Last week's climactic worldwide May Day events, in which police and protesters clashed and black bloc protesters caused thousands of dollars worth of property damage, revived the nation's waning interest in the Occupy movement long enough for everyone to ask, "What next?"
As can be expected, the cause has hit somewhat of a plateau, and the sentiment amongst the public seems to be that the Occupy groups should separate themselves from the violent factions of the movement and expand their community-minded support into the neighborhoods.
SFist took it upon ourselves to ask members of Occupy in various cities to suspend disbelief for a moment and pretend they were each the leader of the movement. What would be some tangible next steps for Occupy? Naturally, only two of the participants ventured to imagine if Occupy did have a leader, but we like the variety of answers we received (emphasis ours):
Scott Rossi, Occupy SF medic:
If I were leader of the Occupy Movement, assuming we elected a leader, I'd do a lot. I would encourage and instigate neighborhood assemblies along the Occupy Bernal model, and these neighborhood assemblies would immediately begin empowering and networking individuals of all political affiliations in each part of town. They would also engage in a similarly vigorous foreclosure defense operation right along the lines of Occupy Bernal.
Additionally, I'd instigate a political wing to take immediate action lobbying city hall and city departments on behalf of the city's most pernicious and overlooked issues. I would largely ignore the nonprofits such as the 'homeless services industry' that seem to mitigate the most severe issues around homelessness, but not solve the problem and instead i'd get to work encouraging the city to use its powers of eminent domain to seize vacant and abandoned properties and set up a system of resident cooperatives that would maintain these properties and turn them into productive entities.
I would also get writers and interested local press organized for a series of brutal exposes on how the Reagan administration gutted mental health services and the terrible effects it has had on cities like San Francisco. This group would work hand in hand with the political group to lobby the state and Washington for an increase in these services.
I would also start a number of ballot initiatives including additional taxes on corporations, property taxes, estate taxes and luxury goods to help better fund HealthySF, our crumbling schools and infrastructure.
I would ally with transit activists to hammer MUNI and campaign to have their entire board replaced with transit advocates who are attracted to the job because of their passion for transit and not the paycheck.
Lastly and most importantly, I would wage a merciless and unceasing asymmetric non-violent campaign of pickets, blockades and area denial protests and marches and bring 'business as usual' to a halt in the financial district around the companies that have caused such misery over the last few years. Until fraudulent foreclosures cease, until predatory lending (aka 'ghetto loans') ceases and until banks and multinational companies begin to do their fair share for the country, all business would grind to a halt within our means. From Ocean Beach to Embarcadero, only credit unions, community trusts and small local banks would be able to conduct financial business. As the banks brought the economy to its knees, as they have brought so many families and lives to a standstill, they would find themselves in the same predicament.
And there would be much outreach and education with the ongoing actions to bring accountability and understanding to the bank customers. Every dollar they hold in the bank is another dollar that bank can use to do evil works. There's probably other things that I am forgetting, but that's why I'd have several experienced, diverse and accomplished activists at my side helping make sure this campaign is as ruthless and effective as the forces arrayed against us. It's probably a good thing that I'm just a street medic with a pikachu hat on. :)
Bjorn Larsen, Occupy Wall Street / Occupy.com Social Media Manager
In general terms: exactly what's already happening. Millions of people all over the world creatively collaborating on countless projects, actions and discussions toward meaningful societal change.
One focus I think is particularly important for "phase two" is on reaching beyond the proverbial "base." Communicating Occupy to mainstream America — and mainstream everywhere else — in ways they can relate to and identify with. Because the DMSM (dying mainstream media) sure isn't going to do it for us.
The how is at the heart of what we're trying to figure out with Occupy.com. The short answer, I think, is no one really knows. But I have every faith that we can and will continue to get better and better at it. Occupy is an experimental movement in the best sense — it's unafraid of trying new things every day. It's a movement in perpetual "beta" and this is a big part of why it's been working to the amazing extent it already has.
