“Those Who Take the Meat from the Table
Those for whom the taxes are destined
Those who eat their fill speak to the hungry
Of wonderful times to come.
Those who lead the country into the abyss
Call ruling too difficult
For ordinary men and women.”
I first heard about the “people’s microphone” technique during the November, 1999 demonstrations against the World Trade Organization in Seattle. I remember reading about how, when 400 people were demonstrating outside the jail where global justice activists were being held, the method of communication was by people repeating the words of the person speaking, without sound amplification, back through the crowd, in an organized way.
At #OccupyWallStreet I have experienced this process each of the three days that I have been there. I experienced it Friday morning between 5:30 am and 7 am as I stood with several thousand others prepared to defend the people’s occupation with our bodies against a planned eviction masquerading as a “park cleanup.” I was struck that morning by how radically democratic the people’s mic process can be when, one after the other, individuals around the very big circle called out, “mic check.” When it was repeated by enough others close by (sometimes there was competition), the person would “get the floor.”
There were some tremendously moving short speeches Friday morning as we waited to learn our fate. A young African American man who stood up close to the middle of the circle spoke about how he hadn’t been sure he would be willing to stand with us, but he was now sure that doing so was the right thing to do, and “I love you all.” A young white woman, gesturing expansively with her arms, expressed the same sentiments in her own way. So refreshing, so inspiring!
It was similar Saturday evening with the tens of thousands of us peacefully taking over Times Square. At a certain point, following chant after chant, the people’s mic process started up close to where I was at 43rd and Broadway, and from a location in the middle of the crowd young person after young person spoke about how glad they were to be there, about themselves and the issues-police brutality, extreme poverty in the black community, a lousy health care system, others-that they were most concerned with.
Then there are all of the homemade signs, many on cardboard from formerly brown boxes. I carried a sign of my own yesterday during the five hours that I was on the streets in Manhattan. Mine said, “No Tar Sands or No Livable Planet.” Many people took a picture of it, commented that they were glad to see it, asked me what it meant or told me about their own involvement in the movement to stop the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
But, in addition to my own, my two favorite signs were one which said, “New Paradigm Under Construction, Please Pardon the Mess,” and revisions of the “The End is Near,” like The Beginning is Near and The Beginning is Here.
I think, I hope, I pray that these sentiments are prophetic. It is realistic to think that there’s a good chance they will be, whatever the ups and downs of the worldwide “occupy together” movement in the coming weeks and months.
One reason is the fact that this is a young people’s movement, and there are tens of thousands of them in the streets in the US and hundreds of thousands worldwide. We haven’t seen something like this in the United States in a very long time, possibly since the 1960’s. There have certainly been masses of young people active in movements since that time, but I can’t think of any, with the possible exception of the global justice movement between 1999-2001, that have been so organically led primarily by people younger than 25-30. This is huge.
Another is the social/political/economic/ecological backdrop to these protests. The system of corporate capitalism which dominates the planet is a system in deep crisis, which threatens the future for all life forms on Mother Earth, and this understanding is deep and widespread in the world. It is a fact that either “we are the leaders we have been waiting for,” or those who dominate government and economic life will lead us deeper into the abyss. This is a powerful motivator to keep us all focused and hanging in there.
But perhaps the most important reason for hope is the new culture, the new way of interacting, the apparent deep commitment to a fully democratic process, a “new paradigm under construction,” that is so clearly on display in Zuccotti/Liberty Park, right in the heart of the destructive, dying system. It’s not like it’s perfect; democracy sometimes is a “mess,” but it is impossible to be there with an open mind and not feel affected.
Despite the difficulties and struggles people are having–the lack of jobs, the student loans that are owed, a profit-driven health care system, mortgage foreclosures and limited housing options, the accelerating climate crisis and all the rest–in this new movement, people are finding each other, supporting each other and loving one another. They are showing via how they carry on their occupations that, indeed, in unity there is strength. They are, right now, as Naomi Klein has said, “the most important thing in the world.” They are, truly, our future hope.