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To Be or Not to Be – Reform or Revolution – Fear or Love?

There are many paths to the mountain top. Ninety-nine percent of the people would agree that our goal is a just, peaceful, equitable, world, liberated from the shackles of violent, deceptive, corporate rule, with a future where human needs and the planet are honored and respected over profits. The strategy of how to get from where we are today--with corrupt politicians dominating the major institutions and blindly steering humanity over the cliff of failed species, resource depletion, and mass extinctions--towards where we would like to go--where there is a real possibility of survival, evolution, and a true renaissance--is where the conversations began at Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Chicago, Occupy K Street (DC), Freedom Plaza (DC), and all the other occupations that recognize the intolerability of the reigning system and the need for change.

Henry Ford once said, “It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.”

In a world dominated by money, where money is literally treated as a deity and market forces are referred to as the “invisible hand” of the omnipotent, immutable force determining human behavior, rarely do people realize that something is deeply amiss in the way money is created and distributed. The financial crisis of 2008 shocked people into the realization that an enormous financial heist was being perpetrated, and suddenly they wanted to understand what was happening so that they could survive and halt the moral outrages that were being committed on a global scale.

The idea of revolutionary change is generally terrifying to most people, at least to people who have an adequate income, shelter, food, clothing, and family and simply want to enjoy the pleasures of life. Under current conditions, however, a large majority of people are threatened with the loss of their livelihoods, lands, homes, pensions, health, and living standards. Their very survival demands a radical change in our financial system. Reminiscent of the experience of the Zapatistas who recognized how their survival was threatened by the passage of NAFTA in 1994, the 2008 financial crisis has been a wake-up call for those who blindly trusted “the system.” Joseph Stiglitz, the former Chief Economist at the World Bank, patiently outlined for journalist Greg Palast the four predictable stages generally imposed on the countries of the Third World by the IMF and World Bank (this is a greatly condensed version):

Step One is Privatization, or 'Briberization,' where government officials are bribed to sell off state industries such as electricity and water companies.

Step Two is 'Capital Market Liberalization.' Investment capital comes into the country for speculation in real estate and currency, then leaves at the first sign of trouble, rapidly draining the national treasuries.

Step Three is 'Market-Based Pricing.' Raising prices on food, water and cooking gas.

Leading to Step-Three-and-a-Half, "The IMF riot." A predictable stage when a nation is "down and out, eliminating the last shreds of the social safety net..." pushing 51% of the population below the poverty line. The riots (peaceful demonstrations dispersed by bullets, tanks and teargas) cause new flights of capital and government bankruptcies, permitting corporations to pick off the remaining assets at fire sale prices.

Step Four - 'Free Trade,' by the rules of the WTO and World Bank, which create open markets in developing countries while protecting Europe and the US against Third World agriculture, thus enriching the 1% and starving the majority.

These stages mirror national and local governments supportive role in the “legalization” of theft and murder by the 1% and the “criminalization” of the courageous survival efforts of the rest of humanity.

The occupations were a predictable response to the tyrannical, immoral, and criminal actions by government--an attempt to assert basic human rights to address and redress fundamental grievances that have been building up for a long time. Fueled by the technological communications revolution, including social media, as well as the disparity between the fabricated pseudo-reality portrayed by the corporate media and the physical reality people encounter in their everyday lives, the occupation idea captured the support and attention of the young, the brave, the honest, the compassionate, and the disenfranchised--those hungry for engagement and empowerment who were ready to relinquish the role of spectators and become meaningful participants during a historical moment in time.

Just as protests against the WTO did not begin or end in Seattle, the inspiration for the “occupations” did not begin nor will they end in Wall Street or Freedom Plaza. But those events did break through a media barrier, catching the attention of the entire nation, and garnering much support as well as the inevitable attacks. The occupations also created more space for serious conversations to begin about the problems with our economic system and how to fix it, a subject which I’ve been working on for nearly two decades.

At the end of September, people from across the US, Canada, Japan and Europe gathered in Chicago for the American Monetary Institute’s Annual Monetary Reform Conference. Representative Dennis Kucinich had just introduced H.R. 2990, the National Emergency Employment Defense Act of 2011. This legislation incorporated the main features of monetary reform that the American Monetary Institute has been advocating, including nationalizing the Federal Reserve and placing it under the Department of Treasury. All new money would be created through a democratic process. The fractional reserve requirement for banks would be raised to 100%, eliminating their ability to create money. New money would be spent into existence through a national infrastructure program. By spending money on real projects and people--including roads, schools, and hospitals--the country would be able to reach full employment without suffering from inflation.

