One Step Back
It is only when we stop seeing each other solely as our roles or affiliated Working Groups – Facilitator, Kitchen, POC, Direct Action, whatever – and start to see each other as people with backgrounds, with histories, with stories – that empathy will prevail over judgment and we’ll begin in solidarity to get some real work done.
And, through our own storytelling and understanding of our histories and what brought us to this moment, this movement, we understand our place within it and possibly where our efforts should lie.
As the saying goes, “If this isn’t deeply personal for you, it won’t stay political for long.”
This is the beginning of my effort to define for why this is personal for me. For me to identify at the root, the heart of things, why I occupy.
Home is not a place, or a building, or even shelter. Home is not defined by where I live or where I keep my things. Home is a feeling, something I understand intuitively through the people I am surrounded by.
Growing up, home was my family – my parents and my older brother.
We moved houses three times between the time I was 12 and 16. I had lived in the first for 12 years, and about for three in the second two. None felt more like home than the others.
I liked the houses we lived in, but moving always kind of felt like an adventure, and I relished in the ability to shed old skins and redefine myself in new spaces.
Moving at age 12 allowed me to replace the bunk bed I had been using since I was very little, the top bunk populated with toys and stuffed animals. In our new house my room was gradually covered, wall to wall, every inch, with magazine cutouts, posters, and music lyrics written on masking tape.
The space became defined by my teenage angst. This room was defined by me, not me by it. It was my room, but it wasn’t my home.
Home was still determined by the people in the space with me.
When I left for college in August of 2001 that feeling of home stayed with me. And for the first couple years, that feeling drew me back to Chicago and my family. There was a part of me that thought I might move back there.
When my brother moved to LA the summer before my senior year, the feeling evolved and I started planning a post-graduation move to the West Coast.
But spring break of senior year, in LA with my parents visiting my brother, changed nearly everything for me.
Every concept I had of what it meant to be family – everything I thought I understood of my family – came crashing down around me.
I learned a lot about how priorities, transparency, honesty, money, and love affected my family, and our relationships.
I found out my future was being mortgaged to sustain an unsustainable present.
Only now do I understand that my family was most likely working class, not middle class, as I had always assumed.
I learned that a dramatic explosive event is never where a story begins – there is always something, an action, an event, building up to this reaction. This is a symptom of some other root cause.
And I’ve learned that treating symptoms only delays an eventual relapse. Root causes must always be the focus of restorative, or better yet, transformative action.
A lesson learned on this trip, and in the months that followed, would be reaffirmed nearly six years later – love alone isn’t enough.
Without mutual effort, trust, compassion – what I now might call solidarity – a relationship cannot be sustained on love alone.
Two Steps Forward
In the years following the trip with my parents, and the months following my breakup, home was defined by my circle of friends who not only helped me weather the storm, but also made it all worthwhile.
And then Occupy Wall Street came along.
I can make a direct connection to how all this is relevant and applicable to OWS and my activism work. But I think for now it’s enough to have put all this out there.
I know that it comes from a place of privilege to talk about home in an emotional sense, without the fear or concern regarding actual shelter that so many people in this nation, and across the world, have on a daily basis, not to mention the actual struggles for basic needs that I will probably never know.
I will be moving forward from this point – acknowledging this is my reality, putting it on the table, with a desire to learn and grow and evolve – knowing this is all just a tiny fragment of why I occupy.
Brett Goldberg | @poweredbycats