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“What’s Next?” Ask “What’s Here?”
This is a death we are living through, the slow unfolding of multiple interlocking catastrophes, the deconstruction and reformation of every social and natural system you can name: politics, economics, social relations, culture, the eco-system, the human spirit. It is also a birth of something new. In fact, what is being birthed is a mass realization that there is no way to separate any of these realms from one another. At the deepest level, it is our thinking that is undergoing transformation; we can no longer compartmentalize ourselves from one another nor from the whole. We also sense the pace of this death and rebirth is advancing.
The Occupy Movement is a harbinger of that quickening. And the pace of its reproduction and infusion into every conversation is breathtaking. The Occupation is alive. It is melting the armor of apathy, cynicism and denial. It is bringing us to our senses.
The encampments are the unique and universally recognized symbol of the Occupation. In the past week, there has been a groundswell of opinion questioning whether the encampments should be abandoned and asking what’s next. I expressed my own reservations to a national working group, declaring that it was in the collective interest to abandon all encampments to release energies otherwise directed toward security and survival and for the sake of birthing an even more diverse and decentralized movement. And, I advocated that it be done in our way and on our own schedule without remaining as stationary targets for law-enforcement.
Some agreed that it is time to move on. Others forcefully declared that the encampments have not yet exhausted their function, that holding territory is essential. Yes, some sites have the support of the civic leaders. Others have been aggressively confronted and dismantled by force. Some camps have been overrun by the homeless and unemployable. Still others are vibrant centers of brilliant leadership and innovation in the way they are reaching into the surrounding communities.
The question of what is next is coming up everywhere. “Occupy 2.0” is unfolding as I write. Opinion pieces have appeared in Common Dreams, HuffingtonPost (here and here), DailyKos, the Christian Science Monitor, among others. What are the questions they are asking? More importantly, what are the questions we should be asking?
Is holding territory still an essential presence for the Occupation? Multiple mentions of the Indignados movement of Spain have been made:
The 15-M movement began there last May 15. It wasn’t an occupation. It was a protest held in Puerta del Sol Square over the economic crisis that became an overnight occupation. Then it was dismantled by authorities; then it turned into a see-saw conflict over whether they would stay or go. A month later, when they finally went, it was by choice. One veteran of 15-M (there are no leaders) said: “It was a strategic move that led to the survival of the movement.” By happenstance they had evolved another preference: to fan out into districts of the city (and elsewhere in Spain) and conduct regular meetings with local residents. These then forwarded proposals to a weekly “assembly” held in the square.
Is holding public territory essential to the evolving process of the Occupation? Luis Moreno-Caballud and Marina Sitrin ask “Is there a way to occupy public space with horizontal assemblies, yet also focus locally and concretely?”
Is claiming public space essential to the DNA of the Movement? A strong argument can be made that it is. Each encampment has been a micro-claim to the Commons, a symbolic claim to everything that is held in common, including all natural resources, the earth itself, which is now all but completely monetized as private commercial property. And yet, all our wealth, all the capital that we know as civilization, derives from the Commons. And we want it back. Now.
Reclaiming Commons not only refocuses our awareness on the shared roots of community, but these encampments are the material evidence of a new organism occupying and propagating within the body politic. From the original plazas and parks, the movement is now faced with the necessity of dispersing, morphing and adapting, spreading the ethic of holding Commons into every possible context.
Whether they continue to exist or not, the original encampments have modeled the integral nature of politics, culture, economics and community well-being. The continued viability and validity of the movement derives from our ability to realize this in ever expanding contexts. By including more people, reaching into communities, workplaces, religious and social institutions one at a time, even if only for short periods of time, and by continuously creating and connecting the micro-solutions our local and global circumstances require, we will be birthing on the ground the answer to that oft-repeated question of the casual or clueless observer, “We know what the Occupation is against, but what is the Occupation for?” You need only put your hand on your heart and lower your gaze to find out.
"From the original plazas and parks, the movement is now faced with the necessity of dispersing, morphing and adapting, spreading the ethic of holding Commons into every possible context."
Without polluting technologies and nonrenewable resources, the world once again becomes a large expanse where it is difficult for people to connect. That's often given as a justification for the centralization of power. So it is heartening for me to see small Occupy sites springing up in every surburb surrounding the city I live in.
Thank you, Gary. The question indeed is not, "What's next," but "What's here." And here is everywhere, so everywhere is next.
Appreciate your characterization there, Mark.
I would also say that technology is not so much a justification for centralized power, but technology is certainly part of the atmosphere in which we become atomized self-contained units who are conditioned to act in narrow personal self-interest by exposure to the 24/7 hologram of consumerism. To me, this is what permits centralization of power.
So, what's here and what's real is the question that seems to need constant asking--certainly not in the privacy of our own minds but publicly everywhere.
thanks also for your contributions here.
I wouldn't say that technology has been used to justify centralized power, Gary, but that the difficulties of people connecting with each other, particularly in the early United States before railroad, the telegraph, and automobiles made such connections easier, was used first to justify centralized power, and later to justify technology. By reclaiming the commons, we can demonstrate the ability to connect with each other without the need for centralized power or polluting technologies, by, as you put it, creating and connecting micro-solutions.
Your post touched me deeply, Gary, and I'm still rereading it and thinking about it a lot. You've managed to express things I believe in and support, in ways that I hadn't managed to formulate by myself. I hope that others will join this discussion. The more accurately we can define our objectives, the greater our chances of success.
Mark, thanks for the invitation to join this conversation. Nothing like a personal invitation!
