Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Tao of #Occupy

From The Good Men Project:

As the #Occupy movement decentralizes, writes Alison Leigh Lilly, it continues to bring the elements that make it revolutionary: space, persistence, flexibility and resilience.

As we enter the colder winter months, the days grow darker and time seems to slow down, thickening like sleepy sap in the bare-limbed trees. Yet for many of us watching the protests of the #OccupyWallStreet movement unfold over the last two months, the country seems poised on the brink of something revolutionary. A tension hangs in the air—the trembling stillness of hope and excitement, but also trepidation and anxiety. This pervasive mood has me thinking a lot recently about the Eastern spiritual philosophy of Taoism, and the lessons of stillness, receptivity and harmony with nature taught by its founders, Laozi and Zhuangzi. How might the insights of Taoism help us to understand the potency and influence of the #Occupy movement? And what can it tell us about where the movement might be heading in the future?

“Nothing in the world is more flexible or yielding than water. Yet when it attacks the firm and the strong, none can withstand it, because they have no way to change it.” – Daode Jing, Chapter 78

I could just as easily have used the well-known quote from Gandhi when he said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” The idea is very much the same. Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence or satyagraha (roughly translated as “love-force” or the “power of love”) is founded on a view of love as a persistent but deeply receptive force. Often misunderstood as weakness or passivity, satyagraha has an active power all its own.

[ ... ]

“Thirty spokes join at the hub: their use for the cart is where they are not. When the potter’s wheel makes a pot, the use of the pot is precisely where there is nothing. When you open doors and windows for a room, it is where there is nothing that they are useful to the room.” – Daode Jing, Chapter 11

A defining aspect of the #Occupy movement is its decentralization. Techniques for consensus building have laid the groundwork for community decision-making within the movement since its inception, and in cities around the world concepts like General Assemblies, working groups and human mic checks are becoming familiar catch phrases in ordinary conversations about political activism and democratic initiatives. But the real power of #OWS goes even deeper: at the very heart of #Occupy, there is space.

The very notion of occupation requires a sense of space, an emptiness into which you can move. Occupation in the modern sense is used to describe both a person’s career—in which their time and energy is “occupied” by a job or employer—and a country’s (usually illegal) military presence in another’s territory. The #Occupy movement plays with both of these meanings in their founding call to action to “Occupy Wall Street” as a response to continuing underemployment in the United States and the view that the richest top 1% have unethically, perhaps even illegally seized control of the nation’s wealth.

Some of the #Occupy protests and encampments around the country have grown up in places like Zuccotti Park that exist in a strange liminal legal space between public and private property, taking advantage of laws that require businesses to make privately-owned spaces available for public use. Protesters carry signs proclaiming things like, “Lost My Job, Found An Occupation” and “Occupy Your Mind, Occupy Your Heart”—suggesting that occupation can also be a metaphor for reclaiming symbolic spaces like time, energy, emotion, and thought that have been overrun by invasive foreign influences. In a society where corporate interests insinuate themselves into every public or community space possible through advertising and political lobbying, the #Occupy movement pushes back and reasserts the value of empty, open spaces as fundamentally necessary for free public discourse.


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