“The most important thing in the world”

Naomi Klein speaks to the Occupy Wall Street crowd (a transcript of the prepared remarks here):

Alright, I have to get this out of the way: it’s unfortunate, and rather funny, that the “human microphone” solution to the amplification ban makes the people sound like the “Yes, we are all individuals!” crowd from Life of Brian.

Having said that, this is real-space social networking at its best. It’s also a great way to internalize and really focus attention on what’s being communicated — think of how we recite and repeat a poem, a speech, whatever it is that we want to know by heart. And it’s a powerful show of solidarity: many voices raised as one, e pluribus unum. Just as the Founders envisioned.

We all know, or at least sense, that the world is upside down: we act as if there is no end to what is actually finite — fossil fuels and the atmospheric space to absorb their emissions. And we act as if there are strict and immovable limits to what is actually bountiful — the financial resources to build the kind of society we need.

The task of our time is to turn this around: to challenge this false scarcity. To insist that we can afford to build a decent, inclusive society — while at the same time, respect the real limits to what the earth can take.

What climate change means is that we have to do this on a deadline. This time our movement cannot get distracted, divided, burned out or swept away by events. This time we have to succeed. And I’m not talking about regulating the banks and increasing taxes on the rich, though that’s important.

I am talking about changing the underlying values that govern our society. That is hard to fit into a single media-friendly demand, and it’s also hard to figure out how to do it. But it is no less urgent for being difficult.

That is what I see happening in this square. In the way you are feeding each other, keeping each other warm, sharing information freely and proving health care, meditation classes and empowerment training. My favorite sign here says, “I care about you.” In a culture that trains people to avoid each other’s gaze, to say, “Let them die,” that is a deeply radical statement.

[…] In this great struggle, here are some things that don’t matter.

§ What we wear.

§ Whether we shake our fists or make peace signs.

§ Whether we can fit our dreams for a better world into a media soundbite.

And here are a few things that do matter.

§ Our courage.

§ Our moral compass.

§ How we treat each other.

We have picked a fight with the most powerful economic and political forces on the planet. That’s frightening. And as this movement grows from strength to strength, it will get more frightening. Always be aware that there will be a temptation to shift to smaller targets — like, say, the person sitting next to you at this meeting. After all, that is a battle that’s easier to win.

Don’t give in to the temptation. I’m not saying don’t call each other on shit. But this time, let’s treat each other as if we plan to work side by side in struggle for many, many years to come. Because the task before will demand nothing less.

Let’s treat this beautiful movement as if it is most important thing in the world. Because it is. It really is.

Yes, yes, yes.

One more thing that strikes me: this is not a crowd of pessimists. Change agents are never pessimists. As Colin Beavan has said, optimism is the most radical political act there is.

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