Wow, how dependent we’ve become on technology. My computer crashed after this event, and I was without my laptop for 4 days and I felt like I had to put a huge part of my life on hold. It was kind of nice actually, but these videos are coming to you late.
Last Thursday night in Oakland, the Decolonize/Occupy Oakland Events Committee held an event called “How Will the Walls Come Tumbling Down: Diversity of Tactics vs Nonviolence in the Occupy Movement.” I was humbled to have been on the panel along with people I have a great amount of respect for, some who I just met and some who I have looked up to for many years.
This event was organized so those who advocate for nonviolence and those who advocate for diversity of tactics can come together, learn more about each others perspectives, and try to figure out how we can continue to work with each other. Close to 400 people spent the night in respectful dialogue, trying to strengthen our movement by strengthening relationship with each other.
The evening started with each of the panelists spending a few minutes talking about nonviolence and diversity of tactics. The video above is of the two “sides” asking question of the “other side.” Below are links to each speaker’s opening statements (each about 7 minutes long). To view the entire event from start to finish, click HERE.
- Josh Shepherd - Iraq Veterans Against War, Navy veteran and activist
- Kazu Haga (me) – Kingian Nonviolence Trainer, Peace Development Fund & Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice
- Matthew Edwards – Anarchist Organizer, Conscientious Objector, PhD student in the History of Consciousness
- Melissa Merin – Flagrant supporter of Human Rights on the left, shameless anti-authoritarian, teacher and organizer
- Paolo – Anarchist Organizer and Occupy Oakland participant
- Rev. Phil Lawson – Methodist Minister, justice advocate & civil rights activist
- Sean O’Brien – Anarchist Organizer, The Holdout, UA in the Bay, Environmental organizing and DASW
- Starhawk – Global justice activist, global trainer, and organizer, and award winning author of 12 books.
It was a good night with good dialogue, and one that is critical for this movement. We may have some disagreements, but we have so much more in common than we have in differences. We want the same things, we have the same goals. The struggle for our movement right now is not how to put pressure on the 1%, but how we unite the 99%. If we can continue to build despite our differences, if we can figure out how to work together, we will be that much closer to our goal.
And now onto random thoughts on the Decolonize/Occupy Movement.
What is our Goal?
One of the things I said tonight was that I felt like this conversation about tactics is a little bit difficult because it’s out of context. Tactics are things that we use to get to a larger goal. Once you have identified your goal, then you can talk about what tactics will get you closer to it. The goal will tell you what your target is, how to put pressure on them, who needs to be reached out to, what your messaging should be, etc. Only then can you have a real conversation about what tactics might or might not be effective for that context.
This movement has not articulated a collective goal yet, so we’re having a conversation about tactics outside of the context of a larger goal and organizing strategy. And no, “shut it down” is not a goal.
I want to urge this movement to take a breath, and as we go into the winter, to slow down and focus less on actions and more on the legwork it takes to make an action successful. The information gathering, the education, the outreach, the strategy building, the coalition/relationship building – none of these things may be as fun as action, but they are necessary steps BEFORE you get to the action. Action, without a clear goal and an organizing strategy, may be inspiring but not always effective.
One of the most important reasons you use direct action is to put pressure on a system to give you leverage in negotiations. We are putting all this pressure on various systems from our actions, but we are letting much of that pressure go to waste by not having a goal/demand, not having a strategy of how to apply and utilize that pressure, and by not negotiating.
I don’t want to say that our actions so far have not worked. They have had numerous victories, even if many of them are qualitative. They have inspired people. They have woken people up. They have mobilized people. But I am someone who hates – HATES – to see opportunities go to waste. Actions are important, but it’s more important that we do them right than that we do them in haste. Revolution is not going to happen tomorrow, and it won’t happen at all if we don’t plan it right.
Our challenge is finding the balance – making sure we continue to ride this incredible momentum, but also take the time necessary to plan and act strategically. Remember that the leaders of the Nashville lunch counter movement during the Civil Rights Movement trained for an entire year before they participated in direct action.
How Do We Find Our Goal?
Hit the streets. Talk to the community. Ask questions.
We are now a couple of months into Occupy Oakland. Decisions around major actions are made at the General Assembly. But at this point, when some GAs struggle just to meet quorum (100), does the GA really represent the voice of Oakland?
It’s not enough to create one space where we invite everyone to come participate. We also need to go to them. We need to be doing more outreach and information gathering. We need to hit the streets, the union halls, the churches, the community centers. We can’t always expect them to come to us.
My dream for this movement at this point is to commit serious resources and time into surveying the community, meeting folks and talking to them about how these issues impact their lives. Find out what’s really important for the folks in the community, and start from there.
Why shouldn’t Occupy Oakland have a 10-point plan, or something that really speaks to the wishes and the vision of the people of Oakland? If we’re saying that we represent the community of Oakland, that we represent the 99%, then we need to take that responsibility seriously and do it in a way that is genuine. Yes, it will take time. Yes, there will be cold days and blisters. But if we are going to claim a community’s voice, then we need to make sure that it’s their voice that is speaking through us. And that takes time. And trust. And blisters.
Unions or No Unions?
This became somewhat of an issue in the lead-up to the December 12th shut-down of major ports all up and down the West Coast. “Do the unions really support us? Are they behind the shut-downs? Will they be in solidarity with us?” (I haven’t been able to edit the video from that day, but there are some pictures I took HERE.)
The truth is that there is no real way to answer that question. Like many things in this movement, it’s complicated and nuanced. From what I gather, the only union to come out publicly and support the shutdown (at least in Oakland) was the Oakland Educators Association. The Longshoremen issued a statement saying that they are NOT in support of it.
But individual rank-and-file members of the union were active in helping to organize it. Some organizers pointed out that if the union itself endorsed the action, then they would be liable for a lawsuit and that’s why they made that public statement. Others claimed that the union leadership serves the 1%, so we should ignore their pleas to not shut down the ports. Still others claimed that the port workers who will lose a days pay would be the ones most hurt. The truck drivers, who are paid crap and work under terrible conditions, are not allowed to unionize so it’s hard to get a sense of where they were at. Some were supportive, others were upset. The VAST MAJORITY of the people that live in West Oakland that I talked to when I was doing outreach were supportive. But former Port Commissioner Margaret Gordon, who I respect as a leader of that community, was not.
Like I said, it’s complicated.
It’s not like workers are some huge monolith that all think the same way. Regardless of the issue/strategy/tactic, there will always be people on both sides of the fence.
But one thing seems clear – there was not enough outreach done. Was there outreach? Yes. Were their union members helping to organize? Yes. But if we had done this thing right, we could have had SO much more support. A proposal for the shutdown was never even brought to the unions’ executive councils, something that needs to happen in order for a union to even consider a strike. There was no coordinated outreach plan for the truck drivers who lost a day’s pay. There were no attempts made at taking up collections for them, or hosting a dinner for them, etc.
If this thing is going to work, we are going to need strong support from organized (and unorganized) labor. We need to respect their processes and build genuine relationships with them that honors their leadership and that recognizes their concerns. If we have an attitude of “the union leadership serves the 1%” so screw them, we will never win them over. And that’s what we need to do.
This work is important. It is critical. Let’s not rush ourselves and make decisions in haste at the expense of process. Let’s not focus entirely on actions and ignore the hard work of making those actions successful. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that this will happen overnight, or that we can do it without real, genuine relationships – with the community at large and within the movement itself.