I’ve been working on a website, to be called OccupyTheSidewalk.org, which is not even in beta testing form, and is taking ‘forever’ (though lots of unit tests have been written). The most fundamental goal of OccupyTheSidewalk (OTS, henceforth) is to a) facilitate face-to-face, highly localized networking, ultimately for purposes of manifesting political muscle and facilitating political message propagation, directed at fellow citizens and b) facilitate face-to-face, highly localized networking for purposes of exercize and socializing. I’m also very interested in facilitating apolitical, community efforts (such as urban farming), which may become of paramount importance if the US economy goes to hell, and government services break down. Both the political “marching” aspect of OTS, as well as the exercize + friends aspect of OTS, should eventually cross-fertilize your neighbors’ efforts that want to manifest a higher level of community cooperation, that in some sense sits between the Day 1 political aspect and the Day 1 social/exercize aspect of OTS.
The political, marching aspect of OTS, while something I’ve had in mind long before Occupy Wall Street, is nevertheless clearly inspired, in both positive and negative aspects, by Occupy Wall Street. I’m not going to go into details about OTS, before it’s released in at least beta form, but suffice it to say that it will be for purely legal purposes, not even allow (according to Terms of Service) its use for illegal civil disobedience, and will aim at making political message propagation and networking safe for mothers with their babies in their strollers. I believe both Chris Hedges and Noam Chomsky have spoken of the high desirability of this sort of non-disruptive political activity, safe for mothers and their children.
A few weeks ago, during “Greek Easter” family gathering, I was speaking to my cousin, who told me about her walking group. Well, as you can imagine, I was all ears, having been working on OTS for months, now. I subsequently asked her to write up her experience.
As you will see, part of the genesis of her walking group was intuitive – “the universe was speaking to me”. Was her mentioning it to me also part of a universal synchronicity? Maybe, maybe not. A more interesting question, though, is for YOU to see if the universe will guide some of your neighbors and you into cooperative ventures – political, community, exercize – as well as make friends that may be ‘soul mates’, at some level. (I mean in the sense of ‘kindred souls’, who have a natural attunement and affinity to each other, not necessarily or usually romantic partners.)
Please note that my cousin formed a walking group without any fancy shmancy website, made by me or anybody else, helping along that process. My cousin’s walking group has no political purposes. But, consider what would happen if one of her walking group finds out that fracking is coming to their reservoir’s neck of the woods. I know my cousin buys organic meats at Whole Foods, because she’s concerned about antibiotics, hormones, etc. Does it require any big argument to see how political organization can be accelerated, from groups that already have a sense of familiarity and common purpose? And that it will only take 1 member of the group to kick things off? So, the potential is there (and always was there) for political networking, by being what we might call resourceful. Indeed, we might call it extremely resourceful since walking and talking with your neighbors requires no special resources, at all.
I was planning on delaying the release of my cousin’s essay until OTS beta site was up, but time is flying by, and HOMEMAKERS HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY, RIGHT NOW, TO START THEIR OWN WALKING GROUPS BY REACHING OUT TO OTHER PARENTS WHO ARE DROPPING THEIR KIDS OFF AT SCHOOL, IN THE MORNING. (AND THE SCHOOL YEAR WILL BE OVER IN A FEW SHORT WEEKS.) I suggest you not push any sort of political goal, initially, but instead focus on being friendly, and enjoying your walks. Note that even if you live in a relatively sparsely populated area like a suburb or rural area, your local grammar, junior high, and high school will present you with a natural gathering place, with lots of potential co-walkers all around you (if you’re a homemaker/caregiver.) My cousin’s walking group began their walks at the local school, and it grew organically, without any effort at making it grow:
But the walk continues to morph and take on a life of its own. As we meet on a busy corner where the crossing guard stands, the entire school passes us while we wait for each other. People take notice of us waiting for the walk and soon we have company.
The Chinese say, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”* , and metamars says, “Your journey through life will change, in ways you can’t forsee, but the Universe presents possibilities for fruitful changes of direction, if you’re open to such guidance.”
* This reference says that Lao-Tzu originally said something different, viz.,
“The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet.” Rather than emphasizing the first step, Lau Tzu regarded action as something that arises naturally from stillness.
And with those preliminaries out of the way, here is my cousin’s essay:
We have lots of words and phrases for the things that happen to us in life which lead us in surprising directions —- coincidence, serendipity, opportunity knocking or as I often say “the universe was speaking to me”. But it truly must have been talking, because there is no other way for me to explain how organizing a Girl Scout overnight at Liberty Science Center could lead to my walking 3 miles regularly and doing it with people who both motivate me and make it enjoyable. A few months after organizing my troop and one other into a bigger group to sleep over at the science center, the name of the other troop leader came up in conversation 3 times in one day when I was speaking to 3 different and unrelated people. Although I have always peripherally known this woman because our kids were at the same school, I did not know her well because none of our children were the same age. I had not spoken to her since we organized the overnight because we had no “reason” to speak. But, since the universe spoke to me by bringing her up 3 times, I decided to pick up the phone and call her. I was in the parking lot of Shop Rite and her number was still in my cell phone. I said, “Marybeth, I’m not sure why, but I’m suppose to talk to you today.” And so our walks began.
We decided to meet in the morning, right after we dropped off the kids at school, and continue walking. At first it was only Monday mornings because we had a hard time juggling the kids, her part time job, my part time job and our other obligations. But, it soon became Monday through Thursday because the walk was important. It wasn’t just exercise — it was free therapy sessions. We even started to call the walk, “Vegas” so that whatever is said in Vegas stays in Vegas. Knowing that Marybeth was waiting for me on the corner was motivation to show up and more importantly, I looked forward to a good conversation. (Although sometimes a breathless one when we did our steep uphill mile in the back half of the walk.)
But the walk continues to morph and take on a life of its own. As we meet on a busy corner where the crossing guard stands, the entire school passes us while we wait for each other. People take notice of us waiting for the walk and soon we have company. Sometimes our company only joins us once but other times, our company becomes semi-permanent and a regular part of the walk. Occassionally, one of us will do the walk alone or with a teenage child over the weekend and report back on how the wise cracking 15 year old said “hey, this isn’t so easy.” Depending on who joins us, the conversation is different — “Vegas” doesn’t work for everyone. As the seasons change, the walk is different. When there is no school, we actually wake up earlier and drive to South Mountain Reservation to walk in the woods before it gets hot and the kids need rides to places. Sometimes the walk does get sacrificed to a sick child and a doctor’s appointment or a work meeting that just couldn’t happen any other time. Sometimes the walk even gets sacrificed by mutual decision to go into NY to see the Miro exhibit at the Met or to hear Hillary Clinton speak at a women’s breakfast. But in thinking back on the last 4 years, it is only the likes of Miro or Clinton that carry enough clout to cut into the walk. I guess you can’t fight the universe when its speaking to you.