16 November 2011

Awk-upy: Left Love and Shame

The latest issue of the Hypocrite Reader just went live with the theme "occupation." There are some interesting pieces (I'm personally a big fan of Debbie Hu's and Sam Feldman's) in it and one of my own. So by way of shameless self promotion here the introduction to mine. Also Occupy Elvis:

There are currently two occupations in Washington, DC. One had been planned months before Occupy Wall Street: a week of action against the American Wars, called “Stop the Machine." It was to re-energize the mostly dormant anti-war movement, using camping as a method of sustained action and coalition building. The other was a response to the call following Occupy Wall Street and calls itself “Occupy DC." It’s strange. The “Stop the Machine” protestors are self-identified leftists, anti-war activists, non-profits and socialist parties working in coalition. The Occupy DC protest, in contrast, is full of folks new to organizing. Apparently most of them didn’t even know the planned protest was going on.
What happens every day in DC now is a strange dance between the two camps. The Occupy DC marches draw tactics from the extant left, but feel themselves to be using them in new and fresh ways. The “Stop the Machine” protestors are still using those tactics, but their whole frame has changed since Occupy Wall Street broke out. They only intended to camp out for a week and then get arrested, and now the parks department extended their permit to four months. Now they use very similar General Assembly procedures to Occupy DC and they’ve lost their anti-war focus. The camps are on friendly terms, but it’s awkward. No one quite knows why there are two camps, but no one seems too excited about unifying.
My first instinct, which I think is common, is to take this awkwardness as an obstacle, a hump that we must devote our time to getting over. But looking at at least 30 years of impasse on the left I’m skeptical of this instinct. Instead maybe we should be exploring our surroundings, letting ourselves drift a little in the present. At the moment it seems impossible to conceptualize a reconstitution of the left, it’s difficult to even say the words “the left” and not feel anachronistic and nostalgic. But the homelessness of the left and our political depression doesn’t need to stop us. Instead of being one more instance of the left not “getting it," this awkwardness might help us in our efforts to figure out where we’re going.
It might seem strange to use the term “the left” so cavalierly. But I’m writing this for a simple reason: I want to be a leftist.

1 comment:

  1. I started out feeling ambiguous about this piece, though that has a lot to do with my relationship to organizing, activism, etc. after 27 years as a communist, but I think it is really a sensitive and intelligent reflection.

    I shared it with my closest co-thinker and she really felt that the discussion of shame was crucial. Too often, and I think this is true of many organizing activities and groupings I have been through, this aspect of group dynamics is missed because it is treated as "apolitical", but I think that it is a crucial dynamic.

    Thank you for this thoughtful piece, I think it is a very intelligent and self-reflective contribution that is a 1000 times more valuable than either dismissive or adulatory pastiches.