Warning: review may include spoilers
Occupy Love (http://occupylove.org/), the latest in filmmaker Velcrow Ripper’s Fierce Love Trilogy of social activist documentaries, poses the existential question of our era—Can the forces of love triumph over the forces of corporate and governmental evil? As in his previous films Scared Sacred and Fierce Light, Ripper’s deft hand at writing and directing makes for a compelling, often deeply moving journey. For activists the world over living in a psychological state of siege, these films are a much-needed tonic to the spirit.
Ripper and the people he profiles in Occupy Love clearly get that the stakes are high—from authors such as Jeremy Rifkin and Bell Hooks and scientist Rupert Sheldrake to the Occupy campers themselves. As climate scientists have warned, a two-degree increase in average temperature will cause a 70 percent loss of species by the end of the 21st century. And like a row of dominoes, more and more countries are facing financial ruin and perpetual indentured servitude to the IMF, widening the gulf between the elite and everyone else—the “99 percent.” Even in wealthy countries like Canada poverty is becoming a stark reality for more and more families. Yet one of the arguments this film makes through poet Drew Dellinger is that, “If there wasn’t so much love there wouldn’t be so much pain. Love is the nervous system of the universe.”
Occupy Love begins with Ripper’s revisiting of the 9/11 site on the 10th anniversary of that tragedy. “I’ve come to understand that power and love are the two great forces that shape the world,” he says. The epiphany that sets the theme for the film is framed in the question: How could this and other crises we face be transformed into a love story? Probably the key quote underlying the conundrum we face comes from the ever-visionary Martin Luther King Jr.: “Love without power is sentimental and anemic but power without love is reckless and abusive.”
As it happened, Ripper was given an ideal vehicle for his existential enquiry in the Occupy movement. As profiled throughout the film, these protest camps sprang up in cities across the world and were characterized by lateral, as opposed to top-down, decision-making. Protestors in New York’s Zucotti Park and in Occupy camps elsewhere met daily to discuss options and although it seemed a bit messy at times, the intent was to allow everyone an equal voice. A similar approach was evident in the Egyptian uprising in Tahrir Square, protests in Madrid, and the Arab Spring movement generally. Incredibly, no leaders rose to the pinnacle of these movements. Conventional wisdom would argue that this haphazard approach is a fatal weakness. Yet others don’t see it that way. “All over the world people are using the language of horizontal to talk about how they’re organizing,” says Marina Sitrin, author of Horizontalism. “It’s a shorthand for creating new social relationships. It does away with hierarchy.”
When hundreds of thousands of people gather in cities around the world, it’s clear that they are voicing—however crudely—a broader social unease. For many of the protestors who were on the front lines, peacefully confronting riot police, it ranks as a spiritual experience. As one Egyptian protestor joyfully proclaims: “It’s the best moment of my life… we don’t care about the newspapers—lies and lies and lies—we are the news.” Ripper fills out the sense of a dawning global consciousness change by visiting the Upaya Zen Center in New Mexico. Zen Buddhist teacher Roshi Joan Halifax articulates the historical moment by pointing out that being on the threshold creates deep uncertainty. That reaction either creates a reaction of helplessness or engagement, the realization of “walking the knife’s edge,” and being part of “the greatest adventure of one’s life. “Let us awaken. Do not squander your life.”
Certainly that message was not lost on the protestors who put their bodies on the line. Ripper visits other spiritual leaders from Hawaii to the Alberta tar sands, many of whom are visibly grieved by the rapacious destruction of the Earth for profit. Yet their counsel is not new—to treat the planet as a living being worthy of the same respect shown our own grandparents. Once again the problem is an ideology we inherited 200 years ago, explains Jeremy Rifkin, author of The Empathic Civilization. That ideology represents humans as fundamentally predatory, venal and self-interested first—what commentators here describe as ‘the dominator mentality.’ And as writer Bell Hooks points out, “There can be no love where there’s domination.” If we’re to successfully face our environmental, social and economic crises, dominator hierarchies must be replaced by the kind of lateral governance exemplified by the peaceful protestors of these recent movements.
But as Naomi Klein explains, while the Egyptians have succeeded in ousting a dictator, they must now find a way to overthrow the forces of neoliberalism. And believe it or not that’s even harder than being pepper-sprayed or tear-gassed by riot cops. These are deeply entrenched, stoutly conservative forces that aren’t likely to go away because we ask them nicely—their fortunes and lifestyles are at stake. Indeed, the brutality with which police evicted the Zucotti Square Occupy campers suggests that authorities are quite prepared to meet peaceful protest with extreme violence. Are they scared of movements like Occupy? No doubt. In one scene, the Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping points up at the office towers surrounding the square like a garrison: “They can’t shut us out. We’re already in the minds of the people looking through those mirrored glass windows there.” Another protestor, deeply shaken by the crackdown, says, “They can take our park but they can’t take our hearts.”
Still, we come full circle to our opening question: Can the forces of love triumph over the forces of corporate and governmental evil? Is Ripper merely being naïve in seeking to turn a historic moment of dissent and crises into a “love story”? Given the sheer scale and monstrosity of the corporate takeover of government in country after country, it’s hard to know whether there’s any real answers here. As an avid student of history it’s equally hard for me not to conclude that few civilizations have ever turned back from the brink of collapse. Yet post-Darwinian evolutionist Elisabet Sahtouris—like many of the protestors—sees opportunity: “Crises are always the starting points for evolution.” People everywhere are certainly waking up to the fact that the dominant system of economics and governance has failed us on almost every level. But will it be too little too late?
Ripper concludes the film by revisiting Occupy Wall Street a year later, as he did 10 years later with 9/11. “I started out looking for the perfect love story but what I found instead was something even more beautiful—a messy love, an imperfect love, a human love. Can I continue to love even if it breaks my heart?”
An apt question indeed, and one that may determine our future.