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Rules of Engagement for Non-Profits and Unions Working with the #Occupy Movement

Jason Pramas, Occupy Media Boston (OMB)
… I thought I’d offer a few ideas that I’m calling “Rules of Engagement” for the consideration of all the progressive organizations in United States and beyond that are trying to work with the Occupy movement. I am speaking here both as a journalist that has been covering the progressive scene in Boston since 2008, and as a longtime progressive activist in community organizations and unions at the local, national and international level. I am not directly involved in the Occupy movement, having decided it was more important to spread accurate information about the movement to the public at large as a reporter and editor than it was to join it. But in the course of my work I have spoken to a good number of Occupy activists, and closely tracked coverage of the movement in the media. Putting the observations I’ve made about the Occupy movement together with my knowledge of the progressive non-profit and union scene – and combining all that with my previous experience as an activist – led me to write the “rules” that follow.

… 1) Learn how the Occupy movement works before engaging with it

The Occupy movement – at two months old – has already developed a sophisticated internal process and a welcoming culture. While not perfect, it’s easy to plug in, as long as your organization makes an effort to work within the Occupy movement’s system of governance. That means showing up for public meetings, learning their rules for discussion and debate, and the hand signals that go with them. It also means understanding how their general assemblies work, and how their working groups function. Organizations that do this will demonstrate to occupiers that they “get it.” Organizations that don’t set up a “we-thou” relationship instead. Meaning a “we know it all, you know nothing” relationship. Which is a poor way to begin a friendship, yes?

2) Respect the Occupy movement’s process

The fastest way to alienate occupiers is to try to find their “actual leaders” rather than working with their established process. Their only leader is that democratic process – most especially the general assemblies – which are institutions of direct democracy. Organizations looking for back room meetings with “movers and shakers” are going find their initiatives blocked in Occupy meetings once word gets out. And it will get out.

3) Develop a relationship with the Occupy movement

However much institutional experience many progressive organizations may have, the progressive movement as a whole has been on the retreat for four decades in the United States. The Occupy movement is the biggest broadest movement for democracy and social justice to rise in this country (and globally) in that time. There’s a huge amount of talent and strategic acumen in every Occupy encampment – and, regardless of any faults, the new movement has done a tremendously good job of pushing the public debate on a host of issues to the left in a short period of time. All this to say, don’t assume that the Occupy movement needs your organization’s “experts” more than your organization needs the movement. Occupiers are happy to work with any individual or organization that approaches them in good faith, and wants to dialogue about how to proceed with a raft of campaigns and initiatives. They also very much like to support existing organizations that deal with them in an aboveboard way. So by simply participating in their process, and getting to know point people in different working groups, your organization can develop a longer-term relationship based on trust with the occupiers. Which virtually always benefits the popular movement as a whole.

4) Give back at least as much as your organization gets from the Occupy movement

… 5) Connect your organization’s members to the Occupy movement

One great way to build a relationship with the Occupy movement – and to build that movement – is to turn your members out for events at your local Occupy encampment. That will demonstrate to the occupiers that your group is serious about working with them, and that your staff people aren’t trying to act as gatekeepers between members your constituency and the broader social movement.

… 6) Play nice – don’t try to take over your local occupation or start puppet occupations

It may be tempting for some non-profits and unions with sufficient funding to send in paid staff to work 24/7 to try to push their local Occupy encampment in whatever direction they decide it should go. Or to start satellite occupations that they dominate from word one – in cities or regions that already have occupations.

… 7) Do not claim that your organization leads the Occupy movement
(21 November 2011)

A Million Gardens (for the 99% of the 99%)

Stan Goff, Feral Scholar
I Love OWS and the Slogan “99%”

It is a great slogan that puts in bold relief the immense power of the one percent of humanity that exists parasitically on the rest. “We are the 99%.” It is a declaration that in some significant way, people are more awake to their circumstances than they were. Around this slogan, we have seen courageous and principled people take to the streets in a great shout of “No!” at the powers and principalities of late neoliberalism; and we have seen that this outburst resonates with far more people than the ruling layer of society expected. We have seen the protestors demonstrate with their bodies that under their façade of civility, this ruling layer relies in the last instance on truncheons, teargas, guns and jails. This unmasking is more important in many ways than what will come afterward, because without it, we accommodate – and we all accommodate in one way or another, even those protesting – without any clarity. Let these thousand flowers bloom.

Still, the 99% are not actually protesting. 99% of the 99% are just doing what they do to get by in the world the best they know how, far from the demonstrations. We know this is true, and we know the reasons are as numerous as the people who do not protest in the street. And so we are required to acknowledge that the movement, such as it is, is representative of its claim, not the number 99’s actualization. And therein is one seed of mischief.

… I love the way OWS stays unpredictable. That is absolutely this occupy-thing’s greatest strength.

I have questions, and ideas, however, about what happens next, about follow-up, about what the 99% of the 99% can do and, more importantly, should do. I’m not proposing, as many leftists will, that the movement “get itself organized,” select leaders, develop a strategy, etc. In fact, I vigorously oppose strategies on principle, because I believe most of them are simply designed to put a few people in charge of a lot of people who are then charged to carry out the strategy. More on that further along.

Before I can explain myself, I need to at least describe the premise for these ideas.

The premise begins that all the changes that are implied in the demands – such as they are – of the movement are not applicable to all people in all places at all times. The greatest value of this movement is not in its ability to expose certain sufferings and change certain policies, but in its ability to expose – with no unified intention to do so – all the reasons we need to abandon the entire system of which “policy” is only one essential working component.

