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From Draft NOtices, January-March 2012

A Peace Activist at Occupy

— Stephanie Jennings

“We are unstoppable — another world is possible!” This and other hopeful chants rise up in the midst of a small Occupy rally in San Diego. Like other cities, San Diego has gone through a great deal of pain, both real and imagined, as the fledgling Occupy movement swells and shrinks with the changing tides. Our local Occupy site has reverted from a thriving community of tents, a full kitchen, a library, medic and comfort tent, and an art center, back to the now power-washed cement corporate center our city so loves. Still, these dogged activists maintain their presence against daunting odds. San Diego activists have braved police crackdowns with pepper spray and batons, 2 a.m. raids, pouring rain and windstorms, and general disillusionment followed by re-energized actions that bring out the crowds. San Diego has the sixth largest number of arrests of Occupy activists in the country — thanks to a mayor determined to eradicate any hint of dissent no matter the cost to taxpayers. Occupy San Diego has produced everything from dedicated hunger strikers to infiltrators. We’ve been arrested for registering voters and for leaving a backpack on the sidewalk.

It was a banner year for political activism — in 2011 we were inspired by the Arab Spring, Europe’s ongoing strikes, South American student protests, the emergence of the Occupy movement, and other political shifts on a global scale. For many of us this is a glorious moment, perhaps the one that we have waited for all our lives. But reality quickly sets in because there is still much work ahead of us. The Occupy movement, like many that have gone before it, has constantly teetered on the edge with struggles of identity, message, strategy, and other huge obstacles. Discussions among activists (some of them heated) are daily and even hourly occurrences. Topics range from logistical complaints about space, property and, of course, the cops to strategy and tactics.

As a long-time counter-militarism activist, I first participated at the Washington DC Occupy, which was built around the tenth anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. I wanted to share this with my 13-year-old daughter, and it was a powerful event. We heard speakers like Ted Rall, Margaret Flowers and Chris Hedges, who gave a strong anti-imperialist and anti-war message. For me, this is an essential principle for Occupy. When I returned to San Diego and checked into the local activity, I was dismayed, yet sadly not surprised. In a community that is victim to a heavy military culture, many of our activists repeat military propaganda from time to time. We struggle with being fully supportive of homeless vets who have joined the Occupy San Diego movement while challenging the rhetoric of the “warrior hero.” The evidence of the overwhelming power of militarism in this country is all around us.

Yet I am frequently encouraged when I engage with the 99% movement and meet young people who are fully formed politically, reaching levels of analysis that took me 20 years to achieve. They have a real awareness of the world around them and know what is being done to them. They are begging for counter-militarism trainings and want to be involved in that part of the work. I met an Iraq veteran who was very excited to learn that people are doing outreach on high school campuses. “You know, that’s how they got me,” he said, speaking of his high school military recruiters.

The early emphasis of the movement was on the most privileged one percent of the population, with a worthy focus on banking criminals. Much more has been brought into the work, however, and a recent check of the Occupy San Diego Web page listed 27 issues. This needs to be updated because there are many additional issues on which local activists have reached consensus. As a part-time occupier, I’ve participated in a wide range of actions, including a women’s “occu-pella” chorus and a protest against police brutality. Anti-war actions include Teach Peace Not War protests at the Midway Museum (a local military attraction), rallies for Bradley Manning and a “how is the war economy working for you?” teach-in. There are dozens of additional events that I either can’t attend or don’t know about. These take place 24/7.

Like many of my fellow Occupy activists, I have spent much of my life working on initiatives, education campaigns, petition drives, phone banks, lobbying and even some electoral politics. No longer satisfied with a piecemeal approach, we now want it all! The system couldn’t even find a way to buy us off with one or two victories, so our conclusion is the whole thing stinks and cannot be reformed. We want all of our issues addressed. All of them.

But the Occupy movement is not yet prepared to do this work. They have not built the coalitions and connections needed to even begin to think about transforming and creating that other world we dream of. The Occupy movement struggles with issues of inclusion, diversity, sexism and overall sensitivity. To quote Ashley Sanders of Warisacrime.org, “Occupy is not an occupation, but a giant exercise in decolonization. It’s a battle to oust the false masters of our minds.” This is the current work needed in our local community. This is where community organizations and activists that have gone before us can help build and form this movement. Many of us have worked tirelessly to change the system. We have laid the groundwork by engaging in strategic and tactical campaigns that either helped move the agenda forward or attacked root causes. We can and should be engaged with this new movement in a way that contributes our years of experience and work at this time in history.

Sanders writes that Lawrence Goodwyn, author of The Populist Moment, identifies these stages of a movement: 1) the movement forms, 2) the movement recruits, 3) the movement educates, 4) the movement politicizes. We are still forming, but I am moving into recruitment as I urge readers of Draft NOtices to consider bringing your knowledge and skills to mentoring and engaging in the Occupy movement. Those with organizing skills can join us as we work to decolonize our minds and practice real democracy. As a community organizer with experience in many different organizations, I brought my notion of organizing to the table and found that I had something to offer the movement. But the best surprise was how much my fellow Occupiers had to teach me and how our movement benefits from this exchange. Together we struggle because we share the awareness that the world has to change. And it has to change now. We can’t wait. The problems are too great and the moment is now. We do not have to have poverty, we do not have to have war, we can make changes. And another world IS possible.

Occupy our future!

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org/)

       

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