The Occupy Wall Street (inter) National Gathering 2013, was held in Kalamazoo, Michigan, from August 21-25, 2013. NatGat2 began in the usual Occupy fashion, with the main venue and camping site lost. A moderate police presence was visible, as well.
Organizers scrambled, negotiated, and persevered. As seen with Occupy Wall Street in 2011, the churches became our allies. The Wesley Foundation Peace Center stepped up to offer safe meeting space for 3 days. The Quaker Friends House shared sleeping space. The Unitarian Universalist People’s Church supplied parking. Meals were prepared by the Turtle Soup Kitchen of the Rainbow Tribe, with little money but much love. Firedoglake members also stepped up to contribute and send supplies via Occupy Supply. Throughout the week, Occupy Supply water bottles, shirts, bandannas were in evidence, while sleeping mats and small tents helped with sleep and shelter needs. Thanks to Occupy Kalamazoo, and to all who helped make this event happen!
It is impossible to report on all that occurred, but here is an overview from my perspective…
Day 1 – Local
NatGat2 opened at Bronson Park, in downtown Kalamazoo. This venue was chosen to focus on the controversy over the fountain located there. There have been calls to remove the fountain for several years, pointing out that it is a racist symbol of white settler dominance.
The opening ceremony was led by Art Shegonee, a member of the Menominee & Potawatomi tribes, in Wisconsin. Art and his wife, Dawn, spoke of the prophecy that says “A new people will emerge. We will have a choice between two roads. One road, of the unsustainable technology of greed, or the other road to spirituality where there is reverence for all life and the planet.”
Multiple sessions of Direct Democracy Training were held by marine biologist Dr Riki Ott, during NatGat2. Dr Ott has been closely involved with the responses to the Exxon Valdez spill, the BP Gulf oil spill, and the ongoing spills related to tar sands and fracking. She shared templates for municipal ordinances and resolutions to ban toxic chemicals, including Corexit. She has found that dispersants, such as Corexit, make the impact of spills worse. These same chemicals are also being used in fracking and are being mixed with the tar sands.
Workshops on artful activism, led by Bill Moyer of the Backbone Campaign, also continued throughout NatGat2. Although initially delayed by police, the ‘People’s Parade” finally took to the streets on Day 1, with floats, signs, drums and music. Captain Ray Lewis not only gave us perspective on our rights, but joined in the parade as well. It was a joyful expression of the power of people.
Day 2 – Global/Media
Media presentations focused on topics such as press freedoms, social media, and educational materials. Photographers and livestreamers worked to both document and share the event with a wider audience. Mobile Broadcast News not only recorded presentations, but also several actions, including this one by the Detroit Light Brigade and the Bee “Die-In” held against Monsanto and Walmart. Occupy Roads not only helped with transportation but with photo and video documentation.
As part of global outreach, participants at NatGat2 were able to participate in a 24 hour Global Conversation online, which was held on Mumble.
An Occupy Press Call was held, with the help of Interoccupy, the Media Consortium and Occupy Oregon Media. Liz Myers, from AirOccupy, coordinated on the ground at NatGat2. This was a chance for Occupy members to share news with independent media personnel.
The day ended with a well attended presentation by Jill Stein, recent presidential candidate for the Green Party. Mobile Broadcast News has video of her presentation here. Both Jill and the Green Shadow Cabinet continue to advocate strongly for The Green New Deal.
Day 3 – Environment
Environmental issues affect us all. As one sign said, “There is No Planet B.” Presentations included those on climate change, global ecological collapse, linking corporate power to natural disasters, and a look at thorium fueled energy. However, one topic seemed to dominate the day. That was the ongoing and devastating effects of corporate driven chemical contamination. The same callous disregard, by corporations, for human life and our environment was seen in presentations on Bhopal, tar sands, fracking, sand fracking, and use of toxic diluents and dispersants.
The environmental panel discussion was especially moving, as landowners and people affected by pipelines and spills shared their personal stories. The topic of spills is felt very closely by many NatGat2 organizers. Kalamazoo, itself, has not yet recovered from the 2010 Enbridge tar sands spill. Many at the conference face multiple felony charges, for their recent protests against further expansion of pipelines in Michigan. Members of MiCats (Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands) have been working to stop further expansion of pipeline, while members of D-Cats (Detroit Coalition Against Tar Sands) have been protesting open piles of Petcoke along the Detroit River.
Wisconsin residents have been actively working together on many issues, including the environment. A presentation from the Wisconsin Grassroots Network, shared some of their strategies for coordinating and empowering communities.
Day 4 – Class, Equality, Economic Justice
With the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, attendees were reminded to reflect on the words and actions of Martin Luther King.
Breakfast was taken to Martin Luther King park to be shared with all present. Flyers were handed out to let others know that the Black History 101 Museum would be at the Peace Center all day. For the past 20 years, the Black History 101 Mobile Museum has acquired thousands of original artifacts of Black memorabilia that date from slavery to Hip Hop culture.
The continuing and unrecognized effects of racism in our society affect everything. This included NatGat2, which was boycotted by Occupy Racism and members of Idle No More-Michigan. A workshop was given at NatGat2 on confronting racism and white privilege. However, prior to NatGat2, an opportunity was missed to bring in a professional undoing racism presentation. This is being offered free to OWS organizers and groups in NYC prior to the upcoming Second Anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, S17. Take away message from the boycott, racism still exists, especially systemically in America. Education is needed to help us move past this system of continued division and oppression.
David Cobb, who was instrumental in bringing many speakers to NatGat2, presented on the need to abolish corporate personhood and “Move to Amend“. Other topics included stopping the TPP, and Connecting with the US Social Forum, Many workshops looked at proposed solutions,such as public banking, time banks, public project financing, and LOVE (Leaders Offering Valuable Experience) Leadership Training. Michigan focused topics included “Lessons of the Emergency Manager for Working People” and “Detroit’s Low Income Housing Crisis.”
The afternoon workshop was “One Class-One Cause: A Peoples Movement Assembly to End Poverty in the US,” sponsored by the Assembly to End Poverty. Break out groups discussed issues in depth and then returned to share with all attendees. A great deal of information and perspective was brought to these discussions by members of Housing is Human Right Coalition-Detroit, and the Michigan Welfare Rights Organizations.
Evening GA was titled “FemGA” and began with a look back at the “Declaration of, by and for Women” from the 2012 National Gathering. It was noted that the title “Gender GA” would allow for a more inclusive discussion now, and in the future.
Day 5 – Peace
We were honored to be invited to join with KNOW, Kalamazoo Non-violent Opposition to War, to stand together for peace. KNOW has held a vigil at the Federal Building in Kalamazoo every Sunday for 10 years! The vigil was followed by a silent march to Bronson Park. Once there, a ceremony was held to offer better uses for war dollars, such as food, education etc…
A lunch was served to all in the park, thanks again to the Turtle Soup Kitchen!
A closing circle and sharing was led by William Underbaggage, a member of the Lakota Nation.
Closing thoughts on unity:
An often repeated point, during NatGat2, was the need to overcome that which divides us and to build bridges, alliances, coalitions and solidarity. An opening phrase from the 2011 OWS Declaration of the Occupation of NYC recognized this saying “As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members”. Shamako Noble, of Hip Hop Congress, summed it up at NatGat2 saying “It will take all of us for all of us to survive.”
In today’s world of social media and internet connections, the need for face to face meetings is perhaps more important than ever. NatGat2 provided that opportunity. The gathering was filled with non-stop presentations, learning, conversations, debates, and actions that lasted five days. It is hoped that the ideas, energy and connections generated at NatGat2 will continue to ripple and reverberate for years.