There’s a little New Year’s ritual I do. Before midnight, I write on two pieces of paper: one lists all I wish to leave behind in the old year, the other all that I hope will manifest in the new year. Before the old year ends, I burn the first paper down to ash and discard it. After the clock strikes, I do whatever will anchor my desires most firmly in the new year: sometimes I’ve burned that paper too, releasing the ashes on the wind; other times, I’ve saved it along with other objects embodying my intentions, returning to them during the year to refresh myself.
I have plenty of wishes for myself, chiefly true love and enough money to buy a few months of my own time to finish my new book, which is demanding to be born, and which I know can have real impact.
But like so many people, my wish for our nation Occupies a lot of mental disk space.
I am so grateful to have witnessed the uprising of conscience and refusal to submit to illegitimate demands (whether from public- or private-sector tyrants) that has swept the planet since the Arab Spring commenced, nearly a year ago. And so challenged to find a way that such formidable energies can now be directed into constructing a new reality of justice tempered by love. Even if all that Occupy were to accomplish was to open a space of public discourse about things that had so often been deemed taboo before—the polarization of wealth, the abuse of corporate power, the imprisonment of democracy in a cage of gold—that would be enough.
But still, I want more.
This week, I spoke at length with a friend in publishing, who is contemplating a series of practical books on topics like consensus decision-making, thinking they may be of use to the emergent movement. This is one of the topics I know quite a bit about. My 2004 essay, “Don’t Do It: Organizational Suicide Prevention for Progressives” focuses on key issues that are still relevant, I think. For example:
[O]ften, progressives are so suspicious of structures of constituted authority that they have been willing to forego continuity and growth to inoculate themselves against the charge of power-mongering. These attitudes are not altogether unfamiliar to a 60s-era activist like myself, but I find their persistence dismaying. To be fair, I suppose it could be said that the escalation of such suspicion in the last four decades has been proportionate to growth in the abuse of power and authority in both government and commerce. But bending over backwards to avoid the sins of power, progressives tumble to the ground. Those without a positive image of power wielded in the service of freedom and justice are certain never to have any real-world power with which to be tempted.
I’m convinced that one policy change can be the uniquely powerful lever to unleash the cascade of needed changes: getting private money completely out of the public electoral process, depriving entrenched interests of their primary instrument of public-sector control, the ability to dominate elections and legislative processes with money.
But I am told by a friend who works with progressive political donors and campaigns that this idea is deemed too abstract—too much about process rather than outcomes—to gain traction with a movement grounded in direct action.