Saturday, July 14, 2012

Reflections on Organizing

The Sentinel has been keeping a constant vigil. Yesterday before our walk through, Jamie had spoken to him  about making sure the steps were lean and presentable. He had smiled. And nodded. Our first communication.
Another Open Space group has gathered. Smaller than before. Jason is a bit disheartened. Even though he says for everyone who’s here there are four who want to be. 
The Bronx is in the house. New Haven is in the house. #OWS is in the house. Muslims are in the house. People involved in old school party politics are in the house. OK....this is good....
Over the course of the meeting, I have the opportunity to reflect on organizing, Occupy Wall Street, where we are now.
Why have we all come back? There is still a sense that a movement is out there waiting to connect and move forward in some kind of serious way. 
  • For the uprisings in the Middle East, the process was relatively simple. Get the dictator to leave. Victory. (Not that overthrowing dictators is easy.)What came to the surface in #OWS was that the whole system is broken. (Or fixed, as some say.)Not just in the US, but globally. That’s a much more complex issue. 
  • The consensus decision making process of #OWS had positive principles of inclusion and acceptance and insisting that every voice be heard. But it was also susceptible to emotional manipulation of those who had minority positions. Pushing towards giving in. And on the other hand, it allowed small determined groups to subvert the majority. As Kelly and I had said to Jason months ago, it only works if you’re in basic agreement as to where you’re going. Or at least explicitly aware of what you do agree on. Otherwise, it becomes antidemocratic, even coercive.
  • The Open Space process seems worth exploring. 
  • Whereas traditional liberation theologians like Gutierrez and Cone spoke of the necessity of dialectic as a way to sharpen theory, ideology and belief, feminist, womanist and mujerista theologians point  us towards a discourse that is a multilectic. Perhaps Open Space can help frame that process.
  • in that spirit, there can be no denigration of those who continue to work in traditional party politics, even though effective political space has been shrunk to nearly non-existent. And most Americans don’t even  realize it. (See Chris Hedges’ Death of the Liberal Class.) It is all needed.
  • Previous movements in our lifetime had very specific goals: end that war, pass this law, stop this action....This is the first class based protest to arrive since Martin Luther King Jr.’s ill fated Poor Peoples’ Campaign. With his assassination, its clear class articulation never took place. This is a different moment.
  • I spoke of my friend Barney in Pittsburgh. Started as a steel worker union  organizer. When the industry crashed, he became an organizer of the unemployed.  Today he heads Pittsburgh United ( )  which brings together, the steelworkers, the unemployed, the Alinsky style Gamaliel neighborhood organizations and 47 churches and synagogues. All to work for common agendas. There are at least three different kinds of organizing seeking to work in collaboration in this. That’s the kind of organizing we need. Though the difference in scale and the depth of ownership issues in New York City make it more difficult. 
  • In Barney’s perspective, #OWS was not/is not a movement. But it did open up space within which new discourse could take place and campaigns could grow.How can we continue to use #OWS as a space
  • What keeps us going? I riff off the works of Sharon Welch and say that cynicism is the prerogative of the privileged. That only affluent liberals can afford despair. That the truly oppressed do not have that privilege in order at first to simply survive.
  • And that under girding communities of struggle is the power of hope. What Tutu expressed in the days of Apartheid, we have already won. Or like liberation theologians like Gutierrez and Cone have expressed, liberation/salvation is already accomplished. We now have to live it out. It is King’s mountaintop speech. 
  • And that in that hope, communities of struggle have had the capacity to celebrate life with joy. The black church, the gay rights movement, all have left their legacy of joy. I’m not completely sure how to do it, but I  know it’s at the center of what we need to do. 
  • There is the issue of control. Sharon Welch says its the dominant culture of the US, right or left. And control from either side ultimately oppresses. What she argues for is an ethic of risk, of vulnerability. 
  • Relationships are the bottom line. We show up because people we trust ask us. We are still exploring how much we will commit to this process before calling on our own trust relationships. That’s how organizing works. 
  • Jason continues to invite inviters and that is good. What happens when  we’re in the room determines what happens next. 
  • Stop and frisk continues to present itself as the issue to go after. We have to figure out who’s in the issue already, how they do and don’t work with others and why. And event though everything is truly connected to everything else, we have to remember that this awareness can overwhelm unless there’s focus. The issues before us only intensify cultural ADD. Organizing needs to be the Ritalin.
  • Yes, we will meet again. 
Outside Rabbi Wilde and his family pass by. He says he’s been teaching. I pause for only a moment. Me too, I say. Though my older Jewish friends are (naturally) suspicious of the Orthodox, I’d love to see where a dialogue with this Rabbi who seems so open and creative might go. 
On my way home, the Sentinel is still perched on the steps. Goodnight I say. He nods. 

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