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Tag Archive | "general assembly"

From Mic Checks to Privilege Checks

How Occupy fails to address (straight, white, male) privilege

Editors’ note: This piece originally appeared at Anarchy Isn’t Easy.

I didn’t think Occupy would accomplish anything when I first started working with the movement. I didn’t think it would last longer than a day. There were individual friendships but no group solidarity what-so-ever at any of those early meetings before September 17th 2011, and in many ways there still isn’t. We didn’t really start supporting one another and working together until the NYPD brutalized us into cohesion last fall and the truth of Occupy is that we consistently stop supporting one another and working together whenever the NYPD stop brutalizing us. The most frequent, consistent and symbolically violent attack made by Occupiers upon other Occupiers within this movement is the ironic demand to “check your privilege.” The concept of privilege as it is used in this phrase refers to the social advantages that certain straight white men enjoy over other individuals of other orientations, ethnicity and genders. This concept also automatically and incorrectly implies that straight white men necessarily oppress other people who are not straight, white and male in order to maintain their privilege. This concept further and even more erroneously and dangerously implies that people who are less privileged than straight white men are incapable of oppressing others precisely because they are oppressed themselves, as if straight white men are the only ones capable of oppression. This essay isn’t about the kind of caucasian, male, hetero-normative privilege that I am supposed to check as much as it is about how the check itself is oppressive and how it ironically prevents an actual redistribution of privilege from ever occurring.

The practice of calling out the privilege of, and demanding that straight, male caucasions step back and give others–that is non-straight, male caucasions–the chance to speak isn’t considered and defined as divisive, exclusionary, let alone as discriminatory within Occupy due to the seemingly widely shared agreement within the movement that “reverse-racism,” or more descriptively perhaps, reverse-discrimination doesn’t exist: a myth which enables those without privilege to use their voice within Occupy to silence the voices of those who are perceived as possessing more privilege as if this’ll somehow enable the voices of those who are more marginalized to be better heard. A privilege check isn’t really a demand to be silent as much as it is a demand for a masochistic confession of guilt from the privileged so that the oppressed might momentarily reverse the hierarchy of oppression and egotistically experience what Nietzsche called the “pleasure of mastery” via “the pleasure of violation.” The chatter of the confession, however ironically, ensures that privileged occupiers wind up speaking more than marginalized occupiers if the bait is swallowed.

My objective however isn’t to argue that discrimination against those who are perceived to benefit from conventional discrimination is still discrimination, or even that occupiers checking each other’s privilege is bitterly prejudicial not to mention discriminatory, as much as it is to argue that privilege checks are an unfortunate, redundant, counterproductive, self-defeating waste of collective time, energy and sacrifice. Devoting all of my time, energy, material resources, and commodifiable skills towards an advertising career, finishing my research and PhD, and/or charming my way into some rich girl’s family would’ve been a more reliable way to have furthered my own privilege compared to working with Occupy over the past twenty-two months. I’ve knowingly ruined my chances at any sort of career in spite of the fact that I’m drowning in student, medical, credit-card debt and IRS. I’ve made a generous sacrifice of blood for the movement last summer in Chicago and I’ve sacrificed a digital strategy job and therefore my home for the past eight years as well I fear in order to work with Greenpeace this summer. I have checked my privilege, my social advantages over and over again.

I’m Oneida according to my mother who I lived with during the school week. A direct descendent of the rouge tribe of the Iroquois Confederacy who had been practicing democracy in America long before it ever became the United States of America. The Oneida are perhaps best known for keeping George Washington and his army from dying of starvation at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-1778. They were attacked by the rest of the Iroquois after the Revolutionary War ended, Washington set aside some land for them which was encroached upon in subsequent generations, and many of them moved to a reservation in Wisconsin, and from there into the racial ghettos of the city of Milwaukee, from which my family managed to move into a working class suburb of Polish-Americans which prided itself on educating some of it’s children into middle-class workers. The white people of this town neither perceived, nor treated me as white. They would tell me I was Indian as their sadistic children harassed and attacked me in one way or another on what seemed like a daily basis. They knew I was Indian (as opposed to Oneida) because I tried to learn the language, a traditional pow-wow dance style and lacrosse in order to fit in with the sadistic children from the rest and the Indian Community of Milwaukee who would tell me I was white when they attacked and harassed me.

Racially oppressed people of all varieties can and do oppress other people precisely in order to feel less oppressed themselves via ‘the pleasure of violation’ and racial oppression, much like rape, is something which unfortunately occurs between friends, family, and acquaintances more so than total strangers. The police used to beat my step-father long before I became his first son and they would needlessly search through his car and question him in front of his children even after he got too old for beatings. He used to call me “Casper the Friendly Ghost” because of how white my skin is. My mother recalls deliberately ignoring the way he would deliberately neglect to give me anything to eat, not because he hated me or was consciously trying to punish me but because he loved me and because shit always rolls down-hill after it’s been eaten recycled. He would grab my head and fart in my face so often that I grew up under the impression that this was socially acceptable.

The means of oppression in my father’s house on the weekends with him, my stepmother and the gay artist she had been married to before he had died of the AIDS virus was a bit less complicated and tended to revolve around spoiling and guilt, privilege indeed more so than neglect and degradation.

I was but I wasn’t Oneida in my father’s house, just like I was and wasn’t Oneida in my mother’s house. I’m too Oneida to ever be white but too white to ever be Oneida. My mother tells me that things have changed and that Oneidas look like whites, African-Americans, Hispanics and even Asian folks these days but my identity will never be acknowledged in the minds of world that can’t think about American Indians without also thinking about head-dresses and whooping calls, and this unfortunately, ironically, includes the #OWS community of NYC, which of course prides itself on combating such ignorance. Being told to check my privilege or to step back and let someone else speak up after throwing on a suit and challenging stereotypes on MSNBC or Fox reminded me of being harassed by Indians at weekend pow-wows even though challenging stereotypes about Indians was something I had to do daily at school.

I wouldn’t have joined Occupy in the first place had I not already been painfully aware, not only of the vast inequities in the distribution of wealth and privilege but also how these inequities ruin the chances of every individual in this society from living out their specific version of a fulfilling life. My critical consciousness and awareness of privilege and oppression is far more advanced than that of anyone in this movement morally sadistic enough to demand anyone else to check their privilege and I am far too outraged to patiently elucidate the ironies of oppression to the hypocrites of this movement, even though I know that I must rise above my rage in order to truly be a change that I would like to see. Anyone who has come to Occupy to listen and to be listened to has effectively engaged in a privilege checking process by virtue of collective participation itself, and any demands made on that individual by another individual to check their privilege while in midst of collective processes is essentially the same thing as halting the movement of the whole heard so as to beat a once lame dead horse.

