We are the 100%

Pretty much everyone is talking about world-wide protests and the Occupy movement constantly right now. I talk about it pretty much every day because every day something new happens. With its beginnings I have come to think about how I view the system. The way I look at how economics and social issues relate to each other has evolved drastically as I’ve returned to studying critical theory like Marx, Weber, feminist economists and systems theorists.

Mario Savio on top of police car in front of Sproul Hall. Oct. 1, 1964

I argue that the Occupy movement cannot specify a single cause or it will fail in enacting any change. Why? Because the system is a system and not a machine. You cannot change the system by attempting to alter a single part. It’s connected to everything. The plight of the poor and disenfranchised is social issues informed by economics. Access to medicine, food, clothing and shelter are social and economic issues, and those are the heart of “political discourse.”

So how do we change the system that is failing “99%” of the American population? We first have to change the way we think.

Now, I’m sure that sounds insurmountable, altering the perspectives of people. It sounds impossible because we’re inclined to believe that when I say “we” I mean “them.”

Human beings are inclined to believe that when we disagree with someone on an issue that they don’t actually believe their own position and have ulterior motives like racism or greed (which can definitely be the case), or that they are simply ignorant idiots. The truth is that everyone has their own context and from that context they form opinions. We all do that.

I try to believe that most of the people who disagree with me on issues genuinely believe in their own positions. I want to believe they are as passionate as I am about the topic. I try to assume that when someone argues that a flat tax doesn’t favor the rich, they truly believe it and see evidence for it. Do I immediately assume they’re idiots? Sometimes. I can admit that I am guilty of this binary thinking too because it’s part of my context. It’s another construction of the system; the two-party mentality that anti-federalists, back in the day, were very, very against.

The recognition of my inclination to do this hit me just recently. In fact, when this realization sunk in, it was in connection with another radical recognition. I will explain that second recognition in just a bit.

At Occupy Cal police pummeled students and other protestors who’d locked arms to protect the prohibited encampment. A letter from the university stated that such action was “not non-violent.” Everyone screamed “bullshit!” and so did I. I was ashamed of my Alma Mater for handling that event so horribly. I was angry with the police for being malicious morons, hurting people, and tarnishing the tradition of peaceful protest on MY campus.

Then suddenly, something clicked. I love my university. Emotionally I wanted to give it a chance. I wanted to believe that it wasn’t as evil as lots of people were asserting. So I took another look. I gave in to the hope.

That’s when I realized that the Regents probably believed they were doing the right thing and didn’t want students getting beaten. UC Berkeley prohibits encampments on campus. I believe there are two reasons behind this. One is the apparent control over demonstrations that people are very opposed to, and I believe should be protested. The second is a practical assurance of the safety of students, staff, and visitors to the campus. Encampment also, obviously, is a staple of the homeless. It’s a sad truth.

The police? I don’t want to hate people, so I have tried to step back and remind myself that police are people and people are human. Those officers who assaulted students unprovoked were absolutely wrong. I believe they should lose their jobs and face charges of assault. That’s what would happen to any civilian.

You Don’t Hit People. We were supposed to learn this as toddlers.

So, I have found an initial possible method for quelling my intense emotions on this subject. Rather than screaming and yelling at the opposition, I am endeavoring to steady myself and try to unite us.

Back during the protests over cutting down the trees standing in front of a defunct Memorial stadium, I took a walk over to see the big hulking plants cut and fall to the ground. I was still arrogant and angry about the whole situation because I have a great love and appreciation for collegiate sports. The protestors I found to be stupid, ill-informed, and likely full of shit over their impassioned attachment to the trees that would die only to be replaced by three more. I have asserted that they’re “trust-fund hippies who are sad they missed the ’60s.” I went out to watch the trees fall and started trash-talking the remaining protestors. I was rude and antagonistic. I started an insulting chant of “Roll on you Bears” which is shouted when the California Offense passes the 50 yard line. A leader in the organized save-tree movement ran up to me and began screaming. He was promptly arrested, because a man can’t loudly intimidate a woman in a Patriarchy much anymore. He was also super annoying (Sorry, it’s true. That guy is kind of a dick).

