Walkupy May Day

Where does a 65-year-old geezer get the harebrained idea that he can walk a thousand miles with bunch of 20-to-30-somethings after training for ten days after four months sitting in front of the computer copying Tweets and recording livestream incidents in the comments of an FDL liveblog? Because of four things: (1) Being in Chicago in May is that important to achieving change in the political culture of the United States, (2) listening to what the Republicans dismissively call “real America” and starting a dialogue about what the Occupy Wall Street movement is about breaks through the curtain of silence and misinformation, (3) there are lots of folks sympathetic to the Occupy movement in out-of-the way places who are still hunkered down from the Noughts and need to be given permission to come out and stand up, and (4) after watching and blogging the details of so many evictions and police attacks, like Forrest Gump I just needed to take a walk. And Walkupy May Day seemed to be the right place to be right now. It still does.

I contacted the folks working to get Walkupy May Day going and asked if they needed another walker. They said that they were being selective this time (more about that down the page), but they thought that I might work well with the group. So, having to be ready to walk on February 11, I made my Amtrak reservations and started conditioning, getting supplies, and packing. On February 9 after an overnight train, I arrived, took MARTA out to the end of the line, and met up with Walkupy May Day. The next two days were spent planning, relaxing (the rest of the group recovering from various lengths of the Walkupy march from New York to Washington, DC, and then on to Atlanta), and packing and repacking the backpack to get everything in and have the load well distributed.

The morning of February 11, a member of Occupy Gwinnett picked us up in a pick-up truck and drove us to Tray Davis Park (Woodruff Park at Five Points) where Occupy Atlanta is encamped in about a dozen tents. And looking good. They had donuts to share and warm wishes and hugs. I met Copper, who has become a role-model for the involvement of drug-addicted homeless people. I was interviewed by one of the many people going around doing a documentary on the Occupy Wall Street movement, and we had our send-off.

The weather was as unpredictable as you could get in Atlanta. The nominally balmy 40 degrees included wind gusts of up to 40 miles per hour that dropped the wind chill to 34 degrees. One minute you felt under-dressed and very cold; the next minute the sun emerges and you were overdressed and sweating, which made the next cold spell that much colder and the risk of hypothermia that much greater.

Six marchers and a documentary videographer went walking northwest on Marietta Street with one American flag; without that and the two “I am the 99%” signs dangling from two backpacks and the backwards walking videographer, one would not know that there was anything more going on but a bunch of guys walking down the street.

Things were looking good; my heart rate was at a cruising 110 bpm. We passed the CNN building. Peter remarked that there was an Occupy Atlanta protest against Syria in the park opposite CNN a week or so ago. A couple of random folks said as they passed, “Are you Occupy?” And were told that we were walking to Chicago by May 1st. The buildings changed from high-rise office buildings to one- and two-story warehouses and smaller businesses. We passed a guy (homeless?) who said “Thank you for what you are doing.” Then my heart rate started spiking at around 140 beats (outside the training range for my age) and I was not keeping up with these young guys as well as I could. But I figured, “This is the first day. The longer we go on the better my heart will handle it.” We crossed the first bridge overpass and caught a 20 mph crosswind blowing our backpacks around. The spirit of the Windy City was testing us in Atlanta was our general attitude.

After fighting the wind, I was beginning to lag significantly behind the others. We held a general assembly on the corner to discuss the situation. Bo emphasized that because of the difficult of camping in the urban area (we weren’t going to do civil disobedience camping the first day), we had to make Marietta (18 miles from Five Points) by nightfall and that we has started the day an hour behind. Andrew, an Iraq War vet and the group medic thought that it was still the first day. We and I decided to continue. And I was getting more into the pace when we came to a second overpass that was decidedly steeper and with headwind gusts as well. I slow-walked up the bridge keeping a reasonable pulse rate. Going down the other side, my legs started cramping (likely dehydration). I decided that I needed to bail just to let them get to Marietta by the end of the day. Peter ran ahead and told them. When I reached them Peter was working out directions to the Amtrak station for me. And we talked about the situation. And said goodbyes. As I was starting to take the group’s picture, a young lady came out of the store and asked who we were and what we were doing. When told about Walkupy, she was excited and wished us well. She also took a picture of the group so that I could be in the picture. And I walked the 3 or so miles to the Amtrak Station at my pace; the group continued on to Marietta, making it by nightfall and having someone let them stay inside their house on a cold night that reached a windchill of 9 degrees.

The 20 hours or so that I spent in train stations or on the trains going home gave me time to reflect on the significance of protest at the G8/NATO Summits, the Walkupy strategy, and the current shape of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The protest at the G8/NATO Summit is currently being framed in lefty blogosphere as the “rumble in the jungle”, the rematch of “the Movement” with the Chicago Police Department, even (laughably) as the start of the revolution. It might turn out to be one or all of those things, but that is not its significance. Nor will its significance be in challenging Rahm Emanuel’s repeal of the First Amendment–although that is somewhat unavoidable. Nor will it be the testing of a diversity of tactics; that too is pretty much unavoidable give the diverse coalition in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

To get back to basics, the protest at the G8/NATO Summit is about the role those international institutions are playing in the world and the disastrous direction that those institutions seem to be taking us. The G8 is about the economic coordination among the eight nations that the G8 comprises. NATO is is about the international coordination of national security agenda in a mutual security agreement among the 28 member states. It is G8′s endorsement of the 1%’s preference for austerity over prosperity that is the focus of the G8 protest. It is the tributary and not mutual nature of NATO, the de facto presence of Israel in the pact through the US diplomatic positions, the hegemonic relationship that the US has to NATO, and the drive of the US national security establishment to find a new justifying enemy to sustain the size of its military budget that is the focus of the NATO protest. If there is ever to be prosperity and peace again in the world, both institutions must dramatically change their direction. Because they provide the constraints on the policies on their member nations, no nation can achieve prosperity unless they all do. Because they legitimize American excuses for not dealing with the critical environmental issues facing the world, the US further avoids the changes necessary in the structure of its energy production and use. Because NATO legitimizes American hegemony, the US can continue to stoke the machine of its military- and homeland security- industrial complex without limit. Yet the G8 could be coordinative of prosperity. And a NATO open to other mutual security agreements, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Commonwealth of Independent States, could transform these from instruments of aspirational Russian and Chinese hegemony into foundations of an international security order that could permit the reduction of militaries globally without sacrificing the security against aggression. Which is why there will be a multitude of messages (and protest signs) at both summits. And why protesting at this time in history is essential. This, not 9/11, is another pivotal point in history. The actions that caused the reaction of 9/11 were baked into the First Gulf War. And it is time to reverse the militarization of societies and reduction of human rights, most importantly in the US, that accelerated after 9/11. That’s why I have to be in Chicago in May. And that’s what motivates Walkupy May Day. And that’s why AdBusters issued a call to have at least 50,000 people in Chicago by May 1.

There has been a lot of discussion recently about what exactly “a diversity of tactics” means in the Chicago Principles passed by the Occupy Chicago general assembly.

The Chicago Principles

• Our solidarity will be based on respect for a political diversity within the struggle for social, economic and environmental justice. As individuals and groups, we may choose to engage in a diversity of tactics and plans of
action but are committed to treating each other with respect and working towards a common goal of peace and justice.

• As we plan our actions and tactics, we will take care to maintain appropriate separations of time and space between divergent tactics.

• We oppose any state repression of dissent, including surveillance, infiltration, disruption, limiting our action to “free speech zones,” and violence, or attempts to divide our movement through the conscious creation of divisions regarding tactics, organization, strategies, and alliances.

• Any debates or criticisms will stay internal to the movement, avoiding any public or media denunciations of fellow activists and events.

