Occupy Fringe: Occupy Roundup (Week of 1/9)by Jeff Questad • 01.18.2012
“We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
-Martin Luther King Jr. “Beyond Vietnam“
Let’s occupy 1968 for a moment.
Martin Luther King Jr. had a vision of a movement that would transcend civil rights for African Americans and would focus on economic justice for all, a “Poor People’s Campaign” that would cut across race and use the same peaceful protest actions he had brought to civil rights in the South to the issue of poverty in America. Dr. King’s expanding view and increasing focus on economic injustice is barely on the radar today, eclipsed by antiseptic CNN tributes and major appliance sales that have come to dominate the holiday that bears his name.
One almost forgotten part of the Poor People’s Campaign was Resurrection City, an encampment in Washington D.C. The complaints against PPC campers in Resurrection City were the same, over 40 years ago, as those we hear about Occupy Wall Street: dirt, disorganization, and vague complaints about crime that have little substance. Mostly peaceful, and more substantial than its legacy would suggest or the bad weather in Spring of 1968 would seem to encourage, this squatter protest encampment stood for a little over a month before it was dismantled by police and the activists run out.
Although he was there for the conception of the Poor People’s Campaign, the events were organized by Dr. King’s followers. The first campers arrived in Washington in May. One wonders what we would talk about when we talk about Dr. King today had he lived long enough to lead these actions for economic equality. He didn’t. Dr. King was murdered in April, just weeks before Resurrection City.
Few talk about that encampment today. The national media seems to have drawn an almost complete blank. Many of today’s Occupiers do know about it, and those who don’t can read and are learning about it this week. Some see Resurrection City as the first Occupy, a four-decade-old warmup for what’s happening today. Many of us see Dr. King’s brief but powerful work on wealth as being an early seed, the beginning of a critique that took almost half a century to fully ripen.
That’s why–part of why–we occupy Washington, D.C. this week, after and in conjunction with a series of M.L.K.-themed local events all over the country over the weekend and throughout the week.
There were many actions and gatherings this week, like this one at the Federal Reserve, calling for an end to foreclosures, money for students and a fund to come from Wall Street for creating new jobs. Occupy events associated with Dr. King’s memory happened all over the map this last weekend, many of them organized by African American churches and civil rights activists working with Occupy groups in their cities.
The biggest event of the week is Occupy Congress. It’s connected both to the Martin Luther King Holiday, Tuesday’s four-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, and like all Occupy events, is an independent campaign. Regrettably, the action is all happening right now as I have to put this piece to bed, so I can only speculate how it’s turning out. Some early pictures are beginning to show up.
No thanks to the national media. As far as I can tell, at midday and thousands gathering in Washington D.C., after weeks of open preparation and regional Occupy groups traveling cross country leaving blog posts and YouTube vids everywhere they went, the media doesn’t seem to know anything is going on. I’m not sure how many people need to show up in order to get CNN to point a camera out their window, but at this early hour I’ve seen many reports of crowds gathering, many photos and video feeds, including pictures of police armed to the teeth (they sure knew someone was coming).
I can’t include the outcome in this week’s piece, but if the news media gets bored this afternoon there are hundreds of Twitter feeds, YouTube videos and Facebook pages watching. I hope I can better sum up the day’s events next week in this space.
Hard to imagine why this particular part of the Occupy Congress story didn’t get picked up by more big news outlets. A Greyhound bus driver, seemingly disgusted at the thought of carrying Occupiers to Washington, stranded 13 of them at the Amarillo terminal. That’s not nice. Have you ever been to Amarillo?
What you’re supposed to do with people who have views that differ from your own is tolerate their voice and let them have their space to say it. Therefore, I present, the alternative view, a preview of the Occupy Congress event by someone who has already made up their mind about Occupy and today’s Congress events.
But I’m not being as gentlemanly as I let on. I include this smug and dismissive piece pronouncing Occupy Congress over before it starts in order to make a point. Small and petty as it is, it’s a pure distillation of what seems to count as “criticism” of OWS today. There’s not a word of legitimate disagreement over position in this piece, but lots of snickering at inside jokes and attempts at dismissing what happens behind “the haze of marijuana smoke and body odor.”
So much of the analysis directed against OWS seems to focus on a supposed failure to think things through, a predictable red herring that comes up in this piece, and pretty much all pieces negative about these actions. They like to pretend they are not against protest, but offended by this one because it has no purpose. Just because you don’t understand what Occupy is about doesn’t mean the Occupiers don’t.
If she had complained about bongo drums, that TownHall piece would have had it all.
The biggest obstacle to change often seems to be cynicism.
