A Message to the 99% from a Transitionist



To the 99% and #OccupyWallStreet

This weekend, in support of the folks at Occupy Wall Street and similar in other major financial centers (including Occupy LA here in Los Angeles), I put the full content of "Economic Resilience" online for free readership. This how-to document for building local community resilience has been freshly updated with new links and additional ideas.

Some other thoughts, specifically addressed to the #Occupy protesters and the themes that are recurring in signs and posters:

1) Understand the core of the crisis

The economic crunch that stimulated the #Occupy movement is only a symptom of something much, much bigger. What you call "hoarding wealth" is a global-scale Ponzi scheme, that is right now crumbling in on itself and affecting all of us. You're camped out at Wall Street and financial locations -- the home of the presumption of growth. This presumption is the fatal flaw in the American economic system -- the idea that "growth" can continue forever, when we all live on one small, finite, limited planet. 

Humanity is simultaneously experiencing peak oil, peak natural gas, peak coal, peak copper, peak uranium, peak phosphorus, peak fresh water, peak arable land, and more. Richard Heinberg calls it “peak everything.” (YouTube) The debt crisis began the unravelling of business-as-usual, but there simply aren't the planetary resources to continue the more-more-more globalized economy. We are experiencing the time of The Great Turning, a transformative change in our views about everything around us and how humanity fits into it.

2) Rethink "Jobs"

Many of the signs and posters in the media and on #Occupy websites demand "jobs." Think it through, what you are asking for. For the government to provide "jobs" means mortgaging and shackling your children's future. The government has to fund "stimulus" with borrowing. They would have to borrow funds from a leaner future to spend now in an age of plenty. (And as we navigate the financial crises to come, today will certainly feel like abundance and plenty.) That's craziness.

Wall Street doesn't have "jobs" to offer you, and they'll be axing more and more as this crisis unfolds. The role of “employee” of a giant facility controlled by corporate executives is part of the fading past. Even many “green jobs” are tied into the fatally-flawed eternal growth presumption. In the immediate future, making a living is much more likely to be as “proprietor,” rather than employee.  It's time to think about what you can offer, locally within your home community, goods and services that address the basic Maslovian needs of food, water, shelter, and security. (learn more)

3) Boycott Wall Street

When you go down to your local #Occupy action, rather than a brand-name sporting goods sleeping bag, take Grandma's handmade quilt. Rather than the department store fashion sweater, barter for the handmade one knitted by the woman in the next tent. Rather than brand-name convenience foods, buy farmer's market produce from local farmers.

If it comes from a chain store, it's funding Wall Street. If it comes from a "discount" store, you can be sure it's contributing to labor injustice and very possibly to humanitarian atrocities. Quit funding the Wall Street system with your buying dollar, and instead vote for a sustainable, locally self-sufficient future.

Buy local: support local businesses, support local farmers. Convince your local businessmen to shift to local suppliers, and bank your money locally where it can be invested in your neighborhood. Right now Local won't survive if we don't buy from them. And in the near future, as the globalized economy crumbles, Local will be all that we will have. Support Local because we need it to survive.

4) Take back America

The "heartbeat of America" is not Chevy trucks -- that's Madison Avenue and Wall Street convincing you it is so. iPhones aren't "hot" -- global warming is, exacerbated by the globalized economy spurring it on. WalMart, with its labor abuse and massive market controls, isn't "living better." We CAN "imagine" life without Monsanto. Scotts/Ortho poison vendors are far from "garden experts." And "health" isn't the chemicals and barbaric procedures of Pfizer and Kaiser Permanente. It's time to quit giving ourselves and our children over to the corporate say-so.

The true heartbeat of America is you and me. It is small businessmen and local family-owned, family-run farms. It is the local traditional healer, of diverse modalities, before corporate America sold us a bill of goods that these life-affirming ways weren't good enough. It's time for us --the 99%-- to take them back. ("Peak everything" plus economic collapse says we will have to anyway.) It's time to reclaim our traditional heritage, that America is the land of pioneers and hard work and do-it-yourself.

5) Reskill for the new future

In your time spent in tent cities, begin learning the new skills necessary for the new future: a post-petroleum, economically-lean, low-consumption, low-carbon, necessarily-localized, socially-just future. Food: Learn to grow food, to cook it, to preserve it, and to share your bounty with others. Clothing: Learn to sew, to knit, to weave, to scavenge fiber from the remnants of cast-off industrially-produced fabrics. Shelter: Learn to build with found materials like urbanite, earth forms and scavenged lumber. Learn how to capture rainwater and compost (all) waste. Finances: Take back control from the banking system. Learn how much can be achieved WITHOUT the U.S. dollar via barter, time banking, LETSystems, sharing arrangements, co-ops and local community-based investment. Community: Learn the skills of consensus, conflict resolution, true listening, and sharing, and deepen connections within your home neighborhood. We -- the 99% -- are going to need all these skills as we leave these brief few decades of excess and plenty.

