Show Me What Solidarity Looks Like

Photo by Paul

By Arlo

Watching several hundred protesters bang pots & pans together in solidarity with Quebec on a Monday evening,  marching around the square and clamoring loudly in front of both mainstream media and livestream cameras alike, one might be tempted to conclude that Occupy in Portland continues to be a powerful and persuasive force challenging the status quo in the public sphere.

Had I not spent the last eight days in May watching OWS protest in solidarity with Quebec students–albeit in a far different manner–I too might be tempted to see PDX’s effort at Quebec solidarity in a different light.

In fact, the difference between the two couldn’t be more apparent, even though at both events the participants were dressed almost identically, right down to the red squares and casserole pans.

Every night I was in NYC, in Washington Square in the shadow of NYU, Occupy (Wall St.) had a protest march in solidarity with students in Quebec. Of the 8 nights I spent in NY, I went on 6 marches. Most nights, it was between 20-30 people. One night there were 50. (Of course, the night I left they had 200.) Horrible numbers, everyone there readily admitted. OWS marched anyway and it was fun. Really fun.

Their “bike swarm” was a fleet of 2–half that one night, none on another. OWS marched anyway.

Three of the six nights it rained, including a full downpour twice. OWS marched anyway, and it was even more fun BECAUSE of the rain.

Every night, into the streets.

Not in the calculated, “I have a right to be here” manner reminiscent of OPDX–big in numbers for safety, traffic stopped by the bike swarm blocks away, bike cops all up in our junk–but in a totally different manner. ¬†Nimble. Fluid. Strategic.

After six nights, what emerged for me were the advanced marching tactics OWS had evolved to become safer while growing its visibility.

More importantly, I learned why sitting in Pioneer Square, walking around in a circle banging a pan as an act of “solidarity” with our brothers and sisters in Canada misses the mark for me as an activist.

For strategic reasons of my own, I am not going to reveal any specifics on how taking streets, maximizing effectiveness and exposure, and staying safe is engineered on the streets of NYC. My hope is that what is transferable to Portland can be adopted, and what is not applicable will be revealed.

Rather then give the cops a heads-up and lose the pivotal element of surprise by revealing potential ideas here in our hometown Occupy paper, surely perused daily by our bloated (both in numbers and waistline) “civil servants”, I’d kinda just prefer to see OPDX integrate some of what works 3,000 miles away next time the situation seems appropriate.

I’m just kinda funny that way with tipping my hand to the people who don’t want us to succeed as a movement.



What I do want to report is how mic-checking, dancing, chanting, marching in the street and running away from cops to specific places for an hour or so made me feel.

Like my efforts were worth something. Like I was effecting real change by being part of a march with 10 targeted mic-checks aimed at 50 to 100 people each time, seeing the curiosity turn to solidarity from those looking on, wondering what these 30 people in the streets were doing — and then finding out. Like I was a part of the radical Occupy movement, overcoming strategic obstacles and pressing the attack. Like it was undeniable to ALL those watching that we were “occupying public space” both defiantly and successfully. Like we were reaching out to and growing our numbers among those unsatisfied with signing another petition, or getting another permit, or marching in a GODDAMN, FUCKING CIRCLE IN THE ONLY PLACE IN TOWN DEEMED SAFE!

It made me feel like I was putting my ass on the line, just like the people I was aiming to be “In solidarity with” were doing, every night.

Marching in NYC It made the blisters worth it, the rain fun, and the effort required invisible. Most nights I had a 50 pound pack on, and hardly felt it.

Monday night, back home in Portland, my body longing to be in solidarity with everyone in Quebec: Red square, pan, ready to go…

Without an outlet, it was only my pan that felt like 50 pounds.

Not surprisingly, I hear the nightly solidarity march in NYC is getting bigger each week.

Tenacity. Evolution. Determination. Good stuff….

I love my home occupy, and I love it the most when we’re in the streets. Nobody should have to ask an occupy, “Who are you with?”

Money for jobs and ed-u-ca-tion,
not for war and ex-ploi-ta-tion!

We don’t ask, we occupy.

