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Occupy the Present Change the Future

Dec 102013

In-These-Times-01linda-blog-imageFor In These Times’ December 2013 cover feature, “Generation Hopeless?”, the magazine asked a number of politically savvy people, younger and older, to respond to an essay by 22-year-old Occupy activist Matthew Richards in which he grapples with what the movement meant and whether Occupy’s unfulfilled promises are a lost cause or the seeds of the different world whose promise he glimpsed two years ago. Here is Linda Stout’s response.

After reading Matthew Richards essay, I was disappointed that he felt hopeless and felt he had to wait until the United States was “far less hostile to change.” He says “Now that I’ve already done my best to fix the world and it didn’t work, I am at peace with the fact that it is no longer my job and won’t be again for a few more generations to come”. Richards hated the song, “Waiting on the World to Change,” by John Mayer, but that’s exactly what he’s decided to do.

Having been involved in activism for more than 40 years—one of the old guard of activists—and having spent most of my life working for justice, I think we need to look at history. The United States is not going to get less hostile if we sit “waiting for the world to change.” Corporate control will become even stronger than it is even today.

I don’t know if anyone who has experienced a period of “normalcy” in U.S. history. From the time this country was invaded by Europeans, we have been a country of repression and violence; against Native Americans, women, people of color, non-Christians, etc. In the Labor Movement of the early decades of the1900’s, many people were killed, shot down by the military and others, while working for a better life for all. Military tanks rolled thru our streets in the small mill towns throughout the south, shutting down protesters thru intimidation, repression and killing massacres. In spite of that, the movement continued.

During the Civil Rights era, repression was at its worst. Churches used as organizing space were blown up, one with four little girls in it. Leaders were shot, jailed for weeks and months, and attacked by mobs, FBI, military, police, dogs and fire hoses. Meeting spaces like Highlander in Tennessee—–a center for labor unions and later for the civil rights movement—was confiscated by the state of Tennessee and later burned to the ground. More than 40 deaths were attributed to the repression of civil rights protesters, but people continued to work for civil rights even when as late as 1979 five more people were massacred in Greensboro, N.C.

During the VietNam protest people were jailed, tear gassed, and the Ohio National Guard shot and killed four unarmed college students and wounded nine, one permanently paralyzed.

Occupy was a positive event, even though it didn’t turn into a full blown, sustainable movement. As a multi-generational movement, many young people became involved and have stayed involved through other organizations they connected with in Occupy. My organization, Spirit in Action, worked with thousands of people to learn how to use “collective visioning” to dream of the world they wanted to create, look for common ground and then create a long term—3-to-20-years—strategic plan to move toward their positive vision. Collective visioning is a positive, solution-based focus that advances our goals. And yes, political strategy, organization and discipline are key to building a sustainable and lasting movement.

As for 99% being the perfect message, it was a message that got a lot of media attention. But it missed reaching some of the most important potential allies we needed to understand the message. In my conservative, Tea Party family reunion, they were all talking about the protesters (Occupiers) who were tearing America apart. When I asked if they understood what 99% meant, none of them did. As I explained and told them this was how people were fighting for our own self interest as poor people, my aunt looked at me, and said, “Well, it’s not a very good message if no one understands it, is it?” I had to agree with her.

Hopelessness is our biggest enemy. It causes people like Richards to give up and think they’ve done all they could. To hold a vision of the future and work toward that vision step by step, even when it’s one step forward, two steps backwards sometimes, is the strongest, most positive thing we can do.

I spend most of my time working with young people to help them become the future leaders of our movements for social change. I see so much potential, determination, strength and most of all hope. This belief in the younger generation is what gives me hope for our future.

This article was reposted from In These Times.’ To view origional posting click here- http://inthesetimes.com/article/15926/hopelessness_is_our_biggest_enemy/.

Jan 232012

Last week, in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, communities across the country gathered to Dream Big. Responding to our call to Occupy the Present, Change the Future and using Spirit in Action’s Collective Visioning Guide, diverse groups gathered to make the visioning process their own. We are delighted to share just a few snapshots of what’s happening on the ground:

Oakland, California – On Saturday, Jan 14th, artists, activists, cultural workers, educators and youth launched the Oakland Peace Center to “bring about a city of hope, justice, nonviolence and compassion.”  Yes!—a collaborative partner of Spirit in Action and member of the new Center—introduced collective visioning to participants in the day-long celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.  Themes that arose in the visioning session included a deep desire for locally grown food for everybody, community sharing, community currencies, music, art, connection to nature, generosity, love and beautiful, green spaces.  Participants discussed the importance of such opportunities to dream and imagine together a positive future and agreed that their vision is doable…”we have everything we need right now to get to this [vision]!”  Each person committed to tangible action steps that they can personally do, and something that they’d like to work collectively to do, to bring the vision into reality.

Boston, MA – Also on Saturday the 14th 40 people who are active in Occupy Boston came together for a half-day collective visioning and training of trainer workshop facilitated by our own founder and executive director, Linda Stout. The collective image of the vision they generated is about 16 feet long! There were a lot of younger people who had never been involved in any kind of direct action before Occupy, who found that collective visioning offers a positive foundation for social transformation. They all said they want to take this process back to their various working groups and assemblies. They expressed the value of including an intentional opening and closing, setting group agreements, building inclusive community space and using art-based expression to find common ground. One young man, newly involved in activism through Occupy, said, “I came here today hopeless and ready to drop out and go back to my individualistic path to getting what I want. I’m leaving with a vision of what’s possible, full of hope…and I know I will be dedicating the rest of my life to working for justice.”

New Orleans, LA – Jayeesha Dutta, a member of Spirit in Action’s Education Circle of Change and staff member of Rethinking New Orleans Schools, brought together eight friends and colleagues for a collective visioning house party. Starting with a “Communituesday” potluck, the group created collaborative collages to express their vision. The highlight from the process was “ the feeling of community and connectedness that resulted from this activity – and the deep sense that we must continue building this community with intention, love and creativity to in order to have the strength and resiliency to build the world we want to see.”

And it’s not too late to get involved!  For instance, this week, Occupy the Present, Change the Future will reach the biggest audience yet as thousands of Unitarian Universalists  participate in visioning as part of their “Standing on the Side of Love” month-long campaign. Meanwhile, 6th graders in a DC public school will be visioning what courage in action looks like.  You too can bring this process to your neighborhood, congregation, or organization. Please be in touch with us to let us know if you’re interested in hosting or participating in a collective visioning event.

Spirit in Action