The following is an interview with John Stubley, Ph.D. on the Occupy Wall Street movement. The interview was conducted by Hildegard Backhaus, and published, in the German-language newsletter ‘Transparenz,’ by Switzerland’s Freie Gemeinshaftsbank (gemeinschaftsbank.ch), December, 2011. The text provided here is the full, English version.
- You have been attending “Occupy Wall Street” activities since the end of September. What, would you say, is the aim of the protest; what is it all about? Is there a common goal?
Any scan over the many signs present at Liberty Plaza, any attendance at one of many General Assemblies (GA’s) taking place across the city, or any reading of the many publications now emerging from the Occupation (including the GA endorsed ‘Declaration of the Occupation of New York City’) will begin to reveal certain themes. One of the central concerns is that business, wielding its vast economic power, has completely overtaken political life. Government is seen as nothing other than a kind of puppet for the interests of an elite few – the so-called 1% – who are able to exercise their economic might for their own personal gain. Political life in the USA (and elsewhere, of course) is saturated with the interests of economic power – from campaign financing to lobbying, from endorsements to the appointment of certain individuals into powerful and favourable positions.
At the same time, there is also concern that these same economic forces are either directly (through business) or indirectly (through government) influencing not only political life but all that is connected with what we might call spiritual-cultural activity. People connected to Occupy movement are aware of the way in which business interests control such things as media, healthcare, social security, agriculture and, perhaps most importantly, education. The total debt of student loans in the USA now totals over $1 trillion. Many involved in the Student GA’s here are calling for the relief of student debt. They see that education has itself become a business. Economic forces are setting the curriculum for the spiritual and cultural development of human beings. One is either economically enslaved prior to education (through not being able to afford the schools one wishes to attend), during education (through a curriculum dictated consciously or otherwise by economic forces) or after education (through massive student debts).
Reading these symptoms on a deeper level it becomes clear that the Occupy movement is seeking for the disentangling of economic power from political and cultural life. Economic life has become like a giant oil slick spreading over all realms of society, suffocating the activities of both the political and cultural realms; suffocating, essentially, the human being.
- Are there any suggestions for a solution of the current crisis we are undergoing? What kind of perspectives do people have, what kind of concepts for the future?
The solutions that the Occupy movement is suggesting can be found within the activities of the movement itself. At the centre of the Occupation is the General Assembly with its modified consensus decision-making process. It is the heart organ of the movement. For so long, people in America have experienced extreme inequality. Their voices have not been heard. The GA process, on the other hand, allows for everybody’s voice to find amplification. People feel included in decision making processes – in the life of rights – in, essentially, political activity.
This process of equality has become a kind of heart-foundation for the movement, and is constantly evolving. A new (for Occupy Wall Street) process has now begun called the Spokes Council. No doubt such equality-forming processes will continue to develop. It is, in a way, only natural that such processes evolve as a kind of platform for the rest of the movement, and that they overcompensate, initially, for the inequalities experienced in wider society.
Such processes, however, are not appropriate for the recognition and formulation of aims, goals, visions, values, imagination, and so on. Equality in the life of rights is essential, and this is what the movement is currently announcing. What belongs to the next phase of the movement, however – the further and conscious articulation of what the social organism is itself asking for – can only be rooted in processed which ensure individual human freedom. Such free cultural activity, and the need for it, is already present in seed form within the movement. In continuing to develop such free and conscious spiritual-cultural processes in addition to equal political processes, the future development of the movement and society as a whole will grow ever clearer and stronger. Out of a conscious spiritual-cultural fabric, values, aims, goals and new ideas will continue to flow into the reshaping of both political and economic life, as well as the formation of society as a whole.
- What role does the question of money play in the movement? Are there any thoughts and concepts with regard to it?
There are numerous working groups focusing specifically on economic questions, including questions of alternative currencies. In looking at the movement itself in relation to money, however, we can again come to a degree of clarity not only in regards to what is being spoken about, but what is actually speaking.
