Posted by: sweeneyblog | December 13, 2011

Disappointed with latest Occupy tactics

Picture from Bellingham Herald of Occupy Bellingham chained to the train tracks

I already did the, “Look can we talk” thing with my Rick Perry post, so I’ll cut straight to the meat of this post. Occupy Movement? What the hell are you doing? Nationally, you are trying to shut down port facilities and locally you are chaining yourself to railroad tracks. Why? How is this helpful? Yes, I know it will “raise awareness” about economic injustice. Doing dramatic non-violent action always draws attention, but why THIS action? That’s what bamboozles me. Take occupying the port facilities. Yes, they are owned by Goldman Sachs and shutting them down will hit them in the pocketbook, but what makes you think that they will stop giving money to politicians as a result?

More importantly, those dock workers that are trying to get to their jobs lose out on a day of pay. Those UNIONIZED dock workers, who would normally be inclined to agree with you, join with you and fight by your side but you are deliberately antagonizing them. We all want economic justice, your message is strong and resonates with people across creed and class, yet you want to use tactics that deliberately divide us.

I know you need to continue to push the side of the envelope to be heard or the corporate media will ignore you, and you will be unable to spread the message of economic justice. I get that. But let’s be a bit more careful about what tactics you choose. Here are some ideas I came up with off the top of my head that would be more effective than blockading rail traffic.

1) Standing outside Bank of America and politely passing out flyers urging people to move their money to a Credit Union

2) Protest a WalMart by directing people to local businesses that offer similar products

3) Occupying your legislators office. Doug Ericksen, a legislator that has continuously voted to destroy working people in favor of the 1%, should be hearing from you every day. He represents you, make him listen.

4) Rick Larsen recently signed on as a co-sponsor of the Bernie Sander’s constitutional amendment declaring that corporations are not people. Knock on his door and thank him for his support, and push him for a stronger jobs bill.

5) Join “Jobs with Justice“, a citizen group devoted to raising awareness about issues of poverty, class and fair work.

6) Occupy the County Council and demand full support for our Worksource Center in Whatcom County, and better support for our social services.

I understand that non-violent protest is a common tactic when you have little power. But your most potent weapon is the fact that most people agree with your message. Don’t squander that with tactics that divide us.



  1. Going to have to agree 100% here.

  2. Its my understanding, and I could be mistaken, that the OWS port protesters are intending to protest in solidarity with Unionized Dock workers and Longshoremen who are currently on strike.

    It is also my understanding that the longshormen unions are against the whole thing:

    So I’m going to have to definitely agree.

  3. As a supporter of OWS from the beginning, I have to confess I was very ambivalent about this action. Which is why I opted not to participate.

  4. Just wondering how these types of decisions are being made? Your list, Riley, is really pertinent, I think. Finding local issues that need “advertising” is probably not that easy or obvious. The OWS around the country is supported by union workers, among others – students, nurses, unemployed, and MORE, so it seems REALLY important to keep them unified and not to undermine those that are employed. Hopefully, there will be people in the Movement who will want to run for office at different levels of government. I think Democrats need to be watching carefully for LEADERSHIP qualities and giving support whenever possible. What they are doing is NOT easy, obviously!

  5. Bravo Riley! As usual, you nailed it. I am attempting to work much more closely with OB than I have in the past. We need to be working together on common goals; not at cross-purposes. I want to focus on the banks and the financial investment exchanges, as well as those companies that have made a business model out of profiting fom off-shored jobs.

  6. The process of making decisions and deciding what actions to take depend on who shows up to the General Assembly and other working group meetings with Occupy Bellingham. Like any democratic process, those who show up get influence and those who sit on the sidelines as armchair quarterbacks do not. Although I agree that this particular action lacked coordination and communication with allies who otherwise support the movement, it is frustrating to read an analysis that seems equally uninformed and insular.

    There are many challenges that OB faces, not the least of which is finding days and times that are convenient for more people, and finding a process for making decisions that actually reflects the broader support of the movement rather than the specific issues of the constituencies of the types of people who do show up (college students, hardcore environmentalists, etc.)

    There are crosscurrents and dynamics at play here that are ignored in the media and in this blog. If you look into it, you would find that neither the Occupy movement or the unions easily fall into categories that either support or non-support of the December 12th actions. There are plenty of unionized port workers who supported both the local and regional shutdowns, and there are plenty of Occupy supporters who did not. Even if you just do surface research on Facebook you can get an idea of the complexity of people’s feelings and approaches to the West Coast Port Shutdown.

