On Occupy


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Special Section on Occupy. Featuring: Angela Davis,  Steve Williams, María Poblet, Rinku Sen, Rev. James Lawson, Silvia Federici and more.

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Special Section on Occupy. Featuring: Angela Davis, Steve Williams, María Poblet, Rinku Sen, Rev. James Lawson, Silvia Federici and more.

Angela Davis

“It is important to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world." - Angela Davis

I have had the opportunity to visit four Occupy sites: one in Philadelphia, two in New York,  and one in Oakland. There’s an enormous amount of energy. There’s an enormous amount of excitement. It’s quite different from the way we are accustomed to building separate movements and then finding ways to create what we generally call coalitions and alliances. And while the [slogan “We are the] 99%” is a fiction, it’s a fiction that is useful, and it is one that we should take up and re-craft. My message to all of the Occupy sites is that it is important that this 99% slogan is inclusive from the outset—that we have to be aware of the extent to which it is shot through by  racial difference and economic difference.

The November 2 march to the Port of Oakland was multi-racial, it was multi-generational, it was multi-gender, multi-sexual, multi-everything. It’s an experiment in being together, [but we need to] be attentive  to differences. As Audre Lorde said, “It’s not our differences that divide us. It’s our inability to respect and celebrate those differences.” She pointed out that differences should not be merely tolerated, but they should be a fund of polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic.

If we assume that the top tiers of the 99% can provide the strategy during this time, then we are mistaken. It would make far more sense to start with the bottom tiers, and that would help us address racism. That would mean that the struggle to abolish the prison industrial complex would have to be central in this movement of the 99%.

[Another thing] I’ve been doing at the Occupy sites is to recall the slogans from the uprising in Paris in 1968.  One of them was “L’imagination prend le pouvoir,” all power to the imagination. And another one was “Soyez realiste demandez l’impossible,” be realistic, demand the impossible. 

Art drives movements for radical social change. Art helps us to find our way into new dimensions. Art helps to give expression to what might be considered impossible in the world that is. It shows us the possibility of a new world.  Art helps us to negotiate our way through dimensions that we cannot yet articulate in the kind of expository language that we use... There are no clear demands. But I don’t think there should be any demands right now.

[Conisider] the connection with Egypt—Cairo and Tahrir Square. I was reading  a message that came from participants in that movement, and there was something very moving included in that message. It said,  [People ask] what are our demands? But there’s no one left to [ask demands of]. There’s no one left to ask for reforms. And so, therefore, we have to create that which we would like to see in the future. We have to create what we want, as opposed to asking somebody else to give it to us.

This is what happened during the era of what is called the civil rights movement. It was much, much more than civil rights—it was a freedom movement. The most important accomplishment of that movement wasn’t necessarily the change in the laws, although that was very important, it was  the transformation of the consciousness of so many people who learned how to imagine a very different future.

We never give the black women domestic workers who refused to get on the bus the credit for creating this collective community of resistance.  If they had not refused to get on the bus, if they had not boycotted the bus, where would we be today?

So let us also take seriously what it means to transform consciousness.  I think that that is something that may be happening now given that so many people seem to be identifying with the 99%.  The experience we had walking to the Port on Wednesday [November 2] was absolutely amazing. Cars were blowing their horns and nobody was upset that the march was blocking traffic. There were kids on bicycles who were stopping the traffic so that the march could go through. There weren’t any police anywhere. Well, we knew they were around. But we didn’t see them.
 

And everywhere, people were beeping their horns. It was just this amazing, joyful experience and so many people seemed to experience that joy of being together, of being a part of a new community that has the potential of dismantling the economic structures and the racist hierarchies and the gender hierarchies in the future.

 I ran into many people of my generation who experienced the movement 40 years ago.  Without exception, people were so happy. They were saying, it’s happening. Finally, it’s happening!

[But] there are never any guarantees. In the late ’60s we struggled passionately, and we thought we were going to make a revolution. We were persuaded that we were going to bring radical transformations to this society. We didn’t win the revolution we thought we were fighting, but we did manage to revolutionize society.

So, I would say there are never any guarantees, but it is important to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world.

Listen to the roundtable interview with Angela Davis and Rev. James Lawson at: www.urbanhabitat.org/radio/rpe/davis-lawson

Angela Davis is an activist, educator, writer, and a founding member of Critical Resistance. This article is an edited excerpt from an interview conducted by Erin Aubry Kaplan, a Los Angeles journalist, at an event sponsored by the Center for the Study of Political Graphics in Los Angeles (politicalgraphics.org).


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Steve Williams

“Different people who have been disaffected and disenfranchised by this economic system have had a space to come together.” —Steve Williams

In a country with a history of white supremacy, colonialism, genocide, slavery, we know that we’re going to encounter some particular challenges around racial consciousness, around the leadership of women, around the role of young people. But what the “We are the 99%” movement has created is an opportunity for us to actually engage in those struggles from a progressive standpoint.  The movement is still very new, so the language is all coming together, but in my mind this movement is a movement of the 99%. The occupations are a particular tactic of that movement. So, there are a lot of people participating in the movement to confront financial institutions and capitalism that aren’t sleeping out at the various parks across the country. It’s critical for us to figure out ways for people to engage constructively because our organizations that are rooted in working class, communities of color have been doing the organizing around a particular strata of the 99%. It is important to acknowledge that the petty bourgeois and technocratic professionals who are now disaffected by the way that capitalism is operating— those people should be mad. But we also have to then figure out the programs and solutions and demands that we are all going to fight for that don’t throw sections of the 99% under the bus.

The “We are the 99%” movement has to develop a vision of what our alternative is. The exciting innovation with the camps is that different groupings of people who have been disaffected and disenfranchised by this economic system have had a space to come together. Folks who have had their homes foreclosed upon, folks who are in debt and can’t find a job after graduating from elite universities—are coming together with homeless people and with other folks who have just seen public services cut and attacked over the last few years. And I think what’s happening with that is that people are beginning to develop more and more of a systematic analysis of what is wrong. But ultimately that means that we have to do more, way more, than elect a sympathetic person into office.

We’re really building on a level of organizing, a level of mobilization that puts us in a position to begin transforming what it is that we’ve previously thought of as a liberation movement in this country.

Listen to the roundtable discussion with Steve Williams and Maria Poblet at: www.urbanhabitat.org/radio/rpe/williams-poblet

Steve Williams is a co-founder and co-executive director of People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER), a San Francisco-based group building power for low-wage workers, tenants, and families. This article is an edited excerpt from a roundtable interview conducted by Meaghan LaSala on the Making Contact program of the National Radio Project (www.radioproject.org).


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María Poblet

“Convergence on joint actions between existing organizations and Occupy is the first step...” —María Poblet

University of California Davis police officer assaults students with pepper spray. ©2011 Francisco DominguezPeople of color who’ve interacted with the occupy camps [say they don’t show] enough clarity about racism, gender inequality, poverty, and issues of class.  And I think that critique is right on. I think the challenge before us is: can we lead from a place of unity?

