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.