Saturday, October 15, 2011

Down at the Occupation

Today was Global Revolution Day, or as it was called around here "Global Occupation Day," and many, many events were planned throughout the day and into the night. They included a visit from Cindy Sheehan (she used to live in Vacaville, but I thought she had moved back east, Boston, I seem to remember, but I can't be sure any more.) She roused the rabble real good!

There was a snaking march through Downtown and onto the Capitol Mall -- to harangue at the bank towers (Wells Fargo and Bank of America), and then on to the Capitol grounds, for a rally on the north steps where we heard many local speakers, one of whom quoted from the Communist Manifesto, another who read the entire closing speech given by Charlie Chaplin at the end of "The Great Dictator," and others who brought up the social and economic justice aspects of the Civil Rights Movement, reminding people that Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis while he was there supporting an economic strike by garbage workers.

Earlier, I'd participated in a "Privilege vs Oppression" workshop at the Plaza that highlighted how privileged some of us are and how disadvantaged are others (an exercise I've been involved in or conducted myself many times in a social service context.) Afterwards, I asked the facilitator to think about whether this kind of exercise --- which really does work well in a social service or similar context -- is appropriate in the context of the Occupy Movement since the exercise tends to enhance the class and other divisions within the "99%" and in that way may be actually serving the interests of the 1% who rule. For example, I know I am very lucky and highly privileged compared to many other people, but the fact that I am relatively privileged within 99% is as nothing compared to the privilege (indeed, essentially total immunity and impunity) with which the 1% rulers are blessed. In other words, there is more in common among the 99% -- no matter how relatively privileged or disadvantaged one may be -- than there is between the 99% and the 1%. (And I use the terms not so much to refer specifically to income or wealth as to influence and power. They're sometimes the same thing, but sometimes not.)

He seemed to think the exercise was useful for helping to highlight the commonality of interest among the group no matter their status -- which of course is what it is designed for -- but in the context of the Occupation, the commonality of interest is widely assumed; status simply does not register. If you're there, you share common interests.

Yet interestingly, yesterday I had an online discussion with someone who saw a strong class bias in the Occupation and who wondered whether the truly disadvantaged had any hope to be included in the goings on. In our Occupation, they surely do because of where the Occupation is located, but I don't know if anyone would try to recruit at the shelters. He saw the predominance of well off white folk in some of the Occupations he had read about (I saw New Haven's first General Assembly today. It went very well. Almost everyone in attendance was well off and white. Gee. Class bias? Well, what about some of the other enclaves of privilege?) and seemed to assume that it was intentionally a well off white folks' movement. No, it isn't. I can see where he got the idea, and Bruce Dixon over at Black Agenda Report, while generally supportive of the movement, reminds the participants that there is more to think about and agitate over than their disappearing bank accounts. True enough!

I met up with a number of friends today who came out to the march and rally unbeknownst to me -- I haven't really done any "outreach," shame on me -- and their reasons for participating were kind of a treat. Old line activists were thrilled to pieces to see something this energized crop up out of nowhere and take control of the narrative so quickly and so well. I had no idea it made that kind of impression. Others were fed up with the real horrors that were being imposed on Americans and people all around the world because of the financial collapse and the failure of government to respond appropriately.

It may have legs.

Who'd a thunk it?

They say that 1700 all over the world cities were participating with occupations of their own today and that 500 cities in the United States were also having at least one event to show solidarity.

Now I'm watching the Livestream from Chicago, where apparently the police have ordered the thousands of demonstrators to disperse. I'm not sure exactly where they are, but I saw something last week that said they were meeting in or on the edge of Grant Park, and what I'm seeing in the choppy, pixelated video looks eerily like some of the scenes during the police riot in and around Grant Park in the summer of 1968. [UPDATE: Google is your friend, sometimes. They are on the edge of Grant Park, directly across Michigan Avenue from some of the scenes of riot by the police. "The whole world is watching." Again.]

Some of these scenes really do get me nervous, but then I think of the courage and determination of the mostly young people who are so very engaged in this effort, and I feel elated and uplifted. Even if there are very unpleasant reminders of past brutalities and worse, the words I hear repeated many times, "Be not afraid," relieve any sense of stalking dread.
And if anyone is interested in "process" things, Sacramento's Occupation tonight adopted and for the first time used a version of the Quick Guide direct democracy model of General Assembly that is becoming the iconic aspect of pretty much all the Occupations. It wasn't perfect. First time, what do you want? But it worked, and participants felt far more involved and rewarded than in the past. Still some rough edges, oh yes, but it's getting there. We even used the People's Microphone -- also for the first time, though we didn't use it for the bulk of the Assembly (there was a proposal that we do so, though. Good deal!)

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