October 17, 2011 by Crystal
I had a very positive experience at Occupy Durham yesterday. It was the first time I’ve seen true participatory consensus building in action, and it was so refreshing. Yes, it took a very long time for the big, main group (called the “General Assembly”) to come to decisions because consensus building involves listening to others, but everyone’s voice was heard, and the process was very uplifting. I never got bored, because I was truly participating the whole time!
I can see why some people think the Occupy movement is confusing or mysterious, but that is likely because they have not attended any of its meetings. I too suspected that Occupy might be one big hippie mess, but was very surprised yesterday at the level of organization and expert skill of the facilitators. I am also impressed by the age/race/class/religious diversity of the participants and the commitment to concrete resolutions and actions. I would highly encourage anyone to go – even if just to check it out and better understand!
Two people have asked me to explain the Occupy Wall Street stuff to them, so I got inspired and wrote this blog post describing the Occupy movement in my own words. I have tried to use clear, simple language. Your feedback is welcome!
What is the Occupy movement?
The Occupy movement is a non-violent protest of economic injustices and a collective demand for change. The movement began on Wall Street in NYC in September 2011. Since then, disappointed Americans all over the country (see Occupy Together) have set up similar spaces in their respective towns and are occupying these spaces with rallies, General Assembly meetings, and encampments.
Award-winning journalist Naomi Klein explains why Occupy Wall Street is the most important thing in the world right now. Columbia University professor Dorian Warren says this is an incredibly significant time in U.S. history, because it is the first populist uprising the country has seen since the 1930s.
What are people so mad about?
The Occupy movement is fueled by general anger and disappointment over the economic problems in our country right now. To name just a few of the main complaints:
- Wall Street bankers and CEOs wrecked the U.S. economy three years ago by committing fraud, and they destroyed over 20% of our country’s net worth. Yet no Wall Street bankers or CEOs have yet been held responsible for it.
- Now 24 million+ people in our country cannot get jobs, and folks owe more student loans and other debt than ever. Meanwhile, CEOs of banks and big corporations are making more and more money – 350 times as much as the average salaried worker. The amount of taxes which banks and corporations pay is not commensurate with their income.
- As a result of the bad economy and high unemployment, 15 million Americans owe more on their mortgages than the value of their homes, 47 million Americans need government help to feed themselves and their families, and 50 million Americans cannot see a doctor when they’re sick.
- While people are jobless, homeless, hungry, and sick here in the U.S., the government spends billions every year on “defense” (i.e., wars and military actions that protect its oil interests overseas)
- Wall Street has used their wealth and power to buy politicians and influence economic policy in our country.
For personal, human-side stories on what Occupy-ers are angry about, check out these photos on We Are The 99% site.
For clear, concrete data on what Occupy-ers are angry about, check out these helpful charts from Business Insider.
The 99% refers to the large group of us typical Americans who earn less than $250K per year and who are struggling to pay bills, trying to pay off debt, often paying a lot for medical care, paying taxes and are just plain lucky to have a job at all (if we have a job). That’s the short answer! I also recommend reading this great description of the 99%, and checking out these photos on the “We Are The 99%” site.
What do the Occupy-ers want? How do they expect to get it?
The Occupy movement’s main goals are to express dissatisfaction and to bring about change.
As you know, groups of people can do amazing things when they work together to build consensus and take action. For example, Occupy Durham has a set of committees which anyone can join. These committees are working groups which use the consensus-building process to develop concrete resolutions for action. The committees draft proposed resolutions and bring them to Occupy Durham’s General Assembly meetings for consideration. (FYI, the “General Assembly” just refers to everyone gathered at the big, main gatherings of Occupy Durham. Anyone and everyone can participate in these meetings.)
The General Assembly, which is facilitated by a person with a microphone, considers the proposed resolutions, voices concerns, suggests amendments and comes to decisions. Once a resolution is passed, action can begin. Here’s an example: The Move Your Money committee of Occupy Durham is proposing an initiative to educate Durham citizens about the evils of big banks while providing information, resources and encouragement to help them move their money to local credit unions and community banks.
If I can’t physically show up to protest, how else can I support the cause?
The best way to show solidarity is to be there, but if you can’t, there are so many other ways to be supportive! Here are just a few things I can think of: Tell your story; spread awareness by talking to friends and family, posting on social media, etc.; sign petitions; join one of the working committees of your local Occupy movement (find your local chapter here); donate money; volunteer an hour or two doing something; donate your skills or services (such as law, media/communications, or nursing); cook chili; bake lasagna; let protestors borrow your tent; help make signs, etc.
Most importantly, contact your local chapter of the Occupy movement (find your local chapter here). Tell them what you can offer, and ask them what they need!