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Occupy 2.0: The Great Turning

Michael Nagler on building a movement to build a new reality.

Photo Credit: Ismael Valladolid Torres


The spinning wheel, and the spinning wheel alone, will solve the problem of the deepening poverty of India.  —Mahatma Gandhi

Anyone who thinks consumption can expand forever on a finite planet is either insane or an economist. —E.F. Schumacher

After a roaring start, the  Occupy movement hit a wall in the form of rough-handling and evictions by the police. Occupiers could have given up on nonviolence—as a small faction will always try to get us to do—or just given up; but instead we have gone back to the drawing board, while continuing to occupy select spaces, this time with advance training. This is exactly the right response. As my former Berkeley colleague Todd Gitlin  writes inThe Nation, “To take on a warped state of affairs that has been decades in the making will take decades,” and for this purpose the encampment culture is “both necessary and inadequate.”

It’s time to step back, take stock of the situation we’re in, and work out a roadmap of the way home.

If our movement is about raising the dignity and value of the human being, we cannot use the method of violence, which degrades.

The worship of wealth that has brought corporations into a position of dominance in the world today has also brought in its wake two unexpected benefits. First, it planted in the minds of many the idea thatsome kind of world unity was possible: "Globalization from above" awakened the old dream of "globalization from below," the dream of world unity without world domination. Secondly, by releasing many of the traditional constraints on greed (they were already pretty weak) it gave the one percent enough rope to really squeeze the economic middle class, taking away from them the false comfort of "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage," and thereby reawakening, though in new forms, the class struggles of the 1930s. This has finally exposed the inherent contradiction of an economy based on indefinitely increasing wants—instead of on human needs that the planet has ample resources to fulfill.

These new realities are what Walter Wink calls “gifts of the enemy,” a natural feature of nonviolent struggle. The sometimes rather brutal evictions from New York’s Zuccotti Park, Los Angeles, Oakland, Washington D.C., and other sites, along with the beating and pepper-spraying of students in California last November, could redound to our advantage. They might serve as a wake-up call revealing the militarization of America—though there are not many signs of such awakening yet in this numbed nation.

I was never among those who thought that the occupation of public sites was what a serious revolutionary movement should look like (Tienanmen Square is still fresh in my memory). Now that we have been pushed off the streets we have an opportunity—as many occupiers have recognized —to regroup, reframe, and rethink what this movement is really about, how it should proceed, and what historical precedents can help us bring it to fruition.

What it’s about is nothing less than  the Great Turning. Occupy 1.0 was criticized for not putting forward a list of demands. Well, if we are to escape what the late Václav Havel recently called (again in The Nation) “the omnipresent dictatorship of consumption—which underlies all the dissatisfactions that launched Occupy—then we are called to a revolution in our very way of seeing the world and sensing who we are within it.

How to carry out this great change is, at least in part, equally clear. Throughout the waves of popular uprising that keep springing up where conditions are right, from India’s freedom struggle and the color revolutions to the “Arab spring” to the global manifestations of Occupy, nonviolence has become steadily more accepted as the preferred route to freedom, so that by now it is taken for granted by the vast majority of the 99 percent. How could it be otherwise? In fact, the highly regarded study by Erica Chenowith and Maria Stefan, Why Civil Resistance Works, shows that transitions to democracy are twice as successful if they’re nonviolent, and also are three times as rapid (that part surprised even me). And, as George Lakey has shown, the only revolutions that have managed not only to establish some sort of political democracy but also make sure that the one percent don’t reestablish their grip in another form were nonviolent, at least in the sense that they did not wield weapons.

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