Toward a Radical Strategy in Decolonize/Occupy Seattle


Friends, comrades, fellow occupiers,

Many of us have been involved in Decolonize/Occupy Seattle nonstop, dealing with the constant crises, from police raids to racist and sexist behavior inside the occupation.  Despite our differences we have done an excellent job coming together around specific interventions that need to be made in order to help the occupation grow and succeed.  We’re worried, however, that we keep getting stuck in immediate tactics, and don’t often have the time to step back and discuss broader and longer term strategy.  The goal of this document is to generate discussion about broader strategic issues; we hope that we can discuss these with other occupiers to develop a set of timely, effective, and precise tactics that hold together as a coherent strategy so we can focus our energy where it will have the biggest impact.   We raise a series of problems, and possible solutions.  We hope folks consider these problems, debate our proposed solutions, and come up with other solutions besides the ones we raise.

1) Strategic suggestions for the overall movement:

Problem:  lack of focused direct action against banks, financial institutions, and other institutions of the 1%

It’s good that we’ve held our ground at Westlake because of our high  visibility and because it allowed us to defy the Mayor’s attempt to coopt us by moving to City Hall.  The constant police raids have been terrible.  However, they have politicized the occupation more around the role of the police in maintaining the system, and have created an opening to link up with the folks who were active just recently in Seattle’s upsurge against police brutality last year.   The “no police” statement just passed by the General Assembly will make it more possible for people who regularly experience police violence – people of color and working class folks- to participate

However, the liberals are partly right when they say we are focusing too much on the police and not enough on the banks.  It was resistance to the banks that mobilized thousands of people around the country.  That is one key element that holds this Occupy  movement together, the other being the self-governing nature of the movement which lends itself to folks taking direct action for themselves instead of appealing to politicians, lawyers, or nonprofits.  We should branch out and tackle closely related issues such as police terror, but we cant loose this focus on direct action against the banks.  Yes, we are fighting the entire system, not just the banks (as we argued in our recent pamphlet: http://blackorchidcollective.wordpress.com/2011/10/16/occupy-to-end-capitalism/).  But the best way to build a mass movement against the system in the immediate moment is to focus on the banks and to explain how they are part of the larger system that needs to be overthrown and replaced. The more we can explain this, the more our tactical actions against non-bank targets will make sense.  The focus on banks might change in the future, but right now I think it makes sense to deepen this focus before we branch out too far.

One Possible solution:

We have proposed moving the base camp to a more secure location so that we can start to do more flash mob direct actions against banks, budget cuts, etc.  This is a good ideas but folks have raised legitimate counter-arguments that need to be considered and it may take a while to figure this out.  We can’t wait too long to start.

Therefore, we propose that more of us switch our focus away from trying to fortify and defend the occupation site and more towards organizing flash-mob direct actions coupled with solid outreach (flyering, postering, stickering, etc.).  We need to let them know that when they stomp the flames they just spread the embers.   The best defense right now is a good offense.  The more we do flashmob actions  and outreach the more visible public support we will receive and the easier it will become to defend the camp.  Also, once we get more practice doing flashmobs we can start to use them a diversion methods to defend the camp as well.

The actions that OS has taken against the banks so far have been either symbolic or fairly individualistic.  Direct action has meant burning credit cards or closing accounts as a group.  We should be clearly advocating for direct actions that have both a more collective and a more militant nature and that get at our ability to govern ourselves, not just move our money to a credit union.  Direct actions against foreclosures are a clear way to do this that a number of OS folks have already responded positively to when the idea is raised.  We should aim to move the flashmobs in that direction, and particularly advocate for future occupations of foreclosed homes.  We could start by helping the Foreclosure Fighters group defend the Mitchell family’s home in the Central District (http://seattleforeclosurefighters.ning.com/).

The liberals who believe in nonviolence and the radicals who believe in self-defense and a diversity of tactics could probably unite around direct actions against banks.  In fact this is probably one of the few things we we will be able to unite around right now and doing it could hold together the movement as a united front.   Doing this sort of thing, with solid analysis and reflection before and afterwards, could be a radicalizing experience for many liberals, and doing it with them will keep radicals from getting isolated and will help us understand better where everyday people are at right now.   We are not attempting to suppress folks who might want to do more militant flashmob actions that go beyond nonviolence.  We need to strongly assert the principle of diversity of tactics against the principle of dogmatic orthodox pacifism.  We’re just saying that it makes strategic sense right now to initiate nonviolent actions, and we can do this even if we don’t agree with an overall pacifist ideology; we can do it even as we challenge pacifist domination in our chants, literature, workshops, etc..

