Monday, October 24, 2011

Head Injuries and Speeches

Hello everyone.

So far it's been a pretty uneventful Monday, and I'm thankful for that, because the weekend was anything but uneventful.

I drove Cathy to the Spokane airport on Friday morning so she could go visit relatives in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. So it was just Tucker and me--just us boys. We checked out the new Spokane dog park, where he proceeded to ignore the Boxer pup who wanted to play with him, and instead focused on the ball. But he did his business and wore himself out, so the stop was well worth it.

I intended to stop by the Guitar Center in Spokane and try out some guitars on this trip, but it turns out they don't open until 11 am on weekdays (slacker musicians!), and it was only 9:30. If they opened at 10, I might have grabbed something to eat or otherwise found something to do to kill a half hour, but there was no way I was going to wait around for 90 minutes. Your loss, Guitar Center.

Not that I'm the market for a new guitar right now. But I'm sure I will be at some point, hopefully sooner than later, and it's nice to know what's out there. I have to admit I'm a good old typical American consumer when it comes to certain products. Music gear is one. Beer is another. Fortunately, that's about it.

Anyway, on Saturday I was busy multitasking by stacking firewood in between throwing the ball for Tucker. He's obsessed with getting the ball. That's all he lives for.  It was a pretty healthy obsession until Saturday, when he ended up running head-first into a steel trailer hitch pretty much at full speed. Immediately after that he kinda stumbled around and even fell over a couple times, still looking for the ball. It sounds funny, but it wasn't. It was quite scary.

Of course, the local vet was closed for the weekend, so I had to drive for 45 minutes to an animal hospital in Post Falls. The good news was that Tucker was fine, and they gave him a prescription for an anti-inflammatory painkiller. Did you know they made meat-flavored anti-inflammatory painkillers? I didn't, but now I do.

When we came back home from the unexpected vet trip, the hills to the east of our house were on fire. I'm pretty sure it was a "controlled burn," as they had been planning one there for a while from what I'd heard. And the conditions were probably right because we had gotten a lot of rain recently, and it had been raining pretty much all day, aside from a brief break when Tucker decided to take a header into the trailer. But it was a bit unsettling to see big flames in the distance.

Once it got dark, we got a bunch of lightning, thunder, and hail. I can see hail, but lightning and thunder? At the end of a storm instead of the beginning? In late October? In North Idaho? Weird stuff.

I don't think Tucker appreciated the weather too much. He spent most of his time Saturday night cowering in the bedroom and sleeping off his headache. Poor guy.

And that brings me to Sunday.

Occupy News

I had planned on attending the Occupy Sandpoint general assembly meeting Sunday evening. It was the third meeting of the group, and I had attended the first two. The first one was great. About 50 people attended. We all stood outside in a big circle. We took turns introducing ourselves and talking about some of the issues we thought were important. It was great. It was full of energy. Ego was kept to a minimum. We agreed to get together the following week, this time at one of the local coffee houses.

So we did. I estimated there was probably about 100 people in attendance for the second one. It started out well. We watched this video, which is one of my favorites:

But from then on this meeting had a different feel than the first. The circle was gone, and in its place was a bunch of chairs facing an elevated stage. If you wanted to speak, you put your name on a list, and when your name was called, you went on stage and spoke through a microphone and amplified PA system. At one point, the mayor of Sandpoint decided she wanted to speak, and her name was moved to the top of the list.

I wasn't a fan of this system. I thought it was too hierarchical. I thought someone standing on a platform orating to a crowd was antithetical to the Occupy movement's ideal that no one should be considered more important than anyone else. I also thought having to stand on a platform and speak in front of an audience would be too intimidating for some people, and some voices would get left out.

While people were speaking, there were a few people in the audience who would occasionally interrupt, sometimes to support what was being said, but mostly to argue/debate with the speaker. It was frustrating.

The content being said by the speakers was also quite different than the first meeting. There was lots of talk about "freedom," but little talk about dwindling opportunities. Lots of talk about "government tyranny," but not much talk about corporate/Wall Street tyranny. One guy talked about the UN of all things, but no one talked about the WTO or the IMF. A woman talked about housing foreclosures, but no one talked about crippling student loan debt. As far as I know, I may have been the only one there with any student loan debt.

One guy was selling giving away right-wing libertarian DVDs (with a suggested donation to help cover the costs) and promoting InfoWars and Alex Jones conspiracy theory-nonsense websites. Another guy discussed "Second-Amendment remedies," and then took it further by saying (and I'm paraphrasing here because I can't remember his exact words, but I think I'm pretty close) that "We need to execute the criminals in DC." That doesn't exactly seem to jive with the spirit of nonviolence that the Occupy movement has been promoting, no? The suspicious side of me wondered if he was a plant trying to stir up shit to discredit us.

There was lots of talk about what people thought was wrong, and even what they thought we need to fix, but we never got around to planning an action.

At times I felt like I was at a Tea Party rally, or even a militia meeting, rather than an Occupy meeting.

