Having returned from sleeping in Liberty Square with a thousand or so outraged but friendly fellow citizens, I would urge everyone to get down there, at least for a visit. Inspiration is guaranteed, and you can learn the tools for action that can peacefully help our experiment in democracy thrive again, both down on Wall Street and anywhere your home happens to be.
The goal, that famous demand the media keeps demanding from the movement, is to enact policies for fairly sharing the nation’s wealth and meeting the true needs of people. But that is only my demand, and I speak only for myself. The change being enacted by everyone at Occupy Wall Street goes deeper than politics.
Go and see for yourself, and express yourself. You are encouraged to make your own signs expressing your own view on things. Poignant and pointed signs adorn the sidewalks or are held by protestors, who range from homeless vets and graduate students who are unemployed and deeply in debt, and from mothers whose children face a dangerous future. There is humor, pathos and rage, side by side for anyone to read.
There is a free library, free food, and art and yoga all free, and drumming and dancing and more. People are freely meeting among themselves. And there are times set aside for what is called a soapbox, where people are free to listen to speeches, or not. But the scene it is more than just messaging and morale, as important as those are, at Occupy Wall Street citizens learn remarkable ways to cooperate for change.
The most obvious example is the Human Microphone, a technique required because, in their fear, the powers that be are preventing the movement from using any amplification equipment.
So, Columbus Day weekend, several thousand citizens who marched with Occupy Wall Street used the plaza at Washington Square Park for a rally, that included a general assembly meeting for the movement. Because amplification was prohibited, facilitators asked the crowd to repeat what speakers said, in a measured call and repeat of information that traveled easily to the outskirts of the crowd.
If the rhythm faltered, cries of “mike check!” arise and facilitators recalibrate the human microphone and the meeting goes on. It works remarkably well, and goes along with the few simple hand signals that participants learn, so that direct democracy is possible in large crowds without a lot of voices drowning the human microphone.
This technique is only a hint of how far reaching the cooperation goes. Those camped in Liberty Plaza have working groups that cooperate on key tasks. There is a working group for feeding each other, for keeping the park clean, for greeting newcomers, for interacting with the curious press, and of course a working group planning peaceful direct action civil disobedience protests against the atrociously corrupt economic policies being shoveled on us.
There are other working groups as well and anyone may start a working group if you can gain enough support. All the meetings are open to the public and all are run under the same rules of cooperation, with facilitators ensuring a hearing for anyone who wishes to speak, and the group consenting on a course of action. Working groups bring the results of their deliberations to a general assembly for adoption, or not. Though it is sometimes tedious, it is more often fascinating, and very effective,
When citizens respect the process and respect each other as much as those in Liberty Square are doing, it works remarkably well. Where it might be leading is heartening, but not easily expressed and certainly not guaranteed. That is why it is so important for everyone to go see for themselves what Occupy Wall Street is doing.
These are not wild-eyed protestors, but sensible citizens. You will recognize yourself and your friends in the people you meet in and around the park. They are us, the 99 percent who are tired of being screwed by a corrupt economic system favoring only one percent of citizens. We can indeed show ourselves the way to a bright future, but we have to act. The world needs us.
For more letters, see print edition.