I was invited to host a conversation at Trinity Church in downtown Manhattan on Wednesday, February 1st from 1-2pm EST (a recording is available here).  The subject I chose is "Occupy as a Leap of Faith."  As I note below, my initial inspiration was the work of Frances Moore Lappe.  I also want to acknowledge the influence of my time with the FOUR YEARS.GO campaign.  Much of the language that came to me in my opening comments at Trinity were a direct expression of the basic message of that initiative, and echoed the words of Lynne Twist (who was central to the launching of 4YG) in particular.  

The conversation began here before the event, seeded by a Cafe Call on January 6th.  I have reframed the core questions, and look forward to our ongoing dialogue on this theme:

  • How has the Occupy Wall Street movement changed your sense of what might be possible?
  • To what extent do you live as if we truly have enough goods, goodness and time to create a world that works for all?

Initial post for this discussion, from January 4th:

For me, the essential power of the Occupy movement has been its ability to inspire a very large and diverse group of people to move out of a place of disempowerment into one of possibility.  It is easy to understand the resigned, cynical and dis-empowered perspective given the current state of affairs on this planet. That makes the decision of so many to take a stand based on the possibility of something new all the more remarkable and precious.

France Moore Lappe's wonderful book Getting a Grip 2 presents an elegant framework that addresses this dichotomy directly, with the twin premises of scarcity and sufficiency at the heart of two different spirals.  She moves from these core premises all the way through to the specific political and economic dynamics that have created a world where the 1% are increasingly able to dominate and exploit the 99% on the one hand, and a world where we work collaboratively to meet the needs of all, on the other.  You can study the two spirals on her www.smallplanet.org website here [and we have also now posted them below as well].

The "spiral of powerlessness" begins from the assumption that we don't have enough "goods or goodness" (to which I would also add "time") to go around and that as a result, human nature is inherently "selfish, competitive and materialistic."  The "spiral of empowerment" is based upon an assumption that we do have enough, both materially and spiritually.  As a result, we can trust our "deep needs for fairness, cooperation and effectiveness," harnessing them to transform the systems by which we organize and govern ourselves so that the voices and the needs of the 99% are heard and met.

The Occupy movement emerged out of those "deep needs."  The encampments were grounded in the Occupiers' faith in "fairness, cooperation and [the] effectiveness" of the people.  And they were energized by the discovery of sufficiency, as the basic needs not only of the Occupiers themselves, but also of the poorest and weakest among us, were met with grace and love, despite extremely challenging circumstances.

Now almost all the encampments are gone.  Perhaps they will reemerge, perhaps not.  But it is their lesson that holds the greatest power, in my opinion.  How can we nourish that precious faith in human goodness and the sufficiency of the universe that is the source of our ability not simply to "solve our problems," but to step into a realm of possibility in which the true genius of humanity can be unleashed with all the incredible power and brilliance that is within our grasp?

Perhaps we might start by looking within ourselves. In that spirit, I suggest that we begin our conversation with these questions:

  • When have you experienced a deep and powerful sense of sufficiency?
  • What would it take for you to trust that we truly have enough goods, goodness, and time to create a world that works for all?

[Note: I suggest that we move from these initial framing questions to the ones that are now posted at the start of this thread above]

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Enough of what to go around, Ben?

Obviously there isn't enough oil, copper, cobalt, and coltan to go around. Even if every last ounce was extracted from the earth, there wouldn't be enough tor everyone on the planet to have the latest technology.

There isn't enough clean drinking water to go around. Yes, water can be purified, and there are low tech ways to do it, but so much water is used for big agra and manufacturing that many people don't have enough water.

There definitely isn't enough clean air to go around. Scientists have found the air to be polluted with man-made toxins and carcinogens at both poles, in the deepest jungles and on the highest mountain tops.

If priorities changed and there was more equitable distribution, there could certainly be more than enough food to go around. Many countries in Africa have experienced wide-spread famines while multinational corporations used their lands to grow food for export and their marketplaces were overflowing with foods that nobody could afford to buy.

Everyone needs air, water, and food. These are the basic necessities to sustain life.

There definitely could be enough food to go around. There isn't enough clean drinking water to go around and most water has to be purified. And there is no clean air left anywhere on earth.

