Occupy acts against foreclosure and college cuts; OccupySF holds its ground; and writers discuss the movement's future
Dan Siegel, who most recently made headlines for resigning as Oakland Mayor Jean Quan's legal advisor because he disagreed with her decision to order a police raid of the Occupy Oakland encampment, was a panelist. "The perspective of Mayor Quan and other mayors, besides reflecting the 1 percent, reflects a misguided paradigm," Siegel said. "The nation's clearly in an economic crisis that this country has not seen since the 1930s. The mayors should be on the side of the 99 percent. They ought not be the lapdogs of Wall Street."
Renowned author Rebecca Solnit also participated in the panel discussion. Asked if she thought Occupy symbolized a new beginning, she reflected on the past. "Huge mistakes were made on the left," in past social movements, she said. "It was supposed to be the revolution, but the women were still expected to make the coffee." She offered that Occupy represented an evolved manifestation that had benefitted from lessons learned over the years.
"It's a culmination of decades of refining, searching, and building coalitions," Solnit said. "It's the beginning in the sense that summer's the beginning. We're reaping the fruit of ... what's been imagined."
It's also provided a spark for campus-based organizing. "The Occupy movement has given a tremendous amount of wind to the sails of the student movement and had a consciousness-raising aspect," said Matt Haney, executive director of the University of California Student Association. "Now they are prepared in a new way to join all of those other folks who are also suffering."
A key question put to panelists was whether Occupy ought to consider running candidates for office. In response, panelist Melanie Cervantes, an artist and activist, got to the heart of the issue. "What is political power? Is it just representation?" she asked.
Cervantes pointed out that autonomous social movements in Latin America have given rise to leftist political leaders, and she spoke of the past successes of mass-based organizations. "There were things that preceded us generationally, and they worked," she pointed out. "There's a lot of different ways people are experienced in trying to change things."
Panelist Peter Coyote, an actor, activist, and founder of a radical underground group called The Diggers, offered an analogy in response to the idea of Occupy running candidates for office. "If you take a healthy goldfish and throw it into polluted water, it's gonna get sick," he said.
Solnit framed her answer as an analogy, too. "We live in a really crummy house with roaches and a leaky roof ... Occupy is saying, let's try to build a better house," she said. "Our demand is for a better world, isn't that obvious? We're building a whole new political vocabulary, a whole new sense of possibility."
As to the question of whether violence is inevitable as the movement continues to unfold, some panelists discussed nonviolence as a protest tactic, while others focused on the violent behavior of law enforcement officers against protesters. "You don't hear students talk about using violence," Haney said. "It's more like how do we deal with violence that's being used against us?"
Siegel stressed that the protests ought to be disruptive, yet nonviolent. "The question for our society is, who has the power?" he said. "At the end of the day, we live in a nation state, and people control things. And if they continue to control things, we're screwed."