Angela Davis has noted that one of the failures in our collective memory of the 1963 bombing of a church in Birmingham is that we have forgotten the names and activist leanings of the four girls—Carole, Denise, Addie Mae and Cynthia—who are often merely reported to be four black girls who died in the bombings. In fact, the burgeoning activists were preparing to give a presentation about civil rights at the church’s annual Youth Day program. Rosa Parks, before she refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, had just finished a course on nonviolent action. To neglect the activist background and intention of these women is to believe falsely that historic moments like the civil rights movement “just happen.” In fact, years of organizing and strategizing bring about their birth. Travis Holloway, a poet, political philosopher and activist at Occupy Wall Street, believes this movement has the potential to go beyond mere words and slogans (though, he writes in a recent piece, these help), and like the civil rights movement, to effect real change. Along with suggestions from a wide range of activists, here are “Ten Things” to keep the Occupy movement going and build a foundation for long-term change.
1. We are the 99 percent. A movement of the 99 percent must be inclusive in its makeup and its goals. “The issues of the bottom of the 99 percent have to move to the top of the agenda,” writes Elias Holtz. Be sure that the movement involves those of all backgrounds, sexual orientations, religious and cultural affiliations and work towards representing the movement through women and people of color. Engage community leaders and ask them what are the most pressing issues they’re facing and fight alongside them. Read organizer Paulina Gonzalez’s experience at Occupy LA.
2. Whose streets? Our streets! Crackdowns on encampments means the movement shifts from holding a space to major public events, actions on the street, and horizontal, online organizing forums. Join a working group according to your interest and stay updated on major days of action.
3. Imagine all the people. Rallies aren’t the only form of protest. Be creative and don’t forget to surprise. If your opponent is counting on noisy drum circles or big signs, try a silent march or vigil (like the students at UC Davis) or looking like your opponent by walking the streets in business suits. For ideas and inspiration, read Gene Sharp’s 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action. Some ideas include boycotts, mock awards, mock elections, mock funerals, prayer and worship (as a symbolic public act), silence, teach-ins, refusal of public support, etc. Get more creative action ideas from the YesLab.
4. This is what democracy looks like. The value of top-down organization is no longer self-evident—not only in government, given the lack of trust in political representatives, but also in our everyday jobs and institutions. Consider adopting a horizontal decision-making structure. Here are the principles of workplace democracy and some people who practice it.
5. Occupy the future. Set major, future events now to define the agenda and the permanence of the movement, then use the winter to network in order to better mobilize in the spring. Community organizations, churches and labor have real connections with the community and add support and energy to existing movements. Go to OrganizingUpgrade for ideas on how to build and maintain connections. And don’t let Facebook leave out your grandma.
6. Occupy your life. Everyone has an opportunity to act out the ideals and goals of the Occupiers in his/her everyday life. We may not be able to leave jobs that are inconsistent with our values, but reflecting on our own feelings and opinions can make us stronger and influence others. Check out Occupy Yourself for the holiday season and beyond. Read this article and watch this video to rethink your allegiance to popular brands.
7. Boycott the 1 percent. Take on a corporation or person that in their actions embody the worst of greed Whoarethe1percent. If you are in a non-union workplace, consider the benefits of worker solidarity when confronting unfair wages or work conditions. Many union organizers are willing and prepared to help you form a union with your fellow workers.
8. Study. Winter is a time to learn more about economic inequality and real strategies for resistance. Schedule a teach-in at an Cccupy event or consider attending one (schedule of NYC teach-ins here). Read “There Are Realistic Alternatives” for a crash course on nonviolent resistance and browse the OWS Library.
9. Nonviolent resistance is five parts organizing, four parts media and one part action. One of the major challenges and successes of organizing is to get media to report on an event. Designate a media person whose sole goal is to pitch to reporters, build relationships, update them on actions, and report back to members. Just keep reiterating the main themes of the movement. You may feel like a broken record, but few things are more powerful than an idea whose time has come. Go to Pitching to news outlets for more suggestions.
10. Occupy education. Occupy the DOE was a great way the movement showed it could shift from the streets to strategic action by protesting the lack in the structures that instruct. Identify student loan corporations and colleges with the most atrocious tuition hikes. If you are a public university student, connect and collaborate with other schools within your network to protest tuition hikes that most state schools are undergoing. Go to Occupy Student Debt Campaign to learn more.
A Couple More Things:
11. Exit Strategy Always have one. Be imaginative enough to see possible outcomes of the movement and always have a plan for anything that arises.
12. Occupy “Other Things.” Think we missed out on a fundamental piece of advice or suggested action? Think we were utterly wrong about one of them? Send your suggestions, corrections and slams to [email protected].
Conceived by Walter Mosley and co-edited by Rae Gomes.
Editor’s Note: This piece first inaccurately credited Alice Walker, not Angela Davis, with the reflections about the Birmingham church bombing. The piece has been corrected.