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Occupy Wall Street and the Importance of Creative Protest

Allison Kilkenny, The Nation
Perhaps the single biggest factor that helped lead to the Occupy movement’s success in capturing the media and public’s attention has been its creativity. Novel protest strategies have served as OWS’s foundation since its first days. The very idea of occupying, and sleeping in, a park twenty-four hours a day was new and exciting.

Up until Occupy, most protests had become exercises in futility. Protesters would show up with their sad, limp carboard signs, march around for a little while—maybe press would show up, but most likely not—and then everyone would go home. Hardly effective stuff.

Even when the protests were massive, say during the lead-up to the Iraq invasion, media had learned to ignore protests as being the hallmark of a bygone era of granola-munching hippies. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the media helped hand protesters loss after loss, perhaps recognizing the fact that protest waged within the perimeters constructed by city officials is completely ineffective.

Demonstrators need a permit to march, and even then must remain on the sidewalk and never disrupt traffic; they need a permit to use a bullhorn, a permit to play music, etc. Protesters, in other words, can protest as long as they never disrupt the normalcy of everyday living, which of course defeats the concept of meaningful protest in the first place.

… That is, of course, until Occupy showed up and refused to play by the city-written rules. No, they wouldn’t be getting permits. No, they wouldn’t be going home at curfew. They would remain in camps as permanent monuments to the injustice and inequality of America’s society. There was no “normal” anymore. There was only what Occupy chose to do, and to not do.

Beyond the creativity of the camps themselves with their libraries, clinics, food tents, media centers and very own newspapers, Occupy chapters are full of young protesters who are extremely savvy to what captures the media’s attention.
(21 November 2011)

Ten Immodest Commandments

Mike Davis, The Rag Blog
What, indeed, have I learned from my fumbling-and-bungling lifetime of activism?

A friend in Canada recently asked me if the Sixties’ protests had any important lessons to pass on to the Occupy movement.

I told her that one of the few clear memories that I retain from 45 years ago was a fervent vow never to age into an old fart with lessons to pass on.

But she persisted and the question ultimately aroused my own curiosity. What, indeed, have I learned from my fumbling-and-bungling lifetime of activism?

… First, the categorical imperative is to organize or rather to facilitate other peoples’ self-organization. Catalyst is good, but organization is better.

Second, leadership must be temporary and subject to recall. The job of a good organizer, as it was often said in the civil rights movement, is to organize herself out of a job, not to become indispensable.

… Fifth, as we learned the hard way in the 1960s, consensual democracy is not identical to participatory democracy. For affinity groups and communes, consensus decision-making may work admirably, but for any large or long-term protest, some form of representative democracy is essential to allow the broadest and most equal participation. The devil, as always, is in the details: ensuring that any delegate can be recalled, formalizing rights of political minorities, guaranteeing affirmative representation, and so on.

I know it’s heretical to say so but good anarchists, who believe in grassroots self-government and concerted action, will find much of value in Roberts’ Rules of Order (simply a useful technology for organized discussion and decision-making).

… Eighth, the future of the Occupy movement will be determined less by the numbers in Liberty Park (although its survival is a sine qua non of the future) than by the boots on the ground in Dayton, Cheyenne, Omaha, and El Paso. The geographical spread of the protests in many cases equals a diversifying involvement of people of color and trade unionists.

The advent of social media, of course, has created unprecedented opportunities for horizontal dialogue among non-elite activists all over the country and the world. But the Occupy Main Streets still need more support from the better resourced and mediagenic groups in the major urban and academic centers. A self-financed national speakers and performers bureau would be invaluable.

Conversely, it is essential to bring the stories from the heartlands and borders to national audiences. The narrative of protest needs to become a mural of what ordinary people are fighting for across the country, e.g., stopping strip-mining in West Virginia; reopening hospitals in Laredo …

Tenth, one of the simplest but most abiding lessons from dissident generations past is the need to speak in the vernacular. The moral urgency of change acquires its greatest grandeur when expressed in a shared language.

