"The Wealthy Shouldn’t Sleep at Night Either"


In February 2003, I received an e-mail from Richard and Sylvie Oxman. They contacted me to see if I’d have any interest in participating in an event in Salt Lake City in January 2004. Called OneDance: The People’s Summit (http://www.onedancesummit.org), the event was scheduled to take place right before the Sundance Film Festival…and would involve activists, documentary filmmakers, and wide range other folks. Almost immediately, I agreed to take part. Over the next 11 months, my participation evolved into accepting the role of MC as the event shifted to Santa Cruz, California (a move that had the Oxmans and their three-year-old son Marcel trekking to and from Utah by car).

After hundreds of e-mails and a handful of phone calls, my wife Michele and I finally met Richard, Sylvie, and Marcel (to whom I became the honorary “Uncle Mickey”) as OneDance took on a life of its own. Cynthia McKinney, Michael Parenti, William Blum, Stan Goff, Yves Engler, Stephen Zunes, Greg Elich, John Trumpbour, Jim Lobe, Caleb Kleppner, Mark Zepezauer, Larry Everest, and countless others descended upon Santa Cruz for the better part of a week. Personally, we had a blast. As an event, OneDance was a mixed bag for sure-but an experience, for me, that will resonate with positive energy, renewed commitment, and new ideas.

The work Sylvie and Richard did to pull OneDance together is an inspiration for all activists. Therefore, I felt compelled to get them both to share their post-event thoughts with me.

MZ: You said you got the idea for OneDance because you couldn’t sleep at night. Can you elaborate?

Sylvie: Richard and I were sitting with a group of American people in the French countryside discussing our plans for the summit and one of them asked why we were doing it. I said it was because we couldn’t sleep at night, that we felt, down to our bones, that things needed changing. The response from that particular crowd was at first bewilderment and then defensiveness. Being wealthy people of leisure they had no need or desire for things to change. They were quite comfortable. There is a need for a whole change of attitude in the U.S. regarding concern for others. If there are people living below the poverty line, and there are many, we need to care. The wealthy should not sleep at night either. They should not be comfortable. As long as people do not have adequate wages, housing and healthcare the wealthy should feel guilty.

Richard: Still can’t sleep at night any more than the Moon sleeps during the day…with the screams of you-know-what the bells of an alarm clock that won’t go off. It is said that we are born in another’s pain and perish in our own, but I would say we’re born out of joy –not into the world, but out of it (as Watts used to point out, much like waves emerging from the ocean)– and only “perish” if we ignore the cry of the world.

MZ: How did you settle on the idea of a 3-day summit?

Richard: Didn’t want to create another talkathon, but, rather, saw the need for coming up with strategies. It was clear that that would call for a few days in close quarters, time to process input, etc. The flexibility of a three-day frame also allowed for limited schedules to be accommodated. I’m guessing that the focus of your question is on the number of days.

Sylvie: We originally envisioned the summit as a great opportunity for strategizing amongst the participants and attendees. We wanted people to have the time to bond, interact and do follow-up sessions.

MZ: Why was the event changed from Salt Lake City to Santa Cruz?

Sylvie: For me it went against my grain to spend a great deal of money on an event in the city of Salt Lake. I believe in trying to spend wisely and also in boycott. The city of Salt Lake has put profits above people routinely. They’ve made a successful industry out of accepting highly toxic waste into the area and the local population is suffering for it. They have very high cancer rates and the highest MS (multiple sclerosis) rates in the U.S. They have a chlorine manufacturing plant that is one of the grossest violators in the nation. It is common to look to the west of the city and see a green cloud hovering over the plant. The coal mines are another great polluter and health risk to its employees and the citizens of Salt Lake. The city doesn’t even have the basics covered, like recycling. They have no recycling containers available in the downtown and high density areas of the city. They have curbside recycling for paper and plastics but not glass. When I questioned the city offices about the glass they said they determined that “it’s just not worth it.”

Richard: Really, it was like JAWS where the choice for locals was face the truth and pay the price or…. Some of it wasn’t on a conscious level, I’m sure. Perhaps INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS is a better flick to cite; you have to wonder if what it means to be human hasn’t taken some quantum leap off of a cliff.

MZ: What was it like getting the speakers and participants together?

Richard: It was hell and heaven. Some contacts required months of unrelenting salesmanship, an incessant flow of faxes, emails and calls whereas other commitments came long before one could possibly have expected. The most difficult commitments were contingent upon constantly compromising on this or that, refraining from one’s natural reaction. I mean, when you have no budget to work with and no fax machine, and someone tells you that they’ve misplaced your missive for the third time, requiring another go-round immediately…just when you’ve run out-of-time for the day…one has to keep the eyes on the prize. It was 24×8 for over a year, but pure joy.

