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Seize the Time

Michael Albert Oct 16, 2011

(Photo courtesy of Flickr.com/emmoff) I am in a room in Dublin Ireland, using a thready connection, typing on a glass screen too small for my fingers, continuing a speaking tour, marveling, celebrating, and honestly – wishing I was back in the USA, in New York, on Wall Street, which is, for me, ordinarily, the most despised place I could imagine, and now, instead, is the pulsing heart of a new organism.

Yesterday I visited the Occupy encampment at Dublin’s main Bank, in the heart of their downtown, quite like Wall Street sits in New York. The Dublin occupiers see themselves as entwined with people sitting in New York, entwined with people sitting in an incredibly long and swelling list of other U.S. cities, entwined with people sitting in Barcelona, entwined with people sitting in Athens, spreading occupations further, ever faster, all over. They say hi. They say power to you. They say carry on. They pledge to carry on too. There is something in the air.

The Dublin occupiers are not long time activists. They are people overwhelmingly new to protest and certainly new to affirmation of positive aims. They are new to constructing the seeds of the future in the present. They are modest. They are listening. They are learning. They are teaching.

A couple of days ago I was in London, where, of course – and yes, it is “of course,” because in just a few weeks it has gotten to the point where one expects occupation or at least efforts to create occupation virtually everywhere one goes – Londoners are embarking on their own home grown occupy efforts.

Though my given topics were different, I had chances to speak, as well, as an old timer with new timers. And I very explicitly addressed the younger people at a large London Media conference. My message – they surely didn’t need it, but in some things redundancy generates greater confidence – was a simple one.

Years back, actually decades back, and almost eons back, we had a slogan: “Seize the Time.” We tended to overuse it, cheapening its import a bit. But it is true that there are rare moments that carry incredible potential. There are rare moments when completely unexpected and virtually unfathomable conjunctures of pain, anger, desire, action, and accident conspire to gel what was amorphous into what is coherent – and so activist tides rise.

I don’t know for sure, I told them, because no one knows for sure – but this looks like, this smells like, this feels like, it may be your moment to seize your time, to make it last and to expand it – to do what my generation tried to do, but did not quite accomplish.

Not to get apocalyptic, not to get frenzied, because this is not here today and gone tomorrow. Patience plus perseverance are in order. Experiment. Don’t dismiss. Try out and test. But perhaps above all, be sure to create with an eye toward always reaching out to more people, always growing. If you aren’t busy being born, you are busy dying, a singer once said, and it applies. So be born, anew, over and over, and grow.

There were many things I didn’t get to say at the conference, but would have liked to. Harangues don’t help. But written on a page, people can take it and use it, or they can leave it and use whatever else they please.

Some Dangers

Consider a marathon race. All runners start in a giant pack. After a bit there is a breakaway group, still very large, out front. Then another break and a smaller lead group. It may happen a few times until there is a vanguard group in which all are running to come in first and a giant pack is trailing way behind. A lead breakaway in marathons seeks to get far enough ahead of a trailing pack to lose touch – that’s what they call it – so no one can bridge the divide. This is the opposite of what is needed to win a worthy new society.

There is undeniably unequal development. Some people move quicker to new ideas and practices. Some people start earlier, and get out ahead a bit. In organizing the trick is to maintain touch, to remain in the pack bringing the whole community forward faster, not running out away from it. This is not easy, but it is essential to success. There is leadership in this approach, which generates more and more sources of leadership. But there are not out of touch leaders.

Similarly, everyone knows how to avoid crude co-optation. Just say no to the offers, which, when crude and blunt, in any event, given our values, are rarely enticing. It is the more subtle co-optive dynamics that are harder to avoid because every step toward disaster we think we are serving the movement, and then we find we have crippled it.

Example: the media begins to seem accessible. It mostly happens when we are pushing and they have no choice. Sometimes it happens, as now in the U.S., because powerful elements think the energy and desire of the movements can be channeled to their benefit, so that their elite task becomes at least in part not to hide or smash the movements, but surprisingly, to seemingly lend them aid. Don’t be fooled again. Sucking up to the media on grounds we want to communicate causes people to lose their roots and to talk and act increasingly distantly from the people in distress, alienating the grassroots. The way to get mainstream media coverage is to compel it uncompromisingly. Perhaps to occupy it!

In the same way there will be pressures from outside to create demands that barely transcend those of existing elite groups. There will be virtually opposite pressures from inside to demand the world, now. The former will claim realism. The latter will claim optimism. In fact, the former typically adds nothing to society and winds up dissolving into mainstream dialogue. The latter typically has its heart in the right place, but foreswears achievable gains for future ones, as yet unattainable.

The way to seek a new world, which we certainly need to do, is to win changes, now, that empower us more, induce in us more desires, and induce in us the wherewithal to seek to pursue those additional desires even as we win immediate goals.

Elites want to end the current crisis, too. But they want to do it in ways that further enrich and empower themselves at everyone else’s expense. They want to return to business as usual, which means horror for everyone but them. So when our movements get to the point of making demands we want to win now, they need to be demands that diminish and end current horrible escalating unemployment, current horrible cutbacks in social programs, and current horrible continuing wars in ways that will leave us seeking more gains, not returning to business as usual.

