Tuesday, October 18, 2011

An Alternative to Demands: Notes from OccupyOakland, October 18th

by Miki KashtanThe OccupyOakland I visited on October 15th was not a protest. You could say that I knew it, because I have read about it before I was there. I still couldn’t understand it fully until I saw what it meant. I suspect the same is true elsewhere, though I will not presume to know. A protest, in some fundamental way, engages with the existing power structures. What I saw, instead, was a parallel existence. This was not a march attempting to make something happen through demands and goals. What I saw was a gathering of people without any urgency, setting up camp, providing free services, engaged in the activities of making life happen, engaged in educating each other, curious to learn, and intent on inclusion. In an earlier post I was expressing some concern about the absence of a vision. What I saw in the park changed my perspective. I was fully humbled. There is absolutely no absence of vision. In fact, what was so compelling for me in being there was seeing a vision being lived out. They are not making demands. Instead, in their own small way, and however imperfectly, they are creating the world in which they want to live. There is free food being served 24/7, there are supplies of all kinds, energy created by people pedaling a bike, and everyone appears to be part of an incessant conversation.

I see an astonishing potential for this form of action that I hadn’t considered previously. It makes for a movement that has no clear end point. There is nothing someone else can do in any immediate way that will give the people gathered at the park in Oakland what they are already creating for themselves. I can’t imagine what would happen, or a set of actions on the part of anyone, that would lead people to say “Now we are done and we can go home to our daily living.” They didn’t seem particularly interested in that form of daily living that has become the norm in this country. It is, in fact, that very form of daily living that this movement seems to me to be challenging.

Is their core method a conscious choice on anyone’s part? Whether or not it is, the result is confusion for many. I was confused enough to not see their vision until I was there. Having been there, I now know why I didn’t see it. The vision is not being articulated, it is only lived, as best the occupiers know how. The action is broad enough, and the articulation is sparse enough that many of us can interpret the actions as manifestations of a vision we have. Indeed, many, including myself, have done so. I can certainly see what is happening as an example and precursor to the vision of a world based on caring for human needs. Some are also urging the movement to follow specific strategies, to articulate certain demands, to go for certain goals.

The lack of clarity about the difference between demands and vision continues. I am still wishing that some vision, or many visions, were articulated even in the absence of demands. I still suspect that many would find it hard to express the positive vision they are trying to live. I imagine that were they to do so, perhaps more people would grasp what they are trying to do and be inspired, because vision tends to attract people. No accident that one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous speeches was about dreaming. That being said, I don’t know what is true. My humility grows daily about this movement.

There is also a way in which talking about “a movement” is misleading. Yes, there is a tremendous amount of thought and care that’s being put into coordination, logistics, and all other aspects of continuing this massive experiment. And yet much of what happens, including actual protest actions that are taking place alongside and within this attempt to step outside the norms of living, happens through people taking spontaneous, autonomous steps.

What is most striking to me of all is how much I don’t know. I don’t know if anyone, anywhere, has the capacity to predict what could happen as a result of this new form of action. This movement has outgrown our capacity to categorize, analyze, and predict. It’s already bigger than anyone’s decision making capacity. No one can tell the people on the street what to do. I feel a slight bit of discomfort, and a whole lot of curiosity and interest in accompanying this surge. In this moment, more than anything, I see this movement as part of a large wakeup call that life is issuing to itself.

The group of people that took possession of the Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland are creating a small scale experiment in living without relying on large institutions. Anyone can join, anyone can contribute, anyone can challenge, and anyone can talk. Why would that ever want to stop?

Stay tuned for more Notes from OccupyOakland. Since writing this piece I have been to OccupyOakland once more. I attended a meeting of the newly created Nonviolence Caucus (meets daily as of October 18th, an hour before the General Assembly, by the kids’ play area) and participated in the General Assembly meeting. I plan on posting my impressions of these conversations in the next couple of days.


  1. Beloved Miki, I'm so glad for your engagement.

  2. Miki - I have linked this to the Occupy Rochester, NY FaceBook page and am feeling refreshed, hopeful, and inspired by your shared reflection on what you observed. This is no small thing given my own strong beliefs on what "they should do". I aspire to experience the humility you described, to consider the bigger picture, and to see how I am contributing to the situation - without blaming me or anyone else. Love from Dave Miller

  3. Miki, thank you so much for your thoughts! I resonate very much with this, having had a similar experience as a result of visiting OccupyBoston.

    As I see it, the Occupy gatherings have succeeded in creating a space where authentic conversations about things that really matter, can flourish... AND, they have also succeded in catalyzing an ENORMOUS amount of conversation, society-wide, about "what needs to happen"...

    On a personal level, I would like to invite anyone who feels that "something different" needs to be happening... to DO IT! Rather than thinking about what "THEY should be doing".... create it yourself! put your vision out, and invite others to join you! There is SOOOO much need in our society for alternatives... alternative movements, alternative political parties, etc. etc. etc. Of course, at the same time, we need to be extending solidarity to one another, as we all build different aspects of the larger "movement"...

    We, the 99%, are the "patchwork majority". No need for all of us, to be doing the "same" thing!

