Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Howl of the Activist

Blogging from my phone with its tiny keypad and mini screen is not my preferred means of communication. My aging eyes squint in tenacious determination from behind the lenses of my Walgreens +250 readers. I am dedicated to communication, to telling the stories behind the cardboard signs and the public persona of the "Person of The Year", the Protester. I tell the tale because that is Activism and I am an Activist.
In telling the tales there is no one profile to describe "The Protester". We come from all walks of life; we are Women, Men, Transgender, young, old and in-between. We are diverse in skin color, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and personal history. And now, suddenly, the meme of "activist" is ubiquitous; not since the 60's has the Activist or Protester so thoroughly captured the public eye. Of course we've been here all along doing what we do, living our lives in concert with our values and ideals to the best of our abilities. Most of us have managed to work our activism seamlessly into our lives whether it be by career path, volunteering or lifestyle choices such as living "green" shopping and gardening in ways that are sustainable and healthy for ourselves and our earth. Many have chosen spiritual paths that are in alignment with their activist principles. And some of us are letter writers, following legislation and expressing our thoughts to whomever may listen. There are endless ways to incorporate our values into every aspect of our if we live mindfully and authentically Naturally most of us have veered from the path in one way or another, often not by choice or preference but as the result of necessity, external influences or, face it, sometimes we simply hit a rough patch in life that throws us off track. It's all part and parcel of the Human experience.
Although I think I can justifiably say that I have been an activist most of my life, and like most I too have been sidetracked no and then by events in my life. But I always return to the core values to which I was raised. No matter how crappy life gets I recycle, I do my best to shop consciously as well as my budget will allow and I have a reputation for taking in strays, both human and four legged.
In all my years, I have rarely affiliated myself with any particular activist group or movement. I have participated in actions that have been sponsored by one group or another. When I had a reasonable income I donated money to s few causes and I have attended meetings and teach ins that were sponsored by activist organizations. For the most part however, I haven't felt the need to belong to any one particular cause or community. When the notion has struck me that it might be fulfilling to be a part of something bigger, there just never seemed to be the "right" fit. I am wary of groups for a number of reasons. Mostly it's simply a matter of personal choice, there are people who always feel more at home within a community of some sort, and others who prefer a small group of friends and family as their primary social circle. There is also, however, the cumulative result of the observations that I have made over the years as I've watched groups and communities form, develop and either grow, morph into something different than originally intended or die out completely depending on circumstances. As I said in my last post, sometimes the magic is there and sometimes it isn't.
For some reason, when Occupy Wall street came along and began to gain  traction throughout the nation I thought that maybe this was the 'thing' that was going to get me to break out of my shell and open myself to become a part of something much bigger. After all we Wisconsinites were all still fired up from the Madison protests and just a few months before that I had been active with local teachers organizations helping to save hundreds of jobs in our public schools. I felt a kinship with the teachers, some of them had taught at my son's school and had been instrumental in his academic success. And in Madison, with my very small group of friends and our families the excitement and hope was palpable, inducing a sort of 'natural high' as we stood in Solidarity with thousands in the snow and wind and ice.

So when Occupy came to town I went to the initial planning sessions, listened and participated.  On the first day of Solidarity, October 15th  I walked with thousands through the streets of downtown Milwaukee fueled by the energy that was sweeping the nation.  Gradually I became involved in the maintenance and daily operations of the Occupation site, a spot where Occupy Milwaukee has maintained a presence  since late October.  I have sat through endless meetings, slept in the park in the rain, cold and mud. I have made friends and yea, even a couple of enemies. I have helped plan actions and mediated internal conflict. I have made mistakes and I have created solutions. I have made sacrifices and reaped rewards. It's been an exciting couple of seasons. I've seen the group grow, struggle, learn, backslide and bounce back. I've seen factions forming both official and unofficial, some strong and with great potential, others, well time will tell. I'm impressed with the momentum of this movement, I'm saddened at some of the divisiveness I see that threatens in the days ahead, but that will all come out in the wash as my Grandma used to say. One would hope that there is a Unifying force that connects us all; the desire for a more just and peaceful world and although differences may arise in the methodology rather than the ideology I think he ideology is strong enough to withstand the challenge. Occupy may be here to stay. Beyond our on local community I've seen the name "Occupy" attached to just about every ideal, action or concept one can imagine. Soon it will be products, in fact I think there already are some. But after 5 months I still don't feel the fit of it on myself. Maybe it's my contrary nature, my not wanting to have to ask 'permission' for group consensus to attach the name "Occupy" to any action or statement. It feels a bit like possessiveness to me even though I fully understand the desire to maintain the integrity of the name. Maybe it's my reluctance to belong to any group that is defined by a name.  Maybe it's the internal conflicts that have plagued our own group and that never seem to give a moments rest. Somehow other people seem to be more resilient in their response to conflict and that may be a trait that separates "group people" from people like me.  I can only speak for myself, and when I speak I say I am an Activist, I am a Feminist, I am an Advocate for Human Rights, I am an Environmentalist, I am Anti-War and I am a bit of an Anarchist, and although I support the Occupy Movement, I am not the occupy movement. I don't need to identify with a name brand, I can't identify with a name brand. I gave the group thing a try and although I respect that it works for others I suspect it's not my cup of tea. I am a Lone Wolf I suppose and that's okay by me... I will howl at the Moon and my call is, and always will be the call of Lifetime of Activism.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Keeping it Up in Milwaukee

