99%: Now That’s Strength in Diversity

By Jamie Way

It might be too early to declare the start of an “American Autumn,” but I have not been this optimistic about politics in a long time. Granted, some horrific things had to take place before the country was finally jolted from its slumber, but today it is clear that not only are Americans awake, but that they are actively reclaiming the public domain across the country. For the first time since I became politically conscious, my peers – those of us in our twenties – are taking a prominent role in the struggle!

Occupy Wall Street (which is fiscally sponsored by Alliance for Global Justice) is inspiring the country (if not the media) and bringing people on to the streets nation wide. Although the protest was initially written-off by the mainstream, endorsements from labor, public intellectuals and stars and some press sympathetic of the police brutality suffered by the protesters has ignited additional actions. Occupy Wall Street is not the only mass action in the works. Independent solidarity protests are being held around the country. As the movement gains momentum, larger organizations like MoveOn.org have started to take on the role of organizing additional virtual and solidarity protests with the Occupy Wall Street Movement. They called for events on October 5th and appear to be planning more involvement. Other solidarity protests, even in smaller towns, are in the works as I write.

But Occupy Wall Street isn’t the only notable action taking place. Before the Occupy Wall Street protest even began, a group consisting largely of anti-war organizers had planned a similarly styled occupation of Freedom Plaza in D.C. The group, called October 2011, converges on the city today (October 6th) to oppose US military presence abroad as well as to challenge corporate greed over human needs. (Alliance for Global Justice also fiscally sponsors October 2011 and will have staff at the event, but we are not the organizers.)

In August, over 1,200 people were arrested in D.C. as they voiced their opposition to the tar sands pipeline that President Obama could single-handedly halt. Currently, there are plans to install a 1,700 mile pipeline that would run from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and carry 700,000 barrels a day to the gulf. If the White House does not act to stop this project, environmentalists claim that this would essentially be “game-over” as far as the climate debates are concerned. That is, the amount of oil that this pipeline would commit us to burning and using (all obtained through the incredibly devastating process of tar sand oil extraction) would effectively nullify all other climate change efforts. Environmental groups are planning another convergence at the White House, this time with no planned arrests, for November 6th.

All of these actions have a common link. The US progressive movement has learned from other innovative movements around the world that if we are to be heard or even acknowledged, our consistent presence is a must. At home, Workers in Wisconsin and May Day immigrants’ rights protests showed even before this most recent surge of energy, that true democracy was in fact still very possible and worth while in the US. These actions and the current protests are demonstrating what organizers and academics have known for a long time: if we don’t have clear leaders, if we don’t have one physical location or hub, we are much more difficult to defeat.

Alliance for Global Justice has seen just how true this lesson is for activism in the last week. While reporters often claim that the protests host too many disparate views and are not organized or coherent enough in their demands, they fail to recognize that diversity of views, of people and of location is one of the central strengths of our movement. Recently, our fiscal sponsorship of the Occupy Wall Street movement has proven this to be true. On Monday, the internet and phones at our office suddenly went out. On Tuesday, our repairman explained that our line had been “physically disconnected” at the box down the street. Yesterday, we got word that our credit processor seems to be refusing to process more donations and is holding a large sum of our money.

Be it coincidence or malice, the fact that we are in no way a leader of (or even organizer of) Occupy Wall Street, but just one more supporter has been a huge advantage. No one action can shut down the protests. Additionally, in our own work, our staff is spread out regionally. That means that cutting a few phone lines won’t even slow us down. What the media needs to understand is that our diversity is our strength. We are the multitude; we are the 99%.