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Occupy May Seem To Be Receding, But Look Closer (text and audio)
Margot Adler, National Public Radio (NPR)
For people who watch TV news or read newspapers, the Occupy movement might seem to be in hibernation.
Most of the encampments are gone, and diminished numbers take part in protests.
But there’s a lot of ferment behind the scenes — at least at Occupy Wall Street.
Check the Occupy Wall Street website and you’ll see at least 15 events every day: meetings by working groups on arts and culture, alternative banking, media, security.
And there are actions. This week, it was anti-corporate.
“We’re kind of going to occupy a Bank of America and turn it into a ‘Food Bank of America,'” Occupy protester Luke Richardson says, describing an event on Wednesday.
… Many Occupy events now happen indoors.
If you show up any afternoon at the public indoor space with cafes, tables and chairs, you will see people sitting in circles; they are the movement’s working groups.
“We have many different spaces throughout New York City that have opened up for meetings and processes and actions and events, but it is not as visible in the same way,” says Lisa Fithian, an Occupy organizer and trainer.
The General Assemblies — big public meetings — still happen three times a week, although they’re far smaller than the ones last fall.
At one recent meeting, a participant in the crowd turned and said, “Pretty uninspiring.”
… An author and organizer named Starhawk has facilitated a number of these councils.
“It’s not always easy to figure out how people with totally different perceptual styles, understandings of life can work together and make decisions,” Starhawk says.
But the upside is many people who participate feel they “own” the movement.
(3 March 2012)
‘Port Huron’ Turns 50 as Occupy Turns 5 (Months)
Staff, Common Dreams
The New York Times marks the upcoming 50th anniversary of the the famous 1960’s treatise of the US left, The Port Huron Statement, with a profile in its weekend edition. The document, perhaps, takes on new relevance in an era when students and concerned citizens are once again taking to the streets to voice their opposition to a dominant culture and its governing institutions that undermine its hope for justice and equality and seems incapable — without massive restructuring — of addressing the major problems facing society. This new movement, most recognizable under the banner of the Occupy movement, appeared on the scene barely five months ago, but has already made its impact felt across the nation. And though it has entered a more dormant phase this winter, with its ultimate impact impossible to gauge, the movement continues to organize and take action while confronting both external forces aligned against and its own internal struggles the bubble up from within.
The New York Times explains the early genesis of Port Huron, which was first drafted at a ramshackle A.F.L.-C.I.O. education retreat northeast of Detroit in 1962, but ultimately “emerged from a five-day national convention of the Students for a Democratic Society held June 11 to 15, 1962, contained 25,000 words.”
That was 7,000 more than the Communist Manifesto, which started a global revolution, and 24,300 more words than the Declaration of the Occupancy of New York City passed last September by a general assembly of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which in three weeks produced the magnitude of protests that would take S.D.S. several years to galvanize.
But by invoking the spirit of John Dewey, Albert Camus, C. Wright Mills, Michael Harrington and Pope John XXIII, by at once championing and chiding organized labor as a victim of its own success (the S.D.S. began as the student arm of the League for Industrial Democracy), by elevating the university to the apex of activism and by validating liberalism and the two-party system, Tom Hayden and his colleagues forged a manifesto that still reverberates.
“While most people haven’t read it, it’s still extremely relevant” for its guiding principles, said David Graeber, an anthropologist and anarchist who has been active in the Occupy movement.
“For a long while I thought the Port Huron Statement was a relic of a hopeful past,” Mr. Hayden recalled last week. “But frequently students would read it and say how surprised they were at its sounding like the present.”
(5 March 2012)
Journal for Occupied Studies
Various authors and editors
The Journal for Occupied Studies is an independent contribution to the global Occupy movement, one which springs from the New School for Social Research in New York City but which fills its pages not only with student and faculty perspectives on Occupy Wall Street but with contributions from diverse individuals outside that university and indeed outside the USA. The JOS operates for the radicalisation of this struggle, at the place between past and future, theory and praxis. We hope the analyses and testimonies it offers valorize, prolong, and intensify this fight, which did not begin with the ‘American Fall’, and will not end with the decline of the call to ‘Occupy!’ specifically. The editors of JOS intend the term ‘occupied studies’ to piggyback upon the moment conjured by the word, or hash-tag, #occupy, whilst simultaneously raising the question of our continuing situation as occupied bodies, yet to wrest control of public space from the guardians of capital. Yes, documenting the thought/action of the ‘occupied’, it is hoped, foments the occupation(s) still to come
What this movement is about is that even the democratic institutions we do have now have been corrupted by big money, and in the same way our movement would be corrupted if we were subsumed into that same political system. We have to maintain the integrity of this experiment.
— David Graeber
Activism for the end times: Mass actions or focused campaigns?
George Lakey, Waging Non-violence
The good news, for now, is that the Occupy movement’s general assemblies have a process of decision making that is highly democratic and minimizes the chance of hasty actions that accomplish nothing—or worse. And, so far, the collective spirit of the assemblies has been sufficient to stave off despair. But as the movement prepares for the coming spring, there’s a real danger that its mood, and its patience, might change for the worse.
