Erica Priggen

Contributed by Erica Priggen

January 12, 2012

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Reflections on Occupy

We had just moved into our new office a few weeks earlier. Downtown Oakland was now our home, and Free Range was nested solidly into the grid of concrete, alive with dozens of restaurants, a BART station, the newly renovated Fox Theater, big bank offices and Frank Ogawa plaza just a few streets south. A small group of us headed out to the first Occupy Oakland protest on a drizzly afternoon, before any tents had even been set up. The crowd was energized, and protest signs still looked fairly fresh, newly penned and lightly handled. The movement was nascent and growing, and Occupy Oakland was about to put itself on the map.

A couple of weeks later, on October 27, I left the office late in the evening, the ambiance of helicopters steady and loud under the low cloud cover. Occupy Oakland had been evicted from the plaza pre-dawn that morning. People were prepared to stand strong and reclaim their space. I saw many Free Range friends and clients out on the streets that night. Spirits were high and sharp in the orange glow of the street lamps. The energy was palpable and fecund.

I’m not a hugely seasoned protestor. I don’t know the ins and outs of what to pack in preparation. I have a bad back. But, I’m street smart and have good common sense from growing up in New York City. And I passionately believe in people's right to assemble and speak up. What ensued that night changed me, and as I ran through the haze of tear gas (albeit peripherally, about a block away from the core of the action, the very core where Scott Olson was hospitalized by a police projectile), my heart was so full of love for everyone around me. I was also alive with the energy of having one of my deepest passions — to do away with corporate injustice and the influence of corporate money in our government — reflected in a unified, shared voice of uncontestable alliance and freedom. I had the deepest gratitude to everyone collectively for finally speaking the truth and uncovering something we had all been feeling, for a long time.

According to a Pew Research Center survey released January 11, 2012, “about two-thirds of the public (66%) believes there are ‘very strong’ or ‘strong’ conflicts between the rich and the poor — an increase of 19 percentage points since 2009.” http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/01/11/rising-share-of-americans-see-conflict-between-rich-and-poor/. Over the last few months, ushered by the steady drumbeat of Occupy’s protests around the country (and supported globally), the national conversation shifted from debt and revenue to the imbalance of wealth, lack of jobs and general state of poverty that millions face in this country. Let’s take that in. The Occupy movement changed the stories within the national conversation. And while the conversation is still evolving, it can never go back to what it was before Occupy.

So when the mainstream media queries, befuddled and glinting under studio lights, what Occupy’s message is, it can be frustrating, but not necessarily surprising. Doing research on the topic online, trying to take the pulse, I'm subjected to much of the same status quo ping ponging between two sets of extremes: left vs. right, progressive vs. conservative, etc. etc. But let’s go deeper than that. This movement began as a way to specifically challenge the dictate of corporate personhood, and struck the nerve already smarting from corruption, waiting for the right time.

Perhaps the complaint about not presenting a unified message points more at the way we’ve come to consume stories, i.e. the way we opt into being spoon-fed messages and then regurgitating them as truths. Frustration over the lack of a unified message? I think that says more about how we’ve lost touch with some critical faculties of being able to research, observe and create our own stories. We now wait for storytellers within the very system that is being criticized to tell us what we know, what we don’t know and worse still, what to believe. Occupy is creating its own media, and it’s on us to do our homework, to research, to be curious, to investigate, and to know ourselves and our truths.

And why not question the intense NEED for a centralized message? This movement is about a shift in consciousness, and it’s happening globally. Oppression will always be fought by the higher human expression of freedom. In the U.S., the oppression is enacted through the gross imbalance of corporate power and corporate money in politics.

There is a deep psychological desire to ‘know the answer.’ We’re incredibly uncomfortable with uncertainty. Yet, there is a different way of ‘knowing’ that involves the body, involves time, involves patience and observation, using all of one’s senses; in essence it’s about seeking wisdom, rather than seeking a specific answer. All shifts in consciousness happen this way. It is a slow and painful process, illuminated by tectonic shifts and sudden fissures in the collective crust of acquiescence, and because of the very fact that we so desperately want to know what is going to happen. The process is kind of like looking at those 3-D posters — it requires a soft focus, and the ability to scan an entire landscape, horizontally and vertically, through space and time. It’s not about the pinpointed, singular solution.

The online and social media world is an incredible landscape for this very kind of learning, observation, and participation. But it requires the ability to scan intelligently — to know one’s truth while simultaneously surveying a rich panoply of perspectives. Balancing the terrain of archive and blueprints of potential futures, WE can create the story. Use this freedom. Tell it right. Participate with all your heart, and hold faith that we ARE the narrative itself unfolding.

On January 20, 2012 there was a massive day of action for Occupy.  Appropriately, January 20 was the anniversary of the Citizens United court decision (you can learn all about it in our piece The Story of Citizens United v. FEC).  I am personally and professionally grateful for the opportunity to participate in Occupy.  We'll see you on the streets!