Politics in place by Shea Howell

Thinking for ourselves
Politics in place
by Shea Howell
October 15-22 2011

The story is no longer Occupy WallStreet. Now it is the more than 70 cities that are organizing similar actions across the country. With a breadth and depth unseen in decades, people are coming together to create something new.

The potential power of this movement can be seen in the intensity of the reaction against it by the power elites and their media voices. The Detroit News has decided to tell the world that the movement is not made up of “real Americans.” In an extraordinarily vitriolic column, Nolan Finley called the Occupy Wall Street movement a “menagerie of malcontents,” “unfocused shouters,” inchoate,” disaffected, angry with America,” “resenting its founding values,” with a “vicious and hateful side” that is “increasingly violent” and “indulging anti-Semitism.”

He thinks Occupy Wall Street is going to “arrive in Detroit.” He misses the fact that it is already here.

For a long time, Detroiters have said we represent the end of the industrial era. We have experienced the devastation left as corporations sought higher profits elsewhere, taking jobs and capital in search of cheap labor and no regulations for the protections of people or the planet. We have seen the callous disregard for people as homes are lost to foreclosures, financial support for food is cut off and basic human rights to education, water, heat and peaceful assembly are stripped away.

Detroiters have responded by drawing on a rich history of protest against corporate greed. We know in our bones that power will concede nothing without a struggle. We know that power in the U.S.A. is increasingly destructive to all that is sacred in life. We know it is becoming more ruthless each passing day.

We know it is important to stand up together and say No to greed, corruption and dehumanization. But we also know that we are at a moment in history that requires more than this of us. It requires thinking about where we go next.

This week, speaking at Occupy Wall Street, author activist Naomi Klein talked about this emerging politics of place. She said, “It is a fact of the information age that too many movements spring up like beautiful flowers but quickly die off. It’s because they don’t have roots. And they don’t have long term plans for how they are going to sustain themselves. So when storms come, they get washed away.”

“Being horizontal and deeply democratic is wonderful. But these principles are compatible with the hard work of building structures and institutions that are sturdy enough to weather the storms ahead. I have great faith that this will happen.”

This is a lesson Detroit has to share as we organize actions in concert with our brothers and sisters across the globe.

In an open letter to the first general assembly held October 10 in Detroit, several activists wrote:

“Detroit is modeling life AFTER capitalism. “In Detroit, “revolution” means “putting the neighbor back in the hood” through direct actions that restore community…It means artists who facilitate processes of community visioning and transformation, and organizers who approach social change as a work of art. In Detroit, the meaning of “revolution” continues to evolve and grow.”

“Detroit’s participation in the “Occupy Together” actions must grow out of Detroit’s own rich soil. It cannot be transplanted from another city’s context…The reimagined work of activists is to confront and take down systems of oppressive power, on the one hand, while building a new and just world on the other. Let’s do it. Together. Now.”

Creating a new political life is difficult and messy. But we have deep roots to sustain us, much to offer and much to learn.

We can start to sort this out together by joining in a march Friday at 4pm at the Spirit of Detroit. It is up to all of us to take it from there.

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