Off the keyboard of Surly
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You may be wondering what Occupy is up to lately. Depending upon who you ask, you will get a different story. Realizing that the movement needed some cohesion, some folks took it upon themselves to plan a national gathering/meeting/groupthink to figure out what to do.
Like most things Occupy, that effort splintered into a couple of factions, neither of which obtained the desired outcome.
This post is assembled form such reports as I have been able to cadge from the web and so is chock full of second and third-hand information. Those who had originally planned to go from our groups, decided, much like Dick Cheney re Vietnam, that they had “other priorities.” As the tender of the Occupy desk for DD, I determined I should assemble this report, and try to strip as much “inside baseball” from it as possible. If you REALLY want to know, say, how the Occupy “Nat-Gat” reached consensus for its priorities, please plunder their website, where the process is explicated in full, mind-numbing glory.
Two competing groups met in Philadelphia over the fourth of July. One, the Occupy National Gathering, purported to be the “official” Occupy gathering and created some visioning as well as a report. A list of priorities was created through a collective visioning process developed by members of the National Gathering Working Group and its facilitation/visioning subgroup.
Over 200 people participated. It is important to remember that participants were asked about “vision,” not strategy or tactics. A vision points to the “what,” not the “how.” In this movement – like many others through history – we often declare: “another world is possible.” In the document below, ONG began to provide answers to the obvious follow-up question, “but what will this new world look like?”
-The Priorities of the National Gathering Working Group, as determined by those who participated in the National Gathering Visioning Process on July 4th, 2012. The number in front indicates the number of votes that each priority received:
203 clean water, air, and food
186 free education for all
158 no war
116 sustainable human society
110 a culture of direct democracy
108 free universal healthcare
106 local food production, community gardens, & permaculture agriculture
104 economic equality
95 localized economies
93 a world where basic needs are met
92 military-industrial complex destroyed; military spending slashed
According to the organizers, this list is only a beginning– a survey reflecting the attitudes and beliefs of those who participated, yet nevertheless incomplete and unscientific. It may be used as the basis for future visioning, perhaps on a movement-wide scale, or set aside as an historical document. Or, for nothing at all, in true Occupy fashion.
The other gathering competing for bodies, and attention, was billed as the 99% Declaration (http://www.the99declaration.org/), and claimed to be nothing less than a New Continental Congress, assembled for a “redress of grievances” as embodied in the First Amendment.
From their web site:
WHEREAS THE FIRST AMENDMENT TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION PROVIDES THAT:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
BE IT RESOLVED THAT WE, THE PEOPLE of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in order to form a more perfect Union, by, for and of the People, shall elect citizen Delegates between June 1-7, 2012 to attend and convene a NEW CONTINENTAL CONGRESS the week of July 4, 2012 in the City Of Philadelphia. The Delegates shall then deliberate, draft and ratify a PETITION FOR A REDRESS OF GRIEVANCES to be served upon the United States Congress, Supreme Court and President, prior to November 6, 2012.
And it goes on from there to enumerate a list of grievances.
The 99% Declaration group was founded by three lawyers who originally billed themselves as an Occupy group, but who failed to gain favor or endorsement from Occupy groups, including OWS, which disavowed them, and vice versa. The name heard mentioned most prominently in association with this group is Michael Pollack.
Many of the delegates never showed up to Philadephia, as a result of disagreements about the over-representation of white males. According to local sources, a message board complaining about the under-representation of women was reputedly shut down by Pollack himself—and amidst swirling rumors that the 99 per cent declaration is operated by a shadow right wing Tea Party group. What seems to be clear is that the organization, communication and governance of this group were well outside the Occupy culture.
Head spinning yet?
Both groups attracted far fewer attendees than were originally projected. Part of this was attributed to the killing heat wave that hit the eastern US during that time. Another reason was serious infighting between the groups, laden with accusations, counter-accusations, accusations of misappropriation of funds, the entire spectrum of toxic relationships and equally poisoned human relations follies. It is this sort of mutual mistrust that has seems to afflict many Occupy groups, and which drives older participants, such as yours truly, utterly and completely batshit crazy.
Let me hasten to say that I did not go to Philadelphia for either meeting. Our elected representative, a member of a local Occupy, was so disaffected by the politics and the rancor that she went, with a few friends, to the Rainbow Gathering out in the hills to Get Her Peace On.
The rest of us stayed behind and picketed Wells Fargo in memory of Norman Rousseau. Although it was a brutally hot day, about 20 of us braved the sidewalks in Hampton in support of the initial efforts of Occupy the Virginia Peninsula.
Here’s what one self-described “watchdog” group had to say about the 99% group group:
“Recent information has been uncovered by Operation Clean House, a group dedicated to outing fraud groups attempting to profit from and/or coopt the Occupy Movement, that the group ‘The 99% Declaration’ run by attorney Michael Pollack, is actually the same group that attempted to co-opt and defraud members of the tea party movement. The group has long claimed to be aligned with OWS groups, such as Occupy Philly, and yet recently Occupy Philly formally denounced them. The group has been collecting donations, yet has no physical occupation to fund, no expenses other than self promotion, and no connection to the OWS movement. Repeated attempts to address these issues with the leadership have been rebuffed, and the only statements they have given are on the lines of “Many Occupiers at large are ready for the next step. Those are the people we need. Not the support of whoever decided they were coming to GA that night. We need people who can think for themselves. The GA’s DO NOT represent all occupier and their needs.” according to members on their facebook page.