The first time I was publicly told to check my privilege wasn’t because I talked about Occupy on a few cable news networks but because I found and reported that well over 70% of the followers on were white/Caucasian and I’ve since seen the same trend not only on follow up surveys on but also on peoplebrowsr gender breakdowns of all the big Occupy twitter hashtags. All the pages and channels I have access to, including Facebook Insights and YouTube analytics, confirm the same trend, and all of this raises an important question relevant to a critical discussion of privilege in Occupy Wall Street. Who is Occupy Wall Street? The individuals who work within the movement and who represent spectra of genders, ethnicities, ages, sexual orientations, and educational experiences and political intentions? Or is it the people who consume the news we produce because they want to know what we have to say? They appear to be overwhelmingly single, heterosexual, white, angry males who can’t earn enough to pay off all of their debts like white males are supposed to be able to.

The answer to this question hardly seems to matter however given that both groups should at least in theory be working together if this truly is a movement of the 99%. Telling predominantly white males, assumingly educated enough to know about privilege, and likely single precisely because they’re broke and in debt that they should check their privilege will only alienate them away from the movement, make it smaller, weaker, slower and prevent the sharing of privilege, or a flow of mutual empowerment from occurring between individuals which in turn will not create any kind of social movement capable of creating the massive redistribution of wealth necessary to abolish the inequalities in privilege by distributing ever more of it to those who have need of it.

-Harrison Schultz-

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A Sticky “Maple Spring,” Montreal, Night 103

Editor’s Note: This story is part of our ongoing first-person coverage of protests in Quebec against student debt, tuition hikes and Law 78, as well as actions elsewhere in solidarity to those causes. This post originally appeared at Outside the Circle.

Montreal, QC–Late this afternoon — after slogging near brain-dead through the thick humidity all day — I almost decided not to schlep the five kilometers eastward for the Pique-Nique Rouge (“Red Picnic”) hosted by the Assemblée Populaire Autonome de Quartier (APAQ) de Rosemont-Petite-Patrie. What was supposed to be a short walk to grab a short-hop BIXI (public transit bikes) yielded only empty station after empty station, meaning a long walk in the blazing sun, drenching me in sweat. Fortunately, a flash of blazing red on a third-floor balcony distracted me: a red square, with the picturesque coincidence of sliced red tomatoes baking themselves underneath. I had to snap a photo, and then of course, I glimpsed another red square a half-block away, so onward I trudged, almost forgetting I was barely able to breath for the heaviness in the air — an added bonus of my obsession/passion for “Seeing Red” ( A bunch more photos later and at last a BIXI got me to Parc Molson.

I walked into the lush green of the park, and found several hundred people wearing red squares lounging in chatty small groups on the grass, a bandstand covered in red-fabric squares and red-highlighted signs explaining such things as “What is an APAQ?” and “social strike,” several big red APAQ and anticapitalist banners strung between trees plus various red artwork, kids running around with little red squares painted on their faces, bunches of red balloons hanging everywhere, and red-and-white checked clothes covering picnic tables filled with by-donation food as well as free red literature and a bag full of free red-felt squares.

It’s hard not to get obsessed/passionate about the red square in this context, especially when only minutes after I arrived, someone announced that the pan-APAQ assembly was about to begin, and everyone gladly formed into a huge three-quarters circle to share strategies decided on by the popular autonomous assemblies of various Montreal neighborhoods about blocking the reentry to schools starting in a little over a week. That is a longer story, and one that I’ll hopefully write up tomorrow, when it cools down a bit and I can begin to think again.

For now, an anecdote about Maple Spring in the midst of a red-hot August.

As we were shifting into assembly mode, I sat down next to a longtime Montreal anticapitalist organizer who I’ve known a good while, and he mentioned a piece I’d written 40 days ago, on night 63, titled “Lost in Translation: Maple Spring”, where I talked about various ways I stumbled on to meanings about that phrase supposedly capturing this movement. His key point was: a lot of people here don’t like that term.

For one, he told me, it didn’t emerge from the Quebec student strike. It was something that social democrats attached to it later. Implicit in his explanation was that social democrats were, in essence, trying to paper over or neutralize the highly participatory and often outright directly democratic structures of the student associations and assemblies that were crucial to organizing and sustaining the strike — still true to this day — and also move away from the language of grève (“strike”).

But second and perhaps more important, was what Printemps Érable (“Maple Spring”) implied in terms of another powerful movement globally. The first French word here means “spring.” But pronunciation adds a wordplay to the second term: one way of stressing the “É” in Érable means “maple”; the other means “Arab.” So this naming was intended to couple Maple Spring with Arab Spring.

As I wrote 40 days ago, “This maple spring is bound to the Arab spring, which in turn bound itself to the Capitol building occupation in Madison, which harkened soon to ‘occupy fall’ and then back around the world again to Spain, Greece, and so many other places. It is a solidarity that doesn’t know borders; it acknowledges instead our sense of deliciously sweet interconnectedness, mutual inspiration, and the shared project — notwithstanding all the very real contextual differences that make each uprising translatable and yet not translatable — of not only desiring but self-organizing toward new forms and contents of freedom.”

That’s certainly one reading, and I know there are many people who draw that connection. But today, under the still-stifling heat, this Montreal anarchist turned to two other radicals, asking them to tell me what that marriage of Maple to Arab springtimes meant to them. They responded in French, and he translated for me, but that likely means — his good translation notwithstanding — that yet again I’ve lost a lot in the translation. And no doubt there are still other nuances and political debates I’m missing, which is part of the problem that these three people have with the Maple Spring moniker: the movement here isn’t equivalent to the Arab Spring one. I’m interpreting loosely here, but basically, such snappy brandings do an injustice to critical contextual differences of all sorts. These three folks didn’t go into detail, because the pan-assembly was called to order, but I gathered that rather than Maple/Arab Spring providing solidarity and interconnectedness, one could argue that much gets erased — deeply lost in translation — to the benefit of a North American movement and the detriment of the Middle Eastern one. Maybe it’s too harsh (or maybe not) to call it, say, a colonizing relationship, a hierarchical one, or a Westernizing project, but there’s a sense that somehow it isn’t quite as reciprocal a pairing as one might imagine at first glance.

Before I darted off to resituate myself in the English whisper-translation section of the pan-assembly (basically, ridiculously, consisting of only me and my now-regular anarchist translator comrade), I got one more tidbit something along the lines of this: that “Americans” (like me) probably just think Maple Spring sounds cute, or don’t quite get it, because most of us don’t speak or understand French. And this student strike — veering toward a social strike, or an attempt at one, if this pan-assembly is any indication — is definitely Francophone-driven, for better and worse. Because besides the language and other divides between Anglo and Francophone, there’s divides between many formerly French-colonized peoples in Montreal, such as the largest Haitian community outside Haiti, and further divisions between Anglophones/Francophones and the many Middle Eastern and Muslim people living in Montreal, not to mention many Chinese- and Spanish-speaking people and others. One of the two people sitting next to my friend added, “It probably would have been more accurate to call it the ‘Fleurdelisé Spring,’” referring to the four white fleurs-de-lis on the Quebec flag that are symbols of purity, originally represented by the Virgin Mary, but gesturing toward the various sovereigntist sentiments that have been renewed through the student strike as well.

All to say, the notion that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” doesn’t hold up even in one language, and it certainly gets even more complex and potentially more painful in two or more languages when things don’t simply translate equivalently, or because language itself is loaded with baggage. What we don’t understand about each other, from past historical wrongs of great magnitude to present-day complexities that can reinscribe such wrongs in new ways, only gets stickier for us to grapple with among ourselves the longer that our movements manage to stick around. That’s a good problem to have: breathing room within a movement for deliberative, contemplative spaces like this one — before we’re all called into action as August heats up even further soon. But often, as I’m finding, that entails being willing to revisit the stories we’ve heard and meanings we’ve assumed, again and again if necessary, and continually reevaluate our practices from there.

– Cindy Milstein –

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A Little Bit of Direct Democracy (for Now): Montreal, Day 55

Editor’s Note: This story is part of our ongoing first-person coverage of protests in Quebec against student debt, tuition hikes and Law 78, as well as actions elseware in solidarity to those causes. This post originally appeared at Outside the Circle.

Montreal, QC–The past two days, I finally got my first chance to check out self-governance in Montreal: a neighborhood assembly yesterday, and the CLASSE Congress today. Both in 100% French, and my French is next to nothing. But I can recognize some words, such as “démocratie directe” and “autonomie.” Better yet, I can read the body language of good cheer and respectful interactions, and follow the informal & formal processes–all of which put most of what I participated in and saw within US occupy to shame.

Not that it wasn’t (& still isn’t) profoundly beautiful to see people start to work through direct democracy on a large scale with occupy. What my limited experience with this maple spring version shows, though, is what it looks like when people have been doing it a long while and have honed structure/processes (the students) and/or have a defined geographic area that they care about and spend their daily lives in (the neighborhood). A fair amount of homogeneity in terms of purpose, values, where they are in their life, etc., doesn’t seem to hurt either. More on this topic in the coming weeks, since I ♥ prefigurative politics, and even sooner, more on these two particular examples.

For now, one last remark. It felt moving to recall that at least one general assembly of CLAC (an anarchist organization still around from heyday of anticapitalist movement of late 1990s/early 2000s), using basically the same process, met in the same room as today’s CLASSE Congress, with a new generation of radicals and anarchists. I suspect CLASSE “borrowed” some or all of CLAC’s process, but I need to ask around. Anyone know?

– Cindy Milstein – 

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2nd Day of the Siege of the Central City Association

Los Angeles, CA–We wrapped on what was a productive and spirited second day, occupiers! Throughout the day yesterday, activists were in direct action affinity group discussions, action meetings, and planning dialogues. The Los Angeles General Assembly consented upon an action in support of Bradley Manning for June 6th. After a laborious discussion surrounding the concept of an “Extraordinary General Assembly,” the People came to consensus! We had a lot of solidarity claps and sincere people recognized that, “we’re not going slow, we’re going far”… and it paid off. Get involved and take ownership of this process of improvement. All power to the People!

Following the general assembly, about seventy occupiers took to the streets to march to the ongoing occupation of the Central City Association. We had a lot more people than the previous night, and the energy felt euphoric and tactile, much like the tribes around City Hall in last year. Young and old helping set up tents, an artist painting on canvas, and cardboard codes of conduct taped to trees. Pots, pans, guitars, boom boxes, and voices… all doing their part in clanging, strumming, thumping, and singing about solidarity and the revolution. Check out the photos here by Erik Herrera.

Some delicious vegan food showed up around 10:15 p.m. or so (Thank you, M.T.!) and we sat down with some hot tea and got to chalk-uppying the sidewalk. This was a new element, and along with the boost in occupiers, tents, and activities, made it feel like Solidarity Park last fall.

The camp groggily started to stir at about 5:45 a.m., when the 6 a.m. warning calls were being issued. (The rule throughout the city is tents can stay up from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.) The LAPD had waited until about 7 a.m. on Day One to mobilize, but this morning they were only two minutes late. The same cops as yesterday strutted up and repeated their dance for the 1%. We didn’t.

The discipline and militancy of the first day was echoed for Day Two. The tents were immediately in the air. No one talked to the pigs. Yet still, one man was arrested for chalking on the sidewalk. Chalk is not graffiti… it has been deemed Constitutionally-protected free speech. He was chalking the names of Black Panthers who were killed by the police. They waited until he was finished, approached him and told him he was under arrest. No warning was given even though others had been chalking.

We spent the rest of the morning protesting the CCA on the corners and handing out flyers to the community. I noticed a markedly more positive response to outreach efforts. Some said they had seen us yesterday and were wondering what we were about. Others couldn’t help but grin as they said, “Good morning AGAIN!” to the adamant stalwarts lining the sidewalk. In this suffocating urban rat race, music and laughter and courtesy and compassion are becoming contagious as we occupiers remain vigilant.

– Ryan Rice –

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Occupy Wall Street Holds First Feminist General Assembly

Editor’s Note: a version of this story originally appeared on the Ms. Magazine blog.

“What took so long?” was the general sentiment among those gathered in Washington Square Park in Manhattan last night for Occupy Wall Street’s first ever Feminist General Assembly.

Despite being woefully overdue, May 17 was a beautiful and significant night: Not only was it the eight-month anniversary of our movement, it was also the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia and the 181st anniversary of the First Women’s Anti-Slavery Convention. This intersection of issues created a perfect backdrop for discussing the challenges and importance of feminism to Occupy Wall Street–a movement often criticized for being stubbornly multi-issue.

I arrived to find a diverse crowd of around 300 people. Members of the Occupy Wall Street women’s caucus, Women Occupying Wall Street (WOW), were giving a shout of solidarity to Occupy Maine. The people of Lafayette, Ind.; Bend and Portland, Ore.; Chicago and a handful of other cities were also holding feminist GAs. The Raging Grannies sang  “Evolution is too slow, revolution’s the way to go!” and things were off to a raucous start. I pitched in with a paintbrush to help record the shared values we were brainstorming–“Trust!” “Creativity!” “Justice!” “Humor!”–and, ignoring my friend’s smirk, embraced the consciousness-raising exercise as though I were encountering it for the first time. After focusing almost exclusively on women’s organizing for the first six months of Occupy Wall Street (OWS), I was happy for the chance to just participate. More importantly, I was happy to see so many new leaders and so many of the elusive “unfamiliar faces” we had spent meeting after meeting trying to attract to the movement.

When we broke into smaller groups to discuss feminist goals for the Occupy movement, the fresh spring air had a cleansing effect on issues that felt dusty and spoiled. One young person who had never been to an Occupy Wall Street event and didn’t identify as a feminist shared a concern about not being taken seriously when calling out sexist behavior. A woman in a wheelchair spoke about how her disability had led her on a journey of liberation from societal standards of beauty. A member of OWS’ Safer Spaces group reminded us that:

Ally is a verb. It means more than just saying you’re anti-racist. It means doing something.

Someone with a sign that read “Women against Ableism and Sexism” argued that we can’t be feminists without being against war. We discussed how being a feminist means moving beyond capitalist conceptions of productivity to value things like food and family and fun–and how we can model this in our own lives and in our organizing.

