Last Friday, when I visited OccupyLA, on the lawn around City Hall, I was delighted to find a little free library. I took a couple pictures. Browsing, I noticed there wasn’t much for young readers to enjoy, so I promised myself I’d return with some books for kids. So, I went back yesterday, after class, dropped off a sack of books and spent an hour walking around the site.
Right away I noticed the food area had been dismantled and packed up. The Welcome tent was gone, the Donations tent empty. A couple of people were cleaning a large coffee urn. They told me the health department had shut down the food area and the others had moved to the west and south lawns. It struck me this might be a prelude to clearing the Occupation. The night before, police attacked Occupations in Atlanta, Chicago, Sacramento and Oakland. At least one person was critically injured by police in Oakland. (The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was founded in Oakland.) Mayor Villaraigosa, who publicly sympathizes with the #OWS movement, said today the Occupation cannot go on indefinitely.
Things felt different. It all seemed a bit more chaotic, less of the enthusiasm and good humor I saw last week. Still, it appeared to be a community learning to live/work together despite some growing areas of abrasion. This struggle to recapture our sovereignty is sometimes a grinding, boring test of our endurance and tolerance for the stubbornness and ignorance of our sisters and brothers. Living under circumstances that are uncertain, even perilous, is very difficult.
On my first visit I picked up a copy of “Quick guide on group dynamics in people’s assemblies,” based on the texts “which reached consensus” in the Spanish assemblies of the 15th May Movement. I strongly urge you to read it and consider how to test it in everyday decision-making situations. I’m going to make an effort to attend a General Assembly meeting, at least to observe. I want to see how it works in this setting. A few of the other Occupations have drafted consensus statements and they seem to be circulating. I expect they can be found online somewhere.
The first idea in the Quick Guide that caught my interest was ‘Collective Thinking.’ It is another description of complementarity, the notion that apparent contraries can be resolved and integrated at a higher order of analysis. The second idea that hooked me was the General Assembly as a social tool and the commitment to consensus. And, one more thing that I learned is the use of gestures to express opinions in the General Assembly. I won’t say more, for now.
* *I also collected a copy of the RCP newspaper and a “Declaration” from New York General Assemblies. Reading Bob Avakian is still a challenge, but much of his analysis rings true to me. The document from New York reads like a list of complaints and affirmations, a catalogue of hurts suffered by the people, failures of the government to protect and promote the welfare of the people, predations of the corporations and Wall Street. There was little in the content I’d object to. In style, it is a bit crude, needing some sympathetic editing. I think the best piece I’ve read in some time was from the UC Santa Cruz occupation, last year, “Communique from an absent future.”
That was true until the other day, when a friend wrote to tell me about an essay by Charles Eisenstein, “No demand is big enough.” Among the significant points he makes is the reminder that the Arab Spring had no demands when it started. It all began when an unemployed fruit vendor immolated himself in Tunis, expressing a nation’s desperate longing for respect and human rights. The same grievances moved Egyptians to occupy Tahrir Square. And this movement continues to spread, even to America.
We should remember and study what stages each of these uprisings passed through and consider whether or not a revolution has in fact happened. In the simplest terms, the state’s tolerance was sprinkled with police violence and media ridicule. When the state was forced to acknowledge the grievances of the people, it offered reforms, which were invariably rejected. This step was followed by the demand for regime change, which has been accomplished in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, thus far.
The critical point we are approaching here in America is the government’s willingness to recognize the grievances of the “99%.” Reforms will be offered, promises made and, in this election year, pandering to the elites will continue sub rosa. As people realized, first in Tunisia, then in Egypt, reforms are meant to preserve “the system” and protect the privileges of the elites. We are facing the same predicament. Will the 99% accept reforms to fix “the system” and preserve the status quo? Or will we realize that “the system” is beyond repair? That privilege is incompatible with democracy?
And, if we understand that, will we be able to bring about regime change?
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3 November 2011