A panel event held on December 6th, 2012, at New York University.
This past US election season saw an array of positions on the Left concerning the outcome that might follow from either major party’s victory. Among them, there were some who openly supported the incumbent Barack Obama as the lesser of two evils, others who opposed him by casting a vote for another candidate, and still others who followed the abstentionist line by not voting at all. Many of those who voted for “four more years” did so under the assumption that the Democrats were a broadly center-left party with vaguely social-democratic tendencies, who might be pushed to reverse neoliberal policies and stave off measures of austerity. Some, while generally less optimistic, endorsed Obama on the premise that organizing a mass movement against capitalism would be easier with the Democrats in power. Others argued that Obama had done nothing to deserve reelection, offering no hope for either change or progress moving forward. The rest, who took no stance either for or against any party, chose instead to eschew electoral politics altogether.
Now that the quadrennial plebiscite for the “leader of the free world” has resulted in a Democratic victory, we are afforded a brief chance to critically evaluate the prospects for the Left’s transition into the next four years. What is different today from four years ago, when Obama’s election seemed departure from eight years under Bush? Did the last four years signal progress or regress for the Left? How will the terrain shift for the Left with another term under the president? In terms of foreign policy, will there be an end to the wars? Or will US militarism continue unabated? Domestically, will government social programs and infrastructure deteriorate yet further? Or will legislative reforms breathe life back into the moribund welfare state? Should we, in fact, take for granted the idea that keeping Romney out of office promises a better environment in which the Left to organize? What does the future hold for a Left caught in the stale air of the status quo?
Ben Campbell (The North Star)
Annie Day (Revolution)
Chris Maisano (DSA, Jacobin)
Bhaskar Sunkara (Jacobin)
Tana Forrester (Platypus Affiliated Society)
A roundtable discussion with students and activists either directly involved with Occupy Wall St. or who are closely following the #Occupy movement.
The recent #Occupy protests are driven by discontent with the present state of affairs: glaring economic inequality, dead-end Democratic Party politics, and, for some, the suspicion that capitalism could never produce an equitable society. These concerns are coupled with aspirations for social transformation at an international level. For many, the protests at Wall St. and elsewhere provide an avenue to raise questions the Left has long fallen silent on:
What would it mean to challenge capitalism on a global scale?
How could we begin to overcome social conditions that adversely affect every part of life?
And, how could a new international radical movement address these concerns in practice?
Although participants at Occupy Wall St. have managed thus far to organize resources for their own daily needs, legal services, health services, sleeping arrangements, food supplies, defense against police brutality, and a consistent media presence, these pragmatic concerns have taken precedent over long-term goals of the movement. Where can participants of this protest engage in formulating, debating, and questioning the ends of this movement? How can it affect the greater society beyond the occupied spaces?
We in the Platypus Affiliated Society ask participants and interested observers of the #Occupy movement to consider the possibility that political disagreement could lead to clarification, further development and direction. Only when we are able create an active culture of thinking and debating on the Left without it proving prematurely divisive can we begin to imagine a Leftist politics adequate to the historical possibilities of our moment. We may not know what these possibilities for transformation are. This is why we think it is imperative to create avenues of engagement that will support these efforts.
Towards this goal, Platypus will be hosting a series of roundtable discussions with organizers and participants of the #Occupy movement. These will start at campuses in New York and Chicago but will be moving to other North American cities, and to London, Germany, and Greece in the months to come. We welcome any and all who would like to be a part of this project of self-education and potential rebuilding of the Left to join us in advancing this critical moment.
The Platypus Affiliated Society
Phil Arnone is a grad student in NYU's Draper Interdisciplinary Program. He has been active in the anti-war and alter-globalization movements since high school; was an organizer with Students for a Democratic Society and a member of United Students Against Sweatshops while completing his undergraduate studies at the University of Mary Washington, where he was a student organizer for the campus living wage campaign which successfully won a living wage for all University workers in 2006. After college he worked as a boycott organizer for UNITE HERE, the hotel and food service workers union. He has been active in the Occupy Wall St. movement, and is working on linking up existing workers' and immigrants' rights organizations to OWS and connecting the OWS protests to the ongoing struggles throughout the city.
Jackrabbit began his political awakening as an anarchist in Philadelphia in the late 80s where he was a squatter and volunteered at the Wooden Shoe infoshop for many years. After hitchhiking across the US and Europe he finally ended up in San Francisco where after many years he would eventually obtain a Bachelor's in International Relations at San Francisco State University. Currently he works at a marketing agency in midtown Manhattan. Jackrabbit is a member of the Politics and Electoral Reform working group at OWS and is also involved with the inter-occupation communication initiative being developed at OWS.
Chris Maisano is a public librarian in Brooklyn, rank-and-file activist in DC37 Local 1482, and chair of the NYC local of Democratic Socialists of America and in solidarity with Teamsters art handlers' union at Sotheby's. He is a contributing writer for Jacobin. Maisano is part of the OWS Demands Working Group.
Lisa Montanarelli has been active in antiwar protests, community health activism, LGBT rights, and a variety of other causes since the late 1980s. She worked for California Prevention Education Project (Cal-PEP), providing HIV street outreach to people of color, sex workers and homeless youth. After earning her Ph.D. in comparative literature at U.C. Berkeley and teaching college level, she became more deeply involved in community health education—teaching for San Francisco Sex Information, and—as a hepatitis C patient for over 20 years—facilitating workshops for patients and healthcare providers. She co-authored The First Year Hepatitis C: An Essential Guide for the Newly Diagnosed and three other non-fiction books. Lisa is a member of the OWS Education and Empowerment and Think Tank Working Groups and helps the Coaching Working Group by interviewing occupiers and blogging at visionaries.co. She is also active in the Stop Stop-and-Frisk movement, and through the Interdependence Project. Montanarelli facilitates meditation sessions for OWS at Liberty Plaza.
Jordan Morrel has been at Occupy Wall Street for four weeks. At OWS he has served as a facilitator for the General Assembly, and has focused on Sanitation, Mediation, and having conversations with people about such typically taboo subjects as the connections between capitalism and democracy in the United States today, and the radical idea of building society based on respect, not fear, of each
other. Jordan grew up in San Francisco, where he was a mental health and substance use counselor, worked at a non-profit volunteer-run collective "Bike Kitchen," and participated in Food Not Bombs, Reclaim the Streets parties, Critical Mass, and other silly activities. He plans to stay in NYC indefinitely.
Laura Schleifer created the word 'artivist' to describe her life's purpose as an artist-activist. A NYC based writer, theater artist, and NYU Tisch grad, her work has spanned the Middle East, where she performed for Palestinian and Iraqi children on a theater/circus tour, to an NGO in Nicaragua, where she taught English through the use of theater, to off-Broadway, where she's performed her socially conscious songs and monologues at theaters throughout New York with the Theaters Against War network, and worked with homeless and at-risk youth as an Artist Mentor. She also served as Outreach/Panelist coordinator at this year's Left Forum conference, and and organized and chaired a panel on whether the USA should owe amnesty to undocumented immigrants fleeing from U.S. imperialism. Her original feature screenplay, The Feral Child, was a Sundance Screenwriters Lab finalist, and her short play, Toyz in tha Hood, lead to a NYC arts grant for the First City Theater Co. She also writes for several publications, including Looking Glass Magazine and The Leftist Review. Laura is currently developing a homeless 'survival guide' website at wheninneed.org. Schleifer is part of the OWS Alternative Economies Working Group.
***Unless otherwise stated by the participants, their comments today do not necessarily reflect the overall opinion of their respective Working Groups.