A parable.

A man lives in an apartment building that pays a super to maintain the plumbing system, and one day he goes into his kitchen and sees water leaking onto the floor. He calls building management, and they say, “Just put a bucket under it and some tape on it, and don’t worry,” and he does. As the days go by, the leak continues, even as he works at emptying the bucket; but eventually, while he’s at work, the bucket overflows. He calls the building, and they say they’ll send someone, but they don’t. And the leak continues, and the floor becomes warped, and mildew grows on it, so he spends hours scrubbing but has to eventually start eating in his bedroom. And the leak continues, raining down into the apartment below, so he makes more and more furious phone calls, and they do nothing. And eventually he says he will withhold his rent, and they do not answer. And then he does withhold rent, and they sue him for back rent, the damaged floor in his apartment, the damaged ceiling below, the costs of the phone calls he made to them, and the salaries of the people who answered the phones, as well as the cost of the invisible plumber.

And, finally, after he makes a counter-suit and several calls to newspapers and the city, they send a plumber, and he appears and says, “What do you want me to do?”
The man replies, “Uh, fix that big leak.”
“Yeah, but how?” asks the plumber. “If you can’t tell me how you want me to fix the leak, what do you expect me to do?”
The man looks at him and says: “I don’t need to know how to fix the leak. All I need to know is that the floor is wet and you are the plumber.”


Kol Nidre Occupies Wall Street

This past Friday hundreds of people gathered on Liberty Street in downtown Manhattan -- right across Broadway from Occupy Wall St. -- and held a religious ceremony, one mandated by their tradition and conjoined by them with the protest across the street. This article in The Forward reflects the event very well -- the most communal and positive and still serious service I've perhaps ever attended, the most honest and vital as well.

In these days, what we call the High Holidays, Jews reflect on the deeds of the past year, consider their own shortcomings and rejoice in the limitless possibilities of the new year, to live clean, honest, and conscious lives in the days to come -- with a focus on community and humanitarianism.

The fact that on Yom Kippur we confess and ask forgiveness from G-d as a community -- not as individuals -- for a long list of sins we, personally, may not have committed has always struck me as important. This year, at this service, I realized this is what the Occupy movement helps us to do -- because of course the step after confessing our faults as a community is to take steps as a community to remedy those faults. We have allowed this system to grow up, so now we must, first, acknowledge the faults and, second, truly address them.

Friday's service, utilizing Occupy's 'human microphone' since it had no permit for technological sound amplification, was the full Kol Nidre, during which the community renounces all lightly made vows, oaths created under duress and, according to one of the leaders of the service, those vows we make through bad habits. We ask for a clean slate for the new year in which we hope to focus on only the most important and holy actions. During the ceremony, the gathered crowd also made the traditional expiation for a long list of transgressions -- one amended for the occasion, which included the line:
For failing to defend Israel.

This felt a little awkward in the circumstances, until it was followed immediately by:
And for failing to defend Palestine.

Along these lines, in the only other alteration of the service, one of leaders asked that, instead of chanting the traditional Aleynu prayer, members of the gathered call out a social commitment they wanted to make for the new year and all those who wished to take it up also called out "Aleynu". It proved a particularly rousing, engaging, and moving moment -- again, particularly when two women called in unison, something akin to: "I will take responsibility for the treatment of Palestine" and people cheered.

I asked an orthodox couple at the ceremony about this, about my surprise that this certainly religious group would prove so focused on social justice and openly declare a position that few would associate with religiously observant American Jews.

She looked at me and said, "If you actually read Torah, you have to be like that."

Occupy Sukkot begins today at Occupy Wall Street with the building of a "civil disobedient sukkah" in observance of the "eight-day festival of Sukkot [which] reminds us of the abundance we have, and how very fragile that abundance is". Check out the information here.


If you see something, say something.

As the Occupy movement continues to grow and to spread, we see the growth also of a kind of intangible value to the protests, what stands side-by-side, almost invisibly, with the declared demands and causes, what underlies perhaps the most important facet of the uprisings' significance: The appearance of true and widespread dissent in the United States of America.

While the great gripe the protests voice about the American economic-political system -- this one in which we fire teachers (and cut after-school programs and arts and sports and AP classes) while funding several wars, erase pensions while giving tax money to the banks who gambled away those pensions, and so on -- remains clear to many of us, many have noted how shocking and important it is that people are simply saying: Enough. I'm pissed off, and I'm pissed of enough to plant myself in the street next to other people who are pissed off about the same shit.

At the very least, the Occupy movement has shattered the apathy of many Americans. Indeed, the people who have taken to the streets around the country are doing a favor for all of us who cling to our little crumbs of the pie and try to keep our eyes closed. They have altered the inertia; they have woken up many of us and hopefully will continue to wake up more, so that we stop allowing the rich and powerful and greedy to lead us around by our noses to toil in their service.

Paul Krugman -- Nobel Prize winner in Economics and professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University -- wrote in yesterday's New York Times a very clear piece about the effects of the protests on the mindsets of "wealthy Americans who benefit hugely from a system rigged in their favor" as seen by how they "react with hysteria to anyone who points out just how rigged the system is". He points out the overreacting, panicked terms some politicians, finance figures, and commentators have been using towards the protests. He contends they do so because they don't like seeing themselves called out and "realize, deep down, how morally indefensible their position is."

Because that's partially what we have at stake here, a moral issue -- do we want the United States to be a place where each is out for him/herself and will sell his grandmother -- or, rather, yours (Social Security/Medicare...) to get ahead? That has never been our creed, though it has often, if not always, been our practice.

