I am writing to you tonight in the event that you are, like me, a person who is still ringing from the reverberations of the great chord that was struck today in New York City. It sounded two months ago, the first day that people gathered in Zuccotti Park to reflect the fact that most Americans are appalled and enraged by the rigged system that has concentrated so much wealth and power in the hands of so few. And today, the sound of that chord began outside the New York Stock Exchange in early morning, rolled richly through the recently raided encampment in Zuccotti Park at midday, resounded through Foley Square at sundown, and vibrated into its final echo across the Brooklyn Bridge at nightfall carrying 30,000 voices.
Every American should be proud tonight. A massive and spontaneous demonstration occurred in one of our largest cities with only a single incidence of violence. Of that single incidence I am decidedly not proud–NYPD tackled Brendan Watts, causing him at least a nasty head gash if not a concussion, for merely pushing against the barricades that had been erected by police around the former Zuccotti encampment. However we must acknowledge that, even in light of that painful episode, today was a triumph for nonviolent civil disobedience. An absolute triumph.
I believe in the Occupy movement. That is why I traveled to New York the first week of October and showed up in person at Zuccotti Park. That is why I met up with the Occupy march on the Capitol steps in Madison, Wisconsin the following week. That is why I visited OccupyChapelHill and attended General Assembly at OccupyDurham when I was home in North Carolina in late October. That is why I attended GA at OccupyGainesville in early November. That is why I have attended several GAs here in Austin since I arrived 10 days ago.
I believe in the Occupy movement because it struck a chord of truth so strong that it shook me from within. It moved me. Truth is experienced in the body and this was no exception. We know–we know–that the ever more radically uneven distribution of wealth in this country is wrong and unfair. As Michael Friedman, a fellow Occupier, explained today to a Voice of America reporter: “The rich have been looting the rest of us for 30 years, and everybody knows it, and we’re all sick of it.”
Everybody does know it. That’s why we call ourselves the 99%. We are an overwhelming–an overwhelming–majority. This is why the movement has caught fire–because everyone feels and resonates with this truth.
A chord is beautiful because it joins disparate and distinct tones together to make a new sound that is deepened and enriched by its complexity. I was drawn into the movement not only because it represented truth to me, but because it also represented radical unity. Common purpose with people who might otherwise be my political adversaries. Anarchists, for example. And, at other ends of the spectrum, social conservatives, Tea Partiers, military personnel, and cops.
This unity is valuable to me not only because I seek diverse experience–and hence, a beautifully differentiated array of friends and allies–in this life, but also because this unity, this overwhelming, overwhelming majority, is already enough to make big real change happen in this country. And, as one speaker said tonight at the OccupyAustin rally, with this movement “we can make it happen faster.”
I don’t want to lose. I don’t want to allow the forces that animate corporations to continue to eclipse the human spirit. I don’t want the wealthiest 1% to just be allowed to go on leaching the meaning from the highest and noblest principles that this country was built upon (*see the Bill of Rights). I want to see the tremendous power unlocked by this improbable, miraculous, unprecedented movement make the grand, sweeping, unimaginable changes that the situation calls for. I do believe it is that dire.
For these reasons, I have decided to Occupy Occupy. I am mic-checking Occupy and I encourage you to do the same. It’s time to go back to the question that originally motivated the Occupation of Wall Street. That question was, “What is our one demand?” Well, Occupy, what IS our one demand? If we had to distill everything, absolutely everything–everything—into one demand, what would it be?
My question is the categorical opposite of frivolous. Those of you who have visited ongoing Occupations or participated in GAs in different areas have almost certainly encountered the Gordian knot of problems that instantly arise within and around 24/7 encampments in urban areas. Most of the GAs I have attended have been devoted almost entirely to resolving issues around sanitation, safety, and civil society among encamped Occupiers. In describing this we have already drifted from the point: that “[t]he rich have been looting the rest of us for 30 years, and everybody knows it, and we’re all sick of it.” (A-men). But did you see how quickly that happened? We got so far away from our one demand, in a matter of seconds. And we can’t let that happen, y’all. We just can’t. It’s too important.
We have common ground. This fact is inescapable and has brought huge numbers of us together. We need huge numbers of us together. That is our power. We need every single member of the 99%. Then, we win easily. No struggle. No bloodshed. We need to organize this movement around the needs of every member of the 99%—not just the needs of people who are encamped 24/7. If we don’t, we lose people. And if we lose people, then we lose.
I won’t be misunderstood: We owe an eternal and truly inexpressible debt of thanks to those who have put their bodies out in the elements and Occupied (and are still Occupying) in the name of the common good. We need this visible, controversial, and radical element of protest and we as a movement should continue to support and sustain 24/7 Occupations in every way available to us. But our one demand is not that we be allowed to sleep in parks from this time forward. That’s not what we’re agitating for. In our efforts to demand great change, we have been forced into agitating to defend the sanctity of our First Amendment rights, but that’s not the change we seek to see in this world–that is a self-revelatory endowment that we absolutely refuse to cede.
Our one demand is not that we be allowed to move into foreclosed homes (although the Occupation of moribund properties is a tactic I can respect and support as symbolic direct action), but rather, for example, that we be granted debt-forgiveness for bogus predatory loans. Our one demand is not that we be able to walk in the streets rather than on the sidewalks, but rather that corporate personhood be summarily revoked by Constitutional amendment. Our one demand is not that our right to peaceably assemble be respected by law enforcement–that one needs to be a given, and by Occupying public spaces for our meetings, we’ll keep making damn sure of it–but, rather, that we enact campaign finance reform–effective immediately–and separate money from politics once and for all.
This is what democracy looks like. What does our list of demands look like? It needs to be short. It needs to be short because it needs to speak to every single member of the 99%. There are demands that every single one of us can get behind; I hope you see at least one or two above.
I’m going to be bringing the issue of identifying and prioritizing the broadest common goals of the movement into all the General Assemblies I attend from now on. I hope that you will do the same. Because this is our movement. The 99%. And the 99% includes just about everybody. And it definitely includes all the cops–every single police officer, down to the very last one–who currently believe they work for some people higher up who still believe that they have the power.
The lavender armbands worn by Occupiers at OWS represent all the colors of the American flag blended together. This is the simplest and clearest imaginable representation of the fact that our goals manifestly and meaningfully converge at a critical juncture. And the place where they converge is reinforced and protected. We feel this reinforcement and protection when we come together in great numbers. So let’s do that, and let’s change the law.