanted to be welcoming to new people who might slightly disagree. Repetition was the death of discussion. Repetition forced us to masquerade under the false concept that we all believed the same thing.
This repetition was different though.
Repetition was a tool being used to amplify each person’s voice as opposed to being used to simplify a message – forcing a palatability of concept so that the legislators can hear our voice on the news and interpret the changes we want. The trust in our lawmakers had vanished, but the occupiers had reinstated that trust within themselves. They said let’s finally have the conversation we’ve been telling our leaders to have for years.
Within this 33,000 sq. foot rectangle was an open mic, a kitchen, a library, a medical tent, a sanitation department, and people – lots of people: discussing. Still, I felt self-conscious about joining the discussion so I took out my sign and sat down.
It claimed a message that could not be repeated because it was too silly, but I felt it pushed at a deeper truth about the structural issues in our financial system. But most of all: it was my belief. Most people (including most occupiers) don’t believe in the dissolving of our currency system, but it proved to be a conversation starter. I didn’t have to worry about starting discussion because soon discussion came to me – not started by a discussion starting leader, but rather by an environment that encouraged dialogue. A 25 year old after school teacher who had left his job at a bank and I talked about the political movements and image and the importance of a representation in a media environment bred for 24 hour slogan machines. A 43 year old tea party activist from the Midwest and I talked about the role of a government paid for by the people. A day traveler from Philadelphia and I talked about the validity of a wheat and ore strategy in Catan.
We talked. In the past month and a half I have discussed more politics and formed more solutions to our current problems than I had in the rest of my life combined, and that was because of the Occupy Movement. Occupy’s openness to discussion is all the Occupy is about.
Discussion means not focusing on that one detail you don’t like, but rather searching for the details you do like and expanding upon those. Discussion means not interrogating a message until you discover what you disagree with, but rather uncovering the truths you do agree with and providing your perspective. Discussion is an improv game and you need to say “yes, and…”
The world is a terrible place full of hope.
That frustration that comes from the fact that this world is terrible is understandable, but not the end of our journey. You can be a critical thinker that adds to the critical dialogue.
I always assumed I would get arrested at some point in my life. From a young age I understood that laws were not always just, and it would be my duty at some point to stand up against those laws. That was what ran through my head when I got arrested for the first time just over two weeks ago. And all of my fantasies of jail were exceeded. Jail was a just another place for us to occupy. The discussion continued. Join. Join this discussion because it needs your voice – because it wants your voice. But if you join, want other’s to join because this is about hearing – this is about listening. Go get arrested when there are unjust laws because they cannot shut down discussion by putting it in a jailcell.
Our first amendment is freedom of speech because it is the principle our country was founded on, but we have to remember the freedom of speech is also the freedom to listen.