Let’s Stay and Talk: Direct Action, Negotiation and My Dream for the Occupy Movement

Why Direct Action?
In Kingian Nonviolence, we talk about a couple of reasons why we use Direct Action.

First, Dr. King often times talked about the need to “dramatize an issue.”  Injustice is often times concentrated in certain neighborhoods, and it goes largely unreported by the media.  Many people in this country simply have no idea how much good, hard working people are struggling because it is hidden from them.

March from Selma to Montgomery, AL

Even with issues that we all know about and acknowledge, say poverty or street violence,  society refuses to address it in a real, serious way.  There is a murder every two days in Oakland, yet we continue to pump millions into a prison system that is ineffective, expensive, inefficient, immoral, corrupt and illogical while school and social service budgets continues to get cut.

Direct Action brings those issues into the forefront of society and forces us to address them.  It is a tactic used to take issues that society is refusing to deal with, and putting them right into people’s faces so they have to deal with them.

Another reason you use Direct Action is to give yourself leverage at the negotiating table.

Negotiations, genuine negotiations, can only happen between equals.  If one party has more power than the other, then that party can simply say, “we’ve heard your concerns, and we don’t care.”  That is not a genuine negotiation.

Strategic Direct Action puts pressure on the system so that it gives you more leverage, balancing the power dynamics and creating the possibility of a real negotiation.

Let’s Stay
And that’s what these physical encampments are doing, and that’s why they are so critical to maintain.  That is why we need to stay.

The camps are putting issues that affects so many of us into the forefront of society, and forcing the country to address them.  They are putting so much pressure on so many institutions that they are forced to listen to us.

And Talk
But here’s the thing: In my opinion, some Occupy movements – including Occupy Oakland – are putting incredible pressure on the city government and wasting it away by not negotiating.  We are wasting away one of the most important outcomes of direct action, we are wasting away one of the purposes of the physical occupations.

As I wrote earlier, if you’re not willing to negotiate with the systems that you are putting pressure on, why are you putting pressure on them?

Sometimes I feel like some folks care more about the fight than the change we are trying to bring.  Forget about fighting the city and the police for a minute because we are in an incredible moment when we have more power than either of them.  It is a huge opportunity, let’s not waste it away by refusing to sit down and negotiate.

The Bill of Rights

What to Talk About
For a start, how about permits?

Let me make one thing clear: I don’t believe we need permits.  I believe that the First Amendment of the US Constitution’s Bill of Rights supersedes city camping ordinances.

But negotiations are about dialogue and compromise.  The bigger issues that we are fighting for are more important than fighting the city over local park policies.  I’m willing to compromise on my beliefs about the First Amendment if that means we can keep the encampments and get closer to addressing the real issues.

And it would be a fair compromise because a permit would force us to take more responsibility of our space – keep it cleaner, keep it safer, and keep it more accessible.  We, the movement, need to be accountable too.

Or, how about the city give us an unused building?  We’ll maintain it, we’ll use it in a productive way that helps the people and the city.

And if they refuse to consider these proposals/demands, we can escalate the level of direct action – another general strike, mass civil disobedience, etc.  The city can’t keep paying overtime for thousands of police, and we can make them listen to us.  Our mass actions need to be tied to a specific demand or we waste our energy.

We’ve been so busy fighting the evictions that we haven’t been able to put enough time into solutions.  Let’s negotiate/demand a safe, stable and sustainable physical presence so we can move onto the solutions.

What Not to Talk About
As a movement, we need to identify our common principles, the things that we are not willing to compromise on.  If you care about change, you should be willing to compromise on tactics and strategies, but you should never compromise your principles.   We need to identify, as a movement, what those common principles are.

The 6 Principles of Kingian Nonviolence might be a good place to start.

They ARE the 99%!!!
Seriously, city officials, police officers, and journalists are part of the 99%.  Over the past week, I have had one-on-one conversations with members of all three, and all three were supportive of our cause but felt like the movement didn’t want them.

Most city officials, cops and journalists are not millionaires.  All of them have suffered cutbacks and layoffs.  They do not write the policies that affect our communities in the most egregious ways.  Yes, there are local issues like city funding priorities and gang injunctions, but they have no control over big banks or large multi-national corporations.

Saying that city officials are part of the 1% delegitimizes the fact that one city counsel person camped with us the first night, another introduced a resolution to support Occupy Oakland, and our mayor has been a progressive activist her whole adult life.

Saying that all cops are evil delegitimizes the police in Albany who refused to arrest protesters or the former Chief of Police of Seattle, who after the WTO protests became somewhat of an activist.

Saying that the entire mainstream media is out to get us delegitimizes people like Rachel Maddow or even John Stewart, who have been providing great coverage (and comedy) of this movement.

So Who’s Our Target?
It’s the 1%, right?  It’s the Koch Brothers, the Karl Roves, the Glenn Becks, the CEO’s of major banks and multinational corporations.

And here’s the thing: As much leverage as this movement has given us, we are not close to having enough power to impact the 1% in any real, significant way.

So What Do We Do?
Nonviolence is not about defeating your opponent, but about winning them over. What we need to do is to win over the people and institutions we have access to.  We win over our cities, we win over our local businesses, we win over local police departments.

With the pressure we are creating, they are forced to listen to us.  And our message needs to be, “join us,” not “fuck you.”  The “fuck you” message turns away people who want to participate, who want to help.

Imagine a movement if local city governments, small businesses, and the police are united with the community.  Only then, along with more leadership from the most impacted communities (a whole other post), would we be able to truly represent the 99%.

It’s possible in a city like Oakland.  It’s not only possible, but if we want to put pressure on the 1%, it’s critical.  We have a progressive mayor, and a couple of progressive city counsel members.