Image courtesy of
 Cindy Maire P.
As we enter our 5th month of Occupation, well into our second season, we are in the midst of a time of transition and transformation. The Occupation has always been dynamic, evolving as it grows and recedes and grows again. Each day brings new challenges and we have experienced some  phases that were defined by a particular theme or issue.
Of the activists whose work has been dedicated to Occupation of public space the past several months, many have hit the proverbial wall.  Confrontations with critics and saboteurs, the police and even internal personality conflicts have taken their toll on emotions and psychic well being. Extended exposure to rough weather, inconsistent diet and interrupted sleep are wearing us down physically. Many Occupiers have disrupted their lifestyle to the point of straining relationships with family, friends and other obligations and some are feeling a financial strain as a result of missed days at work adding a social and economic strain as well.  There have been many sacrifices made in all areas of the average Occupier's life in any part of the world, some have been arrested, beaten, fined; some have experienced serious injury the effects of which may last forever. Symbolic suffering has it's place, but few willingly volunteer for a lifetime of service.
I think most would agree that for the initial phase of the Occupy Movement the sacrifices have been worth the effort. The movement has gained global recognition and support. We have finally gotten the attention of even mainstream media, and many people are realizing that this is a dedicated and tenacious group of people who are not going to go away. Even the groups and individuals who disagree with the message of the movement are starting to take notice.
Now that we have the Nations attention, it's time for the next phase. I'm not the first person to ask "where do we go from here?" It's a question that has been at the forefront of many a General Assembly discussion from coast to coast for several weeks. And while many occupiers and non-occupiers alike believed that winter would bring a time of retraction and reflection while we all went home to plan for spring, it appears that we have a momentum that just won't quit. Rather than sitting back in our cozy homes sipping tea and carefully strategizing for transition, we are thinking on our feet as we look to the future for answers to the question that is on everyones mind.
 Most Occupy groups are, to some degree, united by the movement itself. Relationships that have been forged in the heat of the first several months are beginning to solidify and strengthen and affinity groups have been attracted to the success they see within many of the groups. For these groups and individuals it would seem likely that the next steps will grow organically and naturally from the fertile ground that has been set in place.
Other groups are finding the transition to be a bit more challenging. One could speculate  many possible reasons that some groups have the flow while others have struggled; doing this may serve a purpose somewhere down the road, refining the 'formulas' for grassroots organizing.  In reality the bottom line is there are so many factors that contribute to the success or failure of a group one can almost conclude that sometimes it comes down to something intangible, like fate or luck. Sometimes people end up being in the right place at the right time, that magical moment where things just 'click',  just like any other relationship.
Right now struggling groups can't afford the time to figure out what went wrong; we need to focus on what is right, what we have to offer and where to go from here. This may mean some groups split into smaller affinity groups each comprised of people with similar goals and theoretical orientation. This has already manifested in my city where there are several Occupy groups each representing a specific neighborhood or area. Milwaukee is a city of neighborhoods, a big small town with lots of ethnic diversity but sadly, clear and visible segregation. The neighborhood Occupy groups reflect the culture or sub-culture of  their part of the city and often structure their actions to target issues of concern to that population. Personally, I think there is an upside to this phenomenon. It has strenthened and unified neighborhoods, bringing people together in a way that larger scale outreach cannot. And as each group becomes more cohesive and secure, they bring their strengths to the table within a larger coalition.  The coalition, utilizing the combined power of the smaller groups, takes on the more universal issues while still maintaining a sense of community and accountability within their own distinct neighborhoods.
To break it down to a more micro level, we are experiencing some internal changes within our own neighborhood Occupation. We are located in the most diverse and integrated area of a very segregated city and I think that puts us in a unique position, one that creates myriad possibilities. We stand on the threshold of a new stage, maybe a bit behind the timetable of some of the other groups but that's not necessarily a bad thing.  Our most recent meeting was conflict ridden and frustrating...and it was a catalyst for growth. We are now in a position to either shit or get off the pot as someone in my family used to say and I, for one, feel the time is right for a good dose reality.
On a personal level I have to listen to my heart, to examine what it is that feels right and what doesn't. There are several paths ahead that can be explored and  I suspect as a group we will not all take the same road and that's okay. It's an exciting time to be an activist and one that is ripe with opportunity for each person to find their niche, to use their gifts and to be a part of creating something new as we approach Spring; our third season.
I do hope that as we approach Spring, with all it's hope and promise, we will all plant the seeds for growth that will carry us into an abundant Summer and a glorious Harvest.
Peace ,
Jenny Nanakoosa