… I believe there is a way out of that impasse. To explain it, I need to make reference to an anthropologist named Robin Dunbar. He calculated that human beings have the cognitive capacity and the time to sustain a very finite number of caring relationships. His guess was around 150. I give this a lot of leeway, but I accept the general idea. Finite brain. Finite time. Finite capacity. Got it.

These primary relationships are built on trust and empathy, requiring no formal agreements, no contracts, no administration by a third party. Most close family relations fall into this category, as do friends. My own trick for categorizing these relations is to think of them as covenantal as opposed to casual or contractual. Your relation to your boss is contractual. Your relation to a grocery clerk you see once a week is casual. Your relation to your friend, lover, child, mother, etc, is covenantal. These covenantal relations are built on care, on trust and empathy. They imply certain non-monetized, highly personal duties and obligations to one another that are accepted out of love. These relations do not require formal rules; and in fact, formal rules would have a deleterious effect on these relations.

… Once a group exceeds this fuzzy cognitive limit, this “Dunbar’s number,” it begins to require third parties to administer, manage and resolve conflicts. This is the genesis of administration and management, and it becomes inevitable with greater scale, more people. This new layer of relations is more impersonal, first by some small degree. With more people and more administrators come greater degrees of impersonality. The uprooted impersonality of administration is inevitable. The tendency of these social formations is summed up in the way we can refer to administration as an “apparatus.”

… I want to propose a strategic goal without any general staff, without any hierarchy of any kind, part of which almost anyone can accomplish. No requirement for management, and no implied requirement for conflict (some will always find you), and no one-size-fits-all instructions on how to get it done.

I want to propose that we begin a systematic effort to reduce our dependency on the technocratic grid, by a lot of people working at or near their homes. One of the most powerful dependencies we have on the grid is food. The power of the food institutions is already well known and well understood, from Monsanto, to ADM and Cargill, to the Food and Drug Administration. Our very survival has been lashed to this grid by food-production monopolies. The entire world is groaning under the depredations of the food giants.

I have witnessed food riots firsthand. It is an unforgettable experience. Our dependency on food is a terrible weapon in the hands of the one percent.

I want to propose we build a million food gardens. Two million. However many. However many conditions. However many designs. There is the strategic direction: make food, and not just for the same reasons Gandhi made salt. Make food because it puts that much of our lives back into our own hands, and the hands of our communities. Into the hands of our friends, our families, our covenantal relations. We can meet one of our own needs without any bureaucratic apparatus.
(23 November 2011)
We published some of Stan Goff’s articles years ago – always thought-provoking and hard-hitting.

Background (Wikipedia):
“Stan Goff (b. November 12, 1951 in San Diego, California) is a writer, activist, and United States Army veteran having served from 1970 to 1996. He has been an anti-imperialist activist, feminist, socialist, and is now a Christian and a pacifist. He is the co-author of the weblog Feral Scholar, along with D. A. Clark.”

Suggested by Paul H. -BA

The shocking truth about the crackdown on Occupy

Naomi Wolf, Guardian
US citizens of all political persuasions are still reeling from images of unparallelled police brutality in a coordinated crackdown against peaceful OWS protesters in cities across the nation this past week.

… But just when Americans thought we had the picture – was this crazy police and mayoral overkill, on a municipal level, in many different cities? – the picture darkened. The National Union of Journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a Freedom of Information Act request to investigate possible federal involvement with law enforcement practices that appeared to target journalists. The New York Times reported that “New York cops have arrested, punched, whacked, shoved to the ground and tossed a barrier at reporters and photographers” covering protests. Reporters were asked by NYPD to raise their hands to prove they had credentials: when many dutifully did so, they were taken, upon threat of arrest, away from the story they were covering, and penned far from the site in which the news was unfolding. Other reporters wearing press passes were arrested and roughed up by cops, after being – falsely – informed by police that “It is illegal to take pictures on the sidewalk.”

In New York, a state supreme court justice and a New York City council member were beaten up; in Berkeley, California, one of our greatest national poets, Robert Hass, was beaten with batons. The picture darkened still further when Wonkette and reported that the Mayor of Oakland acknowledged that the Department of Homeland Security had participated in an 18-city mayor conference call advising mayors on “how to suppress” Occupy protests.

… This was clearly not simply a case of a freaked-out mayors’, city-by-city municipal overreaction against mess in the parks and cranky campers. As the puzzle pieces fit together, they began to show coordination against OWS at the highest national levels.

Why this massive mobilisation against these not-yet-fully-articulated, unarmed, inchoate people? After all, protesters against the war in Iraq, Tea Party rallies and others have all proceeded without this coordinated crackdown. Is it really the camping?

… The mainstream media was declaring continually “OWS has no message”. Frustrated, I simply asked them. I began soliciting online “What is it you want?” answers from Occupy. In the first 15 minutes, I received 100 answers. These were truly eye-opening.

The No 1 agenda item: get the money out of politics. Most often cited was legislation to blunt the effect of the Citizens United ruling, which lets boundless sums enter the campaign process. No 2: reform the banking system to prevent fraud and manipulation, with the most frequent item being to restore the Glass-Steagall Act – the Depression-era law, done away with by President Clinton, that separates investment banks from commercial banks.

… For the terrible insight to take away from news that the Department of Homeland Security coordinated a violent crackdown is that the DHS does not freelance. The DHS cannot say, on its own initiative, “we are going after these scruffy hippies”. Rather, DHS is answerable up a chain of command: first, to New York Representative Peter King, head of the House homeland security subcommittee, who naturally is influenced by his fellow congressmen and women’s wishes and interests. And the DHS answers directly, above King, to the president (who was conveniently in Australia at the time).
(25 November 2011)
I wonder if we will be getting any more evidence of the role of the Department of Homeland Security and the Obama administration in coordinating a crackdown on OWS? So far, the evidence is sparse and circumstantial.