Eating at a fast food establishment recently I experienced the unimaginable. The soda fountain wasn’t working! The enticingly colored machine, full of delicious promise, was actually bleeding, its malfunctioning ice-maker causing a perpetual stream of water to pour from the device’s innards. Ok, I thought. I can cope with that. Not being American born I’m not that obsessed with ice anyway. But with great dismay I discovered that the soda was also flat, and that I could not tolerate. I unhappily resigned myself to a meal of hamburger, extra-crispy fries, and a cup of room temperature overly sweetened, highly synthetic lemonade. Not good.
Yet as I slurped down my disappointment, I was surprised to find that none of the other patrons seemed to have noticed the absence of fizz in their fizzy drinks. Time and time again they returned to the machine, filled up their oversized cups with what, sans carbonation, is really quite vile, and walked away. This, naturally, made me think of the Occupy protests going on worldwide.
You don’t see the connection? Soda pop? Social injustice? And no, I don’t think that a fast food restaurant’s inability to serve sparkling soda is a social injustice.
First of all, we should all Occupy. Occupy our cities, towns, fields and tundras (thank you, Diane McEachern of Bethel, Alaska). We should do this peacefully (no need for a repeat of events in Rome, Italy), and we should be prepared to dig in our heels for the long haul.
But therein lies the problem.
Here in America we have far less at stake than in other parts of the world, far more to distract us from Occupying. America is a far cry from Tahrir Square, where protestors had nothing to lose, and everything to gain (although we have yet to see exactly how a democratic Egypt will manifest itself). We have no history of oppressive dictatorships, no long-standing sense of what we can’t have. We are also unlike Europe, which has a collective memory of what a socialist approach to government can do (universal health care, education, social services), even when interwoven with a generous sprinkling of capitalism.
Even Israel, for example, has been enjoying a healthy social uprising since the summer (not that the world media cares to report on anything that doesn’t perpetuate the notion that the Palestinian issue is the only story in town). A country built upon strong socialist ideals, there is an emerging understanding that with Israel’s financial growth and success, much of what the country was founded on has been rejected in favor of cappuccinos, flat screen TVs, and Prada bags. And having danced so carelessly toward this capitalist consumer hoedown, ordinary people are recognizing that they have paid a terrible price. They are finding, with capitalism and corporate greed run amok, that they are no longer welcome at the very party they organized in the first place.
In America, though, we have a romantic dream of capitalistic success, the fires of which are stoked in our hearts by the very system we are now protesting. We know nothing but a clamor for greater, faster, cheaper products that are the symbols of our success. And the flip side of the coveted wealth that that top 1% has amassed is the cheap world that the corporations have created for us.
Back when folks were just gearing up to Occupy Wall Street, I fled civilization for the backwaters of Montana, therein to bask in the silent glory of ranchland unchanged since Lewis and Clark changed it completely. And sure, from my porch overlooking the Gallatin valley, wild horses roaming in the dusk, coyotes yelping in the distance, it all seemed pretty grand. It still held the promise of what any hard-working salt-of-the-earth pioneer might aspire to.
And then I took a trip to the local Walmart.
Strolling along endless aisles of cheap clothing, processed food, and firearms I feared that our situation is hopeless. How can we change our habits when we have become morbidly obese consumpters (see earlier blog on this topic)? We have spent lifetimes being told to consume, and know nothing else. We may think we are bucking the system by Occupying, but we are tethered to a capitalistic parent, roaming far and wide on an extending baby leash. How soon before we are reined in? Or maybe we’re just adolescents, consumed by our personal rebellion as our parent chuckles at our indolence and holds out another cup of soda for us to drink. Either way, we are the children of an abusive parental figure, and with any parent, we love it regardless of its transgressions. More significantly, we have also learned all of our behavioral patterns from said parent, and we all know how difficult it is to break a pattern.
This is why I was so upset by the folks filling up on flat soda. The fizz has gone out of our system, but we can’t help but adhere to it. We yearn for something better, but true change takes more than a few banners, an occasional march, or some good sound-bites. We can’t demand social reform by camping out in parks having just run in to the local Walmart for a cheap made-in-China tent.
Part of our Occupying must be to reject that which the current system makes easy, specifically the cheap, disposable life that we have come to expect. And if the Occupy movement is to be successful in America, then we will have to make some significant sacrifices.
Try this one on for size. Can’t make it to an Occupy protest? Simply stop consuming any and every product created by a corporation. Want true social and financial restructuring? Eliminate every corporate item from your daily life. Not an easy thing to do, eradicating all that cheap, cheap, wonderfully cheap stuff. But sacrifice has to start somewhere.
Imagine if every single person in the country were to ban any corporate produce for one month alone? Corporations would surely come crumbling down, so dependent are they on our continued gorging. Cut them out of our daily rituals, and watch how we, the people, can seize the control we deserve.
Support your local farmers, your Mom & Pop stores, even grow some of your own food. (The lemongrass tea I make from a homegrown plant puts any and every soda I’ve ever consumed to shame, and costs me absolutely nothing). I know, I know, the economy couldn’t be in worse shape, making it seemingly essential that we resort to that cheaper, corporate branded, item. But maybe, just maybe, this economic avalanche is just what we need. Maybe, like those occupying Tahrir Square at the beginning of the year, we finally find ourselves with nothing to lose. Our jobs are gone. Our houses are worthless. If we can just wean ourselves off of the corporate teat, then perhaps we can finally rebuild a society where we truly stand proud.
The alternative is to remain this:
Diane McEachern image taken from her Facebook Page. Independent Merchant image found here.