And I like the questions you are asking Gary. As I read your questions, Gary, I'm reminded of what I heard Sharif Abdullah (on this site) say the other day, on what are 5 elements for a successful movement:
1. Directly addresses the current paradigm
2. Offers a positive, compelling paradigm-busting alternative vision
3. committed, disciplined core of activists
4. action that is consistently positive in tone and focus
5. movement attuned to the transcendent (spiritual but not religious)
Curious, how you relate to this list. and which of those elements you believe are "here" as you put it so compellingly!
For more of Sharif's thinking, one can check out his blog.
Lots of good stuff here, coming from signficiant experience in peacemaking in cross-cultural contexts.
Raffi, I am signed in here as a steward rather than self--hope that's OK.
I totally relate to this list with one possible sub-element that lies somewhere in the #3-4 area, which would be a "strong and pervasive understanding and agreement on tactics." namely, in this case, creative non-violent presence.
This 8 min video came yesterday courtesy of Tom Atlee depicting what happened at UC Davis immediately after the pepper spray incident. Incredible restraint, creativity, leadership, discipline, commitment. Watch to the end.
What happened at UC Davis was appalling of course. And yes, it's important to point out the restraint and commitment that followed.
A sub-point to #3 would also be embodied self-awareness. To - as the new turn of phrase- "occupy ourselves." We have to be able to really get clear with ourselves: why am i really here? why am i really taking part in #OWS? And answer those questions completely, honestly, and with well-calibrated internal bullshitmeters. This is not to immobilize us but rather to really see who's who in our (inner) zoo. Doing this can inject a good dose of humility.
Before taking part in Occupy San Diego, me and a friend asked ourselves this question- if only briefly- and surprise surprise!- i don't think we totally loved all the inner motivations in taking part! That's fine- but we need to see it!
who's who in our (inner) zoo.--Love this!
Yes. This is a great topic for conversation. In fact. It would be a terrific topic for a call (with you as the conversation starter)....or an ongoing forum discussion. But first, may I suggest..... that a series of such penetrating and daunting questions be composed? Such as "what do I want personally out of my participation in OWS? Is there an enemy here? Who is it? " ....And more....... And that the other stewards be involved. This level of transparency creates relationship, trust, community. Just what we need.
Let's continue this.......somewhere. I am otherwise occupied with another project for as much time as I can squeeze out.
"Commitment arises in our common contact with other people. From this initial humanizing contact arise trust or faith, hope and solidarity."
George David Miller, Negotiating Toward Truth: The Extinction of Teachers and Students (1998)
I came across that chunk this morning and it promptly altered my thinking about the encampments, where people who would not meet in real life are meeting and dealing (mostly well) with their differences. Because of my connection to Transition, which calls people to occupy the places where they've rooted, I had been ready for a diaspora. Now I lean toward maintenance of (some) encampments, while someone is willing to camp out, because of the important modeling of coexistence the folks do there.
Then there's the moral authority that builds with sacrifice.....
Violence vs. nonviolence? That puts me in a difficult position.
I have never taken the many opportunities for nonviolence training that have been offered to me before various protests, including at Occupy San Diego. The idea learning how to passively allow cops to beat the sh*t out of me seems as absurd to me as somebody offering to teach me how to sneeze or hiccup. Although I do sometimes find myself sneezing or hiccuping, I never had to take classes to learn how. Since I lack the strength, no less the weapons with which to defend myself against cops, I would have as much choice about such a situation as I would about a sneeze or hiccup. I've learned to cover my mouth when I sneeze, and to try various things like holding my breath, drinking water, etc., to try to stop the hiccups, but I can't prevent any of those things from happening. There doesn't seem to be anything within my power to do, that could prevent sneezes, hiccups, or unwarranted and unprovoked police brutality. I know enough not to do anything that might escalate such a situation, but beyond that I'm at a complete loss.
Niether can I say that I'm opposed to physical resistance when it is appropriate, by which I mean in situations where the unprovoked and unwarranted violence is being committed by illegitimate authorities. That is what I perceive to be the case in Egypt, where their government, a transitional ruling military junta, does not have the consent of the governed and has murdered hundreds of protesters while injuring, arresting, and even torturing thousands more.
In collaboration with the United States, which supplies its funding, training, and weapons, the Egyptian rulling military junta (SCAF) is attempting to hold an election so that it would be able to claim the legitimacy granted by the consent of the governed, but most Egyptians are planning to boycott the election and not vote, while only one segment, the Muslim Brotherhood, which supports and wishes to share power with SCAF, is intending to vote.
While Congress has only a 9% approval rating in the US, there was still a 55% turnout in the 2008 election and at least a 41% turnout in the midterm election of 2010. With no popular candidate having announced their candidacy for 2012, I expect the turnout to be even lower. Whether or not the US government will attempt to claim the consent of the governed with only a 30% or 35% turnout remains to be seen, but as an election boycott advocate I will continue to urge people not to vote and hope that the actual turnout will be low enough so that any such claim will be rightfully considered fictitious. Of course I cannot hope that only the 9% who approve of Congress will vote, but any turnout lower than 25% should put the lie to the myth that the US government has the consent of the governed.
There were decades of violence during South Africa's Apartheid regime, violence which both sides considered to be justified. The United States claimed to abhor Apartheid, but insisted that it had to support the legitimate government of South Africa. It was only after the South African election boycott of 1984, when only 7% of the electorate voted, that it became clear to everyone that the Apartheid regime was not a legitimate government, did not have the consent of the governed, and there was no excuse for any government which claimed to support democracy, to continue to support it. It was only after that crucial, if unheralded turning point, that the Apartheid regime began to make concessions, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and the freedom fighters could no longer be credibly described as "terrorists" by the mass media.
While I do believe that nonviolence and noncompliance are the only effective ways to internally delegitimize a military superpower like the US empire, I cannot condemn the self-defense tactics of citizens of its puppet regimes like Egypt, As long as our government continues to supply their