Monthly Archives: December 2011

How to Change the World

Hm, I was sincerely hoping to have an answer for you, but alas I am yet a mere mortal. I have come to the conclusion  that the solution begins with me, after all its the one place that I have the power to influence. The New Year approaches, along with the tradition of  creating resolutions, this year co-occurring with another turning point in my personal life. I’ve given considerable thought to my own goals for the coming year. There are of course the reruns, the pledges to be more organized, to procrastinate less, to pay bills on time (as long as the money is there) but as I review these well intentioned promises to myself I realize there’s a reason behind the repetition in theme, year and year again. These resolutions address behaviors and responses that are symptoms of  deeper issues.There is a lot of talk circulating these days in reference to the question of Global Change; there are discussions, dictates, manifestos, opinions, dreams, arguments and unfortunately, a fair amount of discord. An objective observer can easily spot the common ground that is inherent in the collective desire for renewal. The Communal sense of urgency and rebellion is frequently lost amongst the strict adherence to doctrine.

Procrastination, disorganization and general lack of responsibility are a cluster of behaviors based in learned helplessness and the fear of personal  power. They are reactive behaviors. The recent social/Political movements have been accused of many of the same traits I myself struggle to manage. I understand the struggle that groups encounter as they are pressed for demands and clear statements of purpose. We know what we don’t want, but we have been subjected to the system that imposes “what we don’t want” for so long, we’re not even sure how to implement what it is we do want. It’s one thing to dream of a better world and it’s quite another to do the work, to educate and empower ourselves to make it happen. I can envision the life I want to create, but to move forward and create that life requires risk. There will be mistakes and setbacks. There will be critics standing by telling me it’s not possible (some of them will be nagging voices in my own mind!) But guess what? Just like Fox News and its smirking self righteous observation of today’s activists, those influences already reporting daily, and the less I accomplish the more righteous they become.

I’m lucky, most of  my critics are internal, my own insecurities and leftover fears from days long ago. Much like an obnoxious political commentator, they can be turned off, I can change the channel and  once I acknowledge the limited scope of their experience that is the root of their pessimism I can forgive them and separate myself from their influence. I can tune into the frequencies that transmit hope, idealism, and the required education to provide the skills and means to create reality from fantasy, to manifest dreams and to ultimately change my world. Don’t underestimate the Sci-fi channel, it is one place that fears, ideas, possibilities and dreams are played out. We the Dreamers, envision solutions, we create blueprints for change and we thrive on Hope.  Our Dreams and Visions are the beginning, may this New Years baby be the birth of a year of  Action and Creation.

Peace and Happy New year!


This is not a Political Blog

I can almost hear the sighs of relief, ha ha.

But wait, there’s more. I know if you’re like me the word “Occupy” is starting to wear thin. It has been brutally overused lately and I am guilty as many others of being somewhat Occu-focused. I have spent the past couple of months working in this movement in a few different capacities and at times I feel like I never want to hear the word again. I will never again be able to approach an airline bathroom door without envisioning several young people with guitars sitting inside huddled next to a tiny ramshackle tent singing songs of revolution. Still I will most likely smile fondly at the memory of the phenomenon that dominated this fall.  Who knows how long this particular manifestation of social dissent will last. Probably until it becomes political.
See this movement, like me, is devoted to social change at a level that equalizes opportunity for all people, values each contribution as essential to the functioning of a healthy society  and insists on equal accountability for all.   For the most part we also share values such as  respect for the planet and her resources and desire a more sustainable economic system of  production and distribution of goods and services.  Historically, one party has tended to vote in favor of policies that would further the cause of those of those concepts, but they aren’t doing  a very good job of it lately.
At our very first GA meeting we discussed potential future endorsement or affiliation with any political party as a potential for the 2012 election. The response was majority in favor of not becoming politically involved. Now that time has passed and we’e all found our niche, there are some who are making their political feelings more public, but the movement here has remained fairly neutral, much to my relief.
I don’t see the solution to our problems as political. yes political systems may well be used to implement some of the changes we hope for; but it is us, the citizens who will bring about true reform and a higher state of being. We will not accomplish this by “asking” politicians to change things for us. We cannot demand that big businesses suddenly start treating others as equals, worthy of respect and a decent living wage. We create these changes by living the life we envision. We refuse to participate in systems that are broken. Realizing that complete dissociation with certain systems is not practical or even possible, we seek to reduce the level of dependence we have for those entities.
There exists a common theme in my writing, interactions with others and my efforts at creating community that those of us who have struggled in life posses knowledge and experience that can be of great value in the transformation of our culture to a more humane and loving way of life. And there is nothing political about that.

© 2010-2011 Nanakoosa’s Place, authored by Jennifer Hazard

Maintaining Safety During Occupation

I’m posting a link to this article because it so well describes the circumstances we have been faced with at our Milwaukee Occupation. From what I hear, we are not alone in these challenges but, according to many accounts, are actually faring pretty well. The hardest part for us here in Milwaukee is our “devoted activist to asshole ratio”. We have a small group of actual occupiers and many of us are only part time, therefore a large portion of people power and energy is expended while trying to maintain some sense  of order. I hope you enjoy the wit and honesty of this article as much as I did. I also hope that if any Occupiers are reading this they may take the encouragement and information that is offered here as a road map to success in maintaining a peaceful, focused presence in which to continue your work.

