Occupy Wall Street and the Spring Offensive

by The North Star on January 31, 2012

By Chris Maisano of Occupy Wall Street and Democratic Socialists of America

Since the New York Police Department evicted the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) encampment from Zuccotti Park on Nov. 15, the movement has struggled to regain its footing and a sense of forward motion.

The encampment gave the movement a physical address and constituted a highly visible access point for anyone who wanted to get involved in its activities. Even though OWS-inspired working groups have continued meeting on campuses and in communities around the city, there has been a noticeable drop-off in activity and visibility over the last few weeks.

Last month, a group of OWS activists put out a call for a citywide meeting to build toward a massive public event that would announce the return of the movement and signal the start of a spring offensive. Many Occupiers answered the call, meeting for the first time in late December. The second planning meeting took place on Friday, Jan. 27 when well over a hundred activists met at Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square to begin planning for what at this point is vaguely referred to as “The Day.”

Before we got down to business, however, the facilitators decided that we should go around the vast circle of chairs that occupied the church’s main sanctuary so that each participant could introduce her or himself, state why they were there and what they brought to the meeting. The meeting started late, and this tedious and basically pointless exercise delayed the start of the meeting by an additional 40 minutes. I was exasperated, as were the people sitting near me.

Some of the older participants fell asleep.

After the introductions finally ended, we moved on to the first order of business. A facilitator went around the circle and assigned a number to each participant, dividing the meeting into twenty breakout groups with a half hour to begin thinking about our visions for The Day. Some of the participants in my group sought to address logistical and organizational concerns while others sought to direct the discussion toward coming up with a political focus for the day. All the members of my group wanted to put a premium on reaching out to communities who may sympathize with the movement but have not, for various reasons, been active participants.

For my part, I observed that Tax Day (April 15) falls on a Sunday this year, offering a great opportunity to foreground the critique of inequality that is at the heart of the Occupy movement and give working people and their families the chance to come out on their day off. By that time, public sector unions and community organizations will have begun mobilizing their members against the budget cuts that will certainly be proposed by New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg in the coming weeks, opening the possibility of building a broad-based coalition capable of winning tangible political victories and giving the movement a greater sense of momentum and efficacy.

I hoped to make a case for this perspective during the report-back session after our 30 minutes were up. But the facilitators only allotted one minute for each group to make their reports to the rest of the meeting. It was very difficult for designated group representatives to delve into the substance of their discussions, and there was no general debate on the specific proposals that came out of the breakout groups.

By this point it was 9:00 p.m., and I had already been at the meeting for two and a half hours. I came to the meeting straight from work and I had to go to work again the next morning. With two more items on the agenda and little progress made, I decided it was time for me to leave. As many others began streaming out of the meeting at the same time, the facilitators recognized the necessity of deciding on a date for the next meeting, which the group decided would take place on Friday, Feb. 10 at the same location.

Since I left before the meeting concluded, I’m not sure if the group got any closer to firming up plans for The Day. Based on what I could gather from the breakout group reports, I wouldn’t be surprised if the folks who stuck it out to the end got any closer. There are still a number of questions to be resolved: should The Day be a celebratory event, or an occasion for disruptive protest? Should it be a General Assembly, a traditional protest rally, or a day for education and training? Where will it take place? How will we broaden our base beyond those who can devote much of their lives to meetings and protests?

Considering the rather grand ambitions the meeting’s participants have for The Day (some folks spoke about filling Central Park, others envisioned a stadium packed with 30,000 Occupiers), these considerations need to be addressed sooner rather than later.

New York-based occupiers should do their best to make it out to the next planning meeting on Feb. 10. There is clearly a lot of energy and enthusiasm surrounding the project, and if done well it could reinvigorate the movement and build momentum for the general strike action planned for May 1. But a better, more focused way of running meetings, making decisions, and assigning tasks is needed to make sure the opportunity isn’t squandered.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Laughing Fish February 1, 2012 at 12:45 am

We had the same kind of problems with the "working groups" that met at the library in Salt Lake City. The structure was kind of similar

1) introductions that last a long time. People would make the "mistake" of asking a question during their introduction which would begin a "short" discussion that would continue until the self selected and unelected and unkown to most people in the room moderator caught on that he should stop that and proceed with the discussions. We got better at cutting that out later in the movement, but it was always an issue, and was a big part of the problem with time wrapping up at the end.

2) The "Working groups" thing isn't the way strategic thinking happens. Not like this. We had 2 hours to meet in the library. But it was less than two hours, because we had to re-arrange the chairs the way they were set up before we got there before the 2 hours was us. So we had 45 or so minutes of "introductions" and general time wasting. Then there was "working groups". They would involve things like media, finances, park solutions (back when we had an occupation of a park), and then there was once one for "strategy". Which was totally fucked up. Who has the time to attend the "strategy" session? clearly not anyone on the finances committee, the media committee, or the park solutions committee. The people most actively involved in nuts and bolts of real work couldn't participate. Meanwhile the people who weren't actually committed to organizing anything could brainstorm all day about their grandiose strategic schemes, irrespective of the actual state of disintegrating chaos that most of the movement was in.

Oh, report backs were rushed too. Things never really got decided. And those were about the most inefficient and unproductive meetings of any political or professional organization I have ever been a part of.

Yes, we need strategy and a plan. But no, the "working groups" way of figuring one out doesn't work. Especially with short time limits and poorly run meetings. At Highlander Folk school, a great strategic thinking center for people involved in the 1930s and 40s labor movement, or the 1950s and 1960s civil rights movement, they'd do organizing workshops on strategy where they'd get leaders in different movements together for a few days. They'd do some discussing of each others' situations, take some time off, cook food, chat around dinner, maybe have a square dance, then read some and sleep, and the next day talk again in a more formal environment.

That mix of formal and informal meeting, without tight time constraints, and in a positive environment was very helpful.

Another good way for movement ideas to be spread and for strategic thinking to be discussed is via movement press. When people in a movement are reading a paper (or website?) with different ideas and strategizes being discussed, you can get different writers who represent different trains of thought within the movement to effeciently and articulately summerize that position. Then people can read them side by side and determine which way is best. That's another good way for ways forward to be discussed and disseminated.

You could also have a more formal panel, with speakers representing different points of view, having a discussion and debate on the way forward. I went to panels like this during the antiwar movement where people from different organizations and / or ideological affiliations made their cases.

Meetings like the one you described, however, are not the way forward. I'm not a masochist, and my life is short, and I have a lot of things I am trying to do with it, most of which I never even get to do because I have to work to pay rent and make the car payment and the insurance payment. So I'm not going to waste my time in a room of confused people who meet inefficiently and where unelected "moderators" make bad decisions that cause the meeting to be unproductive. And who am I? I am an extremely committed and radical person with lots of knowledge and ideas and experiance. And if I am this turned off, how many "regular, working class people" who stop by do you think are going to decide to stick around and come back the next week?

Occupy is doing for Anarchism what the Islamic Republic of Iran did for Islamism. By letting a bad idea get put in practice, and forcing people to see it up close, they can then see for themselves what the many problems with it are, and hopefully, they can come up with some solutions.

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Binh February 1, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Direct Action at OWS had similar problems back in October. However, after a couple weeks of the same faces showing up people felt that intros at every meeting was pointless and the procedure was modified to simply saying one's name, preferred pronoun (he/she/they), and one random thing (favorite food, mood, whatever).

The strategic discussions at OWS happen in a variety of places. There is a working group dedicated just to that type of thing called Think Tank. They organized discussion circles in the park, recorded people, uploaded all of the data they collected online, and so on. Then there are events like this: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=100 and this: http://vimeo.com/33050302

Direct Action has a weekly schedule where Sunday meetings are focused on overall strategy while the Mon. and Wed. 2pm and Tues. and Thurs. 5pm meetings are more about nuts and bolts, implementing the strategies, and so on.

I tend to agree that this initiative is not the way forward. Direct Action is planning an "escalation calendar" leading up to May 1 which will be a day of walkouts, sick outs, and other actions from morning until evening (the unions will probably have a permitted march). There was a lot of talk about Occupy LA's call for a "general strike." The Labor Outreach Committee (union members mostly), an OWS working group, reached out to D.A. and we eventually compromised to the following language:

"Occupy Wall Street stands in solidarity with the calls for a day without the 99%, a general strike and more!!

On May Day, wherever you are, we are calling for:
*No Work
*No School
*No Housework
*No Shopping
*No Banking
TAKE THE STREETS!!!!!"

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Binh March 1, 2012 at 5:52 pm

Occupy Brooklyn: Thursday, February 16, 7pm at Dutch Reformed Church,
890 Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn NY (building behind cemetery)
http://occupybk.org/

BedStuy Organize: Wednesday, February 22, 7pm at Freebrook Academy,
375 Stuyvesant, Brooklyn NY
http://occupybk.org/

Occupy Bushwick: Thursday, February 16, 7pm at Brooklyn Fireproof, 119
Ingraham St., Brooklyn NY 11211
https://www.facebook.com/ groups/Bushwick.GA/
http://occupybk.org/

Occupy Sunset Park: Saturday, February 18, 10am at Trinity Lutheran
Church, 46th St. & 4th Ave, Brooklyn NY
https://www.facebook.com/ OccupySunsetPark
http://occupybk.org/

Occupy Queens: no upcoming meeting posted
https://www.facebook.com/ pages/Occupy-Queens/ 177679435648135
http://www.occupyqueens.net/

Occupy the Bronx: no upcoming meeting posted
https://www.facebook.com/ pages/Occupy-the-Bronx/ 122934344479337
http://occupythebronx.org/

Occupy Staten Island: Saturday, February 18, 1pm at Staten Island
Terminal, 1 Bay St., Staten Island NY
https://www.facebook.com/ pages/Occupy-Staten-Island/ 142282185872449
http://occupystatenisland.org/

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