“Washington: We have no bombs. We have no weapons. We have no threats. But behold the power of the quill and ink.”
“A message from Anonymous to the 99%”
In my previous entry, Support Your Local General Assembly, I talked about the Occupy movement and its General Assemblies. Less than a week later, on October 15th, there were hundreds of Occupy events in over 80 countries around the world. This was also the day that Occupy Carbondale started its 24/7 occupation of a spot of public land near the metal Bucky Dome on the SIUC campus. So much has happened since that day that it’s hard to believe that it was less than a month ago! And there’s still so much happening that I don’t have much time tonight to write this entry. However, I want to write at least a few words tonight because I feel the movement may be reaching another turning point.
Winter is coming. In some parts of the U.S., Winter is already settling in, bringing with it freezing temperatures and the promise of several months of ice and snow. Here in Southern Illinois, the weather has fluctuated wildly between sunny 70 degree days and nights of icy rain where the cold sting of Winter truly chills us to the bone, if only for a day or three.
Between the fluctuating weather and my resulting bout of severe bronchitis, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the coming of Winter. As I consider the details of strategy and logistics for both Occupy Carbondale and the broader Occupy movement, my mind keeps going back to a quote from an Anonymous video about the movement:
“Carry this movement through the Winter. Carry this movement through the bitter cold and into Spring.”
Occupy Wall Street and the various other Occupies initially had much of the energy and spirit of a demonstration that you might expect to arise in the blossoming warmth and sunny vitality of Spring. They appeared suddenly and grew rapidly; they were full of energy, artistry, and daring; their message offered a profound challenge to the economic and political institutions of our day. If they had arrived in April, they could have spent months flourishing in the warmth and light, spreading like wildfire and laying down deep roots across the nation and the world.
Instead, they came during Fall in the Northern Hemisphere. Occupy Wall Street started in mid-September, and the first global Occupy event happened in mid-October, a time when the warmth and the light is already visibly slipping away. The fact that the movement experienced such explosive growth even in the midst of this seasonal transition is a testament to how many of us among the 99% are truly ready for a change. However, that said, the season is changing, and it’s time for us to figure out what this means for our movement. With that in mind, I have two important thoughts to share on this subject.
My first thought is that this movement really must carry through the bitter cold and into Spring. Occupy Wall Street and the other Occupies have captured the public imagination, inspiring millions of people spread across at least 80 countries to occupy public spaces in the name of challenging the corporate takeover of our democracy and ultimately the world at large. We must follow through with the spirit of this popular uprising, occupying public space until the 1% have been driven out of power and progress toward a true democracy of, by, and for the people has begun.
Sure, there are many ways for us to challenge that corporate takeover and create a more direct democracy. If Occupy fades away, we will find other ways to take action together. But if we give up on Occupy now, I worry that we will settle into a deeper rut of apathy and inaction than we were stuck in before the Occupy movement started. Removing corporate money from our political process is perhaps the single most important issue on the table right now, and we currently have 24/7 encampments in every major city and many smaller cities that are organizing in pursuit of real action on this issue. The pressure on politicians created by these demonstrations has even lead to a group of U.S. Senators proposing an amendment to the Constitution that would effectively overturn the Citizens United decision by allowing both Congress and individual States to place limits on the amount of donations made by corporations.
Rather than patting ourselves on the back for this rapid and dramatic influence on the popular culture and the political process, we need to keep pushing for change, seeing this Constitutional amendment and other specific legislative goals as small first steps toward the creation of increasingly democratic process at the local, state, and national level. We must let our passionate rebellion against Wall Street be refined into a passionate vision for a genuine people’s democracy, one in which local government is run by something akin to General Assembly, and the state government is run by State Assemblies composed of delegates from the many General Assemblies. This deep level of change will take a long time and a deep level of self-education and soul-searching by the people of our communities and our nation. And in order to buy ourselves that time, we must carry through the Winter and into the Spring in whatever form we can.
That brings me to my second and final point: the form of our continuation of the Occupy movement.
This movement was by and large inspired by a single 24/7 demonstration called Occupy Wall Street. Because of this, the many subsequent Occupies often sought to model themselves off of the original. For the most part, this was a good thing. This ensured that they would each adopt a General Assembly style of governance and adopt the broadly defined issue of corporate dominance of our government and society as their central focus.
However, each community is different. The strategies and logistics that work for Occupy Wall Street may not work as well in other communities. This is especially true as Winter approaches and the Occupy encampments face a variety of diverse challenges based on their local climate, local government, local population, etc. If the Occupy movement is to carry through the Winter and emerge into the Spring stronger for the experience, each Occupation must carefully examine its local circumstances and contemplate what strategy is most likely to allow their local movement to make it through the winter.
These strategies may not be what we initially expected. They may also not match what other Occupies are doing. For example, smaller communities with fewer people and fewer resources may want to reconsider a full 24/7 Occupation style, instead opting for a series of “micro-occupations” outdoors that move from location to location and take breaks from the elements while continuing the General Assemblies, teach-ins, and other indoor organizing efforts 24/7. Larger communities, on the other hand, may be able to adopt the opposite strategy, hunkering down for winter in their public venue by gathering sufficient supplies to stay out there for the long haul. Either way, the important thing is to keep pushing the movement forward, including but not limited to the holding of General Assemblies where people can explore and model a genuinely democratic process while also organizing direct action in the service of challenging the corporate takeover of our society.
This entry ended up being a lot longer than I intended it to be! And it would be longer still if I’d taken the time to share more of my personal stories and experiences here in the local Occupy Carbondale movement. It’s getting late, though, and this entry is already far too long, so it’s time for me to go to bed. Thank you for reading this, and thank you to everyone who is participating in the Occupy movement, whether that may be by living out in a public space, gathering supplies for those who do, or helping to spread the word. Together, we will make it through the Winter of corporate plutocracy and into the Spring of a new democracy.