The 99% Occupy Movement: We Need Interclass Dialogue for Mutual Transformation, Liberation

The Occupy Movement has identified itself using the term 99%.  On the face, this seems to present a permanent dichotomy between the 1% of richest people, and the 99% of the rest of us.   Of course, there is no way to erase the simple fact that there will always be a richest 1%, and so it is a permanent dichotomy.  However, we may also look at this in another way.  The Occupy Movement, in my estimation, has stumbled upon a profound insight: In human terms they have identified the ultimate truth of ultimate interrelation.   What does this mean?

First, the nature of all things is to be in a process of becoming.  Nothing remains the same in two consecutive instances.  There is always a transition to a mode of manifestation as the next new thing.  Also, as Whitehead says, there are no “atomic facts,” a statement that means that the becoming of every occasion of experience (every entity, as it were) is uniquely interrelated with the becoming of every other occasion of experience.  This is one way of describing the Buddha’s dharma of the interdependent co-arising of all phenomena.

Applying this ancient insight to the 1% and 99% apparent dichotomy reveals that the 1% and the 99% require one another, and condition one another, and are in an inseparable interrelationship we might call interbecoming.  They interbecome, or mutually condition and mutually become one with the other.  This interbecoming nature of all phenomena means that we cannot be satisfied by simple dichotomy.  The 1% needs the 99%, and vice versa. When we realize the truth that the 1% and the 99% interbecome together, we realize that there is only the illusion of dualism.

Second, as soon as we identify 99% of the population, there is no honest way to affirm any kind of monolithic uniformity.  To attempt to do so would result in a severe denial of reality as it is in its suchness.  The ineradicable fact of the 99% is a breathtaking pluriformity.  The 99% requires vast diversity within its unity.    The 99% is composed of Republicans and Democrats; theists and atheists; conservatives and liberals, archists and anarchists; wealthy and poor; upper class and middle class; lower class and homeless; Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Humanists; black and white; women and men; native peoples and immigrants; undocumented residents and documented residents; old and young; militants and pacifists; the violent and the nonviolent; the married and the single; faithful and unfaithful; GLBT and straight; perpetrators and victims; union workers and nonunion workers; capitalists and socialists;  sighted and blind; deaf and hearing; bourgeoisie and proletariat; tastes great and less filling—ok, you get the idea.

Within the 99% these polarities are not seen as insuperable barriers—but a kind of dialogue or truce seems to be underway among them. These are not insurmountable dualisms: they are realities that interbecome each with all of the others.  To cry out 99%! is to  cry out unity in diversity!  It is to recognize that there is no such thing as uniformity, no such thing as absolute sameness in all of creation. It is to bow to the gift which is reality as it is.  It is to bow to the gift of the truth of humanity who has now exceeded 7 billion unique, irreplaceable, living persons!  I say that the Occupy Movement has stumbled upon the Ultimate Truth of Ultimate Interrelation.

Third, actually, what is required by the Occupy Movement is a profound and expansive “inter-” dialogue that spans inter-religious dialogue, inter-ideological dialogue, inter-gender dialogue (and so on), but that must begin with the inter-dialogue that addresses the quintessential blind spot in the identification of the dichotomy of the 1 and the 99.  The consequences of maintaining this dichotomy result in a kind of violence known as class warfare.  In place of class warfare, genuine, authentic interclass dialogue is what we need in order to begin to transform the oppressive structures that reduce billions of human beings to the status of wealth creators benefitting only the very few.

Intentional interclass dialogue may be modeled on the experience of decades of intentional interreligious dialogue, which, when it is at its best, manifests as a force for mutual transformation of all dialogue partners. In other words, the kind of interclass dialogue I am proposing would insist that persons be open to the risk of changing their core commitments when they are grasped by the class reality of the other dialogue partners.  For instance, in its beginning stages, we may recognize at a deeply conscious level that it is dehumanizing to reduce persons who have been enriched (or even those who have enriched themselves at the expense of others) to the simple fact of their accumulated wealth.

Those in another class may come to the conclusion that those enriched persons should not be only (or primarily) identified as “the rich” or “the greedy” or the “1%.” In such authentic interclass dialogue as I propose, the reciprocal dehumanization through identifying titles like “the poor” or “the indigent” or “the lazy” or “welfare recipients” might be abandoned, in turn, by those who use these terms.

More important than the language issues, though these invariably structure our thought-processes, is the re-humanization of the participating dialogical partners (dialogians), and the other members of the classes whom they represent.  It is easy to wage various warfares and violences against dehumanized abstractions.  It is more difficult to do that to real persons.

