I got invited to speak at a conference in which i did not pay enough attention to the program. It turns out to be very new agey, and it might be too exotic/woo woo for me. I did like the intro presentations about polarities though.
During one of the speeches a presenter said, “The reason that Occupy Wall Street failed is they rejected the idea of leadership.” This struck me as wrong for two very different reasons.
The first is Occupy did not fall, it was pushed. Dozens of police raids across the US displaced occupiers from their parks. Remove the freedom to assemble and you eliminate free speech protests.
The second reason is that Occupy did not fail. Oh, it did not succeed in getting banksters thrown in jail and it did not end income inequity in the US. But it did change the conversation about these topics. In New York itself, mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio vowed to tackle the “Tale of Two Cities” income disparity issue and won, in part, on this issue. Similarly, one could argue Obama’s efforts to raise the minimum wage may well have been emboldened by this movement.
More importantly, Occupy gave birth to a whole collection of initiatives including Occupy Sandy, which outperformed both FEMA and the Red Cross after the superstorm hit the East Coast. In many cities Occupy morphed into anti-evictions groups. In Eugene, Occupy Medical still provides free medical services to populations that would otherwise have no access. And these are just initiatives i know of because i work in these cities.
You should only hope that when you are dead, you have this much going on.
While Occupy has booted from many parks Occupy actions continue in many place, including several sets of port closing in this week. Closer to home there was a flap about the tagging of the statue in Lee Park. While i did not think much of the handwriting, i thought the slogan (mimicking Lee’s own “The South will rise again”) was clever.
Within 24 hours of it being discovered by the authorities (and what regular park attendees think is about 48 hours of the actual tagging) it was mostly erased using powerful solvents. See below.
What was pointed out to me was that a far more offensive tag, in the same park on a nearby tree was left standing and will continue to be (and removing tags from trees is admittedly much harder). The image below is not 40 feet from the offending Lee statue. Were i a better photgrapher you could read the word “fag” more clearly in the tag.
There is quite a little hub-ub both in the media and within the Occupy Cville community about this tagging. Many people are disturbed by it. One Occupier even went as far as saying it was sullying the “pure movement”. But it is to be expected from a group which has no leader and many anarchists involved. Part of the issue here is how the movement relates to property destruction (or in this case, temporary property defacement). Some advocates of non-violence believe that property destruction is a form of violence. Certainly, this view is widely held by capitalists and property owners who wish the treatment of their assets to be viewed with the same attention and care as is given to human beings.
I have to say i dont worry so much about property rights, but perhaps this is easier for me because i dont have much personally, but have a lot held in a collective fashion. I will get back to property rights and violence, but tonight i will leave this here.
i did not think i was going to make it. i had gone to Richmond to rescue Helm from the bus station and a crashed tanker truck blocked my exit and forced me into town. It looked like i would be late for the 11 PM witching hour that the Cville police had set up for clearing out the Occupy movement from Lee Park.
So i called Sue from Little Flower Catholic Worker and said “as an experienced activist, how long do you think it will be before they start busting each other?” It was 9:30 which i called. Sue observed that the police and media were already in position. The protesters were ready and technically the park closes at 11 PM and the permit (which Occupy Cville never asked for) expired today.
i rushed back to Twin Oaks, dropped off a sick Helm, picked up a helpful Edmund and Emily and rushed on to Cville hoping i would be in time to get arrested. Okay, i get that most people are not rushing off to get arrested. But i had multiple motivations.
First, it was the first time Sara and i would have ever gotten arrested together. As recently as the day before Sara had been reminding me that i had not actually done much for Occupy Cville, in stark contrast to her involvement (which of course she did not mention, nor did she need to).
Third, want to be part of this wild meme which unfolding called Occupy.
We spent hours before being released. The cops were not too bad, tho one young cop freaked and put Shelly into a compliance hold when she was not resisting and got her screaming across Lee Park.
i thought i might stay with Sara in Cville after the arrests, but we had one of those charming awkward moments where she introduced me to her new lover in the waiting room of the jail, who was going to stay with her that night.
There was a bunch of coverage including these videos from Channel 29
There is much more to say, but i am beat, more to come, Stay tuned.