The Assembly closed with a moving performance from the Mahina Movement, and I silently checked “fun” off the list of feminist accomplishments for the evening. As I biked home to Brooklyn with two friends from the OWS men’s circle, which had offered childcare for the event, I learned that they spent most of their time “baby-sitting” disgruntled men who would otherwise have disrupted the evening’s proceedings. Figuring their active allying made up for the shortage of actual children, I checked off “family.” My stomach was empty–OWS lost their kitchen space at the last minute–but I figured that for a first attempt at re-imagining OWS as a feminist community, two out of three wasn’t bad. A new world–a feminist world–was definitely possible.

-Melanie Butler-

Photo by Christina Daniel.

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May Day General Strike!

New York, NY – Well, it’s been six months since my last adventure in NYC with OWS after slugging it out with Occupy Muskegon all winter, fighting for the clean-up of a local paper mill that is being demolished, demonstrating with and for a slew of local schools that are closing, attending inter-occupy summits around Michigan, including a wonderful retreat at Circle-Pines—a co-op activist family campground—and starting up a local, community-based newspaper with fellow OM members—OMNews (, in addition to attending more city and county board meetings than I can fully remember and volunteering once a week at the Muskegon County Museum of African-American History.  In that same time, my wife and I joined a community garden,  have been working to form strong alliances with other active groups in the local area, and I have also started interacting with a few poetry groups, as well. I have a family and novel that’s just begging to be revised, too!  Fortunately, I taught myself how to juggle a few years ago.

I left late in the day Sunday, around 4:30, with a questionable truck, limited funds, and a load of revisions piled up in my classes at WNMU, in addition to a pile of grading at Everest.  Cranked up on coffee and good music, I drove as far as mile marker 78 in Pennsylvania and crashed in the back of my truck at a TA Travel Center with the parking lot lights shining through my tinted windows.  The next morning I drove the rest of the way into Brooklyn, found a spot to park after a bit of driving around, and spent the rest of the day at Milk & Roses trying to return grades to my students at Everest with a laptop that refuses to connect to the internet.  After four hours of slugging it out with faulty internet, I was tired of sitting on my ass, so I swigged down a glass of wine, packed up, and headed back to my truck to take it easy before the May Day General Strike the next day.  Sitting in my truck, imbibing on the few treats I’d brought with me, wondering what the next day
would bring, full of hope for a massive showing, but also filled with anxiety that the day would be small, splintered, and the movement dying, I couldn’t help but think how odd it was to find myself there, sitting in the back of my truck, back in Brooklyn for OWS, without my cousin, Joe.  (You sure missed a beautiful day, Joe.  I wish you could have been here…)

I couldn’t get over to Manhattan until I moved my car to the other side of the street, so I slept in a bit, killed some time having a cup of coffee at Julie’s—a great gal who’d befriended Joe and I when we were in town last October (I haven’t seen the older lady, Alice, who lives next door, yet) and took a quick shower.  (Thanks, Julie!)  A few minutes to 1 pm, I moved my truck and headed into Manhattan.  I was hoping to link up with the Guitarmy to sing along with them as we marched.

In Manhattan, I found my way to Bryant Park.  There was a large group gathered there to be sure.  Teach-ins were taking place in various pockets around the park, a large group was meditating on a set of steps with an Occupy Wall Street banner, and the Statue of Liberty puppet was there dancing to the drums.  The air smelled of sage and the crowds energy filled me with happiness.

I walked around and dug Bryant Park, checking out the protestors, the teach-ins, the literature being passed out, the signs and flags waving in the air, even the spectators watching from their tables.  The crowd was smaller than I’d hoped, but still large, alive, and kicking.  I also knew from the schedule that many groups were out and about the city protesting at various locations.  Many of the unions were off doing just that.  Soon enough, a march started, leading the way to Union Square, where Tom Morello, Immortal Technique, and many others were to perform.

The march to Union Square was fairly tame. We took the streets a few times, but the cops continually pushed us back onto the sidewalks.  The police presence was large, but nothing like we’d see as the evening progressed.  At one point, I actually came across my old professor and mentor, Anne Waldman, who I was thrilled to see.  We chatted it up on the street for a bit before she ran off, away from the bus fumes blasting our direction.  The most beautiful moment in the march was once I caught up to the Guitarmy and we were trapped by a traffic light away from the rest of the march.  We had an enormous group of marchers behind us, and we ended up at the tip of a triangular median, playing and singing, “This Land Is Your Land.”  We marched and chanted to Union Square, and then the marchers diffused into all directions around the park.

I had no idea how big the group was at Union Square until I saw an aerial shot later that night online, but you could feel it as we were often pressed against each other with nowhere to go.  The police brought in an army of mopeds then, literally a platoon of cops ready to run you down—there were so many of them!  The police who were not on scooters formed human barricades in addition to the metal barricades that were up everywhere you looked.  They did an annoyingly good job at compartmentalizing people and squishing us together.  People were getting irritable and claimed the police were trying to incite a riot.  I think that has a lot of validity from what I saw and felt.  We all wanted to kick those barricades down and push those cops back just to breathe.  There were women with strollers who grew more and more concerned as people were pushed into the park and not let out.  Finally, after the crowd continued chanting “Let us out!  Let us out!” the cops opened a barricade and let a group of tens of thousands of people file out between them and their barricades like a bottleneck.  It was aggravating to say the least, but we kept the peace, showed our strength, patience, and simply marched by them.  All day, all night, I saw no signs of violence and somehow missed the group of Vets and clergy who were arrested defending our GA at Battery Park later in the night.

From there, we marched and marched and marched.  It’s a bit of a blur, really.  We danced in the streets, chanted, sang songs.  I ran all over the place taking pictures and videos until a guy marching next to me asked if I’d push his bike so he could take out his drum and join the drummers.  I obliged him long, long after it was necessary, as it turned out he was the best drummer there.  Finally, after dusk had turned to night and we’d passed by Zuccotti Park, which I thought was our destination, I gave him back his bike by the bull and the crowd of tens of thousands of us stopped.

Each time the police stopped the march, people would think it was over and trickle off.  We started a sit-in in the middle of the street, but the drums were still playing and all those thousands of people in the back couldn’t see or hear what was happening.  We were halted for so long, we lost a lot of people then.  Finally, after the sit-in communication failed and the police bowed to the crowd and let the march continue, we headed to Veterans Plaza for a GA.

Veterans Plaza was packed.  It was there that I really reflected once again, on what an honor it is to be here, to be part of this, to be with these people.  We talked about the fact that the police were surrounding us and had cut off a majority of the march back on the other side of the street.  The GA filled Veterans Plaza, but many thousands were not able to be let in, due to the police and the size of the park.  The more people announced the police surrounding us, the more people would trickle away, until finally there were maybe a couple hardcore hundred who stayed and talked about the tactics we would use to defend the park.  As more and more police formed around us and more and more people trickled away as we neared the 10 pm curfew, we decided the risk was too futile, so we tapped back into the crowd on the other side of the street to march to a 24 hour location.  Unfortunately, by then, our Vets and clergy had been arrested defending our GA and much of the thousands of people had splintered off.  Some headed to the waterfront, I later learned, but I never did see that group again.

