Occupy What? Occupy Where?

occupy-bannerRock Creek  The weekly entertainment and alternative paper in western Montana is the Missoula Independent.   The cover story entitled, “Occupy Missoula:  Where are They Now?” caught my eye.  Coming on the second anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, the movement seems now more firefly than firestorm. 

            The reporter interviewed a half-dozen people who had been prominent in Occupy locally, but the article could probably have been written in scores of other communities. Typical of the power of a movement, all of them had hear the call and responded to the spirit.   Stirred to action by what they were seeing in New York City, more than 200 had assembled in a park of the Clark Fork of the Missouri River and then later camped out in front of the Missoula County Courthouse until winter came freezing them out and breaking them down with one problem or another.

            The cross-section of people interviewed included experienced activists, long accustomed to taking the long view of social change and heartened by the event, random folks seeking a voice to protest the economic collapse and its impact on their families and fortunes, and seekers, folks looking for a way to make change and desperately hoping that Occupy might be the answer.  Many had now scattered to the wind, returning home to work in more traditional nonprofits or teach school.   Others went back to school still grasping for a way to impact issues. 

A common theme runs through all of this that cannot be forgotten:  people want change but they have to find a way to be effective.  The common complaint from the Occupy experience, and for some the disillusionment, was the inability of the movement to define itself, either strategically or, moving past the encampments, tactically. 

One seeker joined an “intentional” community in Missoula that recently connected to something nationally called the International Organization for a Participatory Society or I-Ops for short.  I-Ops sounds like an interesting evolution of some of the strains of the Occupy excitement.   Members include some well known names like Noam Chomsky and David Graeber, the anarchist theorist credited with some of the thinking behind Occupy.   They claim 3200 members worldwide and are clear about their mission, ideology, and principles, which some of the ex-Occupiers appreciate.  They seem to call for a classless society and a participatory economy something along the Zapatista model in Mexico, according to this story.

In the same way Occupy sprang up in communities around the country, I suspect this story could be duplicated in city after city, community after community.  In Little Rock, there is still an Occupy time slot on Saturday afternoon with a heartbeat.  In New Orleans, like so many places, divisions were more common than consensus by the end. In Missoula, the I-Ops folks meet the last Wednesday of the month at the public library. 

Movements happen and their strength is the way they attract moths to the light, too bright, and people drift off again, but some come close enough to see a way to move forward and keep the fight alive, build the next thing, and learn a way to make change a part of their future, making it all worth the flight.

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