Occupy: learning from Climate Camp? Part 2

We’ve had a lively 3 way conversation about what the Occupy movement can learn from the experience of movements such as Climate Camp. We (Dwight Towers, Seta and myself) ranged quite widely – leadership, accountability, meetings that work even for those with little time and so on. One area we didn’t cover was vision and values.

I’ve heard many conversations about how Climate Camp lost its way. It started as a direct action focused, radical, one-off event to kick-start climate activism in the UK. There are those that would argue that by its second year (one-off, remember) it was already losing focus on action, especially affinity group direct action, and instead becoming more about education with a set piece mass action of dubious value. And yet, talk to some of the people who came into the movement via Climate Camp and they’ll often rave with enthusiasm about the very same event being written off by the original visionaries as having lost its way.

Wherever you sit on the issue, what happened and why? How can Occupy guard against the same thing happening? Indeed, should it?

Does a clarity of vision, especially radical vision, alienate others or inspire them? Can we bring new folk into a movement that’s taking a stance that the mainstream would see as hard-line, even extremist? As always I have my own views on all this, but I’m more interested in yours….


8 thoughts on “Occupy: learning from Climate Camp? Part 2

  1. Hi all,

    Great to just read this thread and see this conversation taking place.

    I’m not going to add any specific comments right now but I did want to mention an event looking at consensus and the occupy movement. It’s happening this Sunday, 5-7pm at the Bank of Ideas. See http://www.bankofideas.org.uk/events/event/consensus-and-the-occupy-movement-is-it-working/. You would be really welcome.

    This has come out of my involvement through my job at Seeds for Change in Occupy London, conversations with occupiers about consensus and the movement and bits of reading online about how the consensus model is being adapted by occupations in the US. Happy to share some links if people are interested in this stuff – but aware this is not necessarily the focus of this thread.


    • Thanks for flagging up the event. Not sure whether anyone from Rhizome will make it, but if not we’d welcome a report back….feel free to send us some text and we’ll upload it to the blog (with a link to your website, naturally!).

      Yes please to any links you’ve found particularly interesting.

  2. I lie on the “we need to have a clear vision, but we don’t necessarily need it right now” side of the fence (is it even a side?). the danger as I see it at the moment is a similar one to what you outlines with Climate Camp – the movement drifting from its original aims but not in a clear direction.

    the camp seems to be experiencing the problem a lot of “alternative” institutions do, where maintenance of the institution (camp logistics and layout etc.) seems to be taking over from the actual “aims” of the group (the mutual education and the working towards a better world/program for a better world) at the General Assembly level

    as for ways to guard against it, I’d love to hear your thoughts! maybe a plan for how to move forward, in terms of discussing and developing theory? would people see this as overly intellectual

    (this comes with the previous caveats of ‘I’ve not been as involved recently’)

    • we need to have a clear vision, but we don’t necessarily need it right now – that’s an interesting point. Most projects start from someone’s vision. The danger is that either the vision gets watered down or it’s too narrow to feel inclusive. Working collectively towards a vision has more potential to embrace difference and diversity, though is tougher from a process perspective. With climate camp there was a sense that it’s vision was watered down beyond the point of acceptability for some people. What’s the issue there? Watered down vision or low tolerance of diversity, or both?

      What I do think is needed is some kind of statement that tells people whether this is their part of the movement. Neither Occupy nor climate camp are/were the whole of the picture in terms of anti-capitalist or climate action. But what tells me whether this is the part of the picture that’s for me? There’s a tendency to try and be all things to all people, but that means you get radical alongside reform, direct action alongside political lobbying. In some spaces that works well. In others it confuses and detracts from focus, and causes internal strife. So I think effective groups and movements say “these are our values and if you sympathise with them, come on in. If you don’t here’s some help to find your way to someone else who’s doing effective action on the issue”. I also think that they have an effective written and oral history, so each generation coming into the movement can glean the values from the stories they hear and the material they read. Those stories need to be conscious – we need to pass on our creation myths purposefully and not assuem that people will hear them, or go to the website and read them.

      maintenance of the institution (camp logistics and layout etc.) seems to be taking over from the actual “aims” of the group – common problem, and one that climate camp shared. Indeed it was one of the strong arguments against an annual climate camp – too much energy and time sucked into making the physical reality happen that could go into action to stop climate change. The counter argument would be that the camp provides an alternative through it’s processes, that process is action and that other aims are superfluous.

