New Orleans Predictably as the weeks wear on and the weather hardens the city by city campers of the Occupy movement are now enduring the questions from near and far, high and low about how long they can hang in and hang on. Fair enough, perhaps, but we need to keep the radar ready and our alarms turned on for the posturing and politics that attends any effort to great social change.
Recently, there was a long, overblown piece in the New York Times that posed the question about whether or not the bloom was off the rose on Occupy and signaled their readiness at least to move elsewhere in the 24/7 news cycle and away from the scruffy tent cities of Occupy. Predictably there were a phalanx of academics and window gazers who were willing to weigh in and wonder if this was “a movement or a moment” and bellyache yet more on the proposition of whether or not there were leaders, a clear program, and, my favorite, the fellow who claimed nothing could be a movement “until they impacted elections.” These guys should all get together and write a book: “Social Change for Dummies” or something along these lines.
David Bacon, the photographer and journalist, who writes frequently on Mexico, Latin America and immigration from his Bay Area base, recently noted that the tent compounds of Occupy reminded him of the planton tactic that has been common in many of these countries, the Philippines, and elsewhere. David’s point was a helpful reminder for all organizers that we need to always make sure that we don’t confuse our tactics for the overall strategy. For years anytime I was near the Zocalo in the center of Mexico City or on La Reforma near the embassies, I would see the tents of the teachers of Oaxaca had pitched or the Zapatistas in Chiapas as an ongoing, almost semi-permanent protest about repression and other issues in these areas. There was no confusion. The tactic was a form of constant witnessing that there were unresolved issues. The mass base, the organization, the movement was elsewhere or nowhere, but the protest continued.
Too many are getting confused with whether or not the tent cities, a couple of hundred there, twenty here, or whatever, are the meat of this movement or simply part of the symbol and occasional sizzle. A million years ago around 1984 or so at ACORN we organized something we called Reagan Ranches, which were similar tent cities, protesting the terrible conditions of that time under the Reagan Administration. At one point there were similar ranches not only in the ACORN cities, but picked up in almost another 50 cities around the country, in a smaller version of the current phenomena. Organizers remember this tactic as effective but exhausting. There are dual pressures every step of the way to both mobilize the public and also satisfy the very real members on the ground, staying on site in most areas, and using the location as a staging ground and rallying point for endless actions. It’s a hard, impossible diet to maintain. My heart goes out to the organizers on the ground. This is just plain hard and thankless work.
And, worth it!
The movement is not in the small parks and tent cities of Occupy but in the way people everywhere are consolidating their positions around core concerns, including the 99% pitched against the 1%. If this is only something for this moment of history where it allows an administration to finally belly up and get aggressive, or a movement trailed by a long wake of many changes over time, we need it now, it is helping us all, and it deserves and demands our support.