Occupy Wall Street as Adaptive Leadership

A lot of people are asking what Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy movement wants. What are their demands? What are their goals?

You can get a very good sense of why most people participating in any Occupy site are involved by reading Declaration of the Occupation of New York City
released by Occupy Wall Street on September 30, 2011.

Critics have pointed out that nowhere in The Declaration are “They” defined, but that is one of the problems with corporate personhood. Corporations have the rights of flesh and blood people, but are really just legal fictions. I think using “They” is appropriate. Some have started an online vote to prioritize a list of demands.

The fact that a mass movement could exist purely for the purpose of getting people to question what the hell is really going on here demonstrates just how profoundly dependent our society is on relationships based on power and control. There must be something to achieve. There must be a demand. There must be a purpose for struggle. What if the entire purpose is simply to raise questions?

The Occupy Movement’s greatest achievement may have already happened. Occupy is drawing people into conversation about what kind of society they want to live in, what justice means, accountability, and whether or not it’s okay for the few to profit at the expense of the many. Occupy isn’t offering solutions – yet. Occupy is calling everyone’s attention to the fact that our current two-party, corporate controlled political system isn’t providing us with answers or justice because the political parties are more focused on damaging each other than serving the needs of the people.

Occupy is leading. Occupy is performing adaptive leadership.

Occupy is forcing our society to look at problems that continue to plague us such as health care, employment, banking, corporate control of elections, access to education, the environment and asking why can’t we get any movement? If the same issues continue to pop up over and over in a system, they don’t require a technical solution. Tweaking the tax structure or making a few rule changes on campaign donations, sending a banker to jail, or passing a jobs bill here and there is not going to solve our problems. We have more foundational issues going on here. We are facing adaptive challenges as a society. We need to make structural and systemic changes so that these recurrent problems of access to health care, jobs, education, energy and a clean environment no longer plague us or are not in a critical state. Before we can find the solutions for the problems, we need to be asking better questions. What is the underlying cause of our systemic dysfunction? Why does our system continue to be unable to address the needs of so many?

Perhaps some of the questions we need to be asking are:

What are our core values as a society?
Who or what benefits from the common good not being a common cause?
Is capitalism really working for us?
Is there another economic system that would work for us?
If we explore another economic system, can we still promote creativity and entrepreneurship?
Does re-examining capitalism mean re-examining democracy?
How could democracy work better?
Is a two-party political system serving us?
How could a multi-party system help us?
How can we get more people to participate in elections?
Are there other ways to hold elections rather than first past the post to 51%?
What about rank-choice or instant-run off elections?
What constitutional reforms might be necessary?
Are all people included in “We the people”?
Who might still be feeling disenfranchised and thus not participating in helping to find solutions?
How can we best take care of our environment?
How do we promote responsibility, self control and self care?
How do we best give everyone a voice while avoiding the tyranny of the minority and the majority?

Any time there is change, it is frightening and scary. However, many people are not scared of change so much as they are scared of loss. What will people be afraid of losing if our society seriously and honestly takes a look at assessing and restructuring itself? When a small system such as a church goes through this type of systemic change the anxiety and emotion generated can be powerful enough to cause a schism in the community. When a nation goes through it, it could be powerful enough to lead to many different types of chaotic reactions. Who will manage that reaction and the change process? How can we manage any violence that might result from those who get impatient or act out and at the same time both insist on a non-violent process and watch against the claim that clamping down on the violence isn’t just an excuse to maintain the old order and keep the old structure in power?

There are and will always be those who are resistant to asking difficult questions and there are and always will be those who are resistant to change. In church work, when changes are proposed or even in process and happening we tend to hear the excuse, clamoring for the old ways, “But, but….but….that’s the way we’ve always done it.” These are the last words of a dying church – “That’s the way we’ve always done.” I hope they don’t become the last words of a dying country as well. We have too many wonderful questions to ask, too many great opportunities ahead of us to better meet all of our needs, too many creative options to better create a government of, by and for the people.