An open space for global conversation
As Occupy Cafe gets ready to set up on the ground in Philly for #NatGat (and to bring the world there with us via Maestro, live-streaming and this website) these questions are crucial to our presence being generative and "leaderful."
I want our inquiry in Philly to be designed to meet the movement where it is, as well as to be at the leading edge of supplying what is “missing.” In this regard, we had some interesting discussion yesterday on our C2012 call, and prior to that as well. I am currently holding two distinct visions of where “the movement” (in both the narrow and the widest sense) might be “at.” Call them the “everything is evolving as it needs to” versus the “this isn’t nearly enough yet” scenarios.
“Everything is evolving as it needs to”
On the one hand, there is a great deal in motion. People are awakening and they are not willing to settle for “business as usual” any more. It is impossible to know the full scope of what is emerging, and we can choose to trust that is it sufficient and make our job be to carry that message, to mirror to the movement as much of what is working well as we can, and to create links (community) among those who are already in action to support and synergize what they are doing.
“This isn’t nearly enough yet”
On the other hand, it is possible that, while the potential is there in terms of people, ideas and the will to act, the form of what will really make the difference is not currently emerging, change agents sense this, and they are feeling desperate and cynical. They are tired, angry and in pain. The “system” seems too powerful to be defeated. The movement is shrinking and becoming more extreme rather than gaining energy and broad support.
Of course, it is probably more useful to see this as a spectrum than as an “either/or” and perhaps in some ways both things are true. Here is my thinking in terms of conversational design based on this framing… If we’re basically on track (“everything is evolving as it needs to”) our job is to make that visible to the movement and celebrate what is emerging. From there, new ideas and initiatives can also be born, but that is not our main focus. Rather, we are tending to the spirit of those who are engaged, helping them to feel safe and inspired and appreciated, and building community. If things are not on track, however, the key missing becomes BOTH a tending to spirit/community AND the catalyzing of something new that can shift the dynamics within the movement and in the wider world. The question that resonates for me at the core of this is the classic “if our success was completely guaranteed, what bold steps might we choose?”
Along the lines of “bold steps,” I got a vision yesterday that really inspired me. It is outlined here. The core of it is for a huge segment of Occupy’s energy to be channeled into the creation of “alternative communities” that both heal our broken neighborhoods and support our desire to move towards ways of living that are increasingly disconnected from “business as usual.” This specific idea can be discussed in the Alternative Economy group here--let's use this thread to address the question more generally.
Thank you, Mark, for your implied support of civil disobedience. I agree that any future encampments will escalate violent behavior from the police. We should remember that the public square actually is already commons and it is legal to be there. (Flash encampments may be a way to start reclaiming the commons. Or not.) Occupy Sebastopol made an agreement with the city council so that there could be a permanent Occupy presence in a corner of the town square. Roland sometimes comes by the camp. Roland is a homeless senior citizen who lives out out of a shopping cart with his sweet little dog. He was once an activist jailed for protesting against Vietnam. The other day at a GA he scolded us for being too fucking nice. He is right. When Emerson asked him why he was in jail, Thoreau famously asked why Emerson was not also in jail. If we sincerely believe the injustice is as great as we say, then we need to leave this cafe and speak truth to power out in the street. It is OK to talk in a cafe, but it is just an ego exercise until our loud protest matches our talk out on the street. Yes, we will get arrested again. Then we will organize in jail. If lucky, we will grow to be as passionate about freedom and justice as the Egyptians.
I live in Los Angeles, and I agree that what you have listed certainly is a factor. Growing our own food is one way. Another way is to get the stores to stop throwing away all the food they put in the dumpster at the end of the day, and this is even with some of them giving donations to the missions.
Tammy: thanks for contributing to this thread. It's a pretty old one though, and you've posted a comment deep in the middle of it, so if this is something you want to connect with people about more, we might want to find another spot to do so.