See you in the streets…

  16 comments for “Show Me What Solidarity Looks Like

  1. Chris
    June 18, 2012 at 2:26 PM

    Yes, marching in a circle is frustrating – even facepalm-inducing. I was at that event and I was a little embarrassed to see the 150 or so marchers (not several hundred, not by a long shot) literally going nowhere. There is certainly room in Occupy, or in whatever we call post-Occupy activism, for new ideas and new tactics (or even old ones reused).

    But you are not the first person to say that if we would just be more SOMETHING – diverse, focused, militant, compromising, autonomous, coordinated – then suddenly everything would start to change.

    Everywhere in the world where protests are gaining momentum and influence, it’s because either there was already an existing progressive framework and narrative through which the public could view and accept them, or because the protesters spent years establishing that framework and narrative, and are still doing so. In America, neither is true, and groups like Occupy have only begun to do the necessary groundwork to lay the foundation for a populist uprising. What’s needed is more time and effort, not “secret recipe” tactics.

  2. deb
    June 19, 2012 at 8:10 PM

    Well on a personal level marching in the street may be fun and feel empowering etc.. to me, that was not the intent of this event. The people who came pots and pans in hand were in solidarity the many passers by and folks lounging in the square had no idea what was going on. I personally spoke with dozens of onlookers and explained the situation and most people decided they too would like a red square. Step one was (and is) education. While masses march in the streets in Quebec good luck finding this on MSM. My streets are also at bus stops and rides home and the outreach doesn’t stop. While I’ll see you in the streets I look forward to seeing different and new folks to.

  3. Anonymous
    June 19, 2012 at 9:15 PM

    Thank you! I was beginning to wonder if I was the only one to feel completely disempowered at the sight of people marching around in circles in Pioneer Square. That outcome had already been predetermined as the organizers of the action had already ruled out the possibility of a march prior to the rally. This is exactly the failure of progressivism. It’s the difference between actual resistance and symbolic gestures. While the stakes may be low, unpermitted marches are resistance – they are a disruption of the everyday routine. The goal should be to continue amplyifying that disruption until it’s resonance reaches a critical mass. Leftists claim that the critical mass must be achieved before any kind of resistance can take place, and so resistance is always deferred, to finally be engaged in at some undefined point in the future when it’s more realistic. What Occupy demonstrated is that people are drawn to open acts of defiance – those are the moments in which people find inspiration. The goal should be to never go back to everday life – to disrupt the functioning of the machine until it can no longer operate. Through repetition, the influence of small relatively minor acts of resistance can be amplified to the point of critical disruption. These actions most likely will not come from conservative organizers, but from folks who autonomously organize breakaway actions. A reliance on organizers is a big part of the problem – people need to start self-organizing. Come with some friends and a plan and encourage other people to take part. Leave the organizers to march around in circles banging their pots and pans.

    • Chris
      June 19, 2012 at 10:08 PM

      Anonymous, if what you said was accurate, Occupy would be a thriving, growing movement, instead of a numerically stagnant (if not shrinking) one, struggling for attention. All the camps that had been crushed by the police would have spontaneously popped up somewhere else, like mushrooms growing upward from their hidden root system; an ever growing number of people inspired by those acts of resistance would have instantiated the revolution.

      I shouldn’t need to explain to you that this didn’t actually happen.

      Resistance for the sake of resistance is powerless. The machine is well-equipped to deal with disruptions: the police move in, the media is told to report that the good guys have dealt with some lawless kooks before distracting the public with some new spectacle, and the juggernaut of corporate-controlled American society plods inexorably on. Even the camps and the giant marches of last fall have been relegated to the stacks, though they left their mark in increased activism and altered discourse. (The media is trying to drown it out with election news – always reporting only on Obama and Romney, of course, never admitting that there are alternatives, never giving them the same free publicity.)

      And your notion of self-organization is absurd; why, even the word is an oxymoron! You cannot “self-organize” others, not even a few friends, as they would not be “self-organized” but rather “other-organized” – just as all the participants at the Quebec solidarity event were “other-organized”. Indeed, the very notion of “self-organization” rejects unity of action or purpose, the very lack of which has been progressivism’s Achilles heel for decades; the anarchic ideal that people can spontaneously synergize despite having no group organization of any kind is simultaneously its greatest foray into hopeless, impotent naivete.