This reminds me of Christopher Hitchens's Letters to a Young Contrarian and the more recent (and hot-selling) short essay by Stéphane Hessel, a 94-year-old who fought the Nazis and participated in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, called in English Time for Outrage!. These publications share an admiration of the importance -- indeed the fundamental importance -- of questioning the status quo, of rocking the boat, of contradicting the party line, of expressing your anger.

This, in part, is what the Occupy movement is already doing for us: It opens a space for dialogue and contemplating -- and perhaps acting on -- ways to create a better society. It gives us a chance. At the least it should cause us to examine ourselves; at the most, who knows?


Who Are the 99%?: a return to vitality

Ok. It seems I’ve returned to blogging. (Please forgive my rust.) I haven’t written since election day 2008; in fact, since his acceptance speech that night, I have not watched Barack Obama at all. I have barely followed any news with any specificity. I knew ahead of time I couldn’t handle it. I knew reality would never match up with the glorious dreams many of us shared that night, that the events that would transpire in our country and, indeed, around the world, would prove horrific to stomach. Until the horror landed on my doorstep. Until I could ignore it no longer. And—until Hope rode again along with it. I give thanks that this has happened, is happening. It is no mystical occurrence. It’s come borne on the backs of Americans (a term I apply to any person within the borders of this nation, regardless of immigration status), namely those who have ‘occupied’ Wall Street over the last few weeks.

Most of us have done our best to ignore them or discredit them – Who are “they”? What do they want? What’s their plan? What are their demands?

Most of the mainstream media coverage – though this seems to be changing, a touch, perhaps – has followed this sheepish, cynical, and demeaning line of attack. My friends are mostly artists and graduate students. Many of them have asked me the same questions. My family, liberals, too. Maybe we all figured this country's hallmark protest movement here (the “hippies”) failed and deserved to. Maybe we’re too scared to risk what little we have. Maybe we’re afraid the “protestors” are… right. We miss the point.

The point is not: What is their structure? Who is the leader? What is his five-year plan? What will they really accomplish?

The point is rather: We – different, dis-unified, dissimilar – have come together to stand up and alter the tide that’s sweeping us all under. To shake our society and force it to break the inertia that deadens us and leads us to follow, like lemmings, our fellow fools over the cliff to a dismal demise. It's true that "they" have no one demand nor a clear list of demands, but reflects not the competency of the protestors but rather the very reason for protest: so many things need changing in this country that we cannot attack one item at a time (see health care), but rather, we must alter the underlying nature of our system. We must change ourselves.

In that sense, I don’t care what the goals are. The act itself is what matters to me. That we not only awaken and recognize the dismal state we’re in but that we see we’re not the only ones and that we can come together. That we stand up not only for ourselves but for each other – for those who cannot or will not stand up, too. That we at least put up a (nonviolent) fight.

Can we by pure accumulation of mass, change the gravity field that currently pins us down? Where government by the (rich) people and for the (corporations that now count as) people does not continue to work its own self-serving agenda unimpeded by the People it manipulates to keep running its con-game? Yes, I understand this is how government often works, but let’s not make it so easy for them, alright?

When Goldman-Sachs is the biggest bank on Wall St. and Goldman-Sachs alumni serve at top levels in the U.S. Government, we have a problem. When people are losing their life savings and college savings when Lehman Brothers collapses, but Lehman Brothers employees get huge sums of taxpayer money at the same time, we have a problem. When, in the midst of high unemployment, massive personal debt, and irrational credit-interest rates, Credit Suisse North America reports great earnings, we have a problem. Pulitzer Prize-winner Chris Hedges lays this out rather nicely in this rather contentious interview.

I have, to a large degree, chosen my own situation – barely part-time employment, no health care, a significant credit-card debt. As things go, I will never buy a house or be able to retire. But I chose it only by not going to business school or law school – by following my own dream, the one promised me by this country. I chose it by not sticking to a job – for a Wall Street bank – that had no job security and provided actually no benefits. I chose it by not sticking with a job that made me desperately miserable, had no chance for advancement, and provided meager health care and no dental coverage. I chose it by dedicating myself to the full-time job of artist – in addition to the part-time job of substitute teacher and private tutor, since to actually earn a living as an artist in this society is largely absurd.

Still, I could choose law school. I could choose finance. Med school. Corporate marketing. Telecommunications consulting. If I took out massive loans. I’m, relatively, in a position to do that – ignoring that it’s never taken me less than eight months of searching to get a ‘real’ job. So could -- assuming somehow they could pay for it and could gain admission -- all the “kids” who have joined this burgeoning movement, all of the people who marched yesterday. Of course, if we did, our country would have no: schools, cars, restaurants, garbage collection, running water, electricity, roads, buildings or motherfucking art. (Among a lot of other things.) There would be little where people did things for each other and not just for themselves. I don’t want to live in that place. I suspect neither do you.

So, if you want to question the motives of the people around the country stirring up trouble, just think for a moment. Remember that, unless you are part of the top 1% richest Americans, they’re actually enduring your scorn to help you.

So, the 99% aren’t a well running organization. Considering how our political institutions function in this country, I say: Good. So, they have not articulated their demands to your liking – that’s part of the point. Their mere presence should remind the rest of us that we need to think outside the boxes to which we’ve become accustomed. We need to wake up. So, they have no plan beyond staying in the street as long as it takes for a tidal change in sentiment across this nation that maybe can lead to tangible changes. I’m okay with that. As we saw with the election of Barack Obama and also with the toppling of Mubarak in Egypt, among other events, the act of uniting people and changing something in and for ourselves can be its own victory, no matter what follows.

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