Here’s more of what people were talking about in your Occupied world this week.
Ghandi. Sure, I’ll engage in some speculative discussion about whether Ghandi would have approved. Ruchira Gupta says Ghandi would have been a leader in OWS. Along the way, the piece makes a couple of points I wish the Town Hall writer above would consider. It points out, rightly, that the U.S. is a country that lives in a dream that all are equal. Occupy has put the idea of inequality on the map, and made it a major issue in a very short time, and in a country that barely knows such a thing exists. America is waking up from a dream. I’m certain Ghandi would have approved of that.
Also, in organization, Occupy is an ongoing and real-time flexing of the democracy muscle, a radical, participatory process where all decisions are made by real people. Occupy is not demanding democracy while ignoring it themselves. These things need to be noted by all observers, and the critics need to realize these things are intentional, urgent goals and processes determined by people who had a stake through mindful democratic work with others.
These massive demonstrations are not the accidental outcomes of marijuana-fueled bongo gatherings. We just have those for fun.
Where did the ideas come from? Many places, but here’s one you won’t hear much sane discussion of: Anarchists. There was a time I used to run with self-styled Anarchists. That was when I was younger and could run.
In the context of grassroots political participation in the U.S., Anarchism needs to be understood not necessarily as a rejection, and certainly not as a purely destructive impulse–although the scene does attract more than its share of pyromaniacs and window breakers. It doesn’t mean a complete absence of rule or structure. Indeed, I often felt those who liked to disdain politics and work at the grassroots level without leaders spent too much time talking about votes and procedures. That’s because an Anarchist believes democracy is a good thing, and that America should try it. They so believe in its essential rightness that they are often the only ones insisting on democracy in its most extreme and pure manifestation. Sometimes that’s time consuming, and can appear unfocused from the outside.
The Anarchists play a huge role in establishing the rules of engagement for Occupy, and that’s a good thing. This piece says thank you, Anarchists. Thank you for the General Assembly, the open to all debate/vote process that’s the guiding decision-making and problem-solving principle for every Occupy group in America.
And as Occupy enters its fourth month, at the beginning of a presidential race, resisting the pull of electoral politics, send your local Anarchist a fruit basket thanking them for that too.
Save these dates:
- January 20th – Occupy The Courts
- February 3rd – National day of action against the NDAA.
- March 30th – National Occupation of Washington D.C.
- May 1st – Occupy General Strike
(This is just a start. I’m going to compile more upcoming event dates and have them for you each week in this space. I’ll verify the substance of these, link to reference pages, and keep an updated list of the events that really seem to be developing. So check back here often to keep an eye on what’s on the agenda.)
Citizens United, the same group that brought the Supreme Court case, is making a new documentary about Occupy Wall Street. The court decision that opened the floodgates on political contributions from corporations is a major part of what OWS is protesting, and walking the law back is one of the major goals. So you can guess what the tone of the the group’s film on Occupy is going to be like.
Matt Taibbi believes this story tells you everything you need to know about the insanity of Wall Street. I don’t know about that, but it’s pretty crazy, and Taibbi’s writing is always a kick in the teeth.
Designer jeans, body spray and reality television shows. Does the marketing of Occupy related products mean the movement is registering with the mainstream?
Here’s one example of what the movement to occupy vacant houses looks like, as an abandoned house in The Bronx enters its second month of occupation. For those of you who think I brought too many words this week, relax, this one has video.
Why now? What next? Where do we go from here? What does it all mean? A conversation with Naomi Klein and Yotam Marom about Occupy.
Bill Moyers interviews a pair of Occupiers who tell him a little about where they see the movement going.
I quite enjoyed this Moyers interview, and the two OWS reps came across as thoughtful and intelligent critics and organizers who can explain themselves well. I have no doubt Moyers has his heart in the right place as well. He’s a reliable journalist you can count on to at least have a clue about money and power, and a man who knows the problems that need to be solved. I am glad he’s on the air and I hope he will continue doing thoughtful and fair work on Occupy.
But Moyers also has a government pedigree, and he seems confused as to why Occupy doesn’t take political sides, why they insist on standing outside the process (so far) and why this week’s Occupy Congress event doesn’t take the opportunity to do more traditional lobbying and trying to draw politicians to their side. He questioned them several times.
We came into this piece on the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. and we’ll go out on them, with a passage that explains better than I can why we seem to say no to politics and yes to direct action.
“You may well ask: ‘Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?’ You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word ‘tension.’ I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.”
-Martin Luther King Jr. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail“
When you’re buying a new washer and dryer with 25% off and no payments til June this week, don’t forget the words of that Martin Luther King Jr.