In the beginning, main stream media portrayed the Occupy Wall Street Movement as a small band of students, unemployed youth, and homeless people who were all over the map in their concerns. They were deemed to lack focus and purpose, and they were said to be too small-scale to make a difference. It was expected to blow over as fast as it emerged. Before long, however, polls revealed that a high percentage of people from all walks of life were very supportive of the movement. High-level politicians from all parties in the US as well as bankers and billionaires signaled their support. North of the border, the Governor of the Bank of Canada, Mark Carney, and NDP leadership hopeful Peggy Nash chimed in with their approval.
What triggered the sudden emergence of this new form of organizing that hoped to delegitimize the financial power centre of Wall Street? Although it had long been a movement waiting to emerge, it was initiated when the Canadian “culture-jamming, anti-establishment” anti-capitalist magazine Adbusters put out the call in their Sept/Oct edition. It featured a clever centrefold of a female dancer poised atop the massive Wall Street Bull and inscribed with the words “What is our one demand? Occupy Wall Street, September 17th, Bring Tent.”
The response to the call to occupy Wall Street was swift and extraordinary, but even more remarkable was how the movement spread so rapidly across the world. It became widely covered by mainstream media, while social media networks, zines, blogs, and websites exploded with news and analysis of the movement. The essence of the messaging during this second stage of reporting was that the movement does know what it’s doing, and it is not likely to go away any time soon. Unlike the prior anti-globalization movement that was visible in the streets when the global elite met for their WTO, World Bank and G8/G20 meetings, this new breed of protestors have become permanent occupiers. They are reclaiming public space, and in a symbolic way reclaiming the commons. They are in it for the long haul.
In addition, there is now also widespread recognition that the system is broken and crumbling; unjust and ecologically unsustainable. In other words, the truth is out, and the majority sees that the emperor has no clothes. It has become apparent that the financial collapse was caused by a flawed and dysfunctional global free market, free trade, corporate-dominated system. And that this system has garnered unfettered power and massive wealth accumulation for 1% of the population, who are unprepared to share with Main Street. At the same time, the general population is fast falling into poverty and hopelessness. Further, it is obvious that the 1% have no plans to transform the system, but instead continue, Business as Usual, while downloading the costs onto the people who will end up in ‘debt peonage’ for years.
In stark contrast, enter the ‘Occupiers’ world wide, who are finding ways to model alternate societal structure and process. They are engaging with one another through small scale, participatory consensus-style democracy, stressing non-violence and leaderless groups that meet in General Assemblies. They communicate in innovative ways, using intriguing hand signals to offer feedback on ideas and proposals. They ensure that their organizing reflects their principles at every turn and by this utter contrast delegitimize the existence of Wall Street.
Anyone can observe or participate in the Occupy Movement by walking into the encampment of their nearest occupation site. I did just that last week – joining in with Nova Scotia occupiers in the Halifax Parade Square on several occasions. I attended several General Assemblies, talked with facilitators, and offered a couple of workshops where we discussed world views or dominant paradigms throughout history, with reference to the emerging worldview that is beginning to shape political and economic choices in the present and for the future.
It is very heartening to observe the Occupy Movement modeling this paradigm shift politically and to realize it is civil society from the bottom up that is doing so. As French intellectual Francois Houtart, who informed the first World Social Forum with his writings on the role of civil society, said:
“It will take a concept of civil society from the bottom up – one which is the expression of social groups that are alienated and oppressed who are unraveling the root causes of their situation, and bringing together all those involved to restructure another kind of economy, of politics, another culture, while globalizing their movements and struggles in a great convergence.”
At the same time, many are seeing this movement as one which is accompanied by a new awareness. You can call it ‘empathy’, as Jeremy Rifkin has illuminated in his recent tome The Empathetic Civilization, or a ‘human consciousness shift’ that Joanna Macy refers to as one of three aspects of her framework for what she calls ‘The Great Turning.’
In his recent book, Chaos Point, physicist and evolutionary systems theorist, Erwin Laszlo, warns that the global system is spinning further into chaos. He reminds us of the findings of Nobel Prize winning chemist Ilya Prigogine – when a system experiences major perturbations, it can reach a bifurcation point where it either breaks down or breaks through. This is what Laszlo calls the ‘Chaos Point’. Evolutionary systems theorists are suggesting that the Occupy Movement, following on the heels of the Arab Spring and other recent uprisings, along with many other signs of global convergence and coherence, offer hope that we may be reaching a global consciousness breakthrough. A well-known archaeologist Teilhard de Chardin postulated in the 1950s that the time would come when, through the help of technology, humanity would reach an ‘omega point’. This refers to a time when the entire planet would be connected by a kind of neural network he called the ‘noosphere’, and which scientist Peter Russell has called the ‘global brain’. The new technologies of the internet and social media networking, along with the increasing empathy of humanity and the evolutionary impulse to achieve truly democratic states in all parts of the world would seem to point to a possible evolutionary shift.
Early man developed the capacity for self-reflection. Humankind now stands on the brink of another revolutionary shift – the capacity for self-transcendence; the ability to leap out of old mindsets, to develop a global consciousness and to engage in conscious evolution. This demands a transformational shift in assumptions, beliefs, values, knowledge base and actions.
Naomi Klein referred to this tangentially in a recent speech she made to Occupy Wall Street. She said what is important now is changing the underlying values that govern our society, and recognizing the need for a moral compass.
Indeed with chaos, financial and ecological collapse, and security states that are criminalizing dissent becoming the norm, perhaps the alternative offered by the Occupy movement is the best chance there will be to shift the paradigm.
We are at a critical moment for humanity so visit and support the Occupy Movement nearest you. Join the most important movement in recent history – listen, participate, engage in dialogue, spread the word, start study groups, learn more about and develop an evolutionary systems perspective, talk to neighbours, community groups, co-workers, and become an agent of global change.
As Arundhati Roy, champion of the Anti-globalization movement, offered so succinctly in her brilliant essay The End of Imagination – “Silence is indefensible!”
1. Adbusters magazine Adbusters #97 SEPT/OCT 2011 http://349774-www1.www.adbusters.org/magazine/97
2. Francois Houtart. Civil Society and Public Spaces Unpublished paper presented at WSF 2001. Power point available from email@example.com
3. Jeremy Rifkin, The Empathetic Civilization. 2010 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7AWnfFRc7g
4. Joanna Macy . The Great Turning . You tube. Joanna Macy on The Great Turning http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwlXTAT8rLk
5. Janet M Eaton. Paradigms, and Paradigm Shifts as Broad Context for the Transition to “Health Care”. 1996. http://www.chebucto.ns.ca/CommunitySupport/NCC/SCDEFJE.html
6. Ervin Laszlo. Chaos Point. 2012 . Dutch TV interviews Ervin Laszlo about The Chaos Point, his latest book at the time. Interview on Dutch TV, recorded New Year’s Eve 2006. http://worldshift2012.org/video/dr-laszlo-explains-chaos-point
7. Peter Russell. The Global Brain. http://www.peterrussell.com/GB/globalbrain.php
8. Naomi Klein. Occupy Wall Street. The Most Important thing in the World Now. http://www.naomiklein.org/articles/2011/10/occupy-wall-street-most-important-thing-world-now
9. Arundhati Roy. The End of Imagination. http://www.hindu.com/fline/fl1516/15160040.htm