Is Occupy Finally Being Co-opted?

Or are groups like the 99% Declaration Group and Republic United the next natural step?

I may receive some flak from local occupiers for some things I say here, and frankly, I hope I do. This thing called “Occupy” is at a critical juncture, and is experiencing its first wave of clearly defined dividing lines within itself. Constructive dialog would probably be very useful. As an example, I recently received a rather lengthy forwarded email that did an “ask and answer” based on the question “Is Occupy a movement or an organization?” To me, this is like asking if a Prius is a car or a design concept. While some auto enthusiasts might argue that it’s not the former, it is in fact clearly both. Debating the point is not very useful, unless you plan to refine the design, and build the next model. And something of that sort is clearly going on with Occupy. As someone who has been engaged in Occupy-related activities since before the camp in Zucotti Park, it has been a little frustrating to watch energetic, smart people engage briefly and then move along, turned off by the cumbersome assembly and meeting methods that many occupiers hold sacred, even though they may have only learned of them a few months ago. Locally, this phenomena has left Occupy Ann Arbor comprised mainly of people engaged in what I call “boutique activism”. The focus is largely on grass-roots actions for the homeless, and foreclosure assistance. There’s rarely mention of banks and politics, at least in terms of taking action of any kind. Ironic, given that the “occupy” in “Occupy [INSERT PET CAUSE]” comes from a group called “Occupy Wall Street”. On a national level though, there may be something very different going on. First of all, the 99% Declaration Working Group – which sprang from the original OWS group – is planning  to select 435 delegates nationwide in June, and hold a National General Assembly on July 4 in Philadelphia. OWS, by the way, quickly went on the record stating their displeasure with this plan. Elsewhere, activist lawyer and Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig has been developing an organization called Rootstrikers. The group is clearly aligned with the Occupy ethos, and has found strange bedfellows with people like convicted GOP superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, via United Republic. United Republic is directly connected with Rootstrikers, and operates a blog called Republic Report which, in their words, is “devoted to rooting out the corruption that is so corrosive to American values”. And even established and clearly partisan organizations like the Roosevelt Institute are openly stating support  for the Movement. So is this all just co-opting of the movement? I don’t think so. I think it may be the best thing to happen for the movement since the 700 arrests on the bridge last fall. And I believe it’s simply a matter of people who are “better-placed” societally doing what they can do to initiate real change. But I fear that my anarchist and socialist friends, with whom – in spite of our massive ideological differences – I have spent months cooperating with on our common values – will find this all anathema to their beliefs. Is this the next phase of Occupy, or its death-knoll?

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Who Is Behind Occupy Ann Arbor’s Unity Group?

You are. If you show up.
Unity Group

Does what it says.

Have you been curious about the Occupy Movement but hesitant to show up for meetings or events because you’re not sure if your concerns fit in? Or because you’ve read about the elaborate assembly procedures and the set of hand signals you have to learn? Well you’re a prime candidate to join us for this Sunday’s Unity Group meeting, at noon at Espresso Royale on Main (map here). It’s an open forum, and anyone is welcome. And twinkle fingers are definitely optional. One thing that we all tend to forget is that a meeting is only the people who actually show up for it. And in this case – a gathering devoted specifically to building connections both within the local movement AND with other groups or individuals – this is even MORE the case. This is only the group’s second meeting, and if the first was an indication of things to come, this may turn out to be one of the most effective launchpads locally for actually getting things done on a larger scale. At the first meeting, there were people present who in other settings might have been engaged in shouting matches, sitting side by side, discovering a common aim. The same thing that one could argue has “plagued” the occupy movement since the outset – the diversity of concerns and grassroots organizational approach – could actually be its greatest strength. If interested citizens gather together, set their egos and pet projects aside for a moment, and zero in on common goals, they can actually get to work on them, and make positive change. And this is what the Sunday Unity Group is all about. Unifying! Join us this Sunday if you can, and if you can’t, the group meets on alternating Sundays to coordinate with Occupy Ann Arbor’s General Assembly, so try again on March 25.

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Foreclosure Defense and Cold Canvassing

With WCAT's Washtenaw Foreclosure Defense Group

Banks Out Families In!It was the coldest, snowiest, most blustery day southeast Michigan has felt so far this year. The number four bus was even running late several times that day due to the snow. In other words, it was a real winter day. The Washtenaw Foreclosure Defense group was not to be deterred, however. We met at Ypsilanti Free Commune to plan and distribute materials for canvassing.

Some of our members with more knowledge in this field did research to find a neighborhood that had the highest number of foreclosures in the area. We decided upon the area east of where state highway 12 splits from interstate highway 94 in the West Willow neighborhood. Some of us weren’t quite prepared for how cold it was. Luckily others had extra. We were armed with maps, petitions, scripts, notepaper, and pens. Some of us have experience working for Clean Water Action and PIRGIM. Energy was high and we were excited.

