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Our 10 favorite movies of 2015: ‘The Revenant,’ ‘Spotlight,’ ‘Inside Out’

2015 is when Bryan Cranston and Tim Burton made movies around Tampa Bay while Ben Affleck didn’t, when the Force awakened and Bill Murray’s … Kasbah tanked. Those highs and lows locally and at box offices are only parts of the story. What still matters more than anything is what’s on the screen, to transport and inspire us, whatever manages that subjective trick.

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Here are the 10 movies doing it for me in 2015:

1. The Revenant: Oscar-winning writer-director Alejandro G. Inarritu immerses viewers in a harrowing tale of survival and revenge. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a frontier guide left for dead after a bear attack as jaw-dropping as you’ve heard. Tom Hardy as the villain is scarier than the bear. After this brutal beauty and Birdman, nobody dares more devilishly than Inarritu. (The Revenant is open in select cities now, but opens locally Jan. 8.)

2. Spotlight: Tom McCarthy’s account of the Boston Globe’s expose’ of child abuse by Catholic priests is a perfectly assembled procedural, as focused and unflashy as its investigative reporters. The year’s finest ensemble cast skillfully underplays off each other, letting the story tell itself. I still can’t believe how right McCarthy got this profession.

3. Inside Out: At a time when most animation settles for pick-your-critter formulas and easy feels, Disney-Pixar flipped an ingenious script, taking viewers inside the head of a 9-year-old girl. And what a wondrous place it is, filled with adorably conflicted emotions, fading memories and the best imaginary friend ever. Pure Joy (plus Sadness, Anger, etc.)

4. Sicario: Denis Villeneuve’s Mexican drug cartel drama is a teeth-grinder from start to finish, with an FBI agent (Emily Blunt) pulled into a covert investigation led by a CIA cowboy (Josh Brolin) and a mysterious contractor (Benicio Del Toro). No less than three set pieces could make any top-10 list of the year’s action highlights. Just don’t let Donald Trump see it.

5. Anomalisa: Consider this Inside Out for middle-aged, depressed men and needy women attracted to them. Charlie Kaufman’s latest flight of dysfunction uses stop-motion puppetry to craft 2015′s most unusual one night stand, with David Thewlis voicing him, Jennifer Jason Leigh as her, and Tom Noonan as everyone else. The movie is open in some cities now, but we’re still waiting for a local opening date.

6. Room: The year’s emotional wringer, its first half entirely set inside a garden shed where a kidnapped mother (Brie Larson) and her son (the astonishing Jason Tremblay) have been held captive all his life. Their escape is a brilliant feat of tension, leading to a third act that captivates even as it veers toward convention.

7. 99 Homes: The Wall Street wolves in The Big Short have nothing on Ramin Bahrani’s boots-on-the-ground approach to the 2008 housing collapse. Michael Shannon is frightening as a foreclosure demon luring a victim (Andrew Garfield) to the dark side. Bahrani blends thriller components with a laundry list of fraudulent means, partly researched in Tampa Bay.

8. Amy: A documentary examining the life and death of woozy chanteuse Amy Winehouse, largely in her own words. Director Asif Kapadia led the trend in audio/video scrapbook docu-autopsies (Kurt Cobain, Marlon Brando) with access to everything Amy. The result is a vibrant eulogy for a talent I’d never really appreciated before.

9. Love Mercy: On the other hand, Beach Boy maestro Brian Wilson is a longtime musical hero. Bill Pohlad’s take on Wilson’s genius beginnings, warped midlife and contented now is essayed by two actors peaking, Paul Dano and John Cusack, in a dual structure working better than it should.

10. Ex Machina: The year’s most original sci-fi fantasy (sorry, Star Wars). Domhnall Gleeson plays a programmer working on a tech mogul’s plan to build the perfect woman (Alicia Vikander, who may be). Nothing artificial about the film’s intelligence, or its feminism steeped in Frankenstein.

