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What Does Solidarity Mean?

What Does Solidarity Mean?

I grew up with a weird mix of influences. My parents were pastors of an Evangelical Friends Church in Wichita, Kansas. They were also radical social justice activists who were getting into all sorts of trouble with mainstream Christian culture. In the early 90s, they were taking me along to gay pride rallies. They trespassed at the local Air Force Base and stood on railroad tracks to block the transport of nuclear weapons. They involved me in creative protests at stores selling violent toys. My parents taught me that it was the duty of Christians to disobey unjust laws and reject violence – whether by individuals or the state.

My family straddled two worlds that are often kept apart: Biblically-based Christian discipleship, and radical movements for social transformation. It wasn’t until later that I would understand just how unusual, and amazing, this early training was. I got exposed to the nonviolent principles of Gandhi and King, as well as to a variety of other radical ideologies not explicitly based in the gospel. I absorbed all of this side by side with a reading of the Bible that emphasized God’s love for the poor and Jesus’ invitation to participate in a new social, political, and economic order.

Growing up in this milieu, I heard the word “solidarity” a lot. To be honest, I never quite figured out what it meant. It was a nice word to throw into an email to make myself sound a little more radical, but my understanding never went much beyond that. “Solidarity” was an insider word that helped signal that I was part of the movement.

The first time I truly began to grasp the meaning of the word “solidarity” was during the Occupy movement. Thousands of like-hearted people were coming together to make immediate, concrete change in our society. This was a new experience for me, on a whole new order of magnitude from the what I had seen before. It opened my eyes to what solidarity could mean in practice.

Suddenly, I was part of a community so much bigger than myself, a movement whose total focus was the transformation of the world, now. We made decisions together, we prepared food and tried to stay warm. When the police attacked, we all felt it. We were so identified with one another than an assault on another occupier felt like a personal slap in the face. “Solidarity” wasn’t just some convenient movement word anymore; it had taken on flesh and bone. We were ready to suffer and sacrifice for one another. We believed we could change the world through our endurance. And we did.

I find it striking how this experience of solidarity parallels with the story of the early church and other movements of the Holy Spirit. Solidarity corresponds to that sense of being “one body” that Paul describes in his first letter to the Corinthians. Communities gathered together by the Holy Spirit experience this kind of organic unity: a readiness to prioritize love for one another over personal fear and ambition.

For the thousands of us forever changed by our experiences in the Occupy movement, we know that solidarity is a key ingredient. It’s like salt, without which our lives have very little flavor. Yet solidarity is such a rare thing for many of us. It’s a reality that is lacking almost completely from middle-class American culture. We’re individuals. We don’t rely on one another. We’re not knit together as one fabric.

And why should we be? We don’t share one mission. Each of us looks out for our own interests – our careers and families, dreams for the future conceived of in personal rather than collective terms. At times it seems that there is nothing uniting us but shared consumption. But in the words of Charles Eisenstein: “Joint consumption doesn’t create intimacy. Only joint creativity and gifts create intimacy and connection.”

It’s time to break out of this middle class trap of fear and consumptive materialism. We’re invited to experience solidarity, which breaks down the barriers between us and creates genuine community. When we become friends of Jesus, we discover the true meaning of unity. Based in shared mission, gifts, and care for one another, we are drawn together as one body in his Spirit. Living as members of one another, we can discover a life that goes beyond the hungry selfishness of consumerism.

Are you ready to open yourself to this journey of discipleship together with me? The Holy Spirit is present to break your shackles and fill you with life. You have nothing to lose but your fear.

Related Posts:

Is Capitalism Compatible with Christianity?

The Beginning is Near: Occupy DC 4 Years Later

The Beginning is Near: Occupy DC 4 Years Later

The Beginning is Near: Occupy DC 4 Years Later

Today is the 4th anniversary of the Occupy DC encampment in McPherson Square. 

It seems like a long time ago. We’re in a very different place today than we were in the fall of 2011. Our national discourse has been profoundly impacted by the movement that we took to the streets of New York, DC, and urban centers across the country.

