WHEN I FIRST heard the call to Occupy Wall St for a few months, I knew this was big. I knew it would be more than just a “protest.” This felt different than the usual march to voice specific grievances. It was a call for something more profound, and much deeper, than even the original participants realized as they gathered their signs and tents.

I knew because I’d be following the various manifestations of this movement for over a year, working with Velcrow Ripper as he traversed the globe working on his new film: Evolve Love. The premise is complex to capture, but simple to state: humanity is waking up.

On Sept 17, 2011, 2000 people showed up at Zucotti Park. On Nov 26, 2011, they are still there.

The mainstream media, if they aren’t busy denigrating the movement and highlighting its flaws, are still grappling with how to cover it. Who are the leaders? What are your demands? No answer has been given. Instead, they Occupy.

Early on, journalist Naomi Klein recognized the significance as well. She called it “The Most Important Thing In The World Now“:

Yesterday, one of the speakers at the labor rally said: “We found each other.” That sentiment captures the beauty of what is being created here. A wide-open space (as well as an idea so big it can’t be contained by any space) for all the people who want a better world to find each other. We are so grateful.

“Why are they protesting?” ask the baffled pundits on TV. Meanwhile, the rest of the world asks: “What took you so long?” “We’ve been wondering when you were going to show up.” And most of all: “Welcome.”

At its heart, Occupy is not a protest. It’s about creating space. It’s about modeling a new way of being, that requires a fair amount of “unlearning” the way society and human nature has been taught. It’s asking the question: why? Why are things they way they are? Is it, in fact, human nature to be greedy, violent, and cruel? Or is it possible that these are symptoms of a systemic order?

Watch: Right Here All Over a snapshot of the micro-community formed at Zucotti Park (renamed Liberty Plaza).

Occupy Wall St is also about rejecting a system that has, at its core, drifted violently out of balance. It has become life destroying – and no amount of material wealth will stave off the underlying sadness of that realization. Author Charles Eisenstein wrote a brilliant op-ed “No Demand Is Big Enough” that captured this sentiment:

We protest not only at our exclusion from the American Dream; we protest at its bleakness. If it cannot include everyone on earth, every ecosystem and bioregion, every people and culture in its richness; if the wealth of one must be the debt of another; if it entails sweatshops and underclasses and fracking and all the rest of the ugliness our system has created, then we want none of it.

No one deserves to live in a world built upon the degradation of human beings, forests, waters, and the rest of our living planet. Speaking to our brethren on Wall Street, no one deserves to spend their lives playing with numbers while the world burns. Ultimately, we are protesting not only on behalf of the 99% left behind, but on behalf of the 1% as well. We have no enemies. We want everyone to wake up to the beauty of what we can create.

On Oct 15, almost one month after Occupy Wall St. began, global chapters erupted around the world in solidarity.

From London, to San Francisco, to my hometown, Vancouver, thousands took the streets in support. It was a beautiful celebration of a community desiring to create change. And when the day was over, many people packed up their signs, and did what you do after a typical march. You go home and continue with your life.

Except for a core group that stayed to…you know… occupy. And that’s when the trouble started.

Turns out that tenting in a public space, on public land, becomes a problem for the authorities. They’d rather you shuffle on and keep moving. While I was less surprised by the response of the city staff, I was disheartened by fellow progressives that were quick to dismiss Occupy Vancouver for its lack of cohesion and characterization has nothing more than “drugged out hippies.” They joined the ranks of the opposed and demanded the occupation shut down.

Yet not many recognized the true value of holding space. The Art Gallery had become a modern day ‘agora’ – a place where citizens were able to gather, discuss, and debate the challenges of our day. Everyone was fed, sheltered, and respected. And when you commit to include all others, you also invite in the shadow. The encampment becomes a microcosm of the larger shadow of the city.

As the Occupy movement refused to dissolve, they began exposing the systems of power that have long operated in the darkness. In Oakland, riot police tear gassed the crowds and severely injured Iraq war vet Scott Olsen. All Occupations faced ongoing and direct intervention by police. All the while, the media and onlookers continued to ask: what are your demands?

Most humans desire to resolve dilemmas as quickly as possible. We are uncomfortable with uncertainty. And yet it is the uncertainty that gives the Occupy movement its unique resilience.

I found the following passage by author Michael Mead, in his book “The World Behind the World”:

“Choose one side of a dilemma and the other side resurfaces with a vengeance. For picking one side or being “one-sided” about a true dilemma only delays and even intensifies the issue. Choose one side and the conflict will return at a deeper level at some future time. That’s the nature of the genuine dilemmas of life in this left and right, dark and light, abundant and empty world. Only when the tension of opposing forces can be held long enough does a genuine solution appear that can dissolve the tension and renew the flow of life at another level.”

