three lessons from occupy


Practicing Our Values in Times of Change

INcite with angel Kyodo williams

Author’s note: During the last month I’ve visited the Occupy spaces of three different cities, including NY’s Occupy Wall Street. Yes, I know the name is a problem, but that is what they were called in these places. What follows is an edited excerpt from the subsequent talk I gave about my experience: Practicing Our Values in Times of Change. You can listen to the full talk here.

I’m from New York, so i made my way to the NY Occupy Wall Street site.

Both because I was curious and I had a sense that there’s something here. I wanted to drop myself into the container to really understand “what is this about?,” “is this just more hype?”, or “is this something that’s interesting, that’s going to capture our attention a little bit on Facebook and maybe even reach CNN, but then it’s going to disappear?”

I learned some lessons there that told me that no matter what the Occupy Movement does, that there exists in those spaces—many of them, not all of them, but many of them—some things that we can learn from. It’s not that whatever is happening there is different from the rest of us, but there, it is distilled.

One of the things that is most often repeated is that they don’t have a demand. And that is one of the best things about it.

We are so often trying to figure out how to match our corporate culture and go for the marketing. So we want to get a message and be “on message”. Even those of us that know intuitively that that may not be what this is about are asking “what’s the message?”

As best I can hear, the message…is to heard. The message is to make a space in which people can be heard. The first lesson I took away , is that if we are to have a world changed in a way that is going to be equitable, and accessible and viable for all of us, each of us deserves to be heard…no matter how long it takes.

They hold these General Assemblies using what they call a human microphone—if you haven’t seen the videos of how the human mic happens , run, don’t walk, and see it. In the General Assemblies they make decisions for not only the very intentional community that is formed there, but also, in that very moment whoever is there becomes the Beloved Community. And they will stay there as long as it takes to make sure everybody gets heard.

So the second lesson I got out of being at OWS is this: it takes time. That if we want change, real change, to come about, it takes time.

With the time that it takes, must come discipline. A deep discipline to be able to stay, to be able to stay present to all of the voices that must be heard.

In 140 characters or less, we are not practicing towards the discipline of being Present. So we can afford to strengthen our practice in being present. So that we are able to withstand the sometimes very uncomfortable process of hearing all the voices that need to be heard. Voices that are often being heard in public spaces for the first time, so:

They are not neat.
They are not on point.
They are undisciplined.
They are sometimes missing the point of the conversation totally.
They are often out of bounds.

And they should be heard…they must be heard.

Therefore, we need discipline as a community and as a collective. Just as they do with the human microphone at the General Assembly in which the facilitator clarifies the process and the collective echoes, we need to strengthen our discipline in order to both make space for people to be heard and to be able to say:

That’s a great question. That’s a great question.
And it should be taken up. And it should be taken up.
But not now. But not now.
This is not the time. This is not the time.
But we will make time. But we will make time.

(I wish I could do that as well as they do.)

Some of the Occupy spaces in the country use a bullhorn. My colleague and friend, organizer Marianne Manilov and I talked about what gets missed by not having the practice of the human microphone:

In that practice, you have the possibility of a 60-year old white male holding a Ron Paul sign tucked under his suit echoing back the words of a 24-year old black transgendered person. Holding the vibration of the words in his body. Not just hearing, but holding the vibration of someone that is coming from a profoundly different place in his body. You can’t help but find the sameness when you do that. Because when you hold someone else’s word in your own body, you naturally find the resonance. You don’t necessarily find agreement, but you do find resonance.

When we can find resonance,
when we have the space in which voices can be heard, and
we have the discipline to stay and take the time necessary to hear, and
we create the resonance of community,
we can allow for possibilities that were just not there before.

We can feel things that are unknowable to our minds. You can feel things that are unknowable—and should stay that way—to our minds.

That’s the third lesson that I learned, which I knew and which was affirmed by this profoundly messy, wild, disorienting space that Occupy Wall Street is.

In progressive community, we like to take pride in our willingness to extend ourselves into difference and bring difference forth. As profoundly important as that is, we have to find spaces of shared practice. We must. We have to get over ourselves and our individualistic ways and find shared practice, a unifying thread—I don’t mean a message, I don’t mean a brand—a unifying thread that calls us to attention, and lifts us beyond what is important to Me into what’s important for We.

And we can’t talk about it to get there. You know what I’m saying?

The shared practice can’t be something that we talk our way into. It has to be something that we be. It has to be something that we do.

your in truth,aKw

dedicated to all the people willing to listen for the resonance, take the time, and share practice as we find our way to real change.

copyright ©MMXI. angel Kyodo williams
changeangel: all things change. (sm)
angel Kyodo williams is a maverick teacher, author, social visionary
and founder of Center for Transformative Change.
she posts, tweets & blogs on all things change.
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About angel Kyodo williams

angel Kyodo williams, the “change angel,” is Founder Emeritus of a Center for Transformative Change. She now serves as a Senior Fellow and Director of Vision. A social visionary and leading voice for transformative social change, she is the author of the critically-acclaimed Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living With Fearlessness and Grace.
Facebook: Like angel on Facebook
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  1. Thanks so much for this important reflection! Powerful, moving and insightful!


  1. […] | three lessons from occupy: practicing our values in times of change Finally, having called for a movement, been in solidarity with others, explored how to make one and […]

  2. […] | three lessons from occupy: practicing our values in times of change Finally, having called for a movement, been in solidarity with others, explored how to make one and […]

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