Occupy the Winter of Our Discontent

tax fairnessCan occupations survive a winter of global weirding, escalated police brutality, and the corporate media’s venom? Should they?

In some parts of the country there will be no cold weather. In others, police abuses will result in larger occupations, not smaller. And it’s certainly possible that for the first time in recent years an independent progressive populist campaign will survive the enmity of the corporate media.

In other cases, the cold, the communications assaults, fatigue, and the difficulties encountered by activist camps that also become homes for the homeless and the mentally ill may begin to erode the usefulness of encampments.

What to do?

Here’s one activist’s recommendations:

Above all: stay! Continue to hold public space! Grow, and rotate people. No single person need stay forever. But the 99% of the 99% that cheers from the sidelines needs to get into the squares and parks. We don’t need emails or phone calls or checks or pizzas so much as we need live bodies!

In particular, return wherever police have sought to deprive us of our First Amendment rights. Those abuses cannot be tolerated or our rights will come under greater assault everywhere else. We must occupy precisely where we are told we cannot. The way to do this while keeping the conversation focused on what motivated us in the first place (the need to obey majority demands, to tax the rich, to prosecute the biggest criminals, to end the wars, to move the spending from the military to human needs) is this. We demand the right to petition our governments for a redress of grievances.

That is the First Amendment right that is under assault.

The strength of the Declaration of Independence was the great number of grievances against King George. We have a great number of grievances as well, and if CNN doesn’t have time for them, well, it can lengthen its sound bytes. Our demands are not going to shrink except by being satisfied.

Encampments can, with some difficulty, serve as bases for nonviolent action and as community gathering places and providers of community services. If done right, aiding the homeless, the hungry, and those in need of medical care can strengthen occupations that may very well turn out to be permanent.

But the dominant focus should be on nonviolent resistance. Let’s not just do theater or spectacle. Let’s not just get in the way of commuters and others in the 99%. Let’s get out of the streets and into the suites. Let’s shut down offices.

And, while the focus on the government’s funders, handlers, and lobbyists is very useful, I’d like to see more focus on government. I do not mean working with or through government. I mean resisting it, interfering with it, preventing its operations, shutting it down. The 1% is represented, and the rest of us are not. Let’s put a halt to those operations and insist on representative ones.

If occupations end anywhere, they should not be ended by police or the media but by a transition to other tactics that appear more useful in that time and place, and those other tools should be up and running first before any occupation is phased out.

Here are some ideas that are being tried or could be:

Start a weekly event, ideally on a weekday, that includes a march or demonstration, a nonviolent resistance action, and a community gathering in a public space. Make this weekly action huge before considering whether to end the permanent occupation. Consider targeting warm buildings for nonviolent resistance.

Occupy empty buildings as bases for the winter. Find a building owner who wants construction work done in exchange for occupation. Or just squat in buildings that are empty. Or find one of those many people who support us but will not join us who can donate the use of a building or a house, or who can cover the rent. We need to continue building community. Our strength comes from it.

Plan bus tours from city to city, rolling occupations with big events at every stop.

Plan people’s conventions, regionally and nationally and internationally. This will involve something else that’s critical at the level of the local Occupy event: choosing representatives. We must figure out, as many are figuring out, how to delegate responsibilities without losing democratic control.

Plan huge events for the spring, including the start of an International Spring of Occupations.

Make plans for OccupyTampa and OccupyCharlotte for the times of the two national conventions of the two political parties of the 1%.

Do not go electoral. Do not go lobbyist. Do not divert money or time into campaigns. Do not spend your days drafting legislation or emailing congress members. Plenty of other people will do that stuff no matter what, and they will do it better if you’re doing the more fundamental work of cultural change. Instead, put your skills into communications, education, outreach, inspiration, and organizing.

david swansonThe best way to improve the elections is to improve the society. The best way to destroy the society is to focus too heavily on elections. The rational choice between two bums who are both worse than the two who were offered up in the previous election cannot possibly be rational.

We have larger work to do. It may take a long time. That should not affect our level of dedication. But when there is a moment of growing momentum, we must seize that moment to press forward with everything we’ve got.

David Swanson
War Is A Crime 


  1. says

    Contra what Obama would have you believe, he’s not our only choice. He’s no good choice at all. It’s his combination of knavery, foolery and wimpery that has enabled the regressives. He now provides even less oppositioni to them than does the Senate. He does not merit re-election, he does not merit renomination.

  2. says

    Swanson is correct on one thing: electioneeing is a huge diversion of energy – and doesn’t get done the essential job of ‘cultural change’. But occupation has the same problems. Apparently Swanson thinks ‘cultural change’ amounts to people getting involved in a lot of campouts or constructions or propagandizing. I guarantee you that the zeal for that won’t last long.

