beyond occupy: out of the parks, into our lives

Shortly after the Occupy Movement began to make headlines, my friend and comrade Dr. J wrote this on his blog your heart's on the left:
Is occupation a tactic or a principle? Should the focus be on the internal procedures of those actively occupying, or outreach to broader communities and struggles? How do we build a movement of the 99%?

. . . As the temperature drops, it will become more unsustainable to maintain outdoor occupations, and prioritizing this over outreach beyond the occupation will cut the movement off from broader struggles. . . . As we’ve seen from Tahrir to Wisconsin, occupations are simply one tactic in a broader movement for change. The main strategy needs to be the active participation of masses of people—in the streets, campuses, and workplaces.
Dr. J. was ahead of the curve. Right now, as the Occupy Movement becomes immersed in struggles with city governments and abusive police, there is the risk of the act of occupation being fetishized, an end in itself, rather than a symbolic, strategic and tactical expression of a larger movement.

I'm not suggesting - not for a moment - that Occupy Wall Street walk away from The People's Library like nothing happened. Or that the students at UCal Davis - when their eyes and lungs heal - shrug their shoulders and quietly return to class. Or that Rob Ford win without a fight. I am concerned, however, that the central message of economic injustice - and everything that stems from it - is at risk of being lost amid battles for the right to protest in public spaces.

The impetus for this movement was not the right to sleep in parks. The rights of assembly, expression and protest are of paramount importance, and must be constantly defended. But we must not lose perspective. The message is "We are the 99%". And most of the 99% can't sleep in the park.

For the movement to continue, it needs to both broaden and deepen. Broaden to the thousands upon thousands of people who cannot join an occupation, but who support the same ideals and values, who believe people and our needs are more important than profit. And deepen, with a historical perspective on other anti-capitalist struggles, and building a more just society. To do this, the movement must build and strengthen connections with existing movements that are fighting for the same thing.

In my many years as an activist, I can't count how many times I've been buttonholed by a stranger here to tell me The Answer. "Do you know what you guys have to do?" is the usual opening line. This person doesn't come to meetings, doesn't understand the complexities of the situation, makes no effort to get involved. He sits on the sidelines and criticizes.

I never want to be one of those people. Only the Occupy Movement - the people creating it, day-to-day - can chart the movement's course. I fully respect that.

I write this only as a hope. I have thrilled to see this movement - to see, at long last, people in North America organize around economic justice. And I fear that the broader struggle may be lost in the specific battles over sleeping in parks.

Well, not quite. Even if the Occupy Movement as presently conceived were to fizzle out tomorrow, it would still have accomplished so much.

It focused the national and international conversation on the injustices of capitalism. Wow! That's something I thought I'd never see.

People organized themselves and created a grassroots, democratic, decentralized and leaderless culture.

People acted collectively, many for the first time.

Others saw their own values reflected in the protests and realized that they, too, could participate. They got a glimpse of their own potential to create change.

These gains are huge. They are nothing short of the discovery of an alternative model for society. So whatever happens next, I applaud the Occupiers with all my heart.

In addition, movements ebb and flow. Occupy Wall Street (and everywhere else) was related to the Arab Spring, and to the labour uprising in Wisconsin, and to countless smaller and less visible actions and protests taking place all the time. So if Occupy disappears tomorrow, that doesn't mean it has disappeared forever.

But it's time to talk about the future. How do we include everyone who supports this movement but could not physically occupy? How can Occupy link up with established and existing revolutionary movements?

How can we truly Occupy Everywhere?

No comments: