It is far easier for us humans to know what we are against than it is for us to know what we are for. Learned responses and internal morality can tell us if we are “against” something that we experience in our lives. We can know that we do not like the way our banking system operates, or how much legal graft has appeared in our government, or politicians using police to crack down on individual liberty. Just spend a few days listening to AM Talk Radio, both Conservative and Liberal/Progressive stations, and you will hear more than enough statements of opposition to last any single person a lifetime. And, though the conservative stations far outnumber the liberal/progressive ones… it is the liberals and the progressives that are the best at being oppositional. Why, the left can’t even react to each other without deciding what about each other they oppose…
We focus a lot on taking the next step… and that is doing something about your opposition to all of these things. You don’t like big oil, or corruption in politics, or the way most of our nation’s wealth has concentrated in the very few? Well, then get active! Join an organization, attend a protest, donate your money, sign this petition… A lot of energy is spent seeking to inspire people to become active in their opposition, to whatever. So much so that we become experts of standing in opposition to everything… a reality that can have deep, personal impact on an individual’s life.
But here’s the thing about an activist stance that is based in opposition. It not only assumes, but requires the continued existence of its opposite. Without that which it is protesting, the oppositional movement has no reason to exist. It either then dissolves (something human institutions always resist doing) or it needs to find something or someone else to oppose. Occasionally, it can become something other than an oppositional movement.
The greatest catastrophe that can befall an oppositional movement is to win. This is why most oppositional movements, when they find themselves in charge of whatever it was they were opposing, often continue to seek out new groups to oppose, leading to all kinds of nasty consequences, especially if what said opposition is now in charge of is the state. Of such is Revolutionary Tyranny born…
People on the left have begun to openly speak of the Occupy Movement as a nascent revolution, and I think they may be right. Not all revolutions are violent revolutions, and this one seems to be going the non-violent route (although that remains to be seen). Although calling it a “non-violent” revolution is a misnomer, for revolution always involves violence. What sets a “non-violent” revolution apart is that the violence only comes from one side… from the state and other institutional entrenched power structures. In a non-violent revolution, the revolutionaries do not respond to state violence with violence, but with persistence, force of will, and courage.
If this is correct… if the Occupy movement is indeed a revolution in its earliest stages, then there is a question that needs to be asked, and answered. The movement needs to move beyond what we are against, what we stand in opposition of, and detail what we are for.
Now, I’m not talking about what most people mean when they say what they are for. In my opinion, most of the time people are saying what they are “for”, it is just a cloaked way of re-stating their opposition to something. Saying you are for honesty in government is just a re-statement of the opposition to corruption in government. Saying that you are for regulation of banks is just a re-statement of being against bank non-regulation.
Revolution is not about the particulars of any society, state, or culture. Revolution recognizes that all of those particulars, be it banks using accounting tricks to cheat investors, or corporations being defined as people, or police using violence to suppress the freedom of speech… revolution recognizes that all of these are merely the symptoms, not the cause. Revolution recognizes that the cause rests in fundamental principles upon which society/culture/the state are based. Revolution seeks to reform those fundamental principles that society/culture/ the state are based on.
If your goal is to increase regulation of banks, or stop police from using “stop and frisk”, or to even get our soldiers out of Afghanistan… then what you are talking about is a political movement… not a revolution. Political movements address the symptoms… not the causes. Only Revolution seeks to re-form the foundations of society/culture/ the state upon new and different foundational principles and patterns.
The question that needs to be asked and answered for the Occupy movement to move from being a political movement to a revolution is this: What kind of society/culture/state would we create after dismantling the current one? Forget about standing in opposition to the current society/culture/state… that merely assumes the continued existence of said society/culture/state. What kind of society do we want to live in? What are the foundational principles that we would want our human culture to accept? How would the government we would create be formed, and under what authority?
In other words, we need a vision of the world we would create… and we need it now. This is not something that can wait until “after the revolution”. Every revolutionary movement that has waited to articulate the vision of the society/culture/state they would create has fallen into the basest forms of tyranny… or been so completely unsuccessful as to have no chance of ever supplanting the society/culture/state it revolts from.
Without such a vision, then this is not a revolution… it is a political movement. If that is the case, then the best course the Occupy movement can take would be to quickly name some leaders, issue some demands, and use the current threat of revolution to get the best deal it can. As a political movement, it likely will never have more power than it does right now…
But as a revolution… that’s another story.
There is an ongoing conversation among liberal/progressive clergy across many denominations about what our role should be in the Occupy movement. Discussion has ranged from the purely pastoral (in other words, be chaplains to the movement activists) to the oppositional prophetic (just think of the first half of the book of Ezekiel).
I wonder if our role should be found not in the first half of the book of Ezekiel, but the last half. I wonder if it is not time for the liberal and progressive clergy to begin to, out-loud and in public, seek to articulate a vision of what kind of world we could create “after the revolution”. I wonder if we should be seeking to join our visions together, and to inspire the Occupy Movement to making the transition away from opposing what is, to dreaming of… and then creating what could be. What should be. What will be.
Because if this is the beginnings of a revolution and if that revolution goes forward without a clear vision of what kind of world/society/culture/state it would create… then history shows that the only greater catastrophe than said revolution’s failure would be said revolution’s success.
Yours in faith,