by Tracy Mattner
Often, the primary criticism leveled towards any dissenting party is that it presents no coherent alternative to the paradigm which it resists. Indeed, the Occupy movement has, since its inception, struggled to face down this jeering challenge. Although many individuals within the Occupy movement have expressed the sentiment that conditions in the social organization are so bad as to make destruction desirable for its own sake—independent of any constructive program or possibility—we cannot subscribe to this brand of nihilism. We are undeniably tasked with creating the world we would live in once we have deconstructed this one.
I recently felt I should have been out on the streets flyering for F29, when instead I sat home, pensive and wondering what this better world might look like and how it might actually be achieved. Because the heavy demands of activism can take their toll on the best among us, I recruited a friend to keep me positive and motivated in the movement; thus, upon failing to flyer upon request, I felt a drowning sense of guilt. This sentiment greatly informed my reflection of the better world we might together create. It will necessarily take many years of cultural work to change our society in any lasting and meaningful way; such a change will not happen through swift political revolution.
Recognizing that a true cultural revolution will only occur through the cumulative transformation of individual thought and behavior (to which political change will more of a result than a cause), I began examining hypocrisy in my own life, asking: in what ways are my current modes of thought in behavior out of sync with the holistic Occupy vision? I found myself denouncing qualities I had formerly always been proud of, one of them being a fierce independence and a marked inability to accept help from anyone. I consistently prefer to work alone on my own stubborn vision rather than collaborating. I quickly realized, even before a thorough assessment, that I would have to commit to a marked personal change in order to approach my own conception of a better society: one of community, interdependence, and mutual aid. I then found myself examining many more aspects of my life that conflict with that vision, recognizing that I cannot, in good faith, yell and chant and march and demand the radical overhaul of American society if I am not willing to radically change my own life in ways which will still only gradually unfold.
Until we commit to the task of transformation on a personal level, all of the protests and flyering and attempts at deconstruction of the current regime will be for naught, for what will take its place? I then find myself wondering if every Occupier is prepared to take a break from the community building and the planning and the marching and the flyering–to take the few solitary moments to search his or her own soul and ask what sacrifices he or she is truly willing to make, right now. Until we discontinue driving our cars and contributing revenue to the world’s oil tyrants; until we take back our food supply through cooperative groceries, farmers’ markets, and home and community gardens; until we completely halt any purchase of clothes that were made in sweatshops and/or produced with toxic chemicals that have deleterious health effects on the workers of the global 99%; until we refuse to work for companies that monopolize our economy and pollute our environment and cultural well-being; until we ultimately take responsibility for every hidden item in our medicine cabinet and for every last item for which we spend money, ensuring that it is free from our own hypocrisy; until then we are guilty of this pretense, of claiming virtues, beliefs, and principles that we do not actually practice.
We live in a built environment, and much of what we are combating is structural, but this cannot be an excuse. We have cripplingly limited choices, but the choices will only continue to diminish until we resolve to create and exercise alternatives. We cannot, even as we protest, be passive followers and wait for the revolution that will solve all of our problems, because we are the revolution.