On the national scale now white, working class communities who’ve been impacted by these measures of austerity and by this corporate takeover, they have a choice between the Tea Party and Occupy. And I want all of them to choose Occupy. It’s very needed in this country for people to have a choice that takes them to the left in the face of corporate domination, instead of basically  joining the Tea Party and moving to the right and blaming immigrants, blaming people of color. [As] the racial dynamics get handled in the camps, that’s where and how we’ll see if the movement will be able to proceed in a way that actually builds the capacity to build more unity and move towards a progressive outcome that benefits all communities.

In the more institutional progressive sector, there’s the idea that you elect somebody who’s a Democrat and then you look the other way and cross your fingers. That has never worked for people of color. In fact, where people of color have won great demands in this country is by challenging the Democratic party with all kinds of tactics, including threatening to start another party and starting another party. It has to go back to this platform, this list of what we want, this vision of where we’re headed. Then we can say to any elected official, “Get in or get out,” “Come with us, or don’t.”

Convergence on joint actions between existing organizations and Occupy is the first step to what we need. Then we can actually move towards something that would be much bigger—like, what if the 99% in the U.S. called for no war, no warming—build the economy for the people and the planet. What if we did that? What would that look like? It would then say—there is one alternative—and we’re building it right here, right now, because another world is possible... but also, it’s absolutely necessary. And in order for another world to be possible, another U.S. has to come into being. This Occupy movement and the convergence between this and previous generations, and community organizing and other sectors of progressives, this convergence is actually going to make that other world possible.

Listen to the roundtable discussion with Steve Williams and Maria Poblet at: www.urbanhabitat.org/radio/rpe/williams-poblet

María Poblet is the executive director of Just Cause::Causa Justa, a housing rights group in the San Francisco Bay Area. This article is an edited excerpt from a roundtable interview conducted by Meaghan LaSala on the Making Contact program of the National Radio Project (www.radioproject.org).


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Rinku Sen

"If racial exclusion and inequity are at the root of the problem, then inclusion and equity must be built into the solution." - Rinku Sen

We must now move from questions of representation to ask: How can a racial analysis, and its consequent agenda, be woven into the fabric of the movement? We need to interrogate not just the symptoms of inequality—the disproportionate loss of jobs, housing, healthcare, and more—but, more fundamentally, the systems of inequality, considering how and why corporations create and exploit hierarchies of race, gender, and national status to enrich themselves and consolidate their power. As the New Bottom Line campaign has pointed out through a series of actions across the nation launched the same week as OWS, the subprime lending practices of Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo have devastated communities of color. A 2009 study found that 85 percent of those hardest hit by foreclosures have been African American and Latino homeowners.

If racial exclusion and inequity are at the root of the problem, then inclusion and equity must be built into the solution. OWS has resisted making specific demands, but local groups are taking up campaigns and actions. The challenge and opportunity of this moment is to put these values at the center of their agenda.

The signs are promising. In Boston, Occupiers joined a march that protested gentrification and financial abuse from a racial justice standpoint. In Oakland, the organization Just Cause::Causa Justa has inserted an anti-discrimination agenda, illustrated by a beautiful poster by artist and activist Melanie Cervantes reading, “Somos El 99%,” which is a prominent feature of the encampment there. (The poster exists in other languages, too.) New Bottom Line has asked Occupiers to make pointed, tangible demands of regulators and banks. Occupy Los Angeles has taken up actions supporting homeowners in the midst of foreclosure. A hearty response from other cities would go a long way toward legitimizing OWS as a movement that recognizes the fundamental role of racial discrimination in shaping our economy.

As some Occupy cities are demonstrating, addressing race is far easier when there is already a history of white activists and those of color advancing common goals. In Flagstaff, Arizona, a city where activists have worked alongside Native communities for years, the local Occupy website features calls to resist a fake-snow-making scheme on a mountain sacred to Native tribes, as well as a plan by Senator John McCain and Representative Paul Gosar to reinstate uranium mining around the Grand Canyon. At Colorlines.com, which has covered the role of race in the Occupy movement, one commentator offered the example of Occupy Los Angeles—a city with a long history of collaborative economic justice campaigns with a clear race angle—as a model to emulate. “The LA folks seem to be able to reconcile how to fold [racial], monetary, and social issues all into their messages,” she wrote.

The Occupy movement is clearly unifying. Centralizing racial equity will help to sustain that unity. This won’t happen accidentally or automatically. It will require deliberate, smart, structured organizing that challenges segregation, not only that of the 1 percent from everyone else, but also that which divides the 99 percent from within.

Rinku Sen is president and executive director of the Applied Research Center, and the publisher of Colorlines, from which this article is excerpted.


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Rev. James Lawson

"You can't create revolutionary change without a strategy." - Rev. James Lawson

There are three things that are necessary to create a movement which causes the collapse of an authoritarian government. Poland, Yugoslavia, Egypt, and [Chile] fulfilled this. There are three forces. First force we see in such efforts is an escalation of unity of purpose. I told the Boston Occupy group last week that their audience is not capitalism or the corporations. Their audience is the people of America. We need direct civil resistance in America as never before. It must happen. If we speak to the full audience, that unity will develop.

[The] next thing is, there has to be a plan. You can’t create revolutionary change without a strategy. It has to be both short-term and long-term. Cairo had that. The solidarity movement of Poland had it. The Chilean anti-Pinochet movement had it.

The third thing is, there has to be the emergence of a nonviolent discipline. That’s going on in the Occupy groups. They’re trying to care for themselves. They’re trying to build a community of care and concern. They’re trying to take care of each other. They’re trying to keep the camp, the Occupy villages, cooperative, clean. Many of them recognize that the issue’s not fighting the police or throwing stones. This is critical because the myth in the United States is that violence is the way you get change.

The violence in our society and of our society—military violence, domestic violence, the continued lynching of people in the prison systems by the police—this system of violence is causing our society to sink into greater and greater chaos, turmoil, confusion, animosity and division.

The nonviolent discipline is necessary because you cannot beat the enemy with the enemy’s theories and practices. You cannot do it. We do not have the power to beat the CIA or the National Guard or the American Military. Therefore, the movement has to be one that will challenge that power with surprise and with our bodies. We have to find ways to create a new power, and the new power is the power of people who get engaged... In a sense that we can have a different world and a different nation and a different Los Angeles, and are willing to work on developing a plan and a strategy to make that happen.

How is it that the American people want housing, education, jobs, transportation, and better communities but we have this atrocious system that is cheating us over and over and over again and pretending that we have the best possible society? 

[With] so many great movements in the United States, [why is it] that we, the American people, don’t see through this and learn that it’s going to take hard work to make the changes, and we need to be about that hard work?

