ECI Staff member Douglas F. Williamson reports from New York on the Earth Charter’s relevance to and overlaps with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The People's Library at Zuccotti Park, New York City

I was recently in New York City and stopped by Zuccotti Park, the former epicenter of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement, and attended a couple of focus group meetings in the Atrium at 60 Wall Street. My objective was to find where the Occupy movement and the Earth Charter overlap and how each can inform the other.

Left: Zuccotti Park with Holiday lights, police, Occupiers. Right: The People's Library with a copy of the Earth Charter.

The week before I visited, Zuccotti Park had been cleared of its residents, many of whom were arrested and some of whom were physically punished by the police during the police raid in the park. In the aftermath of the raid, the overnight encampment was legally banned and by the time I got there, five days later, the atmosphere at Zuccotti Park was very different to the micro-society it was reported to be before the raid. The park was cordoned off by police barricades and there were small, controlled entrances with police guarding them. There was not much going on at 4PM on the Tuesday evening I was there. People were milling around, a few talking in groups, a man playing a guitar, some tourists. I spoke with a few of the Occupiers and they all informed me about the Zuccotti Park General Assembly at 7PM. A couple of the people I spoke to told me that they had come from far away to be a part of the protests and everyone I spoke to mentioned the economic inequality at the heart of the OWS movement and the cause of the ills of the United States and the world. I recall the words in the preamble of the Earth Charter:

“The dominant patterns of production and consumption are causing environmental devastation, the depletion of resources, and a massive extinction of species. Communities are being undermined. The benefits of development are not shared equitably and the gap between rich and poor is widening. Injustice, poverty, ignorance, and violent conflict are widespread and the cause of great suffering…”

This aspect and many others of the Occupy movement are directly related to several Earth Charter principles including:

3. Build democratic societies that are just, participatory, sustainable, and peaceful.
a. Ensure that communities at all levels guarantee human rights and fundamental freedoms and provide everyone an opportunity to realize his or her full potential.
b. Promote social and economic justice, enabling all to achieve a secure and meaningful livelihood that is ecologically responsible.

9. Eradicate poverty as an ethical, social, and environmental imperative.

b. Empower every human being with the education and resources to secure a sustainable livelihood, and provide social security and safety nets for those who are unable to support themselves.

10. Ensure that economic activities and institutions at all levels promote human development in an equitable and sustainable manner.
a. Promote the equitable distribution of wealth within nations and among nations.

c. Ensure that all trade supports sustainable resource use, environmental protection, and progressive labor standards.
d. Require multinational corporations and international financial organizations to act transparently in the public good, and hold them accountable for the consequences of their activities.

13. Strengthen democratic institutions at all levels, and provide transparency and accountability in governance, inclusive participation in decision making, and access to justice.

b. Support local, regional and global civil society, and promote the meaningful participation of all interested individuals and organizations in decision making.
c. Protect the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly, association, and dissent.

e. Eliminate corruption in all public and private institutions.

16. Promote a culture of tolerance, nonviolence, and peace.

b. Implement comprehensive strategies to prevent violent conflict and use collaborative problem solving to manage and resolve environmental conflicts and other disputes.

After visiting Zuccotti Park, I walked across Wall Street, the heart of the financial district, over to number 60, a building with a large atrium populated with many OWS focus groups. OWS has organized itself far beyond the mass protests and encampment at Zuccotti Park into various focus groups that discuss specific issues and plan specific actions. At 5:30, the OWS Sustainability group met to discuss strategies and actions to make OWS more sustainable and bring sustainability awareness to the larger public. There were around 15 participants and the main thrust of the discussions centered around recovering energy generation capacity and reducing waste associated with Occupiers. I, and several other participants, suggested a variety of sustainability measures and actions, many related to the upcoming holiday season, when consumption runs rampant. There was a great deal of crossover with Earth Charter principles, especially related to responsible production and consumption, and waste management.

OWS Sustainability Focus Group

Directly following the sustainability focus group meeting, the Occupy Earth Summit meeting took place. This new group hopes to expand the Occupy movement to care about sustainability issues on a global scale. The group discussed plans to bring awareness first to the General Assembly about the importance of the Rio+20 Earth Summit, to take place in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro. This group sees the OWS movement as part of a much larger movement to address many of the same issues that will be discussed next year in Rio. This idea, linking the OWS movement to the larger movement to achieve sustainability globally, to promote a green economy, and to implement a responsible global environmental management system, concurs directly with goals of the Earth Charter. The group has decided to adopt the Bolivian Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, which relies heavily on the Earth Charter for content and direction.

ECI Staff Member Douglas F. Williamson

I was very impressed with the levels of self-organization and passion surrounding the issues. The manner of discussion was lively and respectful and participants were eager and receptive. There is an air of excitement and hope for change that pervaded the meetings I attended and was present with all the people I spoke with. The Earth Charter certainly has a role to play in informing the OWS movement and I hope that its values will become more commonplace among OWS participants in the coming months.