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A funny thing happened on the way to the occupation

Like so many others, we at Post Carbon Institute have watched the growth of the #Occupy movement with a mix of hope and curiosity. So a few weeks ago we sent Ben Zolno, an enterprising young filmmaker, to Occupy Wall Street with copies of The End of Growth and a bunch of questions. You can read the report of his experience here.

Last week we sent him back, this time with a few recommendations:

  1. Dig Deeper.
  2. Ditch Wall St.
  3. Change the Paradigm.

1. Dig deeper.

While a number of folks Ben spoke with were fairly well-versed with the issues of energy constraints, climate change, and ecological limits, the vast majority hadn’t had the opportunity as yet to explore the more fundamental questions about our economic system. Yes, they are right to voice strong dissatisfaction with the shocking state of inequality in our country, but will regulating big banks, ending “too big to fail” handouts, and reducing the wealth gap be enough to fix our broken economy?

As PCI Fellow Wes Jackson recently said, “Fixing economic inequality doesn’t address the deeper problem—infinite growth on a finite planet. It’s just means we’ll all hit the edge of the petri dish at the same time.

And so Ben is back at Zuccotti Park, this time to work with fellow members of the OWS Education Committee to create an #Occupy suggested reading list, book club, and teach-in series. On the list of books? The End of Growth and Deep Economy, among a handful of others.

2. Don’t just occupy Wall Street, ditch it.

The #Occupy movement has given a tremendous boost to the “Move Your Money” campaign, which aims to encourage people to switch their bank account from one of the handful of big Wall Street banks to a local credit union or bank. Last weekend, the “Bank Transfer Day” led to an unprecedented number of new accounts at credit unions and local banks across the country.

But Americans have four times more money in Wall Street investments – stocks, bonds, mutual funds, pension funds, and insurance funds – than we do in banks. We are the ones fueling the multinational companies we distrust.

Most Americans don’t realize that 99% of us don’t have a choice in the matter—SEC regulations prohibit us from investing in small, local businesses. Breaking this form of “investment apartheid” would have a profound impact on building the community resilience we need to respond to economic uncertainty, energy constraints, and climate change.

Thankfully there’s a rare opportunity right in front of us to put a serious hole in that wall—a bipartisan effort between Tea Party leaders in the House of Representatives and the Obama Administration to create a “crowdfunding” exemption.

And so, while PCI doesn’t normally engage in advocacy, we’re helping to spearhead an effort to get this legislation passed in the Senate. Ben has taken this message to Occupy Wall Street. We hope you’ll support this effort by signing the petition, spreading the word, and contacting your Senators.

WANT TO HELP LEGALIZE LOCAL INVESTMENT? Then...

3. Change the paradigm.

It is up to all of us to decide what our economy is for. There are demands that folks who are part of the #Occupy movement, and the rest of us who recognize the need for change, can and should make of our elected leaders: Kill GDP; internalize externalities; get money out of politics and end corporate personhood, etc.

But those rules and goal changes should naturally follow from a more profound shift in our economic paradigm. As PCI Fellow Joshua Farley wrote:

We have one demand: change our paradigm, our understanding of what is possible. Acknowledge the fact of a finite, fragile planet that we cannot afford to abuse.

Upon whom do we make these demands? Upon which political and economic leaders? We make these demands upon ourselves. Upon those willing to stand up to confront our unjust and unsustainable system, to call for a return to a society willing to pay its own way, to live within its means; for a return to an America that inspires the world to do better, that leads the planet toward a sustainable and desirable future. We make these demands upon ourselves, and we will not rest until our demands are met.

With a social movement as diverse and organic as #Occupy, only a fool would claim to know what the movement represents or predict where it will go in the weeks and months ahead. And we hesitate to speak for those brave souls at the various #Occupy encampments around the country, putting their personal comfort and safety on the line. But we hope these recommendations can help.

photo credit: Chris Wieland, creative commons license.

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