TURNING AN OCCUPATION INTO A COMMUNITY OF RESISTANCE
I have been at OccupyLA frequently since its inception and have recently visited OccupyOakland, OccupyEureka, OccupyArcata and OccupyHSU (Humboldt State University). I've been corresponding with friends at the original OWS in NY, talking with people who started OccupySFV, and chiming in on the OccupyLA email lists. I want to put forward some ideas I think may prove helpful. Please feel free to share them and to get back to me with response, feedback, criticisms, etc.
We are the 99%, but being the 99% does not automatically unite us. If that were so, the 1% would already be in the dustbin of history, and not ruling the roost in a system designed to favor them. The one-percenters are able to rule because they are able to exploit the divisions among the 99% and inculcate their imperial values, beliefs and ways of thinking among us.
As occupants, we have a lot more unity, because we are acting, assembling peacably to seek redress of our grievances. That is outstanding, and we have to seek ways and build on that, make that a pole of attraction for the rest of the 99% for whom the Occupy movement is still just a part of the spectacle, something on the news or the Internet, possibly attractive, possibly disturbing, possibly irrelevant.
To turn an occupation into a community of resistance, we need to recognize, respect, validate and overcome the differences among us as well as build the unity. We are stoners and straight edge and recovering addicts or alcoholics, gay and straight, women and men, Black, white, indigenous, Asian, Mexicano, migrants and US-born, of different faiths, atheists, pagans or irreligious, warriors and pacifists. Some have lived on the streets at some point, some just lost their homes to foreclosure, some are long term unhoused people, some may never have knowingly spoken with a homeless person before. Some are working right now, some are unemployed or retired, others may, despite their best efforts to find work, never have held a straight job in their lives. There are Democrats, Republicans, socialists, communists, anarchists and libertarians in the ranks of the occupants, and people who never gave a thought to political affiliation. These are real differences which cannot be ignored; they must be recognized, appreciated -- and overcome.
How do we go about overcoming those differences, building our unity and our practical impact on society towards our shared goals? How do we identify our grievances, and really get them redressed? I think there are a number of steps to take and principles to incorporate into our practice that will help tremendously.
These are direct action, service, communication, education, agitation and organization. Educate, agitate, organize was a long time imperative slogan of movements for social change, but we need to incorporate and act on those other elements as well. Together they will enable us to build real unity, which is based on solidarity -- respecting our differences and still struggling alongside one another.
The occupy encampments are, in and of themselves, a form of direct action and political/social expression under conditions of media monopolization, corporate domination, and electoral irrelevance. But more is needed. There are and have been for a while, community groups and people taking various forms of direct action to deal with the multiple crises we are facing. These range from squats, housing takeovers and foreclosure resistance, to permaculture and urban farming, to popular education projects and many more. We need to learn about and unite with such efforts and make part of the practice of the occupation carrying out such measures.
Concrete service is an important element of this. The 60s and 70s movements, beginning with the Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement, the Brown Berets, Young Lords, the Asian left, sectors of the student and anti-war movement and the downtrodden white workers like the Young Patriots and Rising Up Angry, all embraced the idea of "survival through service to the people." They engaged in concrete programs like the Free Breakfast for Children program of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, in free clinics and child-care programs, bike repair programs, free schools, free food programs, GI coffeehouses and dozens of other projects. We need that spirit of service within the occupy encampments and from the encampments to the larger population.
We need better communication, not just via social media, but face-to-face and person-to-person. In a large occupation like OccupyLA, there is a tremendous degree of anonymity. That can be a good thing in some circumstances, but it can interfere with communication and accountability. How much are we reproducing the alienation of urban society within our encampments. We need to take the time to get to know each other, create some of that small town and community spirit -- get to know your neighbors, not just the ones you came with, agree with or feel comfortable with, but the strangers. Find out why other people are there, don't rely on assumptions. You may be surprised to discover a very wide variety of grievances and motivations and desires that do not simply mirror your own.
We need to educate ourselves and each other, and the larger society, about the nature of the problems and the aspects of solutions. Recognize that we may not agree about all of them. Get the facts. I know there is a research collective, and we need to find ways to identify and share sources of information about different views of the economy, the police/prisons/courts, the military, etc. etc. We need to share our knowledge and our questions more broadly.
We need an activist mentality, a spirit of agitation, within the occupation and in our relations with the larger society. I and others have proposed daily marches. There have been some different proposals about times; personally, I am inclined towards noon when there will be a lot of office workers out and about to mingle with and draw in. Nov. 3 there is already a scheduled march in LA to the US Bank building. Kicking off from that, we can develop and publicize a daily march schedule to the host of "targets" nearby or farther afield -- the Twin Towers, largest jail in the world; the LAUSD headquarters; the LA Times, part of the Chicago Tribune media conglomerate that also own KTLA; the Board of Supervisors; the State Office Building on Third and Spring; the Chamber of Commerce; the other big banks; periodically as issues arise and allies present their demands, the City Council chambers; military recruitment offices, etc. etc. In this way we can energize the encampment and connect with other social forces and people in motion around the nexus of issues that make up the ongoing social, economic and political crisis of this empire.
All of this will take organization. Organization is and always has been the key lever and strength of social protest movements. We need to organize ourselves better, first of all to take care of ourselves, to learn about each other, and to make best use of our talents, resources and strengths. We should inventory ourselves, our needs and our capacities. We should know, for example, emergency contact information for everyone in the occupation. Do people have allergies, special medical or dietary needs, disabilities? These are minimal required pieces of information for our individual and collective physical security. Do we have clean-up teams, night-watch teams, outreach teams, evacuation teams for people who will need help evacuating if necessary, child-care teams? The less overt organization we have, the more covert leadership or competition will develop, the more contradictions will emerge and exacerbate rather than overcome differences.
Any of these points you agree with, please seize the time to get together with like-minded people to help implement, or draft as concrete proposals for the GA.
Do we have people who can organize healthful physical activity on site -- yoga, tai chi, meditation, etc.? How do we put people in touch with them? How do we make sure this space is safe and hospitable for women, for LGBTQ people, for people with disabilities, for children or the elderly? How do we establish caucuses, discussion groups, affinity groups? How do we set up billboards and maps at multiple locations around a very large encampment? This all takes on going organization efforts. We can't rest on the laurels of the first rush of the occupation and the welcome, media and first aid tents that were first established. We can't rely exclusively on the GA as the sole form of communication and organization, especially as we want to build and broaden the Occupy movement.
I hope these thoughts and suggestions are helpful, and taken in the positive spirit in which they are offered. I will be happy to begin working around any or all of these ideas in L.A. Email me at email@example.com or call me at
--Michael Novick, Anti-Racist Action-Los Angeles/
People Against Racist Terror (ARA-LA/PART)