Listen to the roundtable interview with Angela Davis and Rev. James Lawson at: www.urbanhabitat.org/radio/rpe/davis-lawson

Reverend James Lawson is a United Methodist pastor and civil rights leader. He played a major role in the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike of 1968 and was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). This article is an edited excerpt from an interview conducted by Erin Aubry Kaplan, a Los Angeles journalist, at an event sponsored by the Center for the Study of Political Graphics in Los Angeles (politicalgraphics.org).


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Silvia Federici

"Women have the longest work-week and do most of the world's unpaid labor; they are the bulk of the poor both in the U.S. and around the world..." - Sylvia Ferderici

This movement appears spontaneous but its spontaneity is quite organized, as can be seen from the languages and practices it has adopted and the maturity it has shown in response to the brutal attacks by the authorities and the police. It reflects a new way of doing politics that has grown out of the crisis of the anti-globalization and antiwar movements of the last decade; one that emerges from the confluence between the feminist movement and the movement for the commons. By “movement for the commons,” I refer to the struggles to create and defend anti-capitalist spaces and communities of solidarity and autonomy. For years now people have expressed the need for a politics that is not just antagonistic and does not separate the personal from the political, but places the creation of more cooperative and egalitarian forms of reproducing human, social, and economic relationships at the center of political work.

Why is Feminism Necessary for Occupy?
Feminism is still critical for this movement on several grounds and I am encouraged by the fact that many young women today identify themselves as feminists, despite a tendency in past years to dismiss feminism as merely “identity politics.”

First, many of the issues that were at the origins of the women’s movement have not been resolved. In some respects, the position of women has worsened. Despite the fact that more women have access to paid employment, the root causes of sexism are still in place. We still have an unequal sexual division of labor as reproductive work remains primarily a woman’s responsibility, even when she works outside the home. Reproductive work is still devalued in this society. Though we are less dependent on individual men, we are still subject to a patriarchal organization of work and social relations that degrade women.  In fact, we have seen a re-masculinization of society with the glorification of war and the increasing militarization of everyday life. Statistics speak clearly: women have the longest work-week and do most of the world’s unpaid labor; they are the bulk of the poor both in the U.S. and around the world; and many are practically sterilized because they cannot afford to have children. Meanwhile, male violence against women has intensified, not only at the individual level but also at the level of institutions. In the U.S., for instance, the number of women in jail has increased fivefold since the ‘80s.

I am also convinced that the Occupy movement has much to learn from the egalitarian vision of society that the feminist movement developed in its radical phase, which was also an inspiration for the queer and the ecological movements. Consensus-based decision-making, the distrust of leaders (formal or charismatic), and the idea that you need to prefigure the world you want to create through your actions and organization—these were all developed by radical feminist movements.  Most importantly, like the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, the radical feminist movement began to address the question of unequal power relations in the movement and in society by, for instance, creating autonomous spaces in which, women could articulate the problems specific to their conditions. Feminism has also promoted an ethics of care and sisterhood and a respect for animals and nature that is crucial for the Occupy movement and, I believe, has already shaped its practice. I have been impressed by the tolerance and patience people demonstrate to one another in the general assemblies—a great achievement in comparison with the often truculent forms of behavior that were typical in the movemens of the ‘60s.

Gender Dynamics in the Occupy Movement
I do not want to be unduly optimistic, but it seems to me that feminists are well represented in this movement, though it would be naïve to imagine that this is sufficient to eliminate sexism from it. As a recent article published in The Nation on this subject pointed out, “women are everywhere.” They facilitate and speak in the general assemblies, organize educational forums, make videos, run the information center, speak to the press, and circulate information through scores of blogs on the net. At OWS, before the eviction, they created an all-women space, a tent “for women by women,” that functioned as a safe autonomous zone.

What is especially promising is the diversity of women who are active and present in the occupations: this is a movement that brings together white women and women of color, young women and women with white hair. I also see the influence of feminism in the fact that this movement places its own reproduction at the center of its organizing. The lesson of the feminist movement—which is that you cannot separate political militancy from the reproduction of your everyday life; that you must often revolutionize your reproductive relations in order to engage in the struggle—is now being applied on a broad scale, [in] the creation of free food distribution, the organization of cleaning and medical teams, and the activities of the working groups that are daily discussing not only general principles and campaigns but all the issues concerning daily coexistence.

That OWS is no longer a standing camp after its eviction from Liberty Square does not invalidate this point.  Hundreds of occupations are now taking place all over the country and around the world.  The loss of the camp at Liberty Plaza in New York is only the start of a new phase of the movement. Hopefully it will be a phase in which the building of reproductive commons will take on a new meaning and dimension. Soon, in fact, the movement must begin to pose the question of how to create a reproductive network outside of the market—for instance, connecting with the existing urban farming projects and other elements of the solidarity economy.

Silvia Federici is a veteran activist and writer who lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation. This interview was conducted by Max Haiven (maxhaiven.com) and published at Znet (zcommunications.org).


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Organizing for Community Control in Madison

In February 2011, the city of Madison captured national attention when organizers occupied the Wisconsin state capitol building for several weeks to protest Governor Scott Walker’s attacks on collective bargaining and key social services. Their rallying cry: “Whose house? Our house!” reflected back to a housing reclamation movement that had begun just a year earlier in the city.

In May 2010, a coalition of people-of-color-led groups had organized to help an African American single mother and her two young children move into a long-vacant foreclosed house. Their actions shifted the public discourse into the critical areas of property, control, and economic justice. It was part of a coordinated nationwide series of eviction defenses and housing takeovers meant to reawaken the nation to the Take Back the Land movement, which is dedicated to elevating housing to the level of a human right and securing community control over the land.  Politically, Madison may seem like an unlikely site for a radical people-of-color-led direct action and it took many national organizers by surprise. But the movement continues to grow as its actions challenge the contradiction of “houses without people and people without houses.”

As with most action campaigns, the Left would like to see a move upwards in the organizing—from immediate actions towards longer-term and larger-scale shifts in power. But we in Wisconsin assert that we need to shift the organizing downwards to focus on building grassroots literacy about the systems that exert control over people’s lives. Because it is only from these foundations of understanding that we can derive the necessary people power to build a sustainable infrastructure for democratic community control of land and economic resources.

Understand the Institutions that Manage Your Life
Among the organizations that form the infrastructure of Madison’s Take Back the Land movement is Freedom, Inc., whose work is “Helping our communities assess what they control,” says Co-Executive Director Kabzuag Vaj. “You can't take control if you don't understand what you are taking control of. By taking on issues of housing, land, and food justice that our communities are already grappling with in their day-to-day, we help people understand the institutions that manage their lives.”

Freedom, Inc. organizes youth and communities of color around the root causes of violence, drawing from the same vein of popular education work documented by Paolo Freire in Brasil and pioneered by Myles Horton in Appalachia at the Highlander Folk school.  Freire, as well as the Highlander Center, found that centering on literacy—whether it involves reading and writing or voter education through citizenship schools—creates key opportunities for engaging communities in critical questioning that leads to organizing.

