Activism: Velcrow Ripper on the Occupy Movement

This summer and fall, a movement began called “Occupy Wall Street”, calling for redress of economic inequalities in society. This movement then expanded to other Occupy demonstrations throughout the world. We contacted Velcrow Ripper, an award-winning documentarian who has been filming the movement, to learn more about how Occupy could bring light into a dark time.

Parvati Magazine: When did you first learn about the Occupy movement?

Velcrow Ripper: I learned about Occupy in July. Someone sent me a link with to the call to action and said, “Will you be there?” I said, “I’ll be there with cameras blazing.” I was already shooting a film whose central question is, “How can the economic and ecological crisis of this planet become a love story?” I interviewed Naomi Klein for that film a few years back, and she had a hard time coming up with an answer. Last week when I saw her at an action, she gave me a big hug and said, “The world has re-arranged itself to prove your thesis!”

PMAG: What is your understanding of the main drive behind the movement?

VR: The bedrock of this movement is interdependence, a call to economic justice, awakening from consumerism to a world of relationships instead of transactions. Holding the corporations accountable for the massive inequality and environmental devastation that happens around the planet in the name of maximizing profits.

PMAG: Does the movement have specific objectives?

VR: This movement is about changing the story, creating a whole new paradigm. It’s a process, not a product. Asking for an “objective”, which the media is always doing, is trying to turn the movement into a noun, into a commodity. It’s a verb, it’s in motion, it’s bigger than any specific, limited goal. As a movement, we want nothing less than to create a world that works for all life. Occupy is a living laboratory for a new society in which power is shared, horizontally. This is a radical shift happening in movements all over the planet. It’s the future.

PMAG: Based on what you have seen, are those objectives close to being met?

VR: The conversation has shifted; economic injustice is being talked about everywhere. The General Assemblies are introducing thousands and thousands of people to participatory, direct democracy, the power of the people. A few months ago many had lost hope. We are seeing a spark of hope blazing in the hearts of people around the planet now. There are Occupy general assemblies happening in well over a thousand locations. This is amazing, unprecedented, incredibly inspiring. It’s an awakening to compassion for each other and the planet.

PMAG: How many different Occupy protests have you been to? Is the movement the same in every place?

VR: So far, three. Most of the time I’ve been at Occupy Wall Street – since the first day. Last week I was at Occupy Oakland, for their General Strike, and then I stopped off at Occupy DC.  Each one has a very different flavor. Occupy Oakland was in a stunning location, and the General Assemblies were huge – maybe 500 people. The diversity was fantastic. And some of the largest issues of the city are also issues that are challenging for the movement – homelessness, violence. As the doors of the tent cities are open, there are often people with mental health issues that show up, and they can stress the movement. But dealing with whatever arises is part of the process. In terms of similarities – they all hold general assemblies, and some places don’t have camps, but instead center around the assemblies and working groups. They all have a People’s Library. The kitchen is important – thousands of people get fed for free each day at Occupies. The ones I’ve visited all have regular meditation sessions, and there are many different multi-faith services that happen.

PMAG: What is the most brilliant thing you have witnessed at an Occupy protest?

VR: The invention of the human mic. When the NYPD took away our megaphones, we created the now famous call and response of the human mic, in which the crowd repeats what the speaker has to say. This ends up adding a whole new level of participation to the process.

PMAG: What is the darkest?

VR: The property destruction that took place after the huge, peaceful, inspiring General Strike led by Occupy Oakland. Violence, including property damage, has no place in this movement.   It undermines us, and is often the work of provocateurs or angry kids. This movement is not about that.

PMAG: You have witnessed many protests and uprisings. What do you see that is unique about the Occupy movement?

VR: I have seen an amazing acceptance of the spiritual in this movement. Activism and spirituality used to be so artificially separated. Now we’re realizing that in fact, they are inseparable.

PMAG: I understand you’re working on your next film, Evolve Love. Is any of the Occupy footage going to be part of it?

VR: Indeed – in fact, we are making a film called “Occupy Love” that will now be released before Evolve Love.  Occupy has stolen our hearts. 🙂

Velcrow Ripper is an award-winning filmmaker with dozens of films and videos under his belt, including Scared Sacred, winner of the 2005 Genie (Canadian Academy Award) for best feature documentary, and Special Jury Prize at the Toronto International Film Festival. Bones of the Forest, his 1995 environmental meditation, won nine major film awards, including a Genie and best of the festival at Hot Docs. Ripper’s latest film is Fierce Light: When Spirit Meets Action. This award winning feature documentary’s message of hope and change is delivered via magnificent visuals. He is currently shooting “Occupy Love”, a feature documentary which chronicles the heart of the Occupy movement, and beyond.