An Open Letter to Supporters of Occupy Wall Street

occupy veteran

Photo: Ted Fisher

Let me start by saying I get how difficult things are, and how busy we have all become.  I get how overwhelming it can be to just keep up.

Part of what we are fighting, what we’ve all agreed is the problem, is the way that we are being disabled by the 1%.  After all, if these folks had not conspired to rig the financial system in their favor, we would all have approximately 50% more income to use to help us meet our needs, and at least 20% more time.  That’s one extra workday a week, and, for many families, one extra income.

So our efforts to restore sanity and justice to a system gone mad are hobbled by the insanity and injustice of the system we are up against.  I get that.

I want you to know, too, I appreciate the efforts you are already making.  I know we are all, daily engaged in unseen and unrewarded efforts to help those near and dear to us, and, for some, just to meet our own needs.    Many of us are going above and beyond what we expected we could do.

So, yes, I am going to ask us all to do more, but please know that I get how much we are already doing, privately and publicly.  And I get that what I am asking is completely unreasonable.

It’s a bit hard to wrap our minds around what is happening to us.  I think about Virginia Zimmerman’s comparison to the Elizabethan era explorers who first gazed out across the unbelievable expanse of the Grand Canyon.  They saw evidence of the true dimension of time, the incomprehensible scope of our past, and they simply had no conceptual framework to understand it.  They literally couldn’t see what was before them.  That was a moment like the one we are in now.

It makes perfect sense to be thrown off balance.  Our hearts are telling us something is true that our minds simply can’t comprehend.  Our minds are encountering truths that our hearts are just not willing to take in.  I get that too.

Here is the rub.  Our inaction is the only guarantee of our defeat.

This week, in Durban, South Africa, the representatives of the global poor are dashing themselves on the rocks of those who represent us, the nations of privilege, desperately hoping to get our representatives to see reason.  I listened to Apisai Ielemia, Foreign Minister of Tuvalu, whose nation will be entirely underwater in my lifetime, asking, in vain, only that we set and enforce a limit on what we are entitled to spew out into the air, the ocean of air on which we all depend.

The planet is warming and the polar ice caps are melting faster than even the most pessimistic scientists predicted.  That’s not just bad news for Tuvalu.  It means the storms we’ve seen this fall, storms that many of us and our neighbors are still recovering from, will become commonplace.  It means that we can no longer depend upon the weather patterns we require to grow our food.  We’ve seen the effects already on the bee populations, these unpaid, unsung heroes of the food system without which we would be hamstrung in our efforts to feed ourselves.

How many of us are already feeling the effects of this emergency?  How many have more friends sick or dead from cancers and other chronic ailments than they believed possible?  How many have seen their households striven by divorce or their children founder on the way to independence?  How many have already lost their jobs, our homes to this scandalous betrayal by our corporate elite?

So there is the problem.  We are all too busy, and feel too powerless, to undertake the collective actions we need to change our deadly course, but unless we change course, we will only become more embattled.

The only answer I can see is this:  We have to act together.   And we have to do it now.

We have to act on two fronts.  One is to interrupt business as usual in order to change the course we are on. This means challenging the priorities of the institutions we are part of and the institutions on which we depend. The longer we wait, the more serious the disruption to the planet and its people.  The other is to continue to maintain and extend a safety net for each other, to mitigate the harsh effects of this increasingly heartless system on our community.


So I know it seems that coming together on a regular basis to hold signs and listen to each other can seem futile.  But despair is the very glue that holds this immoral system together.  And the only thing that dissolves that glue is our unrelenting determination to show up – to show up against the odds, against the dictates of our unmanageable schedules, against the ongoing demands of our children, our jobs and our marriages.

And, I know it is counter-intuitive, we need to celebrate.  Yes, celebrate.  Because unless we find some joy in this most perilous moment that we inhabit, we will surely be pulled under by the tides of resignation.   We need to call on the better angels of our most resilient selves to laugh at the absurdity of the army arrayed before us, to weaken their hold on us through our ability to sing, to speak poetry, to enact on stage our refusal to be swallowed up.

We need to activate our most creative, most resilient selves in order to be able to imagine what we can do in the face of this deepening crisis.  We need to draw encouragement from what we see in each other, our faces that reflect back to us the knowledge that we can do this impossible thing.

That is the reason I am asking you to continue to lend your support to the Occupy gatherings. Just show up as you are able, on top of everything else you are doing, to lend your encouragement and support to others and, in turn, to gather strength of purpose and resolve to continue to insist that we can learn to live with each other with respect, in solidarity, and in mutual recognition of the enormity of what we are facing.

David-Kristjanson-GuralIf you are able, plan an event.  Be sure to include the opportunity for people to speak out, be sure to make space for creative expression, and soul filling fun. If you can’t do anything else, just come show your support.  Bring your homemade sign; bring the wisdom and compassion etched on your face, and stand together sharing your abiding presence.

If you can’t do that, I get it, but please, somehow seek to make visible your continuing support for our courageous collective effort, the effort to create a world that makes sense for us, for the people of Tuvalu and for all those who come next.

David Kristjanson-Gural
Spilling Ink — Voices for Radical Democracy

Occupy Photo: Ted Fisher

Published by the LA Progressive on December 10, 2011
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About David Kristjanson-Gural

David Kristjanson-Gural is Associate Professor of Economics and Senior Fellow of the Social Justice College at Bucknell University. He writes regularly for the Spilling Ink Writers’ Collective (http://spillingink.net).