The rest of us marched, noting how small we were by then, considering the tens of thousands we’d started out with.  The police planning to splinter us off from each other and continuously herding us around through barricades, scooters, and their own bodies, worked fairly well.  In the end, after trying to take Wall St. through any crack we could think of, including the subway underpass and cutting through a large store, always meeting with more barricades, we did a temporary sit in on the street to discuss our next action.  In the end, we opted to go home to Zuccotti, where only a couple hundred of us, if that, gathered.  There we went through park defense training, talked about how we would hold the park down, and waited for the folks from the waterfront to show up before the cops raided the park.  As midnight approached, there was no sign of the crowd from the waterfront, and though a few more police showed up, the park was largely free from officers compared to many other nights.  Last night, they were scattered all over the city.

After a small GA to discuss if and how we would try to hold the park, we all waited around to see if we would be kicked out, or if our reinforcements would show up.  Around 12:30, seeing no reinforcements and no raid from the police, watching more people trickle home, I decided to head back to the truck in Brooklyn and catch some z’s.  My legs were stiff and it takes a while to get back to Brooklyn at that time of night, so off I went.  Today is largely uneventful for me, unfortunately.  I haven’t checked the schedule for OWS yet, as I have to sit in this coffee shop and get some writing done for my WMNU classes.  I will have to do the same tomorrow, but if I get up early I am hoping to make it over to Manhattan for the night’s activities after I help Julie move a refrigerator up from her basement apartment in the evening.

-Dylan Hock-

Editors note: Inspired by Occupy Wall Street and angered by the mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge, Dylan drove to NYC to join the movement last fall. Read about it here.

And read the rest of our May Day coverage here. 

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Baptism by Rain-Fire

OCT. 16, 2011 – I arrived in New York City Wednesday morning on a one-way ticket from Chicago. My goal: to join the Occupy Wall Street movement. I came prepared to camp out in the occupied space, Zuccotti Park, also known as Liberty Plaza. I knew it was going to be cold and rainy for at least the first few days I was there. I knew that this would make camping out all the more difficult. And I knew that this would be a fitting and ironic baptism by “fire.”

With the help of fellow protesters, I set up my sleeping area that morning near the perimeter of the park. They provided me with two plastic tarps and recommended I take some cardboard for “cushion.” So I laid down the first tarp, placed a broken-down cardboard box on top of it, laid my sleeping bag on top of that, and then spread the second tarp over the top. At first, I just tucked the ends under the bottom tarp, like a bed sheet, but I realized that this was probably not going to be an effective water barrier from the rain. So I found someone with packing tape and they helped me tape the two tarps together, encompassing my sleeping bag in a waterproof pocket.

Or so I thought.

After a wonderful day of talking to a number of amazing individuals and the two-hour General Assembly in the evening, I was pretty well exhausted by 10pm (especially considering that I had not slept at all the night before). With a full heart, I climbed into my sleeping cell. The ground was hard and I didn’t have much room to move around, but it was surprisingly warm in my little cocoon. I was also embraced by a comforting sense of safety and solidarity with the people around me. In my area, some were already fast asleep, while others chatted from their sleeping bags. In other parts of the park, there were soap-box discussions, committee meetings, a small drum circle, and other activities interspersed between tarp-covered bodies. This calm murmur of human activity was like a spontaneous community lullaby. The intermittent drizzle of raindrops against my tarp was the crisp harmony complementing a soothing melody.

Soon, the rain began to pick up speed and force. I felt myself become the drum against which nature hammered out her emphatic crescendo. A peaceful energy surged through my body. I felt at one with the world. I felt grounded, solid and true. It really would have been the perfect lullaby, if only the tarps had held out. But once my toes sensed frigid rainwater seeping into my sleeping bag, I knew it was over. I wasn’t going to be able to sleep in the park that night. I wasn’t going to be able to sleep at all.

So I spent the rest of the night wandering around the financial district of New York City, umbrella in hand, pausing beneath awnings every so often. I sat in a late-night Mc Donald’s for an hour or so until it closed, then rode the subway around until it opened up again just before sunrise. It struck me that this night of sleepless transience, a temporary and chosen experience for me, was, quite disturbingly, a persistent, involuntary reality for the homeless citizens of this planet. This realization was jolting. This realization was more chilling than the rain. This realization was a humbling welcome to the long, hard fight I came here to join.

Stavroula Harissis

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#M17: Occupy Reignited

I boarded the World Trade Center-bound E train on March 17th (M17) not knowing what to expect when I got out on the other side, a few blocks away from the now infamous Zuccotti Park. It’s been a long winter for Occupy Wall Street. The past few months have seen the movement deal with increasingly violent repression and evictions nationwide, as well as – at least in New York City – a lot of internal bickering and debate on everything from nonviolence to funding sources to housing of occupiers. Many occupiers have been referring to winter as an “incubation” period. The mainstream media pretty much considers the movement dead. Whatever it is, it is vastly different than the Occupy Wall Street of 6 months ago. Or at least it was until M17, the movement’s six-month anniversary.

I spent most of the train ride to Liberty Plaza (Zuccotti’s reclaimed name) conjuring the many nights of elation and frustration I have had in that park – the countless general assemblies, free meals, cigarettes, stimulating conversations, rain storms, arguments, marches and finally, the brutal eviction that brought it all to a screeching halt. Since the eviction, the park had been empty. Or maybe barren is a better word. A cold (literally), lifeless slab of concrete in the valley of the gargantuan buildings surrounding  it. Whatever vitality we brought to that place had long been replaced with barricades, security guards, and an eerie stillness.

When I emerged in Lower Manhattan, I was hit by a wave of déjà vu. I could hear the drums and chants inside the park reverberating throughout the neighborhood. I realized that even the sound of the neighborhood had changed since the eviction. A flash flood of warm familiarity washed over me. On the six-month anniversary of our movement, I was transported back to its beginning. I picked up the pace and almost sprinted to the park. When I arrived, I found it once again brimming over with occupiers and police.

 It was wonderful to see the park electrified with people power again. That powerful feeling of remembrance and recognition continued to surge through my body like a kind of muscle memory being reawakened.

As soon I walked into the park, I witnessed someone being arrested by the NYPD. The mood was tense and rowdy. I was surprised by the number of police, all with a dozen or so zip-tie handcuffs hanging from their belts. I saw a few old friends and gave and received many hugs. We talked about the insane tug-of-war in which we are constantly engaged with the NYPD. They show up with batons, handcuffs, guns, and riot gear and raise the tension level in the park, then put the onus on us to deescalate. There were a few other arrests, and the police shouted at us where we could and couldn’t stand and what we couldn’t bring into the park.

Throughout the day, different marches left the plaza and came back to cheers and raised fists. It was as if we were in the midst of a mighty stretch after a long slumber. As afternoon turned to evening, the overall mood of the park shifted and the police presence seemed to taper off a bit. The chants going around and the drum circle in full swing filled the park with that familiar cacophonous buzz. There is something amazing about chanting and dancing around with complete strangers. One of the more popular chants of the day was taken from the Spanish Indignados and proclaims simply and rhythmically: “Anti-capitalista!” It was refreshing to hear so many chant that radical declaration. Even through the winter, we had kept our radical roots.

