The Occupy Wall Street movement has been criticized for its lack of clear demands. But I think it's far too early in the movement for demands. And I think there's another way forward.
Charles Eisenstein has helped us see that no demand is big enough. "How do we issue demands," he writes, "when what we really want is nothing less than the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible?" The idea of issuing demands also creates a divided, oppositional dynamic of one group making demands of another. We already see a dynamic of blame and attack against "the 1%", to which the knee-jerk response is most likely to be defensiveness and resistance. What is worse, this approach doesn't encourage us to address our own responsibility for creating the mess we're in - and for getting out of it. We all need to change our thinking and our actions if we want to evolve the system that we create together.
Instead of blame and attack, then, what if we gathered around powerful questions? Questions that have the power to engage all of us and to ignite our collective imagination? Yesterday, I came across a great list of questions from Peter Block (the master of powerful questions):
* What do we want to create together?
* What's our contribution to the thing we complain most about?
* What do we say yes to that we really don't mean?
* What do we want to say no to that we don't have the courage to?
* What's the promise we're willing to make with no expectation of return?
* What are the gifts we hold that we neither fully acknowledge nor have fully brought into the world?
To me, it comes down to the questions: What do we value? How does our current system run counter to those values? And how can we create an economic system that nurtures what we hold dear?
And still, questions alone aren't enough. They need a container, a rich forum in which we can explore them together.
Earlier this year, my friend Walt Roberts of Changing the Game developed a program to support "Living Room Conversations" across the United States; the topic of the conversations was bridging the gap between liberal and conservative politics. Another friend, Paul Shore, developed a series of "Kitchen Table Talks" for the People's Food Policy Project. In each of these two cases, self-organizing hosts were provided with a comprehensive conversation guide, along with other helpful support (e.g., invitations, tips on facilitating conversation). And there was an online forum in which highlights of the conversations could be shared and major themes identified. In the case of the Kitchen Table Talks, those major themes were then presented to governing bodies. But the most important outcome of the conversations was the expanded awareness and engagement of the thousands of people who participated.
What if such a format were developed for the Occupy Wall Street movement? What if thousands of us brought the movement into our homes, inviting people we know to come for a potluck dinner and a targeted conversation (or likely a series of them) to explore our assumptions, our dreams, and our actions? It seems that we're going to need to make some pretty dramatic changes, and that'll be much easier with a support group in place. And what if our voices could be gathered together in an online forum, not (yet) as demands but as a collective journal documenting a fundamental shift in thinking and behavior? And isn't rebuilding community (partly through our relationship with food) one of the keystones of the movement, anyway?
Walt and Paul (and anyone else!), are you interested? I'll bring a big pot of vegetarian chili.