Monthly Archives: October 2011
Wanting to do more than just write and talk about the Occupy movement, I’ve been thinking I should go to one of the General Assembly meetings of our local group, (anticipating the frustration I’d probably feel as one of 200 people trying to be heard has kept me away so far). I told my friend J. I thought there should be some system of meeting in smaller groups (like the talking-stick circles I’ve mentioned before on this site) that could then send a representative to a similarly small group at the next level. The next day she sent me a link to a post on our local Occupy website about the Folkmote system, apparently a “cultural universal” until industrial capitalism started taking over more and more of our lives and world.
A few days later, J., C., and I went to a meeting at a downtown park at which Warren Weisman, a local proponent of the system, explained it to about 20 interested people. He said the folkmote system extends the natural trust and cooperation found within tribal groups to voluntary 20-30-person groups of family, friends, and neighbors who see each other on a regular basis and like and trust each other. The groups make decisions by consensus and, when appropriate, send representatives to adjacent or “higher”-level groups. Federated groups are organized in a wheel rather than a hierarchy, with the original groups on the outer circle and intermediate groups on spokes leading to a central hub. The “federated communities are responsible for all public services and manage all aspects of village life.” Folkmote members are “bound together by an unwritten, voluntary mutual aid agreement: ‘When you are in need, I will come to your aid; when I am in need, I trust you to help me; and I agree to meet my own needs to the best of my ability.’ Groups can be territorial, work-related, or based on any other interest or affinity, and, ideally, an individual would be a member of more than one group.
A folkmote system can also be organized quickly in a large group of strangers by asking people to move to a group associated with their favorite color, then to a group associated with their favorite fruit. Folkmote is a “robust system in a catastrophe, government distributed down to the neighborhood level.” We would all benefit by taking more responsibility at the local level for meeting needs, but – barring catastrophe – we can take as much time as we need to do this, just as the nonviolent nature of the Occupy movement allows us to take our time.
The basic meeting discusses who needs what and who has surplus to share. In the Cairo Tahrir Square movement people used this system to defend and care for their own neighborhoods. “Leadership comes up from below, and everybody has a say,” Warren told us. “It’s like you’re constantly plugged into craigslist. It’s community building – building trust up over time.” He gave the following historical examples of folkmote organizations: medieval guilds, the Committees of Safety and Correspondence in the original 13 colonies, the Paris Commune of 1871, the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, and the Zapatistas. He added, “We’re all already in one or more of them. Who do you call on in an emergency?” Interestingly, according to Warren, Occupy Wall Street is switching from the General Assembly format to a spokescouncil, a localized folkmote. (“Folkmote” means “a gathering of ordinary people.”)
Warren mentioned that Marx had anarchist Mikhail Bakunin kicked out of the 1st International because the latter was against strong centralized leadership and believed people could govern themselves best. The folkmote system and mutual aid are inherent in anarchist theory and practice, as is decentralization in all spheres (decentralization militates against takeover by a minority or conquest by an alien force). Anarchist Peter Kropotkin advocated decentralized food production, as have many concerned about “energy descent” and/or economic collapse. Warren reminded us that anarchy doesn’t mean “chaos;” it means “replacing government with self-organization.”
Thinking again of the Occupy movement, someone asked, “How do you keep solidarity?” and Warren answered that there are no guarantees, but that organizations moving in the same direction could form common “fronts.”
J., C., and I plan to talk to our neighbors – maybe by inviting the closest ones to a purely social event – and others interested in sharing or bartering resources. (See also your local freecycle list – ours can be found by Googling “Freecycle Eugene.”)
I thought it was interesting that halfway through Warren’s presentation we had to move to another area of the park, because a noisy group of about 20 tough-looking young adults, mostly male and some passing a marijuana pipe, started congregating near us. People just naturally form into groups.
