I stumbled across this interview which Sarah Jaffe conducted with Steven Lerner, a traditional labor organizer, and was amazed I hadn’t noticed it when it dropped at Alternet. I’ve been looking for cogent essays that can put #OccupyWallStreet into perspective for progressives who still hear “Unions” or “labor movement,” and see Norma Rae standing on a table and waving a union sign.

Labor organizing is something most of us take for granted, but it’s a very challenging thing to do, and it’s why some get very short with #OWS, feeling that the upstart  should be more respectful of, if not outwardly more derivative of traditional organizing. But as Lerner points out, it is precisely because it’s not those things that brings the greatest learning and promise to Labor, and to much larger Progressive ambitions in general.

This terrific interview will educate people with very little background on Labor issues, just why organizing has been such a challenge for the past century, and particularly in the last 30 years. Until recently, it’s been going after corporate management, and not the people who really drive the economy.  #Ows provides a model where the fight is taken to those most responsible for our national malaise and economic meltdown.

The 99% Versus Wall Street: Stephen Lerner on How We Can Mobilize To Be the Greedy 1%’s Worst Nightmare

Earlier this year, long before Occupy Wall Street turned Zuccotti Park into Liberty Plaza, Stephen Lerner, a longtime labor organizer with SEIU and mastermind of the Justice for Janitors campaign, wrote in New Labor Forum of “large-scale sit-ins, occupations, and other forms of nonviolent civil disobedience that must inevitably overcome court injunctions and political pressures.” Read more

The entire interview is vital reading, from this nugget forward:

There were many reasons why I think it worked, but one of them was that we had an analysis of who had power. In addition to the community organizing and the many different things the campaign did, the strikes and sit-ins, none of that would’ve worked if we hadn’t directed the campaign toward those with the greatest power—the people who controlled the real estate that janitors were cleaning.

For me, this interview rekindled some of my initial fire about #ows. I had flipped my position from initial skepticism, to embracing it, then back to a cautious observer posture.  There is still much to like about this nascent but still very fragile idea for a movement, and I would really like to think it can become something that doesn’t change skin quite so often, as it takes on the look and feel of whatever local Occupy event had last captured the media’s attention. Even so, I think Lerner may be overly optimistic about our ADHD-afflicted media, and how difficult it may be to bring it all back to life after a winter in hibernation. But I am encouraged by the fact that he has that optimism. 

I am also still very skeptical of the anarchic modeling that still characterizes many of #ows’s projects and planning (loosely speaking). It has strengths that need better understanding, but also weaknesses that need more open discussion without the contentiousness and acrimony that too many experience when trying to discuss the movement on a conceptual level with it’s more devoted and visible advocates.

But if enough people with Lerner’s understanding and savvy can stay involved, and nudge #ows toward less abstract, more concrete actions that middle class folks can relate to, I think there is a real chance that a permanent, sustainable #ows presence can emerge. One that can attract and hold sufficient leaders, organization, resources, and participation to sculpt an organic and sustainable organization that can evolve into a much better advocacy movement than Unions – with their necessary ties to management – could ever achieve on their own.

Before the #ows zealots start hurling rocks at me, let me say clearly that it is not my position that more Union people are needed to take over #ows. Only that more smart and seasoned activists, with rich, diverse and relevant experience to share, must ultimately get involved in the direction and planning of wherever it is that the #ows endeavor is to become. And sooner, not later.


Occupy: Successes and Challenges

This is simply brilliant. I have three envelopes right in front of me.  This kind of creative non-violence is just the kind of thing that generates lots of negative branding, and makes companies crazy. Will it change much? No, not from this alone. But the more of these stunts that we pull, the more expensive it gets, and the more their board rooms waste expensive time discussing these negative branding guerilla tactics.

Send ’em all your love. Do it now.

Please retweet the crap out of this. Use the button below. Thanks.


Whatever demands may come, I hope the final  “99 Percent Declaration” comes to include a bit more about the persistent racial divide in America, and its role in the economic injustices that people of color have suffered for centuries.

There was much to heed in Tim Wise’s words on last night’s Maddow show.

While warming to it, many of my PoC friends (and those I observe on Twitter) are still fairly wary of OWS. They fear that they are once again being asked to get onboard with a movement, and once over, they’ll be right back where they were before: near the bottom rung of America’s economic ladder, many levels below white America, as they always had been.

The current draft of the “99 Percent Declaration,” isn’t helping. It is so devoid of any discussion of racial inequality and injustice that there really isn’t much there to assuage their fears. The word race or color doesn’t even appear in it. Whether deliberate or not (I assume it was), the document still sends a troubling message for non-whites.

For me, and I think many of them, to set forth a declaration that tries to address every major social and environmental ill that we have, without even a brief mention of the enormous social injustices that indigenous peoples, and most people of color experience every day in America, seems almost indifferent to a clear and present historical truth about race in this country. One that is a very big problem now, and one that only gets bigger as Wall Street’s handiwork impacts PoCs with almost twice the impact it’s had on white America.

And it’s not a problem that should be waved off with patronizing gestures, or casual assertions that “Oh, this is all about our common interests first.” They’ve heard all of that before.

Hearing some of my friends go on about it has been quite the eye-opener for me. I strongly feel it will flower as an even more serious issue if the movement doesn’t take real steps to adjust to their concerns. The promise of #OWS is far too important to leave any one sector of America behind. Well… except billionaires. :)


This was sitting on my desk all day, and I only now just read it after making my post above. Clearly the issue is on some people’s radar. But I feel it’s important that the wider public knows that it is, as well.

Call out to people of color from the ows poc working group