And it’s not over yet. This whole situation is still coming to a head. It’s the power that we sensed in the streets. It’s the community that we were gathered into by a force greater than ourselves, a movement of solidarity beyond our own strength. This spark and imagination still waits to be born in us.

It will be born again. When we’re ready.

The Occupy movement was just a first step, an opening act, the Once Upon a Time of the epic tale of our life together. The movement on the streets in late 2011 was the foretaste of something so much greater. It was the life of beauty and power we discover when we stop trying to win the game of meritocracy. Competition is replaced by common unity – a shared passion for creation and creativity, love and compassion.

We’re not going to give up on this. As spoken word artist Jon Watts stated so eloquently in the midst of Occupy DC: We’re in this for the longest haul; our strength is our endurance.

I’m reminded of the words of Slavoj Žižek, who spoke to an assembly in lower Manhattan at the height of Occupy Wall Street:

I don’t want you to remember these days, you know, like “Oh. we were young and it was beautiful.” Remember that our basic message is “We are allowed to think about alternatives.”

Sadly, Žižek’s worst predictions have come true. I look back at the photographs of Occupy Wall Street today, and my immediate reaction is precisely what he warned against: God, we were so young and beautiful. What an amazing moment in our lives, I think. Too bad it wasn’t sustainable.

The fact is, the Occupy movement wasn’t built to last. It was never meant to. Occupy was an uprising, a prophetic movement that by definition could only exist for a short time before we collapsed back into the more ordinary time and space of everyday life. Insurrection is not designed to be perpetual. It resolves. The arrows strikes its mark. Occupy wasn’t a way of life. It wasn’t forever. It was a vessel purposed to deliver a message, to topple the idols of American capitalism.

It succeeded. More than anyone imagined possible, Occupy was a success.

Now, Occupy is over. What comes next?

What is urgently needed now is not an attempt to recreate the thrills of that movement four years ago. Neither must we give ourselves over to the status quo, convinced that resistance is useless. We are condemned neither to fantastic escapism, nor to surrender to the dying order of Wall Street, K Street, and all the other streets that impoverish, militarize, and captivate us with their displays of superhuman wealth and power.

What is appropriate to this moment is endurance. Our invitation is to live in the same life and power that flowed through us during those passionate autumn days in 2011. It might not bring us into streets again (though it might). God only knows where this spirit will lead us. The critical thing is not to let go of the sense of joy, gratitude, and liberation that we discovered during the Occupy movement.

Our strength is our endurance. In love, hope, and awareness, we hold the power to shape our culture for the better. If we will hold on.

As we stay awake to the deep injustice and incredible potential of our society, we are invited to go so much further than we could have imagined four years ago. We’re invited to embrace new movements of the Spirit that have risen up since. Occupy Wall Street, meet #BlackLivesMatter. Will we embrace these new movements that are following up on the ground-breaking action of Occupy? Will we discover a more profound solidarity than ever before?

What I say to you, I say to allStay Awake.

The beginning is near.

Related Posts:

The Ministry of Occupy Wall Street

Remembering Occupy DC – And Taking the Next Step

Un-Stuck America

Car stuck in the ice
Last winter, I was spinning my wheels. Literally. Our little ’97 Toyota Corolla was trapped in an ice-covered ditch, just outside our house in Washington, DC. No matter how I tried to time it, I just couldn’t get traction; all four wheels spun uselessly on the ice. I was stuck, and I had no idea what to do about it.

It was a bad feeling. The same kind of feeling I have when I think about where we’re at as a country. We’re stuck pretty bad. No matter what we do, the wheels just keep spinning. It’s left vs. right; white vs. black; young vs. old; 1% vs. 99%. Everybody vs. everybody.

We’re immobilized with fear and defensiveness.

This isn’t just political. We’re stuck at a cultural level. Our collective creativity is at a low ebb. Right now, it’s hard to even imagine a future that is different from the past. And, for most of us, the present is just too angst-ridden and painful to live in. We numb ourselves with Netflix and Facebook. We’re waiting for something, though it’s hard to describe just what.

