On September 17, we took Liberty Square, used it to begin to create the social norms and institutions of a society to come, and became the Occupy movement. We hit the streets fiercely, abandoning the metal barricades they once contained us in, rejecting the marching permits they offered us, refusing their sidewalks. We were dragged — handcuffed — into the front pages of people’s minds, and brought with us a story many were trying to silence; a story about the massive profits made by the tiny few through the exploitation of the many, a story about deep and systemic economic, political and social injustice. We danced in the streets and parks we reclaimed, and then in the jail cells they took us to when they realized we weren’t going home. We were confident, invincible; it’s hard to be afraid when the sun is out.
But the season has changed. Autumn has ended and winter is upon us. We’ve lost Liberty Square, and each day brings news from across the country that another occupation has been evicted. Winter is here, and with it the cold; but it’s more than that. Winter brings the sober understanding that we won’t be in the headlines every day, that we need to be more than a string of events or actions or press releases, more than an endless meeting. Winter is the nagging truth that the next decade of organizing must be more sustainable than the first months we spent in the sun; that this is a struggle for the long-haul, that burn-out and martyrdom are no good for anyone and no good for the cause. Winter tells us to see our families and take a day off when we are sick, because the movement has to be healthy if it’s going to last. Winter is here to remind us that revolution is not an event but a process, and that social transformation means not only harnessing a moment, but building a movement.
Winter is here. But winter is not sad, and it’s not tragic; it’s just real. We do not fear the cold, and we will not hibernate. We will use the winter to become the movement we know is necessary.
A To-Do List for the Winter
1. Grow. We will continue to build relationships with communities that have been fighting and building for decades already, from tenants organizing eviction defense in Bed-Stuy, New York to AIDS activists on Staten Island. We will grow by joining struggles that protect people from the daily assaults they experience, from austerity to police brutality, and by waging struggles to meet peoples’ needs, like reclaiming foreclosed homes. We will transcend the open calls to action and the expectation that they are enough to build a movement; we will organize the hard way, because the hard way is the only way. We will have the million one-on-one conversations it takes to build a movement, door-to-door if we have to, and we will do it out in the open, because we have nothing to fear.
2. Deepen. We will take the time to learn how to do what we are doing better, from those who have been doing this for so long – from the land liberation movements in Brazil to the women on welfare building community power in Yonkers. We will also teach, because we are reinventing the struggle as we go, and we have learned a lot already. We will ask each other difficult questions: How do we organize in a way that is inclusive and liberating? How do we build a movement led by those most marginalized and oppressed? How do we use decentralization to actually empower people and address the imbalances we face in society? We will think radically about what systems and historical processes led us to where we are now, dream deeply about the world we want and the institutions we will need in order to live it out, and plan thoroughly for the building and the fighting it will take us to get there.
3. Build. We will continue to build systems for decentralized coordination and decision-making, because liberation means participation, and participation demands structures for communication, transparency and accountability. We will take our cue from the neighborhood assemblies in Sunset Park, and the university assemblies at CUNY, which are pioneering a shift from general assemblies to constituent assemblies – assemblies in neighborhoods, workplaces and schools. We will build there, because that’s where people actually live and work, where we have direct, concrete and permanent relationships with a space, the institutions in it and the people around us. We will create stable platforms for organizing and growth, and the foundations necessary for a concerted long-term struggle – from complex things like participatory decision-making forums and systems for internal education, to simple things like office space and phone trees. We will create mechanisms to meet people’s needs using the skills we honed at Liberty Square to provide things like food, legal aid, shelter, education, and more. We will do it all in a way that is in line with the values of the world we are fighting for.
4. Liberate. We will take new space, indoors and outdoors. We will do it because the movement needs bases in which it can create the values of a free society, begin to build the institutions to carry them out, meet peoples’ needs, and serve as a staging ground for the struggle against the status quo. We will take space for the movement to have a home and a workplace, but we will also take space back for the communities from whom it has been stolen, and for the families who need it in order to survive. We mean not only to take space for its own sake, but to liberate it; we will transform foreclosed houses into homes, empty lots into gardens, abandoned buildings into hospitals, schools and community centers. We will use the space we win for dreaming up the world to come.
5. Fight. We will continue to use direct action to intervene in the economic, political and social processes that govern peoples’ lives. We will use our voices and our slogans, our banners and our bodies, to shine a spotlight on the classes and institutions that oppress and exploit. We will make it so that the tyrants who are ruining this planet cannot hold conferences or public events without our presence being felt. We will fight in a way that is not only symbolic, but also truly disruptive of the systems of oppression we face. We will block their doorways and their ports, interrupt their forums, and obstruct the systems of production and consumption they depend on. We will do it until they will have no choice but to disappear.
Spring Will Come
The conditions that brought us here – the brutal and systemic oppressions we face – aren’t going to disappear on their own. The window we have opened to the world being born can’t be closed. Now winter is here, but we are not afraid. We will face the cold with intention and wisdom, using it as an opportunity to grow our movement, deepen it, and build structures that can carry it forward. We will continue to build the world we want while fighting to topple the institutions that stand in its way.
It will take some time for the seeds we have planted to grow into the beautiful flowers they are meant to be. Patience. Spring will come.