I have experienced a deep and powerful sense of sufficiency while living for years at a time in mud huts with thatched roofs and dirt floors, without running water or electricity. Living that way in rural Honduras for five years, I studied for and earned an accredited external Bachelor of Science degree with a major concentration in biology, and scored in the 99th percentile on the ecology subsection of the biology GRE.

I trust that we have enough goods, but not that there is enough time or goodness. Part of the problem is that the planet which sustained our ancient ancestors for tens of thousands of years before "civiliization," has been commodified and is no longer viewed as our habitat, of which we are a part, and which, if carefully nurtured will sustain us at little or no cost or effort forever, but as a resource to be privatized, exploited, and commercialized as "goods." We have polluted our air and water beyond our ability to clean them up. I live in a country where most people don't think about the Africans being murdered every day so that big corporations can manufacture cars, computers, and cell phones. There seems to be much too much selfishness and very little goodness.

As for time, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists just moved the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight. But I think they are overestimating the time we have left. Many nuclear power plants in the US are aging and unsafe, but due to the fact that our capitalist laws require them to keep running as long as they can produce a profit for their shareholders, they cannot be shut down before they melt down, not even if we had the money to decommission them, which we don't. How much time do we have left before our inevitable string of Fukushima-type meltdowns begins? Many experts say it is just luck that it hasn't already begun. But even if there were enough time, we lack the ability and the will. So it really doesn't matter if we're a hundred miles from the edge of the cliff or one mile away, or if we're traveling at 80 miles an hour or 5 miles an hour, the problem is that we can't change direction and the brakes are out.

Those are haunting questions, Ben.  Insofar as I'd like to participate in this, it's a good thing, because I have no immediate answers and must entertain them.

At first, they seemed like the wrong questions, but they became more interesting as I saw that they illuminate my poverty.

Thank you Mark and David for your replies. One of the things that struck me powerfully when I heard Lappe speak was her suggestion that our capabilities as a species have expanded so rapidly that we truly have NO IDEA what we might be capable of if we stepped out of the spiral of "lack" and fear.

I agree with Mark that that spiral is taking us towards disaster at an accelerating rate. But I don't think we are in a position to know if "it is too late" to change course or not. The fear that it might be--that we don't have enough TIME-- might turn out to be our greatest challenge.

And yes, there is also the question of what "enough" is. We know we don't have enough resources for everyone to live the way we now do in the US, or even in somewhat more efficient Europe. Were we to devote our full energy to shifting our presence on this planet, instead of on, say, fighting one another and blowing things up, could we develop greater efficiencies in energy and material flows to the point where our current standard of living could be provided to all?

We simply don't know. And if some degree of sacrifice is required of the wealthiest among us (and I don't mean a few bilionaires but rather the majority of citizens in the developed world) are we prepared to do so? Are we ready to recognize that material goods not only don't bring us happiness but also, as Mark points out, bring great suffering to many on the planet who pay the external costs of their production on our behalf?

Then again, if we are not prepared to think in these terms--if we choose lack and fear as our premises-- what chance do we have of shifting the dynamics that are failing us so dramatically on so many levels?

Here are Frances Moore Lappe's twin premises of scarcity and sufficiency at the heart of two different spirals:

Ben - These are powerful questions related to the spirit of Occupy. I won't be able to make today's call, but will try one of the later calls this week. Thanks again for your hosting.

FML's new book has a powerful message, and I personally believe the spirit of abundance is present in the call to Occupy. The powerlessness of insufficiency is not just a social and political issue, it has roots in animal nature. Mammals have to locate food every day and protect shelter from predators. These instincts are built in, and mixed with a media storm of constant threats, many people experience life in this century as a siege.

The ideal of the collectives genius of humanity is indeed a value to aspire to. Yet so is solidarity - It is Dr MLK's birthday today. So there are and always will be many poor in wealth and spirit. How do we find solidarity with those so disempowered to inspire a broader collective in Occupy that includes people who gave up long ago. I have not seen many black, Latino, immigrants, or working poor in the groups I'm familiar with. Occupy is an unusually well-educated and connected group "up here" in Canada. But we need to broaden the inclusion if we're going to "create a world that works for all."

