Tuesday, October 4, 2011

OWS vs. The Professionalization of Activism

¡Hola! Everybody…
First, let me thank all the kind people who’ve written me, encouraging and thanking me for posting these (albeit) sporadic updates on the Occupy Wall St. (OWS) protests. FYI, if you're looking for in-depth reporting on the Occupy Wall St. protest/ social movement, see my fellow FDLer, Kevin Gosztola, for up-to-the-minute posts and incisive commentary (here).

Today I’m prepping for a job interview tomorrow. There’s a lot research to read and I want to get as much info about the organization as possible. Unfortunately, the interview conflicts with tomorrow’s rally bringing together the OWS, labor, and other progressive stakeholders in a Community Labor March:

Union members and community members impacted by the economic crisis have been demanding that Wall Street and New York's wealthiest pay their fair share of taxes. Let's march down to Wall Street to welcome the protesters and show the face of New Yorkers hardest hit by corporate greed.

It's time to stand together, and continue what was started in Wisconsin!

WHEN: October 5th at 4:30 pm

WHERE: City Hall (250 Broadway) to Zuccotti Park

Note: this MARCH IS LEGAL, meaning that the necessary permits have been obtained. Supported by United Federation of Teachers, 32BJ SEIU, 1199 SEIU, Workers United and Transport Workers, PSC-CUNY United NY, the Strong Economy for All Coalition, the Working Families Party, Vocal-NY, New York Communities for Change, Community Voices Heard, Alliance for Quality Education... many more joining daily.

* * *

I have written elsewhere how I came to be involved with OWS. Initially, some younger friends looking to tap into my experience as an activist invited me to be part of OWS before it began. I asked them the usual questions: What’s your goal? What’s your mission statement, and demands? And they didn’t have any answers…

Not wanting to discourage them, I didn’t share my thoughts that in, my “professional” estimation, this was an action doomed for failure.

This goes to show you how much I fuckin’ know.

By day nine, I (like many others paying attention) became outraged by the treatment of the protestors, the ridicule heaped upon them by those supporting the status quo and (shamefully) by so-called progressives who sneered at the OWS protestors as naïve or ill-informed.

I went down to the site to see for myself what was going on and I immediately realized that something different and vital was happening here and it was happening because the (mostly young) people were actually very well informed and were engaged in an intense dialog -- you could almost sense the consciousness raising. What I didn’t realize at the beginning was that these kids had at least two qualities no amount of strategizing, spin, or tactical know-how could bring about: courage and commitment.

Could OWS benefit from more skillful strategizing? Sure, but that’s a silly and irrelevant issue at this point of the protests. What’s happening here at OWS is the nascent stirrings of a movement, not just an action. This is an organic process, with a true “bottom-up” structure dictating that process. The only ones hung up on the lack of specific demands and goals are those most afraid of revolution: the media (which needs a handle with which to spin information/ sell air time), and people who, frankly, don’t know much about coalition-building and consensus.

Few protest movements enjoy perfect clarity about tactics or command widespread support when they begin. What’s important at OWS is the raising of awareness, attracting others to the cause. The structure develops as this ferments and grows. Dismissing these protests because they lack fully developed, sophisticated professionalization is like to throwing out a child because he can’t read.

This is what I mean when I say, as a “professional,” that I don’t want to mess with that process. OWS and its allies are attempting to oppose a dogma and to reconceptualize a society mired in a fuck up of gigantic proportions at least three decades in the making. Those who are actually interested in helping it develop will work toward improving those deficiencies, not harp on them in order to belittle its worth.

From my standpoint, I only want to be there as much as possible to support that process as much as possible without attempting to fuck with a phenomenon unique and courageous, considering the social context it is taking place within.

“The nature of the occupation’s organization hinges upon the belief that electoral politics have failed to address gross injustices. It rests upon the idea that no piece of legislation will provide the solution to systemic problems in society. It stems from the notion that petitions, calling your representative, going to conferences and holding permitted rallies and marches have been ineffective. Corporate and special interests control the agencies, bureaucracies, institutions and politicians, which participate in the electoral and political process, so much that citizens have virtually no power to influence how dire problems are addressed.”

As a veteran activist of too many protests/ campaigns/ actions to enumerate, that passage right there grabs me and compels me to an action that’s not just a march, not defined by a mere set of demands, but an invitation to dare look beyond the false choices we’ve been handed.

The only ones who need a clear message, overarching goals, yadda yadda yadda are those least interested in being about organic, lasting change.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

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