    Personally, I found myself divided over the issue – mostly for strategic reasons. It would have been helpful to find ways for people itching for direct action to do things that would have had broader support within the movement. Simply understanding that the coal port (whether you support or oppose it) is a symptom of corporate rule would have helped create a more nuanced strategy that would have enjoyed broader support. Within such a context, people on both sides of such issues can put aside their differences and work towards common goals (such as ending corporate personhood and other things mentioned in this blog post).

    But I also feel compelled here to defend the action and here’s why. Over the past four years I have worked with college-aged people (note that I am not calling them “kids”) on environmental issues ranging from global climate change to species extinction to deforestation. This is a generation that has grown up knowing full well that they are screwed. They are inheriting runaway global warming (many already understand that it is too late to turn back), overpopulation, carcinogenic contamination of just about every animal tissue on the planet, the beginnings of massive species extinction, etc. – in other words they are largely aware of the systematic murder of the biosphere. And they are pissed. And it is us (meaning older generations) who they rightfully blame for letting this happen.

    Couple this with the economy they are moving into. The American Dream is gone, buried and dead – replaced with a greedy race to the bottom. The veil is off and it doesn’t look pretty. In fact, it’s putrid.

    Understanding this perspective will go a long way in informing the discussion of why so many young people are impatient with working with the powers that be, even when “we” feel that we are otherwise supportive of their goals.

    Instead of criticizing their tactics, I think we should reach out. There is anger and pain and frustration and couple this with the lack of fear and you have some pretty powerful warriors.

    I am putting my energy into creating a dialogue between the various constituencies of the Occupy movement. There is a lot of reaching out and listening and understanding to do. It is easy to criticize; it is time consuming and awkward to reach out and listen with the heart. I’m not asking for us not to be critical; in fact, critical thinking is necessary to move this movement forward. But PLEASE balance it with participation and creating personal connections with those with whom you think you disagree. In fact, the picture that accompanies this blog post (the photo is credited to the Bellingham Herald) is of a guy named Andy. He is one of the most thoughtful, dedicated and intelligent people I have met in the Occupy movement. He’s a music major. He has a heart of gold and is willing to do whatever it takes to make things better in this world. Look beyond that picture. I beg you.

    • Okay, ignoring the cheap shots in this comment, I just want to bring up that I am one of those young people you talk about. I graduated college in 2008, have been struggling with this depressed economy for the last three years and am quite frustrated.

      I am reaching out, and plan to report from the General Assembly this week and voice my concerns over their tactics. The issue is that the Occupy Movement is squandering their moment with tactics like these and I want them to succeed.

      You can vote with your dollars, you can vote with your time, you can change the system through a variety of tools. I just disagree with the latest tool Occupy has chosen.

      • I thought you were the one taking the cheap shots. Oh, the perils of online dialogues. Online political banter can be a fine line to walk. I meant no offense.

        But back to the point at hand.

        The tools that you list (voting with dollars, voting with time) are tactics that by nature do not challenge power. The tools that we are legally allowed to use to politely ask for change are only allowed because they cannot and do not work. If they actually worked, they would be illegal. Making purchases at local businesses may reflect on one’s personal integrity, but it will not challenge the capitalist system in any meaningful way. In fact, if these efforts gain acceptance they are inevitably be co-opted by big business like the organic and local movements have been.

        Challenging power and winning requires tools that are neither legal nor easy. It’s hard for us as white middle class privileged people to understand that, but ask someone for whom the capitalist system uses as production fodder, and you will see a very different picture. The only way to challenge the capitalist power structure is to strike it where it hurts and that means strategically disrupting raw materials extraction, supply chains, and industrial production.

        That said, I would agree that the West Coast Port shutdown was not very strategic, and thus nowhere near as effective as it could have been. It lacked the widespread support. In my opinion, It lacked a lot. But it was a start. Hopefully we will learn from the mistakes and next time be more effective. Hopefully next time the unions and the Occupy activists and a larger percentage of the general population will be supportive and participate.

        I’m glad you will be going to the GA to make your voice heard. That requires a lot of time and patience. It is, in my opinion, a flawed and sloppy process. But it is what we have and hopefully over time it will gain more focus and legitimacy.