We all seemed to be blessed with abundant lives.  How to share that?  Reach out and do whatever we can to

create a better world from our blessed lives. 

The second question was more difficult.  For me, when we reflected on it, I experienced some tears, finding that the trust was not 100% there, then in conversation, realized that that was just fine, that there are examples of leadership that is very unkind.  And we are aware of that.  But then, the question remains, how to act, perhaps we can act as if it were all possible.  And surrender the part that is not totally sure.  Just do our best.  Very important.  We do seem to be waking up.  All is possible. 

For me, it's not about 100% certainty, but about possibility.  I know that our capacities as a species have evolved so dramatically that we really don't yet know what we might be capable of if we decided to organize ourselves around the idea of sufficiency and possibility.  Where my faith is tested is the likelihood of our making that choice.  There, I took comfort in the notion that we don't need a majority, let alone a super-majority, to effect transformational change.  If 10% or so of the population is inspired and engaged, there is (I'm told) evidence that that might be sufficient.

I appreciate the questions you offer, Richard.  We are moving into a new phase for Occupy Cafe where we plan to not only be delving into this territory (or rather to continue doing so, as this has been part of our conversation from the start), and to support collaborative action that emerges from those conversations.  We'll be looking for people to support this work as we move forward, so stay tuned!  You might also browse the existing groups here at OC.org--quite a few have been formed and as our work continues, we plan to use them to jump start the kind of work you describe.

If you haven't already done so Richard, I would also suggest that you take a look at the two spirals from Lappe above.  She takes what seem like abstract philosophical ideas (the premises of "lack" and "possibility") and ties them quite tangibly and directly to the practical issues Occupy and others are engaged with.  Perhaps in studying them, you might find some guidance in answering your questions, and in identifying key leverage points for action.

Richard, thank you for bringing me to a brink with your description of our dilemma.  What follows is not addressed to you in particular.

What is it that lifts and carries us quickly from this clarity

The productive space is to use our creativity to imagine the possibilities, the way forward in our collaboration and collective action that can inspire a building of community that works for all.

to this confusion

What are the most effective things I can do with my time to help expand the movement for change?"  "What tangible actions can we take collectively to help others identify with and join the movement?"  "What actions will grab media attention and keep the national conversation focused on our frames and themes?"  "Who can I enlist to become involved?


I guess it is a temptation that emerges from recent history, to try to more than match the powers that be in their own game.  The captains of mass production, requiring mass markets, endowed the captains of consciousness*, beginning about 90 years ago.  The collaboration continues.  Today, extremely few recall the prior period and only a few more have emigrated from the devised and much-evolved mental environment.

Should all fall down (everything mass-ive, that is), a community of place will be the system that matters to most of us.  Review Richard's statement of clarity and leap hence, the sooner the better!

* Captains of Consciousness is an important book by Stuart Ewen, available in a 25th anniversary edition.

I was considering posting a farewell to the cafe. The idea of the leap of faith has kept me back. Now your post above is really confusing.

Richard clearly speaks about the way forward, vision of future possibilities through collective action. In view of David Holmgren saying:

bottom-up collaborative behavior is a fundamental element of permaculture action, whether it is in the garden or the community and this behavior is informed by wholistic systemic understanding which can be characterized as top-down.

I thought the leap of faith means a path forward to integration of faith and knowledge, inspiring shifted meaning of holism as top, leading idea feeding back with local actions by communities.

Your answer suggests something quite opposite - the path backwards, to the "prior period". Bad captains/leaders, good powers, step back - is it your understanding of Holmgren? Or am I wrong understanding English?

My point is that the stated clear way forward (first quotation; my full approval) became unmoored and drifted to a dreamworld, the vision of future possibilities through collective action at a level where we faithful cannot compete (second quotation; next-to-no agreement) in the first place, and cannot survive, in the second.

I don't mention the prior period to recommend it as a model, but to say we do not have among us active people who know what the mental environment was like before the period in which we are.  To choose and leap well, we must understand how far behind we are, that things did not begin to go wrong when Ronald Reagan was elected US President, when George Bush was elected US President or in the run up to the crash of 2008.  I was echoing this (inconsequential) discussion in which we participated.


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