Huffpost New York
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Jerry Ashton Headshot

Trouble in Paradise? Occupy Confronts the 'Two D's -- Dissension and Departures

Posted: Updated:

The problem with any cause, whether it be for civil rights, or anti-war, pro-choice or anti-fracking, is that it is constantly confronted with the need to remain viable. This translates as attracting and maintaining large numbers of people who are active, involved and responsibly directed by dedicated leadership.

What is whispered about in OWS, and quietly acknowledged by many in the community, is that infighting and ideological disputes are causing an exodus of talented leaders.

It's one thing to lose a "sunshine patriot" or weekend warrior, but an entirely different thing to lose people who have the experience, savvy and credentials to move things forward. What is it within a system, or movement, that discourages or drives away such people? Is this a healthy or unhealthy sign for Occupy?

Brooklyn resident and early-on activist, Amin Husain, appears to inhabit the "people go" space, having sent a formal and very public note early this month to one of the Occupy Working Groups that he was "stepping back and moving on to other things."

Coming from a 37-year-old Palestinian-American who grew up poor in that country, was caught up in the Palestinian uprisings of the '90's and spent time in prison, who moved to the U.S. to complete his education and land a job as a corporate lawyer only to leave that to become an artist and then a core OWS activist -- this was a shock.

In spite of public pronouncements that Occupy had no lack of captains and generals as it was "leaderful" (i.e., each and every member could step up to that role), there were key people who more capably assumed that mantle and were essential in that role. Amin is one of those people.

To use Occupy language, he stepped up and stepped back as needed. Two working groups, in particular, attracted his attention and time. Not coincidentally, these two have been Occupy's most public and successful displays of its energy and capabilities: Occupy Sandy and Rolling Jubilee.

The American public is more aware of Occupy Sandy by way of newspaper headlines and MSM (main stream media) attention.

Within hours after the hurricane, Occupiers seasoned by Zuccotti Park and organized rallies immediately went into action. Hundreds of their members worked shoulder-to-shoulder with other volunteers, the Red Cross and FEMA to aid Sandy victims.

At one point, Occupy Sandy was feeding thousands of Sandy survivors daily out of local churches. Headlines became more friendly, and public figures praised their efforts.

First Ever Bailout of the People by the People

Rolling Jubilee had already been busy answering another major American disaster -- medical debt. A brainchild of people in the Strike Debt working group, its stated purpose was to go to the debt buying industry, negotiate to purchase medical debt that ordinarily would have been sold to (and pursued by) collection agencies, and forgive it!

Yes -- a famous "bailout of the people, by the people" which hoped to raise $50,000 to buy $1,000,000 in hospital and medical practice debt. The intent was twofold: to make a dent in the debt struggles of at least a few people, and then to make a public case that this sort of debt should never have existed. At least, not in a society that cares for its own.

Occupy activists and bloggers flooded social media sites with calls for help, and an evening fund-raising marathon was livestreamed from a club in Manhattan. The $50,000 goal was met and surpassed -- by an astounding $500,000 -- and that number is still growing.

Thus armed, Rolling Jubilee was incorporated into a 501( c) 4 operation, sought out exceptional legal and accounting talent, brought on board consultants with expertise in the collections industry, and proceeded to create more positive headlines for OWS. Millions of dollars in debt have been abolished to date, and many more millions to come.

Now, why would anyone -- especially Amin Husain -- want to step back from such successes? And, what does it mean to Occupy overall?

In a 15 Minutes of Fact interview for WGRNradio (http://bit.ly/10pM93M), he provides many of the answers while assuring friends that he has not left Occupy at large. His time and attention is now centered on being Editor of the Tidal magazine and "a laundry list of other chores."

Some of these projects, he intimates, may be even "bigger" than Occupy Sandy and Rolling Jubilee in their impact and will prepare Occupy to move into its third year even stronger and more resilient than ever.

Paradise regained?