To summarize, I quote from a letter Warren wrote to the editor of our local weekly paper prior to our meeting. “I hope the Occupy Wall Street movement maintains its beautiful, diversified, vibrant anarchist roots and doesn’t become just another worthless reform movement. Representative democracy is inherently vulnerable to corruption and needs to be replaced with something better. Like the mutual aid societies people have lived in since Paleolithic times…where everyone has a say in government and we can be responsible for our own administration and public services at the neighborhood level, even in the biggest cities. Where there are work-at-home and cottage industry opportunities for people to not have to be wage slaves. A system that can never be hijacked by any self-appointed ‘superior’ minority.” In the same letter, Warren notes that the Occupy movement is ‘propaganda through deed,’ though more nonviolent than earlier American anarchists, shut down by the government, along with anti-war protestors and ‘Wobblies’ (member of the International Workers of the World) during World War I.
Warren said our local Occupy movement didn’t seem that interested in switching to a folkmote system right now, but if others organized that way they could send representatives to the local General Assembly meetings and ask to form committees, if appropriate, with the local movement. I’ve also recently experienced great responsiveness via e-mail from local Occupiers to a site suggestion I made, and have yet to explore all the possibilities of using our local Occupy website.
To be continued…
P.S. Re: ‘propaganda through deed’ and the Occupy movement, a local Occupier told a university official that the movement isn’t “camping;” it’s occupying. (Our local group is currently occupying an area owned by the state university.)
Not likely. In “Tea Partiers: the Self-Hating 99%” posted yesterday on the Al Jazeera website, Heather Digby Parton writes, though there are “surface similarities between the two uprisings, they actually represent two opposing populist worldviews, whose only philosophical resemblance to one another is their belief that they speak for ‘the people’ against the elites. While both movements are mainly concerned with economic issues, their beliefs about the causes and solutions they propose couldn’t be more different.
One of the central myths about the Tea Party is that it came about as a reaction against the Wall Street bailouts. It’s true that there were some scattered ‘Tea Parties’ around the Ron Paul campaign in 2008, but virtually everyone agrees that the movement was really galvanized by a rant from CNBC anchor Rick Santelli one month into the Obama administration calling for a ‘new Tea Party’ that became an instant YouTube sensation and rallying cry for the right wing.” The bailouts Santelli was mad about weren’t the ones on Wall Street, but a proposed plan to help homeowners in trouble with their mortgages. “‘Do we really want to subsidize the losers’ mortgages?’ he raved. ‘This is America! How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgage? How about we all stop paying our mortgages! It’s a moral hazard.’ Santelli called for a new Tea Party in support of capitalism, and support for capitalism – and antipathy toward government interference in it – is the very essence of Tea Party populism, which complains about government interference in ‘the market,’ the stimulus plan, and a ‘government takeover’ of the healthcare system rather than ‘too big to fail’ banks. So, Tea Partiers aren’t about corporate greed, just the usual right-wing resentment at the government spending their tax money on people they don’t think have earned it. This attitude turned out to be useful to corporate interests looking to allay real populist impulses among the citizenry, and they soon moved in through various means to help the “movement” organize itself. As historian Michael Kazin, author of The Populist Persuasion: An American History, says: ‘Right-wing populists typically drum up resentment based on differences of race, religion, and cultural style. Their progressive counterparts focus on economic grievances.'”
In recent days, Tea Partiers have issued statements denying similarities between their movement and Occupy Wall Street. “Judson Phillips, spokesman for the Tea Party Nation, responded to the claim with this: ‘The clueless revolt continues and it’s painfully obvious those who are showing up to “protest” don’t have a job. In most cases, it’s painfully obvious why they don’t have a job.’ Independence Tea Party President Teri Adams was equally unequivocal in her rejection of Occupy Wall Street: ‘The idea that Wall Street is the root of all evil is an anathema to us.’
It’s hard to imagine that these movements will find common cause. They may both believe that ‘virtue resides in ordinary people’ and that they have the skills and platform to ‘bring their would-be superiors down to earth,’ but their definition of who’s ordinary and who’s superior is radically different. The United States has always featured these two sides of the populism coin and it’s tempting to see the two movements arising in virtually the same political moment as representative of a vast uprising of common people in common purpose. But while it is vast, and masses of common people are rising up, they are two separate movements with very different worldviews. If the Occupiers are lucky, some of the formerly hostile salt-of-the-earth working folk who might have opposed them on cultural grounds in the past have been radicalized by Wall Street’s greed and will join the occupation. But I wouldn’t count on too many of them. This is a political and cultural fault line that runs deep. But then again, in this polarized country, all it takes is a few to cross over and make a majority.”
