Documents in the New York Times have now revealed extensive surveillance of the Occupy movement using resource networks that were originally created by Homeland Security for preventing terrorist attacks. Local authorities in several major cities were regularly sharing information on individual activists and speculating about the nature of demonstrations and protests.
Seems like a good time to remember some of the inspiration that brought thousands of people all across the nation to participate in Occupy events. Bill Ritchey from Occupy Portland was one of the Anarres Project’s first speakers and he has shared with us his talk. In it, he notes the frustrations that fed into the creation of Occupy and the love that kept it going before it was repressed (probably using information gathered in these networks).
“Thinking outside the tent.” Bill Ritchey
Greeting sisters and brothers, and thanks for inviting me to speak. My name is Bill Ritchey , I’m from Occupy Portland.
Occupy is vast, it contains a huge amount of social and political ideas and expressions. I’m only going to speak from my experience about what I think we did that had the most important.
Everything that occupy did was amplified greatly by the spectacle of many brave people who were physically occupying public space. This was our first creative act. Because of the spectacle many people learned new ideas and are still learning.
Occupy showed Love, that was the 1st thing that it did. We led with Love. That was New, Bold and Creative. And Occupy offered Hope, in a time when Hope was the disappointing taste from a broken campaign promise.
Occupy began making history not by demanding but by defining the ideas of the left and the right. We spoke to peoples’ problems as Leftists in a country that was in an economic depression designed by the Right. Occupy spoke of left ideas like sharing, medicare, public transportation, the right to safe housing, socialism, anarchism, democracy, basic universal rights , food stamps, student debt reduction and so on as GOOD things. And Occupy spoke of right wing ideas such as privatization of public property, bank bail outs, wars for resource stealing, austerity, lowering taxes on the wealthy, private health insurance, cutting social services for everyone and so on as BAD ideas. Occupy spoke with a Class Consciousness and related it to specific ideas which immediately undid some of the ruling class’s lies about economy and gave more people an ethical framework paired to political ideas, we gave people a political vocabulary. We attracted the widest range of people by speaking this way, the young to the old, political activists to people who have never thought about politics, from the homeless to the rich.
Occupy flipped the story about the economic depression being the cause of a liberal president to it being the design of corporations & government corrupted by money and capitalism.
Its important to remember the political and economic world that Occupy was born into. The Designed economic decline of 30 years had reached to the middle class- suddenly this group was hurting-they couldn’t get jobs, they were losing their homes, often due to medical bills, they had student loans they couldn’t pay, their pensions vanished in a planned market crash. the list goes on…private charities and food panties were running out of funds, sick veterans were returning from two wars of imperialism, states were running out of food stamp funds, soup kitchens were even being overwhelmed with college educated people out of work, homelessness was on the rise, more families were living in cars, the whole country felt bleak. Poverty had spread from the bottom up to the educated middle class just as it had done during the great depression of the 20’s and 30’s. This was the USA that Occupy was born into and arguably it was these economic conditions that caused Occupy to be born in the first place.
Prior to Occupy there was little vocal challenge to the ruling class’ explanation of the rapidly deteriorating lifestyle of most people in the USA. As the economy became worse more middle class began to suffer and began to wonder why. It didn’t seem that they’d done anything wrong, they had played by the rules as seen on tv and magazines, they didn’t feel like they were to blame for their troubles. The corporate media, began to supply answers- its the fault of liberal school teachers, of liberal elites, of postal workers, of bus drivers, of people with public pensions, people who borrowed too much and people on food stamps.
The ruling class used the Tea Party to further shift the cause from capitalism. Its important to remember how the Tea Party only repeated the message of the ruling class. Occupy was also populist but it blamed the ruling class and capitalism for the problems.
The presence of a group like the Tea Party is predictable during a depression. During the 1930’s during that depression which was also planned and also global, Back then the RCA radio corporation had a right wing religious- radio show on several times a week which promoted rightwing solutions to the economic depression and cautioned against left wing solutions such as government job stimulation. Governmental job stimulation worked so well in the 30’s that we built the economy and infrastructure of the country w/ it until the 1980’s. How it worked is simple, some level of government agrees to buy something like a public school or repair a road and capitalists hire people and buy materials and do it. The jobs stimulate the economy and the government eventually gets back the cost of the project in taxes.
