The action in the picture above happened today in Washington DC, and is connected to the action I took part in, in Ottawa in September.
A few days ago they had 3,000 people signed up for this action. Then suddenly 4,000, then 5,000. Today over 10,000 people showed up and circled the White House in one big hug — a symbol of will and attention and motivated action to remind the President of his direct responsibility, and his own promises.
Something pretty spectacular is afoot in this moment in time. The Keystone XL action gained some momentum from the Occupy movement which began on September 17th in New York City, and which has spread around the world since October 15th. The mainstream media is getting some of it, but missing (or misleading about) most. The reality on the ground is very human, varied, organic, strange, brilliant, imperfect: hard to pin down and define because it is in flux and because it is refusing to follow old patterns. Everyone, supporters and opposers alike, are challenged by what is arising in lateral, direct democracy experiments all over the world. How do we understand a movement arising, globally, without leaders? How do we tolerate inclusive, messy, democratic processes when almost everything we know is tied up in hierarchies or dualisms — or both?
I have been spending a lot of time at our local occupation, and each time I am heartened or worried or amazed or disappointed or conflicted or entranced ... it is like seeing every aspect of humanity laid bare, the full spectrum, at once in one place. To be wholly in this is jarring when we are used to neat compartments of social relations. In this city, people typically are very closed to one another unless they know each other well. One does not make eye contact with strangers, let alone talk to them. In the park, the default is CONTACT and DISCUSSION -- deep, challenging, philosophical, political, ethical discussion. People who are usually hidden away are present and welcome. Idealisms are confronted with actuality, theories with practice. It is unlike anything else, and is also like everything in microcosm.
I read a quote from an early anarchist thinker who wrote that societies are made of social relationships, and that states structuralize and constrain those relationships (and because he was an anarchist he rejected the state's role as entirely clumsy and destructive). When revolutions happen, the structure may superficially change, but if the underlying social relationships are not addressed, the society really remains the same. A society cannot leave its own legacy behind through revolutionary changes of structure. It is the social relationships themselves that must change in order for a society truly to change. I think we can see this example in the French Revolution, the American Revolution, the Russian Revolution...the old order is emulated in the new order, with different flags and rhetoric, but very similar imbalances of power no matter how egalitarian the principles.
The social experiment unfolding in these spontaneous villages-within-cities, arising all over the world, is about taking time to take stock, really look at what we have, get as clear as we possibly can about what IS, and respond with freshness, creativity, resourcefulness, and invention. Nothing is inevitable, and so much is possible.