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To the 99% and #OccupyWallStreet

This weekend, in support of the folks at Occupy Wall Street and similar in other major financial centers (including Occupy LA here in Los Angeles), I put the full content of "Economic Resilience" online for free readership. This how-to document for building local community resilience has been freshly updated with new links and additional ideas.

Some other thoughts, specifically addressed to the #Occupy protesters and the themes that are recurring in signs and posters:

1) Understand the core of the crisis

The economic crunch that stimulated the #Occupy movement is only a symptom of something much, much bigger. What you call "hoarding wealth" is a global-scale Ponzi scheme, that is right now crumbling in on itself and affecting all of us. You're camped out at Wall Street and financial locations -- the home of the presumption of growth. This presumption is the fatal flaw in the American economic system -- the idea that "growth" can continue forever, when we all live on one small, finite, limited planet. 

Humanity is simultaneously experiencing peak oil, peak natural gas, peak coal, peak copper, peak uranium, peak phosphorus, peak fresh water, peak arable land, and more. Richard Heinberg calls it “peak everything.” (YouTube) The debt crisis began the unravelling of business-as-usual, but there simply aren't the planetary resources to continue the more-more-more globalized economy. We are experiencing the time of The Great Turning, a transformative change in our views about everything around us and how humanity fits into it.

2) Rethink "Jobs"

Many of the signs and posters in the media and on #Occupy websites demand "jobs." Think it through, what you are asking for. For the government to provide "jobs" means mortgaging and shackling your children's future. The government has to fund "stimulus" with borrowing. They would have to borrow funds from a leaner future to spend now in an age of plenty. (And as we navigate the financial crises to come, today will certainly feel like abundance and plenty.) That's craziness.

Wall Street doesn't have "jobs" to offer you, and they'll be axing more and more as this crisis unfolds. The role of “employee” of a giant facility controlled by corporate executives is part of the fading past. Even many “green jobs” are tied into the fatally-flawed eternal growth presumption. In the immediate future, making a living is much more likely to be as “proprietor,” rather than employee.  It's time to think about what you can offer, locally within your home community, goods and services that address the basic Maslovian needs of food, water, shelter, and security. (learn more)

3) Boycott Wall Street

When you go down to your local #Occupy action, rather than a brand-name sporting goods sleeping bag, take Grandma's handmade quilt. Rather than the department store fashion sweater, barter for the handmade one knitted by the woman in the next tent. Rather than brand-name convenience foods, buy farmer's market produce from local farmers.

If it comes from a chain store, it's funding Wall Street. If it comes from a "discount" store, you can be sure it's contributing to labor injustice and very possibly to humanitarian atrocities. Quit funding the Wall Street system with your buying dollar, and instead vote for a sustainable, locally self-sufficient future.

Buy local: support local businesses, support local farmers. Convince your local businessmen to shift to local suppliers, and bank your money locally where it can be invested in your neighborhood. Right now Local won't survive if we don't buy from them. And in the near future, as the globalized economy crumbles, Local will be all that we will have. Support Local because we need it to survive.

4) Take back America

The "heartbeat of America" is not Chevy trucks -- that's Madison Avenue and Wall Street convincing you it is so. iPhones aren't "hot" -- global warming is, exacerbated by the globalized economy spurring it on. WalMart, with its labor abuse and massive market controls, isn't "living better." We CAN "imagine" life without Monsanto. Scotts/Ortho poison vendors are far from "garden experts." And "health" isn't the chemicals and barbaric procedures of Pfizer and Kaiser Permanente. It's time to quit giving ourselves and our children over to the corporate say-so.

The true heartbeat of America is you and me. It is small businessmen and local family-owned, family-run farms. It is the local traditional healer, of diverse modalities, before corporate America sold us a bill of goods that these life-affirming ways weren't good enough. It's time for us --the 99%-- to take them back. ("Peak everything" plus economic collapse says we will have to anyway.) It's time to reclaim our traditional heritage, that America is the land of pioneers and hard work and do-it-yourself.

5) Reskill for the new future

In your time spent in tent cities, begin learning the new skills necessary for the new future: a post-petroleum, economically-lean, low-consumption, low-carbon, necessarily-localized, socially-just future. Food: Learn to grow food, to cook it, to preserve it, and to share your bounty with others. Clothing: Learn to sew, to knit, to weave, to scavenge fiber from the remnants of cast-off industrially-produced fabrics. Shelter: Learn to build with found materials like urbanite, earth forms and scavenged lumber. Learn how to capture rainwater and compost (all) waste. Finances: Take back control from the banking system. Learn how much can be achieved WITHOUT the U.S. dollar via barter, time banking, LETSystems, sharing arrangements, co-ops and local community-based investment. Community: Learn the skills of consensus, conflict resolution, true listening, and sharing, and deepen connections within your home neighborhood. We -- the 99% -- are going to need all these skills as we leave these brief few decades of excess and plenty.

