By Mark Yardas

Americans who have not had first-hand contact with the Occupy movement are understandably curious about what it is. Who are these people? Where did they come from, and what do they want?

If you are seeking answers to these questions, I recommend stopping by an Occupy event and conversing with several participants. This movement is leaderless, and no single individual speaks for the whole. Its participants are as diverse as the population of this nation.

To witness this historic event in person, I traveled across the country by rail with Zora, my 12-year-old daughter. We attended the Occupations of Wall Street and Washington, D.C., where we saw democracy in action. I trace the roots of our journey back to an organization that might surprise you — the Boy Scouts of America.

Admittedly, the scouts of Troop 44, myself included, were a rowdy bunch, let loose to canoe the rivers of Illinois. We ditched the tents of other troops and got into varying brands of mischief. But along the way, I picked up some principles that I still value.

For example, always leave a campsite cleaner than you found it. Whenever we broke camp we would form a line to “police the area,” crossing the entire site until we had removed every scrap of litter.

At the time, it seemed a tedious task, but I learned to identify this work as “the ethic of reciprocity,” aka, The Golden Rule, the basis of every ethical tradition known to humanity. In short, leave the campsite for others as you would have others leave the campsite for you. Perhaps if Earth’s seven billion citizens spread out in a line stretching from the North to South Poles, we could circle the globe and clean up this mess we’ve helped create for our own and future generations.

When I say “mess” I trust you know what I mean. As the sign read in New York City’s Liberty Square, the current home of the Occupy Wall Street movement: “If you don’t think anything’s wrong, you’re not paying attention.”

The harder I look at my own consumption, particularly in relation to fossil fuels, the clearer I see my contribution to the current state of general deterioration. There’s not much pleasure in this line of exploration.

I’m as prone to excess as the next guy. And like my peers, I still make lifestyle choices that contradict my professed values.

I’m trying to clean up my act, but it’s difficult to adjust my standard of living and disentangle myself from our unsustainable economic and political systems. Weeding my own garden is a good starting place, but it isn’t enough. So I’m turning to my neighbors to see how we might work together to make life better for us all. We need collective, peaceful action for the deep change we need to see in the world.

And we need to talk. When Zora and I walked out onto Liberty Square, we found ourselves in the midst of a huge conversation. The floodgates have opened, and people are rediscovering their voices, ears, and ideas. “Here you all are!” I remember thinking.

For too long, loud personalities on the airwaves have dominated the national debate with their narrow interests, fear mongering and vitriol. In contrast, the open-ended dialogue and consensus building that are central to the Occupy movement, hearken back to early American history and Ancient Greece — with one key difference: this time nobody is excluded from participation.

Go on down and make yourself heard. We need your voice — it’s part of the beautiful cacophony that just might prove America’s saving grace.

Editor’s note: Follow Mark and Zora’s adventures at the Occupations of Wall Street and Washington, D.C. on their video blog: