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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian


<e living in a unique moment.

I’ve had more conversations about Wall Street this past month, than I have, well, ever. “Wall Street” itself sounds naked without its new prefix: occupy. A word that is presently transcending its verb form, and transforming into a political movement.

My first interaction with the movement was at an “Occupy Carleton” General Assembly meeting. In addition to learning its ideals and values, I had to learn its language.

When I think General Assembly, I think of school wide meetings in middle school, or what the United Nations does in Geneva. This particular General Assembly was comprised of about forty Carls, sitting in a circle in the chapel, having a dialogue and making some decisions. The first of which was what the dialogue’s format would be, and then what the dialogue was going to be about. Now, I’m currently in three English classes – dialogue and discussion are how I spend my Carleton days. Yet opening the conversation with a meta conversation about the current conversation felt foreign. Usually in these settings, the topic and the structure are givens, but this leaderless movement is necessarily redefining the way we meet, and the way we interact. Given what I previously associated with “General Assembly,” the meaning of that too is changing, at least for me.

Learning the “occupy” language hasn’t just meant understanding old words in new ways. The conversation also speaks silently through hand signals. As each speaker articulated her idea at the GA, a room full of wiggling fingers responded: those in agreement flashed jazz hands above their shoulders, while those with differing opinions twinkled their fingers near their knees. It seems silly on the page, and it felt silly when I was first embraced in it, but it’s a powerful sight when eighty hands – eight hundred fingers – whirl through the air to visually validate what you have to say.

Communicating through hand signals was explained to me as a way to listen and respond without interrupting. This, I think, is crucial. In navigating all that’s wrong in America, there are places that I feel stuck. I know I need to do some serious learning, and some serious thinking, but above all I need to do some serious listening. And I can’t listen if I’m preemptively developing a response, or if I’m interrupting with my own objection.

As we Occupy Carleton, Minnesota, and Wall Street, let’s seek out perspectives we vehemently disagree with. And then let’s listen – really listen – to what is being said. How can we contest that the banks and corporations aren’t listening to us if we aren’t listening to each other?

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