Occupy Wall Street’s brand new bumpy road – Order, chaos and a new world

Below is a slightly edited excerpt from an email written by a group facilitator participating in one of the urban Occupy actions (name withheld at their request). Their note reveals an emerging difficulty that could undermine the ability of such actions to hold their position and succeed in their mission. I then offer some thoughts on chaos and order that I hope will help them (and us all) deal well with such issues in these times of transition.

Following all that, I offer some new Occupy links, with excerpts from the linked articles. I hope you enjoy them.

Blessings on this remarkable journey.

Coheartedly,
Tom

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from a private communication:

Last night was my third night camping out at [my town’s occupation site]…. I am looking at holding a session – or series of sessions – on the matter of site safety and security.

Items have been stolen at our site, there are people who are drunk, high…noise continues late into the night…one person has already died near our site – it isn’t clear if that person was connected to us. So, in a way this experiment in community is a mirror for the rest of the world – what happens to ideals if there isn’t a strong, integral container* to give fruit to them.

In a way our GA (General Assembly) has been hijacked so that we cannot even address matters of security and safety. There is a small but vocal group that as i understand it believe that even if members of a Security Committee _suggest_ to others to consider matters of drunkenness, etc., this is just too much authority.

The good news is that there a lot of willingness to listen…and we’ve had a very good relationship with the police…thus far.

I’m not sure we can even get to a conversation about what we want until there is something of a safe container to just live in – never mind dialogue about a future!!

Some definitions, offered by Tom Atlee:

  • “Integral” in this case means including all parts and aspects of a whole in a healthy, functional way.
  • “Container” in this case means a group environment whose characteristics and interactions influence the functioning of the group. Some facilitators talk about how to createstrong, safe or generative containers. 

COMMENT BY TOM ATLEE

Chaos theory has interesting things to say about this familiar group dynamic – this resistance to “authority” in activist circles – that helps us look at it functionally instead of ideologically. 

When a living system is too chaotic, it can’t hold its form and dissolves into its environment – or, in other words, it dies. When a living system is too stuck in established order, it can’t respond appropriately to changing circumstances and soon ceases to “fit” with its environment – and so it, too, dies. So Life – in its efforts to survive – tends to gravitate to various “middle paths” between the dysfunctional extremes of chaos and order. In relatively stable times, healthy living systems seek a functional level of order spiced with a certain amount of chaotic creativity and uncertainty. In times of change – when conditions are “far from equilibrium” – healthy living systems display a lot of openness, creativity, and responsive interaction, with just enough of the right kind of order to hold things together and channel the wildness productively.

UNhealthy systems show chaos in circumstances where business-as-usual is what would be most functional – and, when creative responsiveness and evolution are needed, unhealthy systems clamp down into fear, order and enforced predictability .

Our economic, industrial, environmental, political and social systems are becoming increasingly dysfunctional. They are clearly not healthy or sustainable. They need to change – and they will. They are generating expanding crises that undermine themselves, while actively degrading and destroying people, species, natural and human communities, and the very planet upon which everything depends. In short, human civilization and its earthly home are moving further and further out of equilibrium.

In such times, chaos increases. We can see it increasing rapidly, right now, all around us. Old forms of order are stressing and breaking down. Many people are turning away from it all into denial, cynicism, or just letting go. Active people are either working to reinforce and patch up the old order, or seeking new forms that will work in our new, rapidly changing circumstances.

A new form of order WILL emerge. It always does. It is just a question of how long it will take and how much suffering and destruction will be involved, compared to the amount of aliveness, creativity, and joy. The difference between these options lies in how much we bring individual and collective awareness, intelligence, wisdom, compassion and other forms of consciousness to the job of finding the new order – the new ways of being together, the new ways of filling our needs, the new ways of relating to our world.

That’s what makes movements like Occupy Wall Street and Transition Towns so remarkable, so important, so inspiring – and so vulnerable. They insist on aliveness and creativity in the face of the tragically and obliviously collapsing society around them. They don’t always see a clear path ahead – and who does, really?! – but they are creating free communal spaces within which to seek that path together. That cherished freedom, however, is not only precious for single self-interested individuals. It is also precious for ALL the individuals involved AND for the communities they are seeking to create and sustain.

Given how often the freedom of one person can interfere with the freedom of another person, there is no way to legitimately and mechanically MAXIMIZE the freedom of every individual in a social system. However, there are ways to OPTIMIZE the freedom of all people in the system – to generate as much freedom as possible for individuals, given the freedom needs of other people and the need for a healthy community and world. The path to the optimization of freedom and vitality for all involves (a) defending people’s rights to behave in ways that do not harm others; (b) creating systems and activities through which individual community members benefit by enhancing the well-being of the community and ways the community can benefit by enhancing the well-being of its members.

These are the new forms that are being called for. But note that the assertion of one’s freedom in ways that undermine other people’s freedom and community. This dynamic is not new, is not liberation, is not even healthy anarchy. It is, in fact, a very old pattern. It is an individual’s manifestation of the dynamic that is destroying the world. It is what the mythical 1% are said to be doing – pursuing profitable self-interest at the expense of most other people and the larger community of Life. The new forms of community emerging in (what I now call) the Occupy Life and Transition Towns movements seek to help people meet their needs in ways that serve (or at least do not undermine) the needs of the larger community and world. They seek to include diversity and disturbance in ways that serve the vitality, creativity, and wholesomeness of their new society. This is exactly what our world needs.