Sylvie: Like bees to honey and pulling teeth! Really, so many of them are so gracious. It was a pleasure to have them. And having them together, in each other’s presence, was an important factor. It has led us in a new direction for an upcoming project with OneDance.

MZ: What surprised you (good and bad) as you organized OneDance?

Sylvie: The big surprise, and disappointment, was people’s lack of willingness to work in solidarity. I’m talking about other organizations that we tried to engage. The great destructive element of the movement can be people’s unwillingness to be spontaneous and open to new ideas and energy. They have their routines and burdens just trying to get through the day, and don’t seem to realize how if we worked in concert on some things it would relieve some of that burden.

Richard: Shocked constantly. Surprised would have been a day off, which we never had. Ralph Nader’s people asking for $20,000. Kucinich’s people and Sharpton’s people not responding to golden ops. TransAfrica Forum, bell hooks, Angela Davis and –it seemed– tons and tons of minorities of all stripes turning down an opportunity for international coverage, in the context of an invitation that would have had them participating on a basis of their choosing. Most of this happened when we were going to be able to take advantage of temporal and physical proximity to the Sundance Film Festival. At the time that things were slated for Utah, no one in his or her right mind could have possibly not jumped on what we had to offer (on some basis), but…they did…in droves. There’s a huge lesson here. Most penetrating and appalling was the cross-the-board lack of concern on the part of so many with “the sake of solidarity.” On the positive side of the street, so many were generous beyond belief with their heartbeats. The absolute pits was finding that some activists proactively tried to undermine our efforts over ego, territorial trauma and the like. Honorable Mentions would be a) pledges not honored, b) unforgiving activists and c) dogmatic barkers (standing on ceremony).

MZ: Did you pick 2004 because it’s an election year?

Richard: Picked it ’cause it was “the soonest” we could have it as planned. Urgency ruled –and still rules– the day.
Were you anticipating conflict over the anyone-but-Bush issue? Where do you stand on this year’s election?

Sylvie: I am barely standing on this year’s election. There’s a lot that I like about Al Sharpton but I don’t think that the position of president is necessarily the best use of his talents. I’d like to see him in charge of HUD, or the FCC! He’s anti-war, anti-gun, anti-death penalty, and pro people’s right to live with equality, dignity and privacy.

Richard: The “anyone but” thing was predictable, but we were always confident that there were plenty of people who saw the country’s (and the world’s) fundamental problem as Bushism, not Bush. The rulers are presently testing the American public vis-a-vis democratic institutions, including the voting process. The American public failed the test last time around, not protesting worth a poop in the face of highway electoral theft. Now things like “vulnerable” overseas online voting is being sanctioned to test the public further. People should vote, regardless. And work for reform. However, I say that only if they are willing to take direct action simultaneously in solidarity with others…with the aim of forcing significant change in the country in the only way in which it’s ever been made. On the streets, on their bellies, at great risk. People must ask themselves what they would do if the powers that be simply cut Amy Goodman’s throat and cancelled elections on national television ensemble. Because those in power know the public won’t do a damn thing…they’ve got more in store. It couldn’t be clearer than it is in the case of Wesley Clark. Why aren’t people asking why none of the Dem candidates are screaming that Clark’s a war criminal? Our choice looks like it’s gonna be between picking one war criminal or another war criminal…or war criminal wannabe. In short, the election’s a distraction from the war we must embrace, internationally. It’s the height of Ostrichism to think that anyone in power-meaning the wealthy, not the Richard Pearles-cares a whit whether or not Bush is re-elected; yet that’s where the American electorate is putting virtually all its energy.

MZ: You talk about a “war we must embrace, internationally.” How did this play out during the event?

