Friday, December 23, 2011

[olympiaworkers] Occupy Wall Streets Next Steps – Part 2 – How to Win a Fight with the 1%

Occupy supporters must re-orient their organizing from mass, symbolic
actions – such as "mic-checking politicians" and waving signs at CEO's -
to more targeted campaigns designed to win real, immediate gains for

Over the past month, Occupy Wall Street has chalked up a large number of
bold actions against both government and private authorities; it has led
an attempted general strike, raucous marches, occupations of banks and
abandoned buildings, disruptions of political speeches and press events,
and a massive West Coast shut down of major port terminals partly to aid
longshore workers in their fights against their employers.

The actions, moreover, have already achieved limited successes – besides
having created space for Americans to come together outside of the
established political system, they have rightly been credited with having
stopped fee increases amongst the largest banks in the country, as well as
having widely validated the American public's fury over increasing
inequality, generating massive media exposure. Largely, however, the only
real material victory of Occupy so far – its having stopped increased bank
fees – has been incidental, and was in no way a conscious objective of the
Occupy Movement.

Accordingly, the Occupy Movement remains increasingly susceptible to
losing its momentum if it does not achieve some tangible, substantive
gains for itself and for its communities. People, after all, don't just
want to vent forever – they want something done. We can be certain that if
people do not see real results from the Occupy Movement soon, they will
move on to something which seems to offer them more; and with our two
political parties gearing up for election season, we should take this
threat all the more seriously.

Concretely, what this is going to mean for Occupy supporters is to
re-orient their organizing from mass, symbolic actions – such as
"mic-checking politicians" and waving signs at CEO's - to more targeted
campaigns designed to win real, immediate gains for ourselves.

A look at Direct Action and the Seattle Solidarity Network:

A small group, comprised of only several hundred people, SeaSol is an
organization for local Occupy groups to look to for inspiration, because
of just how much it has achieved with such little resources, largely
because of its winning strategy.

Originally, a good part of this strategy was borrowed from organizations
such as the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and the Industrial Workers
of the World, who had launched Direct action campaigns similar to SeaSol's
present day actions.

The idea of confronting our problems ourselves, of course, actually
predates both SeaSol and its forerunners. It is based not only in the
anarchist tradition of self management, but critically on the idea that by
surrendering control over the outcome of your problems to someone else,
you've more than likely surrendered the outcome of your problem being
solved in your favor.

Thus, unions who have relied on the Democratic Party have lost the battle
over the Employee Free Choice Act, NAFTA, and even the right to basic
collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin; environmentalists have lost a
series of contests over offshore drilling and smog regulation; and citizen
volunteers for the Obama's 2008 campaign have lost battles for more
transparency in government, and an end to corporate influence over
legislators. The list could go on.

Despite the obvious setbacks of relying on political parties and
'specialists,' the reason organizations like the Democratic Party remain
so pervasive is because there is no obvious alternative for most people.
What alternatives there are in the United States are often disorganized,
directionless, and most importantly, they normally aren't relevant. They
simply don't achieve anything meaningful to our day-to-day lives.

SeaSol might be seen as a response, then, to both the dominance of
"professional" activist organizations which specialize in mediating
people's struggles, and to their ineffective counterparts who partake in
the sorts of symbolic, wishy-washy politics the grassroots left has become
synonymous with.

Practical Politics:

For social movements to not only sustain themselves, but also to grow, its
important for them to be relevant to other people's daily lives. They must
offer something that will, at least eventually, markedly improve their
quality of life.

The Seattle Solidarity Network has seen a good amount of growth in its
relatively short life span because it focusses on partial solutions to a
problem most people face: naked exploitation. Has your boss stolen your
wages? Is your landlord refusing to make needed repairs to your home? Have
you been discriminated against?

A brief visit to their website reveals that all of the fights SeaSol has
taken on – over stolen wages or deposits, for example – are rather small
conflicts. SeaSol's record of fighting for small gains such as these is an
important distinction between itself and other grassroots organizations on
the left.

SeaSol recognizes that to effectively address a problem, you must have the
resources and capacity to hurt your target more than it will cost them to
give into your demand. For a group comprising only several hundred people
– even for a group a hundred times this size – a fight to "end corporate
influence on government" would be absurd. A fight to force a landlord to
fix a mold problem, however, is probably much more manageable.

