Saturday, October 29, 2011

Make Something of It

I haven't said much about the local Occupation lately in part because there have been so many more stirring events elsewhere.

Which is not to say that what's going on here doesn't matter. It does. Like most other Occupations -- maybe even all of them -- Occupy Sacramento is engaged in a fierce internal contest of wills over its "proper" direction, and who or what, if anyone or anything, should be in charge of that direction.

For some time it has been a matter of jockeying for position and power and fighting those who claim top-doggery.

In other words, internally the local Occupation rather closely mirrors the external society and its power structure. This tendency to mirror the power and sometimes the organizational structure of the society in general is widely found in the Movement, and what -- if anything -- to do about it is a frequent topic of discussion here and elsewhere.

The OWS model of horizontal organization and leaderlessness is the tonic to much of what goes on in the world outside the Movement (and that world seems to be shrinking by the day). But the model is not well-known or well understood beyond a certain relatively small cohort of enthusiasts (I consider myself one). Even in New York, which has essentially made the model in this country, they had repeated visits from Spain for consultations on how it works and what to do in particularly difficult situations.

A question came up yesterday in a discussion about the #Spanishrevolution as it is called.

Have they accomplished anything? Have they changed any policy of the government?

The Indignados Occupied the Puerta del Sol in Madrid and the main squares of many other Spanish cities, most prominently Barcelona, for months. The Spanish general elections are coming up, and it is quite likely that the Zapatero government will fall. It is expected that a coalition of Spanish conservative, if not outright Fascist, parties will win parliament(much as has already happened in Portugal.)

Is that what the Indignados had in mind? It's impossible to tell from a distance, but I kind of doubt it.

Already this year the People's Party (conservative/borderline Fascist) has won in a majority of municipal elections, and it's likely they will do very well -- probably win -- national elections for Parliament (Cortes).

Is this because the Spanish people are enamored of the policies of the right all of a sudden? I would say not. No, this likely outcome is for the same reason that Republicans did so well in the 2010 elections in this country: People are fed up with the unwillingness or inability of the ostensible "leftist" party (in Spain, Zapatero is the Secretary General of the Socialist Workers' Party) to serve the People's interests before those of the financial interests who now seem to own governments all over the world.

The Occupation of Puerta del Sol and the other public plazas has had no discernible effect on the policies of the government of Spain. The government of Spain, like every other European government, is apparently owned by -- and directed by -- the same financial interests that own and direct the United States government, and what the owners want comes first and foremost. The People -- even if united in solidarity -- need be paid no attention; let them have their little camp outs if they want them, there is nothing the People can or will do that government, as a function of the controlling financial interests, need to fret about.

There is nothing the People will do. Still.

What does it take?

I can't say I have all that much of an insight into these things, but I have seen what's happened -- and is still happening -- here. After the Mayoral Visitation, there was a huge amount of explosive anger addressed toward the process and the process movers which allowed KJ free rein to make his mischief, though there wasn't necessarily any understanding of just what that mischief was. ("My god, these people don't know anything about how power works! This is a disaster!." Yes, exactly. And that was the Mayor's intent.)

On an instinctive level most people do understand how power works; and they like it like that. They don't want any significant change in the power dynamics they know, and they will resist any imposition of another power dynamic -- sometimes without even meaning to do so.

In Sacramento, in part because of the way society is organized here (around a government model), changes in the power dynamics are very difficult or impossible to achieve. Some of the extant social dynamic here goes back to the Gold Rush and its immediate aftermath, much else comes directly out of the Railroad Era; the remainder is a factor of the persistence of governmental and bureaucratic memory that you will find in any capital city. These dynamics become so deeply ingrained they aren't even consciously recognized.

We've had what amounts to a split in the Occupation in that the more radical/anarchist contingent (along some others) have stayed with the Movement but have left the local Occupation saying that it is just too "conservative" for their taste, and that much of what they would like to see happen here can't happen under the current set up. And they're right. It can't.

Even if our General Assemblies were on the right track -- which they aren't yet -- the more radical contingent would not be getting their way. Overall, Sacramento's Occupiers and their supporters are a highly conservative lot, even though most would consider themselves to be liberal/progressives.

Sure they are.

They are, but in the context of the Occupy Movement, the liberal/progressive ideal is conservative.

I look at this and ask myself what to do about it, and the answer is "let is be." Don't try to change the culture -- that can only happen on the longest of long terms anyway -- try to change yourself. "Be the change you seek."

That's why "make something of it" is such a key idea. The image at the top of this post is of what happened to the fencing the City of Oakland installed after Tuesday night's disturbances to keep people out of Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza. The Occupiers tore it down as soon as they were allowed back in the Plaza (which they were on Wednesday night).

And then they made something of it. Something beautiful.

THAT'S exactly what's necessary; make something of it.

Be the change you seek.

There is no way to stop that spirit.


  1. I agree with you. The conditioning runs deep. How else to explain the bizarre anger whenever we talk about true, participatory democracy, where everyone would decide the course of a nation, including its economy? That seems to get everyone all up in a huff, spouting easy bromides about "liberty and freedom", even though having everyone decide is the ultimate in that.


    Rather than a tiny few making all the decisions for everyone, everyone would be making those decisions. How on earth can someone consider the current garbage "liberty and freedom"?

    The conditioning is overwhelmingly powerful.

    They just can't see that the "liberty and freedom" of a tiny fraction of the population to decide for the ENTIRE population isn't "liberty and freedom" for anyone BUT that tiny fraction . . . . but people in this country don't want to change that.

    . . . .


    BTW, would like your take on this article. Fascinating stuff. Me thinks it would make an excellent blog post for you. A response, etc.

    In Defense of Hippies

  2. Goldberg's perspective is certainly interesting -- probably because I share much of it. There are some things I'd quibble with, but why quibble? The point is the dual nature of the Revolution then and the Revolution now.

    The continuing fear of the Hippie Taint is remarkable. I'm thinking particularly about the old hippies and the grandkids of hippies who are involved here. They are welcome and beloved, though their politics is not necessarily universally loved. I think they're right about what's really important, but it is too utopian for widespread adoption. On the other hand, the pragmatic left pretty much stays away. The Socialists no longer come around or participate; I haven't seen the communists for weeks. We still have plenty of Zeitgeisters and Pauliacs though.

    What most really don't want, though, is to be perceived as radical.

    And yet, as the repression continues and gets worse, radicalism of some sort is inevitable.

    Under the circumstances, drum circles may become necessary to relieve the tension.

    As for your points about participatory democracy and the fury it provokes in so many... I think that's going to wind up the topic of another post.

    Had to skip the Revolution today, however. Not. Feeling. Well.