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Late in 2011, the Platypus Affiliated Society hosted a series of roundtable debates on the #Occupy Wall Street Movement. Speakers at the event held on December 9, 2011 at New York University included Hannah Appel (OWS Think Tank Working Group), Erik Van Deventer (NYU), Nathan Schneider (Waging Nonviolence), and Brian Dominick (Z Media Institute), with Jeremy Cohan (Platypus Affiliated Society) moderating.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/33583635]

A series of roundtable discussions hosted by The Platypus Affiliated Society. This is the second part of the discussion series held in New York City.

Speakers: Hannah Appel (OWS Think Tank Working Group), Erik Van Deventer (NYU), Nathan Schneider (Waging Nonviolence), Brian Dominick (Z Media Institute)

Held on December 9, 2011 at New York University.

Transcript in Platypus Review #44 (Click below):

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?

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, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia but will be moving to other North American cities, and overseas to London, Germany, Greece, India and South Korea 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

December 2011

Discussants were asked to consider the following questions:

1. In light of the recent series of coordinated and spectacular evictions that took place on November 15th, as well as the international Day of Action that followed two days later, is it fair to say that the #Occupy movement has entered into “phase 2”? If so, what is the nature of this new phase of the movement’s development? How has the occupation been forced to adapt to a changing set of conditions on the ground and what sorts of fresh difficulties do these new conditions pose for the occupiers? A moment of crisis can often be a moment of opportunity—what direction do you feel the movement should take in order to remain viable and relevant?

2. There are striking similarities between the Occupy movement and the 1999 anti-WTO protests in Seattle. Both began in the last year of a Democratic presidency, were spearheaded by anarchists, were motivated by discontents with neo-liberalism, and were supported by organized labor.
What, if anything, makes this movement different? How is it a departure from Seattle? What are the lessons to be learned from the defeat of the anti-globalization movement?

3. Some have characterized the #Occupy movement as sounding the tocsin for “class war” (e.g., of the 99% vs. the 1%). Others recognize the fact of dramatic inequality, and want the #Occupy movement to spearhead a set of economic reforms. Others see #Occupy as transforming something revolutionary beyond the “economic”. These perspectives point to radically different directions for this movement.
Would you characterize this movement as “anti-capitalist”? (Should it be?) If so, what is the nature of these “anti-capitalist” politics? In what way does the #Occupy movement affirm or reject the political ideas of anti-capitalist movements before it?

4. Some have become wary about the role of labor organizations in the #Occupy movement. Concerns point to the possibility of eventual “co-optation” into Democratic Party politics. Others worry that the “horizontal,” leaderless structure cultivated by the occupiers might be undermined by the decidedly top-down, hierarchical organization of labor unions. Certain of these collaborations, for example between the labor activists and occupiers in Oakland, have been seen as highly fruitful. Still, the broader call for a general strike that some organizers have hoped for has so far not been met.
What role should organized labor play in the #Occupy movement?

5. One division that emerged early on among the occupants concerned the need to call for demands. Some took issue with the content of the demands, arguing that if these are to be truly “representative of the 99%” they cannot assume a radical stance that would alienate a large section of the population. Others worry that demands focused on electoral reform or policy would steer the movement in a conservative direction. Some call into the question the call for demands in the first place, as these would limit — even undermine — the open-ended potential for transformation present in the #Occupy movement and could only close revolutionary possibilities.

What, if any, demands do you think this movement should be calling for? And, more importantly, what kind of social transformation would you like to see this movement give rise to?

6. What would it mean for the #Occupy movement to succeed? Can it?

Roundtable Participants
Brian Dominick has nearly 20 years' experience as an activist, organizer, and journalist. In his writing and lecturing, he has largely focused on questions of strategy and tactics for far-reaching social change. Forming and consulting alternative institutions has been a specialty of Brian's, from affinity groups to worker coops to 501(c)(3)s to international activism networks. He is a former co-founder of NewStandard News and instructor at the Z Media Institute.

Erik Van Deventer is a doctoral student at NYU in the Department of Sociology, presently working on the political economy of finance. He has been active at OWS and in the demands working group.

Hannah Appel earned her Ph.D. in the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University. With research interests in the daily life of capitalism and the private sector in Africa, in particular, Hannah's work draws on critical development studies, economic anthropology, and political economy. Her current project - Futures - is based on fourteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in the transnational oil and gas industry in Equatorial Guinea.

Nathan Schneider is an editor for Waging Nonviolence. He writes about religion, reason, and violence for publications including The Nation, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The American Prospect, and others. He is also an editor at Killing the Buddha.