    Genuine cultural change will require a change in attitudes – and then in actual procedures – concerning how we make public decisions. Such cultural change does not equate to getting wrapped up either in electioneering or in occupation or lots of communications – which all are but tactics.

    Up to now, all ‘wings’ have been happy with a 200-year-old status quo: the 18-th century federal constitutions’s republican oligarchic model for decision-making: pick a few ‘good’ people (from your ‘wing’ of course) to be long-term all-powerful decision-making rulers, and all will be well. We’re supposedly ‘democratic’ in this country, so in order to sell this oligarchic republican philosophy the verbiage used is ‘representative democracy’, and a populist veneer – mass winner-take-all popularity contests – is used to choose the oligarchs. But, no matter how you sell it or mask it, oligarchy is oligarchy.

    Even the ancient Athenians realized that oligarchy – lots of power in a few hands for long periods – was a recipe for corruption and for domination by irresponsible wealth. It’s a recipe that operates no matter how ‘successful’ your side has been in putting in ‘good guys’. As Lord Acton famously noted: ‘power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. No mystery why: when a few people are given lots of power for long periods, with little restraint on their ability to treat it as their private property, some of those people will do just that: they will abuse the power, or sell it out to the highest bidder.

    The Athenians’ more democratic alternative was very imperfect, but its best features are what we need to demand today: decisions by teams of ordinary citizens. Ordinary people, taking off manageably short terms for a manageable amount of public service, not special folk who devote a career to political office or a lifetime to professional activism.

    Ancient Athens illuminates part of what we now need, but not all of it. In this age, after two hundred years of serious science, our public decision-making finally requires also another ingredient whose importance has as yet not been sufficiently recognized: the rule of reason. Laws and policies should require challengable justification, not merely majority or consensus votes, let alone mere majorities created by partisan whims. Each decision should be subject to review by a quite independent team of citizens, with power to confirm or veto, based on the justification provided.

    The cultural change we need must move us beyond what has for two centuries been deemed an acceptable oligarchic status quo. We must demand and introduce real democracy and reason into our public decision methods.

    No matter how much activism is drained off into electioneering or occupations, if we don’t have a clear picture of the needed cultural change, nothing sustainable will be achieved.

  3. harry wood says

    What right does any person have to occupy the private property of another? Under the law, to do that is to tresspass on the rights of another. If your rights stop me from enjoying my rights, the police can be called to correct your actions. Trashing the property of others is also against the law, and if you trash the property of others, you should pay for the damage. Why should I have to pay for your actions either out of my current pocket or from tax dollars I sent to state or federal wallets?? If you are in need, then I may bring you to my property and offer assistance, but you are not allowed to show up and demand it.

    • says

      If you read Swanson carefully, harry w’s comment hits an issue which is largely bogus. Swanson urges occupation to target public places, empty places, and owner-agreed places. Occupation is supposed to make its point not by trashing but by being unexpected and unexpectedly prolonged.

  4. says

    I’m really ambivalent about this message. I understand that we don’t have, for the most part, good electoral choices. I didn’t support Obama for president, because I thought that he was not progressive, first of all, and second, did not have the experience to be president. I thought he would not understand how to use the tools of the office in a positive way. That turned out, in my opinion, to be correct. Now, when it’s probably too late, he begins to understand that he could have done something virtually every week, through executive order, to move the agenda along. As people benefitted, and particularly if he would have let people know how they came to benefit, he might have kept the 2010 debacle from happening.

    On top of that, he really missed the boat on jobs. Roosevelt saw right away when he was elected that he had to do all he could to create jobs, and do it fast. He responded with creativity, and the people responded by supporting him. Congress did not dare to oppose him.

    OK, so that’s water under the bridge. And he’s our choice. Either he or a very conservative Republican, who will take away many more personal rights, will be elected. It’s sad to say we have no other choice, but we don’t. However, we may have more choices for congress. If people from the movement get behind congressional candidates who are open to their issues, and tell those people, resist our movement at your peril. If you do not change the laws that benefit the 1 percent over the rights of the 99 percent, we will shut this country down. If the president and congress think that the occupation participants will not vote, and will remain, on the whole, peaceful — and probably dwindle in numbers — they will ignore us.

    In the end, we really have just two choices: we can vote in people who will do our will, rather than the will of the 1 percent, or we can tear the country down. There are people out there who are capable of governing within our legislative system who want what we want. It’s up to us to get them in office, and to make our demands clear. This movement is ready to think about moving on to stage two. Otherwise, we’ll just be left sitting in parks, talking amongst ourselves.

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