The alpha-males dominated. Within a movement that was supposed to be leaderless, people were jockeying to lead.

I could tell many people in the audience were turned off by this. Some people voiced their disapproval. Some walked out. Some later made comments about it on Facebook.

To be clear: I don't blame the organizers for this. They did the best they could with what they were given. We're all learning here, and everyone is trying to make things better the way they know how. These are not professional organizers. They're regular people finding their voices and learning how to use them.

Still, there were certainly some encouraging moments. Many of the people who spoke had great ideas. Many reiterated a commitment to nonviolence. There seemed to be some real potential for the movement.

I wanted to speak, but I was flummoxed. I had thoughts, but they weren't yet organized. I'm not quick on my feet. I'm a processor. I need time to organize my thoughts, to stew on them, to write them down, to look at them from every angle.  Only then am I ready to speak.

When I was younger, I would react and speak without thinking. Usually I'd end up saying something stupid. Later, I would think back on it and wonder how I could be a reasonably intelligent person yet end up sounding like a blithering idiot. So I learned to shut my mouth and open my ears and let my thoughts ripen before sharing them.  It's served me well.

And I'm a writer. So during the week between Meeting #2 and Meeting #3, I did what I always do, which was to write down my thoughts. I formed the thoughts into words and sentences, and I organized them into something relatively coherent that I could share with the group. I wrote a lot--way more than I had originally planned. I basically ended up writing a speech, though that wasn't my intention initially.

There's a lot of ego that goes with writing. You really have to have a high opinion of yourself if you think other people would be interested in reading what you have to say. It's even worse with the spoken word. But I felt like I had a perspective that no one else did, and that what I had to say could contribute to the group, and maybe help steer it in a useful direction.

Still, there's a certain irony of trying to lead what's supposed to be a leaderless movement, even if the intention is to stave off other leadership. Over the years, I've tried to develop a "bullshit detector" (also known as critical thinking), and it's not confined to just other people. I use it on myself all the time, mainly to keep things real.

So when I thought about what I was going to say, my most critical side came out, and I found myself wondering what I hoped to accomplish.  Was I going to show up and give a big speech, and then suddenly the movement would go in the "right" direction, and once the revolution is over, the crowd will remember my speech, hoist me on their shoulders, and parade me around town singing, "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow"?

Bullshit detected.

Keeping one's ego out of it is an ongoing process, at least for me.  I tried to focus on the movement, and think about what it was.  That was what was important.  I tried to leave myself out of it.  And I thought what I had to say was important, but I realized it wasn't because of me since my ideas aren't terrible original in the first place.  They're just ideas I'd picked up from other sources, and those sources probably picked them up from other sources, and in the end it's the ideas that are important, not the people.  We just combine them with other ideas and transmit them to others.  That's what I was determined to do. 

So then it came time to head to Sandpoint to go to the meeting.
And I just couldn't do it.

After the weekend I'd had, I didn't have the energy, physically, emotionally, spiritually. I couldn't handle the idea of driving for 45 minutes (each way), for the third day in a row, to attend what was likely to be a contentious meeting. I didn't have the strength to assert myself and my point of view. I didn't have the patience to listen to and potentially work with people who held beliefs that aren't supported by facts, or that go against what I value. Since I'd dropped Cathy off at the airport two and a half days prior, the only people I'd interacted with in person was the owner of the Boxer at the dog park, the vet, and counter person at the animal hospital, and I'd had a couple of brief phone conversations. That was it. I just didn't have it in me to be around a large group of people, let alone speak in front of them.

And mainly I'm tired of arguing.  It's exhausting.

So I stayed home, even though I couldn't help feel that I was chickening out.  I had to give myself the same advice I often give Cathy, which was that I'm doing the best I can, and I shouldn't be so hard on myself (along with the requisite, "Heh-heh, you said, 'hard-on.'")  I played guitar in the basement and sang screamed for a couple hours. I drank probably more IPA than I should have. I felt better.

But I had this speech I'd written. I'd spent a lot of time on it. And since I missed the meeting, and I don't know what was discussed, it's probably obsolete. I still want to share it, though. Good old ego, I guess. So here it is, with a few links added in case you don't know what I'm talking about:
I want to start by saying that at last week’s meeting, I heard a couple of derisive comments about the Tea Party. I think it’s important to remember that the Tea Party started out as a legitimate protest against Wall Street bailouts that was quickly hijacked by pro-big business political interests, mainly the billionaire Koch brothers and their Astroturf group, “Americans for Prosperity.” The movement’s energy was then redirected into electing politicians to enact policies favorable to the Koch brothers themselves, as well as their Wall Street friends. I think we can learn from their mistakes and make sure this movement doesn’t get hijacked, too. I also think we should be reaching out to the Tea Party members, because we have a lot more in common with them than we do with politicians in DC and corporate CEOs.