We talked to many people in the hour or so we went door to door. Some of the people were very receptive, interested, and excited. They had stories of families nearby who lost their homes and heartbreak. Others didn’t care at all and shooed us away. Some feigned interest, but then hedged as the conversation continued. At the last house we visited, we met an old gal who told us stories about how the neighborhood was once so close and that people looked out for one another. She was initially quite reluctant to affix her information to any of the documents we had, despite being willing to converse with us and amiable to our goals. Eventually patience and willingness to listen won her over as she wrote her information on both our forms and signed them. Consensus was that when we spoke using our own words instead of a set script, people were more receptive. One of the keys was to listen to people and let them do most of the talking.

Next week we decided to use the information we had gathered and hit houses that specifically were being foreclosed on. Some of the groups also decided to visit others near the target houses. My group in particular had great success with this tactic and we even talked to a gal who was going to do a podcast about the very things we were canvassing for. A problem we hadn’t foreseen arose, however, when we discovered most of the places going through the foreclosure process were already abandoned. We learned things, we made some contacts, and we had a great time trying to do something about a growing problem in our area and beyond.

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Occupy Ann Arbor’s Unity Work Group

A new open work group devoted entirely to building on our common ground.

Occupy Ann ArborThe 99% are a diverse lot.  When you try to be inclusive, you’ll find yourself conversing with everyone from ballerinas to butchers.  What is it that brings us together, and more importantly what holds us together?  In the five months since Wall Street was occupied, many of us have looked across a park or a meeting room and wondered how we would ever be able to work with the people on the other side.  What does a retired university professor have in common with a drug user who is homeless?
We are unified by our shared pain.  Change doesn’t happen until it is less painful to change than to continue in our current course of action.  And a lot of us are feeling a lot of pain from the multinational corporate control of our political system.  Whatever our personal “symptom”, the source of the pain can easily be traced to the financial corruption that controls our election system.  It’s not just the politicians who are under their control; it’s our own thinking that has been twisted to such an extent that we turn on each other rather than band together.
The Unity work group of Occupy Ann Arbor is changing that.  Every Sunday from noon until 2 PM, we meet informally to build bridges between groups that appear to have little in common.
Returning hope to people, so that they DO something, even if it’s just walking around waving signs, is a great first step. Meeting each week, connecting with like-minded folks, is much better than sitting at home feeling depressed and helpless.
Some people despair because we aren’t “making progress”.  We have decades of brainwashing to overcome, so it’s a bit premature to declare that the Occupy Movement has run its course.  The success of the petition drive to overturn PA 4 was built on a foundation of nearly 20 years of unsuccessful attempts to exercise citizens’ rights.  And yet today, there was a Victory Lap in Lansing as the signatures were turned over to the Secretary of State for official verification.
If you want to feel less depressed and helpless, join us on Sundays to find common ground with the others who are looking for a change.  We’re in this for the long haul, so we’ll be there when you’re ready.  Check the events page or the Unity Group’s page for details about the time and location.

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A Busy Week for Occupy Ann Arbor

A visit to Governor Snyder, ALEC protests, and two new workgroups.

Events This WeekThis should be an interesting and busy week for Occupy Ann Arbor. As part of the General Assembly of February 19, we engaged in “Agora” exercises that helped a group that – like many Occupy groups – is comprised of a lot of individuals who may see a lot of the same issues as important, but have different ideas about how to tackle them. These exercises led to a lot more clarity about common goals, and the formation of a “Unity Group” meeting on Sunday the 26th, which helped build on this new-found cohesion. We hope that as a result of this new momentum, we’ll see the faces of those who have felt under-represented at assemblies at this week’s GA Planning meeting. As we mentioned last week, the workgroup that helped get the assemblies back on track is stepping aside to allow others to help shape the newly re-organized Occupy Ann Arbor. If you’re interested in getting involved in this exciting new phase, there are three meetings back-to-back starting at 5pm this Tuesday – the Web/Media Group, the Direct Action Group, and the GA Planning Group. See the events page for details. Part of the Direct Action meeting will be devoted to events occurring this Wednesday. During the daytime on Wednesday, some locals are joining Destination Lansing: Repeal Michigan’s EM Law Petition March & Delivery, a march organized by Occupy Lansing to to deliver the voice of Michigan voters directly to the Governors doorstep. Buses will be leaving from Detroit, Flint and other points around Michigan; see the Facebook events page or Michigan Forward for details on rideshares and buses. At 5:30pm, Occupy Ann Arbor will be making its presence known with a gathering on William and Main Streets in downtown Ann Arbor, [UPDATE: This action was cancelled due to some 11th hour logistics problems] to protest ALEC in solidarity with the Shut Down The Corporations meme put forth by Occupy Portland. Although some local occupiers consider the theme of this event to be a little too simplistic, there is definitely solidarity on the idea that many of the biggest problems today include the negative influence of corporate meddling in politics, especially as manifest in organizations like ALEC, or citizenless judicial decisions like Citizens United. Hope to see you at one of this week’s activities! For more info, see the events page.

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