6) "Tax the rich"

Again, realize what you are asking for. It's an admirable concept, but very, very difficult to really achieve. The rich have unlimited ability to hire tax accountants and attorneys. They will swiftly design ways around any tax you are able to get the politicians to put in place (and that latter part will be very hard to achieve as well).

A few suggestions for what to campaign for, from someone who used to be a tax accountant: (a) Demand caps on pay scales like some European countries have, where any indivicual top exec can only earn a multiple of what the person at the bottom of the pay scale earns. In Mondragon Spain, that multiple is 15 times. Rather than a "tax," this one is a wage cap.  (b) At the same time, don't let them decrease corporate tax rates. Use existing payroll tax definitions of reportable wages (including excess life insurance, excess health insurance, and other benefits) to impose the wage cap. Remove the wage maximum on Social Security and Medicare withholding, and withhold from all wages -- that will fund Grandma for a bit longer.  (c) Use existing tax structures instead of creating new ones; new ones come with more government bureaucracy which we all have to pay for.

All this taxation becomes available funding. It's critical that this funding gets spent on the right stuff: building local resilience that will enable us to weather the changes ahead. As we leave the brief era of petroleum -- when energy supplies were very cheap and plentiful and allowed us to do amazing things -- we find ourselves dreadfully unprepared for the realities of life. Most of us alive today don't know how to grow food locally, in cities, where most of the people are. Land is at a premium and is tied up in private ownership. Water supplies in cities are dependent upon massive infrastructure which isn't adapted to life with much less energy and oil. Most U.S. dwelling units are insufficiently insulated against cold and hot weather.  We have to transform all these things, and grow our local skill base. And the "stimulus" from "taxing the rich" is the best chance we have to prepare for life in the future.

7) Occupy leadership

Have you noticed that nearly all the political candidates come from the 1% ... Where are our 99% options? Where are the candidates who understand "peak everything" and how to adapt to it? Our current political structure is geared so that only the wealthy and the Wall-Street-supported can afford to run. Massive campaign finance reform will need to be part of any enduring change. That said, given the thoughts expressed on these ideas by insiders like James Gustave Speth, I doubt we can do much -- particularly with what we have to work with, and within the timeframe we have left. (link to expanded discussion)

I haven't journeyed down to OccupyLA myself. In part that's because it is quite a distance from me, and I have kids' schedules to uphold. But deep down, those are simply excuses; really, my heart's not in it. I see the Occupy movement as an outbursting of emotion, expressing that the existing System is horribly broken, a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree. But the protests, now shifting to from Wall Street to upscale neighborhoods, are a gigantic "blame game" which cannot possibly fix anything real. (See my bullet #1 above)

Joanna Macy points out that it will take 3 types of action to achieve The Great Turning:  (Macy's explanation on YouTube)

  1. Stopping action, to stop further destruction.
  2. Creating new structures, building the path of the future, what the Transition movement strives to achieve.
  3. Change in consciousness, addressing our inner landscape and our deepest identity. 

The #Occupy movement is perhaps a weak form of Macy's action #1.  I say "weak" because with its multiple-topic agenda it isn't a very powerful force to achieve much of anything except Drama at the moment, and perhaps violence in the future. It's like a badly adjusted shotgun, not focused on a specific target. Maybe a pellet or two will hit, but most will miss the mark and probably make a considerable mess. Meanwhile, the few discernable targets (Wall Street, high-wealth individuals, politicians) hold little true ability to create transformative change.

Instead, I turn my personal energies toward building, Macy's action #2. Within the Transition movement we're trying to figure out what will be needed to conduct life in the post-peak era. All the conventional systems must evolve and change.  And we the people -- the 99% -- are the ones who have to do it.

Within the Transition movement, we too are the 99%.  We're out here in U.S. communities, creating food gardens, water storage, alternative economic systems, holistic health care, changing education. We're putting new practices in place, right now, so that they can gain some traction and begin to help.

No, what we're doing isn't nearly so flashy as signs and protestors marching up and down the streets. In fact, it's rather a quiet movement, with some very deep roots, deep thinkers doing societal redesign work, resulting in some very deep rearrangements of what-once-was in our society. If you really want to create change, come join us. We've got lots of work to do.

(note: The above thoughts are personal opinion, not necessarily the views of the international Transition movement or Transition US)

Joanne Poyourow is actively involved in Transition Los Angeles and blogs at Transition United States. She is the author of "Economic Resilience: What we can do in our local communities," as well as two books on Transition-type topics.

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