It took almost 55 days before Rolling Stone contributor Matt Taibbi became the first mainstream publication to finally get it. He confessed to having totally mischaracterized the movement in its infancy. In How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the OWS Protests he wrote:

Occupy Wall Street was always about something much bigger than a movement against big banks and modern finance. It’s about providing a forum for people to show how tired they are not just of Wall Street, but everything. This is a visceral, impassioned, deep-seated rejection of the entire direction of our society, a refusal to take even one more step forward into the shallow commercial abyss of phoniness, short-term calculation, withered idealism and intellectual bankruptcy that American mass society has become.

If there is such a thing as going on strike from one’s own culture, this is it. And by being so broad in scope and so elemental in its motivation, it’s flown over the heads of many on both the right and the left.

You don’t have to dig deep to realize the global banking system is out of control (watch the divisive but very entertaining ‘The American Dream‘ to give you an idea). A system built on debt begets a Machine that demands infinite growth on a finite planet. What is the answer? Perspectives like those shared by Zeitgeist and Thrive blame a shadowy elite pulling the strings at the top.

Yet again, looking deeper, we realize the elite are simply better at playing the game. To demonize them as the 1% is to enforce the old habits of Separation. As Charles Eisenstein puts it in his book Sacred Economics: “We are all puppets, but there is no puppet master.”

Certainly, we can condemn the decisions and structures that wreak untold havoc on our communities and the natural world. And we must also recognize how we are complicit in perpetuating this very same system, those parts of ourselves that are both the 99% and the 1%.

The Occupy movement has the opportunity to offer a third perspective.

This week, many of the global occupations have been attacked, bullied, harassed, and in some cases destroyed. Some mainstream outlets are tentatively claiming that Occupy Wall St. is finished. And yet, to believe the Occupy Movement is just a few tents in a park is missing the point entirely.

Don Hazen writes in To Change the Country, We Just Might Have to Change Ourselves:

As Eve Ensler, global activist and author of The Vagina Monologues says, “What is happening cannot be defined. It is happening. It is a spontaneous uprising that has been building for years in our collective unconscious. It is a gorgeous, mischievous moment that has arrived and is spreading. It is a speaking out, coming out, dancing out. It is an experiment and a disruption.”

Of course, nothing concrete has changed, yet. But the possibility of change — really, the necessity of change — is now in the middle of our nation’s politics and public discourse. This alone is an incredible achievement because a few short months ago, many millions of us essentially had no hope.

I believe it is now time for the Occupy Movement to come out of beta. We have realized that we suffer from a severe lack of imagination, and are crying out for a potent new vision of the future. I believe I have experienced a taste of this new vision, what Charles Eisenstein calls “the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible.” And it is because of this that I can demand nothing less.

Allow me to share a potential vision:

What if the Occupy Movement truly is the latest manifestation of the paradigm shift that is rippling around the planet, what Paul Hawken calls “the blessed unrest”? What if this shift is characterized by a new recognition of the self, one that no longer betrays ourselves as separate beings in an indifferent universe, but realizes we are conditional upon all the relationships we share?

I am because you are.

What if we experimented and perfected this alternative model of being, and deployed it along the vast global information network already encircling the globe? What if this model allowed us to grasp the array of crises plaguing our lives and the planet as actually interconnected – and to truly understand one was to understand and change them all?

What if we called this shift of inter-being by its true name?


  1. Pingback: Occupy Insanity with Sanity @ ART OR NOTHING

  2. Ian, You’ve really illuminated the heart of the reason why the occupation is so electrifying for me and millions around the world. This movement is an expression of a mass change in consciousness that is birthing a new paradigm rather than seeking concessions from the current dying paradigm of exploitation and power over. We are not begging for the current system to throw us another bone to placate us. This time we want REAL change not small change. We want the kind of profound change that can actually save this planet and the heart and soul of humanity because it emulates from a massive change of heart consciousness. Those who don’t understand this profound shift in mass consciousness do not understand Occupy Wall Street. Thanks for being a bright light in this awakened movement and for sharing the light so beautifully.

  3. In the middle of reading this, I was inspired to start writing. And I don’t know what it’s become, but if anyone happens to like it, I would encourage you to post it, share it. Anyone with a blog or a Facebook account or any means of getting ideas out who thinks it’s worth sharing, or ideas of where I might go to share this with others, I thank you.

    Occupying the Prevailing Political Discourse:
    A Declaration and a Vision for the Future of Occupy

    Written by Jason Howard (but these words are given with love for all to use as they see fit for the well-being of all; please simply acknowledge the original, and do not attribute to me anything I did not say. Gratitude to you.)

    We hereby refuse to be diminished by political discourse and a narrative that is too small for our hopes and dreams; too small for the immense love, beauty, and potential we see in the world and all around us; and too small for our very souls.

    We hereby acknowledge Einstein’s truth that problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. We will listen wholeheartedly to all human beings who express concerns about the state of their lives and the world, but we will speak and act from our own truth, a truth that will shatter the prevailing way of being and doing.