      In terms of guarding against….. sometimes the division of labour sorts itself out, because there are those folk for whom building a camp works best, whilst there are others for whom outreach and action works best as long as there are processes in place that serve both and allow clear communication, accountability and so on. We’re back to the last post on this topic. If the processes are too cumbersome then there’s a chance that only one or neither will happen or they’ll both happen but not in a mutually supportive way.

      What often doesn’t sort itself out is issues around equality and equal value for that labour. Is political action valued more highly than cleaning compost toilets, or cooking? Do the media team get more praise (or criticism) than the folk staffing the info tent because of their higher profile?

  3. I think part of a problem that’ll come from trying to hammer out some sort of “statement” as you said is that the success of Occupy so far has stemmed largely from how broadchurch it was. The diversity of opinions helped to keep the spaces fresh, but I think agreeing on anything that’s more than oppositional would involve alienating people that see themselves as involved in the movement. Can this be tackled, do you think? Does it need to be? (I’d say yes)

    Your point on history and stories is a great one – no idea if this is really happening.

    • alienating people that see themselves as involved in the movement

      This is where the tension lies – who is the movement? Is Occupy/ was Climate Camp “the movement” or just a part of it. If the latter then I think it’s OK not to be everything to everyone and to occasionally need to nudge people towards another part of the movement that better meets their needs. In this scenario, there’s no need to alienate folk, it’s simply about helping people find where they can be most effective. Some caveats though:
      (1) What are our motives? Sometimes we simply find someone a bit awkward, for whatever reason, even though they can and do share our values and are in the right part of the movement for the style and ethos of action they want to take. Moving them elsewhere in order to rid ourselves of a “problem person” is a failure of our ability to deal with diversity.

      (2) Problems also arise when we talk as if we’re “it” – either the whole movement or at least the only worthwhile bit of it. In other words, when we’re hostile to other groups and organisations with different approaches and analyses Then it gets harder to signpost people to those other groups without alienating them in the process – “we think these folk are useless, and you’d be better off being useless with them”. To me it’s important to realise that we’re part of an ecosystem or groups all of whom play a role.

      If we do have a particular analysis and approach and we don’t so anything to hold that central to our work; if we’re so inclusive that the analysis is constantly “watered down” by people who don’t share it, but are now part of our group, we store trouble for ourselves. There will be splits as people leave to set up new groups that have a clearer vision, there will be misunderstanding, there may well be paralysis as we cease to be able to agree a way forwards. This is aggravated if we’re using consensus but don’t have the common ground consensus requires. That’s why I’m a fan of clear identity coupled with helping people find other spaces if they don’t share that identity, without that being a ‘rejection’.

      • I love the idea of an ecosystem of groups, I’d never really thought about it like that before.

        The idea about basically filtering the group down so that everyone ends up in a group where there’s a decent common ground, but how could it work in practise for a group which has *already* drawn too diverse a range of people to have a solid common ground? It seems like one of those things where the problem itself may stop the problem getting resolved. Basically, is there any way to avoid splintering and acrimony?

      • but how could it work in practise for a group which has *already* drawn too diverse a range of people to have a solid common ground? It seems like one of those things where the problem itself may stop the problem getting resolved. Basically, is there any way to avoid splintering and acrimony?

        If the group is intelligent enough to realise it doesn’t have the foundation for effective consensus and groupwork, then splitting into 2 or more groups doesn’t have to be acrimonious. That realisation is a positive – we’d be more effective apart (but part of the same wider movement) than together. We have so little experience of good conflict resolution, as a movement, that we tend to wait until things have got bitter and dysfunctional before we make intelligent decisions like the one we’re discussing……then it’s hard to avoid the split being a splinter

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