And I know that not everyone is supportive, but remember that nonviolence can be aggressive too.  We can mobilize and put pressure on people, and if that doesn’t work we may have to mobilize and get them out of office (De La Fuentes might need to go).

Plenty of businesses have already shown support (shout out to Everett & Jones!!).  And when I saw images of Oakland Police escorting and protecting the march that went from Occupy Oakland to Occupy Cal, it made me think that a lot of them would rather be in that role than shooting tear gas at us and having to play the bad guy.

I get the feeling that our movement is bigger than we even realize, but we are not even trying to reach out to a huge population because we are so caught up in our anger and assume they are against us before they even open their mouth.  If we can win the support of those institutions, then we would have the power to pressure the 1%.

Cities could divest from major banks.  They could tax big box stores.  They could demand low-income housing from major housing developers.

And if enough cities can come together, we can begin to shape national policy.

The Real 99%
Dr. Lafayette, the co-author of the Kingian Nonviolence curriculum, told me once that “we spend 60% of our time dealing with conflict within our own movement that we can never even get to the real opponents.”

I would argue that it’s higher than 60%, and I think we need to start looking at the city, local businesses and the police as part of the movement and figure out strategies to make that a reality.  We need to figure out strategies to win them over, because we need their help in order to get to the 1%.

So that is my hope, dreams, blueprint, proposal, recommendation to the Occupy Movement.  If we are going to claim the 99%, let’s really come together as a true representation of that and go after the 1%.

And now, onto some more random thoughts.

Random Thoughts

Citizens United
As I was writing this post, the local news was playing in the background.  Professor Robert Reich was talking at the rally at Occupy Cal, and he said that if corporations are considered people and money is considered speech, it becomes even more critical to protect the first amendment rights of people who don’t have the money to speak for them.

Thought that was a GREAT point.

Who’s Spending the Money?
There are reports that have come out that says that “Occupy Oakland has cost Oakland $2.4 million.”

Occupy Oakland has not cost the city $2.4 million, the decisions that the city have made about how to respond to Occupy Oakland has cost the city $2.4 million.  Big difference.

Imagine what they could have done with that money.  For that money, the City of Oakland could have bought this movement a permanent building where the community could have come together to continue to organize and offer services for the community: something the city can’t afford to do on it’s own and something Occupy Oakland has been trying to do.  Win-win.

Leaders and Responsibilities
I’m sorry, but I am still critical of this “leaderless” concept.  There are people in leadership roles, and that’s the simple fact.  It doesn’t matter what they are called or what the process for them becoming leaders were, this movement has leaders.  Not one single leader, but there are still leaders.

Not owning that role is a convenient way of escaping the responsibilities that come with being a leader.  Leaders need to be public so they can be accountable.

And I’m not even criticizing those in leadership roles.  OO’s leaders, for the most part, have been doing an amazing job.  They simply need to own it and make the process more transparent.

Why Not Leaders???
And what’s wrong with leaders?  Seriously?  As long as they are accountable to the people and serve their best interest, what’s wrong with that?  It can even be rotational.  But leaders bring focus and discipline, something all movements need and all successful movements have.

On Monday morning as we were getting ready for the police to show up for the eviction, there were rumors flying all over the place about where the cops were, which direction they were coming from, when they were moving in.  At one point, someone yelled that the cops are coming east on 14th, and encouraged the entire crowd to begin marching towards them to meet them.

Of course, the police were not moving in and the crowd ended up marching around the plaza.  That was an impromptu decision made based on a false rumor, and it moved the majority of the crowd away from the intersection of 14th & Broadway – an intersection with all the media and streetlights – into a darker area that had fewer escape routes and less media.  If the police were trying to arrest the entire crowd, it could have been a perfect trap.

This was allowed to happen because anyone can use the people’s mic and try to get the crowd to do what they want.

On the other end, the peace monitors I was with had a very clear leadership structure, which we had all agreed to earlier that morning.  Two union activists served as our tactical leads, and we agreed that we would all follow them.  We were much more focused, disciplined and strategic about where we moved, how we lined up, when we moved, etc.

Leaders are not a bad thing.  I’m just sayin.

“Taxing Success”
When critics of this movement talk about us wanting to “tax success,” they are under the assumption that we are playing on a level playing field. But the game is rigged.  If you are born into a poor family in a low income neighborhood, you do not have the same chances of success as, say, Paris Hilton.

If someone is so successful that they don’t have to worry about money, chances are you had better odds at success than others to begin with.  All we are asking is that they do their part to make the game more equitable.

The People’s Mic
I love the people’s mic.  I just witnessed a wedding in front of a police line called by the people’s mic.

It forces people to keep the message simple, getting to the core of the message and making the language more accessible.  It makes people listen and focus more (talk about active listening!).  You internalize the message, as the listener steps into the shoes of the speaker.  It helps people who are not used to public speaking.  It unites people.

But it’s not for every situation.  I mentioned the confusion in the crowd on Monday morning.  It’s not a great tool when a large crowd is trying to make decisions on the fly.  Because anyone has access to it, it doesn’t always lead to the best, most strategic decisions.

Alright, Good Night Occupy Oakland.

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One Response to Let’s Stay and Talk: Direct Action, Negotiation and My Dream for the Occupy Movement

  1. Excellent points- with no demands to what end are we applying pressure? And without trusted leaders the movement is too easily manipulated. Remember that the infamous Whole Foods attack was inspired by an anonymous tweet. Group think is often lowest common denominator, and “diverse tactics” in a leaderless movement means that the bad ideas are implemented equally with the good ones.

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