Ripples of change, from kitchen tables to public parks

This morning, in my parents’ house, a scene took place that underscored for me the extent to which the Occupy movement has entered the collective consciousness.

The man who has taken care of my parents’ property for the past 30 years or so had come by to say hello, and was standing in the kitchen complaining about how the oil companies are making billions while the price of fuel oil and gasoline goes ever higher for ordinary consumers.

He is a lifelong Republican, but voted for Obama in the last presidential election, having had enough of the Bush crowd with their lies and their wars.

Listening to his critique of the mega-oil companies, my mother turned to him and said teasingly, “So who should we occupy now?”

We all laughed and the conversation moved on, but there is an underlying element of seriousness there that amazes me when I think about it.

A few months ago, we might have complained, but without any thought of actually doing something to bring about change.

Now, suddenly, options are open to us.  We could go down and occupy the local gas station with some homemade signs, and probably get a lot of support from people filling their tanks.

Yes, we all do fill our tanks.  But instead of holding the resentment inside, there is now an outlet for it, a way to talk about it together that is not about the two parties and their endless childish jockeying for power, but about something deeper: the longing for and the pull to real change.

I have to admit I was disappointed that apparently Black Friday consumer shopping was more vigorous than ever this year. But it’s surely no accident that fights broke out at WalMarts across the country, where people who have precious few dollars to spend on their holiday shopping turned out on Black Friday to try to get some bargains.

What’s fascinating, and under-reported, is that on Black Friday, thousands of Chinese factory workers went out on strike to demand living wages and job security.  These are the workers who are supplying the products being sold as “bargains” in America, mostly to workers whose jobs have been outsourced–to China!

Marx’s dream of an international uprising of the proletariat has never been more possible, thanks to be magic of the internet.

And somehow the barriers between American consumers and Chinese producers–or between professional-class employers like my parents and blue collar workers like their property caretaker–are coming down.

There seems to be a new zeitgeist stirring the stagnant air of American social relations.  Is it the age of Aquarius?  The alignment of the planets?  The infamous Mayan 2012?

Whatever it is, let’s seize the moment and make the most of it.  Let’s talk up a storm, sharing ideas and encouragement with everyone we meet.

If a butterfly in Brazil can cause a hurricane in Texas, then maybe a casual conversation in your kitchen can be the catalyst for a change that will sweep the nation, and the world.  It’s certainly worth a try.

On Black Friday, a New Target: Occupy the Malls!

What’s so effective about the Occupy movement is how it makes creative use of public space to get its message across.

For instance, the terrific techno-graffitti unleashed last night in New York, where protesters projected their message on to the Verizon Building without leaving a trace.

I have a idea for continuing this strategy, but with a new target: the great American MALL.

As you know, it’s just one week until Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, when all good patriotic Americans are supposed to line up at the big box stores at dawn, credit cards in hand, ready to start the mad Christmas shopping rush.

This year it seems that the whole capitalist enterprise that fueled those crazy Christmas shopping binges has started to crack and sway.

I dimly remember why Christmas is associated with gift-giving–it had something to do with the Three Wise Men bearing gifts to the baby Jesus, right?  But this American tradition of giving mountains of gifts to one another, competing with each other to buy the biggest, shiniest, best gift of all–that has nothing to do with the spirit of Christmas.

Myself, I prefer to celebrate the winter Solstice in this season, the day when the deepening darkness turns the corner of the equinox and we begin the long slow return to light and warmth.

I propose that this Black Friday, Americans should link arms with our family and friends and Occupy the malls of America.  Instead of driving ourselves ever deeper into debt with those credit cards, we should protest the corporate policies of outsourcing that have made it so unusual to see American-made products for sale in American stores.

If we want to put America back to work, we are going to have to reinvent the whole economic model of globalization. It had a nice ring to it, back in the 1980s and 90s when it was being implemented, but it has turned out to be a catastrophic failure on more levels than I can count.

What’s needed now is a re-locallization: a return to locally based economies, all over the world.  Let the Chinese manufacture goods for themselves while we get American factories humming again.

But this time, let those factories be worker-owned cooperatives rather than top-down corporations–just like Gore-Tex or Clif Bar or Eileen Fisher, all big brands that are actually owned by their employees.

Let’s gather in malls and shopping centers all across the U.S. on Black Friday and use the Thanksgiving holiday to push the corporations represented there to do what’s right for America.

When they start listening to us, we’ll all be giving thanks.

Let’s take back Black Friday, and change history!

I have a suggestion for the Occupy America folks all over this country.  Let’s take back Black Friday.  You know, the Black Friday after Thanksgiving Day, supposed to be one of the biggest shopping days of the American year?

It’s a great day for a decentralized national protest, because nearly everybody, including all those college students, is on holiday.  It’s also a great day for an anti-Big Money protest, because it will hit the corporations where it hurts most: retail sales.

What if instead of swiping those credit cards and running up our consumer debt on Black Friday–making it a black day for consumers, but a golden day for corporations and financiers–we deliberately boycotted the malls?  Instead, let’s declare a day of participatory democracy in action, a chance to meet with our neighbors and fellow citizens out on the public square, in cities and towns all across this country, to collectively envision a new society based on the true ideals of Thanksgiving: joining together as human beings across superficial differences like ethnicity, nationality and creed, nourishing each other with the bounty of our natural world and helping each other through lean times.

We live on a rich and abundant planet where there are sufficient resources for all of us to live well–the problem is the inequitable distribution of those resources.  On the original Thanksgiving, the native hosts were kind enough to give their Puritan guests a helping hand.  The rest is history, and it’s not a happy history at all.

We are standing at a crossroads where we have a chance to step off the path we began as a nation when the Europeans colonized this country and the capitalist machine began to roar.  We may not get another chance, given the precarious state of our global climate.

Now is our time.  Let’s step up and change history together.  Black Friday organizers, let’s get busy!

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