I went down to see Occupy Perth today with some friends. I haven’t been to any of the planning meetings for Occupy Perth and my friends and I were mostly just curious to see what it was all about: how many people would be there, what people would be saying about their grievances and goals. Before the discussion started we were talking about some of the concerns we had about the direction of the protests, debating different ways of approaching the OccupyX phenomena.
The day started with a brief introduction and an open invitation for anyone to talk about why they were there, using the people’s microphone. Some people said things we agreed with, others said things we were uncomfortable with, but some of the people I was with also seemed to feel like there were important perspectives that weren’t being represented. And that was around the point where I realised (again, and probably not for the last time), that if we wanted points made, one of would have to make them.
I’ve done a bit of public speaking before, including giving lectures and conference presentations, but I was still nervous about saying something. Especially without having anything prepared. But I got up and talked, because it was important to me to bring up some of the ideas I wrote about earlier. And later on when debate started about whether or not to follow the march against CHOGM with an occupation I got up and spoke again, joined by my friend Claire. I don’t know if many people agreed with the points we were making, or found them useful. I hope that the latter was true, at least.
It was important to me to be reminded that there is space in Occupy Perth and other activism to get involved and help shape what happens. It’s easy to sit back and criticise the movement, to see it as something that needs to live up to our expectations before we decide whether or not to get involved, to forget that we have a role to play. I think that’s especially easy for people (including me) who aren’t part of the dedicated community that sustains a lot of Perth activism.
They are certainly times when it makes sense for some groups to stay out of activist spaces until their expectations are met. For example, I think that Aboriginal Australian activists have urgent reasons for prioritising their own struggles, and for being involved only in movements that they feel are working towards their goals. It’s also reasonable to expect that activists build spaces that are welcoming for women, queer people, and other marginalised groups.
People have been putting a lot of effort into making Occupy Perth an open and welcoming forum. It’s not perfect, but activism never is. Consensus decision-making is hard work sometimes and you won’t always get your own way, but engaging in the process means that at least your voice will be heard. If you think that what we have now is broken and needs fixing, if you see some chance that Occupy Together might be a vehicle for change, you don’t need to sit back and wait to see if it heads in a direction you like: you can play a role in determining how the movement progresses.