I also think we should be careful not to fall victim to the false left/right dichotomy. I’m just as guilty of this type of thinking as anyone else, as it’s something that’s deeply ingrained in our culture, thanks in part to our two-party system and our corporate media. Framing the issues we face as if it’s a sporting contest of left vs. right, liberal vs. conservative, Democrat vs. Republican plays well on TV and is designed to dumb down complicated, nuanced issues into something that’s easily consumable and can draw people away from reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond. I think this sort of thinking is incredibly limiting, and it should be avoided it at all costs.

I think the language we use is important, because words illustrate our thoughts. One phrase I hear over and over again is “Wall Street greed.” To me, this makes it sound like the problem is simply a few greedy people on Wall Street, and if we could just fix that problem, everything would be fine. Nonsense. Imagine watching a basketball game on TV and hearing the announcers complain that Kobe Bryant was being greedy by scoring so many points by himself and not letting any of the other players have a chance. The reason you’d never hear this is because the goal of any basketball player is to score as many points as possible. Likewise, the goal of Wall Street is to make as much money as possible. Reforming Wall Street is not going to change that. Eliminating it will.

Another phrase we often hear is “The system is broken.” I respectfully disagree. It’s not broken. It works just fine at what it exists to do, which is to serve the people and organizations that have created it. It rewards the scumbags of the world and punishes people who do the “right thing.”

A recent study showed that 94% of the Congressional candidates who raised the most money won their elections. This means that any politician willing to shill for the wealthy has a huge advantage over someone determined to represent the working class. Once elected, those shills are then rewarded accordingly with congressional leadership committee positions, or if they lose, they’re offered lucrative lobbying positions, perpetuating the system. Poll after poll has shown that Americans hate negative ads during political campaigns, and yet politicians who use them almost always defeat politicians who don’t, which rewards unscrupulous politicians at the expense of ethical ones. The corporate advertising world has branched off into politics, and now candidates brand themselves based on demographics and what plays well in focus groups. A politician with principles doesn’t stand a chance.

The problem just isn’t in Washington, but also in the boardroom. A corporate CEO who lays off thousands of workers can give him or herself a fat bonus for “increasing productivity.” If a business moves its factories overseas to where workers are desperate and easy to exploit, its competitors face a choice of either doing the same or going out of business because they can’t compete. The businesses that have the least regard for its workers, its community, and the environment tend to be the most successful ones.

The marriage of business and government has produced a system where bank profits are privatized and losses are socialized, where unlimited corporate spending to influence elections is now considered protected speech but a group of people protesting in a public park is not, and where corporations have the same rights as people but hardly any of the responsibilities. The documentary, The Corporation, looked at the issue of corporate personhood by noting that corporations exist solely to accumulate profit, but if a person’s top motivation in life was to accumulate profit, he or she would be considered a sociopath.

The ideals we value as individuals are punished by the system. The ideals we despise as individuals are rewarded by the system. The system is not broken. It’s insane. There’s no fixing it. It needs to be ditched, and a brand new system needs to take its place. What that new system looks like is up to us.

I propose we do two things. First off, I think we need to have an action, whether it’s a one-time demonstration, a recurring demonstration, or an ongoing occupation. While these meetings have been a lot of fun and have been useful, I think we need to let the community know we exist. By making our presence known, we can also potentially bring in new members and grow as a movement. I think we should set this in motion tonight, since the longer we wait, the more difficulty we might have in getting people to show up now that it’s getting cold out.

Second, I propose we make a long-term goal of developing alternative systems. In our last meeting, people suggested a variety of issues for us to address, including tax code reform, lobbyist reform, ending the Fed, and many others. While I think these are all noble causes, I can’t help feeling this is focusing on the symptoms, not the problem. What all these have in common is they are all issues of power. If we can develop alternative systems so that members of our community no longer rely on these institutions, the institutions will no longer have their power over us. There were some great ideas proposed in the last meeting, including developing our own currency, engaging in barter, switching to a credit union or local bank, and shopping locally. I think these are a great start and more ideas should be explored further. Perhaps we could develop feasible solutions for the community at large. It’s probably not economically practical to expect someone who has been laid off and has a family to feed to shop at Six Rivers instead of Walmart, but perhaps we can create a listing where people in the community can trade their skills or talents for local products or services. Perhaps we can develop a food bank that uses only locally-sourced food. Perhaps we can develop community action networks to help people fight off foreclosures, or work with existing ones. I think the possibilities are endless.

In closing, I’m incredibly excited about this group’s potential. I think we have a great opportunity here. I know of no one who’s is happy with the way everything is in the world, in the country, and in their communities. So here’s our opportunity to make things better.
I probably would've also said "thanks" or something at the end.  Or waited for the crowd to hoist me on their shoulders and parade me around.  Or dodged the rotten tomatoes being thrown at me.  Who knows?

In Closing

I'm looking forward to a nice, mellow week.  I might even get a few things done around the house. Or not.

Now, here it is, your moment of Tucker deer stealing our apples:


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