Occupying Questions

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CommonDreams.org

Occupying Questions

The Occupy Wall Street movement sparked global demonstrations of solidarity last weekend. The last such coordinated effort was more than a decade ago, when ten million people surged on to the streets in hopes of stopping the coming invasion of Iraq. Those voices were quickly lost in the violent explosions of the U.S. bombs of the Shock and Awe campaign.

Lost, too, was the belief that putting our bodies on the streets mattered. It seemed that governments were able to move without concern for the opinions of those they governed. Over the decade, protests against war, an ever shrinking public sphere, the spoiling of precious natural resources, the turning back of legislation and ideas that held the aspirations for a more just union for all, seemed of little effect.

Today, inspired by the Arab Spring and the growing efforts of people from Athens, Madrid, and London and around the world, questions long buried at the edges of our consciousness are bursting back into public life. Public actions are sparking renewed hope in our capacity to create a better future.

The Occupy Wall Street Movement has focused the discontent people feel about the kind of country we have become. This discontent is deeper than any single issue. It is a new opportunity to look at who we are and what kind of people we want to be.

Much of the reaction by the mainstream media has complained that there are no clear demands emerging from the various occupations. The mainstream media loves to quote people saying things like, “They may be well intentioned, but they’re not doing anything.” Or, “They are just pointing the finger at somebody else who is doing something. You don’t get anything done that way except to cause envy.” Some want to label it class warfare. Others, especially our own Nolan Finley of the Detroit News, call it a push for big government over big business, endangering our “freedom.”

All this commentary misses the depth of concern for our country echoing through these streets. We have watched this concern grow over the last decade as wars, not supported by the majority of people, continue unchecked, becoming ever more brutal. Policies to support corporations’ greed advance in spite of the protests. Corruption in business and government has become normal. Meanwhile millions have become homeless, more children face hunger than at any time in decades, and young people face a future distorted by debt, unemployment and increasingly unsupportable ways of living. We are more unequal today in the U.S.A. than either Tunisia or Egypt.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has given all of us the opportunity to ask ourselves new questions. What kind of relationships do we want with other nations? What kind of economy should we have to sustain us, our communities and our earth? How do we make not just a living but lives of meaning and joy? How do we develop our children and our communities? Are we only after jobs for ourselves on Wall Street? What does democracy look like in action? How can we organize ourselves into compassionate communities?

These are not easy questions. But these are the questions long buried under the corporate domination of our collective imagination over the last decade. Now, unleashed into the public sphere, they will not fade away with the tents and tarps of the “Occupiers.”

At a public meeting in Detroit of community based activists searching how to best support the local demonstrators, Yusef Shakur said, “I have trouble with the whole “occupy” Detroit name, but I know we should be worrying about what we have allowed to occupy our minds.” That occupation is ending.

Shea Howell

Shea Howell is a professor and chair of the Department of Communication and Journalism at Oakland University in Rochester, MI, where she teaches courses on communication theory and multicultural and political communication. Her most recent book is Making Sense of Political Ideology.

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