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Occupied America–a visit to Portland

Arun Gupta and Michelle Fawcett, have been traveling around the country the last two months visiting occupations in over 24 cities.

Arun put out the first Occupy Wall Street Journal, writes for the New York based Indypendent and Salon magazine, among others, and is a long time activist.  His interview with Arundhati Roy,‘The people who created the crisis will not be the ones that come up with a solution’ was published in the Guardian (UK) last week.

Arun Gupta
Michelle Fawcett teaches communications and international development at NYU and is working on a book about culture, neoliberalism and UNESCO corporate partnerships entitled The Market for Ethics.

Michelle Fawcett

He spoke tonight at the Red & Black Café and she showed a video she’s made during their trip featuring Occupiers from a bunch of different cities. People were so articulate. Great video though I just watched and didn’t take notes so I won’t try to tell you about it. She is posting her videos on Salon so you can see them there.

Arun spoke (he’s been writing about the trip on Salon too) and answered questions. I took a lot of notes and I’m going to summarize here. Any mistakes or misrepresentations are my responsibility and my bad notetaking–I don’t know shorthand!

I think there were about 60 people there, about twice the number of chairs. Some were Occupy activists but not all and there were a number of older folks like myself.

One of the amazing things he reported is that there are 1700 Occupies in the US! The mainstream media was important in the movement’s growth but since the attacks they have flipped highlighting the need for our own media. He surprised me by saying we need actual physical papers, not just online. And that is happening. Will happen here soon too.

One of Gupta’s themes was that with Occupy the left is playing for the center and that is one of its big strengths. He finds it remarkable. He also said the Occupy movement has made clear that we have a lack of democratic forums in this country and OWS has given participants the experience of seeing they can have social ascendancy. They have found community and a new society. He feels a public occupation is still needed as it creates visible moments.

He talked about visiting OWS a lot (as he lives in NYC) and about how things developed. One interesting anecdote was about being told by some SEIU members that they were have barred by the union from going to OWS and then after the big arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge they were sent there to deliver food and tarps.

He said that was when the world paid attention with those 700 arrests. He also mentioned Frances Fox Piven’s saying that disruptive moments are what grab attention.

Another theme was that the people coming to Occupy are coming as themselves as opposed to what the left usually tries to do which is to educate people and tell them what the issues are, so sometimes we don’t like the issues that are brought up but in Occupy everyone sees their issue as equal to everyone elses.

He characterized the Occupiers as 4
1) anti-capitalists
2) anti-corporate, this included the folks working to overturn corporate personhood but also people who believe in small business. He said there are even Republicans involved in that latter group
3) more regulation will fix things, e.g. Paul Krugman
4) conspiracy theorists in which he included the ‘end the Fed’ folks (several times he talked about what a disaster it would be to not have the Fed, as imperfect as it is.

He talked about Occupy being a poor peoples’ movement especially the people who actually sleep in the occupations (as opposed to those who come to GA meetings). He said the movement has made the poor visible. But he said it also includes the displaced middle class as well as long-time poor. And then there is labor and liberals who he thinks will peel off with the election.

The repression and disinformation: signs of success!

He praised ‘mic check’ because it allows everyone to feel part of the process. It also allows the crowd to not agree with a speaker by not repeating. I saw that happen one day at a demonstration at Pioneer Sq when various people were speaking impromptu. A young woman started reciting an obscene poem and when the crowd realized that they stopped repeating. It was amazing!

He talked about the need for a sense of victory, move your money was an example of something that functioned that way.

And he talked about the need for education and radicalization, that being the next step. Couldn’t agree more!

He warned there will be extreme pressure to push Occupy into the Democratic Party. The other danger is burn out. Another risk is the movement becoming inward looking.

He reported there are all kinds of calls going out making special mention of Chicago asking people to come there for actions in conjunction with the May 2012 G8/NATO summit there. He also said there is an Occupy convention planned. Naturally.

The fact that communities are functioning inspired him, that it isn’t just the left. Yes, the Occupiers are mostly young and mostly white (exceptions in some cities like Detroit and Philly) but it varies from city to city. Smaller cities are more focused on local issues. He made particular mention of Mobile, Alabama which only had a three day occupation but the people, none of whom knew each other before, are now a community. They were people who felt isolated in their difference before meeting each other.

Let me close with this statement of his: Democratizing wealth and power is a radical idea!

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