Interesting that you're highlighting food, by the way. Transforming our food system is one of my passions as well, and it seems to be coming up in a number of conversations I'm having lately. Are you aware of any social enterprise initiatives in L.A. that address some of the issues here? Work on the food waste opportunity you mention perhaps, or on ways to hep urban farmers succeed? If so, let's start a new thread about it. I'll also send you a personal message about this in case you don't spot the reply.
Christopher, I think going to jail had a different meaning and value prior to the advent of the prison-industrial complex. The Egyptian military junta imprisoned (and tortured) more than fifteen thousand (15,000) protesters, and the US gave them the training, crowd control weapons (including more than 40 tons of tear gas), and paid them over a billion dollars a year to do it. The Egyptians had no success at all. The military junta (funded by the US and controlled by Israel through the US) still runs the country, the protesters, those who weren't killed outright or blinded by sniper bullets, are still in prison and still being tortured, and the Egyptians aren't sure what to try next.
The US already has more prisoners than any other country in the world. And this country has maximum security prisons with Communications Management Units where prisoners are not allowed to speak with each other and have extremely limited contact with the outside world, to prevent them organizing.
Unless you're prepared for guerrilla warfare, which most of us are not, I don't think that physical confrontations are a good idea. Remember that the Vietnam protests failed and the US is engaged in more wars now than it was then. The Civil Rights movement also failed, as did Abolition. Black slaves are now called prisoners and their slavery is called prison labor, but there are more of them now than prior to Abolition. There are fewer lynchings because most blacks are killed by the police rather than the KKK or vigilantes (with some exceptions, of course), but the number of blacks killed by whites hasn't decreased. And it is still extremely rare for whites who kill blacks to be held accountable. Going into prisons where there are huge gangs and torture is routinely practiced by the administration isn't a good way to organize, in my opinion, as it is usually all an individual can do just to stay alive.
As for civil disobedience, here's something I posted recently to an anarchist website where somebody had suggested that we need to stop whining and carrying signs and start smashing things:
Speaking of whining and carrying signs, I just saw this Tweet:"Never participated in a direct action before? #OWS #summerdisobedianceschool is in session every Saturday through August 11th."
People who need to go to school to learn how to be disobedient, would need years of graduate studies before they could smash anything. And by then they'd be too brainwashed to consider it.
What works? Legal gardens work. Food Not Bombs works. Food Not Lawns works. Transition Towns seem to be working. Cooperatives and collectives work. Protests don't work. The Iraq war was preceded by the largest protests ever, which were simply ignored. Online networking works. People can share vital information and ideas without being beaten or arrested.
Christopher, it is your right to go to prison if you think it will help, but I don't think that you going to prison will make me or anyone else more free. Perhaps an argument could be made that diverting some taxpayer money from war and into the prison industry is a form of progress, but it isn't a form of progress I can support. Thoreau never envisioned a prison industrial complex.
Mark ~ As regards my mistake about your support of CD, I stand corrected. ~ Chris
Wow, that is a good story... and I understand the difficult decisions that have to be made between accomplishing something, and accomplishing everything. Hard to say for sure which is "right", should BFL have taken the deal, even though that's only a portion of what Occupy wants to accomplish? Would that have lead the group towards more cooperation with the city, or was the deal just a "payoff" to get Occupy to shut up? Hard to say. Anyway, interesting to hear that more-organized groups aren't necessarily accomplishing any more than the rest of us...
I'm not so sure that we've modeled direct democracy so well, most of us here in Sac can't stand to attend GAs any more, and find them ineffective, argumentative, overly bureaucratic, etc. I think what we've really shown is that democracy is diffifult, there are many disagreements, plus a few crazy people, and that the reason we've all avoided government meetings and politicians is because we hate this kind of stuff. Right?
I'd argue that our modeling of "alternative communities" is a mixed bag too.. I think it's been good for homeless folks, and kinda makes the point that "we can live off the grid and outside of your control". But in reality most middle-class folks aren't thinking "awesome maybe I should live like that". And the truth it, Occupy encampments are not "off the grid", they depend on society and corporations and cell phones and gasoline the same as the rest of us.
