Not long ago, the human odometer of the earth officially rolled over to an almost unbelievable seven billion. I can’t explain it, but somehow that is just so cool. We are seven billion. It sounds like being part of a private club. For weeks, Paul Simon’s voice has been singing in my head, reassuring me that amidst the population boom I was born at the right time. I am a part of the Humanity Club, and by chance of my birth the Seven Billion TIG. It blows my mind to think that I share something in common with every other living human on the planet, even those tiny, new babies in the Philippines, India, and China who could all be the magical seven billionth live human. It does not matter which baby rolled the odometer. What matters is we are all here now, and we are part of the seven billion.
In some ways I feel like I have been inducted into the world’s largest team. The Occupy Movement – or Moment if you prefer – has signified unity by emphasizing the unequal distribution of wealth. Every time I see a yard sign or placard reading, “We are the 99 percent,” I think to myself, “Oh yea? Well I am the seven billion!” In as much as I am very much a part of the 99 percent of Americans who hold less than 60 percent of the nation’s wealth and receive less than 80 percent of the nation’s income, I do not feel like part of The 99 Percent Club. I have a Ph.D., which puts me among about two percent in the U.S., and an even tinier fraction of the global population. Ph.D. comes with privilege, and is more often than not awarded to those who already have privilege.
Being a part of the seven billion gives me something in common with the 99 percenters. It also gives me something in common with those who hold such little wealth their lives scarcely resemble the relative bounty that most 99 percenters in the U.S. experience. On the street in India a petite, barefoot woman with graying and wispy hair, wearing an electric blue and white polka-dotted saree, startled me when she reached out and touched my arm to ask me for money. She is part of the seven billion. This I know for certain. She was alive, and smiling, and without a common spoken language made her wishes clear to me. She did not have enough to eat she signaled lifting her tiny brown, leathery, right hand toward her mouth and then patting the slender, cinched pleats of her soft, flowing saree. I do not know how much she would identify with the 99 percenters of the U.S. But in that moment I should have recognized my sister reaching out to me, simply alive and human.
Just as being a part of the Seven Billion Club connects me to the students at UC Davis, the residents of Zuccotti park, and the beggars of India, I am bound to the one percent as well. I am of the same makeup as the Wall Street financiers who received bailouts and bonuses for bringing down the global economy and harming so many in the quest for personal enrichment. I am linked to the residents of Sing Sing and San Quentin. I hold something in common with President Bashar al-Assad. Like it or not, greed, anger, ignorance, power and control, and abuse and aggression are all part of being human.
Mohamad Bouazizi was recently selected by Time Magazine to represent the Person of the Year recipients for 2011, who were all those humans who took a risk and took a stand to end oppression and injustice. Bouazizi took his life in the name of human dignity. He was not alive to witness the birth of the seven billionth baby, yet his humanity makes him a leader in the Seven Billion Club as it carries on. He represents all that is human: the willpower, courage, and self-sacrifice to overcome extreme injustice, which itself is human. Bouazizi’s actions, together with the many thousands of humans who stood their ground with him, changed the world the seven billionth baby was born into, and each baby thereafter.
As seven billion we are both wealthy and poor. We are both good and bad. We are both generous and greedy. We are both honest and deceitful. We are respectful and oppressive. We are filled with love as well as rage. We are altruistic and selfish. We are simultaneously merciful and vengeful. We are both risk takers and change averse. We are courageous and fearful. We are brilliant and we are gullible. We are somehow both wise and ignorant. All of it is inside each one of us. Our mixed and confused human nature lies at the foundation of our human potential for everything, which makes us capable of anything when we act as a team. Hope, according to Cornel West, is in the struggle between these opposing forces that is necessary for justice and decency to prevail.
We live in an amazing time when a humble, self-employed college graduate from Tunisia who had no recourse to right the wrongs against himself personally, could demonstrate for the entire world that we have it inside ourselves to correct global injustices. I am a part of the club who witnessed and was changed by Bouazizi’s catalytic pyre. It is a hopeful time. It is indeed a good life, and an inspiring time to be alive and part of the seven billion.