Open forums at Occupy Wall St

Here is Mark Read talking about his experience of the open forums at Occupy Wall St. From an article from “The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest


”  On day 12 of the occupation I travelled to Liberty Plaza in search of the first official “open forum,” which was to be a discussion and informational exposition on the #spanishrevolution, or May 15 movement, upon which so much of the Wall Street occupation is modeled. I was excited. I had talked about it with my friend Leonidas Martin, of Barcelona. His descriptions of it had been vivid, and excited in me the hope that something truly new was possible in the world of activism. I had gotten a flyer the day before, announcing a schedule of daily “open forums” on everything from Economics 101 to the 2006 uprising in Oaxaca, to Technology and the Arab Spring. This more formally scheduled and structured educational forums had taken the place of what had up until then been more impromptu gatherings. When I asked my friend Brooke a few days earlier how the forums worked, she said “anyone can do one about anything, just stand up and announce that you’re doing it.” It seemed that now, as the occupation had grown in size and sophistication, there was an attempt to curate things a bit more. The forum was scheduled to begin at 6:00, so I arrived at the northwest corner of the park at about 5:45. I asked the activists at the info table where I might find the open forum, and was pointed in the direction of the “big ugly red thing” (a reference to the absrtact-expressionist sculpture by Mark di Suvero situated at the southeast corner of the square). This wasn’t the first time I’ve come to the occupation. I’d been coming down almost every other day for a week, but I had generally been there at night, usually at the times of the General Assembly. Liberty Plaza was a very different scene during the day. As I waded through the overcrowded square, I happened upon circle after circle of people huddling together engaging in what seemed to be intense debates, conversations, and even lectures. The biggest circle was centered around two older men who were addressing a largish crowd gathered around them. From what I could hear it sounded professorial in tone, only stilted and slower because they had to use the people’s microphone to be heard. Later I learned that one of those men was Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Laureate Economist. Other circles were smaller, and were focused on a variety of functions and topics. There was a facilitation training going on, as well as a direct action meeting, a process meeting, and up near the sculpture there was a circle of people I assumed had gathered for the “official” open forum on the #spanishrevolution. I stepped in and quickly discovered that I was in the wrong place. This group was the “electoral reform working group,” on of many issue-oriented groups that had formed over the course of the occupation, all tasked with the job of coming up with proposals for the General Assembly to deliberate on. I decided to stick around for a moment, and listen to some of the ideas circulating there. Though there was some variance, there was more agreement and consistency than one would have anticipated given the media treatment of the occupation. In one way or another, they all wanted to get money out of politics. The suggested mechanisms and policy options for doing that varied, and so they set about making their case to one another, educating each other, persuading each other. It was remarkably civil, and humbly civic in its goals. 

 Eventually the Spaniards materialized, and announced that the open forum on the May 15th movement would begin “now.” I drifted out of the electoral reform working group and over to the open forum, but I was torn, and though I am happy to have learned more about the May 15th movement, I wish I could have also participated more in other discussions, and listened longer to other lectures. So much learn and so little time. The occupation is thick with conversation. It is immersed in self and collective education. The range of knowledge, ideologies and analysis is incredibly wide-ranging and diverse. The entire enterprise is like a crash course in political education for everyone there, especially for the younger activists, who may have only had a formal education and not been exposed to much in the way of radical politics. I have heard some activists express the hope that all this mixing will lead to some kind of consensus, but I think this is misguided. To wish for some congealing, cohering process to follow from the collision of all these ideological frameworks and result in some grand consensus seems- to me- to miss the point. There will be many agreements I am sure, but not one overarching or all-encompassing platform. This is OK. The act of self-education and collective education is in itself a profoundly political act, and here in Liberty Plaza this minor miracle is happening around the clock.”


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