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Occupy the Public Forum: 5 Values to Profess Beyond the Protest

While some people are frustrated that the Occupiers haven’t issued detailed policy briefs, they managed to do something arguably more important: open a dialog on values  that has been held captive by conservative forces for years .

Occupy Wall Street and its solidarity tents are injecting a different set of questions and issues into what used to be our public forum. Truth be told, they are injecting a lot of disjointed, broad questions and issues, and that’s great. This isn’t the time to hone and package outrage into ballot initiatives or candidates. It is a time to put forth core beliefs and principles and demand that they be discussed, vetted and applied in meaningful ways.

I've heard five core values, by no means the whole list. Rather, they are a starting point for a real discussion about what we, as a nation, embrace that can make us vibrant and whole.

Value #1: People are people, and corporations are not. That means, among other things, that a government of the people, by the people and for the people should represent (and be represented by) bi-peds and not corporate conglomerations. At a fundamental level, our economic disaster and the bailouts to date shows who the current court and office holders view as “people” – and it is not us.

Value #2: Fairness. This does not mean equal shares for all, or serious retributions of wealth and land. It does mean valuing what the parable (and investor Warren Buffett) opines: from those who have, more shall be required. And, the less stated corollary, those that don’t have substance should at least have a reasonable avenue to a sustainable future rather than a chasm of debt.

Value #3:  Responsibility. This value includes both individual responsibility and collective responsibility, so it’s a biggie. And it’s tricky because we want to believe – as we have been coached, coddled and cajoled to believe by media – that more is better. Individually, we are entitled to more than our ancestors, and collectively, as a nation, we are entitled to more than the rest of the world. Truth is, more is more and not better. Unlimited growth is not possible with a limited earth. Do we really value “more” and “better” above sustainability and a dignified life, particularly if only a small percentage actually experience the more and better? Many young people, but not only them, aren’t buying that non-stop production of greenhouse gases or gobbling of resources is a good thing now, and definitely aren’t buying that it’s a good thing for the next generations.  The question is: do we value the future enough to change the present?

Value #4: The Commons exist. Contrary to the values espoused by capitalism and those who benefit from privatizing anything for which there is a demand (e.g. water, land, air), this value asserts that some things belong to all of us and are essential for democracy. Rain that falls in one state does not belong to another’s water resource management, aquifers in Cochabamba do not belong to private industries, nor do mountain tops and ecosystems belong to coal companies or the highest bidder. 

Value #5:  Solidarity matters. This value usually leads immediately to discussion of tactics, movements or event hierarchies of wanted outcomes. Before we go there, let’s first acknowledge that connections with one another hold value. As human beings, we have the capacity to recognize both similarities and differences, reach beyond our solitary selves to connect with others. How we connect, how deeply and broadly, how fully matters.  What’s more, solidarity is a two-way street not to be confused with charity.

Occupy Wall Street and subsequent gatherings give us a chance to hold discussions about core values that have not happened in years. Certainly they haven’t happened in political debates. Rarely have they happened in media, or even in what few civic forums remain (e.g. religious gatherings, university halls, library or theater rooms, etc.). Now they are happening in the street – perhaps the most democratic of public forums.  That’s a good start.

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