Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Identity must come before solidarity

This is the first in a series of posts about what went wrong with Occupy Vancouver and what went right.

One thing that went wrong: it was often unclear which actions were being taken in the name of Occupy Vancouver.  The Occupy the Vatican false-flag incident made it apparent just how serious the problem was.  It remains a problem -- what exactly is the Direct Action Committee authorized to do?

Who is Occupy Vancouver?  How is it related to Occupy Wall Street or Occupy Oakland?  Occupiers say they are linked by solidarity, and that seems correct.

Solidarity is awesome.  The Occupy movement was and is remarkable for its emphasis on solidarity.  Immediately after Occupy Wall Street began, hundreds of like-minded groups sprang up in major cities around the world.  It seemed absurd that they each declared themselves in solidarity with the Arab Spring protesters in Tunisia and Egypt, but after the Occupy Oakland camp was tear-gassed by the police I saw pictures of Egyptians holding signs expressing solidarity with the Californians.  A hundred people in tents is an unusual annoyance to one city's municipal government, but a hundred or a thousand people camped out in major cities across North America is the beginning of a political earthquake.  Ultimately there is no hope for democracy without solidarity.

However, something was overlooked in setting up Occupy Vancouver.  No one can say "we are in solidarity with you" without having figured out what "we" means.  Who is in solidarity?  What actions will we take to express solidarity?  Identity has to come first.  We can only express solidarity if we first know our identity.*

Who speaks for Occupy Vancouver?  Answer: the General Assembly that meets every night on the north side of the Art gallery at 7 PM.  That assembly is the voice of the consensus of Occupy Vancouver.  For better or for worse, Occupy Vancouver is fully responsible for every decision made by the GA, and for every action initiated by the GA.  Occupy Vancouver is in solidarity with Occupy Oakland, but it is not responsible for what they do unless OO explicitly sought and obtained consensus from OV's General Assembly that OV will support their actions.

The most urgent identity crisis facing Occupy Vancouver is the status of committees.  Most of the stuff that actually happens at Occupy Vancouver happens because of decisions made at committee meetings.  The problem is that I'm quite sure that many of the various committees at OV have not been explicitly authorized by the General Assembly.  I've gone over the minutes, and even some important committees seem to be getting their authority from the tacit recognition of the GA, not from explicit deliniation of powers and responsibilities.  The Direct Action committee

Does explicit authorization really matter?  I have an argument that it does...more shortly...

* Not quite true.  We often discover who we are in loving relationships with others.  However, a relationship where one person has no sense of his own identity is not a healthy one.

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