Saturday, July 7, 2012

Occupy National Gathering: Reflections and Reconnections

At the Occupy National Gathering in Philly, I ran into friends from Occupy Atlanta whom I’d met months ago while visiting their occupation. Their dedication—and success—in protecting and reviving communities facing foreclosures had left me with the feeling that the movement was learning to dig its hands into the dirt and grow real support at the grassroots level. Only by enacting alternatives can the movement draw people on board, I believed, and still do. Will, an activist passionate about saving homes, said that when people need help, “they call us.” They know they can depend on Occupy. He radiated a beautiful confidence in what his group was doing, which included saving a historic church in a neighborhood called Vine City that a developer was trying to claim.

I slept in that church while in Atlanta, along with other members of the local Occupy movement. The neighborhood was bleak, cast in shades of gray in my memory. Boarded up houses stood stark against the February sky, other victims of a developer and the banks. A 7-11 provided the only food source in town. But the church had been saved, through coordination between activists and the congregation. The bank had caved in to the massive wave of public outrage that would have erupted otherwise. The services were joyous, a place for people to ignite their sense of community and invigorate their own passion to act.

An Occupy member named Big Softy, who I’d met in Atlanta, came to the National Gathering in Philly along with about 10 others. “Remember Vine City?” he asked. “They’re putting in community gardens.” Occupy was working with community members on the project, and everyone was thrilled about it. With 7-11 as their only source of food in the town, people jumped on board to start the project, he said. Rather than depend on corporations for the worst quality food out there, they’ll depend on their own soil and community for the freshest and most nutritious food available.

Occupy Atlanta had also been working on gardens on top of a homeless shelter at Peachtree and Pine streets, and other cooperative endeavors like a bike collective, where trained bike mechanics worked with people staying at the shelter to teach them the skill of bike repair. Participants could take a bike of their own after learning and helping for a time.

At the “Nat Gat,” the concept of saving the commons—or reinstituting them altogether—came up continually. A number of people mentioned Occupy the Farm in California, an effort to grow food for the activist community while standing up for the right to grow our own food. Having land to grow food is a human right, just like having clean air and water. These are only debatable points if we believe that sacrificing human health for corporate profit is acceptable. Our land, water, and air are communal resources by nature, and trying to force them into any other arrangement by law will result only in chaos and destruction.

Taking back our land is a direct action that benefits the community in a very tangible way. Connecting it with the larger effort to reclaim power from corporations allows us to show others why it’s so important, inspiring them to start similar projects. Growing corn, carrots, and broccoli is a radical action if we connect it to the larger story of community sovereignty, so its reach expands beyond our own yard—particularly if we work together as a community to grow our food. When we can depend on each other, we’re far less vulnerable to the corporate system that has exploited us for so long. When we garden for the benefit of the community on land that has been unfairly seized by those who don’t need it, our action becomes all the more radical. A lot of beauty is manifesting now. So if your local Occupy is marching less, ask yourself, what else are they doing instead? And if you see an area of need in your community that no one is fulfilling, consider stepping in, whether it’s protecting homes or starting gardens. In this revolutionary world, we are all models for each other, and you may just create something that inspires a movement just as Occupy Atlanta (and so many others) inspired me.