Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “grassroots”

Occupying an Agenda

I have posted frequently about my excitement over the Occupy movement. The ‘uprising,’ if I may use such a term, is both a shift of consciousness and a call for grassroots action. I am proud of those who are creating micro communities on these sites and seeking an inclusive culture that allows for everyone present to feel involved and listened to. I am sorry that the mass media do not seem willing to give this aspect the attention it deserves.

Occupy SF

This is the crux of the movement. What mobilized people is the rising frustration that the vast majority of us are simple pawns in a game played with impunity by corrupt big business principles and a failed political system where those sent to Washington do not represent those who voted to send them (and those who didn’t), but rather represent those who paid for them to get voted in.

People need to feel listened to. They have a right to know that if they work hard, save for retirement, buy a house, and then they will receive a minimal social network. Their children will have a good education, their medical needs will be taken care of, law enforcement are there to protect them, and that they can retire with dignity. If you play by the rules and participate in the system, surely you have entitlement to basic human rights.

The rains are coming and it is unclear how the Occupy movement will cope with the coming winter. What most worries me is that, as far as I know, there is no strategic plan. It is unclear who is the leadership and we will revisit next week on this blog whether there should be an agenda.

Will people come out in the rain?

This past summer, ‘Tent Cities” were created in most major towns in Israel. There was a huge outpouring from a disenfranchised and disillusioned public (many of them under 40) with a myriad of social issues represented. Some were similar to here in the US, others more unique to Israel.

There are many similarities to Occupy. There was no recognized leadership because there was a desire not to exclude anyone and creating a power structure, however open and inclusive, runs the risk of marginalizing people. Furthermore, there was no central agenda, again because of a desire to promote different social injustices and issues, according to those who stepped up to join the Tent City. There were also clashes with police.

Israelis of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and religions came together for a summer.

When the summer ended, the groups slowly lost momentum. I am afraid that without a framework and platform, then it might not be able to sustain itself. I believe the Occupy system needs to decide one of two things:

i) To create an agenda – and they might do well to read Roger Ingall’s suggestions.

ii) Decide to create a leadership structure and strategic plan, or take the momentum into the Democratic Party.

More on this second aspect next Wednesday.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Street Protests – Both Sides of the Streets.

So I understand why big business and government (if they even are separate entities) are worried when the masses hit the streets in protest as we are witnessing with the Occupy movement. And I can see why the democrats and other liberals see the threat of the rising Tea Party.

Where I am stuck is the criticisms being leveled by Tea Party or Occupy activists at each other. Now to disagree about policy or ideology is a vital ingredient in a democracy, but it surprises me to hear criticism being leveled at tactics. After seeing a bevy of Tea Party activists denigrating the  Occupy people for err…mass protests. I shared their audacity with two (separately) friends who proceeded to level the same criticisms about the Tea Party people.

One side of the street

Now I don’t expect every Tea Partier or Occupier to meet each other, occupy a Starbucks or independent cafe, and discuss matters over a cup of tea. But thinking people on both sides must be aware that they share some things in common.

– They are angry, dissatisfied and frustrated.

– They have taken to the streets because it seems the only way they will be listened to.

– They believe in grassroots organization.

– They have lost faith in the stagnation of government.

...and the other.

Something awesome is happening. The generally stupefied, apathetic masses are stirring. Whether they head for one side of the street to protest or the other, something has galvanized them into action. I don’t believe there are many of us in the middle, but that doesn’t matter. Let’s keep protesting, keep fighting for change, keep hoisting our signs…

But let’s stop for one moment and acknowledge that we are all in favor of democracy and freedom. Let’s celebrate living in a society where we can protest and debate. Let’s even be proud that we are drawing people away from mind-numbing reality shows and soaps. It is a healthy sign that people are lining up on both sides of the streets.

Then let’s get back to debating the issues.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Grassroots Activism – How?

Last month, one of our readers asked in her comments how we can create an involved grassroots sense of participation? I wanted to find a good answer and it has been troubling me ever since. While the Arab Spring was stimulated by Facebook and Twitter, it was not only spontaneous but quick. For those of us who are not living in extreme conditions where revolution is the answer, we need a more sustainable model.

I think the Obama Presidential campaign 2008 was a good example. It created a sense of a mass movement of empowered everyday folk. When I received the emails asking me to organize for the 2012 run-in, I couldn’t help looking at their strategy to mobilize within the framework of the question that our reader posed. Here are two videos.

The first is a typical call from other supporters:


The second is interesting. On the face of it, Campaign Director Jim Messina could be leading us in a presentation for our work or to sell a product. It is a no-nonsense, Power-Point briefing.


But after watching it and googling Mr. Messina, I realize that this is a serious and deep-lying concept. Glossy TV ads will come and we all realize that they are the ad-man’s expertise. Usually these are condescending – Look what I’ve done for you/This is what I am going to do for you – as if we don’t know what we want, or haven’t been paying attention to what these candidates have been doing while on the taxperson’s payroll.

In this You Tube briefing, Mr. Messina treats us as partners. He declares that “grassroots will run this campaign” and focuses on what we can individually do to make it happen. His no-frills approach is actually a recognition of us as true partners. It shows respect and credibility. This is what makes it sustainable.

I don’t want to belittle in any way the power of Facebook and Twitter as grassroots mobilization during the Arab Spring, but what the Messina approach offers that excites me is creating a sustainable and empowering model to not only get people involved, but to stay involved.

Most successful businesses have embraced a conscientious customer service because they know that it is always easier to sell another product to a satisfied customer than sell to someone new. When you campaign and persuade people to vote in a political candidate, you are responsible to these people to keep that politician true to his/her campaign promises.

This is the way that a grassroots campaign can become not only sustainable but credible.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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