Occupy: Just the Beginning

What happened to us?

Things haven’t always been this way. Back in 2011, we had a sense of forward motion. Something had shaken loose, and there was a broad social movement calling for change throughout the developed world. Inspired by the movements for liberation that we saw erupting in the Arab Spring that same year, it felt like the world really might make a turn for the better.

And in a sense, it did. The conversation around income inequality is alive in the United States in a way it hasn’t been in generations. Our class consciousness has been awakened, with 99% and 1% as universally recognized categories that are routinely used in public discourse. Slowly, belatedly, tentatively, we are beginning to learn how to talk about class in America.

But the Occupy movement was limited in its accomplishments. The conversation moved, but the reality on the ground still hasn’t changed much. For those of us who were hoping for a tectonic shift in our priorities as a society, the past few years have been disappointing. Occupy was more of a foreshock – a taste of things to come – rather than the main event. For those of us who are looking for substantial change in the way our society does business, we’re still waiting for the real transformation.

After a brief period of momentum in 2011, it feels like we’re back spinning our wheels again. The media busily churns out uncritical discussion of the latest political horse races. Many non-profits, after a brief attempt to capitalize on the energy of Occupy, are mostly back in maintenance mode. The US government is entrenched in gridlock, and the political class just seems to be waiting for the 2016 elections to sort out the mess.

Get Moving Again

For those of us who resonated with the Occupy movement, this is a wilderness time. An in-between time. A season that tests our patience and commitment to long-term transformation in our country. How will we use this time of cultural suffocation, the angsty waiting that precedes whatever movement might be coming?

How are we going to get out of this ditch?

I haven’t got an easy answer to that. I don’t think there is an easy answer. The right answer is going to be a hard one. It’s going to involve patient endurance. It’ll involve building real community with others who are seeking concrete change in the here-and-now. It’s about planting seeds, not knowing when, whether, or how they’ll sprout. It’s about continuing to work, even through we’re not sure we’ll ever enjoy the fruits of our labor.

One thing is for sure: We’re not going to get out of this stuckness by waiting passively in front of the screen. All our entertainments and obsessions, workaholism and causes, aren’t going to make this go away. We have the power to transform our lives and communities, but some assembly is required.

That’s something we learned from Occupy.

Prophetic Action

Andrew McLeod and I met several years ago during the early days of the Occupy movement. Occupy DC had just gotten started, and I was working with a few other folks to help pull together an initiative that we were calling Occupy Church. Our goal was to help amplify the prophetic voice of the Christian tradition, bringing biblical witness into confrontation with our present-day principalities and powers.

This led to actions like our delivering a golden calf to Capitol Hill. We invited Congress to repent of their addiction to corporate largesse, and to remember Jesus’ warning that we can’t serve two masters: If we choose to prioritize wealth, we can’t truly love God – or people!

Tending the Horses

In the waiting season where we find ourselves right now, our actions are probably going to look different. For example, today Andrew is working to promote cooperative enterprises that allow communities to develop robust local economies. He’s sowing seeds, laying a framework for the world after the earthquake. Along with many others, he’s helping to build a new world in the shell of the old.

That’s the kind of work I want to be a part of. What does it look like here in my neighborhood? What will it look like in yours?

This November, I attended the annual meeting of Friends Committee on National Legislation, and during one of the meetings I heard someone quote Cecil Hinshaw, an Iowa farmer and Quaker, who apparently said: Someday, people will jump on the bandwagon. Until then, we’ll be tending the horses.

That’s an image for our moment. Things may not feel like they’re moving right now, but the horses still need fed. We are in between euphoric movements right now, but the outcomes of the next big jolt forward are going to depend utterly on the work that we choose to do right now, in the silent space between the headlines.