The hoped for outcome of interclass dialogue is a transformation of one’s own person, deeply affected by the class reality of the others, so that there will be a transformation of the structures that dehumanize all of us in vicious circles of violence (violence in varying aspects of experience: physical violence; spiritual violence; psychological violence; geographical violence, etc.). The hoped for outcome of interclass dialogue is liberation from oppression: oppressors and oppressed alike need to be liberated from the vicious cycles of injustice. The hoped for outcome of interclass dialogue is mutual transformation that gives birth to justice for the 100%.

If we can learn to occupy the dialogical space among us, which means making room for the others while they make room for you, then we will begin to experience what it means to interbecome with our fellow human beings.  We will participate in the divine activity of self-emptying love for the sake of the other. After all, that is what is meant by the word love, and the religious word creation: In the loving act of creativity, God made room for what was not God.  Can I make room for what is not me?  It is a lot easier to do if I know someone else is making room for me.  Interclass dialogue needs to be about making room for the other.  Room for love that liberates.  Room for creative mutual transformation, or interbecoming.

What do you think about the prospects for interclass dialogue?  What are the necessary parameters?  What should we be mindful of as we proceed?


Canoe Photo Source: Photo by Jon ‘ShakataGaNai’ Davis,
Yacht Photo Source: Pline
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14 thoughts on “The 99% Occupy Movement: We Need Interclass Dialogue for Mutual Transformation, Liberation

  1. Thanks for this essay, Paul–I love the unity in diversity and the “becoming” approach you take here. And there at the end, I’m thinking of Rabbi Isaac Luria’s creation story, in which God constricts God’s Self to make room for creation–perhaps you stumbled on in that in process theology? I appreciate the way you apply it here to dialogue and relationship with the other. You’ve given me another way to think about the implications and possibilities of constriction as creative act… thanks! 🙂

    Peace & blessings,

  2. Paul,

    I don’t know quite how to say this (without spending a lot more time at it) in a pleasant way and still make my point. I hope that we both have the same hopes for the future, and it is only our means that differ. That being said …

    To suggest that the super-rich want to be friends or neighbors with you (one of the main modes of interreligious dialogue) is laughable. The super-rich don’t want to hear what you have to say, they see you as a marginal non-person, who is not worth their time. They are not interested in sharing their hoard or paying more taxes for your health care, eliminating Extreme Poverty, saving dying African toddlers, or joining Bill Gates and Warren Buffet to give half their wealth away.
    They are no more your friend than George Wallace was the friend of black people. They don’t want to sing “Kumbaya” with you. They deserve to demonized, and need to have their feet put to the hottest fire one can find, to wake them out of their dream.

    Worse, it is not only the super-rich but the merely rich, and in fact the Republican AND Democratic leadership, who are the whores of corporate donors, who have no interest in what you have to say to them. (The majority of Democratic Senators just signaled that they are going to climb in bed with Republicans and cut your health care , i.e. Medicare.) This is why the Occupy movement exists. Your notion that we can all sit around the campfire and sing folk songs and love one another is childish nonsense. You make Christianity the laughingstock of people seeking justice when the write this fatuous nonsense. It raises the suspicion that you, yourself, come from a wealthy family, and want to make peace with kin. “I don’t bring peace, but a sword.”

  3. Thank you for such a thoughtful and generous response. I have never heard of Rabbi Isaac Luria or his creation story. But, I can’t wait to read! Where is a good place to look?

  4. Wonderful reflection and insights Paul Greene! The ideas you propose here are so important for where we are in the 21st century. Thanks for sharing!!

    This is exactly what the 100% of us needs to read and attempt to live by.

  5. Hi Paul,
    I’m told that Catherine Keller references it in some of her work–but I haven’t read all of her work, so can’t verify that. 🙂

    Isaac Luria is a major figure of Jewish mysticism, from the 16th century. Here’s a link to some basic info–the idea of “tsimtsum,” or God’s constriction of God’s self in order to make room for creation–is about halfway down the page. It is this story that forms part of the foundation of “tikkun olam,” or repairing the world, in the Jewish tradition.

    Have fun!

  6. Joseph and Yaira, I gave you both a shout out in my latest post about OWS. Thanks for the great writing you’ve both done on the subject.

  7. Fascinating and original theme, new ideas, thanks. The language reminds me of Obama’s first speech to the National Prayer Breakfast, in 2009 — where he spoke of “allowing God’s grace to enter into that space that lies between us. . .”

