I have been thinking about how to write about the OWS event - the Occupy Wall Street protests. I first heard about the plans when I participated in the March on Blair Mountain this past summer, and have been thinking about it ever since. There are a lot of young - and not so young - people in NYC right now, calling attention to the pretty complicated state of affairs in our country. This state of affairs? One in which corporate interests wield a significant amount of power over government policies and practices. The power wielded is often not respectful of the health and well-being of the "commons" - it is often more protective of the interests of the top 1%, to use the language of many of the protesters.
Of course, not all corporations and corporate people are contributing to the problem. Steve Jobs' creativity, genius, and leadership have benefited people across the globe. Warren Buffett, as just one other example, supports the recent conversations about increasing taxation of the very wealthy. Others contribute mightily to public welfare. But this isn't always the case. Think about how long it is taking to hold a big corporation accountable for the devastation directly caused by the BP Gulf Oil Spill. Big businesses can be seen as "people" for the purposes of contributing to political campaigns, but they aren't "people" who can be held accountable for crimes against humans and nature in the same way that you and I would? And the mortgage disaster sleight of hand games. It doesn't make sense to me. Businesses ARE people - the business or corporation should not provide an invisibility cloak that absolves the owners and decision-makers of responsibility for their behavior. Really. This is not Hogwarts.
On my drive back home from Kentucky this past weekend, I listened to a podcast from The New School at Commonweal: Exploring Nature, Culture, and Inner Life. Host Michael Lerner was interviewing Richard Heinberg, author of The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality, as well as other books about the changing times. Journalist Heinberg maintains that traditional economic theories of the industrial age - theories that support the idea that economies, based on industrial activities made possible by fossil fuels, should and must continually grow - are no longer useful. He proposes that three factors are converging in a way that will require a totally new paradigm for evaluating the health of a society - the converging factors are resource depletion, environmental disasters and resulting impacts, and enormous debt. Heinberg - and many others across the globe as well - holds that a "healthy" GDP does not automatically translate into health and well-being of the society. And striving to continually make more, spend more, make more, spend more, as individuals or as nations, is no longer sustainable. The earth's resources cannot support this any longer, without significant costs for the future.
We need to find other ways of measuring health and well-being of ourselves and our society than the monetary bottom line, and to create a culture that promotes and supports the healthier ways of thinking, relating, and doing. Economics and employment would definitely be part of such an index, but so would ethical living, happiness, physical and mental health, moral and social health, and abundant, safe, and clean natural resources.
I respect what the OWS people are trying to do, hungry and foolish though they may be - at the very least, they are trying to raise awareness of power and its repercussions, ill or good. Let's really think about where our power should come from - whose thoughts and needs and ideas should be considered when decisions about the public welfare are being made. And let's think about the ways in which we can exercise our own voices, whether in words that we write to government officials or newspapers, in conversations with friends and neighbors and in classrooms and offices, or in public protests of our own. We can use what is happening on Wall Street to ask questions and start conversations and learn more - we all have to be part of the solution of turning things around.
As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.
—From the Declaration of Occupy Wall Street
And it isn't just corporations. It is us as well. We are also culpable and need to open our eyes and get real about what matters. More about that coming soon.
Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish. Indeed. Rest in peace, Steve Jobs.