[The following missive must have been slipped into my pocket this evening as I made my way down Michigan Avenue with my dog.]
What do GoldmanSachs, Jerry Sandusky, Michael Bloomberg, McDonald’s, Rick Snyder, The Gap, Nestle, Major League Baseball, and Mary Sue Coleman have in common? Power over others. And those in whom power is consolidated—what do they tend to do with that power? Two things: abuse and extract. Your average human being is used to having her sovereignty violated in multiple ways every day, a living death by a thousand cuts; or his savings account is being bloodlet. Actually: we know fewer and fewer people who even have a savings account.
We hear it said—and it’s at the root of the key erroneous talking-point of the mainstream media these past several weeks—“Why not work extra hard to get better Democratic politicians elected, and try to get change enacted that way? Because, after all, top-down leadership is what’s run this planet for thousands of years; it’s the only practical course of action.”
But we know—all too well—that placing our hopes in anyone but ourselves results in nothing but slackening wages, massive social injustice, ecological devastation, and the aggressive consolidation of money and power into the hands of plutocrats.
And so the time comes when we feel like we can endure this living death no longer. The “average American” finally feels this way. The average Syrian feels this way. And so do communists, Christians, skateboarders, cops, children, Executive Directors, painters, engineers, and animals. We need to be assured, though, that we won’t be stepping out into the street alone; we recall that it’s common for those who stand up and say “¡No mas!” to be beaten, spit on, arrested, raped, fired, ignored, tortured, and killed. And then, before our eyes, little by little, something begins to happen. In the Middle East, Spain, and elsewhere, and crystallizing in Liberty Square, a.k.a. Zuccotti Park, people are trading their living rooms for the streets and for each other, gathering in a true public.
Because there’s something beautiful and utterly reassuring about direct, participatory, ground-up, non-hierarchical democracy. For the first time in many of our lives, along comes something that, to its very foundation, is trustworthy. Here is wording developed and consensed into being by people in the park in New York City:
“As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.” [From the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City.]
Ypsilanti is a perfect case study in what happens when austerity, prejudice, and repeated “extractions” bring a community to its knees. At the same time, our town is also a powerful example of grassroots self-recreation, and more and more we’re seeing how this aspect of Ypsilanti is magnetizing and drawing in creatives, localites, urban farmers, and activists. Do we want Ypsilanti to be the next Olympia, Washington? Or, better yet, Oakland or Iceland? It’s fun to think this, for a moment; but, of course we don’t. We want Ypsilanti to be—and be able to remain—itself: self-inventing, diverse, open, and active. Most of all, we want it to be self-sustaining: solar-powered, cooperatively organized, radically transparent, lacking in income disparity, and rife with public living. Rebecca Solnit: “As for me, the grounds of my hope have always been that history is wilder than our imagination of it and that the unexpected shows up far more regularly than we ever dream. A year ago, no one imagined an Arab Spring, and no one imagined this American Fall—even the people who began planning for it this summer. We don’t know what’s coming next, and that’s the good news. My advice is just of the most general sort: Dream big. Occupy your hopes. Talk to strangers. Live in public. Don’t stop now.”
Though we have plenty of ideas* for ways in which Occupy Ypsilanti will be an agent of change in its community, we begin with just one, and it’s elemental: to gather together for a teach-in at Woodruff’s Bar this Saturday at 3 p.m., to hear a handful of speakers, make some origami (Dave Strenski will lead an origami workshop for the children in attendance), and then, during the second hour, we’ll initiate a collective conversation—what form, no one knows in advance nor should we—in which we’ll actually begin to air our dreams together. It’s possible that we’ll have someone steeped in the working methods of #OWS on-hand to facilitate that part of the event.
“We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power. Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.”
*Just the beginning:
—to farm Water Street as it lies inactive, and eat what grows there; but especially to offer its harvest to those in need and to our public schools for lunches
—Days and Nights of Walking: groups of 5 or more who’d strike out daily and nightly to walk through and around neighborhoods in need of support, conversation, protection, lovingkindness.
—Foreclosure Resistance: following the lead of other national Occupy groups, let’s stand in defense of our neighbors who are faced with the threat of unjust foreclosure
—OURS (which is also french for “bear”): in which we consider occupying unused retail or residential space, with the expressed aim of holding dance parties, community action seminars, or simply to help keep them from falling into abject disrepair
—Big Aunts and Big Uncles: let’s consider devoting a few hours (or more!) of love and free time each week to help shepherd and mentor young people in Ypsilanti who are in need of scholastic, economic, or emotional support
—Plant Every Inch!: following the lead of some enterprising urban gardeners, let’s sow foodcrops everywhere there’s enough vacant land and labor to do so
—Edible Rec: let’s cultivate a big sunny portion of Rec Park into to an Edible Commons of fruiting trees and shrubs. If each family planted and sustained one tree or shrub, think of the harvests we could have in 2020
—Déja Vu Undo: in which we collectively acquire and reconstitute this landmark as a cooperatively-run community cinema, event space, and meetinghouse.
—State Capitol of Art and Activism: we hereby propose Ypsilanti as this.
—Community Dinner Restaurant: collective cooking and eating. Sliding-scale pricing funds acquisition of ingredients. Thanksgiving each night of the year.
—EMU4U: if we can’t convince the university to give back to our community, we’ll make it.
—Talks on Sidewalks: once a month, each house on each block empties its inhabitants onto the sidewalk, for milling, conversing, and idea-sharing. We’re so tired of not knowing our neighbors.
—Labor Caroling: groups of ten walk door to door on weekends, and offer ten minutes of labor (in our backyard, we have a tool shed that needs to move over a few inches). Some residents might just need ten minutes of conversation; our homeless neighbors might need help with laundry or a meal; an elderly guy might need his gutters cleaned.
—And please add all your ideas here: