Activist Communiqué

Krystalline Kraus's picture
Krystalline Kraus is an intrepid journalist and veteran reporter for rabble.ca since its 2001 beginnings. She needs neither a red cape nor safety goggles to fly into her latest political assignment. She often live-tweets from events -- almost exclusively First Nations and environmental issues. You can follow her on Twitter @krystalline_k.

Activist Communique: This is not an Occupy eulogy

| September 15, 2012
Photo by David Coombs.

This is not a one year Occupy anniversary piece.

This is not a reflective obituary of a short-lived movement as if I were writing about a young life tragically cut short. 

This is not a eulogy.  

Nor is this some cliché French statement: "Occupy is dead! Long live Occupy!"

It's complicated…

I know it's a struggle for some people to give up the idea that Occupy would always be around at St. James Park, the Vancouver Art Gallery or Zucotti Park.

I know some people believed that when Occupy began, that spirit would stay trapped in time, trapped in that park or in that city, forever; as if we humans could control a movement by sheer will and our fear of nostalgic guilt. 

Occupy-as-encampment existed in historical and culturally specific time and place in September 2011 for the U.S. and October 2011 for Canadians.

And desperately clinging to that moment in time is like keeping it on life support and refusing to let it go -- to allow it to evolve naturally by the careful hands of time and experience.

I'm ok with that. I can let it go.

This specificity of time and place is true of most definitive social justice moments in our history, whether the Winnipeg General Strike or Oka.

Occupy is of the same mettle, the same spiritual matter and energy. It belongs to the time and place of fall 2011 -- in a short burst of intensity that changed our world -- carrying with it the zeitgeist of the Arab and African Spring and every other social justice struggle that has ever come before it.

In Toronto, the Occupy encampment at St. James Park existed for forty days and forty nights. It was powerful and all-consuming for those involved. For those upset that it didn't last longer, I ask, maybe it lasted just long enough?

One does not ridicule a hurricane an eclipse for not lasting long enough. Everything with its own Spirit knows its own ways and means and timelines, despite what we humans like to think and control.

Occupy was obviously not a permanent solution with only its tents for clothes and existing on the goodwill and donations from unions and the greater community. 

And our culture here in Canada and North America in 2011 -- and now -- was not in a state of permanent revolution or social upheaval.

Occupy was a moment in time. Occupy is a movement in time.

So this is not a eulogy, as Occupy is not dead. Occupy has just changed. A butterfly has no more or less value than a caterpillar. Nor does a caterpillar die when a butterfly is born.

And Occupy will continue to change - which can include disappearing into the ether since long-haul activists already know that the energy of social movements naturally flow from one "campaign" to the next - as progress moves us always forward.

Occupy has given the North American political landscape much to be grateful for. 

It has allowed activists to reframe how they express themselves and function internally. It has re-visioned the role and use of marshals; internal communication through hand signals and the People's Mic; and has developed a decentralized decision making process that has been adopted by other groups. 

It has given the public a narrative that has summed up (as much as it has expanded) our "99%" collective experience. It has allowed us to clearly see our adversaries as the "1%," which Occupy has publically exposed.

Occupations all over the world shined a light on publicity shy corporations and their day to day activities that keep working people' oppressed and our planet in peril.

Occupy has acted as a literal hub for the expression of different ideas and facilitated the networking of people who would normally not have found themselves in the same space - either politically or socially.


As a social experiments - because isn't everything activists do a social experiment to see which tactics work and which don’t? – we as a movement learned that while the concept of Radical Inclusion may seem utopian and optimal, it is not currently tactical nor successful. We’re just not ready for it yet.

We as a movement learned that – even for activist who are so confident in defining what they are fighting against -- we still have not necessarily defined what we are fighting for.

Nor what a post –revolutionary, utopian world would look like and how to manage that in practice. In fact, I think neither Zucotti Park nor St. James Park residents' had any idea just how hard it would be to keep their camp's functioning.

Activists, like soldiers and other warrior-kin, carry their energy forward. Hindsight is not only 20/20 but was also as precious as a good night sleep in the park without shouting or shivering keeping you awake.

For Toronto, it was forty days and nights with all action and no time to process what was going on. It was trying to keep the People's Kitchen open each day and no time to consider preparing for winter. It was keeping the police out of the park each night without a true defensive plan in case of eviction -- which everyone knew would eventually come.

As the number of our days in the park increased, so did the pressures to keep donations coming and solicit outside-park support, a task which became increasingly more difficult in itself as we felt the legal snare closing in around us and living conditions in the park deteriorated.

Food and warm clothing donations soon became scarce on certain days, the weather increasingly got colder as we faced down a Canadian winter. These tensions played out in fracturing interpersonal relationships and the dark shadow that fell over the park on weekends and evenings that made it unsafe for members of the General Assembly to hold nightly meetings without risk of interruption or physical assault and unsafe for men and women to be outside their tents in the middle of the night.

Despite all the goodness that had gone into creating the Occupy encampment in Toronto, that light and spontaneity slowly disappeared as it became harder and harder to meet everyone’s needs in the park and fend off the wolves of eviction. In the final week, every day was potential eviction day as residents lost all control over their lives in St. James Park.

When the park was eventually shut down, its residents and supporters were displaced both physical and emotionally. St. James Park’s had become our home and the eviction left us raw and disillusioned -- even though we all knew it was inevitable.

We had begun to see other Occupy sites fall to police -- some as quickly as they began -- and we knew eventually our time would come. 

The eviction -- our ability to foresee it and the frustration of not being able to plan for it, left a lot of people burnt out or angry or both. It felt like a defeat that we had not been able to leave on our own terms. Or stay. But let’s face it, holding down a 24 hour encampment was very difficult to achieve and maintain and it may not happen again. In fact, it probably won't.

I'm ok with that.

That doesn't mean that Occupy is dead, it just is what it was. 

You can't un-occupy people's minds as much as you cannot remove within them the desire for a better world, a better life.  

And if that better world was not manifested in Occupy-as-encampment, we have at least learned a lot of the critical skills necessary to move forward towards that goal.

I'm ok with that.

Life moves us ever forward.

**

On Monday, September 17, 2012, for the anniversary of Occupy, members from Occupations around Southern Ontario are converging on Ottawa as Parliament resumes. Click here to find out more information.

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