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A Conversation with Movement Generation
The transformation of the Occupy moment into power for movements that can actually challenge entrenched economic interests will be a complex process. Movement Generation activists recently gathered to reflect on what it will take to make this happen. For the full interview visit: urbanhabitat.org/rpe/radio
Ellen Choy: Why are you committed to the Occupy movement?
Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan: We think Occupy’s critical because we believe that mass movements are a vital ingredient to shifting the public debate and moving us closer to transforming the economy and the political system. This is not just about making demands on the state, but also about reclaiming our right to meet our own needs directly, in community—to restore our resilience, our ability to support one another, to look after each other, to have the means to do that collectively. I think Occupy is presenting a really important model for how people can work together to set priorities and make decisions about how to best meet each others’ needs in a way that’s responsive and responsible to the place where they live.
Vultures! Vultures!” a middle-aged African American man yells at a Caucasian male in an expensive leather jacket and white button-down shirt. The man holds a clipboard with real estate listings—identifying him as an auctioneer.
A crowd of more than 100 has assembled on the steps of the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland as the auctioneer attempts to read out the list of properties to be auctioned publicly. But the crowd starts up a chant of “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!” Musical instruments are played loudly, signs and banners are waved about, and the auctioneer is drowned out with hisses and jeers. The auctioneer endures the hazing for a few minutes, makes a whispered call on his cell phone, and ducks into the courthouse building. A long line of protestors immediately forms, preparing to follow him inside. A young African American male holds up an “Occupy Oakland” sign.
The auctioneer is told by a deputy that he cannot conduct his business in the building and there ensues a game of cat-and-mouse between him and the crowd as he attempts to conduct his business at a different spot outside the courthouse and the crowd splits up to hound him wherever he goes. Finally, the auctioneer leaves after another whispered phone call—presumably to a bank official—and the crowd moves on to another auctioneer, also identified by his clipboard. Having witnessed the crowd’s treatment of a fellow auctioneer, he leaves without attempting to read out the names of listed properties. A third auctioneer is also encircled and quickly shouted down.
On Earth Day—April 22, 2012—about 200 people, accompanied by children in strollers, dogs, rabbits, chickens, and carrying hundreds of pounds of compost and at least 10,000 seedlings entered a 14-acre piece of land containing the last Class I agricultural soil in the East Bay. Located on the Albany-Berkeley border in the Bay Area, the plot is owned by the University of California Berkeley. By the end of the day, they had weeded, tilled, and successfully cultivated about an acre of the land. By May 14, when 100 University of California riot police surrounded the tract and began arresting the farmers, Occupy the Farm had cultivated around two acres of the plot known as the Gill Tract.
The Occupy farmers have laid out footpaths around cultivated plots, created wildlife corridors, riparian zones, and protected areas for native grasses and a wild turkey nest, and set up a library and a kitchen. They have planted thousands of seedlings of corn, tomatoes, squash, beans, broccoli, herbs, and strawberries, including heirloom varieties from a local seed bank. Other plots have been reserved for agro-ecological research. There’s also a permaculture garden for kids on the other side of a gazebo of woven branches where wind chimes tinkle in the breeze.
From Civil Rights to Economic Justice
The Autumn Awakening underway across the United States is an inspiring moment of hope after decades of overt social, political, and economic reaction. The arrival of the Occupy movement was heralded by the student-worker-citizen occupation of the Wisconsin state capitol last winter. But just a few months ago, a sign bearing the words, “If Egypt can do it so can we” signaled a plaintive cry more than a compelling mandate. The formulation, “We are the 99%” articulates a new, broad-based democratic politics focused on economic justice. While the slogan is by its nature inclusive, the emerging movement is still coming to terms with the fact that the majority of the 99% are women and people of color. (See On Occupy) In this issue, we take a look at how the changing demographic complexion of the United States is shifting the political calculus in many arenas—electoral, economic, and in the new movement called Occupy.
Driven by displacement and gentrification (Bullard) and in search of jobs, housing, and education, African Americans, once confined to the South and the urban core, are on the move (Sullivan, Kromm). Some see the departure of African Americans from the cities as a threat to the community’s political power, while others see new opportunities for people of color to build a historic new coalition.
Erin Aubry Kaplan: Great, so this is I guess the moment some of us have been waiting for. We’re going to have a conversation on stage with Angela Davis and Reverend James Lawson. And before we get into that, I just want to remind folks that 20 minutes after the program, you still – the auction will be open for another 20 minutes after the end of the program, so there’s a lot of fabulous stuff there still to bid on. So could we please have you all come up?
You all settled in? Okay. Well let’s just get right into it. We’ve talked a lot this evening about Occupy – the Occupy movements. It started in New York and it’s spread everywhere, and so I just want to ask both what is really going on in the world right now? Just a little question, you know?
James Lawson: What’s going on in the world?
The Struggle of the 99%
Kaplan: Yeah, as it relates to the Occupy movement. The Occupy movement is actually taking the world by storm. So in terms of the Occupy movement, what’s at stake here? What are the challenges, the opportunities, and critically how can we make it clear, or clearer, that the struggle for the 99% is also the struggle for racial and economic justice? Either one of you can start.
"Women have the longest work-week and do most of the world's unpaid labor; they are the bulk of the poor both in the U.S. and around the world..." - Sylvia Ferderici
"You can't create revolutionary change without a strategy." - Rev. James Lawson
"If racial exclusion and inequity are at the root of the problem, then inclusion and equity must be built into the solution." - Rinku Sen
“Convergence on joint actions between existing organizations and Occupy is the first step...” —María Poblet