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The Magnetic Force of the Moment -- Perils and Potential on the Road to Transformation

For all the head-scratching and hand-wringing in the corporate media over the “message” -- or lack of one -- as it turns out, the American people understand exactly what the Occupy Wall Street movement is talking about.

Evidence that the occupy movement has triggered some deeply dormant impulse in the American psyche is everywhere. Here in Northern California, “occupiers” are standing their ground in San Francisco, Oakland and other major cities. In San Francisco, protesters are refusing to leave Justin Herman Plaza, and police are preparing for a standoff. In the largely working class city of Oakland, where poverty is endemic and gang-related shootings are a near-daily occurrence, the protests are growing larger by the day. Last week, “Occupy Oakland" was given a notice by city officials to vacate Frank Ogawa Plaza. There too, demonstrators are refusing to leave until their demands are taken seriously. Those demands include increased regulation of banks and Wall Street investment firms and fundamental changes to the system of economic distribution.

In other parts of the Golden State, Wells Fargo is being targeted by occupiers in an organized effort to collectively withdraw funds. Earlier this month, hundreds of protestors shut down a Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco's Financial District. Others are participating in protests, teach-ins and non-violence trainings in their cities or communities.

Here in Northern California, and across the nation, the “electricity of change” permeates the atmosphere. The potential for a collective awakening of “we the people” from cultural unconsciousness induced by the anesthesia of corporate consumerism is omnipresent.

It is a “Howard Beale moment.”

Americans are “mad as hell,” all right, but we’re also relieved as hell. Finally, a political space is opening up (or, more to the point, being carved out) for the 99% to stand up and say, “We’re not going to take it any more.” Really.

In neighborhoods from New York to the Hawaiian Islands -- whether or not they are part of the protests -- the “99 percent” of Americans who have lost their jobs, retirements, homes, healthcare, savings and/or good credit ratings, all of those “losers” who know they’re not losers, but have nonetheless lost so much, are seeing something familiar in this movement -- their own reflections.

They too are caught up in the magnetic force of the moment.

Yet, this moment -- this window in time -- in which Americans seem to have awakened from an overly long slumber, is only the beginning of what will likely be a long transitional journey. And transitions are always rife with challenges and potential pitfalls.

The 99% best be prepared for the “equal and opposite” reaction that will inevitably come. “We the people” should understand that this “opposite reaction” represents a formidable force – one that exists right alongside our dream of change. In this universe, it is fear, not revolutionary courage that permeates the atmosphere. Fear of the unknown, fear of rage and despair, fear of abandoning our comfort zones, fear of what could come next.

Fear of real transformation.

In such a universe, the 99% have been so steeped for so long in corporate values (and the corporate culture that created those values), that we can no longer differentiate – or extract -- ourselves from it. The idea of radical change no longer feels inspiring. It feels threatening. In this universe, the “American Awakening” is quickly “put down.”

It falls quietly back into its self-induced coma -- by sheer force of habit.

To avoid such a disastrous scenario, we will need to think and act fearlessly, as we face down corporate forces -- and our own darkest demons. If we are to succeed in creating the better world we envision, we’ll need to look, not only outward and backward at the role of corporate greed and corruption in today’s global crisis of greed and inequity, but forward at what kind of future we want, and -- perhaps most challenging -- inward at our own complicity in the problems we now face.

The transition from revolution to transformation will provoke the corporate classes in both predictable and unpredictable ways. We have yet to see the big dogs of disaster capitalism unleash their full fury on the nation. But, as corporate power brokers begin to understand that their power is being seriously challenged by the 99%, -- once it dawns on them that it really is down to “us or them” -- that fury will be felt in cities, towns and communities all over the country – and the world.

Here in the US, the impact of disaster capitalism is already devastating communities. Financial stress has been successfully exploited to expand the privatization of the public school system; healthcare “reform” has been twisted beyond recognition into a profit machine for the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries; investor-owned water utilities all over the country are attempting to push unreasonable rate schemes on consumers to increase their profit margins.

In the realm of (public versus private) power, even relatively wealthy Northern California has seen its public power movement reduced to a corporate image of itself, in the wake of disaster capitalism. In Marin, after a protracted battle with dominant utility PG&E, the county managed to break away from the mega-monopoly to form its own “Community Choice Aggregation” (CCA), only to find itself “forced” to contract with Shell Energy North America “in order to be competitive on the open energy market.” Only this month, San Francisco followed in Marin’s footsteps, and is currently in negotiations with Shell to put the oil and gas company in charge of its CCA (aka CleanPowerSF). Today, Northern California’s once vibrant public power movement is in serious jeopardy of becoming a corporate-controlled “public power program” – an oxymoron if ever there was one, and a serious setback to the dream of “energy democracy” (local ownership of energy sources) once envisioned by local activists.

The rise of disaster capitalism needs also to be viewed through the lens of consumer complicity. The compelling nature of corporate seduction -- or the power of our own consumer addictions to undermine our best intentions -- cannot be overstated. Transitions, by their very nature, render people vulnerable. At this critical juncture, we the people, having made our stand, marched in the streets, yelled at the television and/or carried signs that screamed "Give it Back," are particularly vulnerable to falling into the familiar (and more comfortable) role of "consumers."

With the corporate-inspired holidays now threatening to invade every corner of American culture, the 99 percent faces yet another defining moment. How will we cope with the temptation to revert to consumer habits and corporate comforts? Will we organize boycotts, walk-outs and “credit-card burnings?” Or will Americans -- at least those still fortunate enough to have an income -- reflexively pull out our credit cards (the ones we meant to cut up) and use what little credit we have left to further enrich those we (claim to) oppose?

During this critical transition, on which so much depends, will the 99 percent go to the malls to picket -- or to shop?

Individuals and communities will need to look closely at the ways in which we keep the “corporate powers that be” in place if we hope to make it through the transition. The space for real transformation will only be created when we stop contributing to our own enslavement (and empowering our corporate captors) by consuming their products – in many cases, without even knowing where the products were made, by whom and under what conditions.

Real transformation means building a more sustainable world. We’ll need to be less reliant on corporate sources for our food, energy and water. One look at what’s happening in Alabama, where people are being denied access to water (if they don’t have “proper identification”), should be evidence enough that we’ll need to grow more of our own food, generate our own renewable power and cultivate local water sources whenever and wherever possible.

The magnetic force of this particular moment will not last. Right now the 99% are taking the moment and running with it. But, if “we the people” are to win the struggle for human and environmental rights over the forces of corporate gluttony, we should add to our list the task of disconnecting ourselves from the feeding tube that sustains it.

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