This is a long battle, really long. There will come times when many people feel tired of being ignored, ridiculed, and especially brutalized by police power. There will come a time when some people will want to fight back physically. They will feel that that is strength, that that is courage, that that is the way. They will be morally justified. They will be feeling things quite reasonable to feel. But, they will be on the edge of disaster and rushing toward it.

Violence is not our field of dreams, it is theirs. Violence is the one language, the one way of being, that elites with great power and great wealth are very good at. To change the terrain of our struggles to physical conflict is to battle them on their turf, not ours. It is suicidal. Strength is doing what can win even when it diverges from our spontaneous and felt inclinations.

Violence makes participation problematic. We need the elderly in our assemblies. We need the young. When street fighting replaces constructing a new way of thinking together, acting together, and constructing together, creativity and wisdom dissipate. Rocks don’t convey insight. Rocks most often produce macho paranoia and obsessive focus on police, not positive program. They create a hostile environment in which instead of growing, our efforts shrink. Informed growth is strength. Violent shrinkage is weakness.

Finally, to start a movement with tenacity, which is precisely what has been and is needed, the choice to occupy Wall Street, was genius. Partly this is due to the simple message of the place picked. But even more so it is due to arriving and then not leaving, following the lesson of the Egyptians, the Spanish, and so many others. Brilliant, as the Brits, say. And partly also, and n time maybe mostly, it is due to turning the outdoors, the streets, into a new type of home. How many are now saying at some point in the day, let’s go back home, and it means let’s go back to our occupation? Let’s go back to the movement.

Still, once the downtown occupations in New York, Chicago, Louisville, and on and on, achieve some weight of numbers, some durability of learned methods, there is a problem worth considering. Not everyone can come across town to a site. Not everyone can leave work, or sleep in tents distant from home. What is to be done so as to diversify and increase who participates, so as to diversify and increase who becomes inspired and empowered?

Maybe when the number of people in a central city occupation rises high enough, those from various parts of a city can break off and form new occupations, more locally, nearer where people live. Occupy neighborhoods. That is an idea percolating many places. And those assemblies, largely of neighbors who are often likely first getting to know one another, can begin to consider how their communities can alter, what their communities can and should be like, and they can then locally move toward conceiving demands and even taking actions in accord with neighborhood desires.

The big city wide occupation then becomes a federation of more local neighborhood occupations that are starting to take responsibility for redefining how we
live. And, yes, it begins to look like the seeds of future political institutions planted in the present. Way back in the sixties we had another slogan, “power to the people.” We never made it real. The occupations can begin to correct that fault.

For that matter, why not occupy, which is mainly to sit in, outside workplaces that exploit and pollute, outside schools that batter youth into bored obedience, outside hospitals and insurance companies that profit off pain, or even inside each of those and other sites? We should reach out to bring people to the occupations where people consider what ought to be and then take actions to make it so. We can certainly go out into cities and bring people to central occupations. Perhaps we can also bring occupations to the people.

Making Fantasy Reality

Another slogan I remember all too well, was “Demand the Impossible.” It had some traction. It aroused some desire. But artistry aside, the substance it held was weak. Getting from where we are to where we want to wind up is a long journey. One component is consciousness raising, partly about what i wrong in society, but more so about what we want, about what structures can deliver it, and about what we can all do to be part of making it happen and to own it’s happening.

A worthy movement that can win is both a very very large movement and a very very informed one. It isn’t masses following instructions emerging from a relative few who are in the know, even if those few are incredibly well meaning. It is instead individuals who are united in groups, all of them knowing what they are doing, knowing why they are doing it, knowing where they are headed, and able to refine their views and enlarge them in consultation with one another as needed.

But this scope and depth of consciousness develops in context of struggles to win gains. To forego such struggles is to ignore that people are hurting and need changes now, not solely a new society, later. It also forgoes the crucible of contestation that is the struggle for immediate change and that is needed, as well, because it is the arena of activism that schools insights.

So when the chattering media hounds demand demands, or demand anything else, ignore them. Take your time. Amass support. Find your collective pulse. Only then generate demands in accord with that collective pulse. We all know broadly where it will aim, toward everyone having good jobs, toward income redistribution, toward ending the cuts and expanding social spending, toward peace, toward ending military spending or better, redirecting it toward creating housing, schools, hospitals, and infrastructure. But the details will emerge from the participants, as consciousness and solidarity climb.

Things change. Now I am in a plane heading for Spain. There I will meet with occupiers and speak with anarchists and other citizens. The Spanish are traveling a path similar to that being taken in New York and increasingly across the U.S. they went earlier. They are further down the road. They have lessons from what they have done both regarding what works and what doesn’t work that I hope to hear and bring back to the U.S. They have an anarchist heritage second to none in the world, to none in history – that has more lessons to convey that I hope to bring back.

But as excited as I am about seeing the tumultuous constructions of the Spanish, I look more eagerly forward to coming back home, to my house, but also to a homeland that is being increasingly occupied. What can one say – only, of course, seize the time!

This article was originally published by ZNet/ZCommunications.org

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