Working with its partner organizations Operation Welcome Home and Take Back the Land-Madison, Freedom Inc.’s first priority is to build literacy about systems of power, starting with what communities see and experience. Engaging African American families in actions around housing gets down to the everyday concerns of people and helps to build a collective analysis of the root causes of institutionalized economic violence. Engaging Hmong elders from Madison’s low-income housing units around food access and gardening space becomes political education work that links to a radical analysis of land ownership and control. Take Back the Land-Madison understands that self-determination begins with decolonizing. If power concedes nothing without demand, then communities need to know what is within their right to control, in order to be able to assert their demands.

Creating Mechanisms for Sustainability
Take Back the Land’s efforts in Madison are grounded in literacy-building political education that is propelled by one defense, one takeover, and one action at a time. From this foundation, Take Back the Land-Madison and its partners scale up the organizing by building in local and regional mechanisms for authentic and sustained control.

For instance, Freedom, Inc. is helping youth and community members create ways to affect land use decisions made at the neighborhood scale. “Not only are we demanding that people who have decision-making control receive input from community members, but we are actually creating advisory councils in our communities to tell management what to do,” says Vaj. “Having a seat at the table builds people power. And people power counters system power.”

In addition to advisory councils, communities are also pushing for transparency and accountability at the local level. Operation Welcome Home’s ‘Housing is a Human Right’ resolution was introduced in the Madison City Council this September with a county-level resolution to follow. The city resolution, which has garnered significant support from Mayor Paul Soglin and a critical mass of city alders, institutes “comprehensive plans that call for the availability of safe, decent and sanitary and distinctive housing for all residents as well as the objectives and policies that accompany that goal.”

The resolution helps create the tools and build a platform to push for further specific policy changes towards community control of land. The ‘Housing is a Human Right’ resolution has helped Operation Welcome Home build relationships with families of color in neighborhoods beyond those it was initially working with, as well as build power by gaining the support of a local Poverty Coalition and the Wisconsin Association of Tenants Rights.

Finally, Freedom Inc., Operation Welcome Home, and Take Back the Land-Madison have been involved in developing more democratic regional structures for agenda-setting and decision-making. The Wisconsin Communities of Color Agenda (WCCA) is a collective of statewide people of color-led organizations that coalesced in response to asserting a racial justice agenda within mobilizations against Walker’s austerity measures. WCCA is a mechanism for creating a shared long-term political agenda for communities across the state.

From the Margins to the Center
Mainstream coverage of the Wisconsin Uprising mainly focused on white, middle-class Wisconsinites in heartfelt defense of collective bargaining for workers rights. The voices and the work of communities whose very survival depends on lifesaving services, such as Wisconsin’s public health care and food stamp systems, were missing. Also missing were mention of the challenges to the exclusion of people of color using Voter ID, the fight to save public schools from defunding, and the efforts to preserve in-state tuition for undocumented students. The fact is, people of color and poor white communities have been struggling against austerity and budget attacks for decades. 

As Kimiyana Johnson of Operation Welcome Home pointedly notes: “We haven't had folks gathering at the capital in droves to protect these issues before because it only affected folks who were mostly invisible to dominant society. Now that Walker has been cutting folks down at the knees with all of his ‘power’ moves, many working class, middle class, and ‘once-considered-middle class’ people are being forced into dealing with real poverty issues.”

While questions about where the Wisconsin mobilizations will lead us are still up in the air, there is no doubt that the legacy of organizing for self-determination is a critical one for moving from the margins to the center. Gaining democratic control will require further action and the grounded presence and voice of the people most affected by the issues at stake, not to mention the radical imagination of visionary solutions. Or, as the sign held by a Freedom, Inc. member read: “If the middle class is hurting, the poor will die!”

Cynthia Lin is an educator and scholar focusing on community-based and participatory action research. Sangita Nayak is an experienced organizer, communicator, and public school teacher grounded in effective movement practice.


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On Occupy: Roundtable Discussion with Angela Davis and Rev. James Lawson

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"There are never any guarantees, but it is important to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world."

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Transcript

Erin Aubry Kaplan: Great, so this is I guess the moment some of us have been waiting for. We’re going to have a conversation on stage with Angela Davis and Reverend James Lawson. And before we get into that, I just want to remind folks that 20 minutes after the program, you still – the auction will be open for another 20 minutes after the end of the program, so there’s a lot of fabulous stuff there still to bid on. So could we please have you all come up?

You all settled in? Okay. Well let’s just get right into it. We’ve talked a lot this evening about Occupy – the Occupy movements. It started in New York and it’s spread everywhere, and so I just want to ask both what is really going on in the world right now? Just a little question, you know?

James Lawson: What’s going on in the world?

The Struggle of the 99%
Kaplan: Yeah, as it relates to the Occupy movement. The Occupy movement is actually taking the world by storm. So in terms of the Occupy movement, what’s at stake here? What are the challenges, the opportunities, and critically how can we make it clear, or clearer, that the struggle for the 99% is also the struggle for racial and economic justice? Either one of you can start.

Angela Davis: Do you want to start?

Lawson: Go ahead.

Kaplan: We can flip a coin.

Davis: Well, I have had the opportunity of visiting four Occupy sites, yes. One in Philadelphia, two in New York, one in Oakland. And I’m not sure whether it is possible to answer that question so straightforwardly.

Kaplan: You don’t have to be straightforward, you can…

Davis: Well, what I would say is that there’s an enormous amount of energy. There’s an enormous amount of excitement, and (2:30) while the 99%, it is a fiction to respond to, but it’s a fiction that is useful, and it is one that we should take up and re-craft. My message at all of the Occupy sites is something like this: (3:00) It is important that this 99% slogan is an inclusive slogan. It’s quite different from the way we are accustomed to building separate movements and then finding ways to create what we generally call coalitions and alliances. So this 99% slogan is inclusive from the outset, but we have to be aware of the extent (3:30) of which it is shot through by difference and racial difference and economic difference.

I was saying at a critical resistance benefit last night in Oakland that if we assume that the top tiers of the 99% can provide the strategy during this time, then we are mistaken. (4:00) It would make far more sense to start with the bottom tiers, and that would help us address racism. That would mean that the struggle to abolish the prison industrial complex would have to be central in this movement of the 99%. Yes, you can applaud. But just one more thing. (4:30) I marched on Wednesday to the port and it was so exciting to see so many thousands and thousands of people, and it was multi-racial, it was multi-generational, it was multi-gender, multi-sexual, multi-everything.

And I ran into many people of my generation who experienced the movement 40 years ago. (5:00) And without exception, people were so happy. They were saying it’s happening. Finally, it’s happening.

