By Sarah Byrnes
What do Resilience Circle members think of Occupy Wall Street?
“I think they’re crazy for sleeping in the rain,” says Carol Poole, a member of my Circle in Boston. Carole is 78 and has been running our church’s Food Pantry with her husband for 30 years. “But they are definitely doing something good.”
“Somebody’s got to get the word out, and the more attention to these issues, the better,” adds Ann LeBlanc, a food pantry volunteer who is unemployed. “People need food, they need jobs, and health insurance. This is one way to get people to talk about these issues.”
Travis Bonpietro, a Circle facilitator from Gorham, ME, is currently camping at Occupy DC. “We take care of each other, and try to truly hear each other,” he says of Occupy DC. “In a way, it’s like a giant Resilience Circle!”
Travis urges Resilience Circle members to visit Occupations. “Members of Resilience Circles have a lot of experience actually discussing the issues of our day,” he says. “That can be a huge contribution to the movement we’re building.”
When Resilience Circles talk about social action – in Session 6 out of 7 in the curriculum – we talk about building a new economy with well-connected and vibrant communities, true democratic decision-making procedures, and resource-allocation that respects the earth’s limits.
This discussion is based on what we learn about the limits and problems inherent to the “old” economy – such as how it siphons wealth to the 1% at the expense of everyone else.
Resilience Circle members are excited to see message being amplified by Occupy Wall Street. “It’s about time we all got together after 30 years of diverting money to the wealthiest people, and letting our country go rotten,” says Thomas Atwood, a facilitator in the Bay Area. Thomas is featured in this video about Occupy Palo Alto made by two other Circle facilitators, Aaron Castle and Candace Anderson.
More importantly, we talk about social action as something members might do as a group, not just as isolated individuals. The curriculum takes its time getting to this stage, letting people get to know each other and find ways to help each other. This creates a firsthand experience of solidarity. From there, groups talk about how to “change the rules” and make a better world.
Occupy takes that understanding of social change and magnifies it to a huge scale. The movement is letting relationships take shape before jumping into demands or solutions. And as many have pointed out, its participatory lifestyle prefigures the world it wants to create.
Still, it’s essential to get to Session 6 and social action eventually. “I understand that the movement is taking its time to find its voice and its message,” says a Resilience Circle organizer in North Carolina. “That’s smart and appropriate. But I also hope it can embrace mature forms of democracy, leadership, and delegation. That’s going to be critical to get the most out of all this amazing energy.”
As the volunteers at the Food Pantry make clear, the challenges we face are huge. To address them, we need a strong, smart movement.
“You see people coming in for food, and the pain on their faces just breaks your heart,” says Mary Mahony, another volunteer. “For most of them, you know it’s embarrassing to even be here. How bad it must be for them to ask for help.”
I ask if they think Occupy will benefit the people served by the Food Pantry.
Ann hesitates. “It takes a long time to see a direct impact,” she says. “Changes have to go through so much bureaucracy.”
“This economy is so out of hand,” says Carole. “I don’t know what will help at this point. I had a man come in to the pantry today who hasn’t eaten in four days. I give out 56 bags of food per day now, it used to be 11 or 12.”
But Travis and others think there’s reason to hope, and they’re putting their lives and bodies on the line to make it happen. “I quit two jobs to be here, dropped two classes, and will have to fail two more,” he says.
Is it worth the sacrifice? “Absolutely,” he says. “I’m sick of just talking, I’m so excited to be doing something. This movement is having a real impact on the things we hold dear – like equality, and opportunity, and real democracy. That’s what Occupy means to me, and that’s why I’m here.”
Sacrifice, relationship-building, real discussion. We don’t know the answer yet, but the potential for lasting change looks bright.
Travis will be sleeping at Occupy Maine all winter. Contact Sarah Byrnes if you want to help him buy some sub-zero gear.
Photo credit: Chris Wieland, Creative Commons license, via Post Carbon Institute.