Posts tagged ‘anti-oppression’

February 10, 2012

Room for the Poor

By  Morrigan Philips

Solidarity means that even if you win, you stand with everyone until everyone wins.

Poverty is, as the most basic definition states, the lack of resources sufficient for someone to live comfortably in society. For many, credit cards and loans have kept them in reasonable enough comfort that they have been able to put off acknowledging the grim realities of our economic system. Much of this myth of comfort and stability has fallen apart in recent years as the economic crisis has pushed more people into the uncomfortable position of realizing how close they are to a financial crisis of their own. Meanwhile, according to new poverty measures and census data, rates of poverty, particularly in rural communities and urban communities of color have risen to a 52 year high.

Complicated financial games and double speak mask much of what has been fueling the financial crisis. But as more and more people have found themselves with no work, no money and mounting debt problems, the financial tricks and gimmicks that have been keeping this wreck going seem more like smoke and mirrors.

Fueled by outrage over economic gluttony and seaming impunity on Wall Street, the Occupy moment took hold of a piece of anger lying deep in the hearts of masses of people. The proverbial pinch was being felt by too many. Pop! A would-be movement sprang forth representing those whom the promise of prosperity in exchange for hard work had been made and broken.

It should be made clear that Occupy Wall Street and the multitude of Occupies that have come alive around the US are not orchestrated nor primarily constituted by financially comfortable, gainfully employed, resource rich individuals. Plenty of unemployed, underemployed and broke ass people are taking on roles of organizers within Occupies. There are also those who rely on various forms of public assistance, both safety net programs like public housing and social security programs like unemployment. Further, the camps drew many from those forgotten and neglected corners of our communities: the houseless, those with mental health issues and substance use problems. Where camps remain these communities members also remain.

But to be clear – Occupy is not a poor people’s movement.

February 6, 2012

Participatory Democracy and the Occupy Movement

By Katie Meta

1. Intro and motivation

The Occupy movement began in New York City’s Zucotti Park in September 2011, as a protest against economic inequality and specifically against the banks of Wall Street. Occupy quickly spread, and around the world camps were set up in public spaces, protesting against economic inequality, and organising themselves non-hierarchically, with decisions made in leaderless General Assemblies. The occupations are notable for their lack of a platform or list of demands, as shown in this statement from Occupy Oakland:

To the Politicians and the 1%: This occupation is its own demand. Since we don’t need permission to claim what is already ours, we do not have a list of demands to give you. There is no specific thing you can do in order to make us “go away”. And the last thing we want is for you to preserve your power, to reinforce your role as the ruling classes in our society.

What does it mean to say that “This occupation is its own demand”? I would argue that this expresses a desire for Participatory Democracy; a political system characterised by a lack of hierarchy, in which people participate directly in making decisions that affect them. This is in contrast to Representative Democracy, in which people vote for their rulers once every four or five years but apart from that have few opportunities to participate in decision-making. At least for some participants, the purpose of Occupy is not to influence government, but to replace it.

However the form of participatory democracy practised within the Occupy movement is far from perfect, and despite the best of intentions what happens in General Assemblies falls short of full and equal democratic participation for all. Many people are drawn into this movement by the promise of openness and equal participation, and so when these promises are not realised, people drift away.

In this article I’m going to look at how participatory democracy is practised within Occupy and related movements, show some of the problems that often come up, and suggest some improvements. I’m also going to talk more generally about how Participatory Democracy can be used in other types of organisations. Finally I’ll argue that Participatory Democracy isn’t just something that just happens in meetings, and that is requires a cultural shift in the way we think and related to each-other. This shift requires hard work, but in my opinion it’s definitely achievable.

I’m not involved in the Occupy movement. However I was involved for several years in the UK Camp for Climate Action, which had a similar organisational structure. I’m going to start by describing this organisational structure in a somewhat simplified and idealised way – every group is different so this won’t perfectly match any particular group.

January 25, 2012

From Building Tents to Building Movements: Reflections from Occupy DC

By Vasudha Desikan and Drew Franklin

WELCOME TO D.C.

“Occupy is not a panacea, but an opening. It will help us clear the way to a more mature political landscape. It has begun to breathe in the many currents of dissatisfaction and breathe out a new radical imagination.” Vijay Prashad

The question of what the “Occupy” movement is has concerned us ever since it spread to Washington D.C. in October of last year. After witnessing Occupy Wall Street’s tremendous growth in New York, we were inspired to see for ourselves the potential for radical mobilization in our city, where the corporate and state arms of global capital meet. The seat of power in the United States, D.C. has a long history as a center for protest, frequently drawing in activists from all over the country. It is also home to 600,000 legislatively and electorally disenfranchised residents, who have been engaged in their own unique struggles. Occupy D.C. had (and in some respects still has) exciting potential to work in solidarity with these community struggles and catalyze radical growth here and around the country.