My son Jules Brouillet, age 23, in his talk at the conference, tried to simplify AMI’s message in support of H.R. 2990 so that anyone could understand it, as follows:

“We need to create good-paying jobs for all by nationalizing the power to print money, which has been privatized by our banking system.”

Jules and I joined others in doing outreach to Occupy Chicago, Occupy DC, Occupy K Street, Occupy Wall Street, and (Freedom Plaza in DC) to educate people at the grassroots activist level about the need for monetary reform and about the newly introduced legislation before Congress, which was receiving no media attention.

People at the occupations clearly understood that corporations have bought the politicians, the legislative process, the Supreme Court, and the electoral process, and that the power of money needs to be removed from the electoral process (to reverse the Citizens United decision that allows corporations to pour unlimited amounts of money into campaigns). However, people generally do not understand how money is created and loaned into existence, a process that is still shrouded in mystery and remains largely unchallenged by the public as the largest banks continue to consolidate their power and dictate government policies. (A recent study in Switzerland explicitly reveals how financial institutions wield greater power than governments or people.) Only recently have people at the occupations begun campaigns to move “their money” from the largest banks most responsible for the financial crisis into credit unions and community banks, and to begin a conversation about "public banks" that could leverage their seigniorage for the public benefit. Margrit Kennedy, author of Interest and Inflation Free Money, has estimated that an honest monetary system that did not require interest payments for what should be considered a public utility would reduce the cost of goods and services by 50%, the amount that is currently siphoned off by those who create money and loan it into existence at a very high price to all.

The author of The Anti-American Manifesto, Ted Rall, at Freedom Plaza in DC argued that reforms under the current situation were impossible, that revolution was the only practical way to achieve real change, and that the only reforms worth championing would be ones that if denied increase the momentum for revolution. In Doing Democracy - The MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements, author Bill Moyer, my mentor, describes in detail how social movements advance and succeed through non-violence by exposing society’s myths and showing how they violate deeply held values. Moyer notes that the biggest challenge social movements face is overcoming the public’s fear of change, and this overcoming of fear must happen three times. The public must overcome fear first to recognize that there is a problem. Next, the public must overcome fear to oppose current conditions and policies, which is where we are now. The next step, which is perhaps the most challenging, is to want, and to no longer fear, alternatives. In a culture where money represents power, is worshipped as though it were a god, is almost inseparable from one’s personal identity, and yet is not well understood, to question or redesign what is considered a “necessity” that impacts every single person would require a revolution in consciousness, a political awakening, a change of heart--a genuine paradigm shift from the love of power to the power of love.

The problems we face are huge. When governments are run by criminals and the courts and judges are corrupt, good laws are ignored. War is still the most profitable industry and the engine of the global economy. The occupations are an attempt to stop the wheels of the machine and redirect resources towards human needs and rescuing a threatened planet. The most hopeful thing about the occupations is that they are drawing in people who have never before been engaged in political activism; they are a catalyst for conversation and the exchange of ideas, experiences, and information. They have the potential to create community, transform lives, and bring together diverse people to come up with new insights and solutions that would otherwise be unimaginable in our atomized, fearful, divided, and polarized country.

The occupations deserve our attention, support, and participation. Those putting their lives and time into social change work should also understand that it is a process that goes through stages, and even if the occupations or street actions become less popular and diminish in numbers, that doesn’t mean that the movement is over. It might be advancing to another stage that requires new tactics and different roles for people to play.

As I was working on this article and planning to attend the local occupations, in San Jose, San Francisco, and Oakland, those very occupations were brutally attacked by police, people were hurt, arrested, tents and equipment taken from them. The attacks also drew more public attention and support for the occupiers.

I believe we have much to learn from the Populist Era, a period in American history that mirrors our own struggle against corporate power and corruption, the control of the media by the wealthy few, and robbing the many to support an expansion of empire. We need to prepare ourselves for the long haul. The problems are too vast and too deep to be solved by any one politician or piece of legislation.

The technological revolutions that allow a global movement to act in solidarity, poses new threats, as well, enabling the opposition to identify, and violently suppress the movement. There is a dance going on between the forces of resistance and repression, between conflicting narratives, for the hearts, minds and support of the people who must decide which orders, rules and laws should be obeyed and which ones need to be broken, for themselves, their communities, their nations and the world.

Resources for Occupiers and their Supporters-

The Five-Fold Path of Productive Meetings a gift from Starhawk, a chapter from her new book, The Empowerment Manual: A Guide for Collaborative Groups

The Infinite Games, a guide for systemic change within individuals and organizations striving for the good of all life.