Article source: http://www.tampabay.com/things-to-do/movies/revenant-sicario-inside-out-amy-winehouse-love-and-mercy-99-homes-ex/2259354

The Autoport closes, agrees to sell to Montoursville company

The Autoport has been featured on national television, in news articles and was probably rumored to be sold to someone you know.

The lights, however, are off — Greg and Lynda Mussi’s last day in business was Christmas Eve — and the rumors can stop with a deal in place.

Greg Mussi declined to identify the buyer, though bankruptcy documents show that South Atherton Real Estate 1 agreed to purchase the property and business for about $2.1 million. SARE, a Pennsylvania limited partnership, has the same Montoursville address as Gregory Welteroth Holdings, which did not return requests for comment.

The purchase could be made by April 30, 2016, according to documents filed.

County commissioners approved a fee agreement related to the sale Tuesday. The county was brought into the transaction to preserve the taxing of the proceeds that would come out of the sale.

About $130,000 in real estate taxes would be split among the municipality, the school district and the county.

“This represents our interest that all three entities receive the appropriate amount of tax on the sale,” County Administrator Tim Boyde said.

The Mussis began talks with potential buyers in 2014. They said interest in the property and business spiked after “Hotel Impossible” aired an episode on the business in October 2014.

It’s not just the business that’s been important to me, it’s the people.

Greg Mussi

Foreclosure with Enterprise Bank has been avoided since April 2014.

Joseph Fidler, Enterprise Bank’s attorney, placed the total liability at $1.34 million plus interest after April 17, 2014, of about $144 per day; late charges; attorney’s fees; and costs for foreclosure and sale of the property against The Piedmont Food Co. and Mussi Realty, each owned by the Mussis.

The agreed upon sale marks the end of the Mussi’s eight-year run operating The Autoport.

“I didn’t do it to become a millionaire,” Greg Mussi said. “I did it to preserve it. I enjoyed every day I came to work, but it needs someone else.”

The Mussis told employees about the closing several weeks ago.

“It’s not just the business that’s been important to me, it’s the people,” Greg Mussi said. “I loved the customers. I loved the people we worked with. I tell you what, they were very, very loyal to the end knowing there job was done. “They showed up did their job and excelled. I can’t say enough about the folks that stuck it out. We lost some, and I understand they did what they had to do. Some really stuck it out, and that doesn’t always happen when you’re closing.”

Article source: http://www.centredaily.com/news/business/article52081000.html

Undoing the Politics of Powerlessness

I’m in a warmly lit apartment on the Lower East Side. It’s a cool night in early October of 2011, the height of Occupy Wall Street.

What a fucking whirlwind it’s been. Two months ago I had just moved into my parents’ basement, feeling deflated after the end of Bloombergville (a two-week street occupation outside city hall to try to stop the massive budget cuts of that same year), convinced this country wasn’t ready for movement. Now I’m in this living room with some of the most impressive people I’ve ever met, at the shaky helm of a movement that has become part of the mainstream’s daily consciousness. It’s my first time feeling like the Left is more than a scrawny sideshow, and it’s surreal. Truth is, I wasn’t much of a believer until I was caught up in the mass arrests on September 24th, until Troy Davis was murdered by the State of Georgia and I felt the connection in my body, until more people came down and gave it legs. But now it’s real. The rush of rapidly growing numbers, recognition from other political actors, and increasing popular support and media acclaim is electric and overwhelming. It feels a bit like walking a tightrope.

I’m a leader, and people know it, but no one says it. It’s a strange feeling. I’m not the only leader, of course — there are many. In this room, we’re a wide range of people. Some of the folks go back to the Global Justice Movement, but most of us have met in the middle of the whirlwind, building the kinds of relationships you can only build in crisis or struggle. Some of the room is seasoned and experienced, some very new to this type of thing, but all of us have demonstrated leadership early on (some before the thing even really started) and come in with lots of relationships. Between us we lead a number of working groups, drive some of the major mass actions, play formative roles in much of the media being pumped out, and more.