An Emerging Movement
Kaplan:
Then do you – I’m sorry – do you think it’s happening? Do you think we are going towards a movement that will become change? I know knowing is a crystal ball, but does this feel really, really different than movements you’ve experienced in the past? (5:30)

Davis: Well you know there are never any guarantees. In the late 60s we struggled passionately, and we thought we were going to make a revolution. We were persuaded that we were going to bring radical transformations to this society. We didn’t win the revolution we thought we were fighting, (6:00) but we did manage to revolutionize society.

So I would say there are never any guarantees, but it is important to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. (6:30)

Kaplan: And so people are acting as if, right now. They are. Okay.

Davis: Well I want to hear from Reverend Lawson.

Lawson: Well, I agree with much of what you say Professor Davis, especially from the perspective that this is something that no one predicted was going to occur, and especially from the perspective that there’s extraordinary energy such as we (7:00) have not seen for quite some time. And also that there seems to be, within the organization – in all of the Occupies – there seems to be an effort to organize in a fashion that will judge the ways in which we are largely organized within our society.

However, I do not see it yet as having what it has to have. There’s time for that to happen. You have to remember that a lot of us – there are whole numbers of us who are following what we think to be civil resistance or non-violent resistance. There is a gathering literature on it, though that’s not yet within the academic world, especially the historians very much. (8:00)

But there are three things that are necessary to create a movement which causes the collapse of an authoritarian government in Poland or Yugoslavia or Egypt, and Egypt – the Cairo Spring in Egypt fulfilled this. There are three forces. First force we see in such efforts is that there is an escalation of unity of purpose. (8:30) I told the Boston Occupy group last week that your audience is not capitalism or the corporations. Your audience are the people of America who can have a different society, a different set of electoral prerogatives but cannot do it through the election system. (9:00) We need direct civil resistance in America as never before. Never before. It must happen.

But again, there is a sense of unity that develops, and if we speak to the full audience, that unity will develop and some of the issues you’ve said quite correctly are necessary. (9:30) Next thing is there has to be a plan. You can’t create a revolutional change, revolutionary change, without a strategy. It has to be both short-term and long-term. Cairo had that. The solidarity movement of Poland had it. The Chilean [Anti-Pinichade] movement had it.

And then the third thing is there has to be the emergence of a non-violent discipline. (10:00) That’s going on in the Occupy groups. They are trying to care for themselves. They are trying to build a community of care and concern. They’re trying to take care of each other. They’re trying to keep the camp of the Occupation group, the Occupy villages, cooperative, clean. Many of them recognize that the issue’s not fighting the police or throwing stones. This is critical because (10:30) the myth in the United States is that violence is the way you get change. Now the violence in our society and of our society, both the military violence, the domestic violence, the continued lynching of people in the prison systems by the police. That system of violence is causing our society to sink in greater and greater chaos and turmoil and confusion and animosity and division. (11:00)

The non-violent discipline is necessary because you cannot beat the enemy with the enemy’s theories and practices. You cannot do it. It pains me that the wisdom of the human race is that you cannot destroy evil, dismantle evil systems (11:30) by imitating them either in language or in theory or in practice. We must recognize and the movement must recognize, if it’s become a movement, a non-violent discipline, we do not have the power to beat the CIA or the National Guard (12:00) or the American Military, and therefore the movement has to be one that will challenge that power with surprise and with our bodies, as Angela has done so very, very well across the years. We have to find ways to create a new power, and the new power is the power of people who get engaged in a sense that we can have a different world (12:30) and a different nation and a different Los Angeles, and are willing to work on developing a plan and a strategy to make that happen, and then thirdly developing the kind of boot camp discipline that enables us to work as a people to make a change.

The other thing I would like to say is that in the United States, the progressive people of the United States have never produced in (13:00) the last 60 years a movement for social justice. And I mean by this primarily the white progressive people have not done it. Whether or not the Occupy campaign can become the campaign for that to happen, I don’t know. We produced the Tea parties, and we produced the conservatives who basically represent the resistance of the 60s (13:30) and 70s, but a movement of resistance has not effective change in the United States. It is the black movement that did that more than anything else in the 60’s in our country.

Davis: May I say something?

Kaplan: Yes, go ahead.

Davis: Reverend Lawson, I think that this is the movement, whether we call it a movement, (14:00) or this is the beginning of the potential for a movement that really should have happened in the immediate aftermath of the election of Obama. Because it seems to me the young people who flock to the Occupy sites are the same young people who refused to believe that it was impossible to elect a black man who identified (14:30) with the black radical tradition to the office of the president in this country. And I think that in our sense of disillusion, disappointment, we have forgotten what an incredible moment that was in 2008 when Obama was elected. (15:00)

And we’ve also forgotten that he was not a viable candidate until young people with all of the new modes of communication and social networks and so forth managed to create the foundation for a movement that said yes we can elect him. And it seems to me that what should have happened after the election was that that movement should (15:30) have crystallized, and we should have immediately gone out into the streets and called for free health care. We should’ve called for education. We should’ve called for not only an end to the war in Iraq, but we should’ve prevented the Obama administration from sending troops into Afghanistan. (16:00) So it seems to me that what we are witnessing today is what should have happened three years ago.

Kaplan: Then let me ask you both, why didn’t that happen? I agree with you. I think the election was an amazing movement, and it seems in retrospect, that’s leading to the revolution.

Davis: Because we projected our hopes and dreams onto this one individual. We thought Obama was going to bring us this radically (16:30) new feature, and many progressive and radical people felt exactly the same way. After he won, they all went home and relaxed.

Lawson: Yeah I think so, that’s right. And that’s the point I make. The Occupy movement represents the notion that an election is an inadequate way to create change. That only (17:00) the people can create change. No matter the stuff about the ballot box – and I was very lukewarm in the 60’s about voter registration, although I was registered to vote myself and I encouraged it, because I did not see it even then as the gateway to dismantle the systems of racism, segregation, of sexism, of economic exploitation and the violence. I did not think it could do it, (17:30) and it hasn’t done it.

Prison Abolition
Kaplan: Wow, okay. Let’s talk about prison abolition for a moment. We’ve touched on that a lot tonight. What does that really mean, prison abolition, and why is now the time to really care about shrinking the California prison system by building alternative ways to deal with harm and violence by bringing home political prisoners, etc. And I have to say I just heard, not in California but some other state, (18:00) they’re starting to release people who were convicted under the federal crack-cocaine laws. They’re not equal to the powder cocaine laws, but they’ve been reduced. So some time is coming off their sentences. They’re being lit out. I think it’s Virginia they’re starting to do that. But anyway, what about prison abolition? (18:30) How do you see it working or happening in the future, or now?

Davis: Well, it’s interesting, the demand for the abolition for prisons is almost as old as the institution of the prison itself. And certainly, I think it’s important to include the demand for the abolition of the death penalty. That is very much a part (19:00). And historically, prisons were supposed to be more humane than capital punishment or corporal punishment, but it quickly became clear that that was not necessarily the case. The civil death of prisons versus the corporal death of the capital punishment, or one can say the slow death (19:30) that is associated with prisons, people have been aware of these contradictions for decades and for a couple of centuries.

