Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Civic participation in Occupy Movement, OC Irvine camp remains

*This article was originally published in the Viễn Đông on 7 December 2011. It was reported by Vanessa White.

IRVINE, California— In a move that incorporates the Occupy OC Irvine protesters into the city discourse, their encampment will remain in front of the Irvine City Hall.
On 6 December 2011, the Irvine City Council was to decide whether to allow the encampment to remain for another two weeks, or clear it away following the “crackdowns” on other Occupy encampments nationwide, including Occupy Los Angeles’.
Instead of prolonging the decision process at council meetings every two weeks, Irvine has decided to set up a special subcommittee with city officials and Occupiers so both entities can meet outside the council meetings and address their respective needs and expectations.
The encampment, known by its protesters, or Occupiers, as the Village, has been active since October 2011 in solidarity with the global Occupy Movement that started with protests and marches in New York City and San Francisco in September 2011.
Protests and marches turned into encampments, or occupations, in parks and in front of city halls, as city councils nationwide allowed Occupiers to extend their free speech by staying overnight in these locations.
Inspired by pro-democracy protests that spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa during the Spring of 2011, the Occupy Movement has united people affected by social, economic, and political inequality despite race, ethnicity, gender, class, ability, or sexual orientation.
Mainstream media has portrayed the movement as “leaderless” and “lacking specific demands,” however the Occupiers, believe they are all leaders, representing 99 percent of the population that is disadvantaged by the remaining, wealthy 1 percent.
Irvine Occupiers, specifically, feel that “large corporations and major banks have become corrupt and greedy, making large profits off the backs of the average American.”
Such corporations fund political election campaigns, using their money to back candidates that will support their causes. The more money a candidate has, then the more advertising space the candidate can purchase, thus influencing people to vote for them.
According to Occupiers, this is not true democracy. Instead, they have implemented their own form of democracy, holding general assemblies (GA) that address the various grievances they feel the U.S. government is ignoring.
Occupation or no occupation, will the movement have an impact on U.S. democracy?
GA sessions, new government?
Though Occupy general assemblies (GA) vary in procedure, they are a means for Occupiers to use discussion for raising concerns and asking questions, as well as submitting proposals that determine courses of action the group will take.
There are several committees at Occupy Irvine, including accounting, administrative infrastructure, civic liaison, food service, legal, logistics, media, outreach, public relations, first aid, safety, grounds, and community service.
Each committee sends a representative to report to the larger Village during GAs, making the Occupiers aware of the various aspects of their occupied community.
At the GA, there is time allotted for committees or Occupiers to submit proposals, if they wish.
Hand gestures are used for people to show approval, the need to speed points along, request clarification, and show strong disapproval for a proposal that has been raised.
By showing such strong disapproval, the Occupier believes the proposal “either endangers the movement or the people” of whom it’s comprised.
The Occupier will have two minutes to explain to the Village why the proposal is dangerous. If there are several disapprovals, only three of them may address the group so the process can go quickly and smoothly.
If a speaker cannot be heard, anyone can call, “Mic check!” The speaker will then repeat what has been said with increased volume.
“Mic check!” is also yelled if people in the group begin talking among themselves, disrupting the entire group’s unity.
If a proposal needs more work or editing, a Breakout Session might be called, resulting in an open meeting for those wishing to attend after the GA. At the meeting, the proposal will be brought to resolution and heard in its new form before the group at the following day’s GA.
With varying procedures at occupations worldwide, GAs represent the Occupiers portrayal of democracy. Facilitators of the discussions are rotated, giving people equal opportunity to show their leadership ability.
Occupiers feel that “this is what democracy looks like.”
Shining a light, keeping it going?
“The Occupy Movement has been extremely successful in moving the public debate from a myopic focus on deficits and taxes to consider joblessness, debt, and particularly, economic and political inequality,” University of California Irvine (UCI) Sociology professor Dr. David Meyer told the Viễn Đông.
He added that though it has not come up with concrete proposals, or the “demands” the mainstream news media is looking for, the movement has broadened the public arena for other people to do so.
One of the reasons Occupiers lack proposals is they focus on base democracy, or large scale democracy, and consensus, Dr. Meyer continued. It is difficult to get people to agree on policy proposals, especially within a large group.
Though, the Occupiers can all agree that they wish to keep the occupations going.
“Dramatic actions, like the occupations, set the public agenda, but don't resolve it,” Dr. Meyer told the Viễn Đông, adding that once occupations have been cleared away he expects to see the movement’s effects as activists and mainstream politicians offer bold policy proposals that could inspire broad changes in government.
Such changes were experienced in the early days after the Civil Rights Movement (1950s-1980s), which gained legal equality for oppressed people worldwide.
Similar to the Occupy Movement, the Civil Rights Movement was political and had an emphasis on nonviolent civil protest.
Also like the Occupy Movement, in some instances, the Civil Rights Movement’s nonviolent protests were met with or incited civil unrest or armed rebellion, from police brutality to citizen violence.
Perhaps a difference, though, was the Civil Rights Movement’s focus on individual leaders who institutions could directly negotiate with, relating more readily to a familiar context for mainstream policy makers.
“The effectiveness of Occupy will depend upon how well the grassroots activists are able to work in concert with more institutionally-oriented groups and individuals,” Dr. Meyer told the Viễn Đông.

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