It was early fall in 2011 when I first heard of the Occupy Wall Street Movement—those stalwart idealists dug-in to a concrete park in lower Manhattan. I immediately realized the significance. They had somehow managed to synthesize the anger, desperation and disappointment felt by disparate, sometimes hopeless groups across the U.S.—and as it would develop—the world.

I sprang into action, quickly joining the fledgling chapter in my hometown where I assumed the role of press officer and media spokesperson. Suddenly, I was expected to answer the barrage of questions, phone calls, radio and television appearances and newspaper interviews surrounding a movement that had grown so quickly that it quite literally frightened a significant portion of the American public.

The problem was, neither I nor the vast majority of participants had any idea as to how to articulate our concerns properly—or even what specifically those concerns might be. There were some awkward moments and I basically judged the success of an interview on how well I could deflect accusations that I was a knee-jerk leftist. After about a month or so, I gave up my role and returned to my busy life, somewhat disappointed and disenchanted.

What I realize now is that we had struck on something quite a bit deeper than just another social movement. Yes, of course there was widespread co-opting by labor unions, gay rights organizations, Democrats, anarchists, libertarians, veterans, immigrants, organic food advocates and a host of other groups. But in large part, these groups were attracted to Occupy because they realized that our aims might eventually lead to their aims.

Rather than just one of these groups, Occupy was, I think, a violent flailing-about, a difficult birth of a new consciousness. It was the first sprout of a seed of change that, rather then seethe underground or in “fringe” thinkers on the internet, it poked its little bud out of the dirt to encounter a hostile, difficult environment—an environment it was not prepared to survive.

These angry youth had (perhaps inadvertently) touched on a root of societal dysfunction so deep and entrenched, we didn’t even know what to call it, or how to properly articulate a description. We had touched on—and forced a confrontation of values.

Long have people realized in America that the explicit values of freedom, equality, democracy and justice are not implicit and what we truly value is, instead, the slow erosion of freedom, polite totalitarianism, rule by elites, a coddling of the aristocracy and above all, the idea that money buys power and power equals money. We saw that the values we had grown up hearing about, the values that made America so great—hard work, education, civic engagement—usually amounted only to underemployment, frustration with a paralyzed society and a pile of debt with no recourse to anyone or anything that cared. Essentially, our supposed values were not being valued.

Occupiers were not inherently virtuous. They weren’t necessarily heroic or more intelligent than anyone else. They came from across the political, economic, racial and social spectrum and you would be hard-pressed to categorize them in any way other than to say that they had been brought up to value things that weren’t being reflected in their society, things like respect and tolerance and a kind-hearted view toward their fellow man.

As a result, they advocated radical, earth-shaking, overly compensatory, sweeping and (some might say) ridiculous reforms, which didn’t help to dispel any of the fear that society was experiencing over them. They fractured and fragmented and bickered, regressing quickly back into disparate social movements.

But the conversation has changed and I see many more incarnations of Occupy (or whatever it might be called) in the future. These incarnations might not be so violent. They might come as this new generation slowly comes to power or they might come as our societies and economies crumble around our ears. But, if nothing more, we have been awakened to our values and the disparity between them and the values of those more powerful members of our societies.

My plea: don’t give up on democracy and don’t give up on those values. Great changes rarely come in a matter of months—or even years. It took American women over 70 years of campaigning to get the vote. Freedom and respect for black people in America is still an ongoing struggle—even 150 years after the Civil War. You will likely never see your perfect society, your utopia. But you can take comfort in the fact, yes fact, that people are good and would mostly rather make good choices than bad ones.

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