“You have two choices” Kate said to me with a rare level of agitation “You can either stop complaining about the corruption in Ohio or you can come campaign with me in Cincinnati.” It was not much of a choice, in the fall of 2004 the rampant election abuse in Ohio was enough to get an anarchist into party politics. I knew I could not shut up about it, so we went to Cincinnati and worked for almost a week for several different campaign efforts: Acorn, the Unions (SEIU and friends), for the Kerry Campaign directly and for Election Protection.
At the Kerry HQ and I got elevated in a few hours to the lead person working on this corrupted mostly paper database of prospective voter contacts. At one point the highest level functionary from the office came in, clearly harried and unhappy about the unresolved state of the database. I spoke with him and the person who had been working on the database for months. When the director asked me what I would do, I suggested a pretty radical plan which dumped the largest part of the contaminated data, recognizing that there was no longer time to do anything with the whole list. There was an intense quiet moment and the director told the database manager “Do what he is proposing”
What struck me about this was the difference between this situation and the other groups SEIU, Acorn and Voter Protection that we worked for on election day. In those groups you could only do the lowest level direct contact work and paper scuffling. The Kerry organization was some combination of open enough and chaotic enough to make it be possible for me to influence it. The others were not.
I felt the same way today at Occupy Oakland. I had not been there an hour before Jonah said, “It is great that you are here, I want you to talk with this guy who does a lot but has a very aggressive style. He has also been shown to be stealing things from other members of the Occupy Atlanta group”. And it is conceivable that someone could present like me and be terrible for this pressing task. And perhaps Jonah, frustrated with the situation is just throwing at it what ever resources seem to be handy. And I look handy.
Keith was walking in front of me on Peachtree St, and looked back when he heard me asking people about Occupy. He was proud to say he had been there since the first day. We talked about the unlikely trajectory of Occupy Atlanta in Woodruff Park, which ended with 5 arrests and displacement by the police.
Occupy Atlanta is now strangely indoors on the 4th floor of a Peachtree Street building, right above a homeless shelter. But when I asked Ed if Occupy Atlanta was mostly homeless people he explained that it is not. And the desire of the students, new and old activists who had created occupy was not principally around housing or extreme poverty issues. The current site is just 8 blocks from the original Occupy site, but being indoors makes it basically invisible. Ed went on to explain that homeless are actually usually finding accommodations better than a tent in the park. He personally had several places to stay that were nicer than the park, but it also seemed clear he did not have a regular residence.
Ed and Candy describe the early days in Woodruff Park and it is easy to imagine that this type of festival environment that the mayor might well worry about. It is easy to imagine why they were forced to leave.
Candy explains to me that she is not at Occupy for the politics. And though these are not her words, it is clear she is attracted in part because it is the better party. If the movement is going to grow in these strange indoor hot houses and other relocations, it will be in part because people who do not identify as political feel like it is the right place to be.
“Why aren’t you at Occupy, this is the closest thing we have seen to a revolution in this country in our lifetimes” Ezra was asking me the same question i have been asking myself.
And of course i have been a couple of times and am likely to start going into Cville most Fridays to dig in deeper. But where i have most been Occupying is in my imagination.
So you really want to do something to help Occupy, but you have a straight job and a crowded life? What i would suggest is you organize with your friends who are also sympathetic to do some type of performance at the Occupy near you. It does not have to be very fancy or long, and you could work from a script if you needed to. But even more important that the weather in determining the longevity of Occupy, is how good a time people are having at these events. It is in essence a funology problem.
Of course there are a lot of factors, people really want to creatively express their political upset and Occupy is providing a great vehicle for this.
There are problems with homeless people (especially mental health problems and how they integrate or dont with the occupiers. The police are varying degrees of headachy. The weather is getting colder. And what will hold people to these actions is in part the extra-ordinary things which are happening at these occupy events – the conversations, the generosity, the sense of accomplishment, the feeling that this is an important moment in history.
Occupy Oakland has been the source of much inspiration to me. After being brutally attacked by the police, who tried to disperse the action including putting Scott Olsen in critical condition. The movement bounced back and not only retook the space. But upped the ante closed down a Wells Fargo Bank, called a general strike and closed the port of Oakland.
Stay tuned more on this topic shortly.