One thing is for sure: We can’t do this work alone. If the Occupy movement taught us anything, it’s that our voices are amplified when we speak together. Our efforts have greater impact when we cooperate. So, if the car won’t budge, it may be time to go knock on our neighbor’s door and ask for help!

What’s your part in this? What gifts has God given you that you can put to good use right now, despite all the feelings of stuckness? What practices are you engaged in to resist feeling overwhelmed? How do you remember what is really important, and what is specifically yours to do? Where is the community that will accompany you for the long haul?

Video:

Related Posts:

The Ministry of Occupy Wall Street

Getting Ready for the Next Occupy

The Ministry of Occupy Wall Street

Full Transcript:

The Occupy movement exposed Wall Street and by extension our entire economic system as one of exploitation, as one that God does not approve of and that God is calling us to change.

The Ministry of Occupy Wall Street

My name is Micah Bales. I live in Washington, DC. I’m a part of Friends of Jesus Fellowship and I was one of the organizers of Occupy DC.

An Apocalyptic Movement

An authentically prophetic spirituality is going to be one that’s apocalyptic. The word apocalyptic, when I say that many people are going to think, “He’s talking about a nuclear war or climate change making the planet uninhabitable or a dramatic cataclysm.” That’s the popular use of the word, but historically and in scripture “apocalypse” comes from the Greek “apocalupsis”, which means unveiling; taking the veil back and seeing what’s actually hidden behind the curtain. It’s like when Dorothy goes to the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz and she looks behind the curtain and sees that its just this guy talking into a machine. It’s not actually this powerful, God-like figure.

The early Quaker movement was an apocalyptic movement, a movement that deeply referenced the book of Revelation and other apocalyptic writings and interpreted them in a deeply spiritual sense. When we read about wars and conflicts and tribulations in the book of Revelation and other places in scripture, its not simply talking about the kind of wars that we humans are used to, it’s talking about an inward and spiritual warfare that’s happening between all the ways in which we enslave ourselves and those forces of spiritual darkness, and the power of God to redeem and heal.

An Unveiling

In the Occupy movement I saw an apocalyptic unveiling of – symbolically – New York city, but really of the entire economic system that we live in in this world, and especially in the first world, in the developed world.

This economic system that makes many people very, very rich, but at the cost of the lives of so many, that builds up luxury but deprives people of basic necessities.

The Golden Calf

When the Hebrews were in the desert after they had left Egypt but before they had gotten to the promised land, while Moses was away, the Hebrews got together and took all of their gold jewelry and made it into an image of a golden calf, and they bowed down to the golden calf and they worshiped it.

What was going on here was the Hebrews had just left everything they knew and they were scared and they didn’t know whether they were going to be able to make it out on their own, and so they worshiped a God of wealth and prosperity.

One of the coolest actions that we took part in as a part of Occupy DC and Occupy Church was to take a golden calf – a paper maché golden calf – and we marched it up Capitol Hill to the Capitol Building where congress meets and we delivered it to them.

The Fall of Babylon

In the book of Revelation, the city of Babylon is a code word for the city of Rome, which was the capital of the greatest empire the world had ever known, and the empire in which everyone was living. In the Book of Revelation, it talks about the city of Babylon (that is the city of Rome) being on fire and the smoke rising up to heaven.

There’s an image of all of the merchants of the Earth weeping over Babylon and weeping over the profits that would be lost and all the beautiful merchandise that was burning up and all the trade that would no longer happen. Included in that trade – there’s actually a list of all sorts of things that they were trading, and the list ends with, “…and human lives.”

Somehow – and I don’t think this was planned from the beginning – the Occupy movement unlocked a real need that we had, not to list demands, not to say what needs to come next, but instead to say, “Look at this burning city of Babylon. Look at the smoke rising up to heaven. Look at the utter destruction of this city.” And we’re living in it.

This video and transcript was produced by Jon Watts for the QuakerSpeak project. You can view the original posting here.

