Saturday, October 8, 2011

Welcome to #OccupyTogether

Tonin’s Ideaphoria, created as a platform for sharing whatever churned out of my personal ideaverse, will temporarily transition to a more organized and focused agenda: musings on and another hub for the Occupy Movement. For revolution may be developing out of us. Perhaps I am wrong and the uprisings will be squashed, incorporated, dispersed. But perhaps I am not. The time is too ripe to concentrate on anything else but what is happening. For I have been thinking about this very thing for all of my adult years. Discussing it into late nights. Fantasizing about the new world order. Threads of the occupiers’ complaints weave their way throughout the entire evolution of my thought. This occupation has occupied me and I shall now fully occupy it.

First, a personal rendition of the movement: In September I went through my swelling inbox to inconspicuously find that my two co-conspirators and allies in NYC had sent me a message of great portent. It became the impetus. It was titled “#OccupyWallStreet: A Shift in Revolutionary Tactics”, and was sent by Adbusters, the anti-consumerist activist group from Canada I knew by their monthly ad-free publication:

Alright you 90,000 redeemers, rebels and radicals out there,
A worldwide shift in revolutionary tactics is underway right now that bodes well for the future. The spirit of this fresh tactic, a fusion of Tahrir with the acampadas of Spain, is captured in this quote:

"The antiglobalization movement was the first step on the road. Back then our model was to attack the system like a pack of wolves. There was an alpha male, a wolf who led the pack, and those who followed behind. Now the model has evolved. Today we are one big swarm of people."
— Raimundo Viejo, Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona, Spain

The beauty of this new formula, and what makes this novel tactic exciting, is its pragmatic simplicity: we talk to each other in various physical gatherings and virtual people's assemblies … we zero in on what our one demand will be, a demand that awakens the imagination and, if achieved, would propel us toward the radical democracy of the future … and then we go out and seize a square of singular symbolic significance and put our asses on the line to make it happen.

The time has come to deploy this emerging stratagem against the greatest corrupter of our democracy: Wall Street, the financial Gomorrah of America.

On September 17, we want to see 20,000 people flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months. Once there, we shall incessantly repeat one simple demand in a plurality of voices.

Tahrir succeeded in large part because the people of Egypt made a straightforward ultimatum – that Mubarak must go – over and over again until they won. Following this model, what is our equally uncomplicated demand?
The most exciting candidate that we've heard so far is one that gets at the core of why the American political establishment is currently unworthy of being called a democracy: we demand that Barack Obama ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington. It's time for DEMOCRACY NOT CORPORATOCRACY. We're doomed without it.
This demand seems to capture the current national mood because cleaning up corruption in Washington is something all Americans, right and left, yearn for and can stand behind. If we hang in there, 20,000-strong, week after week against every police and National Guard effort to expel us from Wall Street, it would be impossible for Obama to ignore us. Our government would be forced to choose publicly between the will of the people and the lucre of the corporations.

This could be the beginning of a whole new social dynamic in America, a step beyond the Tea Party movement, where, instead of being caught helpless by the current power structure, we the people start getting what we want whether it be the dismantling of half the 1,000 military bases America has around the world to the reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act or a three strikes and you're out law for corporate criminals. Beginning from one simple demand – a presidential commission to separate money from politics – we start setting the agenda for a new America.
Go to and tell us what you think. Post a comment and help each other zero in on what our one demand will be.

And then let's screw up our courage, pack our tents and head to Wall Street with a vengeance September 17.

#OccupyWallStreet was reported to be composed of a “few hundred neo-hippies” occupying Zuccotti Park, located within the financial district of lower Manhattan, by my NYC allies when I checked in post launch date. Disappointing. I was expecting reports of numbers in droves and representation across demographics. I wrote it off as a false start. The “operation of the machine” continued as always; we, tolerant, participated as we always had. But then something curious began to happen across the rest of the month. Through sources varied and dispersed, I was informed, through an underground conversation of sorts, centered upon not empty criticism as I was used to, but instead operations intended, resistances planned, actions to be taken to directly monkeywrench the empire. What was I amid? I started hunting around, plunging into the media complex I generally avoid, and discovered that something was indeed happening. #OccupyWallStreet had marshaled interest, gained force, and was becoming a presence to be reckoned with. Maybe history is coming to an end. Or if not, I am at least getting excited about overcoming the social order in a new, embodied way: after a decade of adulthood occupying a very small place in the realm of the theoretical, I am becoming praxis! I will occupy as a commitment to such praxis. I will occupy today.

For sixteen days, there has been a local presence, in our own Occupy Wall Street, cleverly consistent, called Occupy Denver. Occupy Together, the movement’s collective name, has captivated over 1000 American cities. Today I go to absorb the cries of the occupiers, clarify what I shall take up in my own activism, and to give my presence, my representation, my contributions in the discourse, my own cries in the collective. I shall soon report back from the frontiers. Until then, please visit

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Hazards of the Familiar

I sit and write again – this time writing straight, without much planning for ideas now in a watery mental diffusion. I have to set myself up this way for I’ve identified the weight that accompanies these preparations: the time-intensive yes, but more weighty, the sometimes agonizing gearing-into anticipatory struggles for word and form, an attempt inward, grasping at random bolts of insight until there establishes a cohesive and steady reliable output, an encompassing circle in which my material fills in and completes a naturally-evolved resolution in closing.

A mere introductory musing that may help better define the resistance in the phenomenology of lapse (see entry @) while also providing a handy explanation to my absence! Perhaps all of this phenomenological detail amounts to the fact that I have been lazy in confronting the work of writing. Yes, that sounds like it rings an internal bell. In addition I note the other forms of resistance examined in entry X operating: yes, my cycling once again robbed me of my writing, and also all of this cooking and baking now that I am resorting to bulk ingredients trying to reduce waste...just got done with 60 minutes of chocolate chip banana bread…wow, is it good). Oops, I did it again.

We get caught up in this way, living our everyday, mired in the flare-up concerns of isolated moments in time. I seek the larger projects such as this, the activities that are placed well in my continuum of self: I write today, I have written before, I will write again. These projects oft lie at the fringes as we largely go through the motions of our days. If laziness be the culprit, it follows that attending to the puny island of attention required for most everyday matters permits me off-the-hook for attending to, ahem, my life, that larger edifice that I would never locate in dishes or tidying, or even birthday parties, networking, or emailing. Whole lives can be lived this way. Too much of mine has been sequestered into the narrowness of the daily.

Wake-up calls, though often not very pleasant, allow for this benumbing daily to be ruptured. And so they come as beautiful and worthy messages, something making a little unpleasantry more easily tolerated. Afterward you have to put your daily back in order, and this grants the needed space to not automatically slip into the unmemorable daily, unworthy as appraised by your very own mental faculties to be retained.

I had one recently. It was quite embarrassing in the moment, disorienting me in the near aftermath as to how I could have wound up as I did. Just before the embarrassment, I was in a round of involved and complicated mental hashing of upcoming events and meetings and people I needed to respond to. Oh, these urgencies that consume. So seriously attached I was to my figurings and plan-makings around the minutia of myself, so committed was I to living in a constricted being in the moment, constricted to cognitions, cognitions about such smallness, that I ran my bike at 10mph into a parked car and catapulted over the handlebars, unable to register the impact in time to at least swerve or ricochet. And I was on my block. Someone in hearing the story said in condolence, perhaps that car was parked in a place it normally isn’t? In the days after, I checked out my strong suspicion that indeed this white car chronically parks in the spot I met up with it so intimately. It does. Chronically.

There is a tension in this, the everyday. My first account of the accident (by the way, I am fine – had very minor flesh scrapes and a swollen knee for 2-3 days) was that I was ironically not practicing mindfulness whatsoever. Ironic because I happen to be a mindfulness teacher in my community. The embarrassment of the moment compounded with the embarrassment of hypocrisy. Not being mindful, I concluded, can be dangerous. And I do continue to agree. But there is something more nuanced here than initial considerations and others’ initial feedback suggests.

I critique activity confined in the daily, activity that renders us inept and walled-off in time and from our larger selves. The critique is of attaching too closely to this moment, these concerns, these pressing items of the fleeting and narrow Now. Yet mindfulness-based practice seems to push us into the folds of the present more deeply. Mindfulness, as a fad technique, can leave us not merely isolated in time, but stranded. Appreciating what appears, letting it in, yes, but appreciating in an empty and emptying manner, the annoyingly redundant remarks of sunset-watchers who can only say: “It was amazing.” Perhaps what I label the daily shouldn’t be confused with the opportunities of the day. After all, it is within days that we live; we must live in the houses of days. Paying attention, surely a process I was lacking when I ran myself and my bike asunder, grants a window, a window out of the daily, in opening the daily up from its very own interiors. To pay attention, to “look closer”, perhaps we can free ourselves of the frivolity and wanderings of an overactive mind. Overacting on the daily. To merge a being-orientation of paying attention (allowing the day to unfold before me while on my bike) with my larger temporal self (in the context of my life project(s), I am mindful, I am free.

Friday, February 11, 2011

An Attempt at Social Ecology Praxis

We are assailed by advocate armies of ever-multiplying doctrines, competing for attention, and even more so, adherents - the volume of causes promoted by 7 billion human beings discovering and proclaiming for themselves what holds meaning, what matters. I received a phone call today from a nonprofit foundation asking for $25 which would benefit children with life expectancies between six months to a year in having some decent opportunities for enjoyment in their truncated existence. I am stopped in the street to sign a petition against excessive political campaign spending. I am reported stories of the slum children of India who live in abject poverty on the streets. Stop the injustice! They cry. Within this clamor of competition, I choose to brand myself a social ecologist. Within potentiality for manifested action, I must now choose to advocate for the socially ecological just, wise, and the good (back to the Platonic basics). Wading through many a school of thought dispassionately considered, it flattered me as a well-worn garment tailored to my highly particular body form. A centering connection of disparate realms, an intersection and conceptual house for my concerns, under one totalizing roof. A nexus which acknowledged the braided thread of social organization and an ethic of ecology. This is not a refutation of care for sickly, unfortunately fated children nor an endorsement of seven figure marketing for Senate candidates (oligarchy smuggled in as democracy) nor a dismissal of the suffering people endure when their basic needs go unmet, but a choice of narrowing conscription to make a difference. An attempt to penetrate the complexity of issues to locate the source. Should social ecology be that source, be the answer, if we are to embody it, to unite its theory and praxis, we should no longer have such derivative problems requiring someone to champion their solutions, their alleviation, their reparation.

