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PORTSIDE  March 2012, Week 1

PORTSIDE March 2012, Week 1

Subject:

A Letter To Other Occupiers - Staughton Lynd

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A Letter To Other Occupiers

by Staughton Lynd

ZNet

February 28, 2012

http://www.zcommunications.org/a-letter-to-other-occupiers-by-staughton-lynd

Greetings. I write from Niles, Ohio, near Youngstown. I take
part in Occupy Youngstown (OY). I was asked to make some
"keynote" remarks on the occasion of OY's first public
meeting on October 15, 2011. I am a member of the legal team
that filed suit after our tent and burn barrel were
confiscated on November 10-11. I am helping to create the OY
Free University where working groups explore a variety of
future projects.

I do not write to comment on recent events in Oakland. Our
younger daughter lived for a few years in a co-operative
house situated on the border between Berkeley and Oakland.
For part of that time Martha worked at a public school in
Oakland where most of the children were Hispanic. A can
company wanted to take the school's recreation yard. In
protest, parents courageously kept their children out of
school, causing the school's public funding to drop
precipitously. As I understand it, in the end the parents
prevailed and got a new rec yard.

That was many years ago. It sticks in my mind as an example
of the sort of activity, reaching out to the communities in
which we live, that I hope Occupiers are undertaking all
over the country.

I

Every local Occupy movement of which I am aware has begun to
explore the terrain beyond the downtown public square,
asking, what is to be done next?

This is as it should be and we need to be gentle with
ourselves and one another, recognizing the special
difficulties of this task. The European middle class, before
taking state power from feudal governments, built a network
of new institutions within the shell of the old society:
free cities, guilds, Protestant congregations, banks and
corporations, and finally, parliaments. It appears to be
much more difficult to construct such prefigurative enclaves
within capitalism, a more tightly-knit social fabric.

I sense that, because of this difficulty in building long-
term institutions, in much of the Occupy universe there is
now an emphasis on protests, marches, "days" for this or
that, symbolic but temporary occupations, and other tactics
of the moment, rather than on a strategy of building ongoing
new institutions and dual power.

I have a particular concern about the impending
confrontation in Chicago in May between the forces of Occupy
and capitalist globalization. My fears are rooted in a
history that may seem to many of you irrelevant. If so,
stroke my fevered brow and assure me that you have no
intention of letting Occupy crash and burn in the way that
both the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)
and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) did at the end
of the Sixties.

II

Here, in brief, is the history that I pray we will not
repeat.

In August 1964, rank-and-file African Americans in the
Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), staff of SNCC,
and many summer volunteers, traveled to the convention of
the national Democratic Party in Atlantic City to demand
that the inter-racial delegates of the MFDP should be seated
in place of the all-white delegates from the "regular,"
segregationist Mississippi Democrats. It was an apocalyptic
moment, made especially riveting by the televised testimony
of Fannie Lou Hamer.

But politically speaking, many who made the trip from the
Deep South never found their way back there. A variety of
causes were at work but one was that it seemed tedious to
return from the mountaintop experience up North to the
apparently more humdrum day-to-day movement work in
Mississippi. The so-called Congressional Challenge that
followed the traumatic events in Atlantic City caused many
activists to continue to spend time away from local
communities in which they had been living and working.

Bear with me if I continue this ancient Movement history.

In November 1965, there was a gathering in Washington DC of
representatives from a myriad of ad hoc student groups
formed to oppose the Vietnam war. During the weeks before
this occasion several friends warned me that different Left
groups were preparing to do battle for control of the new
antiwar movement. I assured them that their fears were
needless: that kind of thing might have happened in the
1930s, but we were a new Left, committed to listening to one
another and to learning from our collective experience.

I was wrong. From the opening gavel, both Communists and
Trotskyists sought to take control of the new activist
network. In the process they seriously disillusioned many
young persons who, perhaps involved in their first political
protest, had come long distances in the hope of creating a
common front against the war.

Paul Booth of SDS called this meeting "the crazy
convention." I remember sleeping on the floor of somebody's
apartment next to Dave Dellinger as the two of us sought to
refocus attention on what was happening in Vietnam. I recall
pleading near the end of the occasion with members of the
Young Socialist Alliance (YSA) to be allowed into a locked
hotel room where, apparently having lost on the convention
floor, they were forming a new national organization.

SDS faced the identical problem at the end of the 1960s with
the Progressive Labor party (PL). Essentially what PL did
was to caucus beforehand, to adopt tactics for promoting its
line within a larger and more diffuse organization, and
then, without any interest in what others might have to say,
ramming through its predecided resolutions. After a season
of hateful harangues and organizational division, very
little remained.

Some Occupiers may respond, "But we're not trying to take
over anything! We only want to be able to follow our own
consciences!" Sadly, though, the impact of Marxist-Leninist
vanguardism and unrestrained individualism on a larger body
of variegated protesters may be pretty much the same. In
each case there may be a fixed belief that one knows the
Truth and has correctly determined What Is To Be Done, which
makes it an unnecessary waste of time to Listen To The
Experience Of Others. Those who hold these attitudes are
likely to act in a way that will wound or even destroy the
larger Movement that gives them a platform.

