Sometimes I sense I haven't gotten the memo about the latest OWS doings as in the off-hand reference a friend made about the Left Forum held at Pace University this past weekend. This is not secrecy but a level of quick and easy communication through Twitter and other means that elude me. I may not be adept in social commo but Left Forum proved to me how close I can feel Occupy's heartbeat just the same.
Anyway, Brook and I dropped by on Friday thinking OWS friends would feast on all the "Occupy" workshops it promised. Little did we know they already knew about it and some were featured panelists!
From their own statement, Left Forum:
...convenes the largest gathering (in this hemisphere) of the international left.
Continuing a tradition begun in the 1960s, we bring together intellectuals and organizers to share perspectives, strategies, experience and vision.
The pamphlet blurb goes on like that and for this year's edition--surprise, surprise--the event was titled, Occupy the System: Confronting Global Capitalism. I guess Leftists can be opportunists too when it comes to appropriating the Occupy label.
I don't want to be snotty here since there were so many protesters saturating the campus with impromptu meetings and even their own OWS-run gatherings that if you didn't apply a critical eye everything might seem like a very large Occupy Wall Street, the board game.
I signed up for two forums, "Connecting the Occupy Movement to the Tradition of Spiritual Radicalism" and "Occupy Philosophy: Capital, Critique, Imagination." You can overeat at this table...there are 400 forums. I wanted to ground myself in the pedigree of Occupy so I avoided the NY dominated groups and tried to hear voices from the west coast. Also, who thinks the great thoughts about Occupy anyway? Why, the "Occupy Think Tank", I learned.
As I say for my $25 one day registration I took in just two groups but you could do 3 days @ 12 hours a day and probably qualify for a T-shirt as well as a really bad headache. Dan McKanan from Harvard and Heidi Swarts from Rutgers headed the Connection with Spiritualism. It was assuring and off-putting that OWS was in a line of movements "we'd seen before." Comforting, because learning from the history of how to protest effectively is just smart. A quote from SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) made me smile, "freedom is an endless meeting." That quote was meant as metaphor but they could be describing one of our interminable General Assemblies! Yet their history also spoke of attempts to be prefigurative of what utopia would look like. How many times has OWS lapsed happily into such a regenerative narrative?
Off-putting because those of us still naive about OWS like to think it's bringing something exceptional into being. But the experts had the facts, that is until they took their conception of history and mapped it out towards our future.
I thank Heidi for showing her cards as a lefty with this, "What are the factors which will draw OWS into the political campaigns?" Answering her own question, "Coalitions, we've seen it history." I choked so hard on that-coffee came out my nose. She went on to promote Obama over the others.
"This is the same Obama who signed HR 347, can arrest without warrant, and take you out by a drone if you're considered a threat?" Someone asked. The room was dividing; Heidi was losing her audience. "The simple fact is that either party responds to money and power. Wall Street's power." Heidi trod on valiantly, "But we can really go after Obama once he's elected."
I said, "Heidi, I like you but OWS--in oceanographic terms--has set its life on the sea's deepest depths. We are making a statement about "ocean." With these comments you are a couple of feet below the surface and discussing wave action." We have nothing in common because we believe both parties are crooked, respond to oligarchies and have forgotten the people. They are distracting you with these promises, this, and Super Bowls, junk TV, and a caricature of the news. Wake up!"
The next forum went a little better. But that's for next time.