The New York City General Assembly has received, to date, more than $500,000 in donations. This itself is an interesting financial observation. This money was not gained through the sale of goods and services. Nor has it been loaned to the movement. Rather, it has been gifted. As gift money it is not tied to that which has been produced in the past, nor is it loaned for something which has to take place now, but instead allows for future activities. Gift money has the quality of making a space for the future to emerge. Those who support the movement financially are those who invite something of the future, archetypal social organism to come into being.
As a movement which is not political nor economic in power, but cultural, the true way in which its activities must be funded is through money which allows its future-based visions and goals to be realised – money which is freely gifted, with no strings attached. Here we have activity which greater society should pay attention to if all cultural and spiritual activities (such as education, the media, healthcare, social security etc), as well as the human being, are to have a free space in which to develop their unique capacities and gifts.
How this money is allocated is proposed through the working groups, as well as the General Assembly, in such a way that modified consensus must be reached before the money is made available. All processes are open and transparent. Here money comes directly into the field in which it belongs; namely, the field of agreements that people make with one another as human beings – as a document of the rights life. In addition, only the best ideas are given financial support – ideas and initiatives which, flowing from spiritual-cultural activity, are able to serve the community as a whole in the best possible way.
- How do you judge this movement in face of the present condition of humanity? What kind of thoughts do you have from a greater perspective?
It is clear that this movement is a large wave emerging from a greater ‘swell’ taking place in the social oceans of the world. The Occupy movement is not economic in essence, nor political. Its power is cultural. Even though the content of its conversations are primarily political and economic, the place from out of which it speaks is cultural. It is a civil society movement wielding cultural power, which has the potential to reshape society as a whole. The Occupy movement itself is, however consciously, currently its own demands. Namely, a spiritual-cultural life based on the freedom of each human being; a political-rights life based on the equality of all human beings; and an economic life which does not meet the needs of only a powerful few, but an economic life based on co-operation in order to meet the needs of all human beings.
The question is whether or not this cultural power can be recognised and worked with consciously. Each human being is responsible in this sense. Each human being is a microcosm of society. How do I need to be in order that I may allow new ideas to flow from cultural realms – from spiritual life – into the agreements I make with others, as well as how I contribute towards meeting the needs of my brothers and sisters?
The Occupy movement is itself a wave that is emerging out of a spiritual groundswell sweeping across the earth. The true spirit of our time – the true spirit of progress of our time – is announcing itself in the activities of human beings prepared to put themselves in free service of world becoming. In these deeds – in the deeds of individual human beings putting themselves in service of the spirit – we can see the efforts towards a creation of the right kind of vessel – the right kind of chariot in order that the spiritual champion of our time may ride truly into the world. This chariot is a social organism that is consciously threefolded – with civil society representing a free cultural spiritual life, government representing an equal rights life, and business representing co-operative economic life – and where all three realms come together in the right way: autonomously yet interdependently. This exists in seed form in Liberty Plaza, albeit mostly unconsciously, and belongs to the future task not only of the Occupy movement, but of all such waves upon this vast sea-swell of spiritual-cultural life.
Only if these pictures are further developed in a conscious way will we be truly able to clean the currently stifling and, indeed, evil oil slick that exists not only in social life but within our own souls. Only in this way will we create the conditions necessary for the right kind of ‘rising sea levels’ to flow over the world – a rising sea of spiritual activity which will itself ‘break up’ and clean the world of the evil and polluted oil slick we currently experience, and create the further necessary conditions for the true sprit of progress to take up its rightful place at the front wave – at the high water mark – of human and world evolution through the free deeds of spiritually striving human beings.
John Stubley, Ph.D., is a co-founder of Occupy the Future (occupythefuture.org) and founder of the Centre for Social Poetry (socialpoetry.net). He is a social scientist, social artist, consultant and facilitator. He has published his poetry, prose, drama, journalism and essays in numerous journals, newspapers, literary websites, and e-newsletters around the world.