In the period between Seattle in 1999 and September 11,
2001, many activists were into a pattern of behavior that
might unkindly be described as summit-hopping. Two young men
from Chicago who had been in Seattle stayed in our basement
for a night on their way to the next encounter with
globalization in Quebec. I was struck by the fact that, as
they explained themselves, when they came back to Chicago
from Seattle they had been somewhat at a loss about what to
do next. As each successive summit (Quebec, Genoa, Cancun)
presented itself, they expected to be off to confront the
Powers That Be in a new location, leaving in suspended state
whatever beginnings they were nurturing in their local
communities. So far as an outsider like myself could
discern, there did not seem to be a long-term strategy
directed toward creating an "otro mundo," a qualitatively
new society.

This brings me to the forthcoming confrontation in Chicago
in May. My wife Alice and I were living in Chicago in 1968.
I was arrested and briefly jailed. Although many in the
Movement considered the Chicago events to be a great
victory, I believe it is the consensus of historians that
the national perception of what happened in Chicago
contributed to Nixon's victory in the November 1968
election. More important, as some of us foresaw these
predominantly Northern activists like their SNCC
predecessors appeared to have great difficulty in picking up
again the slow work of "accompanying" in local communities.

I dread the possibility of a re-run of this sequence of
events in 2012.

III

It may seem to some readers that "Staughton is once again
pushing his nonviolence rap." However, although I am
concerned that small groups in the Occupy Movement may
contribute to unnecessary violence in Chicago, it is not
violence as such that most worries me.

While I have all my life been personally committed to
nonviolence, I have never attempted to impose this personal
belief on movements in which I took part. Perhaps this is
because as an historian I perceive certain situations for
which I have not been able to imagine a nonviolent
resolution.

The most challenging of these is slavery. At the time of the
American Revolution there were about 600,000 slaves in the
British colonies that became the United States. In the Civil
War, more than 600,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were
killed. It was literally true that, as President Lincoln put
it in his Second Inaugural Address, every drop of blood
drawn by the lash had to be "sunk" (repaid) by a drop of
blood drawn by the sword.

Similarly, I cannot imagine telling Zapatistas that they
should not be prepared to defend themselves if attacked by
the Mexican army or paramilitaries. I believe that self-
defense in these circumstances meets the criteria for a
"just" use of violence set out by Archbishop Oscar Romero of
El Salvador in his Pastoral Letters.

My fundamental concern is that the rhetoric of the Occupy
Movement includes two propositions in tension with each
other. We appear to say, on the one hand, that we must seek
consensus, but on the other hand, that once a General
Assembly is over individuals and grouplets are free to do
their own thing.

A careful distinction is required. In general I endorse the
idea of individuals or small groups carrying out actions
that the group as a whole has not, or has not yet, endorsed.
I believe that such actions are like experiments. Everyone
involved, those who act and those who closely observe,
learns from experiences of this kind. Indeed I have compared
what happens in such episodes to the parable of the Sower in
the New Testament. We are the seeds. We may be cast onto
stony soil, on earth that lends itself only to thistles, or
into fertile ground. Whatever our separate experiences, we
must lay aside the impulse to defend our prowess as
organizers and periodically pool our new knowledge, bad as
well as good, so as to learn from each other and better
shape a common strategy.

The danger I see is that rather than conceptualizing small
group actions as a learning process, in the manner I have
tried to describe, we might drift into the premature
conclusion that nonviolence and consensus-seeking are for
the General Assembly, but once we are out on the street
sterner methods are required.

We have a little more than two months before Chicago in May.
Unlike Seattle, the folks on the other side will not be
unprepared. On January 18, the Chicago City Council

overwhelmingly passed two ordinances pushed by [Mayor Rahm]
Emanuel that restrict protest rules and expand the mayor's
power to police the summits. Among other things, they
increase fines for violating parade rules, allow the city to
deputize police officers from outside Chicago for temporary
duty and change the requirements for obtaining protest
permits. Large signs and banners must now be approved,
sidewalk protests require a permit, and permission for
"large parades" will only be granted to those with a $1
million liability insurance policy. These are permanent
changes in city law.

"Managing Dissent in Chicago," In These Times, March 2012,
p. 7. It would be tragic if we failed to make good use of
the precious period of time before all this must be
confronted.

IV

So what do I recommend? I am eighty-two and no longer able
to practice some of what I preach, but for what they may be
worth, here are some responses to that question.

We need to act within a wide strategic context, and engage
in more than tactical exercises.

We need to invite local people to join our ranks and
institutions. We cannot hope to win the trust of others,
especially others different from ourselves in class
background, cultural preferences, race, or gender, unless we
stay long enough to win that trust one day at a time. We
must be prepared to spend years in communities where there
may not be many fellow radicals.

In thinking about our own lives, and how we can contribute
over what Nicaraguans call a "long trajectory," we need to
acquire skills that poor and oppressed persons perceive to
be needed.

