Everything I ever thought I knew about organizing may now be irrelevant, thanks to the demonstrators in Zuccotti Park.
Like many of you, I marched alongside a million women in DC in 2004, like less of you I helped organize a 500,000 person march against the RNC invading New York City that same year. Both massively attended and well-organized and they only ended up in the papers for next few days. Yes, those moments remain dear to me and others who participated, and I do believe they brought unity and helped encourage individuals on the ground but they didn’t necessarily “do” anything. So how were a few hundred unorganized folks camping in a park going to?
Well, I was wrong. Maybe it is simply being at the right place at the right time, but I believe Occupy Wall Street (OWS) has changed the organizing game forever.
Non-hierarchical, egalitarian models of conversation and decision-making are now the model, not the exception. As strange as it may be to wave one’s spirit fingers in agreement like a sorority sister, it is such a clear and powerful visual of group agreement. Many folks naturally don’t send out any visual cues of agreement at all. So how do you know if the group is on board? Well, you don’t unless someone interjects which doesn’t make a lot of sense if you’re supposedly representing a collective.
Symbolism in demonstration, which was once a matter of screaming in front of the guilty party’s front door, is now all the more essential. Organizers need to be more than strategic with location and think about a location that resonates globally. This not only encourages global media coverage, but sets the framework of understanding to the wider scope of individuals paying attention who are ready and willing to engage for your demo whether it is a tweet or a status update.
Most importantly, OWS demonstrates intersectionalities in action. As part of one organizing meeting a gentleman brought up how occupying any park was worth it just to show that New Yorkers should have 24-7 access to the parks, public or private. To be honest, I almost laughed. I thought the point was demonstrating against the banks? I thought this was about capitalism gone horribly astray? How could something like that be relevant? One issue at a time buddy. And that’s when it came to me. Theoretically and in practice we are way beyond one issue at a time—we just haven’t seen intersectionalities in the streets until now.
Like OWS, reproductive justice is clearly beyond grappling with one issue at a time, as perhaps all “movements” are. We are in need of the recognition that taking to the streets to keep Planned Parenthood’s doors open is not enough. At the same time we need to discuss AND protest the cultural conscience targeting poor women and the cultural discomfort with women’s sexuality. Theory has linked issues like these for years. Practice has begun to effectively connect people to a wider range of services to attack the many facets of reproductive injustice. But to my knowledge, the progress of incorporating the complexity of intersectionalities in these other realms is not being seen in demonstrations. We have been so reactionary with the egregious seemingly unending attacks that we have not tackled this gap. It is time reproductive justice advocates looked to the OWS model and heeded its call for intersectional demonstration. Whose streets? Our streets!