are drawn to work with people, often strangers, in order to solve
problems we care passionately about. Dilemmas we can't resolve alone.
The “liberated” Liberty Square, a sliver of land in the midst of the
most expensive property in New York City’s Financial District—formerly
called Zuccotti Park after the park’s developer—where OWS was birthed is
two steps from the Federal Reserve, one step from Goldman Sachs and
Ground Zero. A human beehive in the middle of a hornet’s nest, Liberty
Square survived against the odds for two months. This tarp town was a
combo of human ingenuity and technology with a clinic, kitchen,
library, media center, press center, meditation tree with lots of tents
and air mattresses. OWS learned to be a tribe there, neurons firing,
empathy flowing, in the process that helped early Homo sapiens build
trust and love, to bind their tribes together.
The new trans media
generation is used to hearing/digesting/sorting out many disparate
voices, opinions, mindsets. It’s part of modern cognitive development.
The younger generation can also use their wild imaginations to make the
impossible possible. I met a man holding the hand of his seven-year-old
daughter, Rose, at the edge of the square. It was her choice to come.
They looked daunted, had yet to take the plunge and immerse themselves
in OWS. I asked the girl, “What can kids do to help, Rose?” Without
hesitation she replied in earnest, “Kids can fly and they can become
invisible!” Thank you Harry Potter.
Many young kids visited the
square with teachers and parents as word spread about its liberation.
Some brought homemade cookies to share. Mostly they observed adult OWS
protesters in constant communication, sharing, debating, expressing
indignation and despair over the injustices in our American system
while being intoxicated with the sheer happiness of being in community.
The kids could see that all were welcomed into the square, known,
unknown, even the troublesome misanthropes were included in an
ideological group embrace. On November 15, the residents of Liberty
Square were evicted, 200 of its leaders arrested.
OWS has chosen to
organize in an ultra democratic Quaker structure; committees meet
separately but then convene as one “leaderless” General Assembly (GA) to
achieve consensus in all their major decisions. Since amplified sound
systems are not allowed, they repeat all messages in a bucket brigade of
voices—the creative system now known as the “human microphone.” When
those in the GA shake their hands over their heads it means “approval.”7
The non-hierarchical Quaker process is slow and ponderous, but it’s
also as egalitarian as you can get. If maintained and honored, it’s
incorruptible since there are no significant power struggles or jockeying
The OWS protesters (or change agents to put a
positive spin on it) are learning to organize in a new way, retraining
their brains to look at the world differently. Jason Ahmadi, who is also
on the board of the War Resisters League, lived in Liberty Square since
day one. He serves on several of the working committees including the
non-violent communications mediations team. He says, “Liberty Square was
created to have peaceful dialogue. It was hard to maintain a combative
attitude there. Empathy is created as mirror neurons fire. The beauty of
being human is that we can transcend our animal nature, we have
consciousness that shows us we have a choice.” I sat with the
well-dressed Ahmadi in the square. He was wearing flip flops. It was a
chilly fall evening. “Where are your shoes?” I asked. The police had
taken his shoe strings and then one shoe got ruined. “You’re going to
need shoes. It’s getting cold!” He seemed unconcerned saying, “I’ll go
look in the donations bin later.” He went on, as if his comfort were
unimportant, saying, “Everything is organized to be horizontal and
transparent at OWS. There are leaders in OWS but there is no power on
top of someone else.” I asked about the Occupied Wall Street Journal, by
far the best designed communication vehicle of the movement; yet it’s
not the voice of OWS, since it hasn’t been vetted by the GA.
Canadian-based magazine Adbusters is credited with sending out the
clarion call to start a revolution on September 17 by publishing a now
iconic image of a ballerina pirouetting on the back of a huge brass bull
as troopers in gas masks stand menacingly. The bull, symbolizes the
confidence of the stock market. This brass sculpture has been a tourist
attraction for years, just blocks from Liberty Square. Some artist
sculpted it. Some photographer shot the photos. Some designer designed
the poster, some designer designed the journal. Each has had massive
impact. This is the power artists wield.
A good friend of mine, a
high achiever in the world of Wall Street as well as a humble food co-op
member, said recently, “We’re all little people and it’s a big
world—it’s what we think we can make of ourselves in it that drives us.
We all die in the end.” Yet Derek Parfit, thought to be the most original
moral philosopher in the English-speaking world, says personal identity
doesn’t matter. The self is an illusion. What matters is a future we
will not inhabit. But if ego doesn’t matter, where do we find impetus for
change? A lone street vendor in Tunisia gave up his life, inspiring the
Tunisian revolution that inspired the Arab Spring including the
occupations of Tahrir Square and Liberty Square. The Occupy movement has
since spread around the world. The butterfly’s wings have flapped. The
gutsy, passionate people of all these countries—the 99 percent—will not
rest till they witness change they can believe in. They are willing to
give up everything, even their own lives. They want what we all want: to
be happy, they want self-rule, direct democracy. We may be on different
sides of the planet but on this we are in accord. And, in this complex
world, full of irony and contradiction, pain and suffering, Parfit would
point out, if we can agree on what we value, that is the hope for the
future, for happiness. CA
3. WGBH Nova: Becoming Human, a three-part series.
Connected: An Autobiography About Love, Death and Technology. Educator's Edition available (connectedthefilm.com/screenings/educatorsedition) and join the conversation at on.fb.me/nyj26j.
Design Issues: "Thinking in Systems: Design and Otherwise, Part 1," Communication Arts, (July/August, 2010) p. 18; Design Issues:
"Thinking in Systems: Design and Otherwise, Part 2," Communication Arts, (September/October, 2010) p. 21.
7. Known as Quaker applause, used at the rise of Silent Meetings to acknowledge a positive event while maintaining silence.