Occupy Your Block - Building Local Power Organizations

The Problem
The Occupy Movement is in a serious decline. Occupy Philadelphia turnout is down to a fifth (or less) of its regular attendance for key events like General Assemblies, occupations (ex. the Independence Mall 6 month anniversary), and protests. For instance, our General Assemblies will have twenty people instead of over a hundred. Several of the working groups are very successful, but in general the level of participation has fallen dramatically.

A classic solution to this problem is tactical innovation. Using new tactics will draw in people by being more effective and more fun. A successful tactical innovation can spread to the rest of the Occupy Movement and make the movement larger than it was during the Fall of 2011.

Successful innovation will also build people power and create real social change. It is only by achieving change that we will solidify people's involvement in the movement and create a sustainable movement.

A good example of tactical innovation was the Civil Rights movement which reached a new peak during each new tactic including Freedom Rides, sit-ins, and bus boycotts ("Tactical Innovation and the Pace of Insurgency", Doug McAdam, 1983) .

The Occupy Movement's previous and current success is primarily due to tactical innovation. We had three years of recession without a major breakthrough in mass movements, primarily due to the lack of tactical innovation. You need innovation to breakthrough the institutional barriers to social change that are created by capitalism (corporate power, racism, control of mass media, disempowerment, sexism, etc).

We need to experiment with different tactics. Occupy Philly should try at least one serious innovation, and if other Occupations experiment as well - at least one Occupation will make a breakthrough which will reinvigorate our movement.

Most tactic innovation is actually the resurrection or modification of previously used tactics. The following tactic is a localization of the power organization tactic created by Saul Alinksy and that is practiced by members of the Industrial Areas Foundation and like minded groups (see Roots for Radicals). Whereas they tend to focus on building a network based in churches and other organizations, I imagine that a lot of people aren't in these organizations (notably in my community). Church participation (especially in progressive churches) and union membership is in decline and we need another method to reach people.

Building Block Level Power Organizations
I think we should focus on building block level power organizations on every block in every city (and on every county road in the country). The goal is to build our own power base that will let us take on corporations and the state.

Even at their peak the General Assemblies lacked power to be much more than a spectacle. The problem is that we lacked support. At its peak Occupy Philly had a 800-1000 people General Assembly in a church, but we need 10-50 times that support to make serious reform, and 500 times that support to make a revolution.

I imagine us creating General Assemblies on each block. I would define my block (in West Philly) as both sides of the street that I live on. I would include everyone who lives or works there. I would exclude landlords who own property but don't live on the block. My block is small - around 25 houses, though some of them are big - so there might be 50-100 people on it. If your block is very small (say under 10 people) you might want to combine it with an adjacent block.

I would start by organizing a couple social events. Or by integrating a stronger social component into each event than we did with Occupy Philly.

I'd suggest starting off with a small set of core principals and telling people that you want to create an organization that will empower people. So your explicit principals could include: participatory democracy, personal and community empowerment, anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-heterosexism, economic justice, and creating a healthy environment. I would avoid getting into detailed positions, as these can be developed later by the Block GA.

I'm not sure what General Assembly frequency would work. Weekly seems too often, and monthly seems too little. Maybe having a monthly GA and one or more other monthly events?

What can this tiny organization do? Everything! Well at least eventually... To start off it should focus on what the members want it to do.

The tricky part making the personal political. If someone on your block loses a job then you have twenty people who will be fighting to get it back for them. Your block will fight to keep people in their homes, to have banks write-off debt, to keep people out of jail, and for other causes that at first look might seem to be "personal". However you need to connect these personal issues to institutional ones and the underlying capitalist causes.

Your Block GA MUST achieve successes. You need to both successfully empower, educate, and connect people - but you also need to have WINS that you can share. Your victories, when covered by our alternative media, will inspire people to form additional Block GAs both in your community and across the country.

Your Block GA might also take on community-building actions like fixing someone's house, building a community garden (in a vacant lot, or in a neighbor's unused yard), occupying vacant lots (building housing or putting up tents for people who need it), getting potholes fixed, creating a co-op, sharing tools, sharing or trading skills, creating a community free WIFI network, building a radio station, starting an email list or blog, sharing pictures, having potlucks, or other activities.

I have never been involved in a Residents or Neighborhood Association. My guess is this Block GA needs to be radically different from such a group. How will this difference be assured?

When your Block GA is organized and achieving success then you need to network with other Block GAs. It is only by building up Block GAs into community GAs, and then into city-wide GAs (and beyond!) that we can beat the institutional forces of injustice.

When the power of Block GAs is combined then we can take on corporations, the city, the state, and the federal government.

I'm not sure how a Block GA will exert power without falling into the trap of being a minor and ineffective faction of either major capitalist political party. We need to avoid wasting our power on backing political candidates until we can back anti-capitalist candidates who can win. For instance, in Philadelphia, a largely one-party (Democratic) city, we need to avoid getting into a Democratic party internal feud (whether it is moderates versus progressives or reformers versus party brass).

On the other hand, we need to issue demands of politicians. So we will need to engage the state while not becoming part of it.

Imagine a block party without a permit. Aka a Block Occupation. Now imagine hundreds of block parties without permits, a couple hundred thousand people marching in the streets (covered by our own radio and TV stations, and internet) and a truly Occupied Philly.

Can we Play Games? Build? Use Maps?
(This section is an unfinished brainstorm.)
How can we use mapping technology (Geographical Information Systems) to empower people? How can we make activism fun?

I have played a ton of SimCity and several other builder games. You cannot win SimCity. Instead you can build a city that people want to live in - a city with jobs, education, nice neighborhoods, public transit, and no pollution.

I think we can use maps and games to inspire people to imagine a new society. And I think we can connect this brainstorming/planning process to a real life mass movement for social revolution.

We can create online maps and offline maps that replace vacant lots and shab housing with affordable housing and gardens, parks, bike and pedestrian paths, public transport, public spaces, and an infrastructure of the commons that reinforces the power of the Block GAs.