To Occupy or Not To Occupy? Seattle is Still Deciding.
Everybody loves a good line-in-the-sand scene.
That is, the classic, dramatic moment at the center of the mythic Alamo story, in which a ragtag group of wild men and outcasts occupy a mission in the middle of Mexico, er, Texas, and decide to stay and “defend” it against the encroaching Mexican army. It’s a loaded story. But then what American tale isn’t?
So the scene is envisioned by American icon and director of this movie, John Wayne:
Highlights of this clip, BTW: gratuitous stunt riding, overly dramatic cup throw and Laurence Harvey’s over the top Shakespearean affect. Awesome.
Can desperation move people to enact momentous change?
It happens sometimes: they lost big time at the Alamo in real life, but their activity ultimately helped Sam Houston’s army win a subsequent battle at San Jacinto, which resulted in “liberation” of Texas from Mexico.
I’m not sure that fast forwards to a happy ending today (sorry, Mexico).
Anyway, I think of the Alamo because Occupy Seattle has not exactly been a tremendously successful demonstration. It's solicited equal parts ridicule, dismissal and support, from the coverage and Twitter discussions I've been following for the past two weeks.
In a way: it's facing a bit of a last stand. A crucial opportunity to power up the message - or watch it all piddle out.
As the Occupy movement is forced out of its crumbling ramparts – both New York and Seattle protestors are seeing big crackdowns that make their occupation in public parks unsustainable – (also, it was eventually going to get too cold) – it will be interesting to see how this demonstration passes from daily news into history.
Will Americans be able to translate the drama of the beleaguered park demonstrators into an eventual victory of mind over matter? People over profit?
In other words, when it’s not about the heroics of surviving in the elements, eating donated vegetarian chili out of tiny bowls and the drama of facing off with cops, will a strategic, sound movement still be there among the students, professors and citizens who have showed up so far?
Because even bigger than the problems of the cumbersome, untenable OWS messaging, are the problems with ordinary people like me.
Take a look at some of my daily activities:
Unsubscribe. Don’t Like This Ad. Block this user. Hide this post. Download single news source reader app; use filtered search engine with exclusive location services; make myself busy/invisible/unavailable/toogoodtotalktoyou and like all my favorite articles so Google knows never to pull up crap I don’t like again. (Like oranges? Cool, we’ll remember that. You’ll never see another apple here again. Apples are dead to us. Die, apples!)
In other words, when offered a choice: unity and connection is not my default OS.
Unless of course there’s some juicy gossip to bring me to the table. And to be quite honest: silly hippies, arrests and cool videos are way juicier than writing to my senator.
Pardon my disaffected youthness - but it's true.
I spoke with Joshua Welter earlier this week. Unlike me, he’s been an activist working on economic justice issues for well over 10 years – and now is a lead organizer of Washington Community Action Network in Seattle. CAN is one of the organizing groups that stood in solidarity with Occupy Seattle on Columbus Day.
He confirmed that organized and experienced activist groups who lobby professionally for positive social change support Occupy Seattle, but are already focused on moving the movement forward.
“This is a very exciting time to be organizing because you have a growing movement. You follow Occupy Seattle day by day to see where it’s at. Organizations like ours think in longer terms – at the same time that we’re mobilizing for day by day support of 99 percent movement, we’re also looking to what the next steps are.
“In a month and a half,” he continues, “the state legislature is going to be going into special session, in which they are tasked with dealing with billions more in revenue short fall. And again, after we’ve already made cuts in the past couple of sessions – they’re likely to cut billions more in education and healthcare.
“We will be working on how we bring the energy and momentum of the 99 percent to bear on the decisions that will be made in special session.”
In other words, there is very real potential for the ungainly rallying cries of OWS to be distilled into something concrete and effective in legitimate governing forums.
A few wagons will no doubt continue to push forward to Olympia.
But without the drama of the “last stand at Westlake Park” to keep us conjuring up new arguments and more questions – will there be enough wagons to make a difference?
I know. Tents. Ew.
I’m on the fence…but I have not dismissed it altogether.
Occupy Wall Street – and Occupy Seattle for that matter – don’t have the luxuries the filter bubble offers me at my home computers. Those folks have to stand out in the cold next to whatever crazy person shows up and negotiate how to push forward together anyway. It’s like being on jury duty all the time. Except without climate control.
At Occupy Seattle, any jerk who wants to can have a voice.
Can you imagine leading a group discussion on the bus on your way home – one in which everyone’s voice was heard?
But from what I saw at the evening general assembly at Westlake Park on Columbus Day – where college students, labor activists, salty-looking types, people in wheelchairs, Seattle ladies in eggplant colored plants, men with ponytails, women with headscarves and people with babies were all coexisting quite nicely, if a little sloppily – they are working really hard at listening to each other and trying to make a painfully slow process come together.
While they may not have their “branding” totally locked in, OWS doesn't have to be just a handful of doomed outcasts.
But it depends on what we all decide.