Writing about Occupy Wall Street is unquestionably an exercise in futility. Those of us in the baby boomer generation have the impulse to wrap our arms around them and sigh in recognition of the sense of exasperation, desperation and righteousness that engulfed us in our youth. We understand that when things get worse and we have no control of events, we want to stop the world from its “normality”. When political leaders fail to inspire us with a common vision, we seek a new identity, a new vision and a new world. There is no question that the election of Obama has resulted in neither hope nor change. And we know:”It’s not fair!”
Those of us removed from the protests are watching our own biographies unfold again and we grasp to see it done right this time. Fix this thing here, do this thing there and everything little thing is gonna be alright. But, as soon as we intrude in the drama, we become interlopers in the “movement”. We are, in point of fact, outsiders who fail to grasp the dynamic and the new zeitgeist that has reconfigured the world around us. 1968 comes to our minds as the world social order heaved and the world was challenged for not living up to our standards and expectations. Today, we see turmoil in the Middle East, North Africa and Greece. In 1968 it was France, Czechoslovakia, China and Vietnam. But that was then and this is now.
Words, nothing but words. The young people out there pitch their tents, we pitch our rhetoric. We are on the outside looking in. Greens send a message of support saying “Right on! Now join us and finish the job by getting elected.” But, even Greens are aware of how closed the electoral system is and how difficult real reform is. Revolution appeals in its apparent ability to wipe the slate clear. Occupy Wall Street abounds with anti-capitalism. All revolts seek to sweep clean the vestiges of the old. We have witnessed that the old order has a logical continuity after the smoke of revolution clears. The Thermidor stands erect through habit, through economics, through culture and through history. The people seek normalcy- the simple ability to live our individual lives without the trauma of changes that turn our worlds upside down.
Today, young people fear the future and old people fear the present. Fear has intruded and we seek a return to normalcy. “FIX IT!” is the cry. We don’t like it. Young people seek to reconfigure the forces that stand in the way. Old people seek to protect what we have. Politicians posture and feed the lions of change for their own advantage. Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party are both expressions of the fear and frustration of people. We are all abandoned on a runaway train and none of us like it.
But, we are being spoon-fed and the same fear that evokes protest paralyses logical thinking. It pushes us to grasp for straws and look for simple solutions. We find ourselves repeating the rhetoric of the cable stations and radio talk shows. We take our politics from comedians and actors as if they had some God-given insight. Our panic has spread and we invite it to grow. It has stretched to various degrees to cities and universities across the country.
The stock market remains open. Wall Street has always been occupied during work hours. Banks seek to confront the cold economics and people scream at them. Ninety percent of Americans work and continue to go to their jobs. But even they feel the fear. Those of us unemployed and over sixty are weary and worried that the future is behind us, not in front of us.
There really is a point where a society begins to disintegrate. The social contract is violated. The fear overrides all other emotions. Fear of climate change and catastrophic weather, fear of economic insecurity, fear of impending doom for humanity and the planet envelopes us. The words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt come to mind. “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” It shuts down our strongest attributes as human beings. It shuts off communication with those we share a common destiny with. It makes us live behind locked doors and see every new face as a threat to us.
We have dug ourselves into this hole. Those who would seek to blame others fail to distinguish between what has happened in the past and what we can do together to fix what is broken. What it took to break the economy is not the same as what it takes to fix it. Structural reform enables us as a society to reconfigure the institutions that have so much influence in our lives. Working WITH our neighbors enables us to pool our resources and energy for constructive purposes. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. We need to be tough and resourceful. We need to find new solutions. We need to move forward with a new vision and not backwards.
We have not yet faced the depression or the World War of our prior generation. We know that many of us will need to help others. We know that things to come will not be as “good” as things in the past. Let’s not project beyond our ability to predict what is to come.
Let’s talk to others and meet with others. Let’s take to the streets and work in the elections. Let’s do so with candor and vigor. Find our own voice that speaks to our own concerns and needs. Let’s build new organization and establish new mechanisms that go beyond opposition and venture into creation. Occupy Wall Street by all means. But recognize that it will still be there when all is said and done. It is simply the concrete expression of the economic activity of billions of individuals around the world.
How we work together will prove as important as what we do to try and solve the problems. If we are willing to listen we can learn. When we utilize the strengths of some and the distinct strengths of others we find new alternatives emerge. I have worked in banking. I have worked in public schools. I have worked in a hospital. The success of each setting is not simply what we do as individuals as it is what we can accomplish together. In a Multi-Disciplinary Treatment Team the array of professionals who interact daily with the patient come together and review the patients’ progress and problems. They discuss behaviors and problems. They look for the appearance and the realities behind the appearance. They share perceptions and develop hypotheses of appropriate interventions that address the realities.
None of us are secure on our own. But no one is expecting that. The scripts of childhood to be independent need to be developed into the mature grasp of our mutual dependence on one another and our capacity to heal and help others. We are not simply observers subject to the torrent of history. We are the shapers of it as well.