Our Overripe Moment
"The Future is calling and has some serious concerns. Please pick up."
It's a Sunday afternoon, fivish, the sun is sinking and a chill is in the air. Ah, Chicago, vibrant with culture, crime and capital, but sort of dead at this hour of the ebbing weekend. I'm downtown and I'm not sure if the future is calling, but my heart is pounding as I walk west on Jackson to LaSalle, in the shadow of the great edifices of capitalism.
At 230 South LaSalle, in front of the Federal Reserve Bank, about a hundred people are gathered in informal clusters. Signs abound, some in people's hands, others propped against the curb or a wall: "Trillions are missing from the Department of Defense." "Wall Street needs adult supervision." "I am Troy Davis." "Sick and tired and denied all benefits. I am the 99%." Written in orange chalk on the sidewalk: "If Iceland can let banks fail so can we."
Traffic flows past, horns honking in solidarity on a semi-regular basis. At one point, an Art Institute bus, bright blue, turns left up LaSalle and honks. People cheer. About half a dozen folks sit in a circle on the sidewalk, drumming; the pulse of their beat has the effect of tying all this into a single moment.
This is Occupy Chicago, as it exists on a Sunday afternoon, and I have no idea what it amounts to, beyond this moment and the beat of the drums. Most of the people here seem young - kids. But not all of them.
"I'm 44," Heidi Brelsford says to me. "I'm telling you that because this is not a movement just for the young. This is our movement. Every age, color, religion.
"I've been waiting for this for 25 years," she adds. She's the one with the Troy Davis sign. "Maybe this is an economic rights movement. It's almost as if no one has any economic rights, unless you're rich. The poor, the young are disenfranchised. Money gives you rights, (such as) a good education."
Speaking of the arrests of 700 protesters the previous day on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, she says: "These are our police, but they've become private security for the rich. Our police are now protecting the criminals instead of arresting them and a lot of them know it."
What about the police here in Chicago?
"The police who have come by today have been very amiable, chatting us up," she says.
So is this a movement? Some of the commentary on Occupy Wall Street and the scores of solidarity "occupations" around the country has focused on the lack of a single, coherent message emanating from the protests, but I'm not sure that's a problem so much as a reflection of the nation's state of moral, economic and ecological shambles.
To me what matters foremost is the determination of a resolute few to position themselves as close as they can to the seat of predatory financial power and stand in opposition to it, angrily, joyously, for some indeterminate long haul: to establish a precedent, in other words, for making their voices heard and their presence felt. It's not as if economic rights are a simple matter, or that we're anywhere close, in all likelihood, to galvanizing the nation around a Woolworth's lunch counter moment of right vs. wrong.
Occupy America, as the loosely aligned collective has begun calling itself, is laying the foundation for national and, ultimately, global change at the level not of political policy but of human consciousness.
"We stand at a critical moment in Earth's history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise."
Thus begins the preamble to the Earth Charter, a beautiful document written a decade ago, after a lengthy international collaborative process, which recognizes the profound changes we must make if we are to survive as a species and prosper spiritually. But its call for "a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice and a culture of peace" will wind up as no more than a dead dream on a dying planet if the powers that be - political, corporate and military -- continue to drift beyond all accountability or even sanity.
Occupy America, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Chicago . . . I hope this is what I think it is: a movement that won't go away.
"I'll be here as long as it's here," says a young woman named Lisa on this Sunday afternoon. "There's no turning back."
She says: "This is an organic, 'tired of the BS' movement." She carries a sign that says: "Take the $ out of politics." She wants me to know that she has a job. She's a flight attendant.
"In our overripe moment, small actions can have large consequences, releasing latent forms of consciousness and political association," reads the statement about creating a global citizens' movement, on a website called the Great Transition Initiative.
Cars honk. The drummers keep the pulse alive.
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, contributor to One World, Many Peaces and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press) is now available. Contact him at koehlercwgmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.
Topics: Economy, Illinois, Occupy Movement, Wall Street