Occupy Portland is in its very uniquely Portland end game and it’s time to think a little. Because of some family health issues I have only been marginally attached to the flow of Occupy events, so my reflections are… pure. Something that the Occupy Movement is not. Occupy is made up of wildly diverse groups of people with different needs, different agendas, different experiences and the complete spectrum of identities. No generalization takes into account the true diversity represented. But what I want to do is pull out a theme that I think is not so visible, but one that helps me get a feel for what is going on. The older I get, the less concerned I am about the surface of things. I love facts, but I don’t expect them to be the engine of our Movement. I love strategy, but I’m more concerned about what drives it.
In the balance between winning hearts and minds, I will always come down of the side of winning hearts. I am not cynical as the Right is, thinking that if you can win hearts, minds are excess baggage. But our appeals to reason seem to be ineffective against their manipulations, their dark arts. We need to go another way. If you are getting this you probably know how my mind works. So here’s what I want to say.
I think there are deep underlying images that travel with us on our Journey of a Thousand Miles toward justice. The underlying themes are beautifully fluid like an Oregon November fog spreading through the branches of the trees strung with the ghost of orange, yellow and red. Sometimes we can almost make out the shape of the tree; sometimes the branches and leaves float in their sea of pearl gray and sometimes luminescent silver. Like a dream where light sometimes shines through. With this in mind, I give you another image, another way of sneaking up on those things we can only see from the corner of our eye, in misty light, if we’re not looking and get very lucky.
A month or so ago a friend who I hadn’t seen in five years popped up in Trader Joe’s. She is someone who is dealing with profound family health issues and we talked a little. Later, in an email, she introduced me to the Portuguese word saudade. She said: I couldn’t give a decent translation, but I take it to mean a deep, soulful, nostalgic longing for something that may not be attainable or may not even be definable or describable. In these days, when my daily reality has me more focused on diapers and doctors’ appointments and coordinating play dates and keeping everyone grounded as we face the uncertainties of our lives, I find myself missing, yearning for that beauty and those kind of connections that make one feel soulful and alive and part of something bigger than ourselves.
I’m tempted to stop writing, because I don’t know that anything I say will be more than a gloss on what she has said with such honesty, such poignant elegance. And this is, after all, the core of what I have been thinking about. The Occupy Movement is as much about saudade as anything. There are specific grievances and even a few tentative solutions out there, but the reason Occupy seems like that fog flowing over our lives is because at some deep intuitive level, the one saudade speaks from and to, we are dealing with something shaped from dream and desire, imprecise, haunting.
The parallel image coming out of the IMF/World Bank/WTO struggles a decade ago, Another World is Possible, was the answer to the Capitalist claim that There is No Alternative. Arundhati Roy wrote a fuller, more actively hopeful version: Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing. Not much of a blueprint, but something to tap people’s imagination about the possibility of a more humane alternative. The beauty of the power of images is that we get to fill them in ourselves out of our own history, with our own inner and outer vocabulary. We can make them ours. Which is why I have started signing things this way:
Occupy the Future
Not a specific outcome as in, Occupy Social Democracy, or Occupy a More Progressive Tax Code. More like Occupy Something That May not be [Immediately] Attainable or May not Even be Definable or Describable. Something like Occupy Your Imagination…
Back on that more concrete level, the fog having burned off my brain, I believe that the Occupy Movement is important because it has broken the silence, broken the historical inertia that has almost immobilized us in the face of enormous difficulties and injustice. Like drafting behind the leader in a bike race, other people in the community have come out into the open to speak up for their rights and the rights of others, to speak out against the indifference and corruption of our system. That Thousand Mile Journey beginning with a single step… and as we have come to understand, there are many beginning steps in that journey. As a baby learns to walk, holding onto the edge of the coffee table. There is a stirring in the winter of our discontent.
Occupy Your Imagination
P.S. Almost a half century ago, I was still a young man, Erik Erikson picked out the saudade theme in Gandhi’s life, but he put it in a more dynamic frame. Erikson suggested that Gandhi’s leadership and his charisma, which was the catalyst to the overthrow of an Empire, came from his this ability to exemplify our radical hunger for becoming. Or as my friend would say: [our] yearning for that beauty and those kinds of connections that make one feel soulful and alive and part of something bigger than ourselves. And that is the true engine of our Movement.