Beyond unequal distribution By Shea Howell

Thinking for oursleves

Beyond unequal distribution

By Shea Howell

December 3 -10, 2011

The Occupy Wall Street movement is fading quickly from the headlines. As winter approaches in much of the country the tents and tarps have been forcefully removed or quietly taken down. The energy and excitement of the autumn uprisings have given way to smaller gatherings, sometimes of lone individuals, carrying on the last of the efforts to hold public space. Even the horrific images of people being viciously attacked by police calmly wielding pepper spray have been eroded by reports of the pepper spraying shopper in the Los Angeles Wal-Mart who injured more than a dozen other people in search of a deal on Xbox games.

None of us know what the future will bring. But thanks to the OWS efforts we have a new opportunity to decide together what kind of people we should become. For the OWS actions have already achieved a critical shift in consciousness. Author and activist Arundhati Roy captured this new opportunity when she spoke at the People’s University in Washington Square in mid November, “What you have achieved … is to introduce a new imagination, a new political language into the heart of empire. You have reintroduced the right to dream into a system that tried to turn everybody into zombies.”


She concluded, “The Occupy movement has joined thousands of other resistance movements all over the world in which the poorest of people are standing up and stopping the richest corporations in their tracks. Few of us dreamed that we would see you, the people of the United States on our side, trying to do this in the heart of Empire.”

All across the country the unfair, obscene inequality of the U.S. economy is being talked about openly. After more than two decades of silence this new opening is bringing troubling truths into the open. Almost everyone knows that the 1% is characterized by unbridled greed. Their money is destroying our democracy. More and more people are talking about those 400 people whose wealth is greater than the combined wealth of the 150 million of us at the bottom.

The OWS has already sparked other hopeful actions. Occupy the Hood activists are focusing on community based concerns and are developing strategies to occupy foreclosed buildings and homes. The Bank Transfer Day organized to protest the Bank of America fee structure was widely embraced, causing the Bank to back down. The Move Your Money Project is picking up steam, encouraging people to shift their hard earned dollars out of commercial banks and into credit unions and cooperatives.

As a people we need to challenge this unequal distribution of wealth and what it is doing to our democracy. But as we challenge unequal distribution, there is another more difficult question just below the surface. What about the unjust acquisition of the wealth we want to distribute more equally? Are we ready to face the fact that the US has acquired much of this wealth at the expense of other people, in other lands? Are we ready to turn away from the Empire that makes this wealth possible?

The challenges ahead for OWS and for the 99% sre not only the efforts of the corporate elite to hold on to its money and to silence us with brutality and pepper spray. It is the challenge of the woman caught in the Wal-Mart Stampede. The desire to get a deal, to define our relationships and ourselves by what we buy is shared by all of us.

If we are to create a better future, we have to look not only at the values of the 1%, but at ourselves and what we share with them.