The invitation to a Brecht Forum evening in Brooklyn last week sounded a bit anonymous: "What Did We Learn From Occupy?"
In spite of that tagline and the bone-chilling cold of a NYC winter's evening, some two dozen of the faithful and the curious filed into the Forum's hall to take their place in a large circle of chairs.
They encompassed all ages, color, gender and politics (notable exception -- Young Republicans). There was Marcus, an activist German transplant from Berlin; Casey, the "Frack Girl"; Jane, the gray-haired 50's woman's rights activist now interested in "bio-regionalism
; Carlos, in high school when OWS started and now in college; Elliott, whose writing and theatrical skills found good use at Zuccotti; Virginia "Occupy the Homeless," who supports the fight for a minimum wage and intends to begin a street newspaper, and -- well, quite a spectrum.
Almost immediately, the theme of the evening "What did we learn from Occupy," was challenged by the all as being "past-tense."
"I did not come here to write an epitaph for Occupy," Carlos declared, and a number of heads bobbed in agreement. Almost to a person, those who were present at Zuccotti Park or in the early days of OWS claimed that the experience changed their life for the positive.
"Sam" found it a catalytic experience. The fact that "so many people felt like I did" moved her from being youthful and fatalistic to positive and motivated. Seasoned union worker Jackie found "hope in the new generation." Her husband, Doug, a '70s activist who felt he had experienced constant defeat until Occupy came along, got "everything I missed in the '60s," describing it as a true, progressive expression of anger."
"It was a moral revolution." "The time had come; I never thought I would see it." "The conversation will never be the same." "We mainstreamed Occupy language, like 'We are The 99 prcent.'"
When the facilitator split the audience into two small groups to hash out Occupy's past, present and future, the temperature... and the criticisms... rose.
The 50's activist lady lamented the fact that Occupy didn't develop a program to coalesce around. "We didn't say, 'this is what we want,' and thereby lost our audience." Others found fault with the consensus process, and some with the "leaderless" ideology which suspected anyone who began to gain authority as being egotistic and a threat to the community. (None could imagine an MLK or a JFK emerging from Occupy's General Assembly.)
Others complained about the lack of transparency (who were the decision makers?) and accountability (we couldn't even provide a spread sheet on what monies we brought in and where they went). "The anarchists took over," one muttered.
Slowly, carefully the group picked apart Occupy's strengths and weaknesses. "It required too much time, it wasn't funded for the long run, it needed to do more community outreach and involve existing and pre-existing operations," and so on.
"People aren't done yet."
By evening's end, it became apparent that what had started out as a wake was evolving more into an awakening.
Occupy had made a difference, and is making that difference. Its members had gone out -- as Union Jackie described it -- to "leaven" other organizations with their energy and experience. Quite true. Be it fracking, workers' rights, LGBT issues, Stop & Frisk, the Trans Pacific Partnership or Marches Against Monsanto, Occupiers are there, and they are visible and essential.
They are everywhere but on the front page of the mainstream media
When Occupy did hit the front pages, it did so forcefully and positively -- as in Occupy Sandy's triumph of organization and Strike Debt's Rolling Jubilee impact in abolishing over $14,000,000 in personal medical debt.
With full heart and limited resources, Occupiers proves that a "bail out of the people, by the people" is possible without government help or intrusion.
The evening ended with exchanges of phone numbers and email addresses and a commitment to meet again. These people, the inheritors of a #Occupy movement which had spawned protests in 950 cities across 83 countries and been declared a "democratic awakening" by Cornel West, put on their coasts and gloves to return home.
They had been shivering earlier from their winter's discontent, but there was no mistaking a "spring" in their step on the way out the door.