    This is a powerful key for the transformation of the world. I like to think that the Occupy movement is uncovering and radiating this principle…

  8. Paul, et al,

    Seriously: I have no wish to throw rotten fruit at your parade. I’ve a very long background in interreligious dialogue, and I am both Catholic and Tibetan Buddhist.

    Tell me how you are going to going to go about this “dialogue?” With chairmans and CEOs of Goldman Sachs, etc. Or will you start with the lowly stockbrokers who are predators almost by definititon? I used to be a manager in large corporations, e.g. CBS, Inc and he New York Times Co. The “god”of the Fortune 500 resides in the bottom right corner of an income statement and in he seducive feeling of power.

    Where are you going to find the ground of mutualiy for this dialogue? In short, what’s your plan?

    We had an event on “Money and Morals” at Yale Div School last spring reflecting on post-crash recession economics. The one economic thinker present, from Harvard, dragged in the philosophy of Adam Smith, about the ethical responsbiliy to take of yourself. Not one speaker questioned the immorality of market economics. The drafter of the USCCB’s 1986 pastoral letter “Economic Justice for All” told me afterward that the US economy was just way more complex than then and could not be addressed so “simply.” Theo0logian Kathy Tanner spent a year recently studying the financial markets, and from what I’ve heard from her, she’s not exactly conciliatory on this issue.

    Pardon the (slight) hyperbole, but the kind of dialogue you propose sounds like Chamberlain chatting with Hitler. But by all means shout me down and prove me wrong. So, what’s your plan?

    1. Hello Steve-

      You may have surmised that I am not much for the shouting-down. Really, I have not set the parameters for the dialogue. I am opening up the question– and the answer may in fact be that dialogue is impossible as you are (perhaps even angrily?) convinced.

      But, perhaps a preliminary dialogue can take place as an intra-class dialogue led by the two dozen millionaires, for instance, who asked Congress to raise their taxes (, or the millionaires who answered a survey that found in October that “most millionaires want higher taxes for millionaires,” ( or Warren Buffet, for whom a ‘rule’ has been named and is amenable to seeing that the super-enriched pay higher taxes (

      Anyway, I think that the Grover-Norquist-Allegiance-against-raising-taxes stance of the Republican majority in the House, and the ruling (by perpetual filibuster) Republican minority in the Senate does not necessarily reflect the actual attitudes of the super enriched outside those crippled legislative bodies. Perhaps an intra-class dialogue would help the super enriched to target their political spending in ways that remove these tyrannical legislators in the upcoming election.

      And then I think we already have a start– and dialogue partners who seem already to be open to the concerns of the 99%. But, again, Steve, you may be right. I just know that people once thought that interreligious dialogue would be impossible, and yet now it is commonplace. So, I see that there may be hope. Maybe (maybe even heavy on the maybe).

      And by the way, since you asked– my average annual income for my adult life is in the neighborhood of 24k, and I have staggering amounts of student debt, so I am no rich guy– rest assured.

      Thanks for your participation in this topic.

  9. LOVED this piece. I heard you call us all back into relationship, Paul, which is such a challenge. Relationships require us to actually relate to one another as people with mutuality and self-awareness. What is additionally challenging about your suggestion is that reform movements (such as OWS) often target faceless entities with which we cannot have real relationship. You have got me asking all sorts of questions about the nature of interbeing and interbecoming in respect to a person and a corporation or system. While we may need each other to be, do we need our political, economic, and corporate systems? What role do they serve in our interbeing and how we relate to each other? Fascinating stuff. Thank you for writing this!

  10. Paul, et al,

    Pl. don’t take “shout me down” literally — I meant, show me how you think I’m mistaken.

    I share the values you and Kari are expressing. Maybe you can put them into action somewhere soon, and fruitfully. In such a case I will need to contemplate the fruits of your action and the sensibilities that inspired it.

    Although I do share your values of reciprocity and mutuality and openness to other and so forth, I am privileging some other values: the lives of 29,000 people dying every day mostly due to extreme poverty, the tens of millions of Americans who have no health care, the 1/7 who seem to be compelled to get food stamps because they cannot afford adequate food. The financial industry and their corporate toadies have driven the world economy off a cliff (look at Europe, for heaven’s sake). For me, the URGENT EMERGENCY of basic needs of … uncounted millions is a far higher value than ideal relationships with those who could care less whether those millions die tomorrow morning.

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