        And I’m sorry that my generation f***ked up the planet and the economy so bad for you, or at least did so little to stop it. Actually, I’m more than sorry – I’m mad as hell. Because what you inherited may well be paradise compared to what my son will inherit.

        I want this revolution so bad. I feel like I have been waiting my whole adult life for it and it seems these opportunities only come around every thirty years or so and thirty years from now will be too late for the planet.

        So, in the interest of practicing what I preach, Riley, I hereby reach out to you and offer to buy you a cup of organic local tea so that our future banters may have more mutual understanding and a relationship behind it. You game?

  7. This blog is really contradictory of itself. All of the things you listed effect the jobs of other people.

    • What they try and do is shift the money and commerce away from toxic places to more productive uses. Local business? Not too bad. Walmart? Definitely bad. The key is rather than striking out at Capitalism, you use it as another outlet for our values.

  8. Glad you’re going to the General Assembly on Friday. I’m tempted to go, but if I don’t show up, please know that I support you 100%, Riley. These tactics are destructive and I don’t want to see anything similar happen in Bellingham. They are counter-productive and produce ill will at a time when we need all the support for liberal policies that we can get.

  9. The sooner that people realize that most effective form of “protest” is with your ballot, the sooner America will be on the right track. The message (whatever that may be) is meaningless unless the “elected” is made to take notice by way of the electorate.

    If the 99% is viewed as the 1% of the voting block by the politicians (by way of encampments, blockades, and other “fringe” actions) then the battle is lost and “occupy” movement becomes nothing more that a blip in hx.

    In order to effectuate change, “protests” must ibring people together, not drive them apart. Focus on things that people from all political wings can agree on (e.g. corporate welfare, backroom politics, corruption, etc.) and you may find yourself standing next to a member of the “tea party” demanding change in America.

    • I wish I could agree that the ballot box is the most effective form of protest, but in my experience anything beyond local elections is so tainted by corporate power and special interests that it is never going to seriously challenge the status quo. In spite of their rhetoric, elected officials rarely, if ever, bite the hand that feeds them. I would like to see voting as part of a larger strategy, but not as the primary focus. I do agree with your point on focusing on issues that have broader appeal though. We need to build a large movement if we are to have any success at all.

  10. Anything you want occupy to do, organize and do it yourself. No one should speak for you but you. Occupy did and does what it does. I am person in Occupy Bellingham. I attend meetings and General Assemblies. Come by. We don’t bite.

    As for your suggestions,. Some of them i like and would join you in doing them. Others i would not do or support. Some of them occupiers have done. WE have protested at Rick Larsen’s office when he was wrong and thanked him when he was right. WE have protested and occupied at both Belliingham City Council and Whatcom County Council. Some of us are members of Jobs with Justice (Are you?)l But the important things is you should say you will do the things you support, and i bet you some occcupiers will join you.

    • I plan on attending and urging some of these actions. I know the Occupiers (myself included) have protested at Larsen’s office, and I am a member of Jobs with Justice, but my point is that there are other, less divisive tactics that might be more effective towards accomplishing our goals of economic justice.

  11. Seems like much of the Bellingham Occupy Movement’s action to block the railroad was to protest against the proposed coal port. I wasn’t a supporter of it myself, but I do know some people that were there.

    The coal train / coal port issue brings up a lot of environmental and global warming worries. To some extent, environmental issues are different from income inequality and labor issues. Quite a few union people even support the coal port as a jobs issue.

    The occupy movement seems to be an amalgamation of a lot of issues and what the movement does rises out of what differing groups of people bring to the table. There can be quite a bit of internal conflict in such a movement that evolves out of whatever people at the grass roots level are demanding.

    Sometimes attempts to bring these diverse interests under one roof don’t hold together very well. Creating good jobs from a green economy can be a uniting theme, but it is hard to hold together when the economics doesn’t always pencil out. One example of a jobs creating construction project that is also green (though it will even have opponents) are things like large windmill projects.

    As for the coal issue, maybe we should convince the Chinese to build more windmills, instead of coal fired power plants. They are building a lot of windmills also along with the coal plants. It takes a lot of economic activity to bring such a huge population out of poverty. At the same time, we can do better to live green in our own lifestyles. Bicycling more and driving less is one example of a green strategy. It may not always fit with trying to bolster the American middle class, but we can try to redefine the middle class for a healthier, greener economy and model of how that middle class lives.

