Nathan Schneider
Published: Wednesday 11 January 2012
“By omission, it seems, this movement intends to create a countervailing narrative to the election-year joust among the powers that be, to get people thinking about a whole different kind of politics.”

Occupy Wall Street’s New-Year Resolve

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It’s bizarre how often nowadays one hears Occupy Wall Street talked about in the past tense—bizarre, especially, if one was at the strategy meeting of OWS’s Direct Action group on January 8. Around 150 of the movement’s most restless radicals sat on the hardwood floor and in folding chairs at 16 Beaver Street, half a block from the Charging Bull in downtown Manhattan. The purpose was a big-picture strategic discussion about where the movement’s tactics had taken it so far and where to go next in the coming months. As if to match the scale of the conversation, huge sheets of paper were spread across the center of the room, which scribes markered up with the gist of what was being said.

There was no lack of confidence to go around—just the kind of infectious naivete that drove some of these same people to take and hold Zuccotti Park back in September. They reviewed their favorite things about what they’d done since then: moments that captured the world’s attention and, especially, the ones in which they shed their own fear and had enough fun to want to continue. For better or worse, a lot of this still fixated on defying the police, rather than really challenging the economic order.

“We’re somewhere between a movement and a revolution,” concluded Austin Guest, a 31-year-old with sideburns on only one side of his thick, brown beard. He added that, if they wanted to, they could bring down Bank of America in six months. Whenever there was a break, someone would jump up on a chair and start telling radical jokes. Why do anarchists only drink coffee? How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Somebody else would already know the punchline and shout it out, while others burst into laughter until they could hardly breathe. This was not the mood one would expect to find in a bygone movement.

Nor would one expect the litany of upcoming actions reeled off by a woman named Tammy, who, as part of the Interoccupy project, was helping to coordinate occupations nationwide. There would be “Occupy the Dream” protests on MLK Day. On January 20, Move to Amend would be organizing actions throughout the country against corporate personhood. There was Occupy Education on March 1, a global day of action on May 12 and actions against the G8 and NATO summits in Chicago later that month. Other people added more: an Egypt solidarity march on January 21, a day recognizing violence against women on February 14 and a mobilization in DC marking King’s assassination on April 4.

In the minds of many, the crown jewel was the global general strike slated for May Day—if they could pull it off. “I’m totally in love with the general strike,” said one middle-aged man, describing himself as an artist who for years has lived below the poverty line. “To me it’s analogous to seeing the face of God.” He also suggested bringing 10,000 people to watch the sun set on the Summer Solstice in Battery Park, led by Native American shamans.

After the open brainstorming, the facilitator, a tall man with a blond rattail named Sully, tried to guide the meeting toward specific “throughline projects.” These, he explained, are big ones that the whole group can put its energy behind, that would string the isolated days of action into an overarching story, disrupt the pillars of support for corporate power and liberate more space that a new kind of world could fill. Breakout groups discussed what these projects might be.

One group centered its discussion around mounting occupations of foreclosed homes and defunded schools. The group that attracted the most people was devoted to shutdowns: banks, ports, malls, you name it. A New Jerseyan named Chris, who started the famous We Are the 99 Percent blog, called for balancing these disruptive actions with also making the movement “a healing force.” Lots of fingers wiggling high in the air—this went without saying. People had already been talking about setting up childcare centers, schools, kitchens, free clinics and worker-owned co-ops.

From start to finish, there was almost no talk of the presidential elections—what virtually everyone else in this country thinks of when they think of politics in the year ahead. The closest those at the meeting came was one quick mention of protests at both parties’ conventions and a call for voter noncooperation.

By omission, it seems, this movement intends to create a countervailing narrative to the election-year joust among the powers that be, to get people thinking about a whole different kind of politics. It’s no small task to compete with an election that will have more money spent in it than ever before imaginable; the movement will need to be able to offer people something more hopeful, more compelling and more tangible than any presidential candidate can promise to deliver.

In order to do so, some believe that the movement needs a national coming-together, an Occupied convention to hammer out points of unity. A group working to develop what it calls the “99% Declaration”—controversial for its embrace of legislative demands and representative politics—has called for a “National General Assembly” in Philadelphia on July 4, with delegates elected through its website. The General Assembly at Occupy Philadelphia has countered by passing its own “National Gathering Process Proposal,” which insists that it would only host such a convention if it were planned and peopled by the other Occupy GAs.

One of that proposal’s drafters, Nathan Kleinman, explained to me at the January 8 meeting, “This is not about the gathering itself, this is about how to organize one.” As always in the movement, process takes precedence.