At 7pm, as customary, we had our general assembly (GA). This was my first time attending a GA in a good while, and by the time it was over I was re-enamored with direct democracy and twinkling fingers. There were hundreds in attendance – probably our biggest GA of the year. It was also surprisingly lacking in rancor or squabbling, except for the traditional begging of the drum circle to keep it down or move away from GA. We consensed on signing on to a letter calling for a federal investigation of the NYPD for spying in Muslim communities and broke out into discussion groups to talk about our ideas for May Day. There was a palpable spirit of camaraderie and solidarity in the air, and many OWS veterans commented to me that they felt truly transported to “the good ol’ days” before the eviction and even before the tents went up at Zuccotti, fighting with drummers and all.

After GA a large march which included Michael Moore and Dr. Cornel West arrived from the Left Forum. Suddenly there were over a thousand people communing in the park, some playing games, some doing interviews or making media, others just talking and smoking. There was a Capoeira circle, a mic-check speak out, and of course plenty of drums and dancing. The mood was jovial in spite of everyone’s noticing that the police presence seemed to be increasing as the night went on. At one point, a barrage of bag pipes could be heard on the southwestern corner of the park. This being St. Patrick’s Day, a small Irish marching band had either purposely or by coincidence found its way to Liberty Plaza, equipped with bag pipes and snare drums. The crowd in the park erupted with cheers and applause and ran to the park’s northern perimeter to greet the band. In a confused scuffle (at least from my vantage point) the police moved in, forced the band to stop playing and moved them to the other side of the street. One officer told me they feared the band would “cause a riot.”

Suddenly an orange net appeared. Usually, this means that you have been kettled by the police and are about to go to jail. But this orange net had the words “Occupy” and “99%” stenciled on it. A group of protesters were extending the net and creating a barrier between the police and the occupiers. I admit, being surrounded by that net gave me a creepy feeling , even though I knew it was ‘on our side.’ Yellow OWS caution tape started to go up all over the park too, tied on the trees and cutting through the crowd in odd angles. I wasn’t really sure what was going on, but I could almost sense the tension in the park boiling over. An exorbitant number of police were amassing on the northern side of the park. I stood on one of the benches in the park to try to get some perspective, and I saw what all the fuss was about. A group of occupiers were erecting tents in the center of the park. The net, the tape, all of it, was to protect the tents. A light came on inside the first tent and the words stenciled on its side became visible: “You cannot evict an idea whose time has come.”

I watched as the tent was hoisted into the air and cheered with the crowd, but I knew that what had been a glorious and rejuvenating day would have an ugly ending. We paraded around with two tents for a bit, all of us enjoying what we knew were the last exquisite moments of our resurrection. Then, as if someone hit a fast forward button, we jumped from reliving those first amazing months of Occupy to November 15 – eviction day. Much like that night, the police lined up on the Broadway stairs and announced that the park was closed. They told us that being in the park was now an arrestable offense. And so those who were willing to risk arrest moved to create a human wall on the eastern end of the park, a few meters from the line of police officers. I moved toward the middle of the park and stood on a bench to see the NYPD march in and start arresting people. After about half an hour they had moved everyone out of the park and began erecting barricades around the park’s perimeter. After being pushed and shoved out of the park, those of us who remained stood on the sidewalk, most of us bewildered by the brute force we had just witnessed. We were on the western end of park, isolated from the far greater brutality happening on the eastern side. In the background I could hear people calling for a march.

By this point, I was both mentally and physically exhausted from this behemoth roller-coaster of a day, but I just couldn’t tear away. I ran through the gamut of emotions and questions we all ask ourselves in moments like these, trying to balance my sense of duty and solidarity with the sheer terror of the situation at hand and its possible outcomes. Do I want to get arrested? Or beat up? Is it worth it this time? In truth, I had to fight off the urge to wave the white flag and go home. But I was angry, dejected, and so was everyone else. In the end, I decided to march with my comrades.

A few hundred of us wound our way through Lower Manhattan, flanked all the while by police in scooters and squad cars. We turned sharply down side streets a few times, which seemed to confuse the police, but definitely caused confusion amongst the marchers. I found myself running down the sidewalks and streets with large groups of other occupiers just to keep up. This, plus the sheer volume of the police response, made for some moments of pandemonium. We took the streets several times throughout, prompting arrests and batons. Police smashed an occupier’s head against a glass door. We passed a least one broken store window (though it was unclear if it was broken by Occupy) and at one point on a side-street in the Village, some protesters emptied several trash receptacles into the streets to block the police. It worked, to everyone’s excitement. I saw several police scooters with trash and plastic bags caught in their wheel wells.

When the march reached E. Houston shortly after that, I decided to hop on the nearby F train and make the trip back to Queens. I wanted to stay, continue the march, be with my comrades, express my anger and my joy – but I just had to break away. I knew that things would only get uglier, and I was already delirious with a cogent mix of exhaustion, frustration, and the high of marching through the streets. It felt as if I had lived the whole history of occupy in the span of 10 hours. On the train ride home, I found myself thinking that despite its dystopian ending, M17 had been a success. It was a re-ignition of our imaginations; a reminder of all the beautiful things we built from scratch in that small park, and all the hardships that came with them, and how easily it can be wiped away.

Spring has definitely sprung at OWS, and it’s only the beginning.

– Danny Valdes –
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Occupy: What Now?

The action at Liberty Plaza, New York, began on September 17th 2011. Inspired by the indignados of Spain and the brave Egyptian souls of Tahrir Square and others in the Middle East, the Occupy movement in the U.S.A. is not yet 4 months old. In that brief period of time we have traversed incredible territory and achieved almost unbelievable success. Political conversation in the U.S. has been transformed, the majority of the U.S. electorate now say they support the changes Occupy is calling for, and cities throughout the nation are home to nightly General Assemblies and long-term encampments – at least in those cities without over-zealous mayors or police departments.

I have been involved in my local Occupy Santa Fe movement since our first day of action, outside Bank of America, on October 1st. I was struck then by the hope and inspiration that lit up the 60 or so faces of the people around me, and the almost constant sound of honking horns as passing drivers enthusiastically signaled their support. Since then we have held further rallies, organized marches, mic checks, workshops, teach-ins, and begun political campaigns. We have gathered for General Assembly three times a week, we have launched countless Working Groups, and we maintained a physical occupation almost consistently for three months.

However, the Occupy movement is not without its struggles. The energetic honeymoon period of those first few weeks, when revolution and transformation was on everyone’s lips and appeared eminently possible, even inevitable, is over, and we are now dealing with the stark reality of all that we must confront and all that we must transform.

We have attempted to bridge the gap between the highest aspirations and values of the movement and the reality of the culture in which we live. We have not always succeeded.

The harmony of the early actions and meetings has given way to division and arguments over tactics, strategy, process, and identity. General Assemblies have at times become fractious, and on one occasion even violent, and have led some of the founders of the local movement to walk away in despair at ever creating a better world. The structure and process of General Assembly and Working Groups have attracted criticism, complaint, obstruction and sabotage. Activists have turned on one another, and it sometimes seems as though we spend more energy fending off personal attacks and responding to spurious gossip than we do working for change.

