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Occupy Together: The Prophet and the Castle, part 2

Acting in Faith  |  By George Lakey, Nov 19, 2011

Where is my Future? at Occupy Philly

Photo: AFSC

Note: Below is a follow up guest blog post by George Lakey which responds to comments on his initial blog post, The Prophet and the Castle.

by George Lakey

I appreciate the discussion and commenters responding to each other as well as to my little essay.  As I reflect on what's been said up until now, I realize that my radical analysis of the U.S. political economic system is more in synch with Obama's than with some of my fellow Quaker pacifists.  Obama hired into his Cabinet Timothy Geitner, Summers, et al because he believed -- as I also believe -- that the nature of everyday exertion of political power in the U.S. is primarily conditioned by what is wanted by the 1%.  Because he did sign on to be President (and not a prophet), he knew -- as I also believe -- that no one governs as President of the U.S. without the consent of the 1%.  

Some of the most disappointed Quakers I run into (disappointed in Obama) have a very different "take" on U.S. political economy; they believe that it is a democracy where "the people" elect a leader who can do what's best for the people.  What the historical basis for this view is, I don't know.  But it is strongly established in our modern Quaker culture.  The best political writing by Quakers that I have read was done by an AFSC working party in the 1950s: Speak Truth to Power.  It was so good that Progressive Magazine (a very important magazine those days) devoted an entire issue to getting heavy-hitters like theologian Reinhold Niebuhr to reply to what was a kind of Quaker manifesto on the Cold War and what a nonviolent foreign policy could look like.  Several of the writers were deeply appreciative of the Quaker prescription, and its courage, and for the most part its sophistication, but they added (in effect): "These Quakers have a weird idea of how change happens in the U.S., though -- they seem to think it's like middle school civics textbooks teach: one grand town meeting, in which the majority prevails."

This was anything but the political analysis of early Friends.  Fox and the Valiant Sixty knew oppression when they saw it, and called a spade a spade even though William Penn had friends in high places.  

Well, it IS useful to have a friend in high places, right? And to know that if one knows how to leverage correctly, one can "force them to do what they want to do," like derail the tar sands pipeline.

The pipeline was a fait accompli for the Canadian and U.S. 1% until the 99% tried a civil disobedience campaign.  No amount of letter-writing and lobbying could have forced Obama to derail (temporarily) the pipeline.  So chalk one up for Bill McKibben and the others who now go beyond the mostly-failed environmentalist lobbying of the past.  But also, consider whether George W. Bush would have derailed the pipeline in response to that degree of nonviolent direct action.  I don't think so.  It would have taken many more people and much more sacrifice to force Bush to the same spot.  It pays to have friends in high places, as long as one doesn't grow dependent on them.  

To me the good news is that we can have a radical analysis of what's been going on, and have a transformational vision of what we want, AND be delighted with victories (small and large) along the way.  That approach is great for us spiritually -- bitterness and despair aren't all they are cracked up to be!  

And gaining small and big victories along the way is great for developing the magnificent craft of social change (there is a craft, and it's learnable, and it sure beats dependency on others).  Swarthmore students and I have been putting together a database of nonviolent campaigns from over 190 countries; we analyze each one and even assign a score for degree of success.  Nothing like reading through them to see there is a craft, that there is such a thing as strategy,and that empowerment happens when we take full responsibility for our spiritual and political lives and act passionately on our convictions.  If you want to take a look.

I have literally walked out of parties where the going conversation was complaining -- about Obama or whoever.  We are so much bigger than that.  Complaining is the act of a powerless person.  From the Valiant Sixty til now, the story of Quakerism at its best is a story of taking responsibility, of experiencing the Power-from-within and the Power-with, and -- yes -- risking!  The reason we get so small when we complain is because there's no risk to it.  The reason we can expand when we use nonviolent direct action is because we are so fully taking responsibility for ourselves and our people and risking to do so.  Jesus did it.  Fox did it.  Can it be so bad?

About the Author

George Lakey has been a leader in the field of nonviolent social change since the 1960s and has published extensively for both activist and academic readers. He was the founder and executive director of Training for Change, a Philadelphia-based organization internationally known for its leadership in creating and teaching strategies for nonviolent social change.

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