The Occupy movement through the lens of love


Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

Occupy Love is an ambitious documentary. In an hour and 30 minutes, it attempts to offer a short history of Occupy Wall Street. It traces the roots of the movement back to the streets of Tunisia in December 2010 and through the plazas in Spain in the summer of 2011. In parallel to these clips from recent history, its interviews plumb the big ideas that undergird the Occupy movement. Interviews with activists, writers and thinkers run the gamut from the gift economy to western civilization’s estrangement from the natural world.

Through this eccentric tapestry, the film traces the thread of love. The filmmaker, Velcrow Ripper, asks everyone he interviews, “How could the crisis we’re facing be a love story?”

Ripper’s question brings unexpected responses. Clayton Thomas-Muller, a First Nations leader and an environmental activist, pulls aside his shirt to reveal a tattoo that says, “Love is a Movement.”

“When you are born in a community that has been completely devastated by the energy infrastructure that’s been built on the back of our people all across continental North America,” Thomas-Muller says, “you don’t choose to get involved in this work. You’re born to it.”

The focus on love gives the film a tone of unreasonable optimism: hope against the odds. Perhaps this is necessary, given the alternative. On the very last day of 2007, I wrote a review here of What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire, a look at the four ecological limits we are running into on this planet: peak oil, mass extinction, climate change and overpopulation. The movie delves deep in the suicidal structural problems in our system today but gives no clear answer to the question, “What can we do?”

In many ways, Occupy Love is the exuberant, bubbly daughter of What a Way to Go, which was released in 2007. It, too, is a personal essay with a clear editorial position, but the place in time and history is quite different. In the six intervening years, the global economic downturn has laid bare the silliness and sickness at the heart of the system. While political and economic leaders have battened down the hatches and refused to face reality, grassroots resistance and alternatives have blossomed. For many of us, there is no longer any question of the magnitude and reality of the crisis. The question is one of means, with the ends starkly and, often, mercilessly, in focus.

Love at the center of resistance

The questions of the means by which we resist domination and opression is no small one. There is a long history of embittered, violent resistance to empire from the Zealots to the Weather Underground. Occupy Love embodies a spirit of the age rejecting that paradigm of dehumanization and demonization. This is a movement investing in love.

“It’s not about confrontation,” says Clayton Thomas-Muller, “it’s about communities coming together and marching to pray for the healing of the world’s largest and most destructive development in the history of mankind known as Canada’s tar sands.”

While unequivocal in naming its opponent, the tone of the central message of the movement portrayed in Occupy Love gives the means of social change as much importance as the end itself.

This transition to a love-centered movement has not been by accident. In the film, womanist writer bell hooks articulates the careful wisdom that guides those in this militantly loving landscape.

“What is justice?” she asks. “The heart of it is really longing for people to be able to grow and develop freely in a positive and constructive way. So what are the conditions that allow for this? So we’re back to this idea that there can be no love where there is domination.”

Others interviewed take a dip into the narrative of romantic love. “Great love stories involve yearning to be together and seperation by forces that seek to keep them apart.” says biologist Rupert Sheldrake, “and certainly the big seperation that has happened here is the separation of humanity and nature, which has been brought about by a framework of thought and an ideology of development and domination and control and empire.”

Sheldrake and hooks use language that dovetails with the Hebrew prophets and the New Testament concept of principalities and powers. At the same time, Occupy Love’s vision for transformation bears remarkable similarity to Jesus’ beloved community vision of enemy-loving and jubilee abundance.

“The lover knows that more for you is more for me too. If you love someone, then there happiness is your happiness.” says author Charles Eisenstein. “Their pain is your pain. Your sense of self expands to include other beings. That’s love. Love is expansion of self to include the other. And that’s a different kind of revolution. There’s no one to fight. There’s no evil to fight. There’s no other in this revolution.”

“Having people disconnect and see one another as enemies is so crucial to the maintenance of that dominator system.” says bell hooks. “And love comes in and says, ‘There isn’t any difference that can’t be understood. There isn’t any conflict that can’t be reconciled.’ So that love becomes a major threat to the formation of any kind of culture of dominator-thinking and dominator-society.”

These aren’t just abstract, idealized concepts for the chommunity behind this movie. They are the force that made it happen. The documentary was crowd funded using the open source fund raising tool Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Between the two campaigns, 903 people gave $80,911 to fund the film. It embodies the new robust face of love that author Clay Shirky names as a key factor in the open source movement: “When people care enough, they can come together and accomplish things of a scope and longevity that were previously impossible; they can do big things for love.”

Those of us seeking to embody and live Jesus’ shalom vision have a lot to learn from this movie. Perhaps we can learn something from the way the wind is blowing after all.

If you can’t afford the $4 to watch the movie on-line, you can watch some of the short films that were made during the making the documentary here for free.

Update: You can watch the film for free if you email the makers of the film.

Photo caption: Woman photographs Overpass Light Brigade at Occupy Wall Street 1st anniversary celebration in Chicago, September 17th, 2012. Photo by Tim Nafziger