We should understand consensus and nonviolence not as rigid
rules, or as boundaries never to be crossed, but as a core
or center from which our common actions radiate. Consensus
is not just a style of conducting meetings. It seeks to
avoid the common human tendency to say, after an action that
runs into trouble, "I told you so." The practice of
consensus envisions that discussion should continue until
every one in the circle is prepared to proceed with a group
decision. Perhaps different ones of us have varying degrees
of enthusiasm or even serious apprehensions. Anyone who has
such misgivings should voice his or her concern because it
may be an issue that needs to be addressed. But we must talk
things out to a point where as a group we can say, "We are
doing this together."

Likewise nonviolence is under some circumstances the most
promising way of challenging authority. Trotsky describes in
his history of the Russian Revolution how, on International
Women's Day, 1917, hundreds of women in St. Petersburg left
their work in textile factories demanding Peace and Bread.
The women confronted the Cossacks, the policemen on
horseback, in the streets. Unarmed, the women approached the
riders, saying in effect: "We have the same interests you
do. Our husbands and sons are no different from yourselves.
don't ride us down!" And the Cossacks repeatedly refused to
charge.

After all, policemen and correctional officers are also part
of the 99 percent. When I visit prisoners at the
supermaximum security prison in Youngstown, more than one
officer has called out, "Remember me, Staughton? I used to
be your client." When they could not find other work in our
depressed city, which has the highest rate of poverty in the
United States, many former steelworkers and truck drivers
took prison jobs.

Nelson Mandela befriended a guard at Robben Island whose
particular assignment was to watch over him. The officer,
James Gregory, has written a book about it sub-titled Nelson
Mandela: My Prisoner, My Friend. Mr. Gregory had a seat near
the front at Mr. Mandela's inauguration.

The same logic applies to soldiers in a volunteer army. Thus
one Occupier has written, "A thoughtful soldier, a soldier
with a conscience, is the 1%'s worst nightmare." The Occupy
Wall Street Journal, Nov. 2011, p. 2.

In the end, I think, consensus decision-making and
nonviolence both have to do with building a community of
trust. One of my most chilling memories is to have heard a
national officer of SDS talk to a large public meeting in
Chicago about "icing" and "offing" persons with whom one
disagreed. Actual murder of political comrades apparently
took place in El Salvador, the United States, and, so I am
told, Ireland.

Everything depends on whether two persons who differ about
what should next be done nevertheless trust each other to
proceed within the invisible boundaries of their common
commitment.

A principal lesson of the 1960s is that maintenance and
nurturing of that kind of trust becomes more difficult as a
movement or organization grows larger. Here the Zapatistas
have something to teach us. They do have a form of
representative government in that delegates from different
villages are elected to attend coordinating assemblies. But
all governing is done within the cultural context of the
ancient Mayan practice of "mandar obediciendo," that is,
governing in obedience to those who are represented. Thus,
after the uprising of January 1, 1994 negotiations began
with emissaries from the national government. If a question
arose as to which the Zapatista delegates were not
instructed, they informed their counterparts that they had
to go back to the villages for direction

All this lies down the road. For the moment, let's remind
ourselves of the sentiment attributed by Charles Payne to
residents working with SNCC in the Mississippi Delta half a
century ago: they understood that "maintaining a sense of
community was itself an act of resistance."

Staughton Lynd

===

[Staughton Lynd was born in 1929 and grew up in New York
City.  His parents, Robert and Helen Lynd, co-authored the
well-known Middletown books.  Staughton went through the
schools of the Ethical Culture Society.  Above the
auditorium of the main school are written the words:  "The
place where men meet to seek the highest is holy ground."

Staughton Lynd received a BA from Harvard, an MA and PhD
from Columbia, and a JD from the University of Chicago.  He
taught American history at Spelman College in Atlanta, where
one of his students was the future Pulitzer Prize-winning
novelist Alice Walker, and at Yale University.

Staughton served as director of Freedom Schools in the
Mississippi Summer Project of 1964.  In April 1965, he
chaired the first march against the Vietnam War in
Washington DC.  In August 1965, he was arrested together
with Bob Moses and David Dellinger at the Assembly of
Unrepresented People in Washington DC, where demonstrators
sought to declare peace with the people of Vietnam on the
steps of the Capitol.  In December 1965, Staughton along
with Tom Hayden and Herbert Aptheker made a controversial
trip to Hanoi, in hope of clarifying the peace terms of the
Vietnamese government and the National Liberation Front of
South Vietnam.

Because of his advocacy and practice of civil disobedience,
Lynd was unable to continue as a full-time history teacher.
The history departments at five Chicago-area universities
offered him positions, only to have the offers negatived by
the school administrations.  In 1976, Staughton became a
lawyer and until his retirement at the end of 1996 worked
for Legal Services in Youngstown, Ohio.  He specialized in
employment law, and when the steel mills in Youngstown were
closed in 1977-1980 he served as lead counsel to the
Ecumenical Coalition of the Mahoning Valley, which sought to
reopen the mills under worker-community ownership, and
brought the action Local 1330 v. U.S. Steel.
http://www.pmpress.org/content/article.php?story=staughtonlynd ]

==========

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