Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Stepping Away from OLC

In the early hours of this morning, just a couple of days short of the movement's second month-iversary, the Occupy Wall Street encampment in New York's Zuccotti Park was cleared by police in a pre-dawn raid.

At the Burning House, we have a feeling this will galvanize the movement.

Meanwhile, we have sadly stepped back from the local solidarity movement, Occupy Las Cruces. The infighting and personal dynamics have driven several participants and organizers away, amid numerous complaints of being shouted down at meetings or simply ignored and excluded from activities.

There has been some tension around the jurisdiction of the General Assembly, between those seeking to make decisions based on consensus and those who simply want to do what they wish without having to go through a process. (This was clearly illustrated by the man who turned up at one of our meetings and announced, "We'll be over here occupying while you all talk about an occupation," and stalked away brandishing his cardboard sign.) One or two personalities gave it a chance, but took a dislike to the GA process when decisions did not go their way, or when they were asked to refrain from interrupting and let others speak.

We won't even get into the multiple email lists and the long fights taking place in cyberspace.

Still, there are hopeful signs.

Some of the more positive minded members have found a facilitator and are attempting to institute teach-ins on nonviolent communication and conflict resolution. That's a useful thing, even if those who maybe could learn the most from it are opting out of those classes.

No other teach-ins seem to be on the schedule, possibly because there has been resistance to the idea of someone being in the role of a "teacher" and others in the role of "learner." At an early GA meeting, a facilitator said, "We're all teachers." That's lovely, but are we all well-versed on the ABC's of the financial crisis, how the recession took form, what a recession is, how banks work, and other processes relevant to the Occupy movement? What about labor history, the history of civil movements in the United States? Do we have nothing to learn from people who have specialized knowledge in such areas?

Among many things, this movement has been a catalyst for an examination of capitalism by those who favor it and those who oppose it. This is an educational opportunity. How does this system work in the first place? What is its history? Great topic for a teach-in. But not if you're against the idea of someone coming in and teaching it. "We're all teachers." Interesting. Everyone has something to say, everyone wants their voices heard, and the movement seeks to create a space for that. On the other hand, what about "we're all learning?" If everyone is broadcasting, who is left to listen?

Still, returning to the positive aspirations of this local movement, maybe the arrival of teach-ins about communication and dialogue are a step in the direction of learning as well as talking.

There are several tents at a small city park outside the Branigan library on Picacho, which are rotated frequently out of concern for the park's condition. The camp has designated a smoking area and they keep the park clean.

At one point, the Las Cruces police department announced it would clear the park because the campers did not have permits. The occupiers were somewhat chagrined when numerous benefactors began purchasing permits for them. Permits?? We're occupying! This is supposed to be civil disobedience!

It was a moment that recalled Henry David Thoreau's consternation, when he was put in jail for refusing to pay a war tax, only to be released because someone paid his tax for him. He was outraged that his act of civil resistance had been defeated.

So a few tents remain at Branigan, the GA meets while some protestors abstain from it and do not wish to be governed by it, and unpleasant emails zip back and forth.

We will stay apprised. There is still hope. This is a new kind of movement, and at its best it represents a commitment to occupying a space in human solidarity, to education and a slow process of discerning collective goals and tactics for achieving them. Potentially, this could have the impact of the eight-hour-day movement and similar civil movements. Las Cruces, too, could emerge from being a fractious camp-out to part of a disciplined, fully engaged movement of citizens forcing the political system to transform in durable ways.

[Photo: Occupy Las Cruces at the Branigan library]


wldtrkey said...

I urge you to come to one our upcoming GA's. We are making progress. Also, the email problem at this point is started by one provacateur

Wed 11/16 GA-7pm-location TBA because our first location fell thru

Sat 11/19-GA-2pm-at the park or on 2nd floor of library if necessary because of weaTHER

Sun 11/20-GA-same as Sat

Thanks for all that you do!!

Algernon said...

Thanks for the meeting information.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your comments, concerns and ideas.... i think they are really important! Also, regarding teach-in's i hope you do come by in a week or so, we are planing and putting on teach-ins on a variety of different topics, from different facilators that can inform and promote discussion, becuase your right: we are all teachers and we are all learners, atleast those who are willing... Also it sounds like you have alot to teach, if you would still like to be involved, would you be interested in doing a teach-in yourself? if you are please let me know... we are trying to coordinate and move this movement!Mick 640-7935

Algernon said...

Hi Mick! I'm more a learner than a teacher, me. Will try to make it.