From day one, we spent considerable time at Occupy D.C.’s chosen encampment, McPherson Square, a quiet park situated two blocks from the White House on K St. (this location was strategic and symbolic, as downtown K St. is recognized for its concentration of corporate headquarters and lobbying firms.) As anarchists committed to direct democracy, we helped build up the Facilitation committee and worked to implement consensus building processes at general assemblies, spokescouncils, and working groups. We watched the occupation grow quickly from a small group of no more than fifty people making and holding signs, to a “tent city” practicing mutual aid, with free medical care, a free kitchen, and its own library, among other things. Marches grew from ten or twenty people with poorly coordinated chants to hundreds of marchers taking the streets, blocking traffic, and barricading or taking over targeted buildings.

Occupy represented an exciting, transformative moment that saw rage and disillusion fuse with direct action tactics in a strike against oppressive institutions. It brought together hundreds of strangers who might have never worked together, deeply inspired and reinvigorated many burned-out activists, and fostered the development of leadership among a new generation of young radicals—all while helping change the national discourse around inequality. But the movement also has flaws, some quite serious, and they merit further examination.

It was many of these shortcomings that resulted in our very intentional abstention from Occupy D.C. Having stepped back from McPherson, we want to critically reflect on these past few months. 2012 will be a crucial year for popular uprising, as revolutions continue around the world, and as the U.S. gears up for the most expensive presidential election in history. We can learn a lot from the Occupy movement—its successes and failures—and use that experience to keep building momentum and guide popular discontent toward revolutionary struggle.

"DC activists lead an anti-oppression workshop at McPherson Square in October." Photo credit: Rooj Alwazir

January 16, 2012

Learning from our Elders

By Prita Lal

On Sunday, November 20, 2011, a group of veteran civil rights activists from the “Council of Elders” Organizing Committee hosted Intergenerational Days at Occupy Wall Street and in other Occupy cities around the country. In NYC, the day included an interfaith worship service at Liberty Square followed by a panel discussion at Judson Memorial Church. The event was organized and hosted by the People of Color Caucus and the Anti-racism Allies working groups.

The Council of Elders is an independent group of leaders from the farm worker, sanctuary, civil and human rights movements that shook the nation’s conscience with public protests during the 20th century. This intergenerational dialogue brought together hundreds of activists, organizers, educators, and community members to discuss questions, challenges, and lessons that can be gained from the civil rights era to the current Occupy movements happening worldwide. As an excerpt from the statement of solidarity by the Council of Elders states:

“We see Occupy Wall Street as a continuation, a deepening and expansion of the determination of the diverse peoples of our nation to transform our country into a more democratic, equitable, just, and compassionate society.”

January 5, 2012

Why Occupy Wall Street Matters to Me and How It Can Continue to Matter

by Manissa McCleave Maharawal

(In some ways this is a response to Esther Choi’s piece, and in some ways it isn’t…)

I spent yesterday evening as I spend many of my evenings: in the Financial District, at Occupy Wall Street, attending a Direct Action meeting, eating dinner, going to the General Assembly, and going to a POC-DA affinity meeting. As I was standing in the food line, waiting for my portion of beets, greens, cole slaw and bread, the conversation turned to Esther Choi’s article, “Private Danny Chen, and why I will never again reach out to OWS about something that matters to me.” Yesterday when I read this article it nearly made me cry: both because of how right she is, but also because I, somehow, felt personally responsible for the injustices and unjust and oppressive behavior that she had experienced at OWS. As someone who both identifies with the movement and as someone who has worked from the very beginning of my involvement at OWS to confront issues of racism and oppression within OWS, while still standing in solidarity with it, reading Choi’s article I suddenly felt very, very tired, sad, and angry.

To be honest, I was angry at both OWS and at her. I think OWS is strong enough and mainstream enough now to withstand serious critiques, and I think whether weak or strong, every movement should be self-critical. I’m tired of hearing that we can’t take on issues of racism and oppression because it would be “divisive.” I’m tired of hearing people call People of Color (POC) Caucus at OWS divisive because we bring up uncomfortable truths.

A friend of mine who is visibly Muslim (she wears hijab) said the other day, after recounting an incident where she was told that she had made people in a meeting “more uncomfortable than they had ever been” by telling them that she had been triggered by a racist sign: “If this is the most uncomfortable you have ever been, then please realize how lucky you are.” I laughed and agreed with her, but her comment stuck with me. In fact, this is exactly what some people everywhere, including at OWS, don’t want to have to realize–that they have a certain set of privileges in not feeling uncomfortable and that these privileges impact them and everyone around them.

So in these ways I completely understood what Choi meant and why her article feels and is so very viscerally and justly angry.