Throughout that event, though, I had been trash-talking with a hippy that majored in art and didn’t know that the air we breathe is 70% nitrogen. As we argued and jabbed at each other, suddenly things began to fall away. He’d made a nice painting of a tree. He listened to me talk about the facts of seismic retrofitting, the necessity of giving talented athletes the opportunity to get an amazing education when they might not otherwise be able to afford one. Eventually we softened. I realized I respected him because I could see the passion in him for nature that I also have, just a different kind.

By the end of that day we agreed that it’s sad, very sad, when old beautiful trees have to be cut down.

When I was suddenly struck the other day that I am often unwilling to respect those I disagree with, I thought of this moment. I felt very humbled.

This softening of my exterior and reduction in my arrogance very suddenly left my ears open to the possibility that this was a small example of how people can change the way they think. It’s very possible for people to begin to admit they’re wrong when they’re wrong, to begin to understand that those they disagree with likely aren’t bad or stupid, to begin to see that everything is connected and that, really, we’re all on the same team.

Human team. It sounds corny, but it’s true.

The solid moving hope that I received was in a video of Occupy Cal, which you can see below. It features frazzled and clearly afraid police officers surrounded by angry and remarkably committed student protestors. What happens next gave me incredible chills like a rising orgasm.

The protestors – young people – began shouting at the police, “YOU are the 99%!”

This is incredibly remarkable because it’s the first sign I’ve seen that people may begin to understand what the concept of “99%” means. It means that the police, the mayor, the legislators, all of those people are connected to us. We are all in the same boat. In reality, the 1% people are part of it, too. They are merely a small collective who truly think themselves as separate from the system. That’s the real problem; we have people who want to tear things apart. They are mechanistic and binary.

You can’t tear apart a system like you would an engine. All you do is warp it so only parts of it get the best stuff. It’s a system out of equilibrium.

So, the point? I don’t really believe in pure Bad Guys. I believe The Man is really just a bunch of people who believe what they believe and want what they want. It’s becoming further clear that what a lot of us believe and want isn’t good for us. It makes us sick, leaves us homeless and hungry, and hits us in the head with rubber bullets.

Things certainly have to change. This binary and mechanistic sense of economic and social segregation is a delusion manifesting in a myriad of personal perspectives.

We need to step back, take a deep breath, respect our feelings, look into the eyes of the person we’re talking to and then listen. Then we need to hope they’ll listen to us. If they don’t, if they try to push past us to take the tents down when we truly believe they must stay up, we’ll lock arms and lift our chins high. There’s a chance they’ll jab us in the sternum. It’ll hurt. But we’ll be connected not just to the two people with whom we are locked. We will be connected to the particles of the baton, the particles of the riot gear, the particles of the blood-shot eyes focusing desperately for a terrified brain.

Whether that brain is malicious we can’t really know. But how can we assume that’s the case? If we assume the worst of each other, how can we possibly work together?

The violence of the police and the venom of representatives and pundits are part of the system, too. They are what stimulated “You are the 99%!”

The hostile positions of tree dwellers connected me to a young man with whom I have little in common beyond passion. But that’s a connection. When police hit protestors, people find out about it. It’s a mass connection. It’s fucked up, but police brutality actually helps these movements. Martyrdom is a powerful thing.

There are connections in everything. I believe that when we all really begin to see the system, see each other and what we most basically need, we’ll be on our way.

We can occupy the headquarters of the most profitable corporations. Corporations are part of the system, but they are not people. We treat them as people and I believe that needs to change.

We can occupy City Halls, Police Stations, State Capitals, The National Capitol, Wall Street because the government is supposed to be the people, part of the system, but it’s not the people.

We can equalize the system when we find our own equilibrium. I am he as you are we. We are all together. We are the 100%