Carry This Movement Through The Winter

Adbusters Occupy Wall Street Poster: This Occupy Wall Street poster from AdBusters was a part of the early Internet buzz that helped make Occupy Wall Street a reality.“Carry this movement through the Winter. Carry this movement through the bitter cold and into Spring. Shake off your morning dew, youth, for you are many, they are few.

“Washington: We have no bombs. We have no weapons. We have no threats. But behold the power of the quill and ink.”

— Anonymous
“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.

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Support Your Local General Assembly

Adbusters Occupy Wall Street Poster: This Occupy Wall Street poster from AdBusters was a part of the early Internet buzz that helped make Occupy Wall Street a reality.Freedom and democracy are our birthright. As human beings, we are born with the potential for both great individual achievement and great social cooperation. This is why freedom and democracy go hand in hand, inspiring in us a new vision for a better society.

This vision of freedom and democracy played a role in the founding of the United States of America. Now, this vision is being reborn in the streets of America. I’m writing this message today to explain my understanding of our new democratic uprising and call on you to join us in the streets in support of a new development in the American practice of freedom and democracy.

Oddly enough, this most recent chapter in the history of American democracy was sparked in large part by a non-profit organization with its roots in Canada. AdBusters describes itself as “a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age”. The subtitle of their magazine is “The Journal of the Mental Environment”. For over two decades, AdBusters has been publishing their magazine and challenging corporate dominance of our economic, political, and mental environment in a variety of ways. Now, their “Occupy Wall Street” campaign has grown from a call to action on their website into a national [and increasingly global] Occupy Together movement.

This genuinely grassroots movement is grappling with the question of how to respond to the ways in which transnational corporations have looted our economy and corrupted our democracy. As a long-time advocate for environmental and social justice, I’m well aware of the fact that large corporations often tamper with our democracy and make life harder for the rest of us. In the past, this behavior on behalf of corporate criminals has often only sparked a public response from a relatively small group of activists. The difference at the moment, though, is that a majority of Americans are feeling the crunch in a personal way and now seem to be connecting the dots between their personal struggles and the consequences of corporate malfeasance on American society.

So what do we do about it? Whether you’re a Real Life Superhero or just an everyday citizen who’s tired of being ignored by politicians and left behind by a faltering economy, it’s time for you to make your stand. Wall Street banks and other transnational corporations have swindled this country out of trillions of dollars by bullying or buying our politicians, getting increasingly rich off of the deepening poverty of hard-working Americans, and leaving nothing but pollution and illness and shattered dreams in their wake. If we love our communities, if we love our country, if we love this nation and the principles of freedom and democracy that it was supposedly founded on, we will find a way to stand up to these transnational corporations and reclaim our economy and our society from their grasp.

Right now, at this moment in history, that way lies in the streets with Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Together.

If you don’t usually goes to street protests, you may be reluctant to participate in something like this. At first, you may not like the idea of going out in the streets to demonstrate against the economic and political policies of a government that claims to be your government. But consider this: these demonstrations going on right now are more than just a bunch of protests. They are living experiments in direct democracy that are intended to respond to our shared economic and political politics democratically and serve as an example to members of Congress, to the American people, and to the world of what a real democracy looks like.

How are these demonstrations models of democracy?

At Occupy Wall Street and many of the other demonstrations springing up around the nation, the people in attendance are holding what is called a General Assembly. These General Assemblies are opportunities for everyone present to talk about the problems we face, make proposals about different courses of action, and decide together on what actions will be taken by the group. The General Assemblies in NYC and elsewhere are using this democratic process both to organize their ongoing occupation of public spaces and to come up with a list of concrete demands for Congress that are intended to address the root problems of our current economic and political crisis.

When you see news reports in the corporate media about how demonstrators are getting arrested and how they supposedly don’t have a clear set of demands, it may seem like people are just upset or just out there to complain about a variety of different issues that don’t have any clear relationship to one another. But these General Assemblies have helped these demonstrators to organize numerous committees to distribute food and supplies to people, keep the public space that they’re occupying clean and safe, coordinate interaction with the media, explain the process to newcomers, and discuss complex economic and political topics in an open forum where everyone’s voice is heard and everyone can make a difference in deciding what courses of action are taken to remedy our nation’s problems.

Yes, it’s a messy, complex process. But it is clearly a democratic process, and it deserves the support of everyone in this country who loves freedom and democracy. These demonstrators are asking some of the hard-hitting questions that members of Congress ought to be asking. They’re coming up with solutions that Congress ought to implement, and they’re doing it in a way that Congress could learn from. Honestly, what members of Congress should do is come out onto the streets with the demonstrators and take notes on what a real democracy looks like!

This is why I’m asking you to support your local General Assembly, whether it may be on the streets of New York City or in the heart of Small Town USA. Here in Carbondale, Illinois, we’ve started an Occupy Carbondale movement that has already seen tremendous success, especially for a city of our size. We had about 50 people at our first meeting and about 75 at our first demonstration. If you live in Southern Illinois, I invite you to join us for our next meeting where our nascent General Assembly will decide on the details of if, when, where, and how we will start up an ongoing 24/7 occupation of public space like the ones going on right now in NYC, Washington D.C., and other cities across the nation.

Whichever General Assembly you support, and however you choose to support it, you’re playing an important part in a movement that has the potential to change America and the world. Nobody knows exactly where all of this may lead. But since it’s an opportunity to challenge the corporate takeover of our society and learn more about democracy along the way, it’s definitely worth it.

Support your local General Assembly today! Visit Occupy Together to find a General Assembly or other related event near you. If you can’t find one, start one. Other General Assemblies will help you. Together, we can make our vision for freedom and democracy a reality!

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Beyond Coal

Beyond Coal: This is the logo of Beyond Coal, a national effort in the U.S. to move beyond coal as a fuel source.I live in the city of Carbondale, Southern Illinois, a university town of about 25,000 people. I came to this city as a student of Southern Illinois University Carbondale, but I stayed in the area because I like the city and the region. Ever since receiving my Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy, I’ve gradually been focusing more on community issues and less on campus issues. However, I’d like to take a moment now to talk about the Beyond Coal campaign that has come to the SIUC campus.

Beyond Coal is a national campaign here in the U.S. to move beyond coal as a source of our energy. This involves shutting down existing coal plants, stopping the construction of new ones, and promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency as ways of replacing or eliminating the energy currently supplied by burning coal.

There are a lot of people in this country and this region who still want to meet our nation’s energy demands by burning coal. When viewed from a historical perspective, this passion for coal is understandable. In its heyday, coal was a tremendously powerful and abundant resource. With seemingly limitless power at our disposal, we rocketed through the Industrial Age and into the Information Age in just a little over a century. Now, however, we’ve come to realize that the tremendous power supplied by coal [and other fossil fuels] also comes with a tremendous cost to the health of our people and our land. From the mercury poisoning our air, soil, and water, to the carbon dioxide altering our climate patterns, the cost of coal is simply too high. It’s time to stop using coal and start using other fuels

At this point, I’m not even going to waste my time saying much about the unabashedly pro-coal argument. They say we need coal jobs, but there are better green jobs to be had. They say it’s cleaner than it used to be, but the only clean coal is unmined coal. They say renewables aren’t ready, but renewables are sweeping the nation and the world because they ARE ready. Coal is bad news, and renewables are ready, so let’s do this.

What do I want to respond to, however, are a few questions raised by people who support Beyond Coal in theory but are reluctant to support it in practice because they’re concerned about practical details such as where SIUC is going to get its energy, how the budget crisis of the University/State/Nation will effect the situation, etc.

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Spontaneous Street Patrol

I decided to go on a spontaneous street patrol tonight. As you may know, my RLSH work is focused on community service rather than fighting street crime, so unless you count my late-night walks across town, I rarely do anything resembling a street patrol. Tonight, however, I heard about a major disturbance over at Brush Towers, a set of three seventeen-story-tall concrete dorms near my house. So, I decided to look into it.