The meetings are closed, and we all feel kind of bad about it, although this is another thing we don’t talk about often. There isn’t much coherence to how we ended up here in the first place — one person invited a few over and the next invited a couple and so on, until the room was full. It was as arbitrary a time to stop inviting people as any, but this is how things often happen in movement moments. We justify the boundary by reminding ourselves that we are certainly not the only collection of people meeting like this — there are many affinity groups and other kinds of formations — and that we are here to plan and strategize, not to make decisions.

But we also know that there are a lot of movers and shakers in the room, and that this affords us a disproportionate ability to move things through the rest of Occupy. We know the age-old pitfalls of people making plans in closed off rooms, and it’s not lost on us that — while this space is also led by some of the most powerful women and folks of color in the movement — most of us are white, middle class, and male. If someone had asked any one of us directly, we’d likely have agreed that, collectively, we have quite a bit of power and aren’t being held accountable to it.

But for the most part, we keep that nagging feeling under wraps, so we can continue the work. There is a confidence we seem to share that we are filling a void, meeting a real need, putting everything we have on the line to keep momentum going. We seem to agree, even if quietly, that movements don’t exist without leadership, that the general assembly has been more performance art than decision-making forum since the first couple of weeks, that leaderlessness is a myth, that we need a place to have sensitive discussions hopefully out of reach of the surveillance state. And in truth we know our jobs aren’t glamorous by any stretch of the imagination; after all, a good deal of the efforts of the folks in the room are aimed at getting occupiers port-o-potties and stopping the incessant drumming.

We know we’re breaking the rules, but for the most part we conclude that it must be done. And besides, we’ve broken the rules our whole lives — it’s how we ended up here.

Torn at the Seams

It wasn’t too long before it came crashing down. It got cold, the cops came, the encampments were evicted, and momentum died down, as is to be expected. This is the story we tell, and it has some truth in it, but those of us who were on the inside know there was more to it than that.

Truth is, we hadn’t planned that far ahead. Probably because not many of us thought it was going to work. As the folks at Ayni’s Momentum trainings will tell you, all movements have a DNA, whether it’s intentional or not. When movements take off and decentralize, they spread whatever their original DNA is, and while it’s possible to adjust it as it goes, it’s sort of like swimming against a tide. Our DNA was a mixed bag. The title had the tactic (Occupy) and the target (Wall Street) baked into it, the 99% frame demonstrated some level of shared radical politics, and the assemblies represented a commitment (an obsession, perhaps) to direct democracy. But we didn’t have too much more than that. As Occupy grew and spread, its DNA evolved to its natural conclusions: On one hand, a real critique of capitalism, powerful mass-based direct action, a public display of democracy. On the other hand, an infatuation with public space, a confusion of tactic for strategy, a palpable disdain for people who weren’t radical, and fantasies about leaderlessness. And then there were the questions we had never answered at all, which were begging to be explained now that we were growing: How would this transform into something long-term? Who were we trying to move? What were we trying to win?

But there’s more to it than that too. There was, alongside the external pressures of growth and definition, an internal power struggle, as there so often is in moments like this.

It happened in many circles of Occupy, and it happened to the group I was a part of, too, in that Lower East Side apartment. Some of the folks in the group got frustrated, and pulled away. They accused the rest of us of being liberals (this was a curse-word), said we were co-opting the movement for the unions, claimed that even meeting like this was a violation of the principles of the movement. Those claims were false, but they were hard to argue with, because most of us were already feeling guilty for being in closed off rooms. So we shrunk. Sort of like when an over-zealous white “ally” trips over other white folks to call out an example of racism; the first to call it out sits back smugly, having taken the moral high ground and pointed a finger at the others, and then the rest clench their jaws and stare at the floor guiltily, hoping the storm passes over them.

