Wednesday, April 25, 2012

An Open Letter to Occupy Tampa, its Members, Allies, and Supporters (and to other Occupies in Crisis).

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Last Thursday, I was invited to answer some questions about income inequality and Occupy for a continuing education course at a progressive church in north Tampa.  I was really amazed to find that this group of a dozen people in their sixties, seventies, and even eighties were eager to hear more about Occupy.  I told them about the movement’s drive to get the money out of politics, and to return to people a sense of the democratic process.  A frail-seeming woman in a wheelchair quipped, “If only you’d been around for Reagan.”  But then a man with a snow-white beard spoke up: “Everything you’re saying sounds wonderful – but why am I not hearing more about it?”

That’s when I noticed he was on the verge of tears.  He knew that he was witnessing a great moment of possibility, but he sensed that it was slipping away.

He was right.

Occupy has opened a window through which we can see a new world.  It comes after decades of neoliberalism in which looking for new possibilities, much less working towards them, has seemed futile.  By bringing together and giving voice to people committed to living in that new world, it has shifted the political culture of what is still the richest and most powerful country in the world.  It has shown its potential, and the need for it is obvious.  As that supportive but dispirited man said in all sincerity, “Without you, we’re lost.”
Hearing just how much faith – or at least, how much hope – these people were pinning on Occupy was a wakeup call for me.  We still have a lot to do, and we have massive untapped resources with which to work – silent allies, waiting to be activated.

Of course, returning to the reality of Occupy Tampa was another sort of wakeup call.  Because we’re on the verge, in Tampa as in many places across the country, of losing all of this possibility.  Of losing everything we’ve worked for.  Those of us who have been proud to be associated with Occupy Tampa are now at risk of being associated, for the rest of our lives, with disappointment, failure, maybe even catastrophe.  While the air is still full of possibility, on the ground, we are at a crisis.

Many – in fact, most – of the energized and purposeful individuals who showed up for the early days of Occupy Tampa are no longer active participants.  As those activists have trickled away, the space that has been shared to us by one of our great outside allies has come to be mainly of non-activists, where there are regular outbursts of violence, hate speech, drug abuse, and even active sabotage of political projects.  It is only a matter of time before this stew of instability explodes and forever tarnishes the name of Occupy Tampa.

In order to address these issues of fracture and decline, I’m encouraging all past and present allies of Occupy Tampa to make the effort to come out to our General Assembly this Saturday, April 28th, at 7:30pm, following our discussion of May Day planning.  There, we need to address two key issues – first, how to maintain cohesion even as affinity groups of Occupy Tampa pursue independent projects, and second, how to deal with individuals whose actions threaten the work of our organization from within.

As the great movement thinker Cindy Millstein has emphasized again and again over the last six months, this moment is fleeting.  The sense of possibility that came with Occupy may disappear at any moment – remember what happened when 9/11 put a sharp end to the anti-globalization movement?  We must seize this moment while it lasts.  But a major part of seizing this moment is making it last – working to carry forward the initial burst of energy that brought us together.  If you ever considered yourself a member or sympathizer of Occupy Tampa, you are needed NOW to make sure the moment does not simply pass.

I want to frame the discussion that we will have on Saturday.  A few related issues and dynamics have gotten us where we are now.  At bottom, all are negative downsides of the unique and exciting aspects of Occupy’s initial structure – particularly, the way it invited everyone to participate in the process of changing the world.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A few random images of the Occupy Tampa Library.

 The Occupy Tampa Library is the heart of the Education working group.  We are currently on a fundraising push to enable us to get permanent space for our books and events before Florida's hurricane season starts in full force.  We also have plenty of other needs, including: clipboards, paperclips, copy paper (we print our own zines), printing services, and signmaking.  We also could really use a bookplate with our name and borrowing policies on it, and of course, always, more books with a focus on political and economic topics, from a radical perspective.