SeaSol shows this relationship – between the amount of leverage we have,
and the amount it would cost a target to give in to our demands – in its
"winnability graph."

Say, for example, you and your comrades in Occupy Wall Street wanted to
force a national bank to pay back all of the taxpayer money which was used
to bail it out when the recession hit. How hard a demand would this be for
the bank to give in to?

Well, that's billions upon billions of dollars that the bank would have to
pay back. That's a pretty big demand. So how badly would you need to hurt
the bank in order to make it easier for them to pay back that money than
not to give in to your demand? Theoretically, you would have to launch a
series of actions across the country which threatened to cost them
billions and billions of dollars.

Even with the size of the occupy protests as they are – that's probably
not something we should consider a "winnable" demand.

But what if instead of using our time at Occupy to make unwinnable
demands, we focussed on winning a series of smaller fights? What if
instead of trying to get the banks to pay back all the money they had
taken from taxpayers, we tried to stop foreclosures in our cities, home by
home? With the level of participation in the Occupy movement, demands such
as this might be much more workable – and consequently, build a larger and
better organized movement, which down the line, can demand larger and
larger concessions.

How to win a fight with the 1% – Putting the hurt on:

So, you've decided on a righteous demand that people will find compelling
and just – a demand you feel confident you and other occupiers in your
city can win. How do you go about fighting for it?

Make it clear what the demand is:

Throughout a fight, it is important that the target know exactly what they
are expected to do, or what demand they are expected to meet. SeaSol,
therefore, begins all of its campaigns with what they call a "demand

First, they write a "demand letter" addressed to the boss or landlord they
have a grievance with. Then, along with as many folks as they can gather,
the tenant or worker leads the group into the office or home of the
target. For a wonderful example of this in action, here's a great video of
one of SeaSol's demand deliveries:

The point is both to make it very clear what we expect the boss or
landlord to do, and to show our collective strength – the implication is
that here is a group of people who are going to be on you, hard, until our
demand is met.


SeaSol normally approaches a fight with a few principles in mind.

First, they know that the name of the game here is pressure. Essentially,
how are we going to make life very, very hard for our target until they
give in?

There are, of course, a lot of ways one may hurt an individual or company.
You can disrupt their bottom line, and hurt them economically, with
pickets, boycotts, or blockades. You can target their social connections,
and embarrass them in front of neighbors, fellow church goers or business
partners with flyers, letters, protests, or sit ins. There are,
ultimately, a nearly infinite number of tactics you can use to put
pressure on a target – it just takes some creativity.

To fit these tactics together into a coherent campaign, SeaSol first asks
itself "will this tactic hurt us, and will it hurt our target?" While a
sit in or a brick through a window may hurt our target, they also have the
potential to get our members arrested – in which case, we would also be
hurt by the tactic. So while there are no hard and fast rules for planning
which tactics fit any given situation, the general rule of thumb is that
you normally want your tactics to be sustainable (meaning you could,
theoretically, continue them indefinitely), and you want them to hurt your
target more than they hurt you.


A SeaSol organizer put the concept of escalation this way: "it isn't the
memory of what we did to the boss yesterday that makes them want to give
in, but the fear of what we'll do to them tomorrow."

As a campaign progresses, you want to give the target the impression that
things are getting increasingly worse for them – that you are constantly
escalating your fight. This means that campaigns will generally begin with
tactics wich are less intense, and gradually become more confrontational,
both in terms of their militancy and frequency.

So while yesterday you may have simply been putting up flyers around their
business, tomorrow you may be picketing their shop or disrupting a fancy
dinner party.

Next Steps:

It cannot be emphasized enough that there is a real threat to the Occupy
Movement in the Democratic Party. This election season, as is custom, the
presidential campaign will dominate most news coverage – pushing the
publicity for Occupy off the front page. Obama's campaign will be drumming
up support, threatening the American public with the prospect of a
Republican administration if he should fail to win re-election.

Good organizers and participants in your local Occupy groups will leave
Occupy to organize for Obama and the Democrats. The only effective
countermeasure against this will be to draw in new layers of support from
people not yet involved – and in order to do that, you will need to start
taking on fights which help and empower regular folks.

And, of course, whatever the targets local Occupy groups plan to take on
next, it will be important to remember these few little tips: make sure
the fight is relevant, winnable, and hurts.

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