We tried to stop the split. We slowed down. We spent time trying to figure out what the right thing to do was. We tried to be honest about how much of this had to do with differences in politics and how much of it was really just ego on all sides. Some of us tried to reach across the aisle, to mend broken relationships. But in the meantime, the folks who had taken the moral high ground had begun building a separate group. That split happened in October in that living room on the Lower East Side, perhaps in other circles in the movement around the same time; by November it was playing out in the movement more broadly, until in December there were distinctly different tendencies offering different directions to the movement as a whole. It would be overly simplistic to trace the overall conflict inside the belly of Occupy Wall Street to the dissolution of this one group or even to in-fighting more broadly, but at the same time, it was a significant factor. All movements develop mechanisms for leadership and coordination, whether formal or informal, and they suffer real setbacks when those systems collapse.

Of course, in the midst of the squabbling and the confusion about our direction, the state came crashing down on us. We became a real threat and the men in suits and uniforms who make decisions about these sorts of things realized that that the benefit of being rid of us outweighed the negative press they would get for the state violence necessary to do it. They were right. The mayors got on conference calls to coordinate. The newspapers turned on us. They dragged us out of parks and squares all over the country, arrested thousands of people. We did our best, but we weren’t organized, disciplined, or grounded in communities enough to stop it in the end. Ultimately, we weren’t powerful enough. Without the park, we were rootless. It got cold. We had no way to huddle together, to learn from what had happened, to support one another through what had become an existential crisis. We met in union offices instead of public squares, and the organizing core shrunk. We went from actions in which the whole base participated to projects different collectives tried to drive on their own, and ultimately, that dwindled too. By the following summer, the true believers who insisted that Occupy was still going strong had become an endangered species.

But the truth is, it wasn’t the state, or the cold, or the media. The real problem underneath it all was a deep ambivalence about power. In fact, all of the things that made Occupy Wall Street brilliant had this paradox built into them, this politic of powerlessness woven deep inside, like a bad gene or a self-destruct mechanism.

For example, the mantra of leaderlessness came from a genuine desire to avoid classic pitfalls into hierarchy, but it was, at the same time, a farce, and divorced from any sense of collective structure or care for group culture. It foreclosed on the possibility of holding emerging leaders accountable, created a situation in which real leaders (whether worthy or not) went to the shadows instead of the square, and made it impossible to really develop one another (how, really, could we train new leaders if there weren’t supposed to be any in the first place?). Similarly, the refusal to articulate demands was brilliant in opening radical possibilities and sparking the popular imagination, but it also meant we didn’t have a shared goal, meant the word winning wasn’t even part of the movement’s lexicon. In many ways, it was an expression of a fear of actually saying something and taking responsibility for it, and it encouraged the often-repeated delusion that we didn’t even want anything our enemy had to give, that Wall Street and the State didn’t have any power over us. The vigilance against co-option came from honest history of movements falling prey to powerful forces hoping to dull or divert their aims; but it ultimately became a paranoia more than anything else, a tragic misunderstanding of the playing field and what it was going to take to build popular power. Instead of welcoming other progressive forces and actually co-opting them, purists shamed “liberals,” cultivated a radical macho culture more focused on big speeches at assemblies and arrests in the streets than the hard organizing behind the scenes, and turned Occupy into a fringe identity that only a few people could really claim to the exclusion of the hundreds of thousands who actually made it real.

Occupy Wall Street created a new discourse, brought thousands of people into the movement, shifted the landscape of the left, and even facilitated concrete victories for working people. But at the same time, a substantial chunk of its leadership was allergic to power. And we made a politic of that. We fetishized it, wrote articles and books about it, scorned the public with it. Worst of all, we used it as a cudgel with which to bludgeon each other.

Sure, the cops came for us — we invited them, after all. But we were the problem: When the state tugged hard enough, we tore at the seams.

The People Went Home

I spent years being angry about it. I was angry at the people who had attacked the group I was part of from the inside, the people who bullied me into giving up every piece of leverage I had by making me feel like I didn’t have the right to organize the folks I had access to, who punished me every time I was quoted or interviewed, who came to the meetings I facilitated and intentionally disrupted them. The stories are too long and too many to recount here, and anyone who was in the middle of it has their own share of war stories too.

