Archive for October, 2011
MDS STATEMENT ON “STOP THE MACHINE, CREATE A NEW WORLD” (October2011)
In May 2011, Movement for a Democratic Society (MDS) endorsed”Stop The Machine, Create a New World” (october2011.org) and joined the October 6 Coalition in good faith and in the belief that the call to occupy Freedom Plaza in Washington DC was a timely and much needed step forward for American protest. Buoyed by thoughts of the Arab Spring and the idea that the time had come to take resistance to the next level, some members joined the Coalition “Steering Committee” to assist in planning a Tahrir Square-style occupation in the US. That is, an occupation in the political sense of the word — taking over a public or private space against the will of government or ownership — as it’s been commonly understood by generations of activists.
Also encouraging was the idea that rather than it being yet another organizational call out of the top down variety, this event would be entirely directed by individual activists of diverse background and ideology. In other words, different. The presumption being that much like Occupy Wall Street, it would be a horizontal and egalitarian effort to build a truly participatory democratic peoples’ movement..This, of course, would be right in keeping with the spirit and raison d’etre of MDS and SDS. Since that time, however, several factors caused us to question the action and the intent of those who characterized themselves as the “core organizers”, and ultimately to conclude that it was not what it claimed to be. In course, we witnessed & experienced controlling top down behavior, bullying, dishonesty, snitchjacketing, censorship, and a total lack of respect for fellow activists.
1 – Permission to Occupy? — Soon after joining the October 6 Coalition we became aware that the “core organizers” intended to seek permits for Freedom Plaza that would cover the first 4 days of the “occupation” (October 6 – October 9) . The rationale was that getting permits would enable the event to have a stage, sound system, bands, performers, and speakers, and that this would draw enough people to allow the action to stay on past the initial 4 days, at which point it would become unpermitted. This concerned us based on the grounds that occupations are by their very nature, not permitted. Promoting such an event as an “occupation” would at the very least be a case of false advertising. We raised these concerns and were assured that despite having permits, sleeping in the Plaza wasn’t permitted and so it would become an “official” occupation the first night. We took heart in this and the belief that the final permit would not be continuous for the first 4 days so that the actual “occupation” could technically begin as early as the evening of Thursday, October 6th. Once the permit was obtained however, we learned that it indeed was continuous and in addition, now would extend from the evening of Wednesday October 6 to Monday, October 10. Again, we raised these concerns but by now our objections were met with even more hostility from some of the “core organizers” which included charges that expressing such contrary thoughts caused “divisiveness” and “disunity”. To make matters worse, on Sunday October 10, the eve of when that permit was supposed to run out and before we planned to join in Washington DC, we learned that a 4 month continuous permit for Freedom Plaza was now being proposed by the “core organizers”. Although it was heralded as a great victory by them, we said even if accepted in the General Assembly, it would now be even more disingenuous to publicly portray this event as an “occupation” since it would be in possession of what amounts to a 4 month lease. Very simply, you don’t get permission to occupy. If the plan was now to use the Plaza as a base of operations for outreach, rallies, marches, CD actions & so forth, and the idea was that a 4 month lease could help facilitate that, simply be honest with the public & activist community and call it what it is. Don’t continue to promote it as an “occupation” simply to cash in on the popularity of that term and the growing Occupy movement. Doing so is dishonest and does a disservice to the idea of occupation as a political tool and to the movement in general. Particularly to the Occupy movement, where at this very moment, people around the country risk their necks daily occupying parks, squares, and plazas in unpermitted actions that are in every sense of the word, occupations.
2 — Bullying – In the course of raising these objections we began to receive increasingly hostile off-list emails from at least two “core organizers”. On one occasion we were charged with being an “obstructionist”, and at least twice we were accused of being a “government infiltrator”. This practice, known as snitchjacketing, has long been a scourge to the Left, as it promotes an atmosphere of fear and is poisonous to effective organizing. At other times on the website’s Steering Committee Forum, our posts were met with abusive & disrespectful responses from one of the other “core organizers”. Unfortunately, this open hostility toward contrary opinions resulted in a ratcheting up of tensions when it was never our intention for this to happen. Our intention was to engage in necessary dialogue about the project, not to be drawn further into needless infighting. Other Committee members complained about receiving similar emails from the same parties. In time several members resigned. This is bullying. This has no place in the movement. You can’t bully fellow activists into submission in order to insure greater cohesion. We are thankful to comrades on the Committee who contacted us to say they’d noticed how disrespectfully we were treated and to voice their opposition to it.