An even earlier national convergence is also in the works, with the same organizers as the occupation at Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC. (Though it has now joined the Occupy fold, Freedom Plaza was actually being planned months before Occupy Wall Street was first called for in July.) Dubbed “NOW DC”—the National Occupation of Washington, DC—it’s supposed to begin on March 30 and to run for as long as a month. Several of those behind it met in New York on January 7 to start setting NOW DC in motion. They also came to 16 Beaver the next day. While Occupy Wall Street was still deciding what to do for the next few months, this group was well into discussing how to do it.

“The Occupy movement isn’t really into planning the way we are,” said Kevin Zeese, a onetime Ralph Nader campaign manager, during the NOW DC discussions. And he’s right. Even while meeting to plan and strategize, those at 16 Beaver weren’t ready to do away with the improvisational, reactive free-for-all that had brought Occupy Wall Street to the world’s attention in the first place. An organizer with a red, white and blue bandana over his long, curly hair pointed out that their most carefully-planned marches had tended to stay on the sidewalks, where police wanted them. “We took the road only when we didn’t plan ahead,” he said. “Let’s just remember that.”



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5 comments on "Occupy Wall Street’s New-Year Resolve"

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Realdreams

January 11, 2012 9:10pm

I appreciate your comments and helpful reminders about how many solutions we have already in place just waiting for the light of day. You mentioned you have books coming out. Can you list those, please? Many thanks

bladtheimpailer

January 11, 2012 5:13pm

Great stuff, a national assembly sounds inspired. I realize that OWS is a concensus movement, however I feel that the brightest and the articulate could well represent their various Occupy's carrying instructions and ideas of those peoples. Being of average mind, niether extremely bright or overly articulate,I appreciate those qualities in others and would welcome them giving voice for me at a national assembly. We would all be listening as a balance and could still put forth ideas, possibly electronically, if we felt it was neccessary. This movement has already changed the dialogue and may well change the way "business" has been conducted for the last 400 years to a more positive system that is needed to solve the problems facing the planet and all the living upon it.

Lighteagle

January 11, 2012 3:13pm

I'm 78 years old and totally behind the OWS movement. In the 1990s, I had a successful small business I'd built from nothing, only to have an probate judge seize it in March 2000 along with all my asset and everything my parents had spent 50 years saving up for their old age. According to the AARP, there are approximately 8,000,000 senior citizens per year who have everthing they've spent a lifetime acquiring taken from them by probate judges and attorneys. It has been estimated that nearly 90% die prematurely as aresult of these actions. Their plight needs to be included in OWS concerns. The amount of money taken from the elderly yearly is in the hundreds of billions and will likely reach the $tillions with the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation. This affects our economy also!

BUT EVEN MORE IMPORTANT, I'm eager to see the movement demanding constructive change. Starting this fall, I have a series of 5 books coming out which bring together 45 experts from around the world who have been working for solutions to global problems -- SOLUTIONS OFTEN SUPPRESSED by those with vested economic interests in the status quo.

Ellen Brown's proposal to follow North Dakota's example in establishing state owned banks which can fund their own needs without owning money or interest to private banks is one excellent example. She has planned a conference in Philadelphia, in March I believe, to promote this idea to all states. She has also written an Economic Bill of Rights for everyone.

In 1933, the cure to cancer was found, was 100% successful even with terminally ill patients, and the American Medical Association, FDA and pharmaceutical industry SUPPRESSED the cure because it required no drugs and no surgery. Hundreds of thousands are allowed to suffer and die so others can make money from their suffering.

A third example: Over the past 100 years, starting with Nicola Tesla, there have been at least 70 successfully working free and low cost solutions to the world's need for energy that would have freed us entirely from fissil fuels and nuclear energy and produced zero pollution of the environemnt. Every one of these discoveries and inventions has been suppressed by the energy cartels, US Department of Energy, US Patent Office, and business with vested financial interests in maintaining the status quo. Part of the suppression has included killing some of the inventors and advocates of new energy solutions. The economic problems CANNOT BE SOLVED apart from solving the energy problems because they are so deeply interlinked. Real solutions exist but remain largely unknown to the public, so there is NO DEMAND for their release.

I hope the OWS movement will begin to focus on some of the SOLUTONS to our problem and mount protests FOR these solutions. Then we will be truly effective.

For anyone who still doesn't know it, check out Gene Sharp's book, Waging Nonviolent Struggle.