Getting Ready for the Next Occupy

It was bone-chillingly cold as we gathered for the first General Assembly of Occupy DC in McPherson Square. We endured relentless downpours and high winds that sliced through our layered clothing. Despite the miserable conditions, our shared excitement and sense of hope was enough to keep us coming back for more. Nothing – not even our own lack of preparation – would get in our way.

We had so much to learn – like how to stay warm and dry, and how to maintain sanitary conditions in a small public park that was in no way designed for hundreds of inhabitants. We were forced to develop basic urban survival skills from scratch, and many of us struggled to make the transition.

Developing these practical skills was only the beginning of our challenges. Even if we succeeded in staying safe and keeping the camp in good order – always a difficulty – we still had the task before us of confronting the economic, social and political structures of the 1%. Still, we were so full of hope and enthusiasm that half the time we really believed that we could do it.

To some extent, we did. In a matter of weeks, our national public discourse had changed irrevocably. Suddenly, journalists, prominent intellectuals – even the president – were talking about income inequality and economic justice. In a nation that had almost completely suppressed any consciousness of social/economic class, the idea of the 99% and the 1% was giving ordinary Americans a safe and empowering way to talk about the devastating dynamics that we are experiencing on a daily basis. To the extent that our goal was to raise popular awareness and change the trajectory of the national conversation, it would be fair to say that the Occupy movement experienced a great degree of success.

In other ways, though, Occupy definitely failed to live up to our highest expectations. We faced a number of challenges – far more significant than weather and sanitation – that eventually relegated Occupy to being an ideological victory, rather than a practical one. Our challenges were many: We got fixated on process and theoretical discussions that often took the place of real outreach and movement-building. Many of us made the mistake of thinking that the police were the enemy, rather than seeing them as fellow human beings. We sometimes turned direct action into a fetish, rather than one tool as part of an overall strategy. We were unprepared for the large numbers of unstable, narcissistic and extremely ideological groups and individuals who sought to turn Occupy into a chaotic playground. Trust broke down, and we lost the sense of unity and solidarity that made the first days of the movement so powerful.

By mentioning all this, I don’t mean to re-hash old arguments or open old wounds. I do believe that the Occupy movement was very sucessful in opening a conversation on class and economic justice in a country that has long been closed to such considerations. But it was also a tempest that we were unprepared for, though I feel hopeful that we have learned many lessons from the experience.

Two years later, most of us are back into a kind of stand-by mode. Just like before the Occupy movement, we are waiting for what the next big step might be towards a society where there is greater economic justice, more care for the earth, and deeper, healthier communities to be a part of. We yearn for a more beautiful, just world, but often we feel stuck. Occupy is over, but it’s unclear what comes next.

I want to suggest that now is the time for us to be laying the groundwork for whatever is yet to come. Most of us can sense that more such pivotal moments are on the horizon. The Occupy movement was just the opening scene in a much longer drama, and the choices we make right now about how to prepare (or not) will have an enormous impact on how things play out in years to come.

What might it look like to prepare for the next waves we can feel approaching? What are the practical skills we need to learn? How can we get rooted in communities and practices that will strengthen us for the challenges that are sure to emerge? How can we be consciously preparing for the next great opening?

If we neglect to do this work, no doubt we will be caught off guard again. A movement will form, but we will once again get tangled up in negative dynamics similar to those that we encountered during Occupy. If, however, we choose to do the work of preparation now, next time could play out very differently.

Imagine an opening like the one we saw with Occupy, except this time we have developed extensive networks of organizers and communities around the world that are ready to seize the initiative proactively. Imagine being part of justice-seeking communities that are conscious enough of our role in history that we recognize these pivotal moments, and act decisively!

This will be no simple feat. That kind of effort will require a level of coordination that we have not seen since the Civil Rights movement. It will demand a substantial investment of our time and resources – not to mention developing a collective attention span that is measured in years and decades rather than weeks and months. Such a movement – an enduring movement for social transformation – will mean a serious reorientation of our lives.

Does that sound like something you’re ready to sign up for? Is your yearning for a more peaceful and just world strong enough that you are ready to begin preparing yourself and others for the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead? How can we work together to make these dreams reality?

