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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Please, A New Story for What's Happening and What's Possible (part 1)

October 20, 2011
michael johnson
Body paragraph

 If to change ourselves is to change our worlds, and the relation is reciprocal, then the project of history making is never a distant one but always right here, on the borders of our sensing, thinking, feeling, moving bodies.
--J.K. Gibson-Graham

This is the first of two blogs that will go into some depth in contrasting two ways of thinking about what is going on around #OccupyWallStreet. The first is a rearview mirror way thinking that comes out of a moral fundamentalism frequently found on the Left. The second is a front window view that tries to operate out of seeing what is happening in all its newness.

I focused on this in an earlier blog, but in this 2-part blog I am going to go further. The first part will sketch the two different ways of viewing what is happening politically. The second will go into a detailed analysis of a long piece by Chris Hedges, who gives full voice to the leftist version of the ancient morality tale of the wicked oppressors versus us the victims of those oppressions. It's purpose will be two-fold: to show the weaknesses of this approach, and to contrast it with one that I think would be much more effective for deep and enduring change. This is hard work-nose-to-the-grindstone, shoulder-to-the wheel. But it is crucial. It could make 'all the difference in the world' regarding how the just-born #Occupy 'movement' will fare is how we think and talk about it. [1]

The prevalent story is our ancient morality tale. It is a meta-story that challenges us to rise up and get with the forces of good to overthrow the forces of evil. [2] It has utterly failed over the past few thousand years in figuring out how to contain the exploitive forces within our species. One of the main reasons it fails is that we tend over and over to turn it against our each other. Then we can't solve the problems that come up among us as we do our work.

Chris Hedges, certainly one of the most competent and well-established writers supporting this event, gave us a clear example of this narrative in an earlier article, which I quoted from in that earlier blog:

There are no excuses left. Either you join the revolt taking place on Wall Street and in the financial districts of other cities across the country or you stand on the wrong side of history. Either you obstruct, in the only form left to us, which is civil disobedience, the plundering by the criminal class on Wall Street and accelerated destruction of the ecosystem that sustains the human species, or become the passive enabler of a monstrous evil. Either you taste, feel and smell the intoxication of freedom and revolt or sink into the miasma of despair and apathy. Either you are a rebel or a slave.

Life and the tender shoots of an #Occupy movement are so much more complex than this kind of fundamentalism can handle. We need an alternative story, a different way of framing problems and issues that can empower us to view our current situation afresh and to think anew about the creative possibilities that problems present. This is one of our greatest needs for a #Occupy ?movement'.

Hopefully, awareness of our need for--to borrow from Gandhi--"becoming the change we want to bring to the world" is beginnings to emerge. It is a story grounded in the vision of people learning to actually access their own power by coming together to create what they need to fulfill their desires and needs, rather than just feeling powerful through venting righteous outrage about the fact that exploitation is indeed rampant. It seeks to hold ourselves primarily accountable for creating the world we want to live in, rather than primarily focusing on holding evil elites and their institutions accountable. This is a profound shift of emphasis. In a few days my GEO mate Ethan Miller will begin posting a long essay that could be a major contribution to this alternative narrative along with the beginnings of a strategic way forward. The very title voices the whole message: Occupy! Connect! Create![3]


[1] It really is a bit early to say that it is a movement that has legs that will carry it forward into the rest of the decade and beyond. However, something is certainly moving and its connecting a lot of people in a lot of places.
[2] The story that frames all the ways we think and talk about a particular set of phenomena. For example,
[3] I will be commenting and critiquing his piece as it is posted on GEO in a 7-part series.



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