    However, if anyone is going to critique the occupy scene, I would greatly encourage you to spend some time, visiting first... helping out... talking with people... experiencing it for yourself. It really is different, being "inside" the experience, than attempting to understand it from the "outside"!

    with all best wishes,


  4. Hello Miki,

    I liked your last article very much, but I like this one even more. And I so agree with what you're articulating. I've been at the Occupy Santa Fe protests for the past two weeks, and it was exhilarating. I have been describing it as the most in-life experience of unity consciousness I've experienced. I encourage everyone to experience it for themselves. Now when I see videos of Occupy Wall Street I feel personally connected to the people there, in my heart. It's a profound experience of oneness that I find most beautiful and inspiring.

    Much love to you,
    Mercedes Kirkel

  5. I have feelings of joy and excitement, when I read this blog. I sense inspiration to just live the life we envision. I had the same experience about a living vision, a parallel world when I taught NVC at Occupy Austin, even though I had not the words.

    Elly van Laar

  6. My heart began to smile as I read your words. I felt comfort and recognition as I read of your experience. And am grateful for your works as they help me as I struggle to find a way to talk about my experiences. I have recently spent several days with the Occupy Ventura community. This is a much smaller group than Oakland; Ventura is a much smaller community. However, I recognize a similar spirit, and I see it manifesting wherever I look for Occupy activity. It is for me truly a different living experience. When I returned to my everyday world yesterday I felt a kind of surprised disconnect- a bit like returning from my first IIT where the IIT had been like coming home and returning home was separation. The occupy experience has awakened feelings of joy and affirmation as I observe highly diverse people struggling to listen to each other and live this new thing into being. Even in our smallish community the diversity of ages, backgrounds, cultures, etc. was amazing. I dream of living in such diverse community, and for a couple of days I have done so. I am excited to be part of the unfolding and development of the Occupy adventure.

    ps. I am not really anonymous, just had no idea how to use other options.
    Thanks, Janette Daniel-Whitney

  7. Here is a companion piece on the BayNVC web-site about how other NVC people can support the Occupy movement:

  8. Miki, this is a fantastic set of notes and observations. Truly, a new world is aborning in Oakland, DC, NYC, and so many other places around the U.S. and the world. Thanks so much! Mike

  9. Thanks so much Miki for a wonderful post! I greatly appreciate your humility and openness.

    Mike Abkin recommended you to me; I had also just written about Occupy:

  10. Thanks, Miki. My friend Joyce E. sent me your link. I'm always glad when on more person "gets it" about OWS. I was in Bakesto Park in San Jose a few weeks to ago the help launch Occupy San Jose. I dressed in my best business clothes, polished my shoes, and carried a sign which read "End Corporate greed". I had a great time and "friended" several people I met on Facebook. I'd have been even more involved if my daughter had not called me with a personal issue - she may be an adult now, but I'm always there for her.

    I'm amused by how hard it is for many people my age to get their heads around OWS, and I've been working on explaining it for them. I think the root of it is that historically societys have been heirarchincal - King, Lords, Officials and Army keeping the common folks in line. But many of today's younger people were raised with the Internet, and the ability to talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime about anything. As a freind of mine said, they think "horizontally" and don't see why we even need a hierarchy. Lots of on-line societies run without one, and we may be seeing the beginning of real-world examples in OWS. The first real democracies. We maybe watching the most basic change in human societies in thousands of years.

  11. My dear Miki,
    Recently returned from 10 weeks of volunteering in Africa, I felt a disconnect and a yearning for union with the Occupy movements and you so significantly inspired the connection. Now I plan to share much of what you wrote in this dynamic blog with readers of my weekly column for a local newspaper. This - as you so beautifully expressed it - is what I want my readers to understand about OWS. Thank you so much, Miki, for your continuing creativity and response to the living spirit of true communication.

  12. Miki you were going to keep us up dated on the occupy movement. I can`t seem to find where you`ve posted it,I`d love to find out what`s happening now.Thanks Dwight

  13. Dwight, I work with Miki and she asked me to let you know that after this Oct 18 post she did write a series of pieces which you can find by putting Occupy into the search bar above or clicking in the labels list at the bottom of the column on the right of this page (e.g. Nov 1: http://baynvc.blogspot.com/2011/11/beyond-consensus-or-majority-notes.html and Nov 11: http://baynvc.blogspot.com/2011/11/why-victory-wouldnt-be-enough-notes.html). She also wrote an article for Tikkun magazine “Sustaining the Occupy Movement”, Tikkun, Spring 2012. www.tikkun.org/nextgen/sustaining-the-occupy-movement.

    I think her most recent comment on on it was in an August 16 2012 post, which included this paragraph: "Rebellion against power sometimes takes an entirely different form, where what is being rejected is the whole idea of leadership and power, not just a particular leader or a specific action. This is the ethos that I understood to have operated in the Occupy encampments and movement more generally, a climate in which people were reluctant to provide active facilitation for fear of being attacked as taking power and leadership. Once again, the either/or thinking comes through: the only alternative to dictatorial power-over was seen as operating in a permanent state of full, inclusive participation. I am sad to say that I see the anti-authoritarian ethos as one of the reasons why the Occupy movement ultimately didn’t manage to catapult larger segments of the population into significant nonviolent resistance even though at one point the positions of the movement reached an unprecedented degree of support within the entire population of the US. More on this another day."