Richard: It didn’t. For several months prior to the event I had been feeling that I was going to have to give a speech myself to address this point in some form. I will never forget driving the U-Haul truck to (and from!) Utah –as Sylvie drove the Volvo with our three-year-old Marcel– in the process of relocating twice in the fall…crying for miles, trying to get the words out, alone with knowing what had to be done. But so many things impacted on me, not the least of which was inappropriate caution respecting action at the podium, wanting to honor promises about scheduling, etc. Not being an experienced speaker, I also was a bit shy, worried about blowing it. But that was a HUGE mistake. The call for war on the order of what Arundhati Roy described on ZNet recently could not be communicated by writing…which I eventually resorted to at the event…feebly. The couple of times I went to the stage to (somewhat) address the question during Q&As –calling attention to plans for a People’s Occupation– I couldn’t go back and forth sufficiently because of the nature of the Q&A format. One morning I did run to the place where many participants were lodging to make a plea for them to support nationwide massive civil disobedience in some form (that evening), but I decided to put the idea on the shelf when –in the afternoon– Stan Goff and Nasser Barghouti (just off the plane) explained why they thought the country wasn’t ready for such action. Thank goodness that Larry Everest made some strong direct plea for revolutionary moves, calling the “battle” between Dems and Reps for what it is; wish Ward Churchill had been there to up the ante. Cynthia laid out a “Stop the Machine” message and others touched upon the need for Mario Savio-like furor, but very little embraced a practical call for action, and even less attention (than I would have liked) was called to the need for international solidarity.

MZ: What were the highlights of the event?

Sylvie: As I alluded to earlier, the coming together of the participants was a highlight. They appreciated getting to meet (some after years of only e-mail relations), lodge, and share meals with each other. They were inspired by one another as much as the audience was inspired by them.

Richard: The charm of MICKEY Z, the wonderful, precious dynamic that took place between participants, and the last night’s panel which had Caleb Kleppner of San Francisco’s Center for Voting and Democracy, Ohio’s Greg Elich, Independent Researcher and Journalist, Jack Trumpbour of Harvard’s Trade Union Program, and North Carolina’s Stan Goff, 20-year Vet and former West Point Instructor. Geographically (and in other ways) it presented quite a range…and it glowed. And speaking of glowing, Jack Trumpbour’s smile got me high…as did Greg’s chilling speech on North Korea and the unprecedented, deep hugs he gave me. Your humor, Mickey, held everything together. It was so good that in complimenting you on it one runs the risk of taking away form the sweet substantive points you made when not doing the belly-laugh dance. Last minute contributions by supportive locals helped enormously in many ways. Lunches with some of the luminaries on a 8 to 1 basis, getting your Saving Private Power: The Hidden History of The Good War (which came close to being pulped!) into many hands as a giveaway was pesonally very satisfying, and distributing some of my favorite publications such as Z Magazine ranks high. Having Michael Parenti and other participants show up at a protest one afternoon (against Santa Cruz’ cruel Sleeping Ban) in support of the local homeless population fortified one and all. People’s expressions of thanks, deep appreciation topped the list. Sylvie weaving in and out of the crowd doing her magic was a close second.

MZ: Lowlights?

Richard: Not being able to carry through properly with Marcel’s toilet training is up there. Much is touched upon above. The low attendance, the discovery that certain activists supported Israel’s policies, the realization of just how soft the underbelly of The Movement is, a couple of uninspired speeches, the disconnect between fiery words and calls to action, documentarians disappointing by either not showing (as promised) or leaving prematurely (without saying goodbye), not receiving certain pledged documentary footage, not focusing much more on strategies, the absence of certain segments of society (in spite of the red carpet being rolled out), and publicly witnessing some of the Big Figures either rationalizing inaction or not advocating a significantly stepped-up pace for today. Those lows keep me up…at night. I really wish we had invited Ward Churchill to do his dance la “On the Justice of Roosting Chickens” and Chellis Glendinning to address the environmental issues and more during the plenary sessions.

MZ: What has happened since OneDance ended?

Sylvie: The next step for OneDance is to develop an institute. One upcoming event in September is a sort of round table, a la Algonquin, where a small group of inspired thinkers/writers/educators will converge, in a summit of their own, for free thought to flow while being filmed by videographers for free distribution to radio, community TV and schools.

Richard: Without taking a break, Sylvie and I laid plans for a kind of Algonquin Round Table/Camp David/Zapatistas in the Jungle type of thing for the next group of participants that we invite to California. Also, we’ve been doing some version of “damage control,” believe it or not, as a couple of activists who were invited to table (at no charge, all was virtually free at OneDance)…have been putting the “fat mouth” on us and the event; there’s been way too much petty focus on petty personal concerns at the price of solidarity sinking. On a very positive front, we started a campaign to encourage Democracy Now! to have MICKEY Z (Omigod, that’s you!) on the air so that we could have a shot at soliciting input nationwide regarding what strategies the public advocates…to pressure the Feds ASAP. And, yes, we’re back having Marcel on the Toilet Train.

Sylvie and Richard can be reached at: mail@onedancesummit.org.

MICKEY Z. can be reached at: mzx2@earthlink.net.

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Mickey Z. is the author of 12 books, most recently Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on the Web here. Anyone wishing to support his activist efforts can do so by making a donation here. This piece first appeared at World Trust News.