A slightly longer answer is: by giving them beautiful/thoughtful/inspiring/eye-opening accounts of the movement directly from Occupiers themselves, putting those accounts into informational context so they can understand the veracity and importance of what Occupiers are saying and doing, prompting them with ideas for how they can act on that information personally, and encouraging them to develop their own.
Jeff K., Occupy Oakland / Livestreamer:
If Occupy (especially #OO) was a non-leaderless movement or transitions into a leaded movement because of the social hierarchy that manifests itself into our psycho-social subconscious, Not so distant from our own U.S. President, I can never claim to "know all" about the movement, every city's principles, and the necessary advisement needed to change our current system of Capitalism. What I will say, in brevity, is that though my leadership would still be very inclusive in terms of democratic change. It is unnecessary to create 1,000+ laws per annum, and an integration of peoples' needs by consensus or up-voting online would allow me as a leader to address the problems America is facing in a more-so just way. It would be necessary to alleviate infighting, hold open-door discussions with police and city departments (HoJo, Quan, etc.), and re-structure the Occupy general assemblies to allow for more versatility and tabling for controversial proposals. Though not every person will receive what s/he requests in terms of process and change, the fundamentals of ethical decision-making and inclusion of the current local Government must always be present.
Sue Basko, Occupy Peace / lawyer for independent media who also helps people plan and run peaceful protests / Chicago / LA:
If I were the leader of the Occupy Movement, I would stop and think, hey, this is supposed to be a movement without a leader.
A few years ago, I started a group that was non-hierarchical. To me, it is refreshing that Occupy is supposed to be this way, although there are some within and without do who do not get that. In a non-hierarchical "organization," a person can contribute how and as they can. For example, some like to attend meetings, some like to attend events, some like to help on the internet, some like to do art, or music, or writing, or making videos. Some like a certain form of protest, such as foreclosure actions, while others may like a protest march, while others may like any of thousands of variations.
The funny thing is that the ones that like to be in an old-fashioned sort of hierarchical group, where they are in a "club" with voting and such trappings, for some reason, seem to view their way as superior. It is not. It is just that they are more conventional people, not used to the freedom of a real non-hierarchical group. What I see is a lot of the younger people wanting to be recognized as the leader, or the "president," or as the important contributor.
My saying: If people know everything you're doing, you're not doing enough.
What I saw with a non-hierarchical group I started a few years back is that we had staying power. Also, each person was able to act autonomously to do what they could, as they could. Also, the very unpredictability of this system makes it strong. People just did things without conferring, without asking anyone's okay. Other people were more committee-ish, and that was okay, too, if they were able to form a committee.
It is also inspiring to people that they do not need to ask permission of any hierarchy and can just do. Of course, if they want permission from one of these local clubs or subsets, then they must abide by the rules of that little group. Some people thrive in freedom, while others do not. Some want to dominate others, or control each thing that happens. Some feel they cannot do things without permission.
And a real lot of people are the kind that keep making suggestions on what the group should do, and then if you tell them they are free to do that very thing, they take no action. They want to set up a list of activities for others to accomplish, but they don't want to do it themselves. If you come up with an activity you think should be done, be prepared to do it yourself and to enlist others to help you.
The one main tenet of Occupy has been that it is peaceful, meaning no personal or property violence. Some participate who do like property or personal damage, and that presents a challenge — how do the other people get those violent people out of the group? Or do they keep them in and risk that everyone will land in prison? It is an important question. Basically, the bottom line is that you have to get those people out of your group or you have to leave the group and start anew with only non-violent people. The whole movement could easily be destroyed by these people — whether they are real people who approve of violence, or if they are infiltrators or provocateurs. Violence and damage do not work to make positive change.
Where is it going? People have a shared bond of humanity. People need housing, food, health care, education, transportation. Let's just list those things as basics, which most Americans today do not have, or do not have in any assured or secure way. If people keep working together to try to get those things for themselves and for others, that is the future.