Indeed the greatest radical voices — Tom Paine, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglas, Gene Debs, Upton Sinclair, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Mario Savio — have always known how to appeal to Americans in the powerful, familiar words of their major traditions of conscience.

Mike Davis is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside. An urban theorist, historian, and social activist, Davis is the author of City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles and In Praise of Barbarians: Essays against Empire
(17 November 2011)

Occupy Wall St – The Revolution Is Love

Charles Eisenstein (author of “Sacred Economics”

Dear Friends: This video is a taste of the upcoming feature documentary, Occupy Love. Today we are launching our IndieGoGo crowd funding campaign to raise completion funds for the film.

(18 November 2011)
Wonderful vision. For me, the devil is in the details. -BA

How bad or hopeful is our situation as a culture and species?

Jan Lundberg, Culture Change
… A key question often asked unofficially, often over beers, is something like this:

How bad or hopeful is our situation as a culture and species?

I believe there are two urgent areas to consider: how hopeless our social relations and collective sanity might be, amidst overpopulation and record toxicity, and, more importantly, how dire our lot is ecologically. (I phrase this in the negative, feeling the need to first put aside the hopeful aspects of our collective situation, despite good developments of late in the social arena.)

As this culture’s true design — demonstrated by society’s purpose of controlling the population in any possible way — precludes a redirection for basic principles of peace, justice, respect and love, we should face the possibility that modern culture seeks nothing more but to dominate the herd. The few herders who call the shots (literally and figuratively) are content to callously or blindly run us all off a cliff known as the ecological precipice. Along the way many have been trampled by injustice and greed.

Those not facing the above-described reality include many optimistic progressives in and around the Occupy movement. The bulk of its participants hope for limited reform of the industrial, materialist consumer society, chiefly financially. But to meet this goal, no matter how dire the need, involves an attempt by now too late — even if it succeeded. How nice it would be, for example, for there to be a constitutional amendment to deny to corporations the rights given to individual Americans (a Missoula, Montana referendum voted for this by 75% on Tuesday). But it’s even too late for a complete restructuring of society — unless a complete culture change occurs concurrently and very soon.

A society can change much faster than a culture. But for our predicament, which can be terminal because of our ecological mess, only a rapid and radical change in values and behavior will save our species (and fellow life forms we’re rapidly losing) from going extinct in the relatively near future. Several degrees of warming of the globe in a matter of decades will see to that. There’s also the potential consequences of nukes and perhaps the plastic plague.

Only a total, immediate curtailment of fossil-fuels combustion, along with all out tree planting involving the whole world, plus other practices to sequester carbon and save soil, water and endangered species, can possibly salvage life as we know it. A runaway greenhouse effect is our present course, and we don’t know if it is already too late.

A just society will be required to pull this off. No dictatorship — even a benign one — can do the job. Our responsibility as individuals, taking action cooperatively, must be the collective answer. This is cosmically possible, even if it is hard to see through today’s fog of despair, illusion, waste and conditioning. But the question is, “what can get us there?” Increasingly, it seems that total collapse of the dominant order is required for seeing sufficient change. The Occupy movement at this stage is not ecologically oriented, nor does it seem to grasp or embrace fundamental healing. One reason is that any reconfiguring or expansion of the movement’s goals could lead to fragmentation, widespread disapproval, or violent suppression. [Update: heavy-handed suppression cranked up around the U.S. since this essay was written.] My gambit to suggest a nature-based and food-security oriented “Occupy The Land” aspect to the Occupy movement may be a snowball thrown in a blizzard. Or it may take off in Santa Cruz first. Likewise, the “20-hour work week maximum,” that I’ve promoted here and there such as at Occupy Santa Cruz, might be stuck in the category of reformism that’s too late — if indeed it got adopted as a demand and actually came about.

Considering everything needing attention by a vibrant social movement that could miraculously pull off a peaceful and eco-logic revolution, common ground as it exists today is far from where we need to be for Mother Earth to benefit from the best scientific and ethical wisdom. May your compassionate and fearless energy as a group guide us all.
(14 November 2011)