Monday, October 3, 2011

Why I'm Not Occupying Wall Street Yet

This country is getting angry. In the latest round of grassroots movements the Occupy Wall Street protests have gone to over 100 major cities and filled our financial districts with liberal crazies blaming their woes on the cronyism and corruption of the top 1% that control over 60% of the wealth in the country.

We are all quite familiar with the Tea Party movement. Their mantra has been to blame their woes on the cronyism and corruption of the government's largess that has resulted in a bloated social system that generates lazy immigrant welfare queens that are destroying social security. They were the first.

I can tell you right now that factually speaking, the Occupy Wall Streeters have a much stronger footing. But are they different in their approach? Do they demand some sort of consensus building arrangement whereby we stop having government shut-downs every time a budget item comes up? Well, no...

What these two movements show unequivocally is that something about our system has cracked. That two large-scale movements exist despite a democratic system unprecedented in its scope of suffrage and accessibility; it is says that something has failed. “Where are our leaders?” Both sides cry. “Why am I still facing hardship?”

“Why do the idiots in charge still seem to be in charge?”

These are the questions being asked. This isn't, more than anything, about specific policies or some hidden agenda to destroy the middle class or take away guns. This is about people, all over this nation struggling in a profoundly different way than they have before. And they perceive our traditional outlets of voice and action to be an empty rhetoric under which an oligarchy has claimed leadership over this country.

So why am I not at Wall Street? Because I am doing what I perceive to be the radical way I can make change—for now. I work for a company called Triangle Associates. They are an environmental facilitation firm—more generally, they use the principles of conflict resolution to generate solutions to public policy problems in the Northwest and the country. In the course of archiving its 32 years of history, I have come across projects that astound me. The firm has been able to successfully mediate agreements on contentious issues with groups that seemingly have no common ground.

I spent most of my college career staying up late. Most of those nights I was up it wasn't because I was partying (although I did more than my fair share of that). It was because I was trying to decipher the hidden code to managing our future 50, 100, and 150 years from now. I worked with professors, colleagues, and community authorities on a wide range of issues to try to tackle the problems of even the simplest and most tolerant of communities. Even at a small Northeastern college there are tensions, and with my cohorts we tried to solve the problems. We didn't do sit-ins or protests, we didn't hide behind anonymous on-line comments, and we didn't shut out those we believed to be our enemies. We talked.

And we talked. And they are still talking; hopefully they will continue to for a long time. Real change—real prosperity and hope—comes in a world where we treat each other as equals and approach challenges with an open mind. No one likes compromise, everyone loses a little. And no one likes losing—especially when the other guy won. The things I have learned, and the open-mind I have been asked to have, has consistently shown results wherever I have seen it applied. This isn't about being a voice lost. This is about honing in on the moment when we stopped listening to each other. We must embrace the logical next step, listen again. This nation is ready for it, more than ever.

And I'm open to change. Convince me that my time would be better served yelling at buildings on Wall Street than listening to people regardless of background. If you do, I will be happy to stand there and get angry with a bullhorn, yelling until my ears are ringing, drowning out the noise of everyone else.