I definitely understand the appeal of the thought of periodic national mass protests at places where the 1 percent or their henchmen gather, like the upcoming G8 summit in Chicago and the national party conventions. On an emotional level, I understand the attraction and have my own warm memories from mass protests I’ve been part of. At this historical moment, however, the Occupy movement might do better to prioritize actions that make more strategic sense and accelerate our learning curve. Here are some reasons why:
- Same-old, same-old. Don’t let the freshness of the Occupy movement fall into familiar patterns. Why put the new wine of Occupy into the old wineskins of predictably boring contests with city police? The media will cover it with its well-worn template from the past, and the new politics of Occupy will risk being forgotten.
- One reason Gandhi was able to force Britain to give up control of India was his number-one strategic principle: It’s always better to stay on the offensive. Rather than simply being reactive, a movement should choose its own space for struggle. Going to the sites where the powerholders meet is not only reactive, but it emphasizes their power, as compared with the movement’s. The workers who recently occupied a plant owned by Bank of America in Chicago, for instance, forced the bank to deal with them on their terms.
- Mass bashes can endanger local causes. One of the strengths of the Occupy movement has been its balance between working on local issues and doing so in the context of a national framework. This has rarely been the case with mass bashes. …
Based on the history of mass bashes in the U.S., activists tend not to find them conducive to learning how to win concrete, lasting victories. Fortunately, there is an alternative strategy that does support rapid learning: campaigns.
The Occupy movement is already well-poised to increase its effective use of campaigns. Interrupting housing foreclosures, for one, is a natural campaign that directly affects poor and working class people in crisis, at the intersection of the personal and political. There are already a number of other Occupy-related proto-campaigns with potential:
… Choosing a campaign with clear objectives, a clear target and clarity about how to expand enables activists to evaluate their progress—in other words, to accelerate their learning curve. It also puts them in charge of who they want to reach out to; if a local Occupy is 95 percent white in a city that is half people of color, they can do something about that through a campaign relevant to local issues. Campaigns encourage us to ground our tactical choices in the context of real outcomes down the road, given increased knowledge of the opponent and of potential allies. You’ll see the difference between a movement that simply plans one action after another with diminishing turnout from “the usual suspects,” and a movement that plans actions that build capacity so that the later actions are broader and stronger than the earlier ones.
(28 February 2012)
Staughton Lynd: A Letter To Other Occupiers
Staughton Lynd, Progessive America Rising
… Every local Occupy movement of which I am aware has begun to explore the terrain beyond the downtown public square, asking, what is to be done next?
This is as it should be and we need to be gentle with ourselves and one another, recognizing the special difficulties of this task. The European middle class, before taking state power from feudal governments, built a network of new institutions within the shell of the old society: free cities, guilds, Protestant congregations, banks and corporations, and finally, parliaments. It appears to be much more difficult to construct such prefigurative enclaves within capitalism, a more tightly-knit social fabric.
I sense that, because of this difficulty in building long-term institutions, in much of the Occupy universe there is now an emphasis on protests, marches, “days” for this or that, symbolic but temporary occupations, and other tactics of the moment, rather than on a strategy of building ongoing new institutions and dual power.
I have a particular concern about the impending confrontation in Chicago in May between the forces of Occupy and capitalist globalization. My fears are rooted in a history that may seem to many of you irrelevant. If so, stroke my fevered brow and assure me that you have no intention of letting Occupy crash and burn in the way that both the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) did at the end of the Sixties.
Here, in brief, is the history that I pray we will not repeat.
It may seem to some readers that “Staughton is once again pushing his nonviolence rap.” However, although I am concerned that small groups in the Occupy Movement may contribute to unnecessary violence in Chicago, it is not violence as such that most worries me.
While I have all my life been personally committed to nonviolence, I have never attempted to impose this personal belief on movements in which I took part. Perhaps this is because as an historian I perceive certain situations for which I have not been able to imagine a nonviolent resolution.
… My fundamental concern is that the rhetoric of the Occupy Movement includes two propositions in tension with each other. We appear to say, on the one hand, that we must seek consensus, but on the other hand, that once a General Assembly is over individuals and grouplets are free to do their own thing.
A careful distinction is required. In general I endorse the idea of individuals or small groups carrying out actions that the group as a whole has not, or has not yet, endorsed. I believe that such actions are like experiments. Everyone involved, those who act and those who closely observe, learns from experiences of this kind. Indeed I have compared what happens in such episodes to the parable of the Sower in the New Testament. We are the seeds. We may be cast onto stony soil, on earth that lends itself only to thistles, or into fertile ground. Whatever our separate experiences, we must lay aside the impulse to defend our prowess as organizers and periodically pool our new knowledge, bad as well as good, so as to learn from each other and better shape a common strategy.
The danger I see is that rather than conceptualizing small group actions as a learning process, in the manner I have tried to describe, we might drift into the premature conclusion that nonviolence and consensus-seeking are for the General Assembly, but once we are out on the street sterner methods are required.
(28 February 2012)
Also at ZNet.