But more than anyone else, I was angry at myself for letting it happen. I spent months waking up in the middle of the night, replaying the different moments I had capitulated to cool kids and given up real opportunities to grow the movement out of fear that I’d be iced out if I didn’t. And the truth is, I had no excuse. I had already learned this important lesson at the New School in 2008 when a couple hundred of us occupied a building to get a war criminal thrown off the board, win back student space, and push forward student self-governance and responsible investment: Bad politics don’t go away on their own, you actually have to fight them.

Maybe it’s counter-intuitive, and it’s certainly unpleasant, but it’s true. In those moments, when we refuse to engage in these fights because they feel childish and below the belt, we forget that the majority of people are standing in the middle, wondering what the hell is going on and looking for people they can trust. When those of us who are thinking about power and trying to grow the base don’t step up to that challenge, the folks in the middle assume that the people bringing in toxicity are the leadership, and they don’t want to have anything to do with it. They find no other voices providing leadership they can feel a part of. So they go home.

And that’s kind of what happened. The state upped the ante, raised the heat on us. Shit got ugly, and directionless, and toxic. The self-destruct mechanisms went off, the politics of powerlessness played out to their logical conclusions. The folks best equipped to offer leadership in that moment didn’t step up. So everyone went home.

And as I think back on the mistakes I made — among them, this grand mistake of shrinking from the responsibilities of leadership, however personally costly — I can’t help but feel a little bit ashamed. We did a tremendous amount. But we could have done more. We could have lasted longer, brought more people into the movement, established more powerful institutions, won more material gains. If we understand the prison industrial complex and climate change and wealth inequality and the foreclosure crisis as hard and tangible threats to people’s literal survival, then we have to see, with equal clarity, that our movements are nothing short of an attempt to save lives. And we could have saved more lives.

The Politics of Powerlessness

Many of us left that moment bitter, depressed, heart-broken. Some of that is predictable, maybe, on the downward spiral from such a high. Some of it was the product of a lot of young folks experiencing their first tastes of movement and thinking the result was going to be a revolution. But some of it was specific to this toxicity, the sudden snapping of this unbelievable tight rope we had been racing across.

From there, I went wandering. I bumped straight into the movement’s social media call-out culture, where people demonstrate how radical they are by destroying one another. It felt like walking into a high school locker room. In this universe, we insist on perfect politics and perfect language, to the exclusion of experimentation, learning, or constructive critique. We wear our outsiderness as a badge of pride, knowing that saying the right thing trumps doing anything at all. No one is ever good enough for us — not progressive celebrities who don’t get the whole picture, not your Facebook friend who doesn’t quite get why we say Black Lives Matter instead of All Lives Matter, not your cousin who mourned the deaths in Paris without saying an equal number of words about those in Beirut. Instead of organizing these people, we attack them. We tear down rather than teach each other, and pick apart instead of building on top of what we have.

And of course, the politic of powerlessness doesn’t only live on social media, but in our organizing spaces as well — and it’s in the realm of identity that so much of the battle takes place. We confuse systems like white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism with individuals we can use as stand-ins for them. We use the inevitable fuck-ups of our potential partners as validation that we should stay in our bunkers with the handful of people who make us feel safe instead of getting dirty in the trenches. We imagine identity as static and permanent, instead of remembering that all of us — to borrow terminology from organizations like Training for Change — have experiences of marginalization that can help us support one another, and experiences of being in the mainstream that can help us understand the people we want to shift. We forget that, while identity gives us clues and reveals patterns, it doesn’t fully explain our behavior, and it certainly doesn’t determine it. We abandon the truth that people can transform, that ultimately we all — oppressed and potential oppressors alike (if such simplistic frames should even be entertained) — can and must choose sides. So we shirk this ultimate responsibility we have as organizers: To support people in making the hard and scary choices to be on the side of freedom. In all of this commotion, we turn inward. We forget the enemy outside, and find enemies in the room instead, make enemies of one another.

