Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Occupy Everywhere But Stay On Message

My activist friend is among those organizing Occupy Bellingham. The weather has turned cold and wet; I expressed my concern that it would be hard to maintain the tent shelters during the winter. I’m sure that concern has been discussed.

I was down in Portland last weekend counting down to the city’s midnight deadline for clearing Chapman Square of Occupy Portland tents. At midnight the crowds grew and the atmosphere became more festive than confrontational.

A tweet attributed that to “Portland Nice.” It only got serious later Sunday afternoon when the police moved in to clear the area and arrest those who would not leave.

No doubt some folks came to Occupy Portland only as ‘lookie loos,’ but many came to stand with those who occupied the park, the same way thousands had come together in the early days of Occupy Portland.

Unfortunately, the media coverage was all about the confrontation between the police and those in the park. Mayor Sam Adams, Park Commissioner Nick Fish, and the Portland Police Department have become ‘the enemy’ instead of the fat cat bankers, multinational corporate creeps and sleaze-ball politicians.

It is totally legit to carry out a large-scale occupation of a public space in order to call attention to the obscene influence and power one percent of the population has over the 99 percent— and engage people in corrective action. What happened to that message?

I think it was Nick Fish who said that the one percent wasn’t paying for police and other city staff overtime and repairs to the park; it was all the taxpayers footing that bill. That’s not a bill I’d prefer to pay since it doesn’t serve my political purpose.

I want us to get smarter in bringing about real change. How about you?

--Mike Sato


  1. Our Lady of the North comments:

    "I agree - there has to be a better way to keep the Occupy message alive and growing. I keep thinking that the tent cities are distracting everyone from the real issues. The fact that they're also attracting the homeless - who of course are homeless exactly because of the screwed-up system we're living in - is no doubt bringing a whole host of additional challenges to those activists who'd like to be focused on developing effective strategies for creating real change. So I don't feel like the tent cities are the answer.

    I keep thinking back to our Nanoose peace camp days. For brief special occasions, we had multiple tents, but that was the exception. Most of the approximately 2 years we were there, we had just one large tipi, pitched on public land right beside the main highway & train tracks (a spot with a clear view of the naval facility). The tipi was our meeting place for strategy sessions and campaign planning, and it was "home" for a couple of hardy souls who were there almost fulltime, plus a rotating roster of other folks who would spend a night or two at a time there then return home until their next shift. In this way, the Peace Camp was highly visible and occupied, 24/7, no matter what the weather (and we did have heavy snow) - so it got lots of public and media attention, both pro and con - but at the same time we were able to keep the camp logistics and maintenance needs to a minimum while most of our energy went into developing and carrying out the other aspects of the campaign.

    Of course, that was another lifetime ago probably the same strategy wouldn't work in the current context. But still, I have to wonder if it could be helpful to the Occupy Movement to shift the emphasis away from being so focused on the right to pitch their tents."

  2. Mike,

    "That message" is being carried on. Please see it at the federal and state level. The state level has included invitations to various State Representatives (accepted), the Governor (declined) to visit or address Occupy and the week of Action (next week).

    Here are links to federal efforts -
    For current efforts to Petition Congress, please see:

    And read the actual Petition to Congress!/petition/endorse-wwwthe99declarationorg-which-petition-redress-grievances/Q6qYt2H9

    For Washington state, efforts supported include public campaign finance reform:

    As for the issue of protesting logistics. This is evolving just as it has in the past with three issues I remember - Old growth, WTO, and PETA. Each one had peaceful protestors and, well, "the other radical side".

    Just let me ask...remember the protests against the cutting of old growth? Remember those who camped in the forests, even in the canopies of the trees - Butterfly? Remember the violence - spiking of trees? What was your opinion of that action and effort? Who really represented the movement, Butterfly and the peaceful protestors, or those who spiked trees and blew up machinery?

    Move forward to WTO in Seattle. Remember all those people, different backgrounds, labor unions, unemployed, blue collar and white collar, environmentalists, all marching together? Okay, remember the violence on local businesses, too? What was your opinion of that? Who really represented the message of the WTO march - again, the speakers and the marchers, or the people who smashed windows?

    Now, it is 2011. We have Occupy. Same question. We have groups of tents and people occupying, and we have supporters who are inside. We also have an element hanging around that is a bit more radical, distracting from the overall Occupy message. This can lead to issues with protesting or Free Right to Assembly logistics. Now, this seems to me to be an expected element of most large social movements. My point - don't let it distract you from the real work being done. If this is a movement that has messages you support, get involved - whether it is inside or outside.

  3. Agreed, Liz-- and staying on the message that unifies the movement rather than splintering it is the challenge before us. Take a look at the piece in Yes Magazine by Indignados activists Marina Sitrin and Luis Morneo-Caballud. Occupy Wall Street, Beyond Encampments What causes unify us? Would Adbusters' OccupyXmas campaign?