10 Ways Occupy Changes Everything
[This piece is slightly dated now, but there is so much good stuff in it, i wanted to go public with it.]
Sadly, i must admit i have all but stopped reading books. I still read a lot every day, most of it on the internet. There are books that i am interested in reading; one was the much discussed When Corporations Ruled the Earth by David Korten. So i was excited when i saw he co-authored an article for TruthOut.org called Ten Ways the Occupy Movement Changes Everything. Unfortunately, i read the article and was disappointed. While everything in it was true, it felt like it had missed many of what i thought were the key points around this important movement. So in the spirit of “passport to complaining,” i wrote my own version. i hope you like it. Even better, i hope you link to it and share it with your friends.
10 Ways Occupy Changes Everything
1) Occupy strengthens the right to assemble and protest. The US Constitution guarantees “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This is textbook Occupy. This is exactly what we are doing and why. This is being challenged across the country. Occupy is testing this with consequences for governments that don’t permit free assembly. Oakland police demolished the local Occupy group; they even put a protester into critical condition. But then protesters came back and re-occupied the space, closed a Wells Fargo branch, and called a general strike that shut down the port of Oakland. NYPD came in and broke up Occupy Wall St. and less than seven hours later a NY State Supreme Court Judge had served Mayor Bloomberg, the NYPD, FDNY and others with a restraining order to protect protesters’ right to re-enter “Liberty Square” with their tents. After pepper spraying Occupy activists who posed no threat to the police, UC Davis is in the national news and investigating its own police violence. First Amendment rights are be tested and often upheld across the country. Crystal points out that while Occupy started here (North America), these rights to dissent are being tested globally, not just in the US.
2) Occupy is the safety net. There is an informal but very real social contract. If you need something reasonable, Occupy will try to get it for you. The most obvious example is food and a place to stay, though it may well be in a tent outdoors. But it quickly goes deeper to medical services, legal aid, mental health counseling and someone to just listen to you and hold you, if you need it. When an ex-con friend ran out of options because he could not get a job and was out of money, I suggested he go to Occupy, because the rich social network, plus his various radical ideas would make him a natural for such a place. Local businesses and individuals are giving generously to Occupy. What started as a protest of the maldistribution of wealth is becoming a model for generosity and voluntary wealth redistribution.
Copper and I spoke for a while in Woodruff Park in Atlanta the other morning. “Occupy got me off crack,” he told me. When I pressed for details, this African American Muslim Shak (“a learned person in the culture of Islam” as Copper would explain to me) got so busy– with all the hospitality, the media, the meetings, the influx of resources, making sure people got shelter and food, and so on– that motivation overpowered his addiction. After all, he could be a junky anytime, while Occupy was inviting him to be a revolutionary right now.
3) Occupy is a triumph for consensus. Occupy is gritty. There are power trips and non-cooperators and thieves and various other violators tangled into it. With the General Assembly format, collective wisdom consistently triumphs over eloquent would-be leaders. Sexist and otherwise disrespectful behaviors are often pushed back. Occupy proves that if consensus can work in this heterogeneous cultural and class environment, it can work anywhere. It also proves that if we work it long enough and hard enough in a group, we can get to something that we all agree on. This is really big.
4) Occupy challenges our own oppressive behaviors. I have had more substantive conversations with poor black older men in the last two months than I have had in the previous 5 years. I am white and come from a privileged class background. Occupy is an invitation to a conversation about ourselves and what our dreams are. If I am there and you are there we can talk. It does not matter what our class, race, religion or sexual orientation is. We see each other as part of an idealistic family that is willing to work to make things better. All occupations are struggling with the institutionalized and internalized oppressions that we carry with us into any new space: racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ageism, etc. We have been raised in a culture that teaches us to stop listening when women speak, to shove aside the realities of any person of color, to stutter when faced with sexualities or gender identities unlike our own, to ignore the importance of children. But the very nature of occupy challenges those behaviors. Across the country there are patriarchy working groups, people of color caucuses, women’s caucuses. White folks with an anti oppression analysis are organizing white ally caucuses. It is messy and we are still re-creating dominant culture behaviors, but Occupy gives people the space to try something different.
5) Occupy is a successful memetic structure. Memes are the cultural counter part of genes. They are self replicating concepts. The larger ones (super memes) are concepts which change the world and include things like Darwinism, globalization, Islam, AA, and the sexual revolution. Occupy was replicated globally within a month of its start. Even if Occupy is not the revolutionary movement which makes everything better, it proves with its veracity and speed that given the right memetic mix ideas can become action and really go global overnight without corporate sponsorship. Occupy is a powerful reminder that good ideas can change the world for the better. And because the Occupy concept is open source, it can be modified and experimented with – tinkered and improved.
6) Occupy is already a global “brand” with strong reputation. Marketers are dreaming of how to capitalize the good global brand of Occupy. Their success is mostly irrelevant. What is important that most people think these protests are a good thing and many are willing to support this movement with their resources, their time, or their voice. Occupy has a loose type of brand loyalty, where if people involved see that something is “real” Occupy to them, they will go towards it and offer to help. Occupy is important because it is a “smart brand” which has started well over a billion conversations in two months. For example, I think Occupy may reinvigorate hitchhiking in the US, with people holding signs which say “Occupy LA.” The dynamics of hitching are such that only a tiny shift in the number of people willing to pick up hikers dramatically improves the quality of the hitching experience.
7) Occupy is open source. You don’t have to fill out a form, other than perhaps a cardboard sign. And your sign, of course, allows you to be funny or angry or profound as you wish. Anyone can join. Existing Occupy sites are often highly visible in the center of town. Anyone can start their own Occupy, put up your own website, tell folks (especially your friends) when the general assembly is and prepare to camp out and interact with the police.
And open source is a huge invitation to clever organizers. You can go door to door and ask for donations to the movement and then distribute them. Because there is no bank account and no 501 C3, you prove that you are part of the movement by story telling. By saying what you have seen. Using stories to carry messages is, in my mind, the key to shifting people’s thinking.
8) Occupy is leaderless. There are lots of closet anarchists out there. Lots of people who don’t want leaders telling them what they should do and particularly don’t believe in the political systems to correct the problems that the same political system has helped put in place. Leaderlessness means Occupy has to keep asking itself who it is and what it wants. This question is asked first on a very local level, but Occupy often chooses to then ask big picture questions.
9) Occupy changes the dynamic of homelessness. From where i sit, the most important people in the Occupy movement are the homeless ambassadors to the typically more affluent occupy organizers. These people, often with amazing stories, see the importance of these two groups working together. Food has never been served in Woodruff Park in Atlanta before Occupy showed up. The homeless were stopped from sleeping in Lee Park in Charlottesville. But it is only secondarily about food and better places to sleep. It is primarily about the political power of Occupy being accessible, local, and focused on homeless issues. It is also about the myriad Occupy volunteers working with the homeless toward their common goals.
10) Occupy is a light of hope in a hopeless world. i am going to skip the 10th point and link to a current interesting article in the Nation on the future of the Occupy movement.