Occupy’s Asshole Problem: Flashbacks from An Old Hippie

By Sara Robinson

November 4, 2011

I wish I could say that the problems that the Occupy movement is having with infiltrators and agitators are new. But they’re not. In fact, they’re problems that the Old Hippies who survived the 60s and 70s remember acutely, and with considerable pain.

As a veteran of those days — with the scars to prove it — watching the OWS organizers struggle with drummers, druggies, sexual harassers, racists, and anarchists brings me back to a few lessons we had to learn the hard way back in the day, always after putting up with way too much over-the-top behavior from people we didn’t think we were allowed to say “no” to.  It’s heartening to watch the Occupiers begin to work out solutions to what I can only indelicately call “the asshole problem.” In the hope of speeding that learning process along, here are a few glimmers from my own personal flashbacks — things that it’s high time somebody said right out loud.

1. Let’s be clear: It is absolutely OK to insist on behavior norms. #Occupy may be a DIY movement — but it also stands for very specific ideas and principles. Central among these is: We are here to reassert the common good. And we have a LOT of work to do. Being open and accepting does not mean that we’re obligated to accept behavior that damages our ability to achieve our goals. It also means that we have a perfect right to insist that people sharing our spaces either act in ways that further those goals, or go somewhere else until they’re able to meet that standard.

2. It is OK to draw boundaries between those who are clearly working toward our goals, and those who are clearly not. Or, as an earlier generation of change agents put it: “You’re either on the bus, or off the bus.” Are you here to change the way this country operates, and willing to sacrifice some of your almighty personal freedom to do that? Great. You’re with us, and you’re welcome here. Are you here on your own trip and expecting the rest of us to put up with you? In that case, you are emphatically NOT on our side, and you are not welcome in our space.

Anybody who feels the need to put their own personal crap ahead of the health and future of the movement is (at least for that moment) an asshole, and does not belong in Occupied space. Period. This can be a very hard idea for people in an inclusive movement to accept — we really want to have all voices heard. But the principles #Occupy stands for must always take precedence over any individual’s divine right to be an asshole, or the assholes will take over. Which brings me to….

3. The consensus model has a fatal flaw, which is this: It’s very easy for power to devolve to the people who are willing to throw the biggest tantrums. When some a drama king or queen starts holding the process hostage for their own reasons, congratulations! You’ve got a new asshole! (See #2.) You must guard against this constantly, or consensus government becomes completely impossible.

4. Once you’ve accepted the right of the group to set boundaries around people’s behavior, and exclude those who put their personal “rights” ahead of the group’s mission and goals, the next question becomes:  How do we deal with chronic assholes?

This is the problem Occupy’s leaders are very visibly struggling with now. I’ve been a part of asshole-infested groups in the long-ago past that had very good luck with a whole-group restorative justice process. In this process, the full group (or some very large subset of it that’s been empowered to speak for the whole) confronts the troublemaker directly. The object is not to shame or blame. Instead, it’s like an intervention. You simply point out what you have seen and how it affects you. The person is given a clear choice: make some very specific changes in their behavior, or else leave.

This requires some pre-organization. You need three to five spokespeople to moderate the session (usually as a tag team) and do most of the talking. Everybody else simply stands in a circle around the offender, watching silently, looking strong and determined. The spokespeople make factual “we” statements that reflect the observations of the group. “We have seen you using drugs inside Occupied space. We are concerned that this hurts our movement. We are asking you to either stop, or leave.”

When the person tries to make excuses (and one of the most annoying attributes of chronic assholes is they’re usually skilled excuse-makers as well), then other members of the group can speak up — always with “I” messages. “I saw you smoking a joint with X and Y under tree Z this morning. We’re all worried about the cops here, and we think you’re putting our movement in danger. We are asking you to leave.” Every statement needs to end with that demand — “We are asking you to either stop, or else leave and not come back.” No matter what the troublemaker says, the response must always be brought back to this bottom line.

These interventions can go on for a LONG time. You have to be committed to stay in the process, possibly for a few hours until the offender needs a pee break or gets hungry. But eventually, if everybody stays put, the person will have no option but to accept that a very large group of people do not want him or her there. Even truly committed assholes will get the message that they’ve crossed the line into unacceptable behavior when they’re faced with several dozen determined people confronting them all at once.

Given the time this takes, it’s tempting to cut corners by confronting several people all at once. Don’t do it. Confronting more than two people at a time creates a diffusion-of-responsibility effect: the troublemakers tell themselves that they just got caught up in a dragnet; the problem is those other people, not me. The one who talks the most will get most of the heat; the others will tend to slip by (though the experience may cause them to reconsider their behavior or leave as well).

This process also leaves open the hope that the person will really, truly get that their behavior is Not OK, and agree to change it. When this happens, be sure to negotiate specific changes, boundaries, rules, and consequences (“if we see you using drugs here again, we will call the police. There will be no second warning”), and then reach a consensus agreement that allows them to stay. On the other hand: if the person turns violent and gets out of control, then the question is settled, and their choice is made. You now have a legitimate reason to call the cops to haul them away. And the cops will likely respect you more for maintaining law and order.

Clearing out a huge number of these folks can be a massive time suck, at least for the few days it will take to weed out the worst ones and get good at it. It might make sense to create a large committee whose job it is to gather information, build cases against offenders, and conduct these meetings.

And finally:

5. It is not wrong for you to set boundaries this way. You will get shit for this. “But…but…it looks a whole lot like a Maoist purge unit!”  No. There is nothing totalitarian about asking people who join your revolution to act in ways that support the goals of that revolution. And the Constitution guarantees your right of free association — which includes the right to exclude people who aren’t on the bus, and who are wasting the group’s limited time and energy rather than maximizing it. After all: you’re not sending these people to re-education camps, or doing anything else that damages them. You’re just getting them out of the park, and out of your hair. You’re eliminating distractions, which in turn effectively amplifies the voices and efforts of everyone else around you. And, in the process, you’re also modeling a new kind of justice that sanctions people’s behavior without sanctioning their being — while also carving out safe space in which the true potential of Occupy can flourish.

Nanakoosa’s Place, authored by Jennifer Hazard

Our Tent City

Tents up during the day, cozy, huh?
At night tents must be collapsed,
no shelter at night.

Sleeping outside in winter, no matter how good the camping equipment we may have, is not safe. We (Occupiers) have a choice, a choice to go somewhere and sleep in a warm , dry bed in a heated house where we wake to the gentle gurgling of Mr. Coffee as it brews our morning cup. It is a luxury I have grown to appreciate, a basic human need like shelter that so many of us take for granted. The longer I Occupy the more determined I become that we must also fight for the portion of the 99% that no longer has access to this basic human need. They are families and individuals who  have been made homeless by the cruelty of our political and economic system as homes are foreclosed and the costs of rental properties continues to consume a larger portion of one’s income. They are also the Mentally Ill, the victims, the “not quite right” whose support systems no longer exist due to the massive cuts in social service programs.
 During the Great Depression of the 1930s there were tent cities all over the country. Today our homeless are less visible and our society wants to keep it that way. As in many other parts of the world, our Occupation sites are the scene of nightly police raids demanding that we dismantle our tents, leaving us out in the cold with only sleeping bags and tarps as shelter from the elements.
 Our tent city occupations can serve as a visual reminder that we are in the same dire situation we were in the 30s, we just have more sophisticated tools of distraction and a society that lives in greater denial and disregard.
 Peace. Jenny.
 © 2010-2011 Nanakoosa’s Place, authored by Jennifer Hazard

Rasing Occupy

Don’t toss the baby
 with the bathwater!

Just as new life begins in childbirth every day, the occupy wall street movement and  affinity groups are being born and nurtured the U.S. and the rest of the world.  The Occupy movement itself is the new kid in town. The baby of the family who initially restores hope and inspiration. The baby coos and she cries and she is awfully cute…the family mascot.
  But then something else begins to happen. We are exhausted. This new baby won’t sleep through the night and we must wake with her. Her crying grows louder and more demanding as our baby begins to figure out what she wants from us. Some people begin to offer unsolicited advice, “Maybe you should let that baby cry so she learns to sleep through the night” or “Just give her a bottle, she’s too dependent on the breast”.  Everyone’s got an answer, but few lend a hand.  These experts are the strangers on the bus or the distant relative who is never around when help is needed.
   Meanwhile the older kids aren’t  getting enough attention, so they dutifully fall into their well rehearsed family roles in an attempt to restore some sense of harmony, or least an illusion of control. The oldest might coddle the baby, take over some of Moms chores, reassure everyone that it’s ok, I got this. A middle child might become sulky, acting out, being “naughty” all the while muttering that things were going just fine until baby came along. And their will be other family members who will attempt to function the way they always have, incorporating the new baby into their family slowly and invisibly, hoping to forge ahead on the path they have already cleared  for themselves.
So now that OWS has been moved out of the parents bedroom (Zuccotti park) and is beginning to settle into a more concrete sense of self (individuation) it seems only natural the the standard human patterns of behavior will follow. And a society that coined the term “terrible twos” will find that they are not quite sure how to handle this entire out of control toddler situation.
It is in these early years of identity formation that we have the best opportunity as parents and siblings to either nurture our child’s strengths or, pardon my frankness, really fuck them up.  I see those of us who have been around a while, who have seen social activism cycle through several incarnations with different focus, as the big sisters, aunties and mothers. I think it’s fair to ask ourselves how we feel about this charming but disruptive new addition to the family? How has she changed our perception of where we fit in the birth order? And finally, what can we do as elders and mentors to nurture and guide this child through a healthy development process while finding her place in the family.

© 2010-2011 Nanakoosa’s Place, authored by Jennifer Hazard