Besides, we, the Social Democrats, do not
simply “want to make a noise like Socialists.” We
actually want to do something as Socialists. We want
to be constructive and build up, not only destructive
and tear down.
–Victor L. Berger
Occupy Wall Street. The name conjures up images of police brutality, masses of people taking over parks nationwide, and signs and banners proclaiming that we the people are the “99%” united against the rich “1%.” As a sixteen-year-old high school student living many years ago in Atlanta, a time which seems oftentimes like a distant memory, an echo, I had attended an Occupy Atlanta General Assembly (GA) meeting in downtown Woodruff Park. Then, there was no impossibilism for us, to use 20th-century Milwaukee socialist Victor L. Berger’s wonderful phrase: There was only the will of the people. I became convinced that we must build up rather than tear down; to this day, as a socialist I want to build up rather than tear down. The best way to build up is to create new GA’s. In daring to dream dangerously in the post-Occupy world, the impossible at once becomes possible.
Just what was the GA, that sphinx so tantalizing to the bourgeois mind?
The GA, simply put, was an organ of popular people’s power.
The first GA in New York was a logistical nightmare. New people to the GA found it hard to find their niche, to get involved in a working group or caucus; the working groups and caucuses themselves had trouble communicating with each other, hampering their effectiveness. Attendance was furthermore sporadic, marginalized members of the GA left out of the democratic process, with little to no accountability for financing the GA. Community and political engagement were lacking.
The answer to the chaos was the Spokes Council. In a document entitled The Structure of the New York General Assembly submitted by the Structure Working Group, the Spokes Council was proposed; shortly thereafter, it would be created.
The Village Voice reported on the initial meeting of the NYC GA Spokes Council. The Spokes Council met in “a sweaty high school cafeteria in lower Manhattan.”
The Village Voice explained that:
In contrast with the General Assembly, the Spokes Council uses actual microphones, meets indoors and operates on a “spokes” system: working groups that take part sit together and groups are arranged in a circle, like spokes on a wheel. Each working group is represented by an individual, or “spoke,” who rotates every meeting.
Made up of roughly 200 people, the new Spokes Council was better organized than the GA but still somewhat chaotic. Nonetheless, it was better than nothing.
Not just the Spokes Council but actual leaders arose in the GA, leading it and therefore transforming the GA somewhat into an organ of indirect democracy although direct democracy still predominated in spirit if not in practice.
The GA would ultimately be torn apart by factionalism and the repressive power of the state. Police dismantled the tents many chose to call home while organizers argued endlessly about whether to become a political party or keep the GA structure intact. Eventually the Occupy movement, started by a few brave souls in Zuccotti Park on September 17th, 2011, died.
Which brings us back to those halcyon days as a high schooler in Woodruff Park. The day after I had attended a meeting of the GA, police raided the park and shut down the Atlanta GA for good.
The police raid raised in my mind years later the pertinent question of political power. We the people, because we lacked political power, could not win. We were checkmated by the raw power of the state, ruthless in its intent to safeguard the capitalist system.
People’s control over the municipality is needed if the next incarnation of the GA is to triumph. This means conquering state power at the local level by winning control of the mayoral position, police chiefship, and city council. The new state based on the GA can be nurtured by the existing state freed from capitalist domination.
As a socialist, there is no impossibilism for me; the impossible at once becomes possible when we dare to dream dangerously. Of this fact, I am certain.