OccupyParticipation: #CommonalityNotComplaint

by Adam

Mickey Z.

“The greatest mistake of the movement has been trying to organize sleeping people around specific goals. You have to wake the people up first, then you’ll get action.”

Malcolm X

If you identify in any way as part of the proverbial 99%, I’ve got a question for you about Occupy Wall Street: Are you finding common ground or finding fault?

To the progressives, radicals, and yeah, even the liberals who remain more agitated than agitator, perhaps I can address a few of your concerns:

What do they want? Who are they? Why is there no clear agenda?

Um, have you heard of a little something called the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City?

Better yet, have you been to Zuccotti Park/Liberty Plaza? Even if OWS did not release a single statement, it’s not difficult to discern an agenda if you take the time to visit the site with an open mind. What’s happening at OWS is the cultivation of an alternate model of human culture. In roughly one month, several man-made hierarchies, constructs, and barriers have already been (at least) temporarily smashed. Is it perfect? Of course not…but perfection should never be the standard.

What OWS is modeling is a far more cooperative, creative, participatory, tolerant, and downsized way of living. If that doesn’t sound like an “agenda” to you, well…welcome to the 1%.

Calling it an “occupation” offends my multi-cultural sensibilities

The term occupation can have as many meanings as we choose and in no way, is it exclusive to the concept of indigenous displacement and near-genocide. To allow word usage to impact your opinion of and possible commitment to an activist movement of this scope is beyond counterproductive. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Ask a few folks who understand the concept of occupation far better than I:

Let’s start with some occupants from Puerto Rico, a colony since 1898. On December 7, 1969, 13 members of the Young Lords Party (YLP) were beaten and arrested inside the First Spanish Methodist Church in East Harlem simply for requesting use of the space for a free breakfast program. Three weeks later, the Young Lords returned to take over the church for 11 days—re-naming it the People’s Church. During that time, with the help of thousands of supporters, they established free breakfast and clothing programs, health services, a day care center, a liberation school, community dinners, poetry, and films. (Sound familiar?) And oh yeah, these sons and daughters of the world’s oldest colony proudly labeled the whole thing an occupation.

Just a month prior to the YLP church takeover, on November 20, 1969, over 5600 American Indians commandeered Alcatraz Island to protest the US government’s economic, social, and political neglect towards their people. They held “The Rock” until June 11, 1971. They called—and still call—this action an occupation.

Wall Street business-as-usual hasn’t been stopped yet

While this critique is technically accurate, it still displays an extremely narrow and impatient perspective. Sure, Wall Street profits have yet to feel the impact but discussions of a general strike could change that in a hurry. Meanwhile, other forms of business-as-usual have most definitely been interrupted and perhaps even permanently changed.

OWS is making mainstream media headlines like no other radical protest ever has. It’s creating solidarity across previously impenetrable boundaries (even NYC tourists are cheering on the occupants). It’s led to everyday Americans pulling their money from big banks and rethinking their consumption habits. It’s even sparked action towards challenging the two-party (sic) monopoly in the 2012 election.

There’s nothing “usual” about any of that “business,” so stay patient and supportive. It seems there’s plenty more where that came from.

Who are the leaders? We must identify leaders.

Go there, participate, communicate, listen, and learn because (as usual) the reality is diametrically opposed to the conventional wisdom: Everyone at OWS is a “leader.” It is a movement comprised of thousands of “leaders” from all walks of life—working collectively and sharing skills.

In the words of Mumia Abu-Jamal: “This is People’s Power, sparked, in part by the mass protests in Cairo and Wisconsin. Other sparks were the Troy Davis injustice, the assault on several demonstrators by New York cops, the repression on the poor and working class by the political class, and discontent with the long, wasted years at mindless wars abroad. This is people’s power. May it remain so.”

(To which I’d add, may people’s power also involve love and respect for the power of non-humans and the entire eco-system.)

So, beware the more-radical-than-thou purists and remain vigilant in smoking out those activists seeking excuses to remain in-activists. No one knows how OWS will play out but without the committed support of a wide range of allies, it cannot grow, evolve, and realize its potential.

The choice is yours: Find fault or find common ground. The future is waiting upon your decision.


Mickey Z. is the author of 11 books, most recently the novel Darker Shade of Green. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on an obscure website called Facebook