Reflections on Build Power Show Power and Occupy May First

It has been over a year but the last few months I have been mulling over my thoughts about the Build Power Show Power campaign that the class struggle anarchist milieu in North America put forward as an intervention in the Occupy movement. For those who don’t know various organized anarchist groups, syndicalists and other libertarian anti-capitalists around the Class Struggle Anarchist Conference, A New World In Our Hearts Network, the IWW, and email lists like Talking Heads saw what was possible with the General Strike in Oakland during November 2011 and immediately started working in December of that year towards pushing local Occupy assemblies and an internet media campaign for a General Strike on May Day.

The hope was that the entire Occupy movement would endorse the call for a General Strike on May Day 2012. A lesser known hope was that this would be a way for our currents and the Occupy movement to build autonomous class power not only for a big show of force on May Day but also to continue on in a long lasting fashion afterwards. In hindsight I do think comrades did try their hardest and everyone put in their best work, despite many communicatin mishaps, as well as unforseen obstacles and challenges from the reformist left. However there are lessons to be learned for our next interventions whenever a rupture that brings about a popular mass insurgency occurs. Lastly I’d like to point out how May Day 2013 reflected shifts in consciousness that many maybe did not expect or have yet noticed.

Regarding the original call for a campaign around the concept of Build Power Show Power I have a few fairly targeted reflections and suggestions. The campaign specifically came out of the space created by further coordination after the 4th Class Struggle Anarchist Conference in Buffalo NY. This conference occured in the very early weeks of the Occupy movement, before many knew how big it would become. Anarchists decided on some preliminary guidelines for intervention and created an unofficial inter-organizational email list called In Our Hearts for further coordination. After seeing the movement take off and the success of the Oakland General Strike but also seeing the repression hitting camps across the country, comrades wanted to put forward a clear project for keeping up momentum and something to work for past the winter and into spring. This resulted in the BPSP campaign.

The general idea was that we would get organizational commitments, and individual activists and organizers would either join the May Day mass action / strike organizing group or one for focusing on “Building Power.” In my honest opinion at the time it would have been better if there had just been one organizational venue for discussion of such intervention in the Occupy Movement, but things quickly got confusing for rank and file members of various groups because of the proliferation of email lists like the aforementioned In Our Hearts list, as well as two new lists for these aspects of the Build Power Show Power campaign. Not only this, but there was a great desire by many for the campaign to become as socially inserted and integral with the Occupy movement as possible, so like some South American especifist anarchists say, anarchism could once again gain the social vector within the popular classes. I was one of the people most adament about dissolving our own autonomous organizing efforts into the larger Occupy movement’s adoption of the May Day call that we had gotten adapted by Occupy Boston and Occupy LA. I suggested we do this via working through the new inter-occupy working group, and find ways to link up with other groups like Strike Everywhere. Though I think these links were of temporary tactical importance for what did occur with May Day organizing, I think in the end run it was detrimental to our own goals of putting forward autonomous perpectives, and in practice ended up as awkward deep entryism into a very informal, unpredictable and emphemeral organizing space where really only autonomous initiative made any difference. This left us wide open to having no body to fall back on and put forward alternatives as reformist attempts to intervene and co-op the Occupy movement and it’s general spirit into becoming bird dogs for a new militant reformism.

Concretely what we could have done looks like this:

We could have conducted more extensive social mapping of the anti-state anti-capitalist and revolutionary syndicalist/unionist left. This would have helped us coordinate groups and individuals to make not only pledges to call in sick (i.e. “strike”) or to share the call and various agitational propaganda campaign, but to also in a more organized and systemic fashion seek endorsements by Occupy GAs and and put an emphasis on the building of strong local May Day Strike Committees. We could have planned to use such pledges to actively recruit contacts and talent into the organizing process, doing so while also keeping a clear and open line of communication to assist with advice on how to organize for new or inexperienced comrades. This could have looked like individually contacting every IWW and otherwise libertarian / anti-capitalist local organization we could find. Unfortunately too much of this work was not spread around and much of it fell on only a few comrades in Miami and on the admins of the social media campaign. For me this speaks to the lack of capacity and unity prior to the Occupy movement of this milieu that established the campaign. For now these are a few of the lessons learned.

Next time, I think we could put more emphasis on the responsibility of groups to coordinate their own endorsements, and individuals could have signed a public petition / pledge to share and sign up to become activists/organizers for the call to build power and show power. We especially should have pushed for the building of committees, both territorial or in neighborhoods, and the workplace. Afterall we were calling for a general workplace as well as social strike. More emphasis on developing and having trainings available for how to build actual organized struggle committees in these areas is essential to remember for any future endeavors. We could have put more resources into sending comrades around the country to train, to every city where we had local group contacts, or individuals willing to build committees. Such trainings could have focused on how to canvass and do out reach in working class neighborhoods or how to build a workers committee in the modern workplace.

