We think of small towns with nostalgia. But if we occupy them, they can show us the future. Photo: pink_fish13 via Flickr.We think of small towns with nostalgia. But if we occupy them, they can show us the future. Photo: pink_fish13 via Flickr.

I have made only one foray to the OWS nearest me: Occupy Seattle. Living on South Whidbey Island, where 25,000 people occupy a few scattered towns and much rural farmland and forests, the only possible 1%-ers own vacation estates. Protest there and we’d only be shouting down long driveways at the gardeners – who are our friends. We could occupy Wells Fargo (the only national bank with a tainted reputation) but they are just an outpost – and the tellers are our friends.

So I made 3 gallons of soup with local beans, local grains, local tomatoes, local carrots and local oregano and took it in a pot I bought at the local thrift store so I could leave it with the occupiers at Westlake Plaza on my way to a meeting in Seattle. At least I could fill bellies as my “sign” expressing my personal disgust with the banking system robbing us of our democracy and our scant wealth. All I found were police vans and cars – no tents and scattered people possibly shopping. The occupiers had been moved, but I didn’t know where. The soup went to the meeting and I went home at the end of the day knowing at least that cooking a soup filled with love and respect was an action of sorts.

For twenty years I have worked on issues of overconsumption, overspending and overworking through helping people extricate themselves from the thrall of the consumer culture and the unexamined “keeping up with some imaginary Joneses” drive for “more.” Through Your Money or Your Life we reached a million people directly worldwide and through the media spread the message to easily a hundred million (counting 2 Oprahs and all the morning shows and major print media). Somehow that wasn’t enough to turn the tide, to have our culture turn it’s back on excess and embrace that exquisite space of “enough.”

Makes the world go ’round

I then searched upstream for what was generating the problem. I learned that money is an artifact based in scarcity, issued not by government but by banks as debt and therefore requiring an expanding economy on a finite planet. That was a eureka moment.

We use money every day to meet our needs and pursue our wants. Most of us earn that money through work – now or, if we use credit cards, in the future. If we are prudent, we save some of that money for retirement. But that money itself is not in our control. The value and even utility of it can collapse through no fault of our own and adios savings.

I used to say: Money is like a sow with poison milk, but it’s the only sow in town and so we drink.

Flash forward to October 2011. Those ruminations and years of activism – and the rumblings getting louder everywhere – are finally surfacing in the public square. We’re getting it! Finally and gloriously and intelligently and courageously. The occupations have been going on long enough that good suggestions are arising for the direction of this movement. Get political. Sustain dialogue. Demonstrate democracy in action. No matter what one’s prescription though, the marvel is that the occupation continues and is a school of democracy itself, a sustained bonding among people who normally have nothing to do with one another, who keep their heads down in tunnels of adaptation, still believing in the American Dream.

When we occupied Seattle in 1999, we shut down the WTO and went home. When we turned out in the streets around the world to try to prevent the Iraq war, it was like Groundhog Day. We marveled at our immensity but went back home. Now it looks like we are here to stay – linked to the Arab Spring and to the protests in Europe. Possibly this time when we go home, we will bring this wonderful public engagement and clarity with us.

Occupied locally

Back to the pot of soup. My “occupation” is writing – currently a book about becoming an eater in a local food system. My occupation as in solidarity, though, is relocalization. Occupying Main Street. Expanding the vigor of local economies and local food systems and local energy and local collaboration right where I am – on this little rural island. My occupation started as a Transition Town group in 2007 and is now mucking around the many facets of the food system here.

At the end of the day – or week or month – we all occupy where we live, be it the streets, cities or towns. I believe the spirit and practices of the Transition Movement – citizen-led, community resource mapping, reskilling educating and fantastic event-creating – are the seed of building resilience post “occupation.”

At the same time we also need to get our hands on the levers of power and the public purse through getting political (Democracy Party anyone?). We need to make policies that favor fairness, rebuild local food systems, create institutions for peace, and liberate tax dollars for human well-being. John deGraaf and Dave Batker have written a great manual for a great economy, What’s the Economy For Anyway? Nothing they say is radical. In fact, it makes so much sense you’d think we’d run our economy as they suggest.

Where is the occupy movement moving? Besides moving our money, I think it’s moving home. Home is inner: we need to keep affirming that we can do it, we can learn and connect and have the confidence to be powerful. Home is Main Street. And, as Michael Moore once challenged a packed house of fans, we need the courage to occupy positions of power. To occupy our democracy.

My friend Rick Ingrasci has long said, “If you want a better world throw a better party.” OWS is actually a better party. It’s exciting, inclusive stimulating, affirming of our disowned intuitions. Now, let’s bring that home with the same sustained civility and burning passion of the streets.

– Vicki Robin, Transition Voice

Transition US logo One in a series of monthly columns from Transition US, a non-profit organization providing support, encouragement, networking and training for Transition groups in the United States.