Thursday, October 27, 2011

Political Perspectives for Broadening the Occupy SLC Movement

(sharing this here, perhaps some of the ideas might be helpful for people elsewhere?)

(Some political and organizational observations and suggestions for Occupy SLC by a participant.)

What has been accomplished at Pioneer Park has taken a lot of work and time and effort. It is a great testament to the skills and patience and dedication that have been pulled together in the face of strong political and logistical challenges. The character of Pioneer Park, and the balance between people who have come here to specifically be part of a political movement, and people who were already living here, has presented numerous challenges. Political activists in SLC have responded to this either by leading work at the park, or moving to the Federal Reserve building, or by withdrawing from active participation. A recent document written and shared online by a person who has been sleeping out at the Fed for along time revealed a great deal of frustration, and attacked the convictions of people who say they support this, or this kind of movement, but who have not joined that individual at the Fed in person, where he has been for many days, and where he got sick in the cold.

It was good for this person to write and express themselves but the tone of their article was not helpful. The people of the city did not come together and have a meeting and vote to elect that individual to take their stand. He is there entirely on his own behalf. It is not politically helpful to morally attack our closest allies because they have not chosen to make the major commitments to spend lots of time out in the cold that a few of us, without ever being asked to do it by our communities, have decided to do on our own.

The movement has recently been counter attacked by the forces of the 1%. Police broke up and evicted Occupations in Oakland and Atlanta. At the same time there have been articles written in the hostile press by journalists calling themselves “the 53%” who “work and pay taxes to support lazy bums”, to paraphrase. This is an attempt to draw away middle class support for the movement by appealing to their basest jealousies and prejudices. We need now at this time to come together, as I suggested in this article. We must look around, where we are, see what we have, and decide how we can turn it into a political fight back. The logistical challenges of establishing the park camp have diverted many activists' attention into running a soup kitchen operation, that while helpful and demonstrating good will and solidarity, is not in itself going to end corporate domination of our political system. A soup kitchen does not threaten the status quo. But ordinary people coming out of their confusion and apathy and talking to each other about what should be done, and how to do it, and where to start, just might.


1) J_ said we have middle class people with money who want to support us. I propose we use then and every cent we can get and put it into making this place look more political. If the Park is a political base, it needs to look more like one. The whole side of the road facing South 400, where most of the tents are, should be lined with signs. People driving by look at us. Let's give them something to look at. Let's not be off talking amounts ourselves unseen under a tree somewhere but let's always have people along the street here holding signs, smiling and waving. Let's put our own friendly, welcoming face on this movement. Also getting posters on the other sides of the park, and along cross walk entrances, would be helpful too. The street corners are most effective because then you can get seen by traffic going in both directions. Tents being erected do not by themselves politically challenge the people driving by. I propose we send a committee out to buy / obtain poster making materials, like poster board and markers, and we designate a time to make many posters. Let's keep those materials centralized in one place in the park, such as by the library area, so people can always come and make signs whenever they want.

2) I propose we strategically fortify the ongoing protest at the Fed Reserve. It may or may not make sense to sleep alone in the cold outside a government building at night when very few people are driving by. But whether individuals decide to sleep there at night or not, people who can make it there should prioritize being there at key times during the day. 7-10 AM ish, and 4:30 to 6 pm ish, are good because that gets commuter traffic. Targeting the volume of commuter traffic is the most efficient way to have the most people see our signs. Also there are more people on the street then, as well as around lunch hour (11:30 am to 2:30 pm). Lunch hour would be a great time to be there.

3) The Fed Reserve alone is not the problem. It is just one part of a very nasty set of financial and government entities run by nasty people. What other targets can we identify in the SLC area? Certain banks who played a major role in the crash? Anything else large and financial down town? Other federal buildings? If we had 3 people with signs during peak hours at 3 or 4 different locations, it would be way more visible to the city in general than just having one group of 9-12 people all standing at only one target.

4) We produce more educational materials to give to people who are passing by and want to learn more but who may not have the time to argue with us. We can reach many more people with leaflets in 15 minutes than we can just talking to one person for the same time! I wrote a generic “come join us” type leaflet that we can use. But if we are at a specific place we should have something prepared that is specific for that location. Why is the Fed Reserve so important? Let's put an articulate explanation on a quarter sheet flyer that is easy and quick and small and efficient to hand out. In addition to the specific info the occupy SLC website link could be on there as well as links to any news sites that might be helpful. When linking to news sites it would be best to list several sites, and not just only one or two that are heavily weighted towards a specific organization or ideology, which would incorrectly reflect the broad diversity of ideas and motivations our protest embraces. We can using our funding to print more leaflets at Kinkoes, or where ever else is cheap to photocopy.

