by Laura Hirahara on Wednesday, November 23, 2011 at 6:12am
I have not become ambivalent, lost interest, been chased away or otherwise dissuaded from participation in the Occupy movement that has spread to so many cities, towns and communities it’s hard to keep track. I understand that some have and that's why I write this statement. Not on the off chance it will change their minds but so that others will see that for every negative statement about why the Occupy movement is destined to fail, there are those willing to see it succeed.
As a member of campaigns and protests in the past, I see this behavior from those who don’t get the results they want when they want. I saw it from friends and colleagues working with me on repealing Prop 8 in California- when our first attempts failed they immediately lost hope. They didn’t recognize the long term commitment social change requires. Social change, change that affects an entire state, an entire country, takes time. It takes resources, energy, and people.
This movement in particular calls upon the 99% to fuel social change. In asking the majority of the people to get involved and make their individual and collective claims for economic justice, the initial protesters decided not to act as so many corporate leaders and politicians before them had (unilaterally with no thought of how individual choices affected others) but with a strong, consensus led voice.
This has caused many (MANY) to question the effectiveness of the movement. How can anything be done without a leader, without clear mission statements, without traditional organization? I would ask those posing these questions to think about why you need a leader. What about the structure of this majoritarian movement makes you so uncomfortable? Why do you need a mission statement written by someone else?
As to those who actively work to demoralize the Occupiers, I understand the frustration. I understand how frustrating it can be when you see so clearly how to make something work but are unable to put it into action. I understand how frustrating it can be to hear people discussing and focusing on the wrong aspects of an issue and be unable to articulate what they should be focusing on. That’s when you need to take time to step back, get perspective, get a grip, whatever you need to do, and come back refreshed and ready once again to work on the long-haul goals of social change.
On the topic of some of the more radical parts of this movement, in specific actions that have engaged law enforcement, I think there is value in this too. There is value in exposing police departments, procedures and methods that cross a line. There is value in questioning authority, value in demanding a reasonable answer and value in protesting against state-authorized violence against civilians. The students at UC Davis were not the first and will not be the last to engage in an expression of their civil right to question and protest.
Comparing what they went through to other student led protests is a waste of time and energy. For any student, any protester, that has stared down a line of police/soldiers and been afraid, energized and
defiant, there is a common thread. The level of violence encountered in no way minimizes or elevates one experience over the other. Instead, all protesters should recognize the inherent power of solidarity. Solidarity is more than sympathy, more than support. It is standing and making the public statement that if you had been there you too would have been sitting on the walkway, waiting for the pepper spray to hit your face. Solidarity is saying you too would be willing to face the consequences (and the victories) of this movement.
Finally, please know that I understand how difficult involvement in any movement can be, especially one that is as big and diverse as the Occupy movement. I don’t know how to make it better for you and I’m not particularly concerned with making sure you’re OK. In the words of Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon:
“Coalition work is not work done in your home. Coalition work has to be done in the streets. And it is some of the most dangerous work you can do. And you shouldn’t look for comfort. Some people will come to a coalition and they rate the success of the coalition on whether or not they feel good when they get there. They’re not looking for a coalition; they’re looking for a home!”
Social change cannot be done from the comfort of your home or from behind the screen of your computer. You have to interact, disagree, discuss, formulate and implement. If you lack the stamina to do this continuously, rest until you can do it again. If you lack the will or desire to do this work at all, do not tear down those that do. Walking away may afford you security if they fail but you will still benefit if they succeed and at the very least, you can respect that.
Question: The only thoughts i would share are that when you protested prop 8, you knew for what you fought. when students challenged tuition hikes, they knew what goals they sought. when i participated in the divestment riots at CAL, we knew our goals. for what reason did the UC Davis students suffer?
Answer: I can't give you a reason to fight, I can only tell you my reasons. For me, it's the social change needed to create economic justice, to create oversight and accountability in our financial institutions. I fight for those I know and love (and those I don't know) who are unemployed, who have been denied opportunities and rewards despite their hard work. It's for those facing police brutality and what that brutality represents; an abuse of authority. The UC Davis students, like any other individual in this movement, are not representative of the whole fight. But I can still respect what they did and what they suffered, because ultimately they suffered in solidarity with those who have and who continue to suffer less physical manifestations of oppressive action. I'm not confused about why I occupy.
Question: So let me ask you as i asked so many others, 'what one thing about your government would you change'?
Answer: If only changing one thing would fix everything! If only government could solve our problems! If only I had the one, true answer! I don't know why you need me to answer this for you, but since you asked...I would start with some real accountability and transparency in government/corporate dealings. I would like to know why, when millions of peoples fortunes and livelihoods were on the line, government chose to focus on institutions instead. More importantly, I think social change needs to occur right now. Social in that we value people over consumerism. Social in that we focus on talent,
innovation and hard work over personal accumulations of monetary wealth. Economic disparity isn't sustainable. This movement is a reaction to that instability.
Question: Well,Thank you for answering my question.
Answer: You're welcome, I really hope I answered your question.
Question: Well you did, in a sense. you answered as i anticipated. this is usually the point where i would say, 'no more questions'
Answer: If you need to have every answer before you're willing to do something, nothing will get done. You want some sort of detailed economic/social/political plan to put into action? Make it yourself. For whatever reasons my answers are insufficient for you and you feel the need to dismiss my comments, fine. Just have something more of substance to offer in return.