An Alternative to Demands: Notes from OccupyOakland, October 18th

by Miki Kashtan

The Occupy Oakland I visited on October 15th was not a protest. You could say that I knew it, because I have read about it before I was there. I still couldn’t understand it fully until I saw what it meant. I suspect the same is true elsewhere, though I will not presume to know.

A protest, in some fundamental way, engages with the existing power structures. What I saw, instead, was a parallel existence. This was not a march attempting to make something happen through demands and goals. What I saw was a gathering of people without any urgency, setting up camp, providing free services, engaged in the activities of making life happen, engaged in educating each other, curious to learn, and intent on inclusion. In an earlier post I was expressing some concern about the absence of a vision. What I saw in the park changed my perspective. I was fully humbled. There is absolutely no absence of vision. In fact, what was so compelling for me in being there was seeing a vision being lived out. They are not making demands. Instead, in their own small way, and however imperfectly, they are creating the world in which they want to live. There is free food being served 24/7, there are supplies of all kinds, energy created by people pedaling a bike, and everyone appears to be part of an incessant conversation.

I see an astonishing potential for this form of action that I hadn’t considered previously. It makes for a movement that has no clear end point. There is nothing someone else can do in any immediate way that will give the people gathered at the park in Oakland what they are already creating for themselves. I can’t imagine what would happen, or a set of actions on the part of anyone, that would lead people to say “Now we are done and we can go home to our daily living.” They didn’t seem particularly interested in that form of daily living that has become the norm in this country. It is, in fact, that very form of daily living that this movement seems to me to be challenging.

Is their core method a conscious choice on anyone’s part? Whether or not it is, the result is confusion for many. I was confused enough to not see their vision until I was there. Having been there, I now know why I didn’t see it. The vision is not being articulated, it is only lived, as best the occupiers know how. The action is broad enough, and the articulation is sparse enough that many of us can interpret the actions as manifestations of a vision we have. Indeed, many, including myself, have done so. I can certainly see what is happening as an example and precursor to the vision of a world based on caring for human needs. Some are also urging the movement to follow specific strategies, to articulate certain demands, to go for certain goals.

The lack of clarity about the difference between demands and vision continues. I am still wishing that some vision, or many visions, were articulated even in the absence of demands. I still suspect that many would find it hard to express the positive vision they are trying to live. I imagine that were they to do so, perhaps more people would grasp what they are trying to do and be inspired, because vision tends to attract people. No accident that one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous speeches was about dreaming. That being said, I don’t know what is true. My humility grows daily about this movement.

There is also a way in which talking about “a movement” is misleading. Yes, there is a tremendous amount of thought and care that’s being put into coordination, logistics, and all other aspects of continuing this massive experiment. And yet much of what happens, including actual protest actions that are taking place alongside and within this attempt to step outside the norms of living, happens through people taking spontaneous, autonomous steps.

What is most striking to me of all is how much I don’t know. I don’t know if anyone, anywhere, has the capacity to predict what could happen as a result of this new form of action. This movement has outgrown our capacity to categorize, analyze, and predict. It’s already bigger than anyone’s decision making capacity. No one can tell the people on the street what to do. I feel a slight bit of discomfort, and a whole lot of curiosity and interest in accompanying this surge. In this moment, more than anything, I see this movement as part of a large wakeup call that life is issuing to itself.

The group of people that took possession of the Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland are creating a small scale experiment in living without relying on large institutions. Anyone can join, anyone can contribute, anyone can challenge, and anyone can talk. Why would that ever want to stop?

Stay tuned for more Notes from OccupyOakland. Since writing this piece I have been to OccupyOakland once more. I attended a meeting of the newly created Nonviolence Caucus (meets daily as of October 18th, an hour before the General Assembly, by the kids’ play area) and participated in the General Assembly meeting. I plan on posting my impressions of these conversations in the next couple of days.

14 thoughts on “An Alternative to Demands: Notes from OccupyOakland, October 18th

  1. Dave Miller

    Miki – I have linked this to the Occupy Rochester, NY FaceBook page and am feeling refreshed, hopeful, and inspired by your shared reflection on what you observed. This is no small thing given my own strong beliefs on what "they should do". I aspire to experience the humility you described, to consider the bigger picture, and to see how I am contributing to the situation – without

  2. Rosa Z.

    Miki, thank you so much for your thoughts! I resonate very much with this, having had a similar experience as a result of visiting OccupyBoston.

    As I see it, the Occupy gatherings have succeeded in creating a space where authentic conversations about things that really matter, can flourish… AND, they have also succeded in catalyzing an ENORMOUS amount of conversation, society-wide,

  3. Mercedes Kirkel

    Hello Miki,

    I liked your last article very much, but I like this one even more. And I so agree with what you're articulating. I've been at the Occupy Santa Fe protests for the past two weeks, and it was exhilarating. I have been describing it as the most in-life experience of unity consciousness I've experienced. I encourage everyone to experience it for themselves. Now

  4. Elly van Laar

    I have feelings of joy and excitement, when I read this blog. I sense inspiration to just live the life we envision. I had the same experience about a living vision, a parallel world when I taught NVC at Occupy Austin, even though I had not the words.

    Elly van Laar

  5. Anonymous

    My heart began to smile as I read your words. I felt comfort and recognition as I read of your experience. And am grateful for your works as they help me as I struggle to find a way to talk about my experiences. I have recently spent several days with the Occupy Ventura community. This is a much smaller group than Oakland; Ventura is a much smaller community. However, I recognize a similar

  6. Mike Abkin

    Miki, this is a fantastic set of notes and observations. Truly, a new world is aborning in Oakland, DC, NYC, and so many other places around the U.S. and the world. Thanks so much! Mike

  7. John Bartas

    Thanks, Miki. My friend Joyce E. sent me your link. I'm always glad when on more person "gets it" about OWS. I was in Bakesto Park in San Jose a few weeks to ago the help launch Occupy San Jose. I dressed in my best business clothes, polished my shoes, and carried a sign which read "End Corporate greed". I had a great time and "friended" several people I met on

  8. Joan Huguenard

    My dear Miki,
    Recently returned from 10 weeks of volunteering in Africa, I felt a disconnect and a yearning for union with the Occupy movements and you so significantly inspired the connection. Now I plan to share much of what you wrote in this dynamic blog with readers of my weekly column for a local newspaper. This – as you so beautifully expressed it – is what I want my readers to


PLEASE NOTE: If you write a really long comment, and the "Post Comment" button scrolls off the screen, you can get to it by pressing the tab key (on your keyboard) once you've finished typing your comment.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.