Tuesday, November 15, 2011

This is not the End of Occupy Philly...

I’ve heard a lot of discontent about how Occupation conversations, meetings & assemblies are consumed with what some call minutia, the details of working out process, housekeeping, defending our camp from our anxious uncertainty about what the city has in store for us—uncertainty, I might add, which is tactically generated by the city to divide and distract us. We would be better, some tell us, to get on with the business of confronting the problems that brought us here: economic inequality, the corruption of the electoral system, demonization of immigrant minorities, persistent & systemic racism and homophobia. It’s a long list. I’d like to address these points, and end with a word about where we might go from here.

By coming together as an encampment, some holding down our Occupation by living here in front of City Hall, many more spending as much time on site as their jobs allow & working every hour they can spare to the movement, we find ourselves involved in an experiment essentially different from protests & actions we may have experienced in the past—an experiment in living, where every decision effects our lives together with an immediacy quite unlike signing MoveOn petitions, holding signs for few hours, or chanting slogans on a march—even when those actions might involve civil disobedience and arrests. It’s the difference of knowing it will be over in a few hours or days and we’ll be going home again soon enough, to wake in the morning with the same sense of anger, frustration and alienation—knowing that nothing has really changed. Here—even for those not sleeping in tents, it becomes more home than home, more real than the strange alien world we have to return to—of cubicles and commuter drives, of surreal TV ads, sound-bite news, celebrity gossip & sports--every window of every store you pass shouting at you BUY THIS BUY THIS BUY THIS! even as you wonder how you will make it to the end of another month without going deeper in debt.

It’s easy to miss what’s closest to us. Like how revolutionary this is—what we’re doing here—in the very minutia that feels like distraction from our real purpose, from the truly important stuff—as though dealing one on one with our own entrenched habits, the mistrusts and stereotypes drilled into us to keep us divided and servile—weaning ourselves from our belief in ‘leaders,’ as though confronting how racism, our awakening from these things--blindness to the structural exclusion of the disabled, from the unexamined assumptions that drive male domination, finding that the way we make decisions is not indifferent in its effects, but perpetuates the very things we would change—so we have to learn how to it in another way, how to work together in a way that changes us at the same time we seek to change others out there in the world we’ve temporarily almost (but not quite) left behind—there is nothing trivial in any of this! This is the work—the indispensible foundation building necessary if we are to go on and tackle the doyans of entrenched power.

No, we haven’t come up with a clear and definitive list of demands. We haven’t found solutions to the complex interrelated networks of problems that plague us. We haven’t ended war or poverty or figured out a lasting way to care for those here with us—without housing, proper medical care, social services, who lack support for addiction emotional & mental disabilities. But we are here with them—as no one else has done, where the invisible dehumanizing walls have eroded--are impossible to maintain, experiencing for many of us—for the first time—the reality of a shared world where all such divisions are artificial—and it’s not been easy. We’re learning to to acknowledge that those we called in the beginning, ‘the homeless,’ as though living without a roof were an identity, and not a situation, an unfortunate condition, are our fellow Occupiers, our brothers and sisters in the same all encompassing human movement.

Add to that the skills we’ve only begun to learn—conflict resolution, cop watching, de-escalation, non-violence training—and the never finished work of making a truly democratic decision making process. Never mind that some find that too much, too different from the way things work ‘out there,’ who just don’t get it. Not everyone will progress at the same rate, and we have to recognize that resistance to being pulled backwards may generate divisions—sadly necessary if we are to continue to move forward. There is a difference between slowing down to help someone catch up, and allowing our movement to be destroyed by fearful collaborationists, who may be cajoled into believing that it’s possible to negotiate with Power to give up its privileges, or will do so once they see the reason and fairness of our cause.

From a nearsighted view, we see all the petty squabbles, personal conflicts, factional clashes—like pressing our faces up to a magnifying mirror and staring at all the dirty pores on our noses—but back away, stand in the sunlight, and look at one another—and we will see the beauty of a new face, of a hundred new faces, of a thousand… 7 billion strong in the making.

This is a beginning. Even as the time comes, as it will, when they destroy our tent city, carry many of us away in resistance, this is a beginning, not an end. We can take the lessons we’ve learned, a new way of seeing the world, a better understanding of ourselves and move past this phase. Let them destroy the encampments—they are but a husk, a chrysalis of the winged rainbow colored angels of revolution even now beginning to take flight.

There are collectives we will need to create, organizations to be built with our new-found skills.
In destroying our camps they will be breaking open wasps nests. The problems that brought us together will still be there, and we will be here finding new ways to network and challenge and to build, wave after wave of this tsunami, a movement that will sweep away and transform the world.

It's time to begin looking beyond the encampment phase of the revolution. They've served their purpose. Let the serious organizing begin.

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