My son likes to argue with me that Occupy didn’t achieve anything. That it failed. I try not to engage with him, because who really wins an argument with a 16-year old who has a very black-and-white way of seeing the world? But, really, it seems like everywhere I turn I see ways in which the politics and tactics of the Occupy movement are being carried out in to do good in the world. Partially because Occupy brought so many good-hearted people together, and now we kind of all know each other and know who to call when something needs to get done. But also because the politics and tactics of the Occupy movement were just another iteration of politics and tactics that have been evident in activist/social justice movements forever, and in some ways they are becoming more and more refined.
This weekend in Austin, amidst the ridiculous conspicuous consumption of the F-1 spectacle, a representative of Strike Debt New York paid a visit to help facilitate a Debtor’s Assembly and participate in a Debtor’s Carnival. Both events were aimed at destigmatizing debt and bringing people together to discuss the effects of debt on their lives and what might be done about it. I was unable to attend the assembly, but did attend the carnival today, and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to talk about this project with one of its organizers. In addition to the Rolling Jubilee – which raised money in order to buy huge amounts of debt for pennies on the dollar and forgive the holders of the debt that was bought, the organizers of Strike Debt are trying to find ways to form Debtor’s Unions and some are holding Debt Clinics to empower people who are in debt to get out of debt and/or deal with debt collectors in an informed manner. It’s an amazing movement, and just one of many examples of how the tactic of gathering random people together in a park for weeks on end spawned ambitious ideas and action. I’m really looking forward to working with my activist community to hold debt clinics and work with people on fighting back against debt collectors.
I also continue to be impressed with the hard work of the Austin Common Ground Relief. After floods hit the Dove Springs area in Austin, hundreds of people were left homeless, and it took several days/weeks for significant help to arrive. Now, two weeks after the flooding, the agencies that were helping are packing up and leaving. With F-1 racing happening in the city, hotels that were housing displaced residents are putting people back out on the street so they can accommodate wealthy tourists, and the shelter is closing down. Meanwhile, members of Austin Common Ground Relief are still preparing daily meals and distributing them to people who were impacted by the flooding (which is really just a symptom of climate change and environmental racism.) While distributing meals, they are also having people fill out intake applications listing their needs and desires, and providing assistance with cleanup and whatever else the residents are looking for. Because of the work activists have done in Austin to create an infrastructure of support, the infrastructure of information sharing and organizing was quickly put into place. Decentralized planning, volunteer-based assistance, and ubiquitous social media presence enable the Common Ground organizers and participants to be flexible and respond immediately to the needs of the community. The hope is that once there are a sufficient number of community members who are out of crisis, those tools can be provided to the community so they are able to provide mutual aid for their neighbors, and call upon the larger group when necessary. It’s truly a beautiful thing, and another example of the influence of Occupy on local organizing. I couldn’t be more proud of the folks who are doing the really hard work. While I can only spare a couple of hours a week towards the effort, it feels so much better to know that the time I do volunteer is having a direct, positive impact on those who need the help, rather than being filtered through the ranks and red-tape of a large organization like Red Cross.
These are the things that sustain me and help me get through my own struggles. I’m really proud to be part of a community that is invested in doing good things for other people and actively working towards making the world a better place.