Notes From Occupy Listening
Yesterday at the 99% Knowledge Share in Oakland I tried something new, Occupy Listening. I asked people their thoughts on the Occupy movement and took notes. The notes are here and pasted below. People had so much to say! I plan to do this many more times.
Person 1. Top priorities: Economic Justice -Occupy not focused enough; too many groups becoming multi-issued to the point of losing economic focus
-Obsession with no leaders makes it hard to get things done. Could let some groups take leadership to define strategies and tactics. Democratic obsession is movement's biggest weakness. Allow leaders to step forward and make them accountable. GAs are not well executed. Better to have popular leadership that says "These are our priorities." once the goals are clear. Then if someone is disruptive, say " No, you are working against our goals!" Some freeloading is OK, but should say "Get out!" to negative contributions. Fear of losing people and being too much like organizations we are trying to defy is overblown. There is a reason why politicians have to offend people to get things done.
-Violence should not be tolerated. DoT would be limited by clear leadership. Always some disruptive element in political movements. Here it took over and is tolerated. In the antiwar movement, it was pushed aside.
-Have been less involved since movement became too multi-issued and violent. Had been more active in the beginning, delivering food.
Person 2. Have been to GAs in NY, FL, and CA Key priorities-All voices be heard, especially voices of those not engaged in politics.
Occupy was doing a good job until attacked by police. Since then, too much energy on dealing with emotions toward police. But we need to deal with our emotions first to give ourselves space to step aside from police confrontation. We should be more creative with our approach with the police and flip the narrative to our advantage.
Need to be more effective in media approach. Now we mostly communicate with each other. Many of us are strangers to each other and continue to be. Need better media effort. This takes funding. The nervousness about funding from Ben Cohen (co-option fears) was overdone. Our relationship with media needs to change so that we actively define ourselves.
There should be a group to welcome newcomers to Occupy.
I'm from Appalachia where people are conservative, but ripped apart in this economy. Need to reach such people.
Person 3.Involved with Occupy San Jose
Very supportive of original Occupy message.
3 groups of people in Occupy -people motivated about certain issues -community organizers -hangers on who brought down the level of how Occupy presents itself (e.g. unshaven people, garbage laying around camp sites). This creates an image problem that turns people off; they may never come back. Not enough discipline to keep positive output.
Consensus approach very idealistic with no formal structure. To function optimally, need upward and downward feedback loops. An organization needs a solid foundation. Stay away from silos and have more integrated functional responsibility including responsibility for community outreach, media outreach and financing. Need more consistency of message and communication. From brainstorming, need to distill what is valuable and what is noise.
Currently am saturated with community organizing. With Move to Amend, consensus wouldn't work. Instead had facilitators leading groups.
Looks like people using Occupy umbrella for their own agenda, some of it damaging.
Better to have a working relationship with police.
Top concerns: 1. Economic Injustice-especially wealth distribution. Idea that we have to cut taxes to create jobs is nonsense. Relationship is actually inverse since investments are tax deductible. Top 5% represents 35% of wealth. Everyone suffers from this. Need to focus on this message. \ 2. Publicly financed elections - Since politicians subservient to donors, all have same incentives.
Occupy did reach out to Democratic clubs, but not enough focus on what message should be. Too much noise and not enough moving forward.
Person 4. Top priorities-Helping people see we have a crisis in economy, ecology, and military.
If we don't act effectively and quickly in large numbers at city and state level, won't have impact at national level. To be effective, must openly turn to minorities and poor with courage and ideas that are different from white middle class old left. Must learn to listen and go to places. Must reach black churches and unions. Could hold next event at Allen Temple Baptist church or big union hall. Talk to Rev. Daniel Buford. Occupy should be in touch with National Lawyers Guild too. Should go to Common Agenda. Go listen to Bay Area Labor Committee for Peace and Justice-Occupy can help and learn from them. Connect with Berkeley Citizen's Action.
Younger generation and older generation need to learn from each other. You shouldn't just talk at African Americans. Learn about the role of the black church. Encourage people to study 1930's history (e.g. sit down strikes and Black Legion)
Women have a role to play that is not coming through properly. Haven't adequately dealt with time constraints on women. Occupy is a good new thing, but won't succeed without addressing role of women and minorities.
Music is missing from meetings. Could sing "We Shall Overcome" at end of each meeting- something everyone does together.
Important people in Occupy keep children in public schools. They are trying to destroy public schools and we need to fight back with own own lives.
ACR129 passed in California; OO needs to publicize the text.
Lots of interns wiling to be unpaid interns. Occupy could tap into that resource if it set itself up properly.
Person 5 (Actually 2 people) Occupy good for networking, but could be better Too many people from 60s who cloud issues and are the loudest. Actually these are not just 60s people. Need to contain ramblers and have people focused, organized and well researched. Too many bad-mouthing anti-rich statements. Focus on assigning blame, rather than finding solutions, cripples the movement.
Person 6 Need ability to make decisions within Occupy that allow for a decision that nonviolence is the way to go and vandalism shouldn't be used. A very organized contingent boos and blocks any effort in this direction. This has discredited OO.
Wish we were organized enough to stop destructive actions so that teachers could bring students to events, and parents and disabled could come.
