It may not be what you think.
By Stephan Said
In the wake of Occupy Oakland’s violent confrontation with police, many people are writing about non-violence and Occupy but missing the point. Occupy has been very successful in awakening an invigorated debate across the country while remaining largely non-violent.
But, to this point, Occupy has primarily defined itself through the politics of opposition, as its name even implies. Against Wall St., against Citizens United, against money in politics, against income inequality, against the G8.
To be both effective and sustainable, great movements, like those for Women’s Suffrage and Indian Independence, have to transform themselves beyond a start-up oppositional phase, into one in which they are defined not by what they are against, but by what they are for.
Great movements lift a moral vision high above the political dialogue that reaches into peoples’ hearts. When a moral vision precedes a movement, the necessary actions against oppressive policies and the diversity of tactics protestors autonomously undertake are fortified and the PR battle is more easily won.
The Civil Rights Movement may have been catalyzed by the bus boycott, but it had to move beyond that and claim itself as a movement for equality to capture the imagination of the world. The boycotts didn’t stop. But the movement could more effectively take on everything from segregation to voting rights in the context of the claim to equality.
We are living in the first era in which a global movement for economic and social equality, the great dream humankind has hoped for thousands of years, has become imperative for international security and the survival of our planet. That dream is alive in the hearts of people from Cairo to LA, Athens to Santiago, and with the tools at our disposal, it is achievable.
It’s time for Occupy to define that universal vision and unite with people worldwide to create that movement. True non-violence derives its power from a universal vision. When civil disobedience is tied to the inalienable claim to equality, it becomes impervious to smears and able to incorporate a diversity of tactics.
This was the key to the Salt March and to the Selma-Montgomery Marches. In an effective non-violent strategy, protestors don’t ask for dignity; they claim it as a birthright, victorious before they walk.
This was the spirit of the #J15 Worldwide Candlelight Vigil, Occupy’s biggest action so far this year. #J15 was a test-run for a global “Salt March,” with people of all ages and ethnicities engaging in a single non-violent act, lighting candles to demand a more equitable global economic system.
#J15 went viral because people all over the world wanted a positive message that gave them hope, empowering and dignifying them, and because they know that our message must be global to succeed.
In less than 3 weeks, the vision of a global movement for economic and social equality spread from Brisbane to Cairo, Manchester to New Orleans. It gained the support of religious and civil rights leaders, the African American community and Arab Spring activists, and resulted in Occupy’s biggest cultural event yet, a packed celebration at New York City’s historic Riverside Church.
Likewise, Occupy Foreclosed Homes and Occupy The Board of Education are examples in which an inarguable claim to equal rights and benevolence preceded the confrontational nature of the direct actions, resulting in powerful statements.
There will always be a diversity of tactics. The autonomous nature of today’s movements is one of their most powerful characteristics. But if we want to rise above public perception as a din of disconnected actions, we have to elevate our message. We can do this by uniting Occupy, the Arab Spring and their sister movements in a global movement for equality.
While we prepare for May Day, Chicago and the G8, the claim to a positive dream will dignify people, connect our myriad struggles from unfair trade to income inequality and campaign finance, and move us beyond a leaderless movement into one in which everyone is the leader.
We need that great movement today. The dream of a more equal world is now being advocated by the world’s top economists and intellectuals, development institutions, as well as our interfaith and social change organizations.
The stage is set for a vision far greater and more powerful than a movement against Wall Street or the G8, one that lifts our spirits high above politics and into the global imagination, dignifying us on the road to victory. A non-violent global movement for a more equal world is the way forward.
Stephan Said, Occupy and J15 Organizer, Musician, is the founder of difrent.org. You can follow him on twitter @stephansaid, facebook at http://www.facebook.com/stephan.said or email him at stephansaid.com.