Tom Atlee: Occupation Catalytic Butterfly

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Tom Atlee

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Random Communications from an Evolutionary Edge

Occupation Catalytic Butterfly

Along with a lot of other people, I’ve been wondering what’s going on with Occupy Wall Street. Although it obviously shares energy with the Wisconsin occupation and Arab Spring, its mix of persistence and lack of demands makes it a puzzle, dragging it right out of the usual boxes we think with. It gets under the skin like a disturbingly peaceful ongoing Stonewall riot or something…

I’ve been trying to sort it out because Occupy Wall Street’s sibling, the October2011DC occupation, is imminent. Should I go there? Will it be a watershed “trigger event” I shouldn’t miss if I want to weave my ideas, visions, and life energy into its impact on the world?

About a week ago I decided not to go. I’m trying to focus on writing a book on empowered public wisdom. But every day I feel more ironic. I mean, isn’t that what I’m seeing?! How old fashioned is it to focus on a book when exuberant Transformational Aliveness is exploding before my very eyes! Nevertheless, I’m sticking to my decision. At least I think I am.

I’ve read a few brilliant articles about Occupy Wall Street that dig deeper than the usual commentaries from the Left, Right, Center and Alpha Centauri. Two this morning – here and here – stimulated the bloggy response you are currently reading. But I don’t know whether any of these analyses – including my own – are correct. But then again, is “correct” what’s going on here?

My own tentative take is that Occupy Wall Street – and perhaps each of its offsprings and siblings – is a catalytic butterfly. “Catalytic” because a catalyst makes big things possible, easier, and faster without, itself, seeming to do or change much. “Butterfly” because the “butterfly effect” arises in complex, chaotic systems like 21st century global civilization – and any given small flap may (unpredictably, depending on circumstances) generate hurricane-stimulating power. My own suspicion is that important things will happen because Occupy Wall Street is happening. But they probably won’t be anything that Occupy Wall Street is trying to make happen.

Theorists speak of self-organization and emergence arising from the unpredictable, uncontrollable chaos and complexity of systems far from equilibrium. Hello? Does that sound familiar, or what?

Earnest revolutionary Judith in Monty Python’s hilarious “Life of Brian” cries out to her fearless leader, the bureaucratic militant Reg: “It’s happening, Reg! Something’s actually happening!” And so it is. As Dylan said: “Something is happening here and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones.”

Something is happening and thousands of us who think of ourselves as activists are watching it. Are we who have decided not to sleep in the park relegated to spectatorism to see what emerges from these Occupations?

For two decades I’ve thought about how change agents might best serve life when things get unpredictable and uncontrollable. The closest thing I’ve come up with is this: Help Life self-organize into the new (emergent) forms that Life seems to desire in response to its changing conditions. Something in Life seems to know what it’s supposed to do next, although it usually isn’t very conscious of the emerging pattern before it emerges. It just emerges and Life says, “Ah! That’s it!” Sort of like the “And God saw that it was good” story in the Bible.

So a nonlinear, conscious co-evolutionary change agent intervenes in this not to push an agenda so much as to introduce ways for the disturbed energies and longings of Life to realize themselves. Such change agents kinda help people deeply connect with their own felt sense of what’s trying to emerge so they can bring it forth together.

This kind of intervention doesn’t have a name, but I sometimes think of it as “creating infrastructures of invitation and inquiry” – conversations, networks, powerful questions, forums for sharing and collaboration, co-evolutionary worldviews and frameworks, things like that.

This morning while trying to meditate (always a challenge in stimulating times!), I thought of some interesting initiatives that someone (not me! heavens! I’m writing a book!) might want to organize around this:

* Sponsor/Adopt an occupier: People sponsor runners in a charity marathon – why not occupiers in NY or DC or elsewhere? Individuals and groups at home can establish a supportive relationship with a specific person committed to sustaining an occupation, and the supported occupier can keep his or her supporters informed and bring their voices into the occupation. If the sponsors are a group, they can meet periodically to reflect on the occupation and its challenges to their individual and collective lives. (Come to think of it, “adopt an occupier” suggests some interesting nonviolence strategies for peoples under colonial or military occupation…)

* Crowd-sourcing sign ideas: Google “protest signs” and you’ll see the kind of creativity that can go into this expressive art form. Rather than just reporting on such ideas, how about a website where people can suggest and vote on sign ideas – perhaps sortable by tags or topics – which can then be considered and used by occupiers. Let a thousand flowers bloom!

* Using powerful questions: There is an art to crafting and using powerful questions to stimulate new insights, feelings, visions, responses, actions. “What else could Wall Street also be?” “What would actually make a difference?” Catalytic questions like these can be put on signs, passed out to passersby, used to convene conversations (The World Cafe and Open Space Technology are especially useful for occupiers). Perhaps a crowd-sourcing website like the sign idea above could cultivate and evaluate powerful occupier questions – and even have forums for people to explore answers together… Google “powerful questions” and see my page on the subject.

You get the idea. If we assume that some of these occupations are catalysts or butterflies which may engage the confusions, frustrations and longings of our world in ways that are impossible to predict or control, what could we do to help them do that powerful task in even more creatively powerful ways?

If you have thoughts about this, add them as comments to this blog post. And spread the word, so this post can better catalyze whatever it is supposed to catalyze while I am working away on my book! 🙂

Phi Beta Iota:  Here is our contribution.

Core Proposed Program for Occupy Wall Street (Across the Nation)

CORRUPTION is the common enemy, both in government and in the private sector.

ELECTORAL REFORM is the singular demand.

SUNSHINE CABINET is the method.

INTEGRITY is the core value.

COMMONWEALTH RESTORED is the outcome.