These notes are intended to capture some of the specific ideas that emerged out of the very productive conversation that happened on Wednesday, November 9 in the basement of the Bangs Center. These notes are conveyed with the hope of inviting the further participation of sympathetic people to come help us build an Occupy Amherst movement by lending their own creativity, skills, and resources.
One of the best ways that we can begin to involve new people in the movement is to invite you to come to our next meeting, at the Bangs Center in the lower level meeting room on November 16, from 5-7. We are not planning to hold an Occupy Amherst meeting on Wednesday, November 23. We intend to resume regular meetings in the same place on Wednesday, November 30.
An agenda that was suggested, and hasn’t been formally adopted, for the next meeting was:
- Start with asking what have we each done in the last week that relates to building the occupy movement.
- Discuss what kind of activities that are already happening can continue to gain traction and spread.
- Discuss and decide on next for action, and how we can coordinate.
Reports from Other Actions
We started with a retrospective on Occupy Amherst itself. Groups started having public meetings on the Amherst Common on October 5, following a large student March from earlier in the day involving hundreds of people. There were a number of large meetings and rallies after that, but since mid October, regular meetings began to get smaller. This meeting was larger than last week’s meeting. This time we had 15 people present.
A person active in Occupy UMass reported a similar challenge of starting out with a large burst of energy after the October 5 student walk-out and March, but later having that level of energy for ongoing organizing diminish. Occupy Amherst is actively trying to reach out to students to ask about what their concerns are. Meanwhile a physical legal encampment at UMass began on November 9. Would it make sense for occupy sympathizers outside of UMass to focus energy on supporting an occupation at UMass itself?
A person active in Occupy Northampton said that the group there has had some similar challenges as Occupy Amherst in that there hasn’t been as much consistency in the people attending as would be desired. Also, fractures emerged within the group over how to handle the physical occupation in Downtown Northampton. Some wanted to maintain an occupation in front of Bank of America; some wanted to move the encampment to a space in front of the Unitarian Universalist society where they had officially been given permission to go; others began to question the usefulness of camping outside.
Throughout the meeting, participants combined broader reflections on the moment with specific ideas for political action that people in Amherst can organize around now.
One proposal, based on the analysis that our meetings now do not realistically constitute general assemblies, was that out of our relatively small group, we could help to facilitate much larger general assemblies that would involve decision-making (over what has yet to be defined) on a larger scale. It was noted that Amherst has many many sympathetic people and even seasoned activists, although this hasn’t always resulted in a lot of collaboration or unity among them. How can we work to bring these people together for a common purpose?
Another idea was that small towns like Amherst could organize to support occupations in other cities, including New York and Boston.
Another idea was organizing, in an ongoing way, solidarity efforts with organizations in Springfield trying to stop evictions, which are led primarily by people of color. It was pointed out that for white people in Amherst, it is an important thing to be able to follow the political leadership of people of color. It was remarked that joining the fight back against the banks can address the nature of the rotten system directly at the point where it is destroying people’s lives through eviction. On Monday Nov. 21., there will be a mass rally and civil disobedience in Springfield that we can organize to support. Interest was expressed in organizing carpools of Amherst people to support it.
There was much discussion about writing letters to the editor to help people better understand this movement and what it stands for.
One person pointed us to a very interesting organizer’s toolkit full of practical organizing ideas tailored to communities in Rural Oregon who are aligning with the Occupy Wall Street Movement. The title is “Resources for Small Town Occupations” and it was prepared by a rather impressive grassroots organization called Rural Organizing Project.
This toolkit has some especially interesting sections on organizing large general assemblies and other mass democratic meetings.
Many ideas were shared about what people wanted the movement to become and what it meant to them.
One person said she wanted to be able to hear from people what is really moving them personally to want to be part of the movement. The same person remarked that what it would take for her to feel motivated to continue coming back to meetings was a sense that the process underway was revealing what is in their hearts and minds in relation to how participating in the movement can lead to make real change. She also said that she was impressed that the OWS movement refuses to succumb to too narrow an agenda.
Another person added that the genius of the movement is that instead of listing narrow demands, it stands up and refuses to accept the reigning capitalist system. We’re showing that it is a question of who is in control and that the 99% don’t yet have the power that we need.
Another person said we need a movement in America that is independent of the Democratic Part and even Moveon.org, and that we need to also figure out how to connect Occupy Amherst with issues faced by the homeless and the issue of homelessness itself.
Another said that the OWS movement is revealing fundamental things about the capitalist system and showing that it is rotten and can’t be reformed.
Another acknowledged that there’s always a danger of loosing energy in the movement. We need to have goals at different levels — both putting Wall Street criminals into jail and also more immediately achievable goals. One big moral shift is to be willing to sacrifice potential wealth in order to reverse the relentlessly growing income inequality and thereby attain a degree of social stability.
Another wanted to see the Occupy movement take some kind of stand on matters of Amherst town government including problematic zoning articles in front of town meeting right now. A challenge is that municipalities are chartered to function largely in service of the centralized state.
Another person (myself) said that if our movement is serious, it has to take power, because that’s the only way things change. And since power is finite, it will have to take the power from somebody who has power already. The idea with democracy is that we redistribute the power more equally. We have to look at specific places within reach that have power. One of those places is Amherst Town Meeting. However, before there could be a serious attempt at gaining power through an already existing institution like that, there would have to be a building of social movements, calling for fundamental political change. The question now is what actions and issues can attract people to come together in an ongoing way. We need short term actions that seem sensible to people while simultaneously building the long range vision and strategy of the movement.