Why Occupy?

Saturday, November 5, Occupy Eugene moved from Millrace park to Washington-Jefferson park. This is reportedly a temporary location. Occupy Eugene will decide later this month whether to move to another location.

On Wednesday, November 9, a teach-in titled “Why Occupy?” was held at Harris Hall in downtown Eugene. It was sponsored by We the People Eugene, an organization that is dedicated to bring about a constitutional amendment prohibiting “corporate personhood”. The hall was filled to capacity. Fergus Maclean (I hope I’m spelling his name right), a member of We the People, made a brief opening speech. He noted that the early capitalist economists saw global capitalism as a “transitory phase”. Smith believed it would last about 200 years. Maclean said the Occupy movement is a “reaction against an exhausted, collapsing paradigm”.

Daniel Pope, a history professor at the University of Oregon, moderated the panel. He pointed out that the 99% movement belongs to a long tradition of radical struggle in the United States. He called it a “reawakening of populism”.

Joseph Lowndes, professor of political science at the UO, pointed out that social movements arise at times of crisis. He called the 99% movement the broadest popular movement since the 1930’s. (Broader than the civil rights movement? I’m not sure I agree with that.) He praised the 99% meme, saying that it is inclusive, yet it draws a clear enemy. He said that the movement indicates a desire for public good over private good. The Tea Party is for the politics of privatization; it is the opposite of the 99% movement. On the downside, he pointed out that the tactic of occupation is costly in terms of resources. He also expressed the fear that it could lead to the movement becoming “culturally insular”. Overall, however, his comments were positive.

Stan Taylor, who chairs the Lane Community College Peace Center, said that the 99% movement is “revolutionary” in its goals. He argued that the younger generation needs to lead the movement.

William Wise talked about the devastating effects that government budget cuts have had on people in Lane county. He reminded people of the suffering caused by Bill Clinton’s “Welfare Reform” bill. He expressed hope that the 99% movement would lead to a society that is more “fair”.

Lauren Regan, an organizer with Occupy Eugene, took issue with the idea of a leaderless movement. She said everyone in the Occupy movement is a leader. She said the strength of the Occupy movement is its broadness. “We should push for the most radical demands we can make,” she said. She talked about how the movement has reached out to homeless people. “It’s amazing what can happen with homeless people when you give them a place to sleep and food to eat.” She talked about how hard people in the occupation have worked and how the community has supported them. She predicted the movement will continue to grow. Referring to the growing environmental crisis, she said, “Absolute necessity mandates greater growth [of the movement].”

Jamil Jonna, another organizer, said that homeless people began to join the occupation as soon as it began. In response to Lowndes’s concerns, he said that the occupations are central to the whole movement. They create a space where people can meet and discuss issues face to face. The occupations make possible “empowerment and inclusiveness”.

An organizer whose name was only given as Karen talked about why she joined the occupation. “This movement is connecting the whole world through radical change,” she said. “It’s about people taking responsibility.”

The overall tone of the meeting was upbeat and optimistic.

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