Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dispossessing the Cure

Occupy Wall Stret was thrown out of Zuccotti Park and many other occupy encampments were also dispossessed this week. While the stated intention is "restoring cleanliness and order," the deep objective is to break up dissent. The source of the protest, in my view, is the stunning disarray our country finds itself in, with a deep and seemingly endless recession, a huge intractable foreclosure crisis, a massive economic restructuring that will end end decent, longterm employment with good wages and benefits, and a equally endless engagement in wars in other people's countries These problems have shattered the "Amerian Dream" of a Way of Life. The loss of the Way causes root shock, the traumatic stress reaction to the loss of all or part of one's economic ecosystem. The cure for root shock is to make new roots. By encamping in cities all across the US, people began the process of making a new roots and a New Way of Life, both of which are urgently needed. This doesn't mean that we were all going to live in parks -- although if the economic situation gets bad enough, that might happen -- rather I mean that these sites became spaces of conversation, investigating the problems and considering solutions. The encampments started a public conversation about the concentration of wealth which has taken palce over the past 3 decades, but somehomw eluded broad conversation. In the aftermath of the nationwide dispossessions, the conversation will be harder to find and to have, the dissent will be impeded, and the inequality will be able to continue to grow.

Dispossession is a fundamental strategy of the accumulation of wealth, according to geographer David Harvey. In my studies, dispossession impoverishes and paralyzes the dispossessed, while the dispossessers are free to accumlate and function. Occuppy Wall Street is poignant example. Because of donations from around the world, OWS has developed a library of 5,000, which were reportedly thrown in dumpster. Medical supplies, bicycle generators, people's personal goods: all were confiscated and held by New York City. "People's backpacks were taken to a storage facility but they weren't allowed to get them back unless they had proof of purchase or a photograph," my daughter Molly Rose Kaufman told me. As any lost-and-found operates on the simple "can you describe what you lost and what's in it?" this higher level of proof is simply about taking the wealth of the movement, making it poorer.

What happens when the cure is interrupted? While the powers-that-be fear the unrest of the 99%, the interruption of the cure carries dire consequences. The 99% would likely find a healthy solution. The suppression of that conversation can lead to much more terrible paths. For one thing, America is a nation that routine unleashes hatred of people because of their race, creed, color or religion. This is a terrifying spectre of race riots, McCarthyism, anti-Semitism or all of the above.

We are a people in search of a Way of Life, suffering from the loss of our Dream. For however unreal our Dream might have been, it guided us in our daily lives. We urgently need to occupy everything and everywhere, talking and listening until we're blue in the face, and have discovered what happened, what it's like now and what we can do next.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

HANDS' 25 Years Celebrated

HANDS, a community development corporation in Orange, NJ, celebrated 25 years of work at a party at Luna Stage on Valley Road in West Orange, right around the corner from my house. The November 1st festivities included a bus tour of HANDS' projects, a walking tour of the Valley, an afternoon symposium, and an evening reception with a silent auction of art from local painters and sculptors. It was a bright, sunny day, and we had electricity. Luna Stage is currently showing "The Dangers of Electric Lighting" which is about Thomas Edison. We had a 24-hour power outage over the weekend, so we are closer to "The Dangers of NO Electric Lighting" but I'm excited to see the play. The HANDS symposium took place in the stage set of the Edison play, and it was very intimate and interesting. A highlight of the symposium, which had the theme "The Judo of Community Development," was a demonstration of judo and karate by Shihan Kenneth Lee and his students from Way of the Tiger Martial Arts, a little of Luna on Valley Road. Shihan Lee demonstrated fundamentals of martial arts, including its view of the creation of ethical character, one that is kind and humble, concerned for others. "That," said Patrick Morrissy to Shihan Lee after the demonstration, "is what community development is all about."