So the historical context of Occupy leads from one depression to the next. The country that most of us grew up in is a product of the response to the depression of the 1930’s. It is currently the leftwing gains made since then that is keeping the current depression from being worse. We still have some of the safety net such as unemployment insurance, minimum wage, overtime pay, social security, job related health insurance, medicaid and medicare, and pensions. These things didn’t exist before the left fought and won them since the 1930’s and and many people are not living on the street now, are still alive. because of these things. It is also this social safety net, that the ruling class wants to take from us now under the name of austerity.
. The fact that the ruling class is presently using the legal means of the corrupt government is using to shut down many portions of our public services is a signal that the economic situation isn’t on the verge of changing for the better, were it so the government would be undertaking a massive jobs stimulation program like building nation- wide solar and wind energy capabilities or dispensing w/ the fight over healthcare reform and just convert the medicaid- medicare system to full healthcare for all. Notice that during this current government shutdown the army isnt shut, the irs isn’t shut- the government entire state didn’t go away like in the libertarian dream of small government, we just now have more of a government by and for the rich.
Given facts like these its clear Occupy had the correct analysis about who is to blame. But that Occupy wasn’t the magic wand that would instantly reverse the situation.
Occupy held open meetings in public places, to practice democracy one has to practice democracy.
We invited everyone to come into the public parks to decide together what their local problems were and how to solve them. We modeled a democracy for everyone right outside their own front door. This was probably the most creative thing that we did and the least understood by people who didn’t see it up close. Occupy took over public spaces and rather then make demands which would have excluded people who didn’t agree with certain points, we held public meetings. This is traditional anarchist practice, using the affinity group as a basis for democracy but with Occupy doing it in more than 500 cities at the same time, most of it available live on the internet it was the biggest real time example of the networked affinity method of democracy that the world has ever seen. . The fact that we did this proved that people can meet democratically across wide areas at once. For most Occupiers it was the fact of a General assembly that made an Occupy, not the fact of occupying public space.
Occupy modeled a community that was self governing and that could provide social services to the most needy and with little resources. Our camps had everything a community needed, media, counseling,food, security, first aide, entertainment libraries, massage, art spaces, child care sanitation… we had all of that, in most Occupies the people who desperately needed social services overwhelmed the resources of the camps which were also under siege by the police. They were in fact disasters but they showed that people could build communities on their own which under better circumstances would have continued to function and they unfortunately demonstrated how many people in our society don’t receive enough love and material attention which is further proof that the capitalist system of resource distribution isn’t humane.
Occupy demonstrated solidarity by working with other groups and other occupies. In actions and issues such as public transportation, school board and postal cut backs and blocking the ports, solidarity always produced better results than what would have been expected by small groups working alone. Again, the concept of solidarity isn’t new but Occupy demonstrated its effectiveness to many people who had never experienced it. Occupy’s power came from its physical solidarity.
Occupy asked the question: is consumerism the problem? whether capitalist, reformist or socialist, isn’t our 1st world lifestyle unsustainable and unfair to the rest of the world? This question wasn’t something that the media picked up on. But it was a constant debate within Occupy.
occupy showed love
we clarified the ideas of the left and right in ethical terms
we switched the blame for our many problems back to capitalism
we showed people how they could have direct democracy wherever they are
and we taught a more democratic way of deciding things.
we modeled diy city planning and social services
is the 1st world lifestyle sustainable and ethical.?
But what next?
Many people who dream of radical social change study the history of John Brown.
In 1859, the anti- slavery proponent, John Brown lead an unsuccessful raid on a military base hoping it would cause a massive armed slave revolt. He was captured and tried. The mass uprising didn’t happen. But the Civil War began and slavery was ended, but John Brown didn’t know because he had been executed six years before.
Is it worth it to sit in parks and try to build a model for a new democracy?
history happens whether you pay attention to it or not, whether you try to influence it or not. Everything that is good in this world was made by people learning and struggling. Even if you do try to make the world a better place you will probably not know precisely or even if your actions have any effect whatsoever. But everything that is good in this world was created by people just like us, people who took the time from their lives to try to make things better. Nothing was given to us, it took work and it was the only thing that has been proven to work.