3 — Top-Down or not Top-Down? — Although it was claimed that all decision making was done democratically within the Steering Committee and modified consensus was indeed used in Committee meetings, we soon learned that an Executive Committee was instituted for the express purpose of “streamlining” things and for the sake of “efficiency”. In other words, a small group of “core organizers” were empowered to make decisions in lieu of the entire group. While this practice may work in certain limited instances & the intent may have been to speed things along for efficiency, the result was to concentrate power in the hands of a few, and over time those few exerted more and more control over the entire project at the expense of democracy. This control extended from control of the website to control over all incoming & outgoing correspondence on behalf of the Committee to control over media requests. Ultimately, this select group further selected another small group of people to get together with for a brainstorming “retreat”. There, ideas were exchanged and future plans formulated at the exclusion of the majority of the Steering Committee. While groups of people are entitled to decide how they’d like to structure themselves, we find the stark difference between the top-down practice of October2011 and the horizontal decision-making of the OWS movement, disturbing to say the least. Can the seeds of a truly democratic peoples movement be laid if the process of planning the movement is less than democratic? To our surprise the “core organizers” refused to even concede it was top-down. If empowering a select few to make decisions independent of the whole isn’t top-down, what is? Such decision-making may have a place in certain contexts, but is it in keeping with the spirit of the Occupy movement and it’s attention to radical democracy at all turns? Again, our concerns were met with hostility from the few who accused us of being “divisive” and more interested in “disorganizing” than organizing. All this having the further effect of falsely painting us as the “cause of problems”.
4 – Censorship – For a time the Steering Committee listserv was de-activated allegedly due to some members belief that receiving “too many emails” was “distracting to the work”. When it was re-started, without our knowledge, we were shocked to receive an email from one of the “core organizers” stating in part,
“Please try to react to this in as positive a way as you can. I
really want to figure out what your role in the October2011 effort
is…. So far, it has been perceived as a negative one — at least
that is how some see it — of divisiveness and preventing us from
moving forward….There is talk about bringing back the list serve,
but people (including me) are hesitant to include you because when we
had the listserve in the past you have focused a lot on process,
pushed more discussion than people had time for, resulting in lots of
emails, bickering, back and forth and as a result people were unable
to get things done…..”
That this organizer felt entitled enough to say he/she was personally trying to “figure out” what our role in October2011 was, says a lot in our opinion. That this organizer found it perfectly reasonable to say that a few “core organizers” were now considering not including us in the re-started listserv based on our enthusiasm for open discussion of process, participatory democracy, and transparency, says a lot in our opinion. Since this was a Steering Committee list, to be left off the list would in effect, amount to being thrown out of the Steering Committee. Although the list was re-started at that time and we were included, we were eventually kicked off the list for expressing a dissenting opinion on the 4 month permit, and for having the audacity to ask “If October2011 now has such a long term lease, can it legitimately be called an occupation”? Wouldn’t it be more honest & accurate to call it “Freedom Plaza – A Base for Marches, Rallies & Actions” or the “The Freedom Plaza encampment”?
Kicking people off listservs for expressing their opinion is censorship.
Kicking people off listservs is not in keeping with the spirit of
the Occupy Movement.
This is not what democracy looks like.
The purpose of this statement is not to single out any one activist. The purpose is to call attention to a string of abuses and a mentality that is destructive to effective organizing and democracy. If we are not vigilant in our attention to the demands of radical democracy, how can we expect to facilitate the creation of a movement that is? These demands are not expendable based on a desire for streamlining, efficiency, and convenience. Especially at this time in the face of a burgeoning Occupy movement that to it’s credit, remains always attentive to the demands of participatory democracy and maintaining a place at the table for all opinions, at all times.
For these reasons, we believe it’s critically important for there to be a movement-wide dialogue on free speech, bullying, truthfulness, what constitutes effective organizing, and what it means to advocate for radical democracy.
We invite all activists, workers, students, scholars & the interested to engage in this dialogue with us.