The solution has always been reform: prison reform. Those of us who consider ourselves abolitionists have worked hard to encourage (20:00) people to think critically about this notion of prison reform, and I can remember that I always used to be referred to as a prison reformer. And I had to say no, I am not a prison reformer, because prison reform, even though there are demands that one must make to guarantee that people who happen to be in prison are treated humanely (20:30) and can live lives that aren’t so thoroughly saturated with violence, at the same time prison reform in general is designed to create bigger and better and more persisting prisons.

And so here we are in the 21st century confronted with that major contradiction. We have  (21:00) prisons that are now absorbing all of the resources of our societies that really should be going to schools and housing and healthcare and recreation, and also it serves as a place where we deposit those problems we don’t want to think about. And so why not try to solve the problems that send people to prison? From illiteracy (21:30) and poverty and lack of healthcare to the problems of violence, what causes people to do such terrible things to each other?

So it seems to me that we have to get rid of this institution that is this haven for the worst kinds of ideologies, racism and sexism, (22:00) misogyny and transphobia because the prison is also a gendering apparatus. The more we think about the impact of the prison system on the lives of everyone, regardless of whether they happen to have had the experience of going to prison, the more we realize that if we want to get rid of gender violence we’re going to have to get rid of prisons. If we want to (22:30) think about why it is that people who do not fall into one category or another, people who are not clearly male or female are marginalized and are treated as if they were not human beings? The prison system has a lot to do with that because there are only male prisons and female prisons. (23:00)

It’s one of the most violent apparatuses that maintains the binary structure of gender in our society. And I could go on and on. I could talk about the relationship of education to the prison system, and why in order to begin to build an educational system that values knowledge and that teaches children how to enjoy learning, we are going to (23:30) get rid of this prison system which after all in poor communities and communities of color becomes the model for education with the emphasis on discipline rather than on learning. So I could go on obviously for the next couple of hours talking about this, but I think everything points to the absolute necessity of abolishing prisons as (24:00) the dominant mode of punishment.

Lawson: Another part of this is that prisons themselves are a creation of the largely violent, sexist, racist society of which we are part of. Over half of the prisoners of our 2.3 or nearly 3 million people (24:30) there in prisons, and people who are caught up in the mechanisms of parole and probation and all of that, are people who if they had a good legal defense, probably would not even be there in the first place. We have to recognize that this is the effort really of – I will say it this way – (25:00) of a male-dominated system that has enjoyed the decimation of the Indian slavery of 250 years, [25:11] cruel law and practice and economic patterns of injustice, this is their way of continuing their racism in the world and in the United States.

It makes great sense to me too, also, that they should be abolished. (25:30) Many of the reasons people are in prison are for offenses that white peers across the country are not going to jail for.

Davis: You’re right. And I just want to add, the US attorney who was releasing some of these people – mostly black people – who had been sentenced for crack-cocaine (26:00) possession, he was asked why is there a disparity in the first place? He kind of hemmed and hawed. He said you go out because you can see the poor people in mostly black neighborhoods, it’s easier to go through, look at them, arrest them, send them to jail, whereas the big dealers, the big operations are behind closed doors. They’re not out and about. It’s much harder. That’s what he said.

But that also made me think about something that you said, (26:30) Professor Davis, about the issues of prison – how when you lock all these people up, you kind of lock the issue away. You don’t see it. And so, that’s what we do. We put the issues away, and the people in prison can’t speak. They’re locked away. And so it’d make perfect sense.

Kaplan: And also I think it’s important to recognize that prisons have become an alternative to housing and education (27:00) and jobs, exactly. It’s not accidental. It’s not accidental that it was the period of the 1980’s which saw the rise of global capitalism and the dismantling of the welfare state and structural adjustment in countries of the southern region. This is precisely the period during which prisons began to proliferate in this country (27:30) and by the 90’s you begin to see a similar kind of proliferation in countries throughout the world including, unfortunately, in Apartheid, South Africa.

And so you see, it seems to me that if we really want to safeguard the possibility of radical change, of new societies, we cannot allow this institution (28:00) to continue to do its damage. In South Africa now, with all of the problems that have emerged in the aftermath of the dismantling of Apartheid, the economic problems, etc, it has been so easy to borrow the rhetoric of law and order from the US and to use the apparatus of the prison to contain (28:30) problems that South Africa is going to have to deal with if they want to retain any hope for a better society. And in this place, which has placed the issue of a non-racist society, a non-sexist, non-homophobic society – the first country in the entire world to include that in its constitution (29:00) – it will also have to address the looming problem of the prison.

Art, a Catalyst for Social Change
Kaplan: Wow. Okay, well let’s talk about art. That’s kind of what we’re here today for, but let’s talk about political images. (29:30) What do you think we need to see today, and how are artists making art as a hammer to shape society as we put it? And how can we support political art, besides – we can’t just buy it. How do we really support it, and what does art need to communicate to inspire in society now? And I want to include Doug in this question about art. So I’ll open it up. (30:00) Not everybody at once.

Davis: So you’re raising this question? I don’t know whether we can say what we need to see. I would never tell an artist what he or she needs to create because it seems to me that art drives (30:30) movements for radical social change. Art helps us to find our way into new dimensions. Art helps to give expression to what might e considered impossible in the world that is. It shows us the possibility of a new world, and one of the things I’ve been doing at the (31:00) Occupy sites is to recall the slogans from the uprising in Paris in 1968.

There was some really, really wonderful slogans. One of them was “[French 31:15]”, all power to the imagination. And another one was “[French 31:28]”. (31:30) Be realistic, demand the impossible. And I think art helps us to negotiate our way through dimensions that we cannot yet articulate in the kind of expository language that we use. (32:00)

It’s always been my feeling that art, whether it’s visual art or whether it’s music – during the civil rights movement, it was music that really drove the movement, that really helped to create community. Whether it’s hip-hop, whether it’s film, (32:30) I think that many of the young people are out there trying to figure out where to go. And you’re right, it’s not a movement. There are no clear demands. But I don’t think there should be any demands right now.

Lawson: Give it time.

Davis: Yes. I think that’s what’s so important about this Occupy movement is people are learning how to be together – learning how to dwell in one place. (33:00) Some amazing things have happened, like amplification was taken away from them. And so just very quickly that developed the human mic, which is actually a pedagogical tool as well. It’s not only about voices being heard, it’s about people sharing each others’ voices and repeating each others’ voices. And at the (33:30) Wall Street site they took away the generators because the people who were participating in these Occupy movements, they have their iPads and their iPhones and their Android, and so the electricity was taken away. The generators were taken away because the police and the fire department said it was a fire hazard, and the very next day they had generators (34:00) that were run by bicycles – stationary bicycles.

