Monday, October 10, 2011

An Open Letter To #OccupySeattle - Hindsight Is Twenty-Twenty

Like many others I believe that this new movement has touched a chord with the people of this nation who are fed up with corporate and government corruption of our lives and of our election process and all that it means. I’m writing this open letter because I’d like to share with you some of my observations about the occupation of Westlake Plaza here in Seattle. I intend for this to be constructive criticism. I support those who have put themselves out there and facilitated and organized a Seattle Occupation and those of you who have been arrested based on your believe in a principle. It took courage and work to do what you have already accomplished.

Much of what I say here indicates that in hindsight there probably should have been more advanced planning before the occupation actually took place. A better formation of a working Occupy Seattle General Assembly prior to the takeover of Westlake Park would have been helpful. The first occupation in New York took months of tactical planning and work before September 17th. I’m not saying that the same thing is necessary or even possible here in Seattle now, but some sort of concrete advance plan would have certainly helped the occupation.

The truth is occupations may flounder at first or even fail. This does not mean a new or revamped occupation will not be possible. Tactical flexibility is the key. A General Assembly formed prior to an occupation could of worked out policies and rules that govern group conduct as well as a set of principles to govern the occupation. When the public space was actually occupied protesters joining the occupation would have known what was expected of them should they wish to remain welcome participants in the protest. Also the founding General Assembly members would have worked out basic rules on how their General Assembly would be facilitated. Working sub-committees would be in place, which I believe are vital to any occupation’s survival and success, and the process of conducting the GA once the occupation took place would have gone smoother.

It appears to me that the Occupy Seattle’s GA choice of Westlake Plaza may have been done without proper legal help or any real liaison with authorities. Perhaps an alternative site could have been occupied. There are a number of locations I think that would of served the purpose as a base camp of the movement in Seattle. I believe that the location should not get in the way of the overall message. The Mayor's offer of the use of City Hall Park seemed generous. The choice of the Westlake Plaza in the center of Seattle I believe was a tricky decision. Perhaps it was too grandiose a ploy on the part of the Occupy Seattle. Apparently the occupiers believed that the City Of Seattle would allow the use of tents in this location if they chose to be defiant about it.

This presumption was incorrect and lead at times to the protest deteriorating into more or less one of name-calling and insults by some of the protesters aimed at the mayor and the police when the authorities indicated that tents had to be removed. The confrontations that ensued I believe turned into an unproductive exercise of self-will that detracted from the real message of economic injustice and the ideals of compassion and humanism that the OWS movement needs to project in order to grow and survive. In other words during the first week of the occupation in Seattle the main issue became more about whether people can have tents than about the ideals of the OWS movement.

Please remember Zucotti Park (liberty Plaza) in New York has never been allowed to have tents. They worked around it. Yes it was a cat and mouse game at first in New York with the authorities, but common sense won out and the New York General Assembly members never got to the point where being able to stay in a tent was the paramount issue. Nor is the movement about confrontations with the police or blaming police. Many of the front line cops in New York and Seattle are probably supportive of the protests and Mayor McGinn has publicly supported the protests. This is the beauty of it. They too are also members of the 99%.

So far the Occupy Seattle General Assemblies seem incapable of even establishing basic policies and principles that are badly needed for the success of the occupation and protest. I understand that this is to be expected to some extent given that the General Assembly horizontal leaderless model is a new concept for many of the participants to grasp, especially when an occupation in already in place. The Occupy Seattle General Assembly is also hampered by the fact that many of the key facilitators and infinity group members are working people who are not actually on the ground occupying the space. The key facilitators seem to come and go as their schedules allow. This is understandable. But, because of this many of them have not been able to participate in shaping matters in the General Assembly. I suspect they have not had time to be involved in infinity groups either that should have been shaping the principles and rules that govern how the group operates and occupies the public space. It appears the infinity groups have not made much progress on several badly needed basic policies and rules, i.e. how to conduct a coherent General Assembly, how decisions will be made by the group in an assembly, following an agenda and probably most important the occupiers solidarity and security.

One of the main reasons I think misjudgments have been made is that I believe the Occupy Seattle protest in the beginning were hijacked by a small group of individuals or groups of individuals who actually have a different agenda then that of the OWS movement. What is troubling to me is that several of these occupiers involved in the Westlake Plaza occupation believed that violence is acceptable on some level especially against the police. I know for a fact this is not what the Occupy Wall Street movement believes. Violence on some level may be acceptable to some other protest movements, but it is NOT acceptable in the OWS movement. This type of ideology can actually destroy the movement. The early occupiers also appeared to include provocateurs types who have some personal bone to pick with the police or authority in general. The demeanor of these protesters was confrontational and mean spirited. Also several protesters I’ve talked to did not seem to have a grasp of what the Occupy Wall Street protest movement was really about. This has hampers the group cohesiveness and outreach.

There also seemed to be a number of people at the occupation that really had nothing to do with the protest at all, other then being there. There were several people meandering around aimlessly. This would indicate to me that the security and solidarity of the group has not been established. This type of atmosphere makes the protest susceptible to people with a different agendas fouling up the process or presenting the protest as made up of people who can be easily marginalized by those who wish us ill. I’m not saying all are not welcome. I’m saying that the group must maintain the space in such a way that it remains presentable, secure and attractive to a broader base of people interested in joining the protest.

Provocateurs must be eliminated from the group. Provocateurs usually will leave a group when they see that the group is not there to be a vehicle to deal with their personal issues, drama or ideology. A strict adherence to nonviolence must be maintained. Protesters who believe that violence is acceptable must be told by the General Assembly that they are not welcome. Occupy Seattle must be a place that ordinary working people and families with children would consider as a safe place to come and participate in or learn about the OWS movement. These are the people the movement will need to attract if it has any hope for its success and growth.

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