It helps to get clear that that’s what they are doing. And it would help to learn more about the many tools that exist, especially designed to help in that healthy, self-organizing, life-affirming, freedom enhancing work. I’m referring to tools like NonViolent Communication; Open Space Technology; The World Cafe; Dynamic Facilitation; Appreciative Inquiry; Asset Based Community Development; Wisdom Councils; Citizens Juries; and more. The modified consensus processes currently used by Occupy Wall Street and other Occupy initiatives are extremely powerful tools. Their power comes primarily from their ability to enable a group to include all the voices, insights, and energie
s
of its members in making high quality, readily implementable decisions. But this power assumes a level of shared values, shared purpose, shared reality, shared intention. Its vulnerability lies in its effort to include voices and energies that come from people who do not share the same values, intentions, and worldviews. Ideally we want to include everyone and everything. But this effort can lead us into extremes of chaos from which our community may not emerge intact.

This is where it becomes necessary to “create an integral container” – a social environment and group process that includes as much as possible without destroying itself. The challenge is to find ways to include those voices, to let them speak, but in ways that do not degrade the ability of the group to reach good decisions in a timely way. That is the creative edge of chaos and order which challenges these emerging communities. That is a realm of innovation for each group, because there are hundreds of ways it can be pursued. One common way is to strive for consensus – knowing that makes for better decisions and group cohesion – but to have a fallback of consensus minus 1-10 percent – knowing that that allows decisions to be made in a more timely way.

I predict these vibrant new transformational communities will learn to include more and more voices and energies – but never so much that it destroys their group – and that they will generate ever-new forms of order – but never so much that it degrades their collective vitality and wisdom.
If they do succeed at that, their innovations will be one of the most precious gifts possible to our emerging new world.

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from Danny Schechter
The OWS Movement: More Than Meets the Eye
http://blog.buzzflash.com/node/13069

Al Jazeera spoke with Katie Davison, one of the activists who explained their way of looking at the world.

“A candidate is sort of the old way of doing things,” she said. “We’re looking for a new way of doing things that is more participatory and more meaningful. What that looks like we’re still figuring out.”

David Graeber, anthropologist, writer and protest organizer, told Al Jazeera why he thinks young people in the US have reached an especially frustrating point.

“In making a demand, you’re essentially recognizing the authority of the people who are going to carry it out,” he said.

“Our message is that the system that we have is broken. It doesn’t work. People aren’t even discussing the real problems Americans face.”

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from Eugene Robinson
http://www.registerguard.com/web/opinion/27011780-47/love-protests-economic-o…

Occupy Wall Street and its kindred protests around the country are inept, incoherent and hopelessly quixotic. God, I love ’em.

I love every little thing about these gloriously amateurish sit-ins. I love that they are spontaneous, leaderless and open-ended. I love that the protesters refuse to issue specific demands beyond a forceful call for economic justice. I also love that in Chicago — uniquely, thus far — demonstrators have ignored the rule about vagueness and are being ultra-specific about their goals. I love that there are no rules, just tendencies….

Already, after less than a month, commentators are asking whether the Occupy protests can be transformed into a coherent political force. For now, at least, I hope not.

We have no shortage of politicians in this country. What we need is more passion and energy in the service of justice. We need to be forced to answer questions that sound simplistic or naive — questions about ethics and values. Detailed policy positions can wait.

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from
http://news.yahoo.com/occupy-wall-street-protests-rankle-rich-193928054.html

According to IRS tax data, anybody earning $380,354 or more qualifies for membership in the top 1 percent. That would include some of the better-paid traders at the Board of Trade. (IRS data shows, too, that the top 1 percent holds 35.6 percent of the nation’s wealth…)

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from a report on Occupy Seattle by William Dudley Bass
http://atthebrinkwithwilliamdudleybass.blogspot.com/2011/10/give-damn-occupy-…

Guess where the largest concentration of police officers was positioned? Right in front of the entrance to Chase Manhattan. How ironic, too, as Bank of America just across the street was abandoned to the occupation. BoA didn’t seem popular with anyone today, not even the cops, especially after announcing its imposition of high debit card user fees after all that work to get people to switch from using credit cards to debit cards… No one stormed the bank, although the word was out the police in St. Louis, Missouri had to sent SWAT teams out to protect BoA from its customers….

I felt moved and inspired by my experience of Occupy Seattle. This is even so despite the at times chaotic and disorganized aspect of the protests, such as late starts, communication delays, and the lack of cohesion between some of the groups down there together. I experienced a wonder and an awe I had not felt in over a decade. Indeed, I felt hope, and I’m not one to usually waste time hoping.

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from John Perkins
http://www.csrwire.com/blog/posts/168-the-sit-in-heard-round-the-world

Some call for dismantling capitalism, but historically capitalism has proven to be a powerful tool for channeling creative minds into productive uses. However, in its current manifestation (the mutant form known as Predatory Capitalism) it has become extremely dangerous, a disaster—for everyone except those few who cling to the top of the economic pyramid. We must change this system and create a better world for the future.

Instead of the current corporate goal of “maximizing profits regardless of the environmental and social costs,” it is essential to insist upon a new goal for business: “Make a reasonable return on investment, but only within the context of creating a sustainable, just and peaceful world.”

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from

http://www.benjerry.com/activism/occupy-movement/

We, the Ben & Jerry’s Board of Directors, compelled by our personal convictions and our Company’s mission and values, wish to express our deepest admiration to all of you who have initiated the non-violent Occupy Wall Street Movement and to those around the country who have joined in solidarity…. We realize that Occupy Wall Street is calling for systemic change. We support this call to action and are honored to join you in this call to take back our nation and democracy.

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