I started by tuning in to the local police/fire audio feed online. One of my friends shared with me an excellent site called Radio Reference that lets you find the audio from local police and fire frequencies:

We had actually just been talking about this site today, so when the power went out on the south side of town, my friend heard about it and sent me the link to our local feed.

We won’t know the full story until the newspaper comes out tomorrow, but the situation sounded very serious. A section of town was without power, including these tall towers on the south side of town that are home to hundreds of undergrads, many of whom have only been in town for a few weeks. Once the power was out, it sounds like a riot broke out, with a group of people fighting outside of these towers, numerous police and ambulances on the scene, some disturbances on neighboring streets, extra police called in from a few surrounding towns, etc. At this point, I was still at home, but it sounded pretty bad over the police scanner.

Of course, I have no great desire to get my head bashed in, or to get in the way of the police. So I wasn’t sure at first if I should go out there. But I decided I should at least make sure none of the violence or vandalism was spilling over into my neighborhood, which is a few blocks away from these towers. So I decided to go out on patrol. I tend to wear a minimal version of my costume [utility belt plus shirt] every day now, so all I had to do was throw on a jacket and head out.

At first, everything looked normal for an average weeknight: quiet streets, one or two cars going by, one or two people walking by, etc. Then, I came to the part of town where the power was out. It’s a part of town with a few blocks of houses, a big student recreation center (a.k.a. gym), and a homeless shelter, so I decided to check and be sure no one from the dorms had wandered over here with trouble on their mind.

It was odd walking down streets without any power late at night. I had my flashlight out and looked around a bit for signs of trouble. But it was actually a very quiet and peaceful walk through the neighborhood.

When I reached one of the bigger streets without power, there were several clusters of people heading away from the towers, presumably wanting to avoid any trouble while the power was out. Since the power was completely out, I went and checked a few nearby storefronts and started heading toward the towers.

The towers had emergency power only. This means that the stairway lights [visible from the street] had power, but not the rest of the building [i.e people’s dorm rooms]. This being the case, I walked along the street along the far edge of the big field in front of the dorms [East Grand] to assess the situation and decide if I should check out the street immediately next to / beneath the towers. From what I could tell, some of the emergency vehicles were leaving already, indicating to me that any immediate rioting that had been going on had run its course while I patrolled my neighborhood. There was still activity outside of the towers, but the situation seemed more stable than it had sounded on the scanner. I also decided that any police left in the area would probably frown on a non-resident of the towers needlessly loitering at the base of the towers, so I decided to stick to far side of the big field and keep going past the towers.

[This is an important point that any people who are new to neighborhood patrols should really note: if the police have it covered, there’s no need to get in the way. It was more important for me to go and explore the areas the police didn’t have covered because they were busy dealing with a riot.]

Shortly thereafter, the power came back on for everything but the towers and campus. I decided to check on the community center I work at [Gaia House Interfaith Center] to be sure the power was back on and everything was fine. Things looked good over there and at the other community center across the tracks [Newman Center], so I headed home. Along the way, I saw about a half dozen police cars all together in a parking lot, with some of the officers standing around and talking casually. I don’t know what they were saying, but judging by their tone/demeanor, they were hanging out in case they were still needed and joking around with each other to shake off any remaining tension from dealing with the situation at the towers.

I did one last walk-through down a couple of streets in my neighborhood to ensure that the power was back on and that nothing had been vandalized during the outage. Everything was fine, so I went home.

On the one hand, this was a fairly uneventful patrol. I basically just went for a walk around town and saw some extra people walking and some extra police cars and ambulances in the area. But I definitely feel it was worth it to keep an eye on the neighborhood while trouble was brewing a few blocks over. And I definitely feel like it was worth writing about since it’s not something I do every day. I do plan on doing street patrols here in Carbondale later this fall, though, once I’ve got a local team together, so this was a good preview and left me with plenty of food for thought about the future.

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My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois. I write novels, short stories, and poetry, mostly about the climate.

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