Notes from The People’s Think Tank

September 18, 2012

One of my favorite things about participating in the Occupy Wall Street one year anniversary was sitting among like-minded, world-shaping-focused, regular people, and talking strategy, tactics, problems and ways forward in The People’s Think Tank. Admittedly, I only sat in The People’s Think Tank for about 45 minutes. Below are some of the arguments that were made, which I’ve attempted to synthesize and expound upon:

  • One of the things we need to do, according to some at The People’s Think Tank, is engage with our media in a more direct way. We need to understand the source of biases and explain them to people we interact with, arm ourselves with compelling facts about the corporate-owned-media and combat the perception that The New York Times or The Washington Post or MSNBC or CNN is good news with well-documented reasons why they just aren’t. Additionally, we need to ready and willing to share alternative news sources: Alternet, Democracy Now, Truth-out, The Guardian, State-run media outside of corporate influence like Russia Today and Aljazeera, etc. We need to show instances of biased corporate-media coverage and compare it to the alternatives. In the age of information, it is our obligation to promote correct information and to fight corporate bias.
  • When talking about these topics we need to be approachable, empathetic, and typical even (if it seems natural to you). There is no necessity to conform to radical clichés, as our goal is to peel back the next layer of possibly winnable anti-capitalists, not to scare them away (according to several at The People’s Think Tank). This doesn’t mean archetypical radical dress isn’t welcome, it just isn’t necessary, and could potentially be less effective for winning new people to our anti-capitalist politics.
  • We really can change the world, one person at a time. We each can represent the possibility of a New World, and engage with others to do the same. One way to start great conversations and to raise awareness is to wear a sign. One young woman offered this as a suggestion and said that after getting beaten by the NYPD, she wore a sign that sparked many conversations, saying things like “Ask me about why the NYPD beat me up.” People with similar stories will be curious and willing to talk with you about it. Others suggested facilitating conversations with a series of questions and using those to guide the direction of your conversation with those you hope to win to anti-capitalist politics.
  • We cannot start from a place of judgment, we have to find our common ground and win them to our politics over-time. Start with things like baking-fees, student loans, crushing debt, about not having insurance and needing healthcare. People are winnable to our politics coming from this place because (among the working class) these issues are pretty universal and everyone understands that things suck and are starting to suck even more. People are tired of the disparity in the quality of life across class lines, and even as the media relatively successfully dismantled national sympathy for the Occupy Movement, they haven’t made the lives of the working class any better and people are still open to answers. Especially after this election is over, Obama is re-elected, and our standard of living still continues to be deplorable. Democrats are so focused on partisan politics that they are unwilling to engage with systemic problems, but once the election is over, many will become disenfranchised once again, and willing to work for real change. When we focus on unmet needs, we can have a powerful effect on those we speak with.
  • On that note, we should also use the Presidential Election to talk to people about media bias, rhetoric, misguided conversation, misrepresented facts, propaganda, etc.
  • Another thing that was talked about was being open, avoiding clamming up. Don’t feel like you have to know everything before you begin to have these conversations. You know some things. Be honest about what you think, how you feel, your personal experiences, what you know and what you don’t know. Come from that common human place sincerely, and you’ll be able to handle even the most intentionally combative pigeon-hole traps that some will inevitably try to push you in. Be brave and encourage bravery. It’s a big step to engage with alternative politics and it actually can have some negative consequences in your personal life. It’s important to express the importance of bravely embracing other sets of politics and being patient and understanding with those, while still encouraging them to join this long-term project. Arm yourself with powerful, compelling facts and use them often. Practice using them, become an informational power-house and take your personal education seriously.
  • Ask questions like: Why do we work 40 hours a week and not 80? Encourage people to think about how we won the weekend, where it came from, etc. People often walk around with the idea that these things were given to us by the corporations or by the state, because it seemed fair. In fact, there were large-scale fights to win these things, orchestrated by anti-capitalist organizers, and organized communities who demanded these specific demands. Talk about the gains made during The New Deal and combat the common notion that they were given to the American people by Roosevelt. Talk about the large scale socialist and communist organizations at the time who made the demands that were realized by The New Deal.
  • The last thing I heard at The People’s Think Tank was a long discussion about People of Color and police brutality. On one side, there were those who encouraged treating the police like they were part of the masses and like they are winnable to our anti-capitalist politics. On the other side, there were those who said we need to focus on police brutality, police terrorism and the way communities of color are systematically harassed by the police. We can then use this conversation, it was suggested, to talk about the role of the police in a larger systemic context. I think it’s important to remember that in no revolution historically have the police revolted and sided with the people. They are always the last line of defense for the ruling class. The military is much more likely to defect than the police (simply because of the awful circumstances that keep military people in place through extreme coercion on a number of levels, whether they want to be or not). That isn’t to say individual police officers are all horrible or awful people or unwinnable to our politics, but they probably aren’t ever going to be both a police officer and an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, and racial-justice oriented person. For your own safety and for legal reasons, you should avoid talking to on-duty police officers in non-emergency situations and when at-all possible. 

It was an incredible conversation and an incredible day. I felt so fortunate to be able to be there and hope you can get a sense of the quality of the conversation from the above notes. More on the rest of the day later. Here’s some other pictures posted to our Facebook page, which you should like if you haven’t already. 

- Robert

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