This is a long post, culled from today’s writing on the internet, but it’s all good, so I hope you take the time to read to the end. First, to give you the flavor, two more signs: “I Awoke in a Sweat from the American Dream” and “Another World Is Possible./Make Ready Your Dreams.”
In “From Me Culture to We Culture: There IS An Alternative” on CommonDreams today, Kristine Mattis writes, “Few are willing to admit that what’s occurring among members of the rebellion on Wall Street is anarchism at its finest: cooperation, human relations based on shared values, organic collectives of non-hierarchical groups, and democratically advanced ideas. At the height of the Madison occupation in February/March 2011, thousands of people virtually lived in the state capitol. They organized themselves into units to maintain peace, clean, educate, administer first aid, distribute food and supplies, etc. No one concerned themselves with the potential for crime, and no one was harmed, and no personal items were stolen as thousands of people massed in an unguarded space. The society of the occupation was one to be envied and emulated in “real” life, and it appears that the experience at Occupy Wall Street is similar. These occupations lay bare the simple truth that there is an alternative. In fact, there are many options, as long as we have the creativity and the will to imagine and realize them.
As I stand in awe of and in solidarity with occupiers on Wall Street, in D.C., and all over the country and the world, I hope that instead of capitulating to the moneyed forces and voices who insist on concrete demands – which will undoubtedly allow for the continuation and promulgation of their deceitful, destructive systems – the movement imagines a whole new paradigm for our collective future that can’t be accomplished through traditional means and won’t be expressed through traditional pathways. I also hope the resisters continue to see beyond their own personal concerns and incorporate the needs of the forgotten, those who have always been suffering – the poor, the homeless, people of color, and the indigenous. The movement must never forget to include not only the currently disenfranchised who thought they could succeed under this system, but the always disenfranchised who never had a chance. In short, the movement will be worthwhile and long-lasting if it can embrace a future society in which ‘we’ always comes before ‘me.'”
Sarah van Gelder gives us “10 Ways to Support the Occupy Movement” on the Yes! magazine website:
- Show up at the occupied space near you. (Google ‘occupy’ plus the name of your town and city.) If you can, bring a tent and sleeping bag, and stay. Or, just come for a few hours and talk to people, participate in a General Assembly, hold a sign, and help serve food.
- Start your own occupation, using www.meetup.com/occupytogether. Or, call together friends and members of your faith, school, or community group. Reach out to ‘strangers’ — unexpected alliances keep the movement from getting labeled as partisan or representing only some people.
- Support occupiers with money, time, or donations of food or gear. Support the folks at Liberty Square in New York at http://nycga.cc/donate, or check in with your local occupiers to see what they need.
- Get into the discussion, and bring it to other groups you’re part of.
- Post how you’re part of the 99% on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, or in a letter to the editor. Community plus insight makes us powerful.
- Be the media by showing up with your video recorder, camera/camera phone, or laptop and sharing the stories of the occupation. It’s harder for critics to disparage a movement when people see the faces of those involved.
- Name the meaning of the moment. What do you think will make the world better for the 99%? How has the power of the 1% gotten in the way of your hopes and dreams? Make a sign, write a blog, update your Facebook page, or speak out on the issue that means the most to you.
- Insist that public officials treat the occupations with respect, remembering that it’s our constitutional right to publicly assemble.
- Study and teach nonviolent techniques. Outside provocateurs will try to spark violent incidents to discredit the movement, and corporate media are hungry for violent images. (There’s already been an example of an admitted provocateur from the right-wing American Spectator who provoked pepper spraying at the National Air & Space Museum). Learn how to lovingly and firmly interrupt and contain violence, and teach what you know. Go to www.usdayofrage.org and click on “Resources.” On the resources page, click on “Resources for Non-violent Civil Disobedience” in the middle of the lefthand menu. Google “Nonviolent Communication” to learn about how to talk to others (and yourself) nonviolently.
- Be resilient. This movement is here for the long term. Some efforts may fade because of cold weather or harsh police responses, and others may self-destruct through faulty process or violent outbreaks. The movement may be idealistic, but it won’t be ideal. Don’t get disillusioned; the demand for a society that serves the 99% won’t go away – it may morph, but it’s become unstoppable. Help it evolve. In this remarkable, leaderless movement, each one of us who gets involved helps shape history.
In “A Movement Too Big to Fail” on Truthdig.org today, Chris Hedges writes, “The power elite, including the liberal class, is desperately trying to thwart this demand for a reversal of the corporate coup, but it has no credibility left. The best that liberals can do is sheepishly pretend this is what they wanted all along.
The Occupy Wall Street movement won’t make concessions to corrupt systems of corporate power. It isn’t seeking office or trying to get people to vote, and it doesn’t have the resources to carry suitcases of money to congressional offices or run millions of dollars worth of advertisements. All it can do is ask us to use our bodies and voices, often at personal risk, to fight back, creating a real community that affirms our dignity and permits us to become free and independent human beings. There’s more reality expressed about the American experience by the debt-burdened young men and women protesting in the parks than by all the chatter of the well-paid pundits and experts on the airwaves.
What kind of nation is it that spends far more to kill enemy combatants and Afghan and Iraqi civilians than it does to help its own citizens? What kind of nation is it that permits corporations to hold sick children hostage while their parent bankrupt themselves to try to save their sons and daughters? What kind of nation is it that tosses its mentally ill onto urban heating grates? What kind of nation is it that abandons its unemployed while it loots its treasury on behalf of speculators? What kind of nation is it that refuses to halt the destruction of the ecosystem by the fossil fuel industry, dooming our children and our children’s children?
The liberal class in a capitalist ‘democracy’ functions as a safety valve, letting off just enough steam during crises to keep the system intact (as in the Great Depression, when FDR used the New Deal to save capitalism). Things have gone further now, and the liberal class has become a useless and despised appendage of corporate power. By emasculating the liberal class, which once ensured that restive citizens could institute moderate reforms, the corporate state has created a closed system defined by polarization, gridlock, and political charades, and removed the veneer of virtue and goodness the liberal class offered to the power elite. All hope lies now with those in the street. Liberals lack the vision and fortitude to challenge dominant free market ideologies even as the Democratic Party openly betrays every principle it claims to espouse, from universal health care to an end to our permanent war economy to public education to civil liberties to jobs. Hope in this age of bankrupt capitalism comes with the return of the language of class conflict and rebellion (not that we have to agree with Karl Marx, who advocated violence and whose worship of the state as a utopian mechanism led to another form of enslavement of the working class).
What took place early Friday morning in Zuccotti Park was the first salvo in a long struggle for justice, signaling a step backward by the corporate state in the face of popular pressure. And it was carried out by ordinary men and women who sleep at night on concrete, get soaked in rainstorms, eat donated food and have nothing as weapons but their dignity, resilience and courage. It’s they, and they alone, who hold out the possibility of salvation. If we join them we might have a chance.”
Yesterday, two friends and I, along with thousands around the world, joined hundreds of folks of all ages in downtown Eugene, OR to chant, drum, display hand-lettered signs, and march 3 miles in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement. At the end of the march organizers announced that the Eugene occupation would begin immediately where we were standing — in the downtown city park blocks. One of my friends said she was considering spending a night there soon, and we’re all going to return to hang out in the coming days. We hope you marched, too. If you didn’t, we hope you’ll check out your town or city’s occupation, if any, or at least learn more about the philosophy behind the movement by googling “Occupy Wall Street.”
Best signs in Eugene (that I can remember): “March Like An Egyptian,” “I Was Told There Would be Cake,” “Sharing = Justice/Justice = Peace,” and “Capitalism isn’t as bad as they said it would be. It’s worse.” Signs we carried: “Occupy Everything, including your mind and heart,” “The System [crossed out]/Real Change/we make ourselves,” and “Capitalism:/ imperial wars, unemployment, bail-outs, oil spills, poverty/How’s it workin’ for ya?”
Here are a few pictures and more signs:
Last night Fox News asked viewers, “Do ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests represent your views of the economy?” And got an answer they weren’t expecting…
|Maybe (I’m not sure what they want)||2.5%||54,481|
|No. They have no idea how jobs are created.||26.61%||56,653|
|Yes. They’re right about corporate greed and its effect on the little guy.||70%||149,018|