I mean, it’s amazing some of the things that have happened. Somebody developed a new app for Android phones that’s call the I Got Arrested App. So you preprogram it with your lawyer’s name and all of the people you want to know, so that when you’re getting arrested all you do is push the center of the target (34:30) and all of these texts go out to everybody telling them that you got arrested. And one other thing, because in New York when I was at the site last week, I saw all of these garbage bags full of laundry. So I was asking the person who was walking with me, I said what’s all of that? He said that’s our laundry. (35:00) A commercial laundry has volunteered to come and pick it up and do the laundry. So I said so how are you going to find your clothes? There were maybe 100 garbage bags full of clothes. And so he said well, we just wear what fits us.

And you know, talking about a challenge to the (35:30) possessive individualism of capitalism, I think that people are learning how to be with each other in a very different way which will also help us to rethink what democracy is supposed to be about and to move away from simply electoral democracy to a democracy that is truly (36:00) multi-racial and multi-generation and multi- what did I say before? Gender and sexual and all of that. It’s really about an experiment in being together, and one of the things I said when I was at one of the sites was be attentive (36:30) to differences and I used a quote from [Audrey Lord], which is one of my favorite quotes and I’ve said it over and over again, in which she says that first of all, it’s not our differences that divide us. It’s our inability to respect and celebrate those differences. She pointed out that (37:00) differences should not be merely tolerated, but they should be a fund of polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic. And so that was the message I tried to offer the Wall Street Occupiers. And I think that’s about the imagination and it’s about art. (37:30)

Kaplan: Right. What did you say, we’ll just wear what fits us? That’s a good slogan, I like that. That pretty much says it all. Reverend Lawson, have anything to add?

Lawson: No.

Kaplan: No? Okay. Doug? Please, yeah. You can have my mic.

Doug Minkler: Well I would just like to reiterate what I said about clarity. We take complex issues, we try and make them clear. It used to be when I was a very young man I saw things black and white. Now I see they’re quite complicated. So that’s one role of the artist. The second role that I’ve seen the artist play that has moved me is when we show visions of hope. (38:30) And that hope doesn’t have to be social realism. It can be humor. It can be an interesting way you draw. It can be audacity. Anything that demonstrates peoples’ willingness to struggle, these are the images that I think drive us forward, in opposition to those (39:00) terrible images that are branded in our mind of who knows what, the terrible images. I don’t know that they activate people. They’re happening and I’m not saying we should run from them, but I don’t know that they push us forward, so I’m just saying the ones that have moved me like the issue of Vietnam which was my war, was images of the people struggling. They weren’t going to take the occupation.

(39:30) Now it was a military struggle, which ended up lots of people dying, but it was the images of struggle that drove me to move beyond just an individualistic position of I don’t want to go to I think I want to support these people for what they’re fighting for. So that’s my two bits. (40:00) But I think we must not forget that if we’re going to have social movements, there must be a passion in us human beings to dismantle the wrong, to attack and struggle against the suffering of other people in our society and our world, and there must be a sense that the present injustices (40:30) can be corrected.

One of the issues in the United States is that so many of us American buy into the myths that we live by, especially the myth of our exceptionality as a people and violence, and the myth of male dominations and necessity of male hierarchical ways of structures and the rest of it, and so in fact we do not really (41:00) know ourselves as a whole people, and we do not know the depths of the pain in our land or the depth of the wrongs that are continuing to be perpetrated. And therefore we don’t respond to an Occupy movement very well because many of us (41:30) think those young people must be quite foolish. The movement that is called the civil rights movement, at least in the deep south, we may not – I say this all the time as I teach and lecture on it. We may not have known that much of what we were doing, but we knew that the Jim Crow racist system was an incredible injustice that the American people accepted as normalcy. (42:00) We knew that, and very often we stepped out to do something about it because we had that passion to see the wrong and to make a change.

If our nation is going to be healed as a people, there’s probably no difference between what happens in a person’s life. If a person needs healing, they must have some friends and neighbors (42:30) and medical help that will help them face the strangeness and the pain and the difficulty of what ails them, and then they must have the courage to march through that and seek hope, seek change, seek the healing. And I think that we in America could be healed of our diseases, but it cannot be done unless there are a lot of brave people who will at least look at the problem, whether it’s the (43:00) prison system, the racist system, the abominable continuation of what I say plantation capitalism in the United States.

Part of slavery and part of taking the land from the Indian to impoverish the Indian is the notion that people don’t matter, that they are property, they are less important. 50% or more of the jobs that the political parties and the capitalists (43:30) talk about having provided are jobs that do not allow people from their wages to support themselves and their families. Over 50%. That is right out of the heart of American history. And somehow it seems to me that art, as important – music – wonderful and significant as these are, that for a movement to take place there has to be that passionate (44:00) sense that we can have a different kind of world and here are the things that are obstacles to having that better world. There are certain systems written into us that we must change.

Q&A Segment
Kaplan: Okay, I think now we’re going to take some recent questions from the audience. (44:30)

Sonali Kolhatka: Well, we have to be out of here by 7:30 and there were a lot of good questions submitted. I think [Arie] and I sort of looked at a couple of questions that could be combined into one that seemed to be a very important question that hasn’t yet been addressed, and that’s around the Occupy movement. I’ll read them both and then add my two cents. (45:00)

One question says the right is trying to use violence against property and/or the police to delegitimize the Occupy movement. Embracing non-violence will blunt this, but embracing non-violence and rejecting violence are part of a process that will take some time. What do you suggest we do to help these young activists understand how important it is that they proclaim themselves as a non-violent movement?

And then the other question that’s related says how would you compare the Occupy movement to the organizing of movements of the civil rights era? (45:30) And I want to throw in, if you don’t mind, what lessons can the two of you, from your years of experience as activism, share with Occupy protestors about protecting this movement from in-fighting and infiltration and the kind of things that movements are by their nature open and inclusive are susceptible to? It’s kind of a big set (46:00) of questions.

The Meaning of Resistance
Davis: Wow, okay, let’s see. I’ll just start by saying I think there are some historical precedents for these kinds of movements. One would be the Attica uprising, and I don’t think that we have seriously looked at the ways of which Attica prisoners attempted to create a multi-racial (46:30) community, making demands for educational rights and religious rights, economic rights, expressing solidarity with revolutions and other parts of the world. Of course that only lasted four days because it was put down so violently by Governor Rockefeller, but I think it would be important to go back and look very closely (47:00) at how the prisoners who took over Attica prison tried to craft a community of resistance.

Then there’s another precedent, and that would be – it’s a feminist precedent – and that would be the women’s’ peace movement and the Greenham Commons struggle that took place in the beginning and I think December of 1981, (47:30) ten years after Attica which was ’71. And within a year there were 30,000 women in the Greenham Commons encampment. It was also an encampment where people stayed and it circled this military base in the UK. And in three years, I think, (48:00) there were 50,000 women who surrounded the military camp calling for an end to the production of cruise missiles and an end to nuclear weapons.

