Occupy social consciousness
by Chris Zaporoski
On a warm Friday night several weeks ago, I was sitting on a bench at English Bay, watching the stars shoot through the late summer sky. Many people were out that night – mature people strolling after dinner, romantic couples on the benches and, as usual, youth hanging out on the beach. I could hear distant conversations and people’s laughter. It was a nice relaxing end to another workweek. I checked the time – it was just past 10:30 PM.
Suddenly, flashing lights lit up the whole scene in front of me. Surprised, I turned my head to see a police car pulling quietly onto the main pathway leading to the beach. The car continued until it reached the seawall and then stopped. A group of elegantly dressed older men and women strolled by, obviously enjoying their seawall walk after dinner while the police car sat in the middle of the pathway with its emergency lights flashing. It was a bizarre, almost surreal scene. The quiet was broken by a voice coming from the car’s loudspeaker: “This is the Vancouver Police. This beach is now closed.”
I was stunned. There was nothing going on that could possibly explain that police car and the given order. There were no rowdy, drunken teenagers, no public disturbance and no noise. “What is that all about?” I asked my girlfriend who was equally as shocked. Thoughts were flashing through my head, but one kept repeating itself and I voiced it. “This sounds like a curfew.”
A curfew on Vancouver’s beaches?
The last time I experienced a curfew was some 30-years-ago during the martial law in Poland. The communist regime declared martial law to crack down on the nation-wide social revolt led by the Solidarity movement. Back then, I felt it was my duty and moral obligation to take a stand against the totalitarian regime in defence of what I believed to be fundamental human rights: the right to freedom, justice, truth and basic dignity. Because of my beliefs, I spent nearly a year in jail and stood trial by a military court. After the amnesty, as an “unwanted element,” I was allowed to leave the country with a one-way passport. This is how I arrived in Canada in search of freedom.
And here I was now in the heart of Vancouver’s peaceful West End, experiencing a curfew. But the most bizarre thing is that hardly anyone questions it, as if it were “normal.” Normal? Adult people are told to go home because of someone’s insane order not to allow the public on their own (public) beaches. If the police mandate is “to serve and protect,” my question is who are they serving and protecting?
As adults, we tend to lose the capacity to ask questions and challenge the status quo. When insanity becomes the norm, hardly anyone sees it as insanity. To most of us, it becomes “normal.” So here we are in the middle of Vancouver experiencing glimpses of what it would feel like to live in a totalitarian state.
The concept of totalitarianism was invented by Italian fascists. Some readers might object to the word “fascism” applied to the reality of socio-political life in today’s North America, but, as Franklin D. Roosevelt stated, “The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism – ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.” Doesn’t it sound exactly like the world we live in?
Upon my arrival in North America, my first culture shock was linguistic. It wasn’t the language itself, but the idiom used to describe the worth of a person, such as “Bob is worth two million.” It was shocking to me that someone’s worth could be measured in dollars rather than in qualities like kindness, goodness, wisdom, talent, intelligence or their service to others. Hence, a millionaire is worth a million dollars, while a homeless person, for instance, is worth… I guess, nothing. Think about the social implications of that way of thinking. Someone might dismiss it as a purely linguistic phenomenon, but it is not just a “figure of speech.” The words and phrases we use reflect our definitions and our beliefs, which create our understanding of the world and determine our behaviour.
Human behaviour is governed by motivation. If we measure our worth by the status of our bank account and by how many possessions we have, those who are rich are “worthy” while the poor are simply “worthless.” If the only measure of one’s worth is the amount of accumulated money, in order to obtain that goal, anything goes. In a system where profit is the paramount motivation, one cannot help but see the world around them as a potential source of profit. People, animals, resources, our entire planet, are reduced to nothing more than a means to an end to be exploited for profit. Isn’t that what is happening?
The Earth is being raped, resources plundered and animals are exploited or exterminated. The majority of humanity lives in poverty and we who are lucky enough to live in a developed country are reduced to mere consumers, required only to perpetually feed the hungry ghost of profit.
My second culture shock came some 15-years-ago when I decided to end my corporate career. The reason was simple: I just couldn’t imagine sacrificing my dreams any longer in exchange for a steady pay cheque and the illusion of security. I was surprised at how many of my co-workers approached me, saying, “I wish I could do the same.” “Why don’t you?” I asked. But each of them had an excuse: debt, a mortgage, car payments, a benefits package or some other form of perceived benefit.
Shocked by how many people wished they could do the same, I was hit by the realization that they were slaves. Completely unaware, they were participating in the most subtle form of slavery – an economic slavery. And they always had a valid reason for accepting it as “normal.” After all, those jobs seemed to be guaranteed for a lifetime and based on that assumption, people planned their future. Fortunately, the reality check came a mere few years later. The company was sold and resold through a series of bizarre financial schemes involving billions of dollars and, eventually, the new corporate owner decided to outsource the work of the entire department to Asia. All of my former co-workers, including those who had spent decades creating profits for the company, were “not needed anymore” and lost their jobs.
This story is repeated throughout Canada, North America and the world. This is the world we live in. This is the world we have all created. Not “them” but all of us. It is not the creation of some conspiracy group; we all participate in this collective insanity. But the more insanity we encounter, the more wake up calls we experience. Some of them come from our own country. In 2003, the brilliant Canadian documentary The Corporation exposed the nature of corporations as destructive, psychopathic, socio-economic phenomena. The most recent CBC Doc Zone production dealing with the subject of the economic meltdown is entitled simply Meltdown and it takes it even further. More powerful and insightful than the Oscar-wining, highly acclaimed Inside Job, Meltdown exposes the global scale of the insanity. And of course, there is Michael Moore with his exposés.