These principles recognize that there are still folks wedded to the hammer of past tactics and for whom every new situation looks like a nail. And that is not just having to do with black bloc tactics failing; a lot of the conventional “have a protest day and go away tactics” have failed as well. “Violence” and “nonviolence” are a moral argument about tactics that misses the point that the real moral argument is about the violence the 1% unleash on the 99%, on other nations, and on the earth. One chooses one’s moral arguments and acts out of them regardless. The question is tactics. Gandhi is honored for his nonviolence, but the key word in his philosophy was “resistance.” And those who have thought that violence can only be fought with violence have found out that turning yourself into a dragon to fight a more powerful dragon means that you are fighting in a way that is likely to lose; the more powerful dragon knows how to be a dragon very well. The security forces know about how to deploy powerful violence; that’s not a hobby with them; it’s their job. So the issue is effectiveness in reaching a goal of peace and justice.

The Occupy movement stands at this point because its diversity has allowed it to expand across time in permanent occupation encampments, and in space in the replication of encampments. Many of those encampments have been forcibly evicted several times in the last three months. Some of them have persisted and are, for the moment, tolerated again. Lots of the movement locations that are weekly meetings have continued in all sorts of places. Some Occupy movements are nothing more than Facebook page that still has participation from local people and still coordinate actions. The extent to which the Occupy movement has touched smaller places is not knowable.

Walkupy, the Walking Occupation, consists of pilgrimages between known Occupations. These walks bring occupiers into contact with a variety of people not yet occupiers and a variety of places not yet occupied. The first Walkupy was a pilgrimage from Occupy Wall Street NYC to Occupy DC–from protesting Wall Street to protesting K Street. The second Walkupy pilgrimage was to traverse the Occupations in the South from Washington DC to Atlanta, ending with a symbolic action at the King Center. These Walkupiers talked to people along country roads, at convenience stores, and even had a few conversations with local police along the way. And got arrested in Raleigh NC, Charlotte NC, and Madison County GA. For walking or standing. But the conversations with the people along the way were the effective action.

The second Chicago principle has to do with not conflating identities deliberately. The media will do that enough. Separation in time and space permits folks who are engaging in one tactic not to be enlisted against their will into another tactic. It allows people the ability to make informed decisions about how much risk they will accept. This assurance allows some actions to be quite large because the threat of “protester violence” initiating a police response is reduced. It also allows actions to take place outside of the main focus of McCormick Place, the venue of the G8/NATO Summit and outside of the dates of the Summit. This gives Walkupy May Day lots of flexibility in planning how they will support the movement when they arrive in Chicago.

The third principle is why there needs to be as many people in Chicago as possible. Rahm Emanuel has suspended Constitutional rights of free speech and free assembly in the City of Chicago permanently. That must not stand.

The fourth principle is aimed at keeping internal issues internal and not seeking to use the media as leverage to get privileged consideration of movement decisions. As media attention increases around the protests. That should be an easy enough point to grasp but it hides another reality: the Occupy movement is rapidly developing its own media capabilities in which these discussions can take place. And it extends a principle of avoiding ad hominem attacks in general assemblies to a wider context of coalition direct actions.

Occupy and Walkupy May Day (and other Walkupy pilgrimages) are not as much works in progress as experimental laboratories of effective social action that start with involving ordinary people without trying to market some ideology or agenda to them. In 2012, listening is more revolutionary than messaging. Protest, with its messaging of mass participation, signs, banners, chants, and metastatements, is still important. Listening is how you know what folks understand about the issues you are raising with protests.

Going on the train to Atlanta, I overheard a conversation between two guys who looked for all the world like stereotyped “rednecks.” It started with “The government is a joke,” and went into the debt ceiling crisis of last summer and the waste of money and what bankers did to mortgages. No mention of party or politicians or ideology. It was striking in that. Not what you heard even a year or so ago. It was a recognition that something had seriously gone wrong. Coming home there was an affable Texan in a Home Depot NASCAR jacket in the lounge car talking to everyone. We talked about his upcoming back operation when out of the blue he asked me “Where’re you agitatin’?” “Everywhere I can” was my response which drew a big laugh.

The culture is changing.