      • Anonymous
        June 19, 2012 at 11:01 PM

        No, what’s absurd is organizers deciding before hand for a group of hundreds of people what was appropriate. This kind of top down organization, in which some people are organizers, and other people are participants, is exactly the problem. That there were people who wanted to march, and were discouraged from doing so by organizers, is symptomatic of the conservative role that organizers play. The leftist hacks that have been successful at pushing that line within Occupy are why no one gives a fuck about it anymore. I remember when the camps ended. All of the “organizers” were the ones saying to wait for reoccupation. Wait for a week. Wait for a month. Wait till spring. Your claim that self-organization is impossible flies in the face of the very existence of the occupations, before they ended and the remnants became a recruiting ground for the likes of We Are Oregon, the ISO, and Move On. And it flies in the face of innumerable spontaneously organized successful actions here and around the country. The unity of Occupy is a false unity. The sooner folks realize that and stop allowing themselves to be straight jacketed by calls to unity from conservative self appointed leadership, the sooner we can get back to the work of engaging in real resistance.

        • Nicholas Caleb
          June 19, 2012 at 11:09 PM

          You should have run out into the street banging a pot with no call out for friends to see what would happen. Actually, go try it right now! Go out on the street and bang a pot and watch things spontaneously happen! Hurry!

        • Nicholas Caleb
          June 19, 2012 at 11:11 PM

          Why didn’t you just march? Some people probably would have followed. You could have had a kick ass 50 person march with no protection and had your ass beaten by the police. I think we could all have considered that a success.

        • Chris
          June 19, 2012 at 11:40 PM

          Good lord, your ideology is cutting off the blood supply to your brain.

          The camps never self-organized beyond the level of the mob. They couldn’t. It was the GA process imposed on the camps that provided the basic organization they needed to function – while the whole time, people who sounded exactly like you started fights, smoked and drank wherever they felt like it, and generally made asses of themselves for no other reason than to prove they could to a group of people who were too philosophically paralyzed to make them fuck off.

          It was absolutely appropriate for the organizers of the solidarity event to create an intentional space that excluded marches and avoided police confrontation. If you showed up at that event in solidarity with its message, as I did, great. If you showed up thinking that you would hijack the event by imposing your own intention on it, regardless of what anyone else there might have wanted, because you’re just such a badass rebel who knows the right way to pick a fight with the cops, then I for one am glad you were disappointed.

          If you don’t like the way the organizers are doing things, then organize your own damn events. You and your three friends can go play in traffic all you like.

          • Anonymous
            June 20, 2012 at 6:42 AM

            Lol. Contempt for the “lumpen” is another trait of vanguardist organizers. Putting aside your ridiculous characterization of the camps, sitting around smoking and drinking in the parks was 100X more revolutionary than walking around in circles because organizers tell you to. Marching in the streets is picking a fight with the cops now? Tell that to the kids in Quebec. Encouraging people to autonomously organize breakaway actions is hijacking? Only in the mind of the professional leftist organizer. Fuck off already.

  4. Nicholas Caleb
    June 19, 2012 at 10:21 PM

    The real tragedy is that after 6 months of getting our asses beat by the police, someone with experience can still post an article with some magic understanding of how a march organizes itself and a perverted understanding of what it means to march. We (“the organizers”) took ten days to put something together with a call out to anyone who wanted to help. If we had 50, even 20, people willing to put in the effort to recruit for a march and ensure its protection, we’d have marched. Instead, around 10 people showed up and we did the best we could with what we had. (Recall that the only person actually attending from Quebec gave us an emotional thank you and pledged to spread the message to everyone.)

    Now, as a result, we’ve got hundreds of people from across the community who are willing to organize for an entire summer in communities, schools, institutions, etc. for the prospect of actually making a political point and, if we work can, having an actual education strike with broad community participation. These people get it.

    So, I guess I won’t see either of you at any of the meetings because they’re not sexy enough, but I’ll see you to come bitch about how your fantasies weren’t fulfilled later on. Great attitude.

    Understand something, if all you do is march as soon as you get 100 people, no one will ever come and issues will never gain traction, because the community doesn’t understand. You can rail against that if you like, go ahead, but you’re missing the point of why we aren’t drawing people to march in the first place. It’s not because they don’t care. You just expect everyone to be on your plane and that’s it. I have another idea. Help them get there.