5) Reach out to activists and draw them into the above practical work. Encourage them to make their own signs and stand on their own street corners if they cannot join us. We are not New York City. We do not have tens of thousands of people. But we do have many supporters who can't camp out, but who want to help stand up to the 1%. And there are many ways to stand up to the 1% besides just camping in a park! Having specific times to request their presence where their presence can be made the most of, even if someone can only show up once a week, turns the movement into something that can efficiently draw on the free time that our supporters do have.

This means call your friend who isn't here camping, and list the several times and places this week where there will be something they could really help out with for a hour, 2 hours, or so. If a few of us want to get together and get on the internet and go through everyone who likes / is part of the Occpy SLC facebook we could send them all an email / write on their walls telling them specific events they could come to. Another idea is to have a group of volunteers print out a lot of something like the come join us leaflet I wrote (or any other come join us leaflet anyone else wants to write!), and then make a list of all the places with bulliten boards in town. Then we divide that list and go hit up all those places. Colleges, Libraries, Gyms, Grocery Stores, and Coffee Shops are places to start. Where else can you think of? Would any of our small business friends like to display something like this in their store windows?

6) Let's plan and build specific political events that we can invite people to. How about we get two people who are each feeling strongly about either position debate whether the system must be overthrown, or can be reformed peacefully? Can someone write a very well researched factual talk on how exactly the crash happened (in of course easily understandable language), and what happened (or didn't happen) to the people who caused it? Or how about we turn all the chairs in a circle facing each other and we have one great big meeting, with a speakers' stack and moderator if enough people are there to need it, where we just debate politics and what we think should or could be done? These are just a few topic ideas, you of course have many more in your head! What can you think of?

We aren't at the point where we have the numbers and energy to have something like this every day, but we could maybe have it once or twice a week. This would be a great sort of event to invite more people to, and get them thinking politically. And also on this point, we must recognize that most people work in the day, and by the time most people are off work and free the park is dark and cold. So let's have a public meeting on something like this, say, 7pmish on a weeknight, and have it in a rented (free?) room. If we could get a room at a college we could build it big among the college students. Lights and heat would certainly improve the atmosphere!

There are many ways to resist the system.We must not take any one method or location and fetishize it into “the” tactic that is “the” solution. It will take more than people camped out in parks or on sidewalks to bring down the world's most powerful, well armed, and entrenched oligarchy. Every action we take right now, and probably always, should be guided by the question of, “What is the best way to put us into contact with the greatest numbers of people?”

How and where we can have the most effective political presence? How can we most effectively get people talking and thinking about these issues? And once people's minds are tuned into the idea of resistance, how can we plan our actions in a way that everyone, whatever their level of availability, can in some way participate in? Someone who can stand on the corner with us for two hours, and then go home and go all through their next week telling everyone they knew what it was like to take a stand and be having the conversations we are having, is worth a whole heck of a lot more than someone by themselves spending 8 hours at night sleeping on a deserted street anywhere!

Always ask, “what is the next step?”, “How can we turn more people into activists?”. Because the minute we stop trying to grow and reach out is the minute our movement starts to stagnate. As the 99%, our greatest weapon is our numbers.

The next Occupy SLC general assembly will be tomorrow, Friday at 6pm. Then again there will be one Sunday at 4pm. I warmly invite ALL FORCES to attend the meeting Friday.

1 comment:

  1. I hope people are arguing what you're putting forward in meetings. At OWS, there are always people standing on the park's Broadway sign with huge banners, signs, sometimes costumes, and handing out copies of Occupied Wall Street Journal ( to passersby, engaging in conversation, talking to journalists.

    As for lit, you might want to check the NYC General Assembly site and its working groups for materials: Don't reinvent the wheel!

    As for outreach, I've found that the best way to do it is to call for a march around an issue - healthcare, banks, evictions, whatever - and then do outreach based on that action. "Occupy X is doing a march on Bank of America today, would you folks in the anti-foreclosure group like to join us?" Don't get bogged down in process, General Assembly approval, and/or messaging. People want to act, and if you call it, they will come.