Celebrating Wall Street
By Michael Albert at Sep 30, 2011
Due to work and travel, I have been unable to visit Wall Street. I admit, I also doubted the occupiers’ wherewithal to keep on occupying and growing.
But it appears I was wrong about the event's staying power. Activists who went to Wall Street to initiate action have done their job. The event has legs. It is lumbering along quite nicely, and it even seems poised to start running. Further success depends more on other people joining then on the tenacity of initiators - which has been established beyond any doubt.
Commentators have disparagingly noted that not everyone is focused and there is a lot of frivolity. But why is this bad? In a society that smothers creativity and annihilates spontaneous play, having a lot of each is a good thing.
From what I hear, perhaps the occupation could benefit from having more diverse options for people, in spontaneity and play and also in its task dispersal, particularly for people with jobs, kids, and other pressures. But more diversity will come - right along with the arrival of unionists, for example.
As to communications, I hate Twitter. It is a corporate giant and not a friend of the left. Ditto for Facebook. But making good use of these otherwise vile institutions is like making good use of any alienated, profit seeking, vile aspect of society. It is just doing the best we can. And the one-liners emerging from Wall Street put to shame what typical movement stalwarts generate when they slap the keys. You know who I mean: we activists who have been around the political block so many times that we think we own it - we around-the-blockers.
On the other hand, we really could use some longer communications from Wall Street. Why leave telling the story of the events and teasing out its lessons to mainstream pundits who have their eyes in their pockets and their noses on the ground? Some occupiers who breathe the air of the events and know their byways, should find time to provide in depth accounts - especially regarding insights, problems, and solutions which people elsewhere eager to initiate their own efforts can benefit from.
What about other imperfections mainstream pundits are pointing at? Not everyone occupying Wall Street is clear about what they are doing, and perhaps even why they are doing it. Occupy Wall Street is vague. The occupation is muddled, say the pundits. True, but these too, are not debits. Who knows, precisely, what we who resist and rebel are doing and why we are doing it? More, while those who do know, or who think they know, the around-the-blockers, should be present, and should very patiently add their beliefs to the Wall Street mix, those who don't know, and who know that they don't know, but who want to know, are the far more important participants. The occupation having room for and being congenial to folks who are first getting going - including welcoming their views and giving space for their expression - is a real and pivotal achievement. Around-the-blockers lecturing is not going to help. People talking, exploring, debating, and carefully considering, is central. And yes, some of those people will be “around the blockers,” and if we add our voices and it resonates, great. If we add our voices and no one listens, or worse, everyone is bored or even made angry or inclined to leave, then we around-the-blockers need to shut up and pay attention. Experience is worth very little if we cannot convey its lessons congenially.
At the risk of plopping myself not only into the around-the-blockers camp but into its “talking without hearing” subgroup, I do want to tentatively offer a few suggestions to an audience that I can reach - those who read ZNet regularly.
For ZNet readers who are in New York: If you didn't turn out on day one, no problem. And the same holds for day two through five, say. After all, it is likely you are busy. You have classes, jobs, kids. You have other political and social commitments. Fair enough. But now it is time. Relying on news reports, even on alternative media news reports, is insufficient for you to know what is happening. So why not take your body, and those you hang out with, down to the corner. And if you do, bring something nice for someone to eat, and hang out for a bit, and then, if you determine that the occupation isn't for you and you can't carve out a space there that is for you, leave. That can be that. Fair enough. But if you go to Wall Street and when you are there you feel admiration for the occupiers, don't just go back home and read the reports more knowledgeably. Return whenever you can. Bring others. And if you have misgivings about some aspects, great, bring those too.
For ZNet readers in other U.S. cities: Don't go to New York to join the occupiers. New York is a really big place. They have enough people locally to organize into ever growing crowds. But if you want to go to survey the scene and to learn whatever lessons you can take home, great. Because what people in other cities who get a jolt of inspiration and excitement from the Wall Street Occupation and who hope it will grow should do - is replicate it elsewhere. What we need is not only a bigger Wall Street Occupation, but Two, Three, Many Occupations.
Finally, to the Wall Street occupiers or soon to be occupiers who read ZNet, here are some obvious observations: Take your time. Energy, desire, and urgency, are great, but so is patience. Patience. Whatever else you do, keep prioritizing new people. And talking about outreach, tweets are okay, emails with substance are better, but the heart of organizing is still face to face. How many occupiers are at Wall Street at any moment? Whatever that number is, half, at least, could very usefully be out agitating for new arrivals. Joe and Sue at the occupation for some hours is not actually as good as Joe and Sue going around town getting others to go to the occupation. And once you have been involved an ample time, don't let your growing sophistication split you off from the newcomers. Keep talking plainly. Keep being receptive and hearing. Move forward in bulk, without leaving new folks behind. That said, part of moving forward is injecting/discovering in the mass of participants a basis for shared and coherent continuation. Maybe it will be demands like full employment, a shorter work week, end today's wars and cut back military spending, tax the rich, and so on. Maybe it will be hammering out or discovering new ideas about how to create lasting organization. Imagine people becoming part of lasting locally based chapters of a new organization all around New York - and elsewhere - able to occupy and resist again and again, growing, diversifying, and paying attention to multi issues while employing multi tactics.
If enough people are involved and able to express their desires and join in the evolution of occupation ideas, demands will surely emerge. A coherent basis for lasting ties and new organization will surely emerge. The task that needs most attention, first, however, is people being welcomed in and having the room they need to express and grow at their own pace, imbibing lessons and insights from those who have gone before, but also adding new lessons and insights of their own.
I am off this weekend to Lexington, Kentucky for a talk to a gathering of local organizers. Then I go to London and Dublin, for talks to conference attendees and gatherings, and to Barcelona, Madrid, and Valencia, for talks at events, popular assemblies, etc. The main topic I have been asked to speak on throughout is parecon and associated strategy, but I will also bring what news I can of what you on Wall Street - and increasingly elsewhere in the U.S. - are up to. I will seek British, Irish, and Spanish solidarity. And I expect the Spaniards, in particular, will have many lessons to convey, so I will try to hear those and bring them back to share. I hope to see you on Wall Street, in late October, and then in other cities, as well.