Self-sufficient Wall Street: the beginning of chapter two

  • November 16, 2011

People & Protest

By freeing itself from dependency on exploitative and repressive systems, Occupy Wall Street has allowed roses to grow out of the concrete everywhere.

Unlike politicians, who repeatedly betray humanity to favor corporate parasites, Occupy Wall Street practices what it preaches. In less than two months, the occupiers of Zuccotti Park transformed a corporate space into a place teeming with real examples of the changes we want to see. They did this by converting words into actions with an efficacy that is simply unthinkable in the bottlenecked, hierarchical systems we are instructed to subject ourselves to.

At about 2 AM November 15th, New York’s billionaire mayor ordered police to march into the Zuccotti encampment, and stomp on the rose that had grown through the concrete.

To those positioned to rule in a neo-feudal, plutocratic world, that little rose posed a great threat. Not only did it manage to spring to life in a hostile environment, and weather several storms — it encouraged roses to bloom everywhere. Not only was the Zuccotti encampment sustaining itself — it was showing the entire Occupy movement how to become self-sufficient.

Protesting against corruption and greed is one thing: protest fits within the parameters of what is passed off as democracy. But truly freeing ourselves from dependency on exploitative and repressive systems, quitting the rigged game and creating a world we want to live in — is another matter altogether.

Zuccotti Park has become more than one of the centers of a global movement. It has become a local learning center. A place from where ideas are spreading, ideas far more dangerous to rogue capitalism than those of any terrorist group. People are learning how to take back control of the world, starting with their own lives.

The importance of self-sufficiency and sustainability were incorporated into the Occupy movement’s grassroots democratic system from the beginning, as one of the movement’s working groups. Practical, sustainable solutions — many of which fine-tuned by the permaculture movement — were implemented almost immediately, and quickly snowballed into developed systems.

Thanks to Mobile Design Lab (, one of the first installments was a water recycling (grey water) system, to filter soap and food residue from kitchen water, so that it could be used to water trees and plants in the park.

Thanks to Time’s Up (, the encampment acquired a collection of stationary bicycles that could be used to charge batteries, to provide electricity to the OWS kitchen, to the library and to recharge batteries and cell phones.

When gas powered generators were confiscated by the city (without warning), this merely presented an opportunity: enter complete “Peddle Power!” The encampment ceased to depend on fossil fuels whatsoever.

Free workshops were held to teach people about Permaculture, about seed bombs and even how to make pottery (to prevent the use of Styrofoam).

Potted gardens were started. Leftover food was composted and hauled by bicycle to local community gardens. Even a relatively well stocked library was erected. Other Occupy encampments around the country followed the example, eager to implement the same techniques, and to establish good relationships with their communities.

It was obvious that the initial eviction attempt, scheduled for 7 AM October 14th, was designed to destroy these semi-permanent systems for self-sufficiency. But thousands rallied to stand ground, making it impossible for the mayor to “clean” the park without yet another embarrassing confrontation.

OWS’s labor of love was allowed to continue and mature for another month, while the bully mayor, his bully friends on Wall Street and the bullies on the police force had to grit their teach and wait. Their only comfort must have come from anticipating the pain their eventual attack would cause. From knowing the effort to make the movement self-sufficient would fall all the harder, the more they let it grow before cutting it down.

Knowing the world would see and condemn what they were about to do, they came in the middle of the night, filled the air with tear gas and pepper spray, beat people with batons and dragged some off by their hair. They came in full riot gear again, to intimidate, to assert their monopoly on violence — as if anyone occupying has shown even the slightest desire to participate in the violence.

The city made a public announcement that people could bring ID to reclaim their confiscated belongings (at a remote location). They didn’t mention that they had failed to provide receipts for confiscated goods to those being dragged off in the night. Or that they had taken all the bicycle generators, destroyed them and dumped them in a landfill. Or that they had destroyed the library.

It should be clear that this marks the ending of the first chapter of the American Occupation. The movement has shown what it is capable of, now the “Bloombergs” have shown what they can do. We can grow through concrete. They can keep some of our own kind in enough ignorance and fear to make them stomp on us. And it’s not just the police: they have a whole army of frothy mouthed Fox News addicts cheering them on.

No matter how heartbreaking the destruction of so many good things built with so much love, who now can even consider choosing to go back to the way it was just two months ago? Things are no longer the same. What they did was not OK. But it’s OK. This is what it is to be a human being with a heart, to feel the joy and the hurt with equal intensity.

The violence of our world has always been a challenge to the practice of love. Our ability to love make us infinitely powerful and equally vulnerable. But something fundamental has changed. We have found each other, we are recognizing our own power and we are overcoming our fear.

Please read this press release by the OWS Sustainability Working Group. To give an impression of how amazing these people are, and where their priorities lie, they lament the destruction of the bikes not just because each one cost almost 1000 dollars, or because of the loss of their time and energy in building them, but because the irresponsible disposal of the batteries will poison the planet.

If you can, show them support and let them know their effort wasn’t wasted by the vandals and that they continue to inspire!

Permaculture offers an invaluable resource for those ready to become self sufficient. The Permaculture movement has had more than a 30 year head-start on OWS, and was created to deal with many of the same problems. Take these somewhat prophetic words by Permaculture founder Bill Mollison, from a Permaculture Design Course back in 1983:

Hunger is rising, absolute hunger is rising, food’s badly distributed, not distributed at all often. The waste of food, the whole deal of it… it’s eh, a shocking situation, it’s just inhuman. It’s what nobody would intend, and somehow what we’ve arrived at, and we arrived at it by the erection of financial structures, totally divorced from resources. So that the fiscal economy has been a runaway system. We’ve gotta tackle that head on. That is, what I’m trying to tell you, it’s no good any longer just being an organic gardener or farmer, we have to be effective financial and political units. And we’re gonna have to face that. Just as it was very hard for us to learn to garden, then hard for us to learn to collect seeds, once the multinationals took over the open-pollinated seed market; we had to become seed growers. Now it’s very difficult, we have to become bankers. There’s no good trying to pretend we don’t have to. We can run away to the bush, build a mud hut and grow ducks in the garden, it’s not gonna do it. The coals will still be burnt, the land will still be eroded, and the forests will still be cleared for newsprint if we run away to the bush. So, there’s no escape, we’ve just gotta stop running away, stay where we are and start to face up and fight.

Daniel Owen

Daniel Owen maintains a permaculture farm in the north of the Netherlands.

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