Occupy the Winter of Our Discontent
Can occupations survive a winter of global weirding, escalated police brutality, and the corporate media's venom? Should they?
In some parts of the country there will be no cold weather. In others, police abuses will result in larger occupations, not smaller. And it's certainly possible that for the first time in recent years an independent progressive populist campaign will survive the enmity of the corporate media.
In other cases, the cold, the communications assaults, fatigue, and the difficulties encountered by activist camps that also become homes for the homeless and the mentally ill may begin to erode the usefulness of encampments.
What to do?
Here's one activist's recommendations:
Above all: stay! Continue to hold public space! Grow, and rotate people. No single person need stay forever. But the 99% of the 99% that cheers from the sidelines needs to get into the squares and parks. We don't need emails or phone calls or checks or pizzas so much as we need live bodies!
In particular, return wherever police have sought to deprive us of our First Amendment rights. Those abuses cannot be tolerated or our rights will come under greater assault everywhere else. We must occupy precisely where we are told we cannot. The way to do this while keeping the conversation focused on what motivated us in the first place (the need to obey majority demands, to tax the rich, to prosecute the biggest criminals, to end the wars, to move the spending from the military to human needs) is this. We demand the right to petition our governments for a redress of grievances.
That is the First Amendment right that is under assault.
The strength of the Declaration of Independence was the great number of grievances against King George. We have a great number of grievances as well, and if CNN doesn't have time for them, well, it can lengthen its sound bytes. Our demands are not going to shrink except by being satisfied.
Encampments can, with some difficulty, serve as bases for nonviolent action and as community gathering places and providers of community services. If done right, aiding the homeless, the hungry, and those in need of medical care can strengthen occupations that may very well turn out to be permanent.
But the dominant focus should be on nonviolent resistance. Let's not just do theater or spectacle. Let's not just get in the way of commuters and others in the 99%. Let's get out of the streets and into the suites. Let's shut down offices.
And, while the focus on the government's funders, handlers, and lobbyists is very useful, I'd like to see more focus on government. I do not mean working with or through government. I mean resisting it, interfering with it, preventing its operations, shutting it down. The 1% is represented, and the rest of us are not. Let's put a halt to those operations and insist on representative ones.
If occupations end anywhere, they should not be ended by police or the media but by a transition to other tactics that appear more useful in that time and place, and those other tools should be up and running first before any occupation is phased out.
Here are some ideas that are being tried or could be:
Start a weekly event, ideally on a weekday, that includes a march or demonstration, a nonviolent resistance action, and a community gathering in a public space. Make this weekly action huge before considering whether to end the permanent occupation. Consider targeting warm buildings for nonviolent resistance.
Occupy empty buildings as bases for the winter. Find a building owner who wants construction work done in exchange for occupation. Or just squat in buildings that are empty. Or find one of those many people who support us but will not join us who can donate the use of a building or a house, or who can cover the rent. We need to continue building community. Our strength comes from it.
Plan bus tours from city to city, rolling occupations with big events at every stop.
Plan people's conventions, regionally and nationally and internationally. This will involve something else that's critical at the level of the local Occupy event: choosing representatives. We must figure out, as many are figuring out, how to delegate responsibilities without losing democratic control.
Plan huge events for the spring, including the start of an International Spring of Occupations.
Make plans for OccupyTampa and OccupyCharlotte for the times of the two national conventions of the two political parties of the 1%.
Do not go electoral. Do not go lobbyist. Do not divert money or time into campaigns. Do not spend your days drafting legislation or emailing congress members. Plenty of other people will do that stuff no matter what, and they will do it better if you're doing the more fundamental work of cultural change. Instead, put your skills into communications, education, outreach, inspiration, and organizing.
The best way to improve the elections is to improve the society. The best way to destroy the society is to focus too heavily on elections. The rational choice between two bums who are both worse than the two who were offered up in the previous election cannot possibly be rational.
We have larger work to do. It may take a long time. That should not affect our level of dedication. But when there is a moment of growing momentum, we must seize that moment to press forward with everything we've got.