Monday, October 10, 2011

A Time for Furnaces and Light

"Now is the time of the furnaces, and only light should be seen." --Jose Marti

Just when I thought it couldn't happen in America.
Just when I thought, my compatriots were lost
I was proved wrong.
We are breaking away from the fetters of our fear.
We are awaking from the slumber of ignorance, and beginning to learn.
We are shaking off the chains of apathy.
We are finding our own way.
It can happen in America too.

So I returned from Spain in a bit of a despair. I had a long, beautiful, summer walking across northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago.1 This was an amazing experience, about which I will not write, because I'm going to keep that in my own head. If you're interested in that, contact me personally, if you know who I am, or the best advice I can offer you is to buy a plane ticket to Spain, a good back-pack, couple shirts, undies, a poncho, and some courage and go do it yourself. Coming back to the suburban waste-land of Pasadena has been difficult. I have few close friends here that relate well to my experience and reasoning, and few professional opportunities.  Although, I do have a wonderful family here who supports me; I'm too much of a wanderer to stay rooted for now.

Los Angeles is a a place that I don't fit into very well. I gained my social skills and my political and professional formation in places very foreign to Southern California. Although I grew up here, I feel as if this place is made for people who fit a certain mold, who like being more spread out. I loved and still love the Bay Area because things are more bunched up geographically, personal spaces aren't as distinct. Likewise, Madrid is a city of so centralized and well connected that even the outskirts felt close. I still feel this way: both the Bay and Madrid still call to me, and I feel like I'll be heading to there or somewhere similar if given another opportunity.

What's happening now? Reverse culture shock is an experience far more traumatizing, confusing, and mind-numbing than the original ***splash*** of jumping into a new culture. Things feel older, dated, backwards. Supermarkets and malls are cavernous spectacles of consumption that frighten my nerves that grew used to clustered Spanish cities and siestas.  As Chuck Palahniuk puts it, "Advertising has these people chasing cars and clothes they don't need.  Generations have been working in jobs they hate, just so they can buy what they don't really need." The events of May and June234 are still fresh in my mind, the taste of revolution still burning in my mouth. When I heard about folks organizing to start a similar movement in New York City I was hopeful, but frankly, not optimistic. When it began to take-off, I didn't think it would spread. Americans don't like things done slowly and correctly, I had thought. We are a culture gripped by consumption, and in many ways in love with our servitude to the forces of old and evil. I had thought for a while that when the moment comes for people to rise up, it would happen here only because we were forced to by situations abroad leading to the break-up of our plutocracy's hegemony.5

But now my hope is beginning to grow back. I completely reject the plutocrats and their political class, which is its attack dog to maintain the status quo. I have come to see reformism as far more utopian than revolution: to expect the same colluding forces of old and evil to change things for us is unrealistic. The geography of good and evil is inverted in our history.6 The good is with us, those from below. And we are coming to speak with those above.

Seeing this Occupy Wall Street movement spread to Los Angeles, I took my experiences investigating the dynamization processes in Spain to put observation and theory into practice. I've been intimately involved with codifying and concretizing our own processes here at Occupy LA to facilitate a General Assembly. What is a General Assembly? A General Assembly is an experiment on collective thought. This is opposite the Current System. Which is governed, by individual thought. It requires time. It is a long process. We are not going slow. We are going Far. It Requires active listening. It is not a choice, or debate. But a construction. It is a popular assembly. There are many different kinds of popular assemblies. It is an open, deliberative body. It seeks to construct consensus. Each of us chooses freely to be at General Assembly. Respect must be maintained. It is made up of assembled persons. It discusses proposals for Joint Action. A proposal has three parts. WHAT? HOW? And WHY? Without this, it is not complete. Consensus can be direct or indirect. When we can't reach consensus directly, we engage in a process to reach it indirectly. Through discussion, and reformulation. We are constantly working on this process together.

At the pre-occupation General Assemblies, things were very chaotic. Not much time or effort was given to procedural issues until just before the start of the occupation. As such, the first post-Occupation General Assembly was a massive cluster-fuck. Facilitation broke down entirely. There were divisive elements within the crowd that shouted others down. I personally didn't handle it well. The stress itself caused me to get pretty sick the next day, combined with a recent change in my blood pressure medication, it caused me to get very dizzy for the next few days. So I stepped back, and wonderful people stepped up to fill in the gaps and begin the process of facilitating the General Assembly. By last Wednesday the General Assembly had begun to crystallize. By Thursday, when I shadow moderated, it went well. On Friday night, I was honored with moderating a meeting of about 300 people. We came to agreement that night on issues of vital importance regarding an organizational definition, among other important issues and events. Saturday, at the latest GA I attended, there were hick-ups, but all in all it was productive, proposals were discussed, and decisions were made. I don't know how it went yesterday, although I hear things broke down a bit. I'm going to hope people fill in the gaps, because I can't commit all my energy and time without burning myself out. It is very difficult to try and pull together a decision making forum which tries to be as open and democratic as possible. One thing is clear though, the process itself is slowly becoming a self-perpetuating agent for advocacy and change. This will present a serious challenge to the status quo if allowed to continue development. For now, time is on our side, at least here in Los Angeles.

