To the wonderful folks at Occupy SF/Wall Street/Everywhere

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Occupy SF supports teachers protesting Rupert Murdoch Oct. 14. Photo by Rebecca Bowe

First of all, don't get depressed by this sort of stuff. During the occupation and blockade at Diablo Canyon, when about two thousand people managed to prevent the opening of the nuclear power plant, the mainstream news media kept reporting that the blockade was failing, that the protesters were getting tired, that everyone had given up and was going home. One person starting walking around with a poster that said "The media is getting tired and hungry and going home."

Press accounts typically understate the numbers and dedication of protest movements. Instead of talking about how amazing it is that so many people have given up everything else in their lives to protest economic injustice, the press will say: Why aren't there more?

So hang in -- overall, the message is getting out. As we said in an editorial this week:

If the demonstrators don't have all the solutions, at least they've identified the problem. And that's more than Obama, Congress, or the mainstream news media have done.

But as someone who has watched, written about, worked on, joined and been otherwise involved in direct action and community organizing efforts for more than 30 years (yeah, I'm old), let me make a friendly suggestion.

Saul Alinsky, who pretty much invented modern community organizing, always said that building an effective organization and agitating for social change was as much about empowering the powerless as it was about winning a specific battle. He and his students learned quickly that nothing is worse for an organized movement than the frustration of constant failure. The movement that arose against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffered from that -- when it was clear that nothing any of us did (including electing Obama) was going to bring the troops home and end hostilities, a lot of people gave up and stopped marching.

The people I learned from back at the Connecticut Citizens Action Group, which practiced Alinsky-style organizing, used to say that victories, even small victories, would prove to people that they really could fight City Hall. If a low-income neighborhood was worried about cars speeding down the streets where kids were playing, fine: Organize everyone and demand stop signs, speed bumps and police patrols. Once you've shown disenfranchised people that they can force the powers that be to listen and respond, you have the basis for something much more ambitious.

I guess what I'm saying here is that you might want to think about setting a goal that's a little bit short of decentralizing all of society. When I worked with the Abalone Alliance, we were all about changing the way people related in the world; everything worked by consensus, we spent an immense amount of time discussing power relationships and we all had a radical model for rebuilding the United States (and the world). But we also wanted to stop a nuclear power plant from being built on an earthquake fault. And when that happened -- the protests actually delayed the opening for several years -- it gave tremendous life and energy not just to the movement but to all the people in it. It was radically empowering.

The Livermore Action Group, which emerged out of the Abalone Alliance, was dedicated to ending the threat of nuclear war (and all war), among other things. But it had as an immediate first step ending weapons reasearch at the Lawrence Livermore Lab.

Around the same time, the American Friends Service Committee came up with a campaign called the Nuclear Freeze. The bumper stickers read: "Step one: Freeze Nuclear Weapons." The idea: When you're in a hole, stop digging. Nuclear proliferation was threatening the world; as a first step, we ought to stop building more bombs. 

Since this is all about Wall Street, and you've got momentum on your side, maybe you want to start talking about something specific. How about "Step One: Tax Wall Street Transactions and Create A Million Jobs." A transactions tax dedicated to public-sector job creation would do wonders for the economy. It's the kind of campaign that a wide range of allies could join. It's got simple, populist appeal. It's not everything you want, but it's not bad -- and remember, it's ony Step One.

Just a thought from a friend.

 

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