An American Spring is in the Air
I had the privilege of moderating (a glorified term for an on-air switchboard operator) an InterOccupy call a couple of nights ago. Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers, two of the movement's best known organizers, both very active in Occupy Washington DC, answered questions about "Occupy Phase 2," the directions that the movement should take in the Spring. The main point was that "Phase 2" should involve setting up alternate economic structures designed to weaken the "pillars of power." An illustration of this is setting up local alternatives to the banking system. During "Phase 2," non-violent protest, the hallmark of "Phase 1," was said to be important to continue. It was noted that non-violence is even more important now, amid signs that those in power may be worried that some of the pillars that keep them in power, such as local police forces, may be sympathetic to the Occupy movement. NowDC, the National Occupation of Washington D.C., slated for April, will an important step in coordinating separate occupations nationally, and for its actions to be taken to pressure Congress, when it returns from Spring recess. In addition to "Phase 2," miscellaneous questions were addressed, including whether the movement should focus on the 2012 elections, and what to do in the period afterwards.
InterOccupy hosts several national conference calls each week to promote communication between individuals, Working Groups and local General Assemblies, across the Occupy movement. The conference calls focus on organization and special topics. The contacts allow for cross-fertilization between local groups. Tips such as "what works for us," can be discussed, or advice on how to cope with setbacks can be shared. This particular call was in a category called "Hot Topics," which brings in a weekly speaker (or speakers, in this case) to address issues of interest.
Alternative Economic Structures
As an introduction to the talk, Margaret Flowers referenced the "Pillars of Support" defined by Robert Helvey in his book "On Strategic Non-Violent Conflict." The idea is that "when important pillars of support are sufficiently undermined, the government, or the opposition, collapses just as a building will collapse upon itself when its support structure is weakened and gives way." In our society, those pillars are the police, the military, civil servants, media, the business community, youth, workers, religious organizations, and NGOs. Not every pillar has to stand at the same time, of course.
The message behind alternatives to the current corporate economy is that if successful, the movement can show the world that a better type of economy is possible.
Creating alternative societal and economic structures (vs. the corporate economy) can weaken the pillars that support the government. Helvey refers to the withdrawal of bank deposits as means of weakening investors and the business community. Zeese and Flowers referred to a range of ideas related to banking in particular:
- Worker Co-ops, seen as a beginning of a sub-economy. Ideas are to be discussed at the NowDC, but some examples given so far are a political messaging business involving bumper stickers, signs, buttons and tee shirts, a food service providing occu-pie food and a housing redevelopment business.
- Local currencies, similar to the Baltimore B-Note, a script accepted as currency at participating Baltimore businesses. Using a local currency helps support local economies by keeping more of the transaction within the community for use for re-investment.
- Community banks and credit unions, which like local currencies, also are more likely to re-invest in the community.
- Time banks, a sort of labor barter market.
- Other types of democratized institutions, such as free universities, food networks, or shared alternative energy sources.
Further ideas can be found at the It's Our Economy website.
Continuing the Pressure
Non-violent protest, the hallmark of "Phase 1" should continue, as per Zeese and Flowers. Particular attention was paid to the importance of non-violence. The police are one of the "pillars." By being non-violent, the public perceives the movement as exercising its right to free speech. When the police or other forces use violence upon a non-violent protest, the movement gathers the public's sympathy and respect. Any violence on the part of the movement, even if provoked, hurts the movement.
A caller brought up the subject of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012. Zeese mentioned some of the viewpoints of Ray McGovern, the retired CIA analyst and anti-war activist, who coincidentally, will be the speaker on the next Hot Topics call. The contention is that the NDAA is a sign of fear by the power elite that they could lose the loyalty of the police. Several sympathetic actions by police to the Occupy movement were noted. The NDAA, it is said, allows for the transfer of perceived enemies of the state ("belligerents") to the military justice system. In much the same way that Washington Metro police sympathetic to the occupation of Freedom Plaza were replaced by Homeland Security personnel, local police nationwide might be replaced by the military under certain circumstances should the 1% require it. But we'll have more on this on the next call.
The National Occupation of Washington D.C.
NowDC is in some ways an effort to kindle an American Spring. More than just an occupation in the style of OWS, it will feature planning events centered on the alternate economic structures described above, a social component to lay the groundwork for ongoing national communications and coordination, and possibly an event or action upon the return of Congress from Spring recess.
As Margaret Flowers posted on the NowDC website:
(On) "March 30, 2012, people from across the country will gather for an American Spring in Washington, DC. The National Occupation of Washington, DC (NOW DC) opposes the corruption of both parties in conducting U.S. domestic and foreign policies. Our most precious safeguard, the Bill of Rights, has been effectively destroyed, and the Supreme Court has allowed the Constitution to be perverted. This cannot be allowed to stand unopposed. We are uniting against a corporate-controlled government which has failed abysmally to promote the public well-being, and in doing so we will demonstrate our commitment to creating a new world where the people, not the 1%, rule."
2012 and Beyond
Though not strictly part of the discussion, in response to caller questions, Zeese provided a perspective on the 2012 Presidential auction. Simply put, the conversation between President Obama and the Republican nominee is a false conversation, for what will be said is only what those nominees' contributors allow them to say. The movement has no time to look to elected leaders to solve problems because time is short, and the system does not work. The true conversation is the one we must continue in the movement. But after 2012, it may be time to organize another party.
One other question is worth ending this account with. In response to a question on how better to reach out to "the unaffiliated," i.e, the general public that does not belong to unions, church groups or similarly approachable organizations. Zeese is one of the prime proponents of "Be the Media." In preparation for the October 2011 event, he called for the democratizing of the media, and for the attendees of October 2011 (which became the Occupation of Washington D.C. in Freedom Plaza) to "tell vast networks of people the truth." He called upon people to use "the networks of people you know – friends, families, professional associates – and all of the outlets where you can get out a message – social networks like Facebook, twitter, blogs, email lists."
In practical terms, for example, for local groups trying to fill their rallies and General Assemblies, that means doing more than posting a note on Facebook with a notice of a rally or meeting. Outreach actions cited were visits to shopping malls and subway stations, with a message of "love" — stop buying all that stuff you don't need, and read to your child, instead. Door-to-door literature drops promoting General Assembly meetings were mentioned. The example of Spain, which after finishing its "phase 1" of enormous rallies and short occupations, marched through the countryside communities, teaching the small towns how to do their own GA's. Participatory budgeting at the local government level was cited as a possibility. That process has begun to appear in the U.S., and presents an opportunity both to solve problems and to create publicity for local General Assemblies.
All of us can spread the good news. An American Spring is in the air.
You can download the MP3 of this conversation at
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