    Truth cannot be contained within the prevailing discourse; it is simply much too big, too powerful, too beautiful. Genuine expression of truth in thought and deed WILL shatter all illusions. But to express genuine truth will take creativity and courage from all of us because we are so habituated to explaining ourselves in the language that is already being spoken. Only when we refuse to explain ourselves on the level of current thinking will the culture’s story begin to shift.

    Where others would use divisive words and the same old talking points to corner us into a particular narrative and shut us down, we will listen and honor their story but we will reject that storyline for ourselves. We will pelt flowers in response to hatred and derision. We will make art, tell stories, sing songs, create space for love and belonging. We will occupy our own hearts.

    Those who would criticize us don’t know how to respond when those they purport to hate take time to listen deeply and lovingly to their concerns. Their entire rationale for criticizing us starts to fall apart when we are strong enough to be loving and understanding of the concerns even of those who would tear apart our efforts. The prevailing political discourse will not last long in light of such responses. We must let go of REACTIONS to the prevailing discourse in favor of RESPONSES that transcend the lies that hold everything in place.

    Creating space is what OCCUPY is about. We hereby choose to occupy our words, our stories, our way of living and being. We choose to occupy the narrative that the status quo and the mainstream media have shut us in and to set that narrative free. We refuse from this point forward to engage that narrative.

    Because there is no one single narrative here. We declare a universal NO to corruption, oppression, and hatred in all its gross and subtle forms; but we also declare a wholehearted YES to the diverse dreams of hope and beauty and possibility in each and every one of our hearts. Everyone who dreams of a better world is welcome here. We will not be pitted against each other. That is the old story. They will tell us we have to make specific demands and unify around them; but that is the old story. This one is much more powerful. We dream of a world in which many worlds are possible, but where the world of oppression, hatred, and control is NOT.

    Some will criticize us for being lazy, disorganized, and having no real plan, but we must not respond to these criticisms from the same level of thinking that created them. These are the same criticisms that were leveled against the Arab Spring before the Egyptian regime was toppled. The status quo is scared of a movement that it cannot define in its own terms. The current narrative cannot quite define us because we ARE beginning to transform political discourse. In that sense, Occupy has already succeeded: but there is ever so much more work to do!

    There will be some who read this and say, “I don’t understand a single word of that!” When people speak this way it’s time to celebrate because it means we’ve succeeded in transcending the typical political discourse that the status quo has become so comfortable with. There will be others who think this statement expresses some truth that they knew in the depths of their heart but didn’t know how to express. We are NOT here to create a world on YOUR terms.

    As more and more of us open up to new ways of speaking and doing that come from our hearts and our deepest values, those who “don’t understand a single word” will be forced to find some way of engaging with us, on our level. “You can’t change the culture without changing the myth,” a professor of mine used to say. And when you change the myth — our ways of speaking and acting in relation to these very important concerns — you inevitably change the culture.

    “You will know them by their fruits,” said Jesus, and if we come out of love, peace, and a desire for a more beautiful world for ALL, then they will eventually know us by our fruits, NOT by our attempts to defend ourselves on their terms. We will be criticized. They will continue to construct stories about what we’re doing, stories that don’t begin to get to the heart of it. Don’t try to prove them wrong; confuse them! Show them that we can’t be limited by their definitions of us! This tension is GOOD. That tension, held long enough, is what will change our world.

    Our values do not need to be justified, only lived, in our own way; in beauty.

  4. Ian,

    I am struck by the balance and wisdom of this article. Much seems to have been made of the conflicts which have arisen from some call “the struggle” but I am standing in the midst of an awakening that has no end and which is moving beyond the metaphor of “fighting” nor waiting for a hero or another to fix it. Thank you for stating so clearly your views on how things are going… I too see the profound evolution taking place and am seeing the emergence of the next phase.

  5. I am so humbled and grateful to be alive right now and a part of this in my own small way. I am humbled by the incredibly high standards of relating that I see bubbling up right now. For so long I have felt so alone and so sad that I’ve just wanted to die. This and all the comments and all the Occupiers are a soothing balm on my wounded heart. Thank you, everyone. Thank you, World.

  6. A beautiful capturing of many of the postings that have captured my attention over the last few months. Love it. And agree, there is something momentous happening here as the shape of the world shifts and people awaken to regeneration.

  7. Thank you, Ian, once again for putting into words, and through these words, action – the action of LOVE. It is an indeed an exciting and wonderful time that we live in.

  8. Ian,

    The tahrir hybrid finds the AoH network ‘holding the space’ quite literally as they are showered with tear gas. The space being held and the journey it represents strengthens the moral force of non violent communication.

    They are being by passed politically by the social conservatives who are not in the square but moving forward pragmatically with the realpolitik of winning the election. Yet they are the social innovators representing a different kind of governace.

    Thank you.

  9. Great job, Ian. Of all the voices coming out of Occupy, yours is consistently one of the most positive, balanced, and inspiring. Keep fighting the good fight.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *