October 12, 2011
I went to Occupy Wall Street to renew my faith in American Democracy. My tastes of collective organising on a mass scale in this country had left a somewhat bitter taste in my mouth (while the events themselves were extremely inspiring). The people in the US have such a horrible example or role model of democracy that it made sense that democratic processes in organising would be lacking.
At Occupy Wall Street the process comes before the outcome (in The Change Agency terms – in the question of “task vs maintenance” maintenance is winning) It’s about doing things right. But with the scale of the job at hand, and the nature of the protest, that is easier said than done.
Oekoellie becomes a feminist activist
This is the first movement space that I’ve ever really felt the need to deal with gender issues. I mean, I’ve sat and listened to tonnes of panel discussions with four or five white men telling us what we should care about and been subjected to long one on one lectures from older men telling me what I should be doing but I’ve never felt as marginalised and unsafe as the first night I arrived at #ows (considering I didn’t feel all that marginalised or unsafe either says something for my bravery, my privileged, my luck or all three). There were men everywhere. I would estimate men outnumbered women sleeping in the park three to one. I asked multiple people at the info desk about safer spaces or a space for women to sleep to no avail. I found a nice looking woman lying on her sleeping bag reading a book with a tiny space between her and a table and timidly asked if I could sleep next to her.
The next night at general assembly a woman announced a Women’s Caucus meeting to discuss a women’s sleeping space. I went along to that and heard other women’s stories that were so similar to my own. I’m so glad this space was set up on my second night – other women who had been around for over a week were at the end of their tether.
Because of their sheer numbers, men dominate meetings and working groups. This is pretty uncomfortable, but not as traumatising as the thought of waking up next to a strange man (or worse). Action is being taken to ensure greater representation of people of colour and women in more public groups ie facilitation and media. There’s also a general assembly and news publication in Spanish to ensure the inclusion of that marginalised group.
Because the only real unifying element of this group is the physical occupation of Zucotti Park, a bulk of the people’s energy is going into sustaining the space – comfort, food, medical, finances, cleaning, preparing for and withstanding bad weather – for me this has been ensuring the place has a safe space for women to sleep – and not into coordinating action to really take on Wall St. The “Direct Action” working group of #ows has predominantly helped organise rallies with the aim to promote the occupation across the city, the arrest of 700 people arrested on the Brooklyn bridge last week was an accident – not organised civil disobedience actions. The “Outreach and Organizing” working group is using other tactics to achieve similar ends in NYC. Appealing to organisations and individuals around the city to ensure the occupation is accepted and supported on it’s home territory. External groups are using the concentration of people, energy and media attention to further their many and varied, related causes (RAN for example). This is fortunate! If it wasn’t for these groups almost the whole thing would be inward looking.
Democracy in action?
General Assembly is a fun (if exhausting and throat annihilating) exercise. It’s ridiculously long and achieves very little in terms of concrete outcomes. It’s certainly a great opportunity to share what’s going on within working groups and the facilitation has actually been exceptional!
Last night GA even had a discussion to feed into a proposal for improvements in organisational structure. 300+ (could have been more like 500) people broke into a number of groups discussed the topic for 20 minutes and reported back.
As an exercise in educating countless people in the messiness of consensus based collective organising #osw is doing amazing things. The number of people it’s turning off from this kind of organising is unknown though. Certainly almost nothing in this place it really particularly functional. Meetings rarely happen on schedule or in the place they were announced which fuels frustration from those not yet in the loop – and no doubt for those in the loop too (I do wonder if anyone would really identify as ‘in the loop’). Things are moving incredibly slowly. People who have been around for almost a month now are over committed and burning out fast. The flow of information to new, committed, folks seems to be disjointed and slow.
There are currently daily facilitation trainings and there are initiatives in the pipeline to do daily NVDA trainings, frequent “know your rights” trainings and more. Hopefully this event can live up to the hype and to it’s potential for transforming the debate around social justice in this country. At the very least it’s providing a place to stay, warm meals and the chance of empowerment for dozens of NYC’s needy.