Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Occupy Your Life

Although I haven't blogged about the Occupy Wall Street protests, I have been following the news - both the mass media (mostly owned by the "greedy corporations" - irony??) and the individual tidbits that people have posted on Facebook, blogs, podcasts, and YouTube. My favorite article, to date, is this one, about the bicycle generators they've acquired to replace the gas generators that were confiscated by the police.

What I see is this deepening rift between people who believe the protesters are all "welfare brats" and the people on the street who are railing against everything from student loans (largely their own) to global warming. The rift between these two factions is becoming very deep and very well defined. While it's always been there in the shadows, that *thing* that no one wants to talk about, it is, now, no longer merely a shadow, but has been pulled right out into the sun in all its horror and glory.

Maybe that's a good thing.

The problem is, at least initially, that there are protests, but there hasn't been much cohesiveness of purpose. We all know what the problems are (hiding in the shadows). We've known intuitively that "things" can't continue like they are, but most of us have been hardpressed to come up with solutions, and that's the only place I see where the OWS protesters will fall short, if the movement fails. It does little good to point out a problem without also providing a solution.

I wouldn't be talking about the protests today, either, if it hadn't been for an article in (of all places) the Wall Street Journal. According to the article, one of the issues facing protesters is the influx of homeless people who are drawn to the safety and comfort of the protester encampments.

What prompted me to discuss the protests was a quote at the end of the article by one of the homeless, who said, "It's nice for them to come out like this but they don't know what it's like. [They]'re out of [their] homes for a month. We're here all the time. Some people look at [us] and it's like 'eeew, stay away'. And what they don't know is that [they]'re just a paycheck away from this."

And, of course, that statement, for me, tied it all together. This man has hit the proverbial nail right on the head. We are all, all of us, just one paycheck away from living the life he has fallen into due to unemployment. We're all living in a corporate-run, money-centric world, and when the money stops rolling in and we no longer have any buying power, the world will have no use for us.

Is there anything more sad than our whole worth as living, breathing, thinking, spiritual entities being assigned a value based on some system of imagined wealth? If we don't have money, we are worthless.

When it all boils down, isn't that what the protesters are railing against? This supposition that they are worthless if they don't have jobs and money to spend? Aren't they just trying to get someone to see them, to acknowledge their value as something more than a wallet?

The theme of my blog and of my book is preparedness - more specifically, transitioning our lives so that when sh*t happens ... and it will ... we won't suffer as a result.

If we're not dependent for our very lives on having grid-provided electricity, when the power goes out, it won't hurt us.

If we're not dependent on the grocery stores for all of our food, when we have a short month and can't afford to buy groceries, we won't go to bed hungry.

If we're not dependent on that paycheck for every single thing we need, then it won't hurt us as much when the paycheck stops coming.

My family and I may never be completely self-sufficient or wholly independent, but that's not the point of what we're doing. The further we can remove ourselves from the money economy, the more we can do for ourselves, the less we will be negatively affected by what's happening in the money world.

I support and admire what the Occupy Wall Street protesters are trying to accomplish. My hope is that the underlying message - one that tells us not to rely on the "crooks" who are in control of our world economy - will be the one that is finally heard and heeded.

I'm reading The Education of Little Tree right now. The book is about a young boy who is raised by his Cherokee grandparents in the appalachian mountains after his parents die and the considerable lessons on self-reliance that he learns from them.

The story is set in the 1930s, and the grandfather has neither a job nor a pension nor cash savings, and there was no such thing as Social Security. They live in a little cabin on the side of a mountain and raise a corn crop, which they turn into whiskey. Once a month or so, they make eleven gallons of whiskey. They keep two gallons, and the other nine are sold at the local store for $2 a gallon. In 2011 dollars, that means that they subsist on $229.37 a month.

But here's the caveat: they own their property (no mortgage); they have no debt; they hunt, raise or forage about 90% of what they eat (they buy sugar and coffee at the store); the grandmother makes most of their clothes, including their footwear - mostly from the animal hides; they don't own a car; and they don't watch television. They read a lot - books borrowed from the library in the "settlement."

They are dependent on their community for "community", but for the most part, they are independent and can satisfy their needs themselves, but they live very simply and have very few needs.

And that's the point, right?

I support the OWS protesters, because they are correct in the belief that things can not continue, and something needs to be done. I say that we all have control - each of us as individuals - to make those changes happen, maybe not in exactly the way the OWS protesters envision.

I hope the lesson that we, ultimately, learn is that we can live quite comfortably and quite happily with a lot less than what we think we need, and most of those "needs" we can satisfy ourselves. I hope we learn that working together as a community takes some of the burden off of the individual to do it all.

Individual self-sufficiency supported by a strong community - that's where we need to be moving. I hope the OWS protesters will help us get there.


