Like many here and elsewhere, I continue to be occupied by Occupy Wall Street. Something important is happening. Today’s blogpost is my answer to a good question that a reader asked.

Then I would like you to meet my friend Laura Paskell-Brown, a young graduate student whom I have met through Gospel Choir. She is deeply engaged both in Occupy Wall Street and in women’s spirituality.

I have asked her to share her thoughts from time to time.


Q: Is there some populist thing going on in the world ? The so called “Arab Spring” is about uprisings against totalitarian dictators. The “Occupy” movement is also a populist thing, - not against totalitarian dictators, but perhaps against the perceived (or real) tyranny of the one per cent. The individual seems to be asserting himself in ways we haven’t seen in a long time, or ever.

A: It’s difficult to turn a fluid, dynamic, still-emerging movement into definite conclusions. But what I see is this:

First, the mega-rich and powerful have overreached again. They do that. If your spirit centers in accumulation, enough is never enough. Avarice and hubris don’t know how to stop. Like an alcoholic in full toot, they can’t restrain themselves.

Second, avarice breeds corruption, for it’s always easier to steal wealth than to earn it. Corruption, in turn, finds plenty of enablers, like public officials who carry water for the wealthy.

Third, more and more people get hurt. Not just intellectually appalled, but literally and deeply wounded. Read some of the stories here:

Fourth, in time the wounded find each other. They compare stories, identify causes, and often collaborate on action. They file class-action suits (like Wal Mart’s female employees), they form organizations (like labor unions), they form voting blocs (like the Tea Party), they march on Washington (like the jobless in the 1930s), they take up arms (like the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794), or they take to the streets in peaceful protests that command public attention (like Occupy Wall Street).

Wealth and power fight back, often in the name of public safety and democratic principles. The reaction usually succeeds because the majority don’t identify with the protesters. This time might be different, because the 99% truly is a vast majority who have seen their nation’s wealth plundered and the values that make America matter corrupted. Even if they haven’t lost jobs or houses, they identify more with the suffering than with the financial and corporate elite who caused the suffering.

We’ll see how it plays out. But it’s clear already that the emperor on Wall Street has been unmasked.

Meet Laura Paskell-Brown

At a recent general assembly at Occupy Wall Street, it struck me how full of suspicion the movement can still be with regards to our fellow occupiers and activists. After a proposal to form a smaller council based on representatives from each working group, a man stood up to condemn this idea as anti-democratic.The member was thoroughly convinced that “they” (whoever they were) were plotting to keep him (the average Joe) out.

Where does this suspicion come from? As a generation, perhaps even as a nation, we are simply not used to being able to show up to anything and just participate. This lack of access in our everyday experience is so ingrained that even when the door is open, we accuse others of plotting to slam it shut.

A wonderful thing about OWS has been the complete lack of barriers to participation. There are no hoops to jump through, no credentials to flash, no connections to make or networking to be done. The only requirement for participation is this: you need to show up.

So if showing up is the only requisite, could this be a model for a new world? A world in which we see people as worthy of participating because they care and are willing to lend a hand? Allowing people to show up and just act requires faith. Not only do we need to believe in their ability to carry the movement forward, we need enough faith to trust that everyone is acting in the best interests of us all. And if we think they’re not? It seems to me that the only thing I can do in that case is this: I keep showing up.