  12. Most people will agree that this kind of direct action is too extreme and in many ways counter productive and I agree, but there are other reason to still support it. For one, these kinds of events really do call EXTRA attention to an issue, its not just to wake up unknowing citizens, but to inspire and push informed ones toward reanalysis and action. It’s the same way OWS (which started as a small, extreme direct action) has pushed Americans to reexamine their distaste of banks and corporations and inspired many to take action in various ways. It’s not like we needed OWS to tell us that we were being screwed over, but we did need the radicalness of OWS to center around and be inspired by.

    Yes, the train track action was too extreme, but it is just a small piece of this movement. It’s natural and healthy for any group to have members that are less conservative. These outliers in the bell curve give a diversity that is vital for resilience and balance. The 99%ers must be strong and angry to accelerate change, yet compassionate and cool-headed enough to get-er-done right. Another way to say this is we need both the passionate youth combined with the wise elders. Hence, these infrequent, small and extreme “direct actions” are complimentary and on the whole, perhaps useful to the movement. Ironically, probably the best way to support this healthy difference is to continue constructive criticism on both ends. So as to keep us dynamic, balanced and powerful.

    • It is sad to me that when people block train tracks for a few hours it is considered extreme, but when the planet is being systematically murdered it is considered business as usual. It bothers me that when people are arrested for civil disobedience it divides us, yet when Wall Street and Washington blow a 12 trillion dollar whole in the economy it’s the protesters who are considered extreme.

      The crazy thing is that this was basically only a symbolic action – what will happen when we actually try to confront these powers with tactics that truly affect them? As I wrote in a previous comment, I do agree that this particular action was not very strategic and thus I do agree to some point that in some was it was far less productive than it could have been. However, my hope is that as a movement we can come together on tactics that will make this action look small and insignificant and that we can actually do things together that will truly challenge the economic system that is destroying the planet and that takes away our human dignity. Because if all we can muster is symbolic acts to draw attention to ourselves, those in the 1% will only be more emboldened to ignore our movement and we will have squandered the opportunity of this moment in history to create real change.

      • “Symbolic” in the sense that everything until the last battle is symbolic, ie. it doesn’t cause what we want, or “symbolic” in the sense that it actually didn’t do anything? In the first sense of “symbolic”, of course it is true. Our goals are varied. Some are to change public opinion and create awareness, to show how things can be done with direct action (by the way this did stop the movement the goods for 5 hours costing the capitalists money). That may have been all we could do in little Bellingham. But this action was not only about little Bellingham. It was as even the Herald noted, part of a west coast (and further) port shutdown. In cities from San Diego to Anchroage direct Actions occurred. In San Diego, Long Beach, Los Angelas, and Seattttle, parts fo ports were shut down. In Oakland, Portland and Longview entire ports were shut down. And in Anchorage, Vancouver, BC. Honolulu, Houston, SAlt Lake City, Denver, and New York City they did actions that like here delayed the functioning of capital. This costs “Wall Street on the Waterfront” billions of dollars.

        Of course things could have been done better. But to have 100 people supporting and 12 people blockading in a small town at 12 noon on a weekday when nothing else of this type has happened here ever before is remarkable. I hope criticism is constructive. And this isn’t necessary to criticize, but the best criticism is to organize and do what you think is a better action.

  13. Dean, I think that I am in agreement with most of what you wrote in both comments above except for using the word “extreme” to characterize the action and I have my doubts that the West Coast Port Shutdown cost anything more than a few headaches. And yes, I am part of the effort to organize something to take this to the next level but I’m not really able to go into that in such a public forum. I mostly responded to your original comment because I feel really angry when things like sitting on train tracks is considered extreme while people are losing their homes and the earth is burning. And I do realize that it was not you calling those actions extreme, just pointing out that others do and that is so sad to me because this is nothing compared to what we need to do to make any lasting change. I’m with you.

  14. […] cause rather than camping out in a public park. You know, the public park that we all own? Look, as I stated earlier, I sympathize with your motives but I question your tactics. The original Occupy movement was […]

  15. […] stay at the County Jail because “our answer to the question of whose railroad tracks was ‘our tracks’“.  He said the county was ripe for a wrongful death lawsuit, as he describe the various […]

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