6) "Tax the rich"

Again, realize what you are asking for. It's an admirable concept, but very, very difficult to really achieve. The rich have unlimited ability to hire tax accountants and attorneys. They will swiftly design ways around any tax you are able to get the politicians to put in place (and that latter part will be very hard to achieve as well).

A few suggestions for what to campaign for, from someone who used to be a tax accountant: (a) Demand caps on pay scales like some European countries have, where any indivicual top exec can only earn a multiple of what the person at the bottom of the pay scale earns. In Mondragon Spain, that multiple is 15 times. Rather than a "tax," this one is a wage cap.  (b) At the same time, don't let them decrease corporate tax rates. Use existing payroll tax definitions of reportable wages (including excess life insurance, excess health insurance, and other benefits) to impose the wage cap. Remove the wage maximum on Social Security and Medicare withholding, and withhold from all wages -- that will fund Grandma for a bit longer.  (c) Use existing tax structures instead of creating new ones; new ones come with more government bureaucracy which we all have to pay for.

All this taxation becomes available funding. It's critical that this funding gets spent on the right stuff: building local resilience that will enable us to weather the changes ahead. As we leave the brief era of petroleum -- when energy supplies were very cheap and plentiful and allowed us to do amazing things -- we find ourselves dreadfully unprepared for the realities of life. Most of us alive today don't know how to grow food locally, in cities, where most of the people are. Land is at a premium and is tied up in private ownership. Water supplies in cities are dependent upon massive infrastructure which isn't adapted to life with much less energy and oil. Most U.S. dwelling units are insufficiently insulated against cold and hot weather.  We have to transform all these things, and grow our local skill base. And the "stimulus" from "taxing the rich" is the best chance we have to prepare for life in the future.

7) Occupy leadership

Have you noticed that nearly all the political candidates come from the 1% ... Where are our 99% options? Where are the candidates who understand "peak everything" and how to adapt to it? Our current political structure is geared so that only the wealthy and the Wall-Street-supported can afford to run. Massive campaign finance reform will need to be part of any enduring change. That said, given the thoughts expressed on these ideas by insiders like James Gustave Speth, I doubt we can do much -- particularly with what we have to work with, and within the timeframe we have left. (link to expanded discussion)

I haven't journeyed down to OccupyLA myself. In part that's because it is quite a distance from me, and I have kids' schedules to uphold. But deep down, those are simply excuses; really, my heart's not in it. I see the Occupy movement as an outbursting of emotion, expressing that the existing System is horribly broken, a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree. But the protests, now shifting to from Wall Street to upscale neighborhoods, are a gigantic "blame game" which cannot possibly fix anything real. (See my bullet #1 above)

Joanna Macy points out that it will take 3 types of action to achieve The Great Turning:  (Macy's explanation on YouTube)

  1. Stopping action, to stop further destruction.
  2. Creating new structures, building the path of the future, what the Transition movement strives to achieve.
  3. Change in consciousness, addressing our inner landscape and our deepest identity. 

The #Occupy movement is perhaps a weak form of Macy's action #1.  I say "weak" because with its multiple-topic agenda it isn't a very powerful force to achieve much of anything except Drama at the moment, and perhaps violence in the future. It's like a badly adjusted shotgun, not focused on a specific target. Maybe a pellet or two will hit, but most will miss the mark and probably make a considerable mess. Meanwhile, the few discernable targets (Wall Street, high-wealth individuals, politicians) hold little true ability to create transformative change.

Instead, I turn my personal energies toward building, Macy's action #2. Within the Transition movement we're trying to figure out what will be needed to conduct life in the post-peak era. All the conventional systems must evolve and change.  And we the people -- the 99% -- are the ones who have to do it.

Within the Transition movement, we too are the 99%.  We're out here in U.S. communities, creating food gardens, water storage, alternative economic systems, holistic health care, changing education. We're putting new practices in place, right now, so that they can gain some traction and begin to help.

No, what we're doing isn't nearly so flashy as signs and protestors marching up and down the streets. In fact, it's rather a quiet movement, with some very deep roots, deep thinkers doing societal redesign work, resulting in some very deep rearrangements of what-once-was in our society. If you really want to create change, come join us. We've got lots of work to do.

(note: The above thoughts are personal opinion, not necessarily the views of the international Transition movement or Transition US)

Joanne Poyourow is actively involved in Transition Los Angeles and blogs at Transition United States. She is the author of "Economic Resilience: What we can do in our local communities," as well as two books on Transition-type topics.

The first issue I have with this article is this:  Many of the Occupiers aleready have the transtionalist skills.  It would do well for this author to actually visit an Occupy Camp and see how things are really run... to see the gift economy that is already there and the use of the skills and abilities that are already there.

This is an article written from an Upper Middle Class snob who thinks anyone who is actually exercising their 1st Amendment Rights and creating community is irrelevant.

How sad for her while she is busy being an isolationist concerned only with her transition the rest of us will be creating real and lasting change through collective action, green ways and community building.

Do you really think people living in tents without electricity and running water would not have the skills to do this?  Really.  The Occupy Movement already has the skills for transition.

And who is to say that the transition from the Old Earth Paradigm to the New Earth Way is going to be a challenge.  It is showing to be a simple as the changing of the seasons.  It is not the Occupy Movement creating difficulty for others it is the existing power structures aggression toward Peace and Community and Green Ways that is the cause of this strife.

The system will not collaspe without our active partipation and call to purpose to collectively stand in unity through collective non-compliance. 

The technologies to transition to Free Energy are already here.  If a housing development can be built in a week... imagine if all the builders were working to create Free Energy... and the new energy systems... imagine this.

Together we all can make this change happen easily and quickly as soon as the old Earth Paradigm is disabled.  This is the 1st step that the Occupy Movement world wide is taking with the Unity of Green Community.


Noa's picture

"This is an article written from an Upper Middle Class snob who thinks anyone who is actually exercising their 1st Amendment Rights and creating community is irrelevant."

I love you, Elizabeth, but sometimes you make presumptions based on pre-conceived ideas.  You latch onto your ideals and refuse to see beyond them.

The Transition movement's main focus is creating sustainable communities.  Joanne Poyourow is doing exactly what you are advocating, Elizabeth ... exercising her 1st Amendment right and creating community.

It's true, the occupiers are camping out in tents for now, but they are not promoting it as a way of life.  Although the NY General Assembly does have a Sustainability working group, its focus is on temporary issues for the encampment, not for the long-term solutions suggested in item #5 above.  For the most part, sustainable measures for society as a whole are not being considered.  For example, someone in the Livestream chat suggested that OWS put their wishlist on Amazon.com and Victoria (the girl with the blonde/black hair) said it was a great idea.  They don't realize that doing so supports the very sort of corporation they are protesting against!

In essence, the occupiers are demanding economic justice so they can go back to living with the conveniences to which they are accustomed.  After the protest is over, most would probably be happy returning to a life of mindless consumption and waste.  Few will continue pursuing cooperative strategies with their neighbors.  I've seen this happen time and time again after attending many a wonderful workshop or retreat.  After the event has ended and the pixie dust has settled, it's back to business as usual unless long-range, ongoing activities are planned and attended.

The author is simply bringing ideas to mind, which are not widely being discussed.

Mindless Consumerism?  Wow, Noa.  Do you realize many of the Occupiers are homeless or facing foreclosure/eviction because they have no money, or a job that does not support them.  Do you realize each day more and more of the middle class are losing their jobs and thus their homes. 

To say that the working poor and working class is about mindless consumerism is an assumption on your part.  I truly Love and Respect you, Noa.

My understanding of the movement is deepening the more I learn about the people who are occupiers.

Let's See what the Occupy Movement is calling for

The End to Corporate Greed

As the movement deepens people are beginning to understand how this is to be achieved.  The solutions are being created as people come together in community. 

Admittedly, I was a bit opinionated.  For the classism barb I certainly apologize.




Noa's picture

When I used the phrase, "mindless consumerism" I meant it as being an unconscious act.  I meant no disrespect.  I'm as guilty as anyone else for buying products without thinking about the sweatshop labor it took to make them; the corporate wallets I'm lining with my purchases, or the environmental impact of my choices. 

The point of the Transition Movement is to become more conscious about such things.  Joanne Poyourow is also cautioning the occupiers to be mindful of what they are asking.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I'm happy that people are finally waking up and taking a stand against "corporate greed," I'm just not sure it's the most effective way to change things.  But even if the protests are successful in achieving such an end, it's only one aspect of what ails us. 

Take a look at #6 above.  Joanne Poyourow isn't the only person who warns that calling for more taxes may ulitmately become another hardship for the middle class, while the rich slip through another loophole.  Anyone who thinks the government we have now is going to suddenly do the right thing for the 99% is kidding themselves.  It's time to be aware, learn new skills, and take care of ourselves. 

The Transition Movement is about building community with each other, living sustainably with the environment, and becoming independent of the global consumerism treadmill.  These are more than lofty ideas.  They are survival skills.


I must then be part of the Occupy Movement and be a transitionist.   I think perhaps Progressive Earther best describes my core belief system. 

So, to say there is no one with a long term plan involved in the Occupy Movement is an assumption on the part of the writer.

I bless you with Love


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