We could have also used a more experienced and coordinated agitational and literature media team and or collective. Unfortunately a lot of our suggestions for organzing within the campaign relied on social media to express these to new audiences. Too much faith overall was put in the power of social media to make movement. Overall if we had directly reached out and made more of an effort to get commitment though from our comrades experienced in not only graphic arts and writing, but those with more technological or professional communications, pr, or social media experience I think we would have benefited greatly, and not relied on some of the inertia and myths around Facebook and Twitter. These sites provide more of a space for individuals and movements to self-affirm their identities and discuss everything and anything, but they are poorly set up for actual organizing tools. They are more like traditional media but the broadcasting just happens to be two ways. They are sorely lacking features as collaboration tools.

We also should have never given up our own organizing plans and goals of building for autonomous class power. The reformist left, especially the progressive left like MoveOn and those in the mainstream labor movement like SEIU had plans for a spring offensive of their own. This they dubbed the 99% Spring, an effort to train new organizers and bring members of the Occupy movement closer to their reformist perspectives, while also trying to still give their efforts a militant and acceptable vaneer to anti-capitalist activists and the newly radicalized anti-establishment types we saw during that period. Later on through the summer and the fall we saw more and more of this co-optation and their intervention take fruit. In housing with Occupy Homes and later on in labor with securing Occupy endorsement of Our Walmart strikes on Black Friday (practically superseding Adbuster’s usual Buy Nothing Day) and the recent Fast Food Strikes. Efforts closer to genuine connection to the original spirit of Occupy like Strike Debt and Occupy Your Workplace groups have had noticeably less limelight. It is very clear that these forces have gotten close to the people behind as well as the main social media outlets, as well as starting their own like Class War Kitteh that have a more militant vaneer. Instead of leaving organization up to each Occupy GA or others autonomous intiatives we could have built the on the ground relationships in cities and towns across the country that could have put forward different perspectives and ways forward. NYC working close with mainstream labor for May Day, instead of seeking alternative routes is just one example of what perhaps was a missed oppurtunity. For now these are my thoughts, and I welcome further comments and critique.

Lastly however one bright thing I noticed and I am wondering if others have too, is that May Day 2013 felt like the May Day 2012 that never happened. For the first time since 2006 it feels like the left and anti-system forces in the USA have taken up May Day across the board as the holiday and day of resistance it should be. To me this signals that struggle does help develop consciousness but often much much slower than we expect or desire.

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One Response to Reflections on Build Power Show Power and Occupy May First

  1. Juan Conatz says:

    Thanks for writing this up. This is really the only public reflection of Occupy May 1st I’ve seen, which is sort of unacceptable given it is perhaps the biggest “intervention” anarchist political organizations in the United States have taken maybe ever.

    So firstly, there’s a lot here on what ‘we’ could have done. I see this talk a lot from IWWs and particularly people from political organizations (on a variety of topics). I think this is a mistake. ‘We’ are not the only factors determining what may happen. Much, if not most of the time, we aren’t even the main factor. While alternative strategies are listed here, I see no mention of where Occupy was at the time or whether the attempt was even viable.

    On the issue of people being in contact with each other and streamlining stuff, I’m not sure that would have been helpful. In Minneapolis, those of us who agreed with wanting to do this, went ahead and did so. But those of us with experience with the anarchist political organizations and the state of how they do things, advised against having delegates or contacts to some wider network initiated by this grouping. Mostly because we figured it would just involve conference calls that did nothing but take up time. In any case, because of the nature of Occupy, it would have been tough maintaining any sort of sane structure or even loose network with this effort. I imagine most who stuck with this were already in these political organizations, and those who weren’t, became disinterested and dropped out. I mean, part of what was going on here was a political grouping’s intervention, but at the same time, they are asking for interested parties to also make this intervention and be a part of this thing.

    With Occupy, during this time there was a couple different things happening. Almost every encampment had been evicted around 2-3 months before the first cities started talking about May 1st. There was very little going on outside Oakland and the West Coast attempts at Port shutdowns. In most places, it seems, there was a huge decline in numbers. Here, for example, there were 400-500 people attending GA’s in October. By the time we came to a GA in February to propose Occupy May 1st, it was down to 10-15 people. Honestly, I think the Occupy movement had largely exhausted itself, but it was difficult to make that call in Spring 2012. To a certain extent, we were trying to will a general strike into being for symbolic purposes. I’m not gonna lie, I was super defensive of this accusation during that time ( ), but I now think that’s what we were doing. We overestimated the draw Occupy still had at that time.

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