Occupy National Gathering Brings Together Occupiers From Far and Wide
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The five-day Occupy National Gathering, which drew to a close on July 4, gave participants a venue to network, prioritize issues and vent their grievances with the movement. The event gave those who felt marginalized the chance to make themselves heard, with many expressing frustration at the preponderance of white males in positions of influence.
The movement’s anarchist roots were readily apparent throughout the five days, with horizontalism and a rejection of mainstream political engagement remaining at the heart of Occupy. Issues of student debt, endangered public education, foreclosure, and big bank power were clearly the dominant concerns, although the national security state, environmental issues and police brutality were also discussed. As with any political function there were a certain number of outlier ideologies, but the 9-11 Truthers and the End the Fed contingents were vanishingly small and exerted little influence. (The latter was reduced from the Ron Paul tents that sprang up at many encampments to a lone crier in a Bob Marley T-shirt.)
The National Gathering was largely concerned with maintaining Occupy’s much-vaunted "horizontalism"—a leaderless, non-hierarchal structure—while reinvigorating the movement’s flagging momentum. On the 4th a visioning process was held, where groups of three people, who didn’t know each other, met to formulate what their ideal democratic future would look like. “Another world is possible, but what does it look like? This is our question for the day,” tweeted Melanie Butler, an activist from the Wall Street occupation. Over the course of the day these groups melded together, combining lists and placing tallies next to issues that were repeatedly prioritized in individual groups’ lists.
The final document is meant to, in the words of Lauren Beller, one of the activity’s facilitators, “give us a better idea of what page everyone is on—a concrete list of goals to help us focus our energies.” (Issues of debt, higher education and home foreclosures were common, while others, like Occupy Mars—for the colonization of the Red Planet—were less so.) But organizers were keen to emphasize that the visioning document should not be confused with a list of policy demands, which Occupy has been criticized for lacking.
“This is a process to create space for dialogue about subject matter we need to bring back to our home occupations,” says Michael Basillas from Occupy San Diego. “We can use these goals as a [basis] for actions, teach-ins, etc. But we don’t want to say this is the document. It is a step in our maturation process.”
The visioning process was run with the horizontal organizational acumen for which Occupy is known. Participants showed an impressive ability to come together to work through the relatively complex process within a direct democratic framework, although the final visioning document was still being compiled by the time most occupiers marched to the free Roots concert a couple miles away.
The final day also featured a spirited assembly by the Radical Convergence, a group that sprang up in reaction to the perceived de-radicalization of the movement, for those who felt relegated to the periphery of Occupy. As one speaker from New York said, he feared “Occupy no longer being a revolutionary movement, but a movement that happened to contain revolutionaries.”
The Radical Convergence assembly also provided a safe, structured space for people of color and women to express their frustration and anger with the movement. Many said they felt that the “process and organizing is controlled by white males,” as was written in one anonymous concern read during the visioning process, and that too little was being done by Occupy to address issues besetting communities of color and women.