My Vision for the Occupy Movement

It’s five in the morning on October 14. I’m on the train from Tucson to L.A., somewhere between Indio and Riverside. I slept some, but for the past half hour I’ve been glued to my smart phone, watching the Twitter. I learned that Occupy Wall Street has successfully fended off an attempt by the city and the mayor to evict them, that they’re marching in celebration, and that tomorrow will be the biggest day of demonstration yet for our movement, which I’ll be in Los Angeles to participate in. Occupy L.A.’s Facebook page just broke 25,000 fans.

Our movement. That’s the first time I’ve really taken ownership of it, despite having already spent a lot of hours documenting it on my blog, getting into arguments about it on Facebook, having written a song about it, and of course, having attended Occupy events in four cities now. So now I want to take a time to talk about my own visions for the movement, not as any sort of sum total, but as one piece that could be integrated into a collective whole. Some of this is rehashing stuff I’ve already written, though hopefully with a little more organization.

I’ve been really vibing on what Naomi Klein has written and said here and here. To summarize and embellish upon what most resonated with me, I’m becoming more and more convinced that the lack of ‘demands’ is not a bug but a feature of the Occupy movement. Paraphrasing Naomi here, having demands implies that this is a negotiation with the powers that be, that eventually we’ll find a compromise — settle — and go home. But not only are we rejecting power, we’re also envisioning the kind of world we want to live in. I had this sense immediately when I visited Liberty Plaza, that it was a sort of little village, a near-sovereign state. Monaco has no army; we have no bathrooms.

My immediate desires for the movement, at this moment in its trajectory, have to do with momentum and sustainability. I want the movement to be accessible to as many people as possible. The power of the “We are the 99%” rallying cry stems from the fact that regardless of conventional political lines in the sand, most of us are still exploited and undermined by this same system that benefits only a tiny minority of Americans. Despite particularly harsh backlash from the far Right, there is room in this movement for diverse ideologies who, at a minimum, can agree that corporatism and cronyism (if not capitalism as a whole*) has poisoned our politics and economy. I want every occupation to be welcoming to people who may have identified with conservatism their whole lives, maybe still do, but are in fact hurting like the rest of us and want to see a real transformation.

And of course I want the movement to be accessible to people who are normally not included in social movements populated mostly by young, college-educated white folks. As I told the Tucson folks, this is worth addressing while you’re small; if you get big and haven’t addressed it yet, then you have a much bigger problem of exclusivity on your hands. Now obviously the Occupy movement as a whole is no longer small, so all I can say to the occupations that are facing this is: the best time to address exclusivity around race, class, immigrant status, language, etc. is YESTERDAY. The second best time is right the fuck today.

I want to see planning for the winter. I know a lot of this is already going on, but it’s worth stressing. You can bet that a lot of mayors, police chiefs and CEOs are crossing their fingers that the movement will peter out over the winter.

Though I’m disinclined to believe in fate or serendipity meaning any more than ‘happy coincidence’, I have to say that this has come at a fortuitous time for me. As I’ve written, I’d been growing jaded for some time. My disillusionment with the Obama administration really kicked off with the extension of the Bush tax cuts and became complete and irreversible when I learned about Anwar Al-Awlaki. At this point, I’m not sure that I really have any hope left for electoral politics, the taint of corporatism seems just so inescapable.

But where I’ve lost faith in that broken system, I’ve gained more faith than ever in the power of building and serving our communities at a local level. This is no sort of new revelation, but why should we have to turn to existing power structures–whether political parties, huge mainstream nonprofit corporations–to feel empowered? We already have power. My final wish for the Occupy movement is that we each show up every day ready to empower each other even more. Thinking: aside from just being here, what else can I bring to the table of value? What skills, knowledge, art, beauty can I share?

Because, as Naomi Klein expressed so well in The Shock Doctrine (paraphrasing again), radical free-market economists have always had their ideas about society “lying around”, ready to shoehorn undemocratically into place as soon as a crisis disoriented the people. Right now, we are trying to shock the system. Unlike them, we are generating our ideas and visons in an egalitarian way. But we should still be just as ready.

*Just to be quite clear, I think capitalism is poisonous, but I don’t think that’s the minimum requisite for being involved in OWS.

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