As a human race, we are just beginning to wake up. Occupy Wall Street started the Occupy Movement, which is now spreading globally, offering glimpses of sanity and hope for the future. Some call it a “revolution,” but for those, I have a word of warning. Revolution means revolving, or turning around the wheel of power. It is the same old wheel of power, with someone on top and someone on the bottom. This is why every revolution throughout human history eventually led to the same outcome – the oppression of one by another. Ideologies change, but the mechanism of the power struggle remains intact; the once powerless become powerful and vice versa.
There are also angry voices demanding “justice” as if putting a few bankers in jail could solve the root cause of the problem. Common criminals, no matter what the colours of their collars, ought to be held accountable for their crimes, yet for those who advocate the idea of vengeance, remember the words of Gandhi, the greatest leader of non-violent civil disobedience in the history of mankind: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” And indeed we are blind if we don’t see the insanity of repeating the same old patterns of unconscious behaviour. Noam Chomsky once said, “It’s a fair assumption that every human being, real human beings, flesh and blood ones, not corporations, but every flesh and blood human being is a moral person. You know, we’ve got the same genes, we’re more or less the same, but our nature, the nature of humans, allows all kinds of behaviour. I mean, every one of us under some circumstances could be a gas chamber attendant or a saint.”
It is easy to be angry, point fingers and seek vengeance. It is much harder to see the reality of the problem. Those “circumstances” Chomsky talks about are nothing more than our collective agreement on what is acceptable and what is not. Such a collective agreement allowed for the creation of monstrosities such as the Third Reich and the Holocaust. The same collective agreement allows for the existence of the current system. No matter how corrupt and abused our democracy is, it is still democracy. We live in a democratic society. It’s not “us” versus “them,” but we are all responsible because we allowed the corruption and abuse to exist. Our individual and collective compliance allows for the insanity to perpetuate itself. Our silence and obedience are the true measures of our passive participation. They show the level of our unconsciousness.
How unconscious we can become is best portrayed by Robert Maresca and his wife Diane of West Islip, New York, who just applied to the US Patent and Trademark office to trademark the “Occupy Wall Street” slogan. Their intent is to sell sweatshirts, T-shirts, bumper stickers, among other merchandise. According to CNN, Maresca said, “I’m no marketing genius, but when you got something that’s across 50 states, it’s a brand now.” He even offered to sell the trademark to Occupy Wall Street members, if they wanted it, for just one dollar, after they paid his expenses. The problem is that neither the Marescas nor their lawyer sees anything wrong with that. While people at Wall Street stand up for justice, freedom and human dignity, others are trying to make a buck on it. This is how corrupt in unconsciousness our own minds can become.
On October 25, in a violent crackdown of Occupy Oakland by riot police, Scott Olsen, a young ex-marine, was the most seriously injured. The man survived two tours in Iraq and returned home safely only to be shot in the head with a police projectile in his own country, by his own police. The incident that followed shortly afterward is even more appalling. As Scott lay bleeding and motionless on the ground, video footage clearly shows that, while other protesters rushed in to help Scott, a policeman from behind a barrier deliberately threw a flash or tear gas grenade into the crowd near the injured man. This is beyond comprehension – an act of psychopathic insanity that calls for a public outcry. It is no wonder none of the mainstream US news agencies covered the story, but it made headlines around the world.
At the same time, Scott’s fellow US Marine posted a photo of himself on the Washington Post’s blog site, holding a picture of the bleeding man with a sign bearing the symbol for the US Marines and the words: “You did this to my brother.”
I believe it is the insanity of the government itself and its “law” enforcement agencies that invite revolution, through committing acts of violence against peaceful demonstrators who exercise their fundamental rights, promised and guaranteed by the Constitution.
Let’s all pray for Scott Olsen’s safe recovery and send him our love. And kudos to Keith Olbermann and his Countdown on Current TV. Olbermann is the only American high-profile journalist who, from the very beginning, covered the Occupy Movement. See his daily program at http://www.youtube.com/user/Current
The alternative to revolution is evolution. It is growth through transformation, exactly what humanity needs – to leave behind the old dysfunctional patterns and structures and evolve to the new level of consciousness. And that’s what the Occupy Movement represents to me. It is our chance to change the way we do things, an experiment in real democracy. Michael Moore frequently visited and addressed Occupy Wall Street. When asked what advice he had for the people down there, he said, “I don’t have any advice. I’d rather listen.”
This is real democracy at work. No more political parties, lobby groups and leaders manipulating masses and swaying opinions one way or another, but the system allowing for every voice to be heard. No more pushing one’s agenda on others, but an open discussion and consensus. It is the way of the future.
In the first weeks of Occupy Wall Street, Deepak Chopra was allowed to address the General Assembly. Instead of making political speeches, he invited everyone to do a short meditation. I now invite you, dear reader, to participate in the meditation he led: “Put your hand on your heart and just ask yourself internally, ‘What kind of world do I want to live in?’ And listen. Do it now. And now ask yourself, ‘How can I make that happen. How can I make that happen from the place of love, compassion, joy and equanimity?’ Simple anger will only perpetuate what already is out there. It was created by greed and fear. We have to go beyond that and come from the place of compassion, centred equanimity and creativity. Once again, ask yourself, ‘How can I be the change I want to see in the world?’”