Thursday, October 13, 2011

An open letter to #OccupyNOLA

I have had a complicated time with the #OccupyWallStreet solidarity movement in New Orleans.  Engaged in ideological battles on Twitter and plain old personality clashes at the campsite, I've found it best to keep a healthy distance from the organizers, who I fear are subverting - however unwittingly - the purpose and potential of the event in favor of dogmatic methodology and politics of exclusion.

I posted the following on the public form at occupynola.org. It isn't a comprehensive list of my suggestions, but I'll add to it as I figure out how to articulate them better.
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An open letter to #OccupyNOLA:

Congratulations on your successes thus far. It is wonderful to know that such engaged, earnest people live in this city and are motivated to change things for the better.

However, a few issues continue to nag me, and I would like to share them here, where I hope they are received in the positive and supportive spirit from which they come.

Over the past week, I have been trying to tell the #OccupyNOLA organizers that they should not get so defensive in response to detractors.  Those who might criticize are likely doing so constructively, and are working simultaneously towards the movement's productive ends. It is frustrating to see such miscommunication and anxiety amount to catty infighting in virtual reality as well as on the campsite itself.

To the facilitators and organizers, I would like to say that your hard work is acknowledged. You are working for a better system and a better world. That is beautiful and important. However, you are valuing process over progress.

This is especially evident at the General Assemblies, during which whole hours are devoted to technical debate concerning the "need" to reach consensus. I hate to break it to you, but sometimes consensus is inefficient and not at all worthwhile. Somebody is always going to feel duped, compromised, or disappointed. Better to arrive at collectivist-as-possible conclusions and implement them directly and quickly, instead of harping on a method that may not be appropriate here. More bluntly, just because you are hoarse from talking does not mean you have actually said anything.

Relatedly, I am seeing the same people facilitate assemblies, "run" working groups, and produce proposals. This means that most other people are being ostracized by either the individuals or the mechanisms of operation. That is, the process is not serving the majority's communications needs.  Not everybody feels comfortable being human miked in front of 50-100 people. Not everybody wants to raise points of information, fearing condescension or marginalization from the responders.

Please accept this feedback as hopeful and sincere. I am excited that New Orleans is present in the national movement these "occupations" have produced. However, further examination of our methods and messages is urgent and necessary. For example, is the language of occupation something that we really want to endorse as revolutionary or progressive? When participants clamor for "more diversity" at the assemblies and workshops, isn't the onus on them to listen to community members and make sure the goals of #OccupyNOLA are relevant to all those exploited by our current system?

Keep moving forward, and be aware that while not everybody will want to fit in in our movement, they should still be welcome to it.

In solidarity,
Arielle Schecter

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