Monday, November 21, 2011

Reflections on Occupy Greensboro

*Disclaimer: This blog is written from my own perspective and does not speak on behalf of Occupy Greensboro or any other person.

                The Occupy Movement has been a beautiful and unexpected gift in my life. I have lived in Greensboro for the past four and a half years and have so admired the willingness of people here to fight back against the parasites of healthy community – racial discrimination, needless poverty, a faulty education system, police brutality, unjust immigration policies, etc. Again, I have seen so many ways that social issues have been addressed in Greensboro. But nothing I have seen so far has had the same ingenious level of possibility as our local Occupy.
                I started attending Occupy Greensboro back in late September, just as word was spreading that Greensboro was going to participate in the international movement. Early on, hundreds of people crowded together for “general assemblies” at Glenwood Coffee and Books to pump energy into this infant hope of transformation. We organized a mass of people in a short amount of time, built relationships, and discovered our own strengths in social activism. By October 15th, the day we marched through Greensboro’s downtown and began our “occupation” at the YWCA, we were both celebratory and exhausted.

My Motivation to Occupy
                I initially wanted to join Occupy because I was eager to see something, anything big happen in relation to social justice. I graduated college this past spring and entered an economy with almost no job prospects. Immediately, I started to hear pity and remorse from people that my generation was not going to start exciting careers, buy our own homes, get married young, and basically take advantage of the joys that accompany economic (and therefore psychological) security. My friends, talented and beautiful young women, graduated as well and most live at home with their parents, doing the same or similar part-time work that they held in high school. They are the most visible products of economic decline in my life, even though I have also seen great budget cuts, job losses, and lessen income in my family members' lives.
                A lot has happened since I realized that our economy is so deadened that it no longer even wants our contribution.  There was something very disheartening about realizing that there were not opportunities for my voice, even when I clearly was distressed and wanted to be told to do something. But suddenly, there was the Occupy Movement and people all over the world standing up and saying that they knew about social issues, they cared, and they were going to make their input heard. We all know that economic injustice exists - we all live in the world that upholds it. And we all know about dozens of other areas of injustice. These issues seem so obvious that we are both enraged and defeated when our elected officials don't represent our best interests.
                Occupy is about taking that ownership of activism and justice back into the hands of the people. We all have voices and we have thoughts and we all need a space to feel that our contribution is being heard and valued.  People here in Greensboro have feasted upon Occupy because it is an outlet for their frustrations, an arena to recharge their hopes, and as the fulfillment of self-determination that is lacking in our current social-political system. People come to Occupy because we felt the lack of platforms for healthy discussion and community self-determination.

AFSC and Occupy
                I started an internship with AFSC about a month ago. I am working with the organization in relation to Occupy Greensboro and trying to see where AFSC is able to assist the movement in its growth. The focal values of Occupy, to be nonviolent and seek equality, are similar to the values of Quaker processes. In light of this, AFSC Greensboro distributed nonviolence informational pamphlets at our kick-off march last month and upon a few other occasions. AFSC also brought hygiene kits down to the camp when it existed, packed full of basic necessities for campers.
                For right now, AFSC is going to explore opportunities to link up with and support Occupy's attempts to right an unjust social, economic, and political system. We can't predict what is coming next, just as we couldn't predict that encouraging people to go camping in a city would transform the world. But both AFSC and I are eager to do our part and contribute to what does come next.

Accomplishments up until now
                We have accomplished so much in a short time. Over the past two months, Occupy Greensboro has successfully united hundreds of people, created an arena for open conversation, pushed itself into the dialogue of the city, and staged many actions including protests, marches, forums, performances. I would even argue that the spread of Occupy as a topic of conversation is an accomplishment.
               People within Occupy Greensboro have been scrambling around to harness the energy boiling up and out of the Occupy Movement. Participants are so invigorated by the extensive possibilities for action that energy pulses out of everything that we do. We use our creativity to connect with community members – whether that includes dressing up as zombies and robots to protest bank greed, organizing teach-ins on specific topics participants are concerned about, or creating online videos to widen our presence. I know that initially there were so many possibilities within the movement that I shot like an arcade ball back and forth between topics and actions. But we are settling down now to deep, hard work and I think that we will be so proud when it is time to present our efforts.

Intragroup Strife
                Of course there are conflicts within our group. We sometimes don't know the best ways to communicate through the internet, in person, or just between working groups in general. We are all unfamiliar with being in a "leaderless space" and lacking a central structure or power source. Voting through consensus, in which every person at a meeting gets opportunities to speak their mind, is a slow process and people get frustrated. But our meeting facilitation is getting better and group organization is working out its kinks as they arise.
                We did also shut down our physical camp site at the YWCA after only three weeks because we were draining our resources sustaining the camp site and it was turning into a place of conflict not representative of the message of Occupy. While there, we experienced sexual harassment, quarrels between participants, and disregard of our consensus decisions. These issues are not limited to our camp interactions, but the intensity of these issues at the camp site did work as a divisive issue for our assembly. Occupy tries to be inclusive towards every person and the realization that we had to exclude some participants in order to protect the wellbeing of other participants was very difficult for us. I don't know how we will handle this issue when it next arises, but I do know that it was difficult, upsetting, and saddening for myself to be confronted with such a divisive issue so early.
                One other topic of frequent conversation is the tug between participants who desire for a more defined purpose of our meetings and the other perspective that to create definition will limit our scope and possibilities. To be honest, two weeks ago I did wonder if the movement would splinter because pockets of people had such different perspectives on this topic. But our group expressed the need to weight this topic in our interactions, and Sundays have been devoted to discussion-based general assemblies over the past couple weeks. There is still disagreement among participants about what we should do or how we frame our purpose, but overall, the group is working to address these needs for everyone.

Reasons I have Hope
                Like many people, I want to have tangible products from this movement. But right now, I am able to close my eyes and be soothed by the sentences of our conversations running across my mind. There is a certain peacefulness in knowing that other people all over the city will do the same as they unwind for the night. This movement will go somewhere. This is something that I know to be true as my hope is reinvigorated daily by the passion visible in other participants.
                It is exciting for me to look around an Occupy meeting and to think that these are my neighbors. These are my neighbors talking about their lives and their city, taking back the topics they have felt isolated from for many years. They may live Winston or Oak Ridge, they may be fifty years older than me or a different gender, but I understand the itch they feel to recreate the meaning of community and justice. Greensboro is a beautiful city with so many decades-old bruises that need to be healed. I am hopeful that the support that we have received during our Occupy actions (such as waving, smiling, cheering) is a signal that Greensboro residents are ready for that healing and the inevitable struggles that accompany self reflection. The wind has shifted here now and people are no longer going to resign themselves to anything less than they deserve. And we will be there right beside them.

No comments:

Post a Comment