And here, just as from Occupy Wall Street, the vast majority of people — those great many on whom this system relies and the very same ones we will need to organize to make it come to a screeching halt — grow tired. So they go home. And we lose.

Compassion and Curiosity on the way to Power

It’s October of 2013, brisk and breezy, with the leaves changing in dramatic colors. I’m in a Mexican restaurant in Minneapolis with organizers from Occupy Homes — the same folks now part of the leadership of Black Lives Matter MN. We’re debriefing the retreat a couple of us just held for them as part of the Wildfire Project. Wildfire supports new, radical groups emerging from movement moments with long-term training and support, and connects them to one another to help them become greater than the sum of their parts. We’re tired from a big weekend, and I’m getting feedback on my facilitation.

The organizers tell me to step up. They notice that in the training, I didn’t tell my story, shared very little of my experience at Occupy or elsewhere even when directly relevant, evaded every opportunity to offer opinions on their strategic plan even when asked, deferred to the group on everything. They say they know I have more to offer, that they asked me to come here because they trusted me, that they demand that I bring more of myself next month. They want to invest in me, they explain, because they need me to be my most powerful self so I can support their members in that same transformation, and so I can go out and help build a powerful network for them to be a part of.

The feedback makes me a bit blurry. I can’t remember the last time anyone told me they wanted me to be powerful. I’m a straight, white, class-comfortable male in the North Eastern United States, certainly not part of the groups most impacted by the systems we are fighting. I’ve spent the past few years duking it out with the voices in my head — on one hand knowing I have something to offer in this important moment, and on the other hand internalizing deep shame about where I come from and guilt over the mistakes I’ve made along the way as a result. In the midst of those mistakes and in the face of a movement culture that seemed to see me as a threat, I internalized the message that the best thing I could do for the movement was to mitigate the damage I’ve done by existing — that my job, really, was to disappear. There are historical reasons for this dilemma, and current reasons that our movements have adopted these knee-jerk responses to what it perceives as power or privilege. But in the end, the impact was that it made me less effective, whether as an ally to other oppressed people, a leader in Occupy, or a facilitator with Wildfire. This is part of the politics of powerlessness, I think to myself as I sit in this restaurant booth in Minneapolis, and it has found its way into my bones.

But the demand to become powerful comes from the folks to whom I am most accountable — heroes who are defending themselves from foreclosure, occupying already-foreclosed houses to keep people off the street, taking over local political offices to try to use eminent domain to take back people’s homes, and asking Wildfire for support — so it feels different this time. I go home to New York and I do the work. I go through all sorts of transformative processes to remember where I come from, to try to understand the conditions that made me internalize those self-sabotaging politics. I find partners who want to win more than they want to be right, who forgive me and help me forgive myself, who invest their time and love and energy in me while holding me accountable and demanding I do the same for them. I re-commit to using everything I’ve been given in the service of the movement.

Along the way, I start to internalize wisdom taught me by a mentor and coach from Generative Somatics, an organization that fuses emotional healing, physical practice, and radical politics: People do what they must to survive. Our behaviors — even the self-sabotaging ones — are our bodies’ responses to threat. Our instincts are clumsy at times, and they often cut us off from our better options, but credit where credit is due: these instincts, at some points, probably saved our lives. Instead of hating those traits so much, we might be better off tipping our hat to them, thanking them for the safety they have provided us, and letting them know that we don’t need them anymore — that we want to practice something new instead. It doesn’t mean excusing bad behavior in ourselves or the movement; it means understanding where it comes from for the sake of changing it.

