The art of being Californian, it seems, is to cultivate a loose-limbed insouciance while secretly working away like a frantic ant.

--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Currently, in various cities around the nation (and world) people are participating in something called "Occupy [city of your choice]."  This movement started in New York with Occupy Wall Street and speaks for the 99% of the population who suffer under the current financial crisis.  I won't rehash all the information since I'm sure most people are more news savvy than I am and knew about this movement long before today. 

Occupy [city of your choice] is bringing together people of different races, cultures, and religions in almost 1000 cities (and growing) to speak out against exploitation and greed.  I love that.  Though the Occupy Movement has been criticized for lack of a cohesive focus and strong leadership, it has shown that individuals can take an idea from a certain source and turn it into a movement. Further, that this movement can spread from the individuals who read Adbusters to the larger masses is cause for celebration.  Occupy [city of your choice] is solid evidence that indeed one person acting truly from his or her convictions can have an affect on the world at large.  The movement is encouraging people to think, to speak with each other, and to consider what change we want to see in our culture.

I love love love that.

So now I would like to offer my voice.  Consider the above poster.  I downloaded this poster (for free) from the Occupy Together site. This site works to cohere all of the various Occupy [city of your choice].  It offers information and resources for those who wish to have their voices heard.  It brings together those who want to make a different and act for the good of humans rather than the good of the bottom line. 

Read the poster.  Read it again. 

"Right to remain silent."

"Let their money speak for you."

Apparently, there lies the problem: our silence and their money.

Though I can't find the original quote, Wikipedia cites Ron Paul as saying that the 99% of US citizens who are represented in the Occupy movement are victims: "the system has been biased against the middle class and the poor . . . the people losing jobs, it wasn't their fault that we've followed a deeply flawed economic system." We do indeed follow a deeply flawed economic system. Many of our corporations are indeed corrupt and exploitative, and our government has overtly perpetuated this corruption with bailouts and preference for big money lobbyists. What do we do about that? One of the demands at Occupy Wall Street was a 50 cent surcharge on all stock trades. Another demand is for higher taxes on big money (particularly investment banking) with fewer loopholes to get out of paying those taxes.  Okay, so we redistribute the wealth? But where does it go? What happens to it when it gets there?

One thing years of therapy has taught me is that only pointing fingers at legitimate wrongs done to you enables you to avoid pointing the finger back at yourself. It allows you to avoid your complicity in the problem. And when you avoid complicity and take the role of the victim, it's hard to act.  Yes, there is harm being done.  Yes there is inequality.  Yes corruption is rampant.  But remember, these corporations didn't just seize control over us: we ceded it to them.

What happens a month, six months, a year, when we can't camp out any longer? All the evil corporations have to do is wait us out. After all, unlike them, we don't have an unlimited supply of money. And most of us have jobs we'll have to get back to. So they can wait us out . . . or maybe just release the iPad3.  Then another sort of campout will form in front of Apple stores.  One with the sole intention of consuming the latest and greatest product a giant corporation has to offer.  I think that sometimes we are so conditioned to see our participation in consumer culture as normal that we don't see the connection between corporate greed and the Starbucks coffee we hold in our right hand and the Smart phone we hold in our left.

See we aren't exactly silent.  And it's our money too.

See, if there really is 99% of us out there who have been hurt by greed and corruption, then that means we have the majority.  And even if those 1% are richer than any one of us, there is no way that they can out-money the collective.


That's sort of a lot.

That's more than sort of inspiring.  Especially now that we are all getting together and talking.  The possibilities of what we can do is endless. 

I emphasized we because I am less interested in investment bankers giving back their bonuses or big corn lobbyists having to curb their manipulation of public policy and more interested in what we--the 99%--will do with our money.  Because that's what we have direct, immediate control over.  Our money is what we'll be working intimately with for the rest of our lives.  And while I know that many of us don't have a lot of money, in a country where even our poorest is rich by many other countries' standards, I believe that even a little money used consciously has big potential for change.

If money talks, let's start doing that. 

What I am saying is that we need to stop mindlessly participating with our rampant consumption in a culture that has corporate and political greed as a product.  We need to opt out.  We need to stop being mindless consumers.

This is a photo I took of my dining room window (I rent--and Monterey rarely looks this gorgeous).  On it I have three headings: Unthinking Consumerism, Thinking Consumerism, and Conscious Stewardship.  Under these headings, I've written what I do that falls into each of these categories.  The lists are by no means complete.  They are what I quickly jotted down yesterday morning.  But they are a start.  A beginning of a thorough analysis of where I spend my money and how it contributes to the current system of greed and corruption. 

Above the Conscious Stewardship list, I wrote out my goals:  Empty unthinking consumer list. Move as many thinking consumer items to conscious stewardship [as I can]. 

The biggest problem is that we just don't think about how we consume.  We don't assess the downstream (or upstream) consequences of what happens when we buy a particular product.  We allow ourselves to be lulled into mindless consumerism by advertising and slick talking. 

We do it every day.  We see something shiny or pleasurable or convenient or "cheap" and spend our money on it.  Often we don't think twice; the money just goes to what we want at the moment.  And our culture has grown to cater to that mentality.  We live in a culture where everything is disposable--where it is actually easier to throw away a perfectly good item for the next new thing rather than deal with the outdated.  Everything is disposable--even people. 

When we mindlessly consume, we are directly contributing to what the Occupy Movement protests against.  Actually, Ron Paul, it is our fault: we gave our money to that 1%.

But no longer.  Because once we start talking and thinking, then we aren't silent anymore.  We can make decisions to become thinking consumers who choose to buy things for specific reasons because they have a specific value, not just because we saw it advertised during the Super Bowl.  We can choose used rather than new.  We can choose sustainable rather than convenient.

We can choose, when the romance of the Occupy Movement has ended and we are all back to our everyday mundane lives, to make the really hard decisions between wants and needs, between what seems like it will make us feel good and what actually does good. 

These aren't easy decisions.  These are decisions made every day for the rest of our lives.  These are decisions made when we are all alone and tired and the energy of a group of people connecting for a cause is not immediately evident.  These are decisions made after taking a good hard look at ourselves.  These are decisions made that may make you go without because it just isn't right.

But these are decisions that if made consistently will affect change in our world.

I am ashamed that the only thing I could legitimately put on my Conscious Stewardship list was my CSA. I'm ashamed that after a year of opting out of consumer culture that I jumped right back in with both feet.  These are things I am going to rectify.  I intend, rather than watching an episode of Mad Men, to put in the time to assess where my money goes.  I intend to research all my purchases from toilet paper to investments.  And I intend to then change how I spend the money I have.  I am going to move beyond the emotional fulfillment of a massive movement with big talking to actually act as an individual.  I am going to possibly spend more money on something because it is not tainted by greed and exploitation.  And I am going to have say no to something else because I just won't have the extra funds for it.  I am probably going to screw up sometimes and mindlessly consume because the product is shiny and convenient and cheap, but then I am going to remember that this is the rest of my life.  And then I will make a decision for conscious stewardship next time.

I want to commit to a life of conscious stewardship.  If that means not watching TV because the broadcast company is doing something with its money I don't agree with, then so be it.  If that means switching my phone company because they are violating our rights and making our private conversations available to the government, then so be it.  If that means wearing secondhand clothes because clothing companies continue to exploit child labor in other countries, then so be it. 

I want to live a life that does good and affects change.

Some might call these actions radical and too extreme.  Are they any more radical and extreme than a bunch of people around the world squatting in various financial districts so that their voices can be heard?

I don't think so.

Do good.