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Thursday, June 7th, 2012

LIVE from Providence: Collaboration, Not Co-Option: Labor, Community Organizations, and Occupy Wall Street Working Together

Welcome to my first post from Providence! Now it’s 10:30, and I’m sitting in a panel about how the Occupy movement and more traditional progressive groups can work together, in order to better create positive change. Panelists first described where they were when they first heard about Occupy Wall Street, and stories emerged from the panelists about checking out and then becoming friends with Occupy LA, having friends who participated in the taking of the Brooklyn Bridge, and taking part directly in the actions of Occupy.

“Backscratchers for rich people made out of ivory tusks” was how one panelists described the message of those pushing against the Occupy movement, in a counter to the criticisms that Occupy doesn’t have a coherent message, when for many of the people it was their first introduction to activism, and the counter-message against Occupy is one that is overwhelmingly bad for the American public.

Conversation moved then to discuss more about the actual collaboration, starting first with the Teamsters organizers reaching out to the Occupy movement (somewhat surprising, considering the traditional conservatism of the union) in order to take joint action against Sotheby’s in equal part energetic and creative. These joint actions provided the solidarity needed to make the projects successful, and the Occupy movement was able to take action that more institutional groups couldn’t. This was despite many fears that many groups were using the movement for their own purposes,  and speaking in public about those fears, but behind the scenes these groups were able to provide benefits to Occupy as well, including running interference in order to help them keep Zucotti Park as long as possible.

The panel provided a perceptive look into the actual workings of Occupy Wall Street, the flurry of phone calls, how an extra 72 hours to organize an event can make all the difference, and the strategy between the Occupiers in the park and organizations such as and international labor unions.

As was articulated by one panelist, Occupy allowed groups that had been working on similar issues take much more radical action on these issues and be much more explicit in the demands they were making. Even though they are not longer physically occupying, he continued, they were able to create a space which is still inhabited and where work is still being done.

While a lot of talk was about the collaboration part of the panel, not much was discussed about the co-option issue, as one audience member pointed out. As a panelist answered, everyone, including the Occupiers themselves, needed to take a step back and reevaluate their struggle. Suggestions were made about looking at it from a solutions-based perspective, not to look at it as who the person is with, but what they want to get done, what resources they have, and how they can work together.

The panel provided a first-hand look into what the Occupy movement has done, how they did it, and what work they’re looking at doing in the future (partially displayed by one panelist’s inability to make it because she was working with different groups to stop Mayor Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk policy). Even though they may not be as physically prevalent, the work from those in the panel, and the very least, are going to continue to keep Occupy relevant for months and years to come.

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