Now, a lot of people keep asking me where this movement will lead. Will it call for redistributive wealth policies? Will it bring out a guillotine? Will it lead to the further entrenchment of special interest and corruption in governance? Maybe, maybe not. Personally, I'm willing to discuss all these things. Do four hundred individuals control more wealth than the poorest half of Americans? More or Less. Do they deserve this? Maybe, but they better be able to justify this in the face of the abject poverty of the billions the world over. And to live in such opulence is a spit in the face to the millions in this country and others who suffer the indignity of un-or-under employment. How many houses does a man need? How many cars? The question isn't whether someone deserves to be rewarded for their hard work, but how much is too much? And is it right?

What demands will be made? Where do we go from here? For that, I'm going to paraphrase a statement made by Eduardo Galeano that I quoted in a post I cited above. We live in a backwards world. A world where we, at least in this country, arrest people by the millions for absurdities like the smoking of marijuana or the stealing of chickens. But the spoilers of the planet, are compensated for their crimes. Fears and criticism of what will happen next, what demands and objectives will be articulated are the fears and criticisms of the technocratic and plutocratic classes--those who manage every single crisis with the justification that only they have the tools to fix the problem. And SURPRISE! They come out on top, and even better off. There is room for intellectualizing this process of mass action and uprising. But I caution against a separation of the head and the heart. The mind and the heart and soul are not separate. They are part of our humanity—much like our labor cannot be commodified, since it is part and parcel of who we are. Moments where human beings begin to question, begin to awaken to their objective reality and seek to transform it; moments where people take history into their own hands, cannot be kept to the functions of the intellect. If our ontological vocation in this existence is to be more fully human—however each one of us defines this—then we must consider the whole of our situations before snapping to judgement. These moments, these days of furnaces and light, are based on a common bond, that of Love—the truth-force which binds all of us as one. This is a moment for us to remember the experience of falling in or making love, an experience we all need. An experience which is, in and of itself, infinite in beauty and value as long as it lasts.

Are you concerned about what is next? Have you recognized the fundamental contradictions and tensions in our social and material reality which threaten our survival on this our finite and beautiful planet? Particularly, have you noticed the contradiction of basing a world economy on constant growth in a world where resources are limited? If you have, you know that something isn't right. And again, if you have, and you haven't begun to question yourself, and what your role should be in the process of our liberation from the fetters of iniquity and the replacement of life with graves and business places—then get off the couch. If you're not trying to figure out what is wrong and what is to be done, then you're only contemplating tomorrows weather.

5“...two, three or many Vietnams flourish throughout the world...” Che Guevara
6La Chapis is a nun, a sister, a woman consecrated to God, or whatever you choose to call her...

"The problem with the Bad and the Evil is geographical.  The geography of evil was turned around, set upside down.  So when they tell the story of creation, the rich turn everything around.  According to them, heaven, or God, goodness, is up in the heights, while the Bad and the Evil, the Devil, are down below.  But it really isn't like that.  God is not up in the heights.  To correct that mistake, God sent his Son, Christ, to earth.  The powerful of those times convinced everyone that the earth was organized like heaven, that the Good were up high, the rulers, the ones in charge, and down under were the ones who obeyed, the Bad.  So heaven was equivalent to the government, and God was equivalent to the ruler.  And that's the way they used to justify, and continue to justify, the dictate that you have to obey the rulers.  So you get Bush, who drags God up whenever he feels like it--he uses God to justify every wrongdoing.
  Christ was crucified because he came to question all this.  And him being the Son of God, instead of meeting with the rulers, dining in their palaces, organizing a political party, and becoming their advisor, what did he do?  Well, he went and got born in a manger, surrounded by animals;  he grew up in a carpenter's shop wand created an organization with the poorest of the poor.  Now then, would God go where the evil is?  Of course not.  He stayed with those at the bottom, and this tells us that goodness is not up in the heights--he would have been born in the home of that bastard Salinas de Gortari or that damned Bill Gate, but he wasn't.  So heaven is not up there and neither is goodness.  Evil is up there, on the Right, with the rich, with those who govern badly, with the opressors of the people.  So where is goodness?  We don't know, we'll have to find it.
  I don't know, maybe goodness is down on the left, it might make the best place to start looking.  That's why I look down when I pray; I'm praying to God, who is with the underdog.  That's why I don't agree with the damn bishops and priests who are always siding with the rich and then become just like them, even in the way they dress.  So my advice to you, if you're looking for the Bad and the Evil: Start searching upward and to the right.  That's probably where they live."

-Subcomandante Marcos, The Uncomfortable Dead (a novel in four hands by Paco Taibo III and Subcomandante Marcos)