I highly recommend these two articles that helped spur me to write this piece:

Breaking Up With Occupy – by Nathan Schneider

A Revolution Comes In Stages – Occupy Or Otherwise – by George Lakey

Remembering Occupy DC – And Taking the Next Step

It was one year ago today, a cold and rainy October morning, when that first small band of us gathered in McPherson Square in downtown DC. We were young professionals, students, activists and organizers. Some of us had long experience in political action and organizing; many others had practically no background. But no matter how inexperienced or battle tested we were, no one had ever done anything like this before.

Just two weeks before, Occupy Wall Street had erupted in the financial district of lower Manhattan, starting a process that would galvanize untold thousands of young people across the world. The wave of transformative energy that we in the United States witnessed from afar during the Arab Spring had finally reached American shores. All of us felt the question rising within us: What might “regime change” look like in North America? What would it mean to break the power of the one percent, to bring human needs and ecological sustainability into the forefront of our collective consciousness?

Those of us gathered in McPherson Square that day did not come together to form a political party or endorse a candidate, nor did we assemble in order to promote a platform or a unified political philosophy. Instead, we discovered together that the genius of our movement was to create space to begin asking deeper questions. As Slavoj Žižek observed in those early days at Zucotti Park in New York, we live in a society that greatly limits our social imagination. “In technology and sexuality, everything seems to be possible. You can travel to the moon… But look at the field of society and economy. There, almost everything is considered impossible.”

Though at first many of us – myself included – were baffled at Occupy’s apparent lack of concrete demands, we soon discovered that this was a sign of collective genius. By refusing to make a narrow list of demands, we instead fulfilled our true mission: to ask the right questions. Why do we live in a society where the wealthiest one percent of our citizenry controls most of the material resources and political power? What does it mean for the sustainability of a democratic society when the middle class is systematically decimated, swelling the ranks of the working poor and unemployed? What does it say about our society when public services for the most vulnerable are attacked as wasteful dependency, while welfare for giant corporations and the super-rich is regarded as an economic necessity?

What would happen if we refused to play by Wall Street’s rules?

The Occupy movement has played a vital role in awakening the prophetic imagination of my generation. By creating a space where we could ask the essential questions, Occupy Wall Street has catalyzed a chain reaction whose ultimate effects are still unfolding. We will probably never know how many tens of thousands of new leaders were baptized into the work of economic justice and peace-building in the final months of 2011. And our work is just beginning.

I join many others today in remembering the amazing, surprising movement that we experienced in those early days last fall. The electricity of the moment was palpable in the autumn air. There were times when we were gathered up into a sense of collective power that made us feel larger than life. Everything seemed possible. We had no idea what might come next.

We still don’t. On this, the first anniversary of Occupy DC, I will tip my hat to those glorious early days. I will indulge briefly in nostalgia for what once was. But then I will turn my face once again to this present moment, and to the future that remains mysterious, unwritten and full of holy surprises.

Today, I recommit myself to the calling that I felt last fall. I give thanks for the work of the Spirit in our midst. It is this living Presence which gives me courage to trust that although today does not look like yesterday and tomorrow is unknown, we will be guided together if we continue to gather in hope, faith and love. Returning once again to Žižek’s impassioned speech to those gathered in Zucotti Park last October:

What is Christianity? It’s the Holy Spirit. What is the Holy Spirit? It’s an egalitarian community of believers who are linked by love for each other, and who only have their own freedom and responsibility to do it. In this sense, the Holy Spirit is here now. And down there on Wall Street, there are pagans who are worshiping blasphemous idols. So all we need is patience. The only thing I’m afraid of is that we will someday just go home and then we will meet once a year, drinking beer, and nostalgically remembering “What a nice time we had here.” Promise yourselves that this will not be the case.

