I think that at events like this it’s good for us to remember how lucky we are to have had this opportunity to work together with so many wonderful people over the years: to engage with each other both as colleagues and even as friends.* I know Howard Zinn used to talk about this, and as usual, he was right. What a privilege to have been fellow travelers with people from different generations who long for worldwide human community and an end to socially created human suffering. Of course we have to deal with each others craziness. But who else would you want to hang out with? I know it’s something that has enriched my life in a way I never expected and I feel very fortunate about the whole thing.
How fast things can change!
Less than a year ago a mighty wind blew out of Tunisia. Tunisia! Soon thereafter came the lion’s roar out of Egypt that shook the world to its foundations. At about the same time we witnessed a courageous and growing international outpouring of support on the high seas for Palestinian humanity. What a spectacle! Then came the Thunder out of Madison and Ohio. We saw the ability of one lone army private and a sophisticated high tech media project to expose the dirty laundry and crimes of the powerful to public view and, recently, the astounding mobilization against the Tar Sands energy project – imagine: 1200 arrests. And of course, Occupy.
For the first time there is a mobilization that involves whole new layers of the population in creative agitation for change and not just the same core constituencies we have been mobilizing for years. The commitment of the occupiers is impressive – police assaults, chemical attacks, rubber bullets, drenching rains – what is it about the slogan “we are the 99%” that can mobilize such commitment and send chills through Washington, media empires and the centers of global capital. The INCLUSIVE character of the slogan is powerful and a lesson for us to ponder.
Occupy has moved the cry for fairness and equality and economic security and concern for the planet into the center of our national debate. It has undermined the drive for constant war and attacks on civil liberties.
Concretely, Occupy has taken much of the steam out of the Tea Party Revolt and has re-directed that energy into positive channels; it has become a player in the national debate running circles around these looney Republican presidential candidates. It has played a major role in the delay of the Tar Sands Project and the Fracking project in the Delaware River Basin.
Also significantly, it has exposed to all Americans and to people around the world the frightening militarization of our police forces and their over the top use of gratuitous violence and chemical warfare against unarmed and peaceful citizens of their own country who pose no physical threat whatever to the police.
This lesson will not be lost on those who have experienced it or witnessed it. As it has helped to de-legitimize such repression and has exposed the role of the state apparatus in protecting the rule of capital over the country – not against genuine threats, but against ideas that awaken us from our long slumber.
Most important perhaps is that it has built a physical and virtual community of students, workers and community people of all kinds under the umbrella: “we are the 99%”. We feel connected to each other and to people who view the world differently, but not contradictorily, from us in a way we did not before.
The best thing that those of us who have longed for such a movement can do it to help Occupy develop organically in the face of the new challenges it faces and not try to impose agendas that could undermine its vitality.
The revolt against the dominant paradigm is underway around the world: An uprising against the imposition of the model of corporate globalization on world society. The austerity model of privatization, offshoring and outsourcing, structural adjustment and piling up layoffs and savaging the poor is under attack. Let’s hope that this time around we can break its back and free the human spirit from its grip.
*Paul Shannon is an organizer of the Majority Agenda Project and the American Friends Service Committee. This is the text of a speech he gave on the occasion of the encuentro 5 5th anniversary celebration.