Person 7 Top priorities-Health Care for all, equitable taxes, and democracy in US Trying to figure out what I can do in movement. Would like to do a lot of things. 99% needs to be better informed. Could reach more people through music or a puppet show for children. Mr Mopps might even donate some puppets.
Person 8 I'm not a reformist. Health care issue is co-opting movement. Need to problem solve rather than get into divisions about political philosophy. 99% movement brought people together- people of all races and economic backgrounds.
People here today are supporters of Occupy but not the like core of people manning the kitchen and camping at Occupy. That core understood the urgency for change, that earth is dying and we don't have 20 years to tinker around with reforms. If someone is bleeding to death you don't want to just offer yoga classes and diet advice. Need massive amounts of direct confrontational action. Some say we need more tactics but if this means more petitions and all, I disagree. If we stopped using oil tomorrow we might have a fighting chance. Can't afford to be issue based. Have to get away from fossil fuels and curb population. Our baseline is off and we need to understand what our biggest problems are. What needs to heard is almost too radical to be said. If Derrick Jensen takes a more active baseline, it is not because he is smarter but because he has a deeper understanding of the mind of an abuser.
Need to come together and find other like-minded people, though this may be a much smaller group. Need to find people willing to do nonviolent confrontational action, ready to get out of their comfort zone. Can't just have well dressed people talking at an upscale church about Black Bloc. Different people have different strengths, but this is different from watering down the movement.
A First Nation Man once said this culture doesn't like to solve its problems. We need to come together and get consensus on what our problems are. Pay attention to climate and wars for extractable resources. Need to go back to the original Occupy, but stronger and harder. Real Occupy movement jumped over so many hurdles.
There is so much invisible violence that minorities and poor communities experience that we are sheltered from.
In problem solving, to come to the best solution, don't want to preconceive a solution. Recognize that people will have different ideas and be ready to work with that. Can win if we come together. Need more coordinated research.
Person 9 Very interested in Health Care. Need to get rid of dominance of insurance.
Occupy has been very successful at getting people to talk about formerly off the table topics like "Medicare for all." Occupy can put focus on what needs to be done instead and keep people from buying into "We're not going to talk about that."
Went to recent OO GA. Impressed with tone and effort to keep things calm and respectful. Dealt very effectively with a disruptor. Little kids were comfortable there; very different from the image developed from OO violence. Violence plays into worst fears and doesn't help anything. Check out this excellent article on OO violence http://www.cyberguerrilla.info/?p=5004
Ideal Occupy movement would have more follow through (e.g. Don't just close a bank, but ask the bank to renegotiate loans within 30 days. Then close them if they don't.) Have a strategy. Keep working at it and keep a sense of humor.
Person 10 Top priorities- Global Warming and war are the long term threats, intimately connected with inequality. Need to bring people into the movement. Not giving full effort to Occupy since am old and have other things I want to do in this life. Focus on little things like helping with website and believe these will help the bigger things. Kindness in Occupiers is something I did not see as much in Trotskyests. It takes away from personal integrity to have to go along with a party line. People keeping Occupy going are already very committed. Concerned about the tendency to push people involved in Occupy too hard. Worry about them burning out.
Person 11 Husband is interested in Occupy, couldn't persuade him to come today. He likes Occupy but believes that now is the time to get behind candidates. Feels actions like Occupying the library are pointless. It would be a terrible waste if Occupy doesn't get involved in elections. Tea Party has been very effective at pushing Republicans to the right and marginalizing moderate Republicans. Occupy could push out Republican-lites. Some Occupy activity in getting behind candidates, but not much so far. Not too late to make some difference in elections.
Nonviolent resistance is fine. Violence gets the publicity but turns most people off. In Oakland, cost to City of Oakland to police Occupy is a big turn off to a lot of people. Want more effort to impress upon police that they are part of 99% and it is not us against them. Nationally more coordinated Occupy would be better. Need to stay in the public eye. Good way to do this is have local groups active in local political issues. Want movement to be inclusive. Try to be visible, recruit more people, and have a way for them to be involved without being confrontational. Challenge for movement to keep recruiting. Good way is to keep being involved in positive things like remote area medical providers- setting up clinics where medical access is limited. This used to be mostly rural, but now includes urban uninsured.It is scheduled at the Oakland Colliseum and needs lots of volunteers. But, Occupy volunteers need to be sensible and careful not to discourage people from getting care or interfere with care. Could go to more public community events with leaflets and talk in a low key polite way.
Millions of people with positive view of what Occupy has accomplished; don't know how to tap into that. Occupy has done a great job of raising awareness, but not sure how much this has penetrated into conservative communities. So frustrating for years to watch disadvantaged suffering with no public outcry. Husband says a part of the population feels "If Gates can be a billionaire, maybe I can too.", but we shouldn't interfere with that. Many conservative believe government should do less to help people, but when it comes to their own family or employees, believe they personally should help when family members or employees are in need.
What turns me off- sitting in cafe in Berkeley, heard 4 men at a table talking about Occupy. Man with green hair and a green mustache was talking in a very loud angry voice. Don't know how to change that.
Getting old and need to pull back from political involvement.
Occupy had a big impact in bringing awareness about income inequality.
Person 12 (actually 3 person conversation) Priority- getting more people active, not just donating money and then sitting at home. There could be more multi-generational family friendly events in Occupy There is a stereotype of parents as enforcers of rules. Many people at camp repeatedly said they don't like parents.