Posts tagged ‘movement strategy’

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.

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February 2, 2012

The New Normal: This militarized empty lot called home

By Puck Lo

From the diffuse clouded sunlight, which looks and feels the same in January as it does in June, to the broken glass glinting on the sidewalks, downtown Oakland is as usual. The city barely skips a beat anymore during and after the now-normal political riots that clog otherwise empty, wide downtown thoroughfares, drawing relatively little attention from non-political passers-by beyond perfunctory updates on Twitter decrying the lack of parking due to #oo or contemplating the sometimes nearly monolithic young whiteness of these latest exhilarated, raging masses.

Since the diverted building takeover on Saturday and the police riot, kettling and violent mass-arrest of marchers outside the YMCA, interest in denouncing and trying once again to co-opt and control the unruly Occupy has returned with a vengeance. Recently dormant factions of the Bay Area’s Leftish communities and political intelligentsia, often genuinely well-intentioned, are issuing statements condemning so-called violence against buildings and other inanimate objects or taking issue with the insurrectionist strategy of facing off with police and antagonizing city officials. This unnamed Occupy strategy, coupled with the hyper-militarized state of Oakland’s police force, culminated on Saturday with some 400 arrests and hundreds of thousands in city dollars spent to terrorize the populace of our fiscally gutted, deeply unequal and gentrifying city.

Not surprisingly, every faction involved is staying on-message.

The cops blame the protesters. The Mayor blames the “fringe” protesters who are out of touch with and beyond the control of the non-profits who claim to represent authentic communities. Within activist communities, pacifists blame the rioters. Non-profits blame outside agitators.

And though I agree with their overall analysis, many of the same Occupy-ers and insurrectionists who seem to value above all else militant confrontation with the police (as much as someone unarmed can actually “confront” a heavily armed force who have state-sanctioned powers to kill) now act shocked that cops don’t follow the letter of the law, white kids can get arrested for walking down a street, and jail is not a good place.

Such “politicizing” experiences of spending a weekend in jail – celebrated in the manarchist culture of back-slapping camaraderie shared by those for whom jail is a rebellious and exotic adventure – only highlight some of the many ways that privilege and punishment land unequally on the differently raced, gendered and classed bodies who get swept up in mass arrests of the 99% movement.

Let’s be clear: I can’t think of any social movement that has overthrown dictators, ousted exploitative corporations, or catalyzed its populace to build alternatives to a corrupt system that hasn’t engaged in one or more of the following militant tactics: building and land expropriations, illegality, and strategic confrontation against police forces.

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January 23, 2012

Defending the People’s Mic

By Pham Binh

The People’s Mic.  Created by occupiers in Liberty Park after the New York Police Department (NYPD) prevented us from using bullhorns, used on Republican Governor Scott Walker and Democratic President Barack Obama, it’s one of the most effective means we’ve devised to give voice to the 99%.

We don’t own media empires or have expensive sound systems, but we will be heard!

However, the powerful people’s mic is not invincible, especially at smaller rallies, protests, flashmobs, and speakouts.

On January 3, the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority’s police force (yes, they have one of their own) arrested two people leading the people’s mic.

Lauren DiGioia (seen above), the hard-working member of the sanitation group and one of the womensexually assaulted at the Liberty encampment, was mobbed by cops, dragged away, and issued a summons as she spoke out against the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that allows the government to detain accused terrorists indefinitely without trial. Obama signed NDAA into law, giving Bush’s attacks on civil liberties after 9/11 the “change we can believe in” seal of approval.

This type of action by the cops is going to become common as we continue to make our voices heard. They are adapting their tactics in response to us adapting our tactics. It’s a continual battle between us and them and now it’s our move.

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January 20, 2012

OWS and Immigration

Editor’s Note: Thanu Yakupitiyage was interviewed by The Real News to discuss how OWS is handling immigration issues; take a look.

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.

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