Wednesday, January 11, 2012

There Must Be More than 100% of Us

by Miki Kashtan

At first, the numbers were clear to me. There was the 1% of the population, and there were the 99%. The division was based on income and on assets. The 1% made 20.3% of the income in 2006, averaging $1,243,516. They owned 34.6% of total assets in 2007 and 42.7% of total financial assets. The 99% was everyone else. This picture, upsetting as it is, made some sense to me.
Then it got muddied.
Because the bottom salary of the 1% starts at $382,593. So, doesn’t that mean that some of the 99% actually make an extremely comfortable income. Then are they still part of the 99%? Hmmm… Something in that picture doesn’t quite capture the depth of an experience of injustice and powerlessness that I read into the expression “We are the 99%.” So what to do? Is it really 99%, or is it only 90%?
I looked at the numbers again, that still didn’t make sense. Within the 90%, some people are still making up to $104,696, and they are not generally the people who suffer the more acute forms of indignities and structural violence. That’s when I started realizing that about 20% are sort-of-part-of-the-99%-and-sort-of-not.
That wasn’t the end of it, either, even though we are already at about 120%.
Because just as much as I don’t believe that people who make $382,593 are part of the injustice being spoken about, I also don’t believe that they are the ones with the true power to make or break policy decisions. Maybe it’s only the 0.01% that are really the 1%? This small group of people makes an income that’s 389 times their percentage of the population. The 1%, on the other hand, make “only” 20.3 times of their percentage. I am convinced there is even a smaller group of people who make an even higher proportion of the income, and I don’t even know how to find those numbers. How small is the “true” 1%, then?
So far, I am at least at 123%. And this is still not the end.

Because we also have the police. Considering their salaries, almost all of the police are clearly part of the 99%. Considering how some people in the Occupy movement are responding to the police, they are not. If they are not, then, once again, we have a group that doesn’t neatly fit the sharp division of 99% and 1%, increasing our total numbers beyond 123%. And what about city workers? Where do they fit? How many of us will there be in the end?
I think of this issue as a profound tragedy. One of the ways that nonviolent movements have traditionally worked is by undermining the sources of support of existing regimes, including by encouraging and nurturing defections. When the police or army can no longer be counted on by a regime, its final legitimacy is finished. This is the kind of situation that leads dictators to abdicate their power. In the structure of how the Occupy movement has been working, such a path is not available. With the police being demonized and, in some locales, physically challenged, how would police officers find their way out of where they are? What alternatives are being offered them to the grueling and difficult situation in which they find themselves? Precisely because they are part of the symbolic meaning of 99%, they are tethered to their jobs, and that means following orders that could be out of integrity for them. Could we generate enough love and an invitation to look at our shared struggles instead of animosity?
Ultimately, I am aiming for a world that works for all of us, all 100% (or more) of us, wherever we are. I don’t have any willingness to create throw-away people, either physically or morally. The biggest transformation I aim for is to transcend either/or categories of any kind, any shred of any idea that some of us have to lose in order for things to work for some others, whether it’s 1%, 99%, or even 0.01% who lose. It’s entirely possible for 100% of us to work together for the benefit of 100% of us. It is only together that we can partake of and steward the bounty of life and our precious planet. I believe it’s still possible.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

An Invitation

by Miki Kashtan
When I look back at my life and examine decisions I’ve made, starting this blog stands out to me as a decision that required a great deal of courage and which catapulted me to a new level of visibility and therefore exposure to the possibility of contributing to what I value. In the very early days I didn’t post anything before having someone read it. I was afraid to expose myself and my thinking. Over this period, just shy of two years, something has shifted quite permanently. By and large, I write and post, without worry. I feel stronger, more willing to risk, more trusting of myself. The times when I feel the need to have someone read before I post are fewer and fewer, limited to when I write something vulnerable, or when I make outrageously radical points.

Now I am poised to take a new step in putting my thinking out in t
he world. The NVC Academy, where I’ve been doing much of my teaching in the last few years, is putting forth a new course with me based on this blog. I am quite excited about this idea, for several reasons. This new course continues for an entire year, and meets once a week. The opportunity to work with the same group of people week after week gives me an enormous sense of hope and possibility; we can truly get to know each other, support each other, learn what excites us and what challenges us, and use the blog and our discussions to support everyone in moving towards their dreams. I also delight in the challenge of having a regular schedule for posting blog entries instead of making it haphazard. And I love the concept of each week’s discussion in some ways influencing the following week’s topic. I am envisioning this as a deep collective immersion in one topic after another, somehow co-creating a journey for all of us, shared by all and unique to each.

The NVC Academy has its own network of enthusiasts where this course is being publicized, and meanwhile I’ve felt shy about putting the word out to this community, my faithful readers, those who read the blog consistently and who are engaged with the ideas I put forth. It took me until now to get over this hump and decide to issue this invitation to you. I know only some of you, and many more participate in this “community.” From time to time I look at the tiny little pictures of people who follow this blog, and give free rein to my curiosity. I so want to know who each face is, why you decided to join my blog, especially since most of your names are entirely unfamiliar to me. I want to know all the stories. I want to experience the beauty of each connection. And, yet, precisely because I don’t know you, I still have had some trepidation about addressing you directly and inviting you.

With this extended preamble, here’s the invitation.

I am doing a yearlong weekly course, every Tuesday starting Feb 7th, 5:30-7pm Pacific Time, that follows closely the blog. Each week I plan to post a piece specifically with this course in mind. Those who sign up for the course through the NVC Academy will also get reflection questions ahead of time to engage with whatever’s in the writing that speaks to you (or doesn’t). Then we come together during the weekly meeting, discuss, support each other in being on whatever path we want to be on, and grapple with the questions and experiences raised by the piece and the handout. Would you like to be part of this experiment? You are invited to come check it out. The first call is open to everyone (though you still need to register). It would be a treat for me to have you participate, which would give me the opportunity to talk with you on the phone directly and transcend the one-way relationship that leaves us separate and isolated from each other.