Santa Fe had one of the longest-running camps in the U.S.A., which inspired community support and opprobrium in roughly equal measure. Though the camp attempted to model itself on that of Liberty Plaza, with zero tolerance of drugs, alcohol and inebriation, the reality was a series of disturbing alcohol-fueled episodes, occasional outbreaks of violence, theft, and discord. Camp was the source of much disagreement in General Assembly, with those wishing to withdraw support pointing to the dysfunction of the camp, while others focused on historical oppression of those marginalized by our society – the homeless and the victims of alcoholism and addiction – and their right to our support. In the end, just as the City of Santa Fe started to make noises about closing down the camp, the General Assembly of Santa Fe took action and withdrew funding and logistical support. An incredibly difficult and painful decision for many to take, it was ultimately supported by consensus, including some of those who had been campers.

What is happening? Why has this movement, that began with the vibrant fall colors reflecting the depth of our belief and hope, so quickly lost its luster? What has happened to the promise of Occupy?

I believe that the transformation we are trying to bring about is huge and that the problems we are facing are an inevitable result of the size and nature of the task.

Occupy is trying to bring our community together, to reconcile, to welcome all voices, and to work together toward common values. But participatory, consensus-based, grassroots democracy is not easy, and we are not practiced in it. Rather we are conditioned to give away our power to others or to scapegoat.

We live in a culture that has forced us all to turn away and suppress our natural inclinations toward compassion, relationship, and respect. It is a culture so violent and oppressive that we have grown to believe it is natural to make war on those we disagree with. It is a culture so greedy that we don’t hesitate to exploit the riches and beauty of the earth for our own comfort and pleasure. It is a culture so individualistic and selfish that we barely blink at the vast inequalities in material wealth that surround every one of us. It is a culture so riven by fear and dominated by power that true social justice for all is a dream that seems all but impossible to achieve. And, most importantly, it is a culture that has become enslaved to the impersonal systemic forces of economics that, at some level, exploit us all.

To transform such a culture requires that we transform ourselves and our political and social processes. And transformation is, at best, disorienting, and at times destructive in its process of upheaval and change. Having grown up in this culture, so far from what our hearts know is possible and continue to long for, we all carry within us internalized anger, fear and distrust. In relation to the dominant culture and the established power elites, those emotions are not misplaced. On the contrary, they are both understandable and rightly placed.

We come to Occupy carrying all of this cultural baggage with us. No wonder then that the growth of this movement is challenging and fractious. No wonder that common ground is hard to find when the dominant culture has so divided us.

But Occupy’s struggles are necessary and beneficial. The disagreements and challenges we face are the “grist for the mill,” the vehicles by which we learn, the opportunities to take another step in our growth as a movement and society.

In order to support that transformation, we must come to see these moments for what they are – opportunities to grow and learn. And we must find a place of equanimity and gratitude within ourselves in the face of each learning experience, both towards the situation itself and to the people who are challenging us. We only start to go astray when we perceive what is happening as the problem, and we start casting about for the people who are to blame, the forms and procedures that are wrong. Instead, we must all examine ourselves and our own capacities to rise out of the dominant culture of violence and oppression.

This is not to bring a Pollyanna perspective. When we disagree with someone, we must tell them; when we see the flaw in a strategy or tactic, we must say so; when a step in consensus decision-making has been missed, we must name that; and when personal agendas trample over process and consensus, we must not stand by silently in progressive, liberal apathy.

This is a call to invest in the integrity of our actions and the moral focus of the movement. Gandhi’s teaching is now so oft-repeated that it has become a cliché, but right now the necessity to “be the change we want to see in the world,” is paramount. That is true for each individual activist and for the Occupy movement as a whole. We are not there yet, I am not there yet, but this aspiration must be our guiding star, for under that light we will occupy the moral high-ground and catalyze a societal transformation that will be so much more than cosmetic change.

Occupy is about evolution and transformation, not revolution. We will not replace existing leaders with new leaders or attempt to fix what is broken in the existing power structures; instead we must bring forth a new story. The root of this new story is love — love for ourselves, love for each other, love for our planet, and a deep and profound love and longing for justice.

That love is backed by a fierce commitment to seeing this through. I know that because I feel it in my own heart and I see it in the eyes of all the beautiful, brave souls alongside whom I am so proud to work. And it is that quality of love that I believe must guide our interactions with each other as we find our way through the storms of challenge and the disorienting dilemmas of these early days of our transformation. In that love and commitment rests the hope that Occupy will become truly worthy of the 99%.

– Thomas Jaggers

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On Conflict and Consensus

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on as a two-part post. Part 1 – not included in this story – gives a detailed outline of the consensus process. For readers unfamiliar with consensus process, you can see the author’s explanation here.

Consensus is a process. I laid it out as best I could – tried to make it bite-sized and accessible.

At the heart of consensus is discussion.

Communally we develop the proposal. Ask questions to make sure we understand it, but also to make sure the proposer hasn’t missed any opportunities or details – not to question the motives of the proposer, but to help the proposal be better.

We express our concerns so as to take any opportunities for oppression and place them out in the open for everyone to see and address. To move forward together.

Our greatest asset – as a movement, as a community – is the individual experiences, feelings, and knowledge that each person brings to the collective.

The ability of a group to reach consensus on anything is dependent on the group having some level of shared goals, visions, and principles that bring it together. It doesn’t have to be explicitly stated or documented, but at least on an individual level, we have to acknowledge what brought us here, and assume that some part of that brought everyone else here too.

… in a nutshell …

In its broadest sense, Occupy Wall Street seeks social and economic justice – an end to the systems of oppression that consolidate wealth in the hands of the extreme few at the expense of everyone else. Obviously there is so much more. But if you want my sound byte of what OWS stands for, there you go.

Occupy Wall Street wants to liberate space – both physical and ideological. Without public space in the hands of the people, the community, can a public sphere truly exist? And ideological space, taken up for generations by the moneyed few, utilizing violence and systematized pillars of oppression to hold power over women, people of color, and gender queer (to name a few), is being opened up for those voices to be raised – by taking their rightful place in this discussion,we shape a more inclusive and just society.

… morality …

To be perfectly honest, yes, our system of consensus can be abused. The way it is currently set up, we can only accept a block at face value, as the blocker explains it. Regardless of how well that block is explained, whether it is along explicit moral, ethical or safety lines, or someone only having a few words to say why they can’t let the proposal pass, the block stands.

As a community, we can take their explanation, try to understand it, and try to empathize with their position, their feelings, their experience and offer an amendment that might be found agreeable to both the blocker and the proposer so that as a community we can move forward toward consensus.

What we cannot do – what we must not do – is question the block itself.

And this brings me to my first block.

I’ve regularly been attending General Assemblies since October 17th. When not on a Facilitation team, I have rarely spoken to the Assembly. I tend to think that if I give it enough time, someone else will say what I’m thinking. Often I’m right, sometimes not.

This is what we call, “Step Up, Step Back.” If those of us with male, white-skin privilege step back, opening up the space for those who have traditionally not been encouraged to take it, someone will have the opportunity to step up and say pretty much exactly what we would have said.

There have been proposals I haven’t agreed with, or don’t particularly like, so I down-twinkle them in the temperature check. If I really don’t like it, and it moves to modified consensus, I’ll vote no.