Movement for a Democratic Society (MDS) is a global association of people on the left. It seeks to create a sustained community of educational and political concern and actions: one bringing together liberals and radicals, activists and scholars, students, faculty and workers in all trades. It maintains a vision of a democratic society, where at all levels the people have control of the decisions which affect them and the resources on which they are dependent. It seeks a relevance through the continual focus on realities and on the programs necessary to effect change at the most basic levels of economic, political, and social organization. It feels the urgency to put forth a radical, democratic program counter-posed to authoritarian movements.
Declaration of the Occupation of New York City
This document was accepted by the NYC General Assembly on
As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.
As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.
They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.
They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.
They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.
They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.
They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.
They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.
They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press. They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.
They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.
They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.
They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives or provide relief in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantial profit.
They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.
They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.
They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad. They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts. *
To the people of the world,
We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.
Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.
To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.
Join us and make your voices heard!
*These grievances are not all-inclusive.
Update 10/1/11 – Minor updates to some wording in the facts.
MOVEMENT FOR A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY
An Introduction and An Invitation
From the time of the First International, the International Workingmen’s Association of 1864, until today, the vast majority of the people of the world has suffered from failures of unity in the pursuit of our common needs and interests, in the face of highly organized and tiny elites of wealthy rulers. We keep trying. On the eve of the illegal U.S. Invasion of Iraq in 2003, a protest demonstration was held simultaneously on every continent, including Antarctica. This was not the first worldwide day of action in history. May 1, for generations has been observed as world labor day. But May Day was not organized “overnight”. It took months, years of communication in a world where communication was a major barrier to any global coordination. Today, we have the communications technology to overcome this barrier.
A landmark event took place in Chicago during August of 2006. People from across North America held a convention to re-start Students for a Democratic Society. SDS had not held a convention for more than 30 years. A small number of veterans of the 1960s SDS attended the 2006 convention and held a meeting there to re-start one of the SDS projects: Movement for a Democratic Society (MDS). MDS was conceived as a lifelong extension of the work SDS was doing on the campuses and in the community.
With ecological and economic nightmares popping up everywhere and every time we blink, let alone rest, we urgently need to try again to create a global community of both conversation and coordination.
We cannot afford to wait while we sort out all of our differences. We need to find ways forward on many life and death issues – war and empire, repression, healthcare, climate calamity, the struggle for the commons–even while we continue to express our differences and continue to try to persuade each other of the merits of our analyses of history and of our various visions of a new society.
Movement for a Democratic Society has formed to work on building this effective global community.
Join us. We are multi-tendency and multi-issue. We want people who already belong to other left and progressive organizations. We expressly want to build upon, and hopefully grow, the existing networks of groups in which our members work. And we want members who are not now active in any other group as well.
Movement for a Democratic Society Constitution 2009
(This constitution is adapted from the sds constitution 1962-67)
Preamble: Movement for a Democratic Society is a global association of people on the left. It seeks to create a sustained community of educational and political concern and actions: one bringing together liberals and radicals, activists and scholars, students, faculty and workers in all trades. It maintains a vision of a democratic society, where at all levels the people have control of the decisions which affect them and the resources on which they are dependent. It seeks a relevance through the continual focus on realities and on the programs necessary to effect change at the most basic levels of economic, political, and social organization. It feels the urgency to put forth a radical, democratic program counter-posed to authoritarian movements.
Contact Information: San Diego Chapter firstname.lastname@example.org
Join MDS. Become an MDS organizer.
“We want the World, and we want it Now!”
OCCUPY WALL STREET! ?
The year 2012 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Port Huron Statement, published by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). As part of the observation of this anniversary, MDS is embarking upon a collective writing project. We plan to bring together a wide range of movement perspectives to address both a retrospective analysis of the PHS and a prospective analysis of the question: What would a manifesto for our times entail?
Our movement focus is a global one, not merely a national one. Your suggestions about other groups around the world possibly interested in this project would be most welcomed.
We would like to extend an invitation to any organization or individual to join in this project, in any way, small or large, that you deem fitting. Please get back to us with your questions and ideas.
MDS Organizing Committee
Full text of the Port Huron Statement: HERE
Wikipedia article on Port Huron Statement: HERE