Occupy South

John Lewis At Occupy AtlantaThat’s the title we might expect from the main stream media, who always like themselves some confrontation. The outfit that caught Congressman John Lewis’ interaction with Occupy Atlanta, tagged it as “Occupy Atlanta Silences Civil Rights Hero John Lewis.” Presumably, that still fits into the media theme of the week, influenced by Eric Cantor of Virginia referring to “mobs,” that the citizens occupying various public spaces to work through their grievances with society as they know it are some sort of rag-tag crew.

The video is not only evidence that John Lewis wasn’t silenced, but was merely not given special deference when it was convenient for him to speak. The assembled group could not arrive at a consensus and so continued with the agenda as previously announced. This consensus stuff is going to take some getting used to.

It’s going on everywhere. One of the “facilitators” has provided a lengthy description of the process as she experienced it in Boston. Her conclusion is worth noting.

What is happening, live and very publicly at OccupyBoston, is a very magical thing. Pay attention. We are putting on full display, all the challenges of changing the fundamental ways a society approaches things. We’ve been trained to think that there are particular ways in which things should work. We define democracy as a simple majority vote, for instance. All of these ways of thinking are habits we have to break. It’s as though the entire population has to quit smoking simultaneously. Imagine what that might be like. 350 million people in withdrawal. Still, with determination and common cause, we can embrace each other. We can pull those who are fearful into a circle and listen and take on their concerns and ask them to help us build solutions. I see it happening with hundreds of people in Dewey Square. I saw it happening in Liberty Square. It can happen in squares across the country.

The most significant thing in all this, from the perspective of how it works, is the opportunity it incorporates for people to speak. While the echo in Liberty Square in New York is out of necessity because the city ordinances prohibit electronically amplified sound in public spaces (fire engines are also forbidden from running their sirens), it’s use in Atlanta makes it clear that speaking out loud in turn is integral to what they’re trying to accomplish. Everybody gets to be heard; everybody gets to be listened to, in turn. Taking turns is, of course, what our ball sports teach us. Reciprocity in action. Watch. The American people are relearning how to talk.

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Monica Smith

Monica Smith writes Hannah's Blog. Born in Germany, she came to the United States as a child, living first in California, then after an interval in Chile, in New York. Married to a retired professor at the University of Florida, where she lived for 17 years, she moved to St. Simons Island, Georgia, in 1993 and now divides her time between Georgia and New Hampshire. (New Hampshire, she says, is always interesting during a presidential election.) She and her husband have three children and five grandchildren. Ms. Smith says she "learned long ago that I am not a good team player when I got hired at the Library of Congress, fresh out of college with a degree in political science and proficiency in four foreign languages, to 'edit' library cards and informed my supervisor that if she was going to insist I punch the clock exactly on time, my productivity was going to fall from being the highest to being the same as everyone else's. The supervisor opted to assign me to another building where there was no time-clock. After I had the first of our three children, I decided a paycheck wasn't worth the hassle."