Walk Out, March On

October 3, 2011 Leave a comment

“My heart is moved

by all I cannot save

so much has been destroyed.

I have cast my lot

with those who age after age,


and with no extraordinary power,

reconstitute the world.”

-Adrienne Rich

I spent a couple of hours at Occupy Boston this weekend and a couple more hours on line reading about Boston, New York and the burgeoning movement in cities across the country.  The issues in Boston are wide and varied, including student debt, unemployment, corporate “personhood” and greed, foreclosure prevention, and “deep green resistance.” Everything is loosely connected under the banner of the “99%” who want to “take our country back.”

I am impressed by the inclusiveness and efforts to connect the dots across issues. I’m not so taken with “take the country back” as a rallying cry. Not only is that often code for racism and elitism in the hands of some elements of the Tea Party, it also implies that the 99% actually had control at some earlier point. I don’t know when that would have been. It’s too soon to say what the shared agenda or demands will be. That’s being worked out in daily general assemblies.

I also wanted to check out the demographics, because from the online view it seemed like most of the participants were white. Turns out, that at least on Sunday afternoon, they mostly were white, though I did talk with two young women of color, one of whom who said “Every generation has its movement. I feel like this is ours.” They were hopeful and had seen a lot of support for the effort so far. It seems that a community is building within the encampment. I’m hoping that it really does come to involve the full range of the 99%. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to think about the Occupy movement alongside another very different movement. In Walk Out, Walk On, Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze of the Berkana Institute chronicle the journeys of communities “who have walked out of limiting beliefs and assumptions and walked on to create healthy and resilient communities … [using] their ingenuity and caring to figure out how to work with what they have to create what they need.” It’s another kind of revolution; one based on getting busy with what is at hand; creating a new normal founded on love and a deep respect for the resourcefulness of ordinary people; and understanding that “no one is coming to help, and we can create the future for ourselves now.” No demands on institutions, no insistence on accountability for past wrongs, no attempts to make macro level changes to the systems and dynamics of injustice.

I’ve been wondering how these two kinds of revolutions might enhance, inform and inspire one another. It seems to me that these two kinds of revolutions need each other. What do you think?

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  • Gibrán says:

    Thank you for this important inquiry Cynthia. One of the things the occupations are creating is a “temporary autonomous zone.” A unique space where people can practice different ways of being-with. I think there is a big link between this and the Walk Out Walk On movement.

    Then there is the social change work within the nonprofit infrastructure – it has been fascinating to see how the professionals react to both!

  • Linda says:

    I too have been fascinated by how those from the traditional nonprofit infrastructure have responded… going right to questioning about “the how” of these emergent movements and wanting to move to the known pathways. I’ve been very excited to see the unknown pathways being explored – and also now to see some of the usual actors accepting and joining in. I’m so excited to learn and see what’s possible, to support a new way of doing and being together.

  • Curtis says:

    Thanks, Cynthia, for this important and intriguing post. I’m struck as I sit and facilitate in this room in VT how the message about the Farm to Plate Network is not one of “walk on, walk out” or “occupy” but “connect what’s working and scale/go from there,” including reaching out to key institutions that ARE on board. I think all of these messages are valid, speak to certain contexts and socio-cultural realities, and I’m hopeful that they can connect.

  • I was also at Occupy Boston over the weekend, Gibran. I was there on Friday night when it was kicking off in Dewey Square, and I also felt the connection to the principles of Walk Out Walk On. This movement has been criticized for lacking direction, for not knowing what it wants. But perhaps something else is afoot… It is self-organizing around shared meaning. Sounds to me like this is a community that is comfortable with emergence, allowing its clarity to arise from common experience.

    I plan to continue visiting Dewey Square to see what new meaning arises.

  • Melinda Weekes says:

    Writing from the Take Back the Dream conference here in DC, which sees itself as linked and apart of the “Occupy” protests. Lots to reflect on…
    Am older crowd than I expected….but healthy numbers of Gen x and Millenials repped. Definitely decent diversity of all kinds. Van did a masterful job of (literally) schooling the crowd on the starfish paradigm and what’s needed for that to emerge v. the spider one. As for the Walk Out Walk On phenomenon and two kinds of revolutions…I definitely see it and am making the sam observation. Before Van addresed the crowd, the language, energy, content was very much about “fight”, party politics and transactional. He lifted up some of the more sustainable ideals and strategies via a brief teach piece on networks and for a minute there – when talking about the need for a foundational principle – I thought he was going to mention the “L” word, but he did not. He talked of the “Take back the American Dream” meta-frame. Oh well. Stil all good. More to say later, but I too, am glad that this moment is one that is pushing us beyond organizing-as-usual. However, the new way forward may be Illusive for some that was revert to the default of transaction, “winning”, and the like. Let us continue to push and pull and stretch in the “moment of fixability”.

  • Chris corrigan says:

    Just a comment on the demographics. While the protest in Boston and also the one I was at in New York was mostly white, there may be other reasons for this. The police are hanging around these protests and arresting folks randomly, subjecting some to acts of violence. In the group I was with, one woman of co our spoke out about not going to the protests for fear of what the police might do. Given the track record of cops and communities of color it makes sense that people might stay away.

  • Thank you so much for posting this. It hits on so many questions I cradle inside: Do we want reform to a system that’s inherently racist/sexism/classist/ greedy, etc. Or are we willing to walk onto something different? Something rooted in love and a shared vision? Are we willing to occupy ourselves and our shared spaces in a different way? In a way that addresses and meets the needs of us all without calling it by any name but love? The answers that emerge from these questions are the true threat to the bankers and the empire they protect!

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Thanks all for the conversation. Lots to chew on here. Just came from a meeting intended to connect the Occupy folks with long time Boston community and union organizers. Good to bump into Gabrilla and our own Jen Willsea and Kenny Bailey and others there. Mariama Hammond shared thoughts she and Gibran had about focusing on community building or strategy and base building. It’s an interesting tension to balance– how not to squash something emergent (only 4days old, as one of the folks reminded the room) while also not dissing the years of careful grassroots work many folks have been doing. How to connect the wisdom and networks without imposing old forms on new activity.

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