Welcome address to Occupy Philly Together Regional Gathering, Saturday December 10, 2011Video of this address HERE
Movements begin with the telling of untold stories
Nothing about us without us
If I were to sum up in a single pair of simple phrases the essence of what the Occupy Movement has meant to me, it would be these two.
The first is the motto of Media Mobilizing Project—a wonderful volunteer, grass roots organization that was campaigning for social, economic and political change, and using direct democratic process long before Occupy Wall Street If you haven’t heard of them—look them up.
Nothing about us is now widely used by disability advocacy groups of all kinds. In its Latin form, nihil de nobis sine nobis, it has deep historical roots with ethnic and nationalist independence movements in central and eastern Europe going back to the 19th and early 20th centuries. A universal cry of those with no say in their lives.
If we don’t tell our stories, no one can know who we are or what we need.
Maybe because I’m a poet, storyteller and novelist—when I hear the usual complaints that Occupiers haven’t made a clear set of specific demands, that we offer no solutions, that we balk at being absorbed back into a culture that has turned into us aliens in our own country--it sounds strange to me. Incomprehensible! Don’t they understand—it’s not just about the banks, the financial crisis, the stolen elections, the endless wars, our broken political system, the emerging police state—no, not these alone that have brought us together—it’s how the cumulative effect of all of this—of the commercial hologram that chokes and smothers our lives and how all of it has robbed us of our stories— our stories, stories of our own creating!
Everywhere we turn we see what we are supposed to do, what we’re supposed to be, the life-scripts we’re supposed to follow. From our first day in school, told to prepare ourselves for the jobs that will come after graduation--our fathers and teachers and leaders and authorities telling us how this is the very purpose of our education—else how can be buy and own all the stuff we’re told we have to buy and own to be happy—to be safe, to do our part, to be good, to deserve a decent life—unlike the homeless, poor, ravaged souls we now and then catch out of the corner of our eye—just visible enough to scare us straight? This is the story fed to us like a drug. This is our story, they tell us… our story… But who wrote it? Who gave us a role in this empire of money & death?
And we came to a park. A plaza. A parking lot. A campus quad. And we set up tents. And we looked at one another and saw the strangers we had become. Saw ourselves in the faces around us—maybe for the first time, and began to talk, and talk and talk. And hold meetings. And the homeless came to eat with us and didn’t seem so strange anymore. And we argued & fought. And we sang in jail cells and said we loved one another—and it wasn’t just words! And we hugged. We hugged a lot! We set up tents and some of us slept in them and some of us stole time from jobs and classes to return afternoons and evenings, and some of watched this on the internet and looked at our friends and asked—why not us? Why can’t we do this too? And we began to write our own story. A story of building community, of defending ourselves, resisting authorities who wanted us gone, of marching out on the streets and shouting our grievances to the world… and we were doing what we’d never done before—creating the story of our lives, a story that made us proud and strong and unafraid, a story that connected our lives to others across the country and around the world and saw the heroes of history, defenders of the rights of labor, of women, of civil rights and knew ourselves for the first time to be their heirs—and we played drums and we danced for joy, the joy of writing our own story and joining in the great fight for a better world—where everyone can shout out –NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US. They wonder what this is—this living in tents, reclaiming of public commons, experiments in direct democracy, our learning to find what it is WE want without being told by those above us what we SHOULD want and what we SHOULD do and how we SHOULD live—LISTEN! If you want to know why we are here, we tell them—want to know where all our demands begin, want to hear the message we would shape into a new world—listen! Listen, we are telling you here… even as we make it up as we go along. OUR story… everyone’s story.
Change begins with the telling of untold stories
Nothing about us without us!