Yes I agree that we have been successful at activating new volunteers, and pulling-in activists from different causes like unions, homeless advocates, ACLU, etc. But we've also had difficulty putting some of these people to work, that's the trick.
Upcoming Failure: I think the big failure coming up for us involves actually getting stuff done in government, because we lack the discipline and organization needed, and we often don't even know what we want to accomplish anyway.
OK, Nathan. So I hear you loud and clear about what hasn't worked so well and why, as well as your concern around a desire to influence government but an inability to actually do so.
AND... you're still "here," so something must have worked for you! What was that, and how does that inform your answer to the key question: “if our success was completely guaranteed, what bold steps might we choose?”
Hmmmm, well I'm helping with communications stuff, helping to get the word out, and I'd say that falls under the "changing the public discourse" success that we've discussed. So I'll keep doing that as long as it keeps working.
And some dedicated homelss folks still continue the occupation despite many hardships, so as long as they're there, I'll keep bringing them supplies and trying to keep things going, because I think our government rulers and employees should be forced to look at them every single day until something is actually done to help.
And our legal team kicks ass! I can't claim any credit there, but as long as the ACLU and other socially-minded attorneys continue to help, so will I.
But these efforts have reached a plateau in terms of output. What we NEED is to become organized, have some solidarity, stop the in-fighting and witch hunts, and approach our elected officials as a unified group with clear goals. How we get to that point is anyone's guess... idk.
C.A. that is NOT a step Occupy could take. What you are suggesting is that Occupy is incapable of doing anything, and that the best that Occupy could do would be to try to influence government to do something.
The US government, through both Democratic and Republican administrations, has stated clearly and explicitly that it does not allow public opinion to influence policy decisions. I don't know if you don't pay attention to politics and never heard it, or if it is too difficult a concept for you to understand, but a government that does not allow public opinion to influence policy decisions is called a tyranny, not a democracy or a republic.
Occupy is a response to the fact that government has been doing things that hurt a lot of people, like waging wars, bailing out banks, and eliminating Constitutional rights. It is a response to the fact that no matter how people voted, these things continued to get worse and worse and worse. Occupy is not an attempt to influence government, it is a response to the fact that government has repeatedly betrayed us and our values, and is not subject to our influence. It doesn't read our petitions, it doesn't count our votes, and it represents its big donors instead of representing its constituents. Recently, the United Nations sent a letter to Hillary Clinton, asking Clinton to explain why the human rights of Occupiers appear to have been repeatedly violated by the US government. Over 8,000 Occupiers have been arrested and many have been brutally beaten by the police, acting under orders from Homeland Security, which acts under orders from the President and the Secretary of State. Clinton has not responded. In fact, Clinton is one of the majority of Members of Congress who voted for the Military Commissions Act and other legislation that exempts the US from all international treaties and laws.
Please try to focus on what Occupy has done and could do, rather than on what you would like the government to do.
Points well taken, Mark! And I want to be clear that, while it is fine for you to request that C.A. focus in certain areas, he is not bound to do so, nor will there be any "retribution" if he does not comply!
For the record (and I say this as a former champion debater in high school!) his suggestion didn't inspire me either. BUT if it inspired some other people here and they wanted to pursue it, I would support that. I know you and I disagree here (so I request that we not not derail the convo with a big debate on this question either!). For me, it is about empowerment, and getting into relationship. The immediate task is important, but it isn't the only thing. The more connected and trusting of one another we become, the more powerful we are. We might choose "the wrong" tasks sometimes, but we can always try again if we stay in authentic relationship. And we will learn from our failures.
Some of us are capable of learning from our failures, but some are not.
Some of us want to pursue self-sufficiency as opposed to corporate rule, while others would prefer to support efforts to continue corporate rule. Personally, I don't think that hierarchical relationships are authentic relationships because hierarchical systems give some people power over others that can be used in unjust ways. The power we seek has to be power with, rather than power over, for trust to develop. Unequal relationships are based on fear, not on trust.
If some of us choose to empower ourselves and each other, while others choose to empower rulers to govern us, we will be working at cross-purposes.