BACKING OFF: After contributing to OO since Oct. 25 including being tear-gassed and witnessing rubber bullets and flash bombs in the afternoon before the worse attacks at night, I decided this week that I had to withdraw my active involvement. The posts so far on this section speak more eloquently than I– especially the poetry–to what it is that has led me to this separation.
OCCUPY, FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE: I became aware of the concept of “Occupy” back in the summer when I was invited to come to D.C. on Oct. 6 to occupy “Freedom Plaza”. I’ve answered the call to social justice all my life. I’m a “former” priest, retired teacher, member of NEA (union), lifetime social justice worker here in the US, Nicaragua, Guatemala and in Haiti for the last 6 years. Occupy–DC, Wall St. Boston, Oakland– promised to be bringing the advocacy to a new level. Because of my lifetime of doing direct action (civil disobedience) campaigns that utilizes creative pressure tactics without harming people or property, I was very comfortable joining the OO especially on Nov. 2. OWS took the limelight on the 17, and then I ended up going to Boston for a funeral and studied their Occupy. Because of my work with my church in Oakland dealing with helping youth and others involved in violence, I decided to work with OO.
RADICAL DEMOCRACY: The structures of governance used by Occupy– transparent, basic democracy–were familiar and acceptable to me. Not that I haven’t experienced radical democracy also debilitated by subversion just like other processes…
AFTER THE GENERAL STRIKE: The violence perpetrated by the police on the 25th was a built-in case of injustice that rallied everyone like me to demonstrate in the wonderfully peaceful and effective General Strike. Unfortunately right after the violence that occurred after the General Strike there began, for me, the serious doubts about supporting OO. But I was willing and committed to working within the system. I volunteered on site with security and medical and I began working within the Nonviolence circles through Facebook to work out a resolution to the growing bad rap OO was getting because of its inability to disavow violence. This turned into an interminable round and round, dissecting the minute parts of the definition of Nonviolence. Attempts at creating a unified statement went nowhere. Reportedly the first and then the second NV FB page were being “infiltrated” by people intentionally trying to kill any statement. A third NV FB page was developed without success so far. Whenever a proposal would come to GA, it never had a chance to pass the 90% test.
OUR OWN FAULT (nonviolence proponents) : Our inability to surmount the “nonviolence” issue was certainly largely the fault of us “NV’ers” ourselves. To count the numbers in the FB pages, and in the many private e-mail lists set up, we could certainly have prevailed–one person/one vote–at a GA. Just imagine if a small percentage of the 20,000+ people who turned out for the General Strike showed up at a GA. Instead the NV’ers continued to operate in independent and ad hoc groups, getting involved in multiple actions. Meanwhile public opinion–including my own–began turning more and more against OO, not against Occupy, but how OO was hurting Oakland. Worse, instead of working to consolidate themselves as a potent block within OO especially at GA, the NV’ers began — still in ad hoc groups– making moves to establish a NV friendly new encampment.
OCCUPY WHAT?: To me the question of whether the Occupy movement was about fighting over insignificant land like public parks, or about actually taking our bodies to Wall St. institutions here in East Bay– banks, stock brokers, the political establishments that have brought us to our knees economically– had become clear. Occupying Ogawa Plaza or Zuccotti Park was not–if it ever was–the essence of the movement. For me what we needed–if we are indeed at a new level of taking back America for the 99%–was to do massive organizing using the best in technology, acquiring good allies with money and equipment and space to put together solid “occupying” plans that would have as much of an impact as the General Strike had around the world. We definitely didn’t need to be tied up in Ogawa Plaza. We needed a safe space–inside, especially for the bad weather–with all the tools necessary for developing the size and ingeniousness of actions to affect the Wall St targets in the East Bay.
RIPPING OFF OAKLAND–ANOTHER NEW CAMP?: Sadly as the costs to the citizens of Oakland, the 99% rose astronomically over the fight to occupy Ogawa Plaza that was really a fight against the 99% of us in the East Bay, people like me felt we had call a halt and call for a regrouping. Against the very concept of transparency, democratic rule (GA) groups began taking it upon themselves to pursue the same failed objective of “occupying” insignificant land. I say Insignificant in the battle of seeking justice for 99%. Lafayette Park? Another piece of land that the local neighbors had fought so hard to make decent from the bad days of crack cocaine and poverty? No way the local folks told us! (Yes I was at the Saturday meeting when this was pursued, still trying to pay my dues to the movement but becoming thoroughly uncomfortable. Snow Park? People reported to us that the campers there didn’t want anymore people, especially those from Ogawa. What happened to inclusion and democracy in this serious incursion into another community?
DIVIDE AND CONQUER: The first lesson they teach in Organizing 101 is “divide and conquer”. Sadly our enemies know they can count on us do-gooders to practice “divide and conquer” with little or no expenditure on their part. So to this date I don’t think there is a unified statement on the restrictions in protests on violence in the works. The action tomorrow seems so all over the place in terms of true “Wall Street” targets, and although I’m sure there will be some groups specifically prepared to calm violent behaviors, at this point there should have been a movement-wide agreement, managed by effective peacekeeping teams. Otherwise we will be at risk to unplanned violence. And without any cohesive plans to continue harassing the “Wall Street” targets, we’ll continue to be seen like amateurs and the Wall Street Gangs will continue on their merry ways.
ELECTORAL POLITICS?: Oh yes, electoral politics: I cannot approve of the Occupy movement’s absolute–if I read it correctly–stand against having anything to do with electoral politics. Of course, it is our political process that has created our mess–but in no little bit thanks to our own lack of vigilance and involvement in the electoral process. Yeah I pounded the pavement in 08 for Obama and there are serious problems I have with his job performance. I think it is a simple cop out to say we shouldn’t have anything to do with our real and only democratic government. Our GA is certainly an experiment in democracy which has already unraveled substantially in our own faces. So OO is behaving in the usual divided way and that spells failure too much.
GUILT TRIPPING: Finally, guilt tripping people like me that we’re traitors to the Occupy movement –if we don’t endorse OO as it has been developing –just doesn’t work. Many more people than I have been in the trenches in Oakland and elsewhere laboring at the many “lost” causes of the Occupy movement. Watching OO trying to set up mental health, homelessness, feeding services is impressive at first sight, but this is a show that doesn’t recognize those who are in fact competent to provide such services and who have been advocating for them all along. And now OO has attacked the 99% of Oaklanders’ budget/pursestrings making it all the more difficult to provide them. I participate in an OCO project for violence reduction, finding jobs for youths, working on street gangs. We had little money before. Now it will be even harder. I’m sorry long after OO is gone–I do hope it gets reborn and starts occupying those “Wall St” Targets and gets money from other sources–we locals will still be battling.
REBIRTH, SAVE OCCUPY! This critique doesn’t intend to discount all the good will, the enormous sacrifices of the folks on the ground–security, food, facilitators, etc etc. These are great people doing great work. It is the “collectivity” of us all that I’m conscientiously at odds with. As a remedy I did some work to promote a solid NV block of Affinity Groups that could be influential–at a level of influence equal to its numbers and its efficiency. At this point in time I was pushed out literally by those who want another model to the point of dumping me. We haven’t begun to deal with basic interactive dynamics, old vs young, women vs men, ideology vs reality.
I have to get back to my real priorities which are equal to the goals of OO where I do have collaboration.