***Unless otherwise stated by the participants, their comments today do not necessarily reflect the overall opinion of their respective Working Groups.

An international forum on the
CRISIS OF THE LEFT
Chicago | NYC | Philly | Boston | Thessaloniki

Crisis: Pathol. The point in the progress of a disease when an important development or change takes place which is decisive of recovery or death. “…Existing strategies and theories seem inadequate in a bewildering contemporary political scene. Disparate groups have begun to show an interest in rethinking the fundamentals of Left politics…”

Many on the Left feel a sense of crisis.

Existing strategies and theories seem inadequate in a bewildering contemporary political scene. Disparate groups have begun to show an interest in rethinking the fundamentals of Left politics. The Platypus Affiliated Society seeks to make the conversation explicit, and to host a series of discussions about the crisis of the contemporary Left: its quality, causes, and significance for future reconstitution and transformation.

Across five cities worldwide, we’ve invited figures from across the Left–academics, political organizers, theorists–to answer and debate six fundamental questions. We also pose these questions to the Left as a whole and invite responses from all quarters. The questions below stem from confusion; taking nothing for granted, we hope that confronting this confusion might open up future possibilities for renewed consciousness and practice on the Left.

Speaker Questions
1.) How would you define the Left?

2.) Do you think the Left is in crisis? If so, then what constitutes the crisis?

3.) In trying to understand the contemporary Left, what history matters most? What tasks and problems have we inherited from the Old Left and the New Left?

4.) Could the Left have done something to avoid its current impasses? If so, what?

5.) What is the relationship between the Left and anti-capitalism? Between the Left and Marxism? What should it be?
How does the Left need to change? Who is responsible for making the change happen?

Speakers:
Paul Berman is a writer on politics and literature who is affiliated with two magazines, The New Republic and Dissent, and also contributes from time to time to the New York Times, once in a while to Slate, and to other journals. He has written a history of the left-wing Generation of 1968 around the world, so far in two volumes, under the titles "A Tale of Two Utopias" and "Power and the Idealists." His other books include "The Flight of the Intellectuals," "Terror and Liberalism," and a number of edited anthologies, including a "Selected Poems" of Carl Sandburg. His books have been translated into fifteen languages. His next book will be a study of Nathaniel Hawthorne - who, after all, went through a socialist phase.

Carl Dix is a long-time revolutionary activist. He was one of the Fort Lewis 6, soldiers who refused to ship off to Vietnam. He is a founding member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. He is a leading figure in the movement to stop the mass incarceration of Black and Latino youth.

Bertell Ollman is a professor in the Dept. of Politics at NYU, but has also given courses on Marx at Oxford and Columbia. He is the author of Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist Society, Social and Sexual Revoluition: Essays on Marx and Reich, Dance of the Dialectic: Steps in Marxâs Method, Class Struggle is the Name of the Fame: True Confessions of a Marxist Businessman (he is also the creator of the Class Struggle board game), How to Take an Exam...and Remake the World, and a number of other works in this general area. He is currently completing the first collection of Marx's writings on economic crisis.

Marco Roth is an editor and co-founder of n+1 magazine.

Nikil Saval is an associate editor of n+1, where he is a frequent contributor. His writing has appeared in Slate, The New York Times, Oxford American, and The London Review of Books. He is currently working on a book about the history of office design and white-collar work.

Moderator:
Jeremy Cohan is a PhD candidate in sociology at NYU, as well as the lead NYC organizer for the Platypus Affiliated Society. Jeremy has written and presented on the political and social theory of Marx, Georg Lukacs, and Michel Foucault; he has chaired several panels for the Platypus Affiliated Society, including on nationalism, bourgeois revolutions, Obama and the Left, and sexual liberation; he is currently doing research on transformations in American education and on early twentieth century revolutions. He has taught introductory sociology and philosophy courses, as well as courses on fascism, and will be a graduate assistant in the year to come in a program on Critical Theory and the Arts.

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
October 2011

------------------------
Roundtable Participants
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.

Jeremy Cohan publicly interviewed David Wilson, coauthor of The Politics of Immigration (2007), on April 19th, 2011 at NYU. The original description of the event reads: “Mass marches on May Day 2006 in the U.S., banning of minarets in Switzerland, pogroms in Libya against blacks from Central Africa feared to be mercenaries: Immigration is a central issue faced by the contemporary Left. But as mobilization has waxed and waned, the question of what constitutes an emancipatory response to the problems of immigration in modern society too often remains unaddressed. This interview sought to consider the limits and potentials of current immigration politics on the Left today, in America and globally. What is the future of internationalism?” What follows is an edited transcript of the interview.