Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The 99% Spring: A Skeptic Speaks

You know, I am just learning about the 99% Spring....and I am having some mixed feelings. I know a number of the letter signers, and I trust them (for example, Sarita Gupta--Jobs with Justice--and I were student organizers involved with USSA together in the mid-90s, and Rashad Robinson and I go way back). I do, however, have some issues with how organized labor centric the push is considered how few folks are actually part of organized labor at this point. Now, I believe that organized labor should be a central component of any organizing related to economic justice, but immediately, on looking at the signers and the labor focus, my first instinct was to say...this isn't about me....which is deep on a number of levels, right...both on the level of why don't I see myself as an inheritor of the right to organized labor but also it has clearly to do with the racism, homophobia, and lack of ability of organized labor to speak to me and my experience as a nonprofit worker. Aka...those of us that have spent the bulk of our lives agitating for change have largely done so within the non-profit industrial complex, which organized labor has ignored or been unable to crack (I am being clear that there have been widely divergent reasons and what is true on the national stage regarding energy and willingness does not often match up with local labor organizing).

Now...the prominent role of organized labor in calling for the 99% Spring is NOT why I am skeptical. I want to be clear. I am a lover of organized labor...but I do feel it necessary to call out that it did make me feel uncomfortable and made me question who was calling this week long event and if/did/didn't they do their work to make sure that the signers/callers were broad and deep enough to not elicit such a reaction. If I am having this reaction and I KNOW some of the folks calling for the action, I am clear that folks that have no direct connection to the list of folks behind the call will have even less impetus to connect this work to their own lives.

But on another gut...after thoroughly reading the 99% Spring website has an even bigger, more troublesome question: SO WHAT?

So what we have a week of actions/trainings/teach-ins...that will, if successful, raise visibility...but to what end? What happens on April 16th? What will the 100,000 folks be doing on April 17th? How will the energy be sustained? What are the next step goals? What are m the outcomes that this is helping to push forward? What's the next strategy to reach an end goal or benchmark and how does this push us there? How does this build infrastructure? How does this build movement instead of continuing our silo-ed, largely uncoordinated/and sometimes at odds work? How does this create a broader and deeper more unified political understanding of the moment and the long term politic in effect? How does this change the dialogue? Who gets to participate in these direct actions? Who does this leave out? Specifically what does this mean for the formally incarcerated? Immigrants, documented or otherwise, and those that can't afford to miss work to participate in actions that could have them facing jail time? What else is there that can be done that is more sustainable, achieves the same visibility goals, and allows disenfranchised folks to continue to advocate on their own behalf without putting themselves at undue risk of incarceration, deportation, or further economic marginalization?

I actually believe that folks in their communities already KNOW the tactics that are going to lead to their own victories in narrow ways. Farm workers organizing in the Upper Midwest have the example of farm workers in the Southwest to draw on. What I want is to know and strategize with those farm workers and connect their liberation directly to mine as I do economic justice work with queer/trans/elderly/HIV positive/people of color/homeless folks in New York City. I want to build a coherent framework that connects our liberation struggles into a real movement and not a bifurcated exercise that still fails to address the inherent oppressions at play in the Occupy movement that this 99% Spring, as imagined, seems to be on the verge of replicating.

I am not saying don't do it. Nor will I stand in the way of it. But as it stands, as a co-executive director, I would not push for the involvement of my organization in the 99% Spring (PLEASE NOTE THIS IS MY PERSONAL OPINION AND IS LIKELY TO NOT BE SHARED BY ALL OF MY COLLEAGUES OR MOST OF MY FRIENDS FOR THAT MATTER). It is beyond time that we grow up as social justice movement(s), and understand the difference between tactics and strategies, and it is super beyond time that we figure out how to define successes and start setting benchmarks that we can reach, together...distinctly and directly investing in each others liberation across the silos in which we find ourselves. My liberation is directly connected to all of yours. It's time to create real strategies that get us to that liberated space....which...we will only a starting point.

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