Operation Clean House representatives have stated “The 99% declaration is NOT a part of OWS, and has been denounced by all occupations that have voted on it, while not a single occupation has endorsed it. But they are not the only group under investigation, and we pledge to root out ALL groups that attempt to profit or subvert the occupy movement. We believe in total transparency, and any group that collects donations or claims to represent our movement will be scrutinized so that the truth will out.”
Here is an inside look at what happened at the Natgat, from the keyboard of Jake Blumgart writing for Alternet. I have excepted this heavily. for the full box score, go to the Alternet site: http://www.alternet.org/occupywallst/156181
The five-day Occupy National Gathering, which drew to a close on July 4, gave participants a venue to network, prioritize issues and vent their grievances with the movement. The event gave those who felt marginalized the chance to make themselves heard, with many expressing frustration at the preponderance of white males in positions of influence.
The movement’s anarchist roots were readily apparent throughout the five days, with horizontalism and a rejection of mainstream political engagement remaining at the heart of Occupy. Issues of student debt, endangered public education, foreclosure, and big bank power were clearly the dominant concerns, although the national security state, environmental issues and police brutality were also discussed. As with any political function there were a certain number of outlier ideologies, but the 9-11 Truthers and the End the Fed contingents were vanishingly small and exerted little influence. (The latter was reduced from the Ron Paul tents that sprang up at many encampments to a lone crier in a Bob Marley T-shirt.)
The final day also featured a spirited assembly by the Radical Convergence, a group that sprang up in reaction to the perceived de-radicalization of the movement, for those who felt relegated to the periphery of Occupy. As one speaker from New York said, he feared “Occupy no longer being a revolutionary movement, but a movement that happened to contain revolutionaries.”
The Radical Convergence assembly also provided a safe, structured space for people of color and women to express their frustration and anger with the movement. Many said they felt that the “process and organizing is controlled by white males,” as was written in one anonymous concern read during the visioning process, and that too little was being done by Occupy to address issues besetting communities of color and women.
“Where is our solidarity? I see solidarity for many great things—Bradley Manning, student debt, Trayvon Martin,” said Lorena Ambrosio, a New Jersey resident and an Occupy Wall Street participant. “But right now women’s rights are under attack by Republicans all over the country. We need clinic dense, feminist education, the state representative in Michigan who was shut down for just saying ‘vagina’—there should have been immediate action.”
The daily encampment at Franklin Square buzzed with discussion of how best to expand Occupy to cover the issues raised on the 4th at the Radical Convergence assembly. But the direct actions and pageantry held during the National Gathering were largely focused on issues of debt and unjust banking practices. Many of the participants sported red felt squares inspired by the massive student protests in Quebec. All in the Red, a new student group from New York, led a march on Sunday to protest the de-funding of public education and the ever-escalating student debt crisis.
While the activists would occasionally slip into well-worn protest nostrums (“Whose streets?” etc.), their education-centered chants clearly got the crowd revved up: “Education is a right, not just for the rich and white.” The march prompted some bystanders to cheer and honk their horns, a relatively rare event as most of the week’s events did not noticeably attract much outsider attention or support.
“Our main goal coming to NatGat was to do actions with Occupy, to show people we exist, that was our main goal,” says Janna Powell, a New York-based All in the Red organizer who “stepped back from Occupy because it’s a little unproductive right now.”
Ain’t that the fact.
I have personally found that this sort of rancor has riven every single Occupy group with which I have been a part, often disguised behind passive aggressive behavior masquerading as something else. Ego, ambition, personal agenda, romance drama, borderline personality disorder, an almost uncontrollable need for “control.” It is inevitable that in a leaderless organization, attempting to reach consensus could occasion a certain amount of wheel-spinning. Yet much of the above-mentioned drama has driven away many fine people, whose energy, presencce and commitment I miss even yet. Ironies abound.
What is remarkable is that opposition to the entire idea of the unlimited growth based upon “wetiko”, or cannibal culture, is what drew most of us together in protest last fall. This unlimited growth paradigm, coupled with the endless propaganda of “American exceptionalism,” makes a god of the individual, and exalts individual drive and accomplishment, devil take the hindmost. It is precisely this habit of mind, the elevation of self and exaltation of the ego inculcated from the cradle, and in which we are all marinated, that members of the Occupy movement so dearly need to shed. And which, incidentally, is so damned difficult, requiring a consciousness and vigilance that most of us lack.
Yet we fall down, we get back up.
The problems which afflict us, from the corporatization of all spheres of life, to the plunder of the commons, to the restoration of the rule of law, can only be dealt with collectively. It may be difficult to see how we get there from here; it is also quite clear that we have little option but to try. If not us, who? If not now, when?