The objective of this document is to help Humanists that want to integrate or contribute to the Occupy/indignados movement to have more context and to do it more efficiently. Ideologically, the movement is very close to the Humanist point of view. The point of concern is how to translate the ideas locally or onto specific issues. The main and very important values shared are direct democracy, nonviolence, a horizontal organizational structure, universality and the rejection of the “System.”
THE MOVEMENT IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION; this is the most important part to understand. Everyone could be part of it, it is a movement of people that organize themselves to educate and organize the 99% and pressure the System to change its direction. Political, social, cultural, labor and religious organizations are not directly part of the structure of the movement, but the movement works with them in many different forms and levels.
At an individual level, everyone can take an active part in the movement. To start it is recommend to assist the General Assembly of your neighborhood/town/university and/or participate in a working group on an issue that you like or have experience with. Both of the these entities work more or less the same way, based on consensus. This is not a vote system where the majority wins, the main goal is to reach consensus among all involved. The new generation (youth) works well with consensus, where the older ones have more difficulty letting go and are more likely to bring up ideological dilemmas that make it more complicated than it needs to be. We have experienced many times these situations but here is one simple example: A working group was preparing a statement concerning Iran. At the beginning everyone was giving their opinions and making arguments, helping in the development of a statement against the US’s motivation for attacking Iran. At some point, someone added that we can’t just attack the US government without also implicating the Iranian government. At this point the situation became complicated; some were against this strategy, finding it too confusing for the general public and opening the door to an other level of discussion that would slow down the process. In the end, consensus was never reached. The situation changed, the press focused more on Syria, the Iran issue became obsolete and the opportunity was lost.
You have different levels of coordination and decision-making processes depending on the location. To keep it simple for this first document we are focusing on the base/grassroot level with general assembly and working group. The working groups are autonomous, often meeting once a week and working on specific issues such as environment, housing, food, alternative economies, worker rights, immigration, peace, democracy, education, and arts. Some have the function of helping the development of the GA, such as outreach, facilitation, internet, economy, preparing food, and so on. The coordination and decisions are made during the GA, which could be once a week or every day depending the dynamic of the movement in each location.
During this meeting you have normally different moments:
Introduction to real democracy (a system of “sign language” that allows for direct participation)
Selection of the functions (facilitator, stack taker, time keeper, note taker)
Report Back: short report from the working groups
Proposal: This is the time for a working group to present a proposal that they have previously developed and want the GA to pass/approve. Many issues don’t need approval and can be decided directly by the working group. Example: The internet working group don’t need the approval of the GA to publish information online but if it want to change the name of the site or need money for his expansion they need to go thought the GA and make a proposal. The proposal could be approved, blocked or tabled (when it is not developed or clear enough to make a decision or needs to be modified to get a consensus).
Announcements: For general information, a special event (for example, once we announced our October 2nd event at the OWS GA)
After almost a year of existence the movement has expanded from its initial form and counts now with many mixed entities which overlap. You have people from different working groups that have created other Occupies such as Occupy Town Square, Occupy University, OWS Commons Coalitions (see list for NY) . This is where the organizations click in. It is possible to belong to many of these groups and be linked to the Occupy Movement. For example, the Humanist Party in NY is part of the OWS Commons Coalition. An other way to influence the movement as an organization is to organize or coordinate actions with other organizations/unions/political parties in support of the Occupy Movement. In NYC the HP has particpated publicly in many rallies organized by Unions in coordination and in support of the Occupy Movement.
You describe Occupy as the first organized response to a thirty-year class war….
NC: It’s a class war, and a war on young people too… that’s why tuition is rising so rapidly. There’s no real economic reason for that. It’s a technique of control and indoctrination. And this is really the first organized, significant reaction to it, which is important.
LF: Are comparisons to Arab Spring useful?
NC: One point of similarity is they’re both responses to the toll taken by the neo lib programs. They have a different effect in a poor country like Egypt than a rich country like the US. But structurally somewhat similar. In Egypt the neoliberal programs have meant statistical growth, like right before the Arab Spring, Egypt was a kind of poster child for the World Bank and the IMF [International Monetary Fund:] the marvelous economic management and great reform. The only problem was for most of the population it was a kind of like a blow in the solar plexus: wages going down, benefits being eliminated, subsidized food gone and meanwhile, high concentration of wealth and a huge amount of corruption.
We have a structural analogue here – in fact the same is true in South America – some of the most dramatic events of the last decade (and we saw it again in Cartagena a couple of weeks ago) Latin America is turning towards independence for the first time in five hundred years. That’s not small. And the Arab Spring was beginning to follow it. There’s a counterrevolution in the Middle East/North Africa (MENAC) countries beating it back, but there were advances. In South America [there were] substantial ones and that’s happening in the Arab Spring and it has a contagious effect – it stimulated the Occupy movement and there are interactions.
LF. In the media, there was a lot of confusion in the coverage of Occupy. Is there a contradiction between anarchism and organization? Can you clarify?
NC: Anarchism means all sort of things to different people but the traditional anarchists’ movements assumed that there’d be a highly organized society, just one organized from below with direct participation and so on. Actually, one piece of the media confusion has a basis because there really are two different strands in the occupy movement, both important, but different.
One is policy oriented: what policy goals [do we want.] Regulate the banks, get money out of elections; raise the minimum wage, environmental issues. They’re all very important and the Occupy movement made a difference. It shifted not only the discourse but to some extent, action on these issues.
The other part is just creating communities — something extremely important in a country like this, which is very atomized. People don’t talk to each other. You’re alone with your television set or internet. But you can’t have a functioning democracy without what sociologists call “secondary organizations,” places where people can get together, plan, talk and develop ideas. You don’t do it alone. The Occupy movement did create spontaneously communities that taught people something: you can be in a supportive community of mutual aid and cooperation and develop your own health system and library and have open space for democratic discussion and participation. Communities like that are really important. And maybe that’s what’s causing the media confusion…because it’s both.