THREE CITIES, THREE OCCUPATIONS: ALL IN LESS THAN ONE WEEK

November 7, 2011 at 3:55 am (Uncategorized)

A report by a member of IP on occupations in New York, Seattle and Vancouver

Before I went to New York, I had only had a few hours’ experience at Occupy Vancouver. Some of it had been less than inspiring, including, on my last time there, having one person standing next to me (who I had never seen before) in a highly emotional state turn to me and very intensely tell me how there had just been a split amongst the core group of people involved in the organizing of the occupation, with the “liberals” (alternatively, the “hippie liberals”) having taken over, that it was a bunch of b.s. and that this was a terrible development. That was a little unsettling. I was, however, impressed with how the General Assemblies I attended were ‘facilitated’ so as to permit everyone present to participate, if they accepted and followed the agreed upon procedure, and to try to achieve maximum unity (the 90% consensus model). I was also impressed by the level of passion and openness expressed by the persons who vented themselves to me. This thing was obviously very important to a number of these people.

 Zuccotti Park in NYC was a different story. Even though the content of the first GA there I attended was uninteresting and not at all political, the ‘process’ was very impressive. The participants seemed more comfortable with and more proficient at the process. (Of course, they had been at it for almost a month longer than the ones in Vancouver.) And then their collective self-confidence – New Yorkers, you know – that was truly inspiring to experience. It seemed clear that this process was working well for them and they were proud of it. It really is something new, a new way of working together, in the most horizontal, the most “directly democratic” (beyond that, even, I would say) way yet realized by human beings. And the Occupy Wall Street encampment at Zuccotti Park is where it began. A sense that history was in the making here was felt but not easy to articulate at the time.

 That sense became much clearer the next day. With the weather significantly warmer, there was a more relaxed, comfortable vibe to the place. (it was also afternoon, rather than evening.) This was several hours before the day’s GA. The person I was there with, a comrade, had been there a few times previously, and clearly felt very comfortable and confident about getting involved in any open discussion of interest to him. Various different conversations/discussions were going on in different parts of the park. In each case, we could listen in, ask what it was about, be informed about who it concerned/who was involved, and follow along if we wanted. It wasn’t long before we came across what I later learned is called the “Think Tank”. It is a place in the park, close to the middle, where open discussions on any topics can occur. One announces one’s topic, then sees who else wants to participate. It seems that the topics usually arise out of spontaneous discussions involving, initially, two or three people, which others then want to join into. My comrade and I participated in two of these discussions, one, which we stumbled upon, on capitalism vs. socialism, and another on how to find new ways to try to open people’s imaginations in a way that allows them to think outside of the restricted sphere of existence that the existing mass media, governments, educational systems, etc. enforce/impose on us. Each discussion involved about 8-10 people, with about 10-15 others just listening in. It was very informal – with just a “stacker” taking a list of people wanting to speak – but it seemed to work so well because people really wanted to make it work, rather than just get into another shouting match.

 Here was real, serious discussion and debate, back and forth, with people really concerned to sharpen their views, to learn from each, in the most respectful way, among the widest variety of people (age, dress, style, race, sexual orientation, etc.) I think I had ever experienced. And although I was, unlike my comrade, slow to get involved, I did become actively involved and felt none of the unease and anxiety I would normally expect to feel in such a situation. Clearly, there was something big happening here, something that I had dreamt about being a part of for decades, something that has probably not existed in America since the late 1960s (when I was a child, but able to vaguely sense a feeling of ‘change in the air’). It was, and still is, exhilarating, to be sure.