    Currently, you’re obviously fixated on activist porn — you just want the adrenaline payoff. But, marching is a tactic, not an end in itself. Marching at 8 PM on a Monday night wouldn’t have given us any more attention. What would the point have been? To satisfy your need to march? Marches are supposed to accomplish something when you do them. Help us organize to get thousands in the streets and then you can have your march that might actually draw some attention or accomplish a goal. This is what Quebec students have been doing FOR YEARS. It’s an insult to their organizing efforts that you invoke them to justify your own egoist position.

    I’m all for spontaneous occupations of public space as political statements. But I’m not for being sniped at because your particular vision, of which you had every opportunity to contribute, wasn’t realized on a given occasion. Before you start trashing “the organizers” and thinking that they are like “the man”, maybe think about all those great marches you went to and the countless hours of preparation and media work that went into it. F29, for example – kicking the crap out of ALEC still – saw organizers taking all sorts of shit for not doing it how the adrenaline junkies wanted. Guess what, it worked.

    At least try to spend some time putting an event together before you start railing about what was wrong with it. It might give you a little insight into the process and a better appreciation for the difficulties involved.

    Solidarity indeed.

    — Nick

    • Chris
      June 19, 2012 at 11:44 PM

      Well said, Nick.

  5. Malcntnt1
    June 19, 2012 at 10:28 PM

    I was there. I kept expecting there to be a surprise march or an action of some sort. It was merely noisy. Recently someone tried to hand me the line that “Occupy was built on compromise” and I was like “No, that’s consensus you are thinking of”. I think that line, and marching in circles with no objective is compromising and revealing. Co-option looms- beware!!

    • Nicholas Caleb
      June 19, 2012 at 10:36 PM

      Your brain has been co-opted by a peanut.

  6. mac
    June 19, 2012 at 11:33 PM

    so, hey. along with nick, i was one of those “conservative” “top-down” organizers.

    i just wanted to chime in and offer my support for everything that nick has stated. the idea was to use the action as a means of gaining interest in further organizing. it was the general feeling of the folks organizing this particular action that any march would have resulted in two things: some arrests, some beatings, and no real headway gained in terms of shining a light on the issue of student debt. there was no discouragement on our part in terms of what people on the ground were capable of, and in fact people were encouraged to march autonomously if that’s what they wanted to do.

    could this action have been done better? yes. there were times where i felt it was stilted and disjointed, and certainly we could have done better than to plan to have people marching around in a circle or hanging out being talked at. by the same token though, we accomplished what we wanted to accomplish; so i can’t really say that it was a disempowering failure (and actually, some of the folks i’ve spoken with after the fact expressed that it was heartening to see people willing to come out and speak to the fact that they’re as far in debt as they are for their education, so i’d say it was actually empowering for some people despite the lack of direct action). there’s things we learned we need to improve on, and we’ll be keeping those things in mind in the future.

    montreal didn’t happen in a vacuum: the students there have been organizing for years, and the spread of resistance has been facilitated by unions across the province. this whole revolution thing takes a lot of work. thanks to everyone who’s weighed in on this subject for everything you do.

  7. Jackie
    June 22, 2012 at 9:58 AM

    Chris, Nick, and Mac – In your responses, it seems like you’ve seriously distorted Arlo’s message. He’s saying that in NYC he experienced a tactic that allowed for taking the streets AND staying safe from getting beaten up by cops AND spreading a defiant, radical, and meaningful message to the wider public. I don’t think he’s blaming anyone for not doing the same in Pdx already–you can’t know what you don’t know. He was using the Quebec solidarity action as an example, from his own experience, of how much more empowering the former approach felt to him and how he’d like to see it tried out in Pdx. Sounds good to me. Arlo, I’m down.

  8. mac
    June 22, 2012 at 6:42 PM

    on the contrary, jackie. i don’t see anything inherently with arlos message. speaking autonomously, i would support something along the lines of the ows solidarity actions. i would have supported something along those lines being organized in conjunction with or parallel to the action on june 11th.

    however, nothing of that nature was planned by us, in conjunction with us, or parallel to us, so nothing of that nature happened. there’s no attached value judgement there. it is what it is, and i would encourage anyone who’d like to work to engage this issue to do so, by whatever means they deem necessary.

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