Holy Spirit, come. Fall on us once again and give us the strength to follow your leading, regardless of how different it might be from what we once imagined. Give us courage and power, patience and humility to become poor and submit ourselves to suffering for the sake of your love. Make us like your son, Jesus, who out of love for us endured the cross and whom you have raised with power to your right hand. Help us to remember the ways you have already guided us, and then inspire us once again to step out in faith, into the hidden horizon of your next great surprise.

Can You Hear Me Now?

More than any other place I have ever lived, Washington is a talking city, an environment where words are simultaneously the most precious and the cheapest commodity. Words serve as weapons of political warfare, badges of honor, markers of identity and demonstrations of expertise. Language is employed to build up and tear down. In a town like Washington, the exercise of power means framing the conversation. The real game here is about dictating the terms of the debate.

This is a very different relationship to words than the one that I have experienced in the Quaker tradition. For Friends, the primary goal of all words is to provide a pathway into truth that goes beyond our narrow attempts to define and control it. In this view, language is meant to direct us to the inward reality that we all have access to, the truth that will guide us and draw us into unity. In the Friends tradition, the spoken word is meant to be a tool of liberation, freeing us from bondage to falsehood. This truth that we encounter together sets us free and challenges us to reexamine our narrow interests and old assumptions.
From this perspective, the way that we often communicate here in Washington is questionable. If words are intended to provide a doorway into the truth that lies beyond us, what happens when we speak primarily to get our own way, so that our own perspective prevails while others are discounted? What is the spiritual effect of a culture that views language as a means to gain power over others, rather than as a tool to produce transformed lives that bless and surprise everyone?
If the United States’ political climate is any indication, communication that cajoles, confuses and coerces leads us into division, alienation and violence. When our speech becomes simply one more method of waging cultural warfare against those we disagree with, we are left without means to find the common ground that could resolve our conflicts. A society that has stopped listening is not far from civil war.
I believe that God has called me to engage with the wider world, to work for justice and reconciliation in a culture that struggles to live within even basic forms of civility, much less mutual understanding and love. Yet, at the same time, I am convinced that it would be a mistake for me to accept the wider culture’s destructive norms of communication. What might it look like to passionately participate in American society without buying into its patterns of verbal combat and battle-hardened talking points?
This question is alive for me as I work among my friends in the movement for economic justice. All of us have become accustomed to communicating in ways that are basically violent. We instinctively defend ourselves from attack and ensure that our point of view is spoken. We perceive (correctly) that if we do not barge in and say our piece, others who are more forceful will do all the talking.
This is hard for me, because I am used to the Quaker mode of conversation in which long pauses are normal. Stretches of silence provide time to reflect on what has been said, and to listen for the voice of the Spirit in our midst. Among Friends, there is an expectation that conversations provide an opportunity to listen collectively, and this shared openness to God and one another helps to develop trust and solidarity within the group.
When I first became involved in the Occupy movement, one of my great hopes was that I could help to introduce Quaker practices of deep listening and collective discernment into the movement. And during the first days of Occupy DC, we had some remarkable successes. But it soon became apparent that almost all of us were more familiar with the combative, self-asserting style of communication that we have inherited from the wider culture.
Even as we rise to challenge the domination of the 1%, we seem stuck communicating in ways that keep us fighting one another. It is hard to see how the 99% can ever be free so long as we continue to use the modes of discourse that have been thrust upon us by the wealthy elite and their corporations.

A real nonviolent revolution in this country cannot be simply about economic indicators; we must transform the very culture we live in, including the way we speak and make decisions together. It is truly a beautiful thing when we really hear one another and experience solidarity spreading throughout the room. Nevertheless, this way of hearing is much more difficult to achieve when we are all worried about whether we will get a chance to speak.

For my own part, I wrestle with how to stay grounded in the Quaker mode of deep listening and trust while still being able to speak to my friends who do not share this practice. How can I engage in our shared business in a way that invites the whole group into greater openness and depth? How can I keep my own grounding in the practice of patient waiting on God, even as all the cultural forces around me clamor for immediate reaction? How can I share this practice of trusting attentiveness with my friends and co-workers? What would it look like to hold open a space for shared exploration in truth?