There was a proposal a few days ago requesting the GA to ask two members of the Housing Working Group step down from leadership and coordination roles. I have serious concerns with recent decisions and actions of the individuals in question and supported the concept of this request, but the individuals were not present during this proposal or the discussion surrounding it. I think it’s extremely problematic to essentially put people on trial in absentia.

I stood aside. I had serious concerns with the proposal, but defaulted to the community to make the ultimate decision.

… the proposal …

A proposal that has been bounced around and discussed amongst individuals for a while now, possibly in part instigated by people’s reading of CT Butler’s “On Conflict & Consensus,” is that the community should be able to evaluate the validity of a block and decide if it meets certain criteria. For the record, I have never read CT Butler. I’ve heard him speak some, but have not read his book. Also for the record, I don’t really care what he has to say on this topic. OWS is like nothing anyone has ever seen before, and previously held notions or ideas have to adapt to OWS, not the other way around.

The blocking proposal has gone through various forms, and has come before the GA at least twice. I happened to be on the Facilitation Team both times and therefore couldn’t participate in the conversation. This past Sunday, it came up again, and I was finally able to add my voice to the conversation.

In its current form, the proposal wanted to empower the community to call a point of process on a block if any member of the General Assembly felt that the block was not meeting the criteria of an ethical, moral, or safety concern. The Facilitator would then take a straw poll to see if the community considered the block to meet those criteria. If 75% of the Assembly were in agreement that the block is valid, then it would stand. If not, it would be collectively removed.

… concerns …

I have many concerns with this proposal and the direct and implied effects it would have on the movement as a whole and the individuals that make it up.

I expressed my concerns during that point of the process and being that the proposer or the subsequent friendly amendments did not alleviate them, I chose to block the proposal. I tried to articulate my concerns as best I could, both during that stack and again when I explained my block.

I’ve thought about it extensively in the days since and had conversations with people who were not in attendance, in preparation for when this proposal eventually comes up for consideration at a future General Assembly.

… blocked …

I blocked this proposal because it so antithetical to everything this movement stands for, in my eyes.

Occupy Wall Street, as a movement, is about addressing root causes. We seek to create social and economic justice.

This is not a charity and this is not about bandaging symptoms. If we can address symptoms, and alleviate suffering along the way – as a byproduct of our work – that is great, but our focus has to be deeper – our path must be laid out and must be long-term.

Taking a temperature check on the validity of blocks is not a means to build more meaningful consensus.

This proposal is designed to deal with individuals who make our process more difficult than some feel it needs to be. It is in effect putting a bandage on people’s discomfort and frustration. It is not dealing with, acknowledging, or seeking to remedy the root causes that might result in someone feeling the need to obstruct our process in the only definitive and powerful way we have – the block.

Consensus is about discussion, debate, dissent, concessions, questioning, all with the intent of resolving conflict.

This proposal is a cop-out.

This proposal adds process in place of building community. We need to put in the time and hard work to get to know each other, as people, in order to build this community. It will, and should be, hard, slow work.

But, it will be worth it.

… prefigurative …

As a movement, we must be prefigurative. It is our obligation to embody the ideals and values of the world we seek to create. The ends do not justify the means. We cannot build a new world on the groundwork of an ugly movement.

We can only hope to drown out the negative voices with the even louder voices of positivity. Attempting to silence the voices we find disagreeable is re-creating the systems of oppression we are trying to topple.

Because this is a movement of incredibly diverse people with different backgrounds, upbringings and experiences, we need to acknowledge that different people have different communication styles and unconventional articulation abilities, or prior access to education. But that doesn’t mean their input is less valid.

I think we’ve seen quite often that – while I love this community passionately – it’s not always a safe space. I would like to have faith that in some cases, when someone blocks, they do have a moral or ethical concern, but perhaps they don’t feel safe expressing those concerns, for fear of being a dissenting voice, or facing hostility from the other members of the Assembly.

At some point, we need to trust that people come here to act in good faith.

Obviously not everyone does, and I’m not talking about provocateurs or infiltrators, but people who traditionally haven’t been given the space to have their voice heard and perhaps are acting out now that that space has been provided.

But that doesn’t seem like a good reason to me to add in additional punitive process.

In the absence of community agreement and shared values, which I am conflicted about documenting this early in the life of this movement –this occupation – this proposal feels exclusionary to me.

I’m not quite sure we’re ready to say definitively what our community values are, or our shared ideals, or goals. The Safer Spaces Community Agreement for Spokes Council is a good start for our code of conduct, but I don’t think that’s exactly the same as defining what our values are.

Occupy Wall Street has only been around for four months and our scope is huge. There has to be room for dissent and disagreement and discussion within our movement. We need to be inclusive, not codify punitive measures of exclusion.

There are individuals in this movement who have been labeled disruptors or agitators. People who recently have taken the position of blocking just about any proposal asking for funds that do not address the basic needs of the homeless Occupier population – food, housing, and Metrocards, for example. There is an argument that can be made that these blocks are made along ethical lines – that this occupation has people dependent on it, and we have an obligation to care for them; with funds depleting we must focus on their needs.

You don’t have to agree with this line of thinking, but agreement is not the issue.

… misdirection …

This proposal is clearly a way to target individuals and not the issues at hand. Already we see adverse reactions to certain individuals, regardless of the content. Either their presentations, or they themselves, are enough to make people tune out before they even begin speaking.

Taking a temperature check to evaluate a block feels punitive, and I’m not sure we have a right as community to address the concerns of specific individuals as it pertains to a block.

We should not debate the validity of anyone’s individual concerns. Rather, we can decide communally, having heard the blockers’ concerns and the stand asides’ concerns, that we still want this proposal to move forward. We can do that. We have a process for it – modified consensus.

But what we should not have is a system in place to validate or nullify someone’s moral, ethical, or safety concerns, however effectively they are communicated.

I’d rather have modified consensus at the expense of consensus than consensus at the expense of an individual.

… unfriendly …

A friendly amendment was suggested – and accepted by the proposer – to put in place a one-week trial period to see how this whole process would play out. When I restated my concerns to explain my block the proposer reminded me of the amendment to see if I would be willing to delay my block a week. To allow this trial period to happen so as a community we can evaluate it based on practice.

My response was, “I do not feel comfortable putting a trial period on what I feel is immoral.” I stand by that.

This proposal is ugly. I don’t blame the people who wrote it or the people who support it. I understand why they want this failsafe in place. It would be convenient. It would make things easy. But the more embedded I get with OWS, the more I learn about the history of radical and revolutionary movements and organizations, the more I truly believe this should not be easy.

If it were easy, it would have been done already.

If it were easy, we’d be living in a more just world.

If it were easy we would have toppled the pillars of oppression that uphold the empire.

We have to be willing to put in the hard work – to live better now – to create a better world as we go.

I’m willing to put in the work. I’m willing to struggle. I’m willing to be frustrated and angry and exhausted.

I’m willing because I am looking forward to the eventual victories of our collective struggle.

This – this very difficult struggle – is why I occupy.


– Brett Goldberg (@PoweredByCats on Twitter)

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