OWS: To Change the Country, We Just Might Have to Change Ourselves
Continued from previous page
On a practical level, what this means is that Gen Xers and Boomers have much to learn from the different approaches to politics OWS represents. Instead of focusing on traditional power structures, the OWS operation seems like the "wisdom of crowds" combined with a fundamental sense that top-down power can't really ever change anything, because it will always, by its nature, reproduce the system it is trying to change.
For decades, we progressive Boomers (I am one) and Gen Xers have continued doing things the way we always have, believing that if we only organized a little better, raised more money, were a little smarter, tweaked the message just so, success would be ours. But we could not discover how to make a dent in the political hegemony of banks and corporations, in the political corruption, in unjust laws that protect the powerful. Life in the social and economic realms has declined over the past decades -- for the working class, poor people, people of color, students, and increasingly the middle class. Meanwhile, more and more corporate money is invested to game the system. The Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United was the last nail in the coffin, giving yet more influence over our "democracy" to the 1 percent.
OWS represents a challenge to many established orders. It challenges a large professional class of highly educated progressives who learned to work the funding system and to create a broad, comfortable and self-reinforcing progressive establishment. While millions suffer with joblessness, underwater mortgages and student debt, many in the progressive establishment are well-paid and thriving, fighting a battle on many fronts that it seems we are doomed to continue to lose. Why? Perhaps it is because our system and way of doing things mirrors the oppressive system in many ways. There is nothing revolutionary about movement professionals trying to negotiate with the Obama administration to tweak one policy or another. Or spending time convincing Americans to sign another petition or offer financial support -- things I personally promote, so I do not write this from a place of any superiority, nor do I have an immediate clear idea of how to change it, except that we must try.
Building on What We Have Done
Our old ways of doing things are going to be challenged and questioned every day. We have to be bold enough to resist running for establishment cover and use this teachable moment to take a hard look at what we have wrought. If we believe in our values, we have to adapt and change. At the same time, and this is crucial, we have to take stock of what we have built, which is significant. There are infrastructures in place that will help the OWS movement go forward. We must be creative and gutsy in imagining how to weave together the new with old, and not throw the baby out with the bathwater. We Boomers must remember that our early efforts of crossing many dividing lines -- of race, gender, class and sexual orientation -- provide the historical backbone of what the OWS movement is building on, 40 years later. It just may be that this generation is doing a better job than we did.
Moving forward, we have to distribute resources more broadly. We must bring people into productive roles who have been left out. None of this will be easy. But it could be amazing, and even more importantly, essential. Because if we are going to catch this tidal wave, if we are going to contribute to this huge fight against unbridled global capitalism, we must accept the anxiety and uncertainty of doing things differently. And many of us will. Already, many of us do sense that this is the best chance we will have in our lifetimes to reinvigorate our democracy, create a livable world for ourselves and future generations, and help millions, young and old, pull themselves from the grinding everyday pain of poverty and powerlessness.