Election Day, 2016. I woke heavy, queasy, afraid. So much was at stake. Would we, as a nation, reward tenacity and experience or hate? I couldn’t fathom the decision we faced or understand how we had sunk so low. Rather than thrill to the possibility of electing our first female president, I tried, without success, to banish dread.
Wall Street held its breath. The world waited and watched, consumed with a drama that could, if things went wrong, have a profound and lasting effect. Everything was a stake – fifty years of civil rights legislation, forward movement to combat climate change, economic security, global stability, even democracy itself was in danger. Would the great American experiment fail? Would fear and anger vanquish its quest? Would, finally, the words “All men are created equal” be laid to a sad and ignoble death? Or would sanity prevail?
I went for a run. I talked with my mom. I paced and cleaned and tried not to look at my phone. I wondered, repeatedly, if I could start drinking yet. At moments like these (and thank God they are few and far between) it is easy to feel hopeless. Powerless. Caught in a web. But we are never powerless. Never. There is always a choice, a way, a path.
I know what it is to feel trapped. I’ve lived it. I can close my eyes and be there again. I have been abused. I have been raped. I have lived poor and lonely and desperate. Once, when it was about as bad as I thought it could get, my mom lashed me with an angry gaze. She stood, stepped close and said, “Destiny, there is no bottom.”
I looked at her perplexed and she repeated her words.
“There is no bottom. You either start climbing or keep falling. You think this is the worst, but it’s not. So you do what you have to do. You dig your fingernails in and scratch your way to the surface. Bleed, cry, rage, but get moving because you’ve got three kids who need you and you can’t quit yet.”
She was right. The only bottom is dead and dead, then, wasn’t an option. It seldom is when I’m honest, but there have been times…
I know you’ve had them.
Still, we’re here. Breathing. Writing and reading. We made it through mostly unscathed, we dug in, climbed out, kept going because there’s always a choice, a way, a path out of the darkness if we’re willing.
Janis Joplin said, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” We experience freedom when we’re cut loose, left to die, floating like balloons unleashed into a wide and empty sky. Grief is freeing. So is joy. They are two sides of the same coin and both require courage and the ability to face and own the fact that we are more than we thought we were. It is from these two sources that we confront our fears, carve a path, or change the world.
On September 17, 2011 a group of people occupied Zuccotti Park in New York City’s financial district. They were there in protest. Three years prior, deregulation of financial institutions had cause the economy to collapse. Millions of Americans suffered catastrophic losses. Rather than help them, the US government decided to rescue the banks which had caused the collapse. Those at the top profited from the bailout and middleclass losses. Three years later, not much had changed. The economy was still stagnant, incomes were flat, and corporate CEOs and Wall Street bankers made millions while a significant portion of the population lost jobs, health insurance, and homes.
The protest, known as Occupy Wall Street, grew into a worldwide movement against greed, corruption, income inequality, and corporate influence on government. Then, without accomplishing much of anything, it dissolved.
Micah White, one of the movement’s co-founders, said, “Occupy was a perfect example of a social movement that should have worked according to the dominant theories of protest and activism; it was a historical event, joined by millions of people across demographics from around the world around a series of demands, there was little violence. And yet, the movement failed.”
White, who now runs a non-profit think tank that studies effective methods of protests and activism, believes the next revolutionary movement will “be a contagious mood that spreads throughout the world and the human community.”
He says, “For me, the main thing we need to see is activists abandoning a materialistic explanation of revolution – the idea that we need to put people in the streets – and starting to think about how to spread that kind of mood and make people see the world in a fundamentally different way. That’s about it. The future of activism is not about pressing our politicians through synchronized public spectacles.”
He’s right. Rioting, marches, and peaceful sit-ins are not making a difference anywhere in the world. The patterns of these kinds of protests, though emotionally compelling, are known and predictable. That makes them ineffective. Opposition knows how to handle them and the public is desensitized because it has seen so many.
We live in a magical time. Never before has the spread of news been so instantaneous. Never before have we been able to create global communities from the comfort of our homes. The indigenous protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline received almost no mainstream media coverage and yet it garnered international attention, raised millions of dollars, and attracted sympathy from agencies including the United Nations and Amnesty International.
And yet, for all the technological advances that have allowed us to communicate across vast distances in real time, we’re paralyzed. Social media lets us witness and post without compelling us to action. We can complain bitterly, join in solidarity with like-minded folks, and stream news that reflects our values. We don’t really have to think anymore. We revel in the meme and sound bite even as they stoke our fears.
Fear loomed large in my heart the day the US election threatened to erode our rights. I worried about armed insurrection and white supremacists at the polls. Would civility descend into chaos? Would violence ensue? I thought about this book and what I’m trying to do. We must challenge the status quo, but protest and riot aren’t the answer. Only a quiet revolution can change the collective mood. As we give to ourselves and those we love, we must also give to our world. We do this first by wriggling out of corporate control.
How do you spend your money? How does your money control you? Are you the type that saves or do you spend because there’s never enough? Does money define you or do you define yourself?
The answers, for most of us, are complicated. We don’t have the luxury of excess. Some live paycheck to paycheck. A $500 emergency is catastrophic for two thirds of the population and most people are one paycheck away from homelessness, though they seldom look that bleak reality in the face.
Our collective lack of economic independence keeps us bound to jobs and lives we hate. We can, however, make change. Understanding how money influences our decisions empowers us to do things differently. Quietly, softly, we can improve the ways we give and receive. In doing so, we step away from corporate control and into lives we create.