We propose that occupiers form action committees that organize these flashmobs.  We should figure out whether or not it makes sense to coordinate this with the Direct Action working group.  Regardless, we should make it clear these action committees are not working groups, they are not groups that execute the policies of the General Assembly, it should be a loose network of autonomous action committees that can take their own initiative.

For actions that are not security sensitive we should announce them in the GA and invite people to participate.  This is an announcement, not a proposal – we don’t need the GA’s permission to form groups to take action, as long as we don’t claim to speak for the Occupation as a whole.   More security sensitive actions don’t even need to be announced at the GA, but we should do some less sensitive ones as well so we can maximize participation from occupiers who are really looking for ways to participate at a deeper level.  We could even say “who is interested in doing XYZ… ” then invite people to a an action committee meeting just about that action. Anyone who is not in agreement with that action should be asked to leave the meeting, and debate should focus only on how to make the action happen.  This will keep us from getting derailed.  With more security sensitive actions, groups of friends could form affinity groups with people they trust and could carry out actions,then simply ask someone else to report back to the GA an the internet/ media committee that XYZ action happened, in the hope that others will replicate it.

Problem: lack of participation from people of color

Possible solutions:

- Making flyers specifically focused on majority people of color  workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods.  We could go out in street teams to flyer, maybe do soapbox speeches, etc.

- Focus flashmobs around targets/ issues that directly affect communities of color, such as foreclosures of homes in Black communities.

- Forming exploratory committees of people interested in starting General Assemblies and/or occupations in majority people of color workplaces/ schools/ neighborhoods.  This should definitely have significant leadership from people of color already active in Occupy Seattle and should not be dominated by nonprofits; a direct democratic Neighborhood Assembly can help prevent this domination.  Even if a public neighborhood General Assembly does not start an occupation, it might be a good forum for neighbors to discuss specific issues like gentrification, budget cuts, or unemployment and to figure out how to take direct action around them.  This could lead to a new round of flashmob actions.

- If we don’t have critical mass to form assemblies in the niehborhoods, it might make sense to start with flashmobs in the ‘hood that can raise awareness and show the possibilities of what can be done, which might lay the basis for an assembly later.  The key thing is we don’ want the assemblies to be dominated by middle class gentrifiers, nonprofit leaders,  or by professional/ business owner folks who will want to focus on lobbying, etc.  We want to make sure they’re controlled by working class people, and starting with action first around issues most relevant to working class people of color might be a good way to encourage this.

Advice for Radicals at Occupy Seattle

Problem: Radicals have been working tirelessly to build this occupation, which is good.  However, the occupation could get coopted by the Democratic Party.  We might get sidelined or expelled from the movement.  They are much better organized than us and have more resources.  The movement is growing fast but not fast enough in layers of the working class that would possibly break from Democratic Party/ union bureaucrat/ nonprofit bureaucrat control.

Possible Solutions:

- More anti-capitalist workshops

- We could collaborate on a joint statement against co-optation efforts, and laying out a radical vision for Occupy Seattle.  We could attempt to get it passed by the General  Assembly but it probably won’t be passed (the vote is just a way to popularize it, we should accept defeat and move on).  Then we could distribute it directly ourselves, both inside and outside the occupation, making it clear we speak for ourselves, not the whole occupation.

- A blog controlled by the various radical tendencies in the movement,  where we post radical perspectives on the occupation.

- More literature distribution tables with anti-capitalist literature including the collective statement

- We should not conceive of ourselves as a radical caucus of the Occupy Movement alone.  This presumes that we could not exist outside of the movement, so if the movement dies or if we are expelled from it or marginalized further within it then we loose our voice.  We suggest we come up with a name that is linked to the Occupation movement but could outlast it or also exist outside of it.  We suggest we call ourselves “idignados” after the Spanish occupiers of Puerto del Sol.  Even though the occupation died, the Indignados continue to do neighborhood assemblies and solidarity network -style organizing.  Our goal should be to develop a broad based radical grouping that can work together during the occupation to help build it,  but also during other struggles that might break out during or after the occupation (longshore strikes, anti-budget cuts movements, anti-police brutality upsurges, etc.)