So I think it might be important to take a look at some of those moments. And then of course there’s the connection with Egypt – Cairo and Tahrir Square. I was the other day reading (48:30) a message that came from participants in that movement, and there was something very moving included in that message, and that was they asked what are our demands? But there’s no one left to reform. There’s no one left to ask for reforms. And so therefore, we have to create that (49:00) which we would like to see in the future. We have to create what we want as opposed to asking somebody else to give it to us. And I would say that as with any movement, there are never any guarantees. You never know. There are never guarantees. (49:30) But as I said before, we have to act as if it were possible.

And this is what happened during the era of what is called the civil rights movement. Of course it was a freedom movement in those days. It was much, much more than civil rights. But what I think was the most important accomplishment of that movement, and it wasn’t necessarily the change in the laws, although that was very important, it was (50:00) the transformation of the consciousness of so many people who learned how to imagine a very different future. And I always like to point out that we never give the women – the black women domestic workers who refuse to get on the bus, we never give them the credit for creating (50:30) this collective community of resistance, because if they had not refused to get on the bus, if they had not boycotted the bus, where would we be today? We certainly would never have known a doctor Martin Luther King, and so many of the other advances that came about as a result of that movement.

(51:00) So let us also take seriously what it means to transform consciousness, and I think that that is something that may be happening now given that so many people seem to be identifying with the 99%, and apparently a survey indicated that the majority of New Yorkers believed that they should stay. (51:30) And I can tell you from the experience we had walking to the port on Wednesday, I mean it was absolutely amazing. Cars were blowing their horns and nobody was upset that the march was blocking traffic. There were kids on bicycles who were stopping the traffic so that the march could go through. There weren’t any police anywhere. Well, we knew they were around. (52:00) But we didn’t see them. We didn’t see them.

And everywhere people were beeping their horns, it was just this amazing, joyful experience and so many people seemed to experience that joy of being together, of being a part of a new community, a community that has the potential of dismantling the economic structures and the racist (52:30) hierarchies and the gender hierarchies in the future.

Lawson: Well I think we must not – Professor Davis romanticized the present moment.

Davis: Why not? I mean, I know I’m romanticizing it.

Lawson: I’ll tell you why not. (53:00) Well, let me say it two ways. One, the Montgomery Bus Boycott is an excellent illustration for the Occupy people to study because two, three years before the Montgomery Bus Boycott happened in December of ’55, black women organized the Women’s Political Committee.

Davis: Joanne Robinson.

The Revolution Must Not be Romanticized
Lawson: Exactly, Joanne Robinson. And they were very much upset with the (53:30) indignities heaped upon black women on those buses, and they began the agitation process. It is that agitation process that in my own judgment then led to the moment of Rosa Parks, and being already in place a group of people then said this is a chance, let’s have the bus boycott. They pushed it without going to the community for any kind of action approval, but it came out of their own organized [deforate].

The organized (54:00) agitation protest process that builds a structure that can explode in a movement is a critical part of getting a movement. The best example I know in the United States about romanticizing is the Peace Movement in the United States, of which I’ve been a part in so many different ways. My first jail experience was sending my draft cards back to the draft boarding in ’49 (54:30) and going to jail as a consequence. Now in the last 40 or 50 years, no matter all the people talking peace, all the organizations and articles about peace, our society has systematically moved through its structures – business, military, Pentagon – through its structures to create a national (55:00) security state, a militarized state, in which the first move is to build bases down the east coast of Africa now, the Africa COM Command.

Now we had millions of people in the street against the Vietnam War, and I maintain that because we did not target that specifically in terms of issues in the United States that allowed the military process to take place, we have systematically been unable to stop (55:30) the movement towards more than 800 military installations in 131 countries and so forth and so on. How do we reverse that? The movement has to somehow develop strategies for a different kind of agenda for ourselves, and you’ve named many of these, and the action has to develop ways (56:00) of a protracted campaign that may take a whole generation, but a campaign then that can reverse the process.

Davis: I totally agree with you. I’m not saying this Occupy movement is going to change the world. I’ve been trying to talk about a potential, and I think it’s really important to distinguish between movements and organizations and parties. (56:30) This is not really a movement. It’s an occupation that also has to be aware of the extent to which the term occupation has been used in genocidal context. The occupation – the colonial occupation of this country that led to that (57:00) horrendous violence inflicted on indigenous people, the military occupation, the occupation of Palestine for example. So I think that it’s up to those who are involved and those of us who may be supporters of what appears to be a possibility to try to work through some of these issues, and (57:30) hopefully a movement will emerge. Hopefully we’ll get to the point where we can talk about strategy and perhaps even focus demands.

Lawson: But why aren’t we at that point now? Because after all, in the 20th century, there have been phenomenal peoples’ movements that have caused their societies to get to a new level of consciousness and to make critical kinds of changes. (58:00) Why in America, where we have more activism than we ever had in the 1940s and 50s, are there not all kinds of people who recognize the need for heading inter-generational unity, inter-generational issues, developing warfare out of non-violent kind, and (58:30) developing short-term and long-term goals?

Davis: Well, it’s because I don’t think any of the victories we ever win are etched in stone. We cannot take for granted that because we achieved a particular victory at a particular time, that it is going to forever transform the landscape of the country and of the world. There aren’t a lot of people of your generation (59:00) who talk about gender hierarchies in the way that you do. I’m really so happy to hear you speak in those terms.

Lawson: It’s part of my long-term passion.

Davis: You see the conversation is just starting and now we have to end, it’s 7:30.

Lawson: How is it that the American people want housing, education, jobs, transportation, they want (59:30) better communities, but we have this atrocious system that is cheating us over and over and over again and pretending that we have the best possible society? What’s happened that we, the American people, don’t see through this with so many great movements in the United States itself so that we have learned (60:00) that it’s going to take hard work to make the changes, and we need to be about that hard work?

Davis: Well see, I think that people who historically may not have identified into radical movements, may not have identified with the labor movement, may not have identified with the black movement, are not recognizing as a result – as a direct result of this financial collapse, that maybe they should have been identifying with what we used (60:30) to call the other America all along. And so I think that is why this moment offers a new promise; a promise that we have really have not witnessed before. Perhaps during the 30’s, and I think we need to go back and look at the movements of the 30’s, because it was during that period when you had vast numbers of people identifying (61:00) with the unemployed strikes and participating in the efforts to prevent evictions and the sit-down strikes and all of that stuff. I know you’re looking at us. But I think that we can continue this conversation, and hopefully you will continue this conversation (61:30) as you go about your ways.

Kaplan: It’s like you said, really the conversation just got started, but I know you’ve got a plane to catch and I just want to thank all of the rewardees for their participation in this conversation. Angela Davis, Reverend James Lawson, Doug Minkler, thank you all so much. (62:00) And Dorothy Lawson.

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Related Articles:
Angela Davis - On Occupy
Rev. James Lawson - On Occupy


Autumn Awakening | Vol. 18, No. 2– 2011 | Credits

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