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.

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