While discussing the Wall St. occupation during the interview embedded above (which took place on Sept. 25), Chris Hedges made a claim that I believe is worthy of further investigation. Hedges said that those involved in the living occupation movement are in fact the true political conservatives of our era. From everything that I’ve seen of this movement, I believe that this claim is entirely correct. Of course, what is meant by “conservatism” in this context needs to be enumerated as obviously no one would associate the living occupiers with the figures generally denoted by that label according to the prevailing political configurations of the past 30 years (like, e.g., Ann Coulter).
In his characterization of the living occupiers’ “conservatism,” Hedges focuses primarily upon their commitment to the conserv-ation of resources (and by this last word, he means not just natural resources, but also money, and indeed, the abilities and skills of human beings, esp. as these are currently being underutilized due to massive unemployment). This sort of conservationist conservatism is indeed among the values of the living occupiers. However, I see the living occupation movement as being conservative in an additional sense–namely, with respect to the values (and, indeed, virtues) which characterize the living occupiers’ manner of civic participation.
Much has been made of the “horizontalism” of this movement’s leadership structure–some say that the movement has no leadership, whereas others say (in my estimation, with much greater accuracy) that rather than being leaderless, the movement is in fact “leader-full” (to quote Kevin Zeese). That is, far from having no leaders, anyone and everyone who participates in this movement IS a leader, albeit in numerous different ways and with respect to numerous distinct actions and objectives. There is obviously a great deal of truth to this characterization–indeed, no vertical leadership structure would have been able to organize this many occupations this fast or this well–but it’s not the whole truth. There is indeed an amazing amount of diversity (of priorities, values, communication styles, etc.) in this emerging movement thanks in part to this “horizontal” structure–and the movement’s diversity is certainly one of its most promising and refreshing aspects–but there are also a number of beliefs and practices which the vast majority of living occupiers share. Among others who have addressed this matter, Zeese and Dylan Rattigan have both spoken quite directly and clearly to the movement’s shared beliefs, despite the mainstream media’s continuing accusation that these shared beliefs don’t exist. Rather than addressing this issue, instead I would like to address the civic virtues which I see as underlying the living occupiers’ shared civic practices.
What do I mean by the movement’s “shared civic practices”? Of course, the first thing to come to mind in this regard is the process of consensus decision-making, aided as it is by the brilliant rediscovery of entirely anachronistic (but, nevertheless, remarkably effective and efficient) technologies such as the human microphone and hand signals. The only thing that allows these “technologies” to work is an intensely engaged and participatory audience–something which has become more and more of a rarity in the age of amplified sound and televised images. There’s much more than that, however. There’s a basic sense of camaraderie and good will that comes from people you don’t know greeting you like a long-lost friend, or even, a brother (and I’ve experienced this from nearly everyone I’ve met in the movement on both coasts now!). There’s all of the labor that goes into feeding a large number of people the daily calories they need. There’s the shared public expression found in discussion, art-making, sign-making and music-making. There’s the willingness to learn how to do things that you never quite learned how to do before, or never would’ve imagined that you’d be any good at, things like: public speaking, facilitating a meeting, making a web page, graphic design, logistics planning, knowing and understanding the relevant federal, state, and municipal laws, communicating politely but firmly with police, etc. There’s the challenge that comes from the experience of teaching others how to do things that you know how to do for yourself but that you’ve never had to teach anyone else to do before. If there’s any one thing that’s keeping this movement together and making it what it is, and any one thing that will continue to keep it together and aid it in realizing its deepest potential, it is: a whole lot of hard, beautiful, meaningful WORK.
So, let’s see. Here’s what we’ve got so far: a practice of engaged, careful, and attentive listening; the deep desire to share one’s views and to learn from those of others; a commitment to doing the hard work that’s necessary and; an understanding that fun is to be had within the process of labor (as opposed to through passive consumerism, which, in comparison, really isn’t very much fun at all). These are true conservative values–ones which transcend and go much deeper than party politics–and they are the basis upon which the living occupation movement has emerged.