This is our task as organizers and revolutionaries: to become our most powerful selves and supporting the whole movement in that same transformation. In the service of that goal, my anger thaws into compassion and my self-righteousness becomes curiosity, and it’s with this lens that I start to look at the movement with fresh eyes. I wonder what really caused the implosions at Occupy in the first place, and why those behaviors persist across the Left. I start to try to figure out where the politics of powerlessness come from, what needs they meet for us. And as I dig below the surface, I can’t help but notice the shifts that the Black folks rising up across this country have already offered the movement; so many enormous contributions in the struggle for freedom, but even something as small as hats that say power on them are a challenge to the politics of powerlessness, a reflection of our ability to make and practice new rules for ourselves as we transform.

Undoing the Politics of Powerlessness

Today, when I think about the politics of powerlessness, it feels clear as day to me that the source of all of it is fear. Fear of leaders, of the enemy, of the possibility of having to govern, of the stakes of winning and losing, of each other, of ourselves. And it’s all pretty understandable.

We call each other out and push one another out of the movement, because we are desperate to cling to the little slivers of belonging we’ve found in the movement, and are full of scarcity — convinced that there isn’t enough of anything to go around (money, people, power, even love). We eat ourselves alive and attack our own leaders because we’ve been hurt and misled all our lives and can’t bear for it to happen again on our watch. We race to prove we are the least privileged, because this is the only way we can imagine being powerful. We turn our backs on people who don’t get it, because organizing them will not only be hard but also painful, because we will have to give up some of our victimhood to do it, because it will mean being vulnerable to the world we came to the movement to escape. Our ego battles are a natural product of a movement that doesn’t have a clear answer for how leadership is to be appreciated and held accountable at the same time. Our inability to celebrate small victories is a defense from having to believe that winning is even possible — a way to avoid the heartbreak of loss when it comes.

And perhaps most importantly: Our tendency to make enemies of each other is driven by a deep fear of the real enemy, a paralyzing hopelessness about our possibilities of winning. After all, whether we admit it or not, we spend quite a lot of our time not believing we can really win. And if we’re not going to win, we might as well just be awesome instead. If we’re not going to win, we’re better off creating spaces that suit our cultural and political tastes, building relationships that validate our non-conformist aesthetic, surrendering the struggle over the future in exchange for a small island over which we can reign.

The politics of powerlessness is a defense mechanism, meant to protect us from our worst fears. And as I’ve been learning, it never works to hate one’s defenses, to bang our heads against them, to bend them into submission. No, the way we change is by really getting curious about their source, and trying to address their root causes. Of course we’re afraid. Fear is a totally grounded response to what is happening around us. We need to sit with that. And we need to find new practices for dealing with our fears, because in the end, those hard truths are precisely the reason we need to do away with the politic of powerlessness.

This defense mechanism, which may have saved our collective lives somewhere along the way, has outlived its usefulness. It has become a barrier to the success of the movements being born around us, the flourishing of our people, the world we want to win. We are standing against a series of crises one more terrifying than the next, stemming from systems more towering than ever before, guided by people who are happy to kill many of us to preserve their wealth. If we don’t get powerful soon, we’re going to lose. And in this case, losing means not only the immense oppression, exploitation, and repression this system guarantees; it also means the extinction of our species. Challenging the politics of powerlessness and replacing it with something that can win is not an academic question; it is truly a matter of life or death. We had better get our shit together, and quick.

We need to replace judgment and self-righteousness with curiosity and compassion. Those are the tools that will help us support each other in the face of the crises ahead, and they are the qualities we will need in order to truly understand the very many people we still need to organize. They will help us become facilitators instead of polemicists, teach us to build instead of tear apart. Flexing these new muscles, we must convert a politic that punishes imperfection into one that uses everything at its fingertips to win — that compels each and every one of us to turn our gifts into weapons for the sake of freedom. We need to build groups  — collectives, organizations, affinity groups, whatever — because groups are what keep us in the movement, they’re what keep movement moments going, where we transform, how we fight, and the best way to hold each other accountable to the long struggle for liberation. We need to win small victories that open up space for bigger ones, and we must celebrate them, because that’s the best inoculation against a politic based in fear that nothing is winnable. We have to develop powerful visions for the world we want, so we can put those small victories inside a broader strategy that strikes at the roots of the systems we face. We must all engage in the hard and transformational work to become our most powerful selves; after all, it is truly the only way we even stand a chance.