Social ecology breaks the unhelpful division between the human-made world and the natural world: it brings society into ecology’s fold and ecologizes the social order. Society and Nature are necessarily intertwined, yet our awesomely amazing abstracting powers have created strange contradictions when a total, holistic point-of-view is had. We get caught up utilizing fossil-fuel powered vehicles (planes, trains, automobiles) to save the turtles caught in an oil spill on a remote South American coastal island. The very means by which we try to save is the very cause of their plight. Isolating phenomena and treating them as discrete entities can do more total harm. We are left with iatrogenic complications. Avatar sends a mighty fantastical message, whilst the actual production of the film, the substratum of the realization of its message, is the culprit of flagrant use of resources and therefore habitat destruction, where sympathetic characters are portrayed by our celebrity elite, in which its marketing teams breed all sorts of spin-off material, the litter of Jake Sully dolls and other promotional junk that wind up in the landfills of the world. This is false consciousness: the manifest portrays one reality, the actual material reality involved is its very antithesis. Let’s not assume I have converted my Avatar love here. I continue to love Avatar. But I see that without social ecology, we are doomed to propagate an ecological ethic within a social organization, a way of doing things, which by its very structure undermines our most professed faith in the preservation and nourishment of our home.

Social ecology finds its roots in the radical 60s, its thought originated in and organized by Murray Bookchin, a social philosopher/ libertarian socialist (social anarchist) who wrote and lectured lifelong as an academic and activist. Take any specific cry of environmentalists today, Bookchin I imagine would say, EO Wilson’s call to biodiversity, Gore’s advocacy for climate change, Pollan’s exposé of industrial food - open your eyes to their collective location: our social order: capitalism. Through extension of Marx’s analysis of society, his critique of capital and the system that embodies it, capitalism, we can find Eco-Marxism, where we not only note, as we do traditionally, that capitalism has destructive control of the mode and relations of production (destructive to human liberty), but that it has destructive control over the all-encompassing environment, increasingly invading every corner of social and natural life as it appropriates everything in its grasp to capital. In Avatar it becomes every corner of galactic social and natural life, as the ever-expanding demon literally exhausts the globe. Marx said the natural limits of an economic system would produce collapse when the carrying capacity of its internal mechanics reaches an upper limit. I fear that we extend that upper limit and that we are nowhere closer a revision based on increasing internal contradiction, despite living 150 years after these predictions.

The problem for me as an individual social ecologist is an extending of myself beyond academics, my usual trade, my training, my type. I must turn toward at least the verge of activism, in an effort of really doing something, becoming a theory-praxis unity (in Bookchin’s likening). Although, as we’ve seen analogically in the unity of social ecology, good academics do change the world, and good activists are usually academics, if but informally, at heart. Okay, as if that wasn’t enough of a personal challenge, beyond this change in the use of myself is the more pervasive problem of full immersion. I work from within an already corrupted working space. My life is already infused with the fettered channels of our economic order. I was birthed and raised in it; I am now cloaked in it. Everywhere I turn, I find it. We are back to the realization already mentioned: I am the commercial plane passenger saving the damn turtles. The disadvantage, and for me, emotionally challenging, fact of our position is that we have to discover these untruths as we live them. Currently I am a torn being: I live out the very practices I find fault with, simply because I cannot immediately and instantaneously refashion my entire lived existence. I have found that biking is a reliable form of commuting, indeed it has become apart of me: I am a cyclist. Yet I haven’t quite figured out how to get groceries home on my bike, nor how to navigate certain weather conditions, like heavy snow and ice, on a bicycle. So I use the convenience of my car on these challenging days. I realized this challenge when a critic asked me, “Do you think you’re really changing the world by using that reusable coffee mug when you want coffee?” I stood there with my stupid little mug and thought of the irony and self-contradictions of which I am apart: the plastic bags of tortilla chips I fill my reusable canvas tote bags with. Sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. The way we produce and how we consume is permeated by a waste cycle. I ask of everything now, can I continue using this? Can I morally continue eating these tortilla chips? This week, in an effort of resolve, I purchased chips from a company who used brown paper bags (with a tiny sliver of plastic, of course, to see the contents within) as their packaging. I felt good for a second, but of course I know I am not saving the world with my brown bag tortilla chips. As I attempt zero waste I have to reconceive of how I do everything. And I thought, at the beginning of this declared project (January), that it would involve becoming just a more conscious shopper. Small efforts are wrangled within a system designed for waste. Zero waste requires a self-overcoming of a lifestyle I am embedded in. As an American, I am waste. Parts of the rest of the world see my true colors. Ha, they say in remaining village life, an American of zero waste!