  1. I loved Little Tree... need to dust it off and re-read it!

    Too many folks seem to be stuck in believing they are hopelessly mired in their economic dependency, when all it needs is a change in mindset. The rest will follow, maybe just one step at a time, but moving in the right direction of community supported individual self-sufficiency.

    I also like your take at the binary thinking of "either/or". (Either you are employed and have all the attendant goodies, or you are worthless.)

  2. Well written. I too am shifting into self-sufficiency, for the same reasons you describe. I do not feel compelled to join OWS. I have been voting with my dollars for 15 years and there is power in that. I started reading about sweatshops and the environmental impacts of mass consumerism in college. Then I spent years systematically pulling my money out of arenas that harm people and the planet and putting it into used goods or Fair Trade and organic products. I still have a lot to learn in the survivalist arena though. I am setting a goal to learn a few new things each week....

  3. DH and I were having this very converstion earlier. His views are normally far more capitalist than mine, but he was broadly agreeing with what I (and you) are saying.

    We agreed that I am going to further reduce my hours at work as I can save more money and become more self reliant (my ultimate goal) by being at home more than I can by being at work. And I'll be happier, so my family will be too :o)

    Thanks for the book suggestion. I've never heard of Little Tree- I'll look out for it. Incidentally I've just finished your book. Very interesting, thank you. I really enjoyed it and plenty of ideas to consider further.

  4. Amen.... Maybe a month or 2 or 6 of living outside in a tent with very few extras will make the lightbulb come on for the protesters and they will realize that we have been sold a fairy tale. We don't need all the things that big corp. has been convincing us that we can't live without. What freedom we could have! Food and shelter, just the basics, and then we could help others achieve the same. Our protest should be, not buying into big corps idea of what we need to have. Imagine spending $50,000 renovating a kitchen (as regularly seen on HGTV) when others have no roof over their heads. Shameful.....

    excellent post, apparently it has me all riled up as I seldom comment on any site.

    Sue in Canada

  5. In my opinion, the majority of people out there protesting at "occupy" events have no clear idea of what they are actually protesting against. Locally, a group chose our Chamber of Commerce to protest. Really? Protesting a group of small business owners who employ tens of thousands in our city?

    So no, I don't support them or admire them.

    And the comment from Sue about a $50,000 kitchen renovation... that's a typical point of view of some of the "occupy" protesters - that those who "have" should be ashamed of what they "have" and give it up to those who "don't have". Again, REALLY?

  6. Thank you for posting your opinion, Karen. It's too bad that the protesters chose, what might actually be, a positive business force in your community. As you imply, not all business is bad ;).

    I'm not sure that I agree that "majority of the people" who are in the "Occupy" movement can be classified as "have nots", which means I don't think it's simply a "Robin Hood" attitude out in the street. I don't know for certain, as I haven't, personally, participated in or spoken with any of the groups, but I'm pretty confident there is a good number of well-educated, thoughtful individuals occupying, who have comfortable, if not extravagant, lifestyles. And these people have all of the accoutrements of our modern society. In fact, as my commentary implies, most of the protesters have homes to go back to.

    You're right that there seems to be some lack of conviction, a lack of a cohesive sense of purpose, which is what I also say, but I strongly believe there's something deeper there than simple class envy. And to off-handedly disregard their concerns as nothing more than the tantrum of someone who wants what he can not have could very well be dangerous for all of us.

    I think we need to be very careful not to make blanket disparaging remarks, because the events happening at the OWS protests are going to significantly affect us, and if we allow it to be negative (i.e. *us* against *them*) and we aren't willing to listen, we will, in the end, deserve what we get.

  7. "Is there anything more sad than our whole worth as living, breathing, thinking, spiritual entities being assigned a value based on some system of imagined wealth? If we don't have money, we are worthless."

    Exactly, my friend. Exactly.

  8. Karen,

    I'm new to your blog, and I have to say I started reading this post with "tongue in cheek". I've seen a different type of group here in the Washington, DC area..occupiers who are jumping on cars, destroying parks, etc. And, of course, it doesn't help when the news reporters signal in on a 20 something college grad who believes he is "entitled" to a job that pays him a college education salary..and that he is now refusing to pay back his college loans because he doesn't think it's fair...

    It's hard to support this movement when the sound bites come out like that.

    However, your post put a very different perspective on it, one which I can agree with. I agree that there isn't a clear purpose. I think most of us can agree that things can't go on as they have.

    But the one thing that I agree most with is that "we the people" need to become more self sufficient. And as the old Chinese proverb goes "If you give a man a fish, he will eat for a day, if you teach a man to fish, he will eat for a lifetime".

    Thank you so much for this post. I now have a new understanding of what this movement is or should be about. EVERY human life should be valued.