What started as an awareness raising and ethnographic styled walk through Sierra Leone, this site now details the encounters of a not so academic academic who spends more time occupying Wall Street and squats than a university...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Port Huron Panel

Written Sunday 4/15

So the weekend has gone really well.  We can start with the Port Huron panel at the conference from Friday. I thought it went pretty well, as did the other panelists from the think tank.  We were thinking in hind sight though that we should have think tanked the discussion, allowed the moderator and audience to ask questions and then allow for the a more horizontal discussion amongst the panel.  I will certainly say that a couple voices - perhaps including mine - were heard to much.  Tom Hayden, really though.  We were all just sitting there at one point waiting for his long description of history and context to eventually get around to a point.  I don't mean to diminish his points, because he made some great points.  But he talked a lot!  And that comes from someone who talks a lot.  But he went on narratives!  One doesn't need to wonder why the Port Huron statement was so long!

All that fun aside.  The panel consisted of five Occupiers, all from the think tank, and then three "60's era" activists: Tom Hayden, Francis Fox Piven, and Martha Noonan.  It was quite interesting to see the dynamics of dialog, as well as Martha consistently being cut off when trying to speak.  It certainly made me think of the think tank and how much better it is for dialog.  She had some really good things to say when she got a chance.  Francis Fox Piven was pretty much a rock star!  It was amazing though, as one of the Occupiers said: "how can three so transparently nice people be so hated and despised by anyone?"  This obviously refers to the Right's hatred campaign and the death threats that Piven received following Glenn Beck's personal crusade against her.  Hayden has of course been a villain since '62!  Anyway, they were all just absolutely great people.

That being said the discussion was pretty good, but spirited a bit.  I've been on a few of these panels, occupiers and older activists.  The occupiers were asked to present questions to the elders to start: what do you regret and why didn't it work.  The second one was mine, and drew contention from the crowd!  How can you say the civil rights movement didn't work was the gist of one outcry.  But this is not an absurd concept.  My point, and one which has been brought to my attention mostly by the older generation in many think tanks and discussions, was that while strides were made - great strides - we really haven't made much of a difference.  When you read the beginning of the Port Huron Statement it speaks of the same issues that we do today.  Just as when you read the Communist Manifesto (1848) and Imperialism by Lenin (1905), you see versions of the exact same critiques of society.  While we have made tremendous strides in person to person interaction, the ERA still isn't passed, women still make less than men, 50 some percent of African-American men spend some time in jail in their lives, and Latinos are still routinely harassed and presumed to be illegal despite making up the second largest contingent of Americans.  And most importantly, America is currently statistically more segregated NOW than it was in 1970.

Fact is that society is still being inundated with mass systemic oppression and that there is this incredible divide between people and incomes on so many levels. Since 1970 a huge part of the American economy has been privatized and deregulated.  Real wages have gone down since then, state services evaporated, corporate control tightened, and disparities of income increased exponentially.  An already expropriative capitalist system expanded out of the civil rights movement into today's uber imperialist global economic machine that spends roughly 20% of its GDP on debt, hundred of billions on wars that kill people, rapes the global south/developing areas of the world both economically and in turn socially as well), domestically it bails out banks but not individuals screwed by a usurious homeowner market, allows corporations to be people and buy their way to electoral prominence, devastates its own environment, has created a police like state of repression against dissent and political speech, and frankly - to me - is headed so far in the wrong direction that it leaves so little hope of any equitable sustainable society for the future that its truly disheartening.  Yes, I do believe the movements of the 60's didn't really work.  I am sorry if that offends some people.  I think there are millions of Americans though that need absolutely no convincing of how the legacy of the 1960's has not brought much to them.  We need REAL change.  And I believe it is up to Occupy to pick up where the 60's movements left off, to capitalize on the strides they made, and try to take it to the next levels.  We have a lot to do, even while standing on the shoulders of the previous generations.

The panelists in general mostly agreed with my line of thought.  Tom did say that they basically fell off in the 1970's. That there was basically nothing much left to really protest.  He seemed to be speaking specifically about war.  I of course have some issues with this statement given all the wars and conflicts we'd been in during  the 70's, 80's, 90's, 00's, etc. etc.  South America, Central American, Central Asia, the middle east, Africa, not to mention all the soldiers we have stationed ALL over the world.  Come on.  The gist of it is that maybe you didn't realize that the problems in America and the world were not about skin color, gender, or similar issues.  These were outcomes, these were the most obvious and offensive, blatant issues that people were slapped in the face with each day.  They HURT the most, and were a great first step.  What we really have though is an economic condition that is underhanded, and sneaks up on its participant with continually racist, expropriative, and disparative outcomes and opportunities.  One thing that Tom did say that I thought was quite interesting though, was that one thing we have certainly gotten right is the gender issue.  He said during their time there were still groups of guys sitting around talking and making decisions while women were sitting there dictating steno style.  I thought that was profound to hear on many levels and will let the reader marinate with all those levels on their own...

I also came under some criticism when one person from the audience asked a question about how the two generations can work together, or what they needed to do to work together.  And again, given the time I've had on these panels, my comment was that both sides needed to be more humble.  The older generation needed to realize that just because some things didn't work when they tried, that doesn't mean we can't make them work now - ie. they shouldn't squelch the hope of youth, especially with the context changed since their efforts.  Our generation in turn needs to listen, needs to sit and say hey, they learned a lot, we can be better by listening and not putting up our guard when they tell us we can't do something.   Rather we should be asking for insight and reflection on why, and listening instead of saying no we can do it no matter.  The same woman from before took umbrage to that statement - not liking my response and then asking the audience for support as if I must have been wrong.  The audience told her flat out NO!  lol.  I must admit I recognized her and think that she had been in the think tank and I might have had an issue then as well.  Not sure why.  She thought it was just me that thought that divide occurred, and maybe that I created it in the beginning (a fellow panelist told me she must have still be angry about saying it didn't work).  Anyway, no one else seemed to support her so we moved forward.

So yeah, it was a good panel.  We talked about all sorts of things and we learned a lot.  I think we educated a lot of people there, including ourselves, and corrected some misunderstandings on general levels.  After that of course the think tank went and had a drink tank.  I am not going to get into the details, but it was a good way to debrief, share thoughts, and unwind with good people, good friends!   

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