 My comrade suggested that I attend at least one session of one Working Group, since that was where a lot of good discussions occurred, and also where proposals put forward in the GA’s were initially worked out.  I did attend one working group, on “visions and goals”, but only briefly, since the content at that time was not of interest, but again, the process used and its facilitation were impressive to witness. It was Halloween that day, and when I returned to Zuccotti Park from where the working group was meeting, it seemed that there was not an ‘official’ GA that evening; but there was a group of about 50-60 people near where the GA’s were being held holding an impromptu assembly, complete with various people dressed in very impressive Halloween costumes, including an impeccably dressed Emma Goldman. It was as much fun and convivial as it was serious and militant, but when we decided to hold a half hour break and then resume again, a few people announced different proposals for what to do during the half hour, including one to do a chain dance around the Merrill Lynch bull near the Bowling Green, another to go to the graveyard at nearby Trinity Church, across Broadway from Wall Street, to ask the spirits of the dead buried there for advice on what to do, to one to “go over there and discuss revolutionary politics.” Needless to say, I opted for the latter. It turned out this guy was still in high school and identified as an anarchist, and judged council communism to be a political tendency proximate to his. Another person self-identified as an anarcho-syndicalist. I didn’t label myself, but I did argue for the necessity of a Marxist critique and analysis of the economy and its crisis, after another person said it was essential for us to follow what’s happening in the economy, and to see how things are going to get a lot worse pretty soon – to which I wholeheartedly agreed. The discussion, involving at various times between six and twelve highly varied people, focused mostly on strategy towards the occupation movement from a revolutionary perspective. There seemed to be agreement reached that it was still too early to be focusing on ‘direct actions’ and trying to achieve any specific ‘gains’ or ‘victories’; that the principle aim should be, currently, to try grow the movement to involve as many people as possible from the ‘99%’, and to focus on discussion and mutual ‘education’, to get as many people as possible to recognize that our big goal should be the abolition of capitalism, and that we need to better understand how it dominates all our lives. That was one very satisfying discussion, one I won’t soon forget. That was pretty much it for that day at Occupy Wall Street, as it seemed all but a small number had left for Halloween events, including a massive Halloween march up Sixth Avenue.

 The next day was a flight back to Seattle. The day after that I went to check out the Occupy Seattle encampment, which had recently been moved from Westlake Park, adjacent to the financial district in downtown Seattle, to Seattle Central Community College, in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, actually not very far away. It was about 1:30 p.m. when I got there, and it turned out that the little under a hundred people assembled there were holding a sort of rally to pep themselves up for what was coming. I had met one of the people who spoke at the rally, actually the best one in my estimation, at a recent IP public meeting. He’s a member of Seattle’s Black Orchid Collective and a very good public speaker. In fact, he was able to not only link the coming event to global capitalism, he also invoked the ever-increasing numbers of permanently unemployed that capitalism produces and contains in its ‘planet of slums’ – which was something that he had picked up directly from the recent IP p.m. mentioned.

 It turned out the coming event was a march up Seattle’s Broadway to a local branch of  Chase Bank, owned by JP Morgan/Chase Bank, apparently one of the largest financial corporation in the world. I happily went along, up the street, with police escort. We chanted various slogans and chants along the way. Some were quite fun, including “Hey, hey, ho, ho, capitalism’s got to go!” and “Workers of the world unite, come and join the general strike!” (which was a reference specifically to the Occupy Oakland called strike, occurring that day). When we got to the bank branch we heard a few facts about JP Morgan/Chase Bank and its CEO, who was apparently in Seattle for a conference. It further turned out that about a half dozen people were already in the bank branch, ‘occupying’ it. We marched around the building a couple of times, chanting some more, and with a few people saying ‘their piece’ about banks. Several police with bicycles guarded the entrances to the building. It seemed that nothing much more was going to happen, for a while at least, but people remained, following what was going on inside. At that point I had to leave, to catch a bus to Vancouver. I will say, though, that I was impressed by the militancy and the generally anti-capitalist tenor of the activity I saw and participated in that day in Seattle. The racial mix of the participants was also greater than what I saw in New York (even though it was impressive there too), and definitely more so than what I’ve seen in Vancouver.  

  I came back to Vancouver highly inspired by what I had experienced in New York and Seattle. I was convinced that there was ‘something in the air’ in America, that now is a time of soon-coming social change, and that many people’s consciousness was already changing, changing rapidly and massively, in the context of this very concentrated #OWS movement, and that we were likely still in the very early stages of it. Having had those American experiences, I was more comfortable and confident in participating in the occupation in my Canadian city, even if I find it difficult to shake my cynicism about the political attitudes and activities of my fellow citizens, especially those on the ‘left’. It could well be that the “liberals” have “taken over” control of Occupy Van., but it is still Occupy Van., part of the global #OWS (or “occupy together”) movement, and it is still open to everyone. I have participated, and tried to defend an anti-capitalist perspective, both in the GA’s and in informal discussions, and I have found other participants to be open to what I say and very respectful. I plan to stay involved and engaged, to defend and discuss an anti-capitalist perspective, specifically, an internationalist communist one, and to learn what I can from the others I engage with. I am also trying to get Occupy Van. to set up a ‘think tank’ like the one in Zuccotti Park.

 E.R.

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2 Comments

  1. Stuart said,

    Brilliant piece, thanks for sharing.

    • fischerzed said,

      Thanks, I’ll pass on the praise.

      There’s also a slightly different version up at the IP blog

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