Occupy and 350.org - You Come Down Here and Embrace!
Down on Henry Street just uptown from Foley Square in Manhattan, there is a church called Mariner's Temple. One Sunday we were among hundreds of folks listening while Mother Henrietta Carter preached. She stood up there, white-robed, and gestured out across the assembled faithful. "We need to see some embracing today." Mother Carter said, and then she explained that two families were blessed just recently with newborn babies, in the same week…
She boomed out: "I want you two families - come down here and embrace each other! We'll wait! Oh, you come down here! I know you two families been quarreling about something, you don't speak much anymore. Oh we all know about it. Now - You come down here and you embrace each other. You bring those babies with you!"
The two families slowly come to Mother Carter and embraced. They were in tears. People called out "Praise!"
You see from the title of my little sermon, that I am asking the people from two movements, 350.org and Occupy Wall Street, to do the same.
These two groups are difference-makers in the world. In the last year and a half - who has had more impact in our country? OWS and 350 share the view that entrenched power is only stopped by people power. In fact, they both call themselves "movements," right up front in their introductory remarks, like they're writing their own history. They both have galvanized thousands of citizens who hadn't necessarily planned to work so hard, to make so much contact with strangers, to feel such exhilaration.
But it is time for the two families to "come down here and embrace." I have frequented both worlds, and communication between 350 and Occupy is spotty at best. 350's leader Bill McKibbon did an uplifting job mic-checking in New York within a few days of the founding of Liberty Square, and then he marched with OWS on October 5th. And there are Occupy people everywhere, certainly in many of the environmental orgs. There are even OWS people working in big banks.
So - although there is some embracing by individuals within 350 and OWS, a recent march from the United Nations to the Federal Energy Commission offices on 34th Street - was all too typical. A spirited protest against the Jersey-to-Manhattan SPECTRA Pipeline by the Occupy "Environmental Solidarity" working groups in NYC, there was no-one from 350.org with us. At the same time, lots of OWSers in New York can't answer the simple questions about the XL Pipeline. So you have two activist groups both opposing natural gas pipelines and they don't seem to know about each other. Ships passing in the night. Why?
What Each Has To Give
Now you might say that the orgs of the Left always splinter apart, so why be surprised. And you could say that 350 and Occupy are two very different animals and can't be expected to get along. I disagree. We have a life-and-death emergency here on this planet. 350 and OWS agree about that. So we must do what gathers the most power. We should work together.
I would gently suggest that 350.org should pay far more attention to Occupy right now, after the loss through police violence of the town squares. Just to cite the most obvious fact: there was the intoxicating unity among progressive people who journeyed to Zuccotti Park last fall from Sept 17th to November 17th - and I know that this happened in city after city and town after town. There were 2600 encampments at the height of the movement. The energy in those 8 weeks is renewable!
So what can OWS offer? Occupy discovered that living together in public space is a protest form with big impact. The ingredients are famous now. Starting democracy over with hand signals and consensus and no leaders. Feeding each other, making libraries, media, signs; spending the day together in the commons. We had forgotten that all radical change in the USA has involved some form of living in public.
The other thing that we shared in our cashless temporary nirvana was the danger of being surrounded by police who work for the 1%. We locked arms, sang, tended to the wounded and got legal help. There is a clear solidarity among the OWS veterans from experiencing the violence of entrenched power. This is just one reason that the Occupy community is radical, and shares members with the coming-back-to-life of Earth First!
The Stop Shopping Church performed at many Occupy communities in the time last winter that the police had their way. It was fascinating to watch the Occupiers turn and look at where they came from, and re-take their own worlds again, going back home and making working groups in living rooms and church basements. Are we ready for our return? Some of us thought May Day was the moment. Now it feels more like the right cause, the right campaign, would be blessed by the replay of OWS. Yes Occupy people have a great deal to share with the organized funded NGO's like 350.org.
NGOness Plus Occupy
I'm thinking of 350 because they are the ascendant NGO in the last year and a half. Their "Climate Movement" is so important. But no Occupy working group is listed among their partners at the 350.org website. And yet the language of Occupy is adopted, the "99%" along with the newly glamorized verb "to occupy." Truth be told, the graphics and database values of 350 resemble the Sierra Clubish NGO's that accept millions from Wall Street and the fracking companies. NGOness is a meaningful style to avoid, and pummeling people with donations form-letters and all the database stuff - damn! We should have learned by now that amassing all the unique pixelated visits in the world isn't as important as 40 people living in the town square. We need 10,000 Tim DeChristophers, not 10,000 emails on the data-base.
I urge 350 people to call Occupy people and vice versa - we are resisting the same fracking 1%. Of course Occupy has much to learn from 350.org as well. If some of the stateside 350 actions seem like parking tickets compared to the beating OWS has taken - there is very creative work going on within the 188 countries of 350.org actions. OWS has the challenge now of discovering the new commons and 350's international world of activists make their "350" choreographies on beaches, out in fields and forests and even under-water, as we saw in the famous Maldives town meeting in scuba gear. 350 seems to find new Zuccottis around the world.
The worldwide creativity of 350 encourages us to find new commons in the seams of our cities, where the people can find us but the police don't think to look. I gaze upon the city scape of New York and 350 helps me see Occupies on rooftops, ferries, subway platforms, fire-escapes and of course, in bank lobbies… We will re-meet one day back in our Liberty Squares, but first we must journey through unexpected public spaces for a time, gathering citizens along the way.
I'm saying all this because I believe that the two most successful Earth orgs in our country will combine forces. As the C02 emissions climb, the bad weather and extinction waves accelerate - we need to "come down here and embrace."
If we look ahead to the moment that JP Morgan Chase is Occupied, funding for fossil fuels industries is ended, and the disastrous climate shapes the policies of our big institutions… Our glorious revolution won't just feature people with haircuts and clean clothes. And it won't be only the funkier look of weeks of sleeping in pup tents. The change won't happen unless we're both there, going down to re-take the public space. We'll have to "come down here and embrace!" Amen?