- We should do brainstorm sessions where we can come up with common chants, banners, signs, etc. For example,  “We are the indignados, the radical wing of the 99%”

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6 Responses to Toward a Radical Strategy in Decolonize/Occupy Seattle

  1. mamos206 says:

    Just to clarify, when we talk about working with liberals to do common direct actions, we’re not talking about liberal ideologues, democratic party operatives, nonprofit industrial complex leaders, etc. We are talking about the layer of people who are new to activism who have liberal ideas but who are open to more radical perspectives. There are a lot of folks like that at Occupy Seattle. As for the Democratic Party machine, a firm line needs to be drawn preventing them from coopting the movement, which they have been trying repeatedly to do. We will publish more on this shortly.

  2. gg says:

    The indignatos are NOT the radicals in Spain. In fact, they regularly come into conflict with the radicals and have try to stifle (usually effective) the outbreak of more radical struggle. The “indignants” are the legalists, the pacifists, the loyal citizens who are upset because, as a poster in Rome reads, “Europe is not for sale!” and they want their relatively privileged way of life back. Don’t call yourselves that!

  3. mamos206 says:

    okay, thanks for the info! We will most certainly not advocate that name anymore then…

  4. amira says:

    Black Orchid point out that that “we as radicals” are independent of the OccupySeattle phenomenon. What they do not recognize is that likewise, radicality is itself independent of “us” and our ideas.

    This means that the radicalization of the occupation should not been seen as something for us to produce, but rather as the potential product of the current crisis of capitalism and the resultant experiments in proletarian self-organization and direct action. This obliges us to view radicalization as something largely out of our hands, even while largely in our interests.

    The strategy proposed here by Black Orchid stems from an analysis in which the radicalization of the class can and must be brought about by the activity of its radical minority element through a variety of forms: propaganda, actions, recruitment (of more oppressed demographics, e.g.), etc. All of this ignores the fact that revolutionary consciousness (in the Marxist sense of the self-abolishing proletariat) is produced by the capitalist system itself, and particularly through the experiences of struggle inherent to that system, at the same time that this consciousness is the concrete overcoming of the capitalist system. We know that any “radicality” transmitted through the activity of an activist minority will be a false consciousness more approximate to religious ideology than to the consciousness of directly-lived experience. Furthermore, we know that this prospect is just as dangerous as the worry of cooptation by leftist political parties. In fact, since those parties in the indebted government have little to concretely offer the masses, there should be little worry that the empty messages of hope and change will continue to distract anyone at all. Instead, we should concern ourselves with developing a critique of how this “movement of the squares” might concretely assist capitalism in its projects by means of its (seemingly) most radical elements and practices, so that we may sabotage that process.

    None of this is to say that there is not a role for an anarchist and anti-state communist minority element in this historical moment. On the contrary, it is essential for the milieu to transcend its own limits and ideological constraints as part of the whole struggle for consciousness.

    The power of the historical moment is that one can speak quite plainly of the prospect of a total social revolution abolishing the state-capitalism while being the most sane and reasonable voice in the crowd. It is the adherents to the whole political spectrum who are deluded, whether by thinking that ending the Federal Reserve or the New World Order is what’s needed, or by thinking that the austerity government can or will cave to any left-leaning demand at all. Anarchists and anti-state communists must avoid the temptation to water down our ideas for ‘the masses.’ We must be clear that direct action does not mean symbolic action, defensive struggle, militant lobbying, street theatre outreach, creative protest, or any such nonsense. We will be most effective the more honestly and directly we interact with others. (Which is not to say we shouldn’t engage in some secret conspiracies on the side.)

    Alienation will not be overcome through alienated means.

  5. Norma says:

    ” The “no police” statement just passed by the General Assembly will make it more possible for people who regularly experience police violence – people of color and working class folks- to participate”. Are people of color not working class? By making this distinction you are creating sub divisions in the movement. All people of all races suffered through foreclosures in my area. We all walk for different reasons but uppermost is what was mentioned : banks, money, jobs. a change in political structures, capping campaign contributions, etc.

  6. mamos206 says:

    Most, but not all, people of color are working class. People of color experience a high degree of police violence, more so than working class white people. But working class white folks do experience police violence too. I said “people of color and working class folks” to make it clear that the spirit of the proposal includes working class white people too. In fact, this is a classic example of how the initiative, demands, and power of working class people of color in fact benefit the entire working class.

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