Honoring Fear

I’m at a retreat center in Florida, at the first ever Wildfire National Convening, with 80 members of organizations from all over the country: folks from Ohio Student Association, Dream Defenders, GetEQUAL, Rockaway Wildfire, and the Occupy Homes groups in Atlanta and Minneapolis. It’s the first night, and the organizations are performing skits that explain their origin stories. It’s Rockaway Wildfire’s turn — a group that formed in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, merging the relief effort with organizing in Far Rockaway, Queens. Out there, floods fell on top of broken schools, impoverished projects, and a population that was drastically underemployed and over-policed. The folks in the Rockaways were losing their homes to foreclosure before the floods wrecked them, losing their sons to prisons long before the storm came to displace them.

The skit begins, the lights go down. We hear the pounding of feet against the floor, which sounds unmistakably like heavy rain. And then a chorus of howling that sounds like the violent wind that battered the New York area that October in 2012. Then heart-wrenching wailing, like a child crying. Pounding and howling and wailing that get more and more intense like an orchestra building up to its crescendo. Suddenly, I’m crying. The sounds catapult me back to the hurricane, but also to the fear I carry with me of the many more hurricanes surely on the way, and the children and parents and friends we will have to protect when they come. Suddenly the sounds come to a crashing halt, the lights go up, dimly, and I realize most of the other people in the room are weeping too. There is silence, the kind of hanging stillness you stumble on rarely, when a room full of people dedicated to the struggle are all quietly reckoning with the fear we carry in us every day and the doubts we have about whether we can do what must be done. Then one of the actors breaks the silence with the last line of the play, delivered soothingly to her child, as if she has read the minds of the 80 fighters gathered here: “Don’t worry, baby, don’t worry. We’ll be alright. Momma’s gonna start a revolution.”

The fear is real — palpable and also grounded. In addition to good organizing, it will take some small miracles to win the world we all deserve. It’s better to acknowledge that than to try to bury it. At least it’s honest. And who knows, maybe there is something about fear that — when we turn and face it — can be grounding instead of handicapping, can help us sit in the stakes rather than live in denial, can compel us to take the risks we need to take rather than to hide, can drive us to be the biggest we can be instead of shrinking. Or at least, that’s my hope.

And when I’m in doubt, I remember the most important lesson I learned at Occupy Wall Street: We don’t know shit. The secret truth is that Occupy Wall Street wasn’t supposed to work. But it did. It created a whole new world of possibility. That possibility is here — we can feel it in the very heart of the movements being born around us. And we have been invited; the only question, now, is whether we will rise to the challenge.

Special thanks to Sumitra Rajkumar for coaching me throughout this transformative journey and supporting and editing my writing process; to George Lakey for reminding me of my courage; to Michael Strom, Ileia Burgos, and Bianca Bockman for teaching me, challenging me, and walking with me every step of the way.

This article originally appeared at medium.com. Yotam Marom is an organizer, facilitator, and the Director of the Wildfire Project. More of Yotam’s writing can be found at www.forlouderdays.net. Maybe someday he’ll learn how to use twitter @yotammarom. We all have dreams, don’t we?

——————————————————–

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Article source: https://indypendent.org/2015/12/30/undoing-politics-powerlessness

Wayne County families sue over ‘illegal’ foreclosures

Eighteen families on Monday sued the Wayne County Treasurer’s office and several Metro Detroit cities in U.S. District Court, arguing their properties were illegally foreclosed on and sold to developers.

The families are asking a judge to grant a temporary restraining order to prevent the developers from evicting them from properties in Garden City, Dearborn, Lincoln Park, Redford Township and the city of Wayne.

Attorney Tarek Baydoun, who represents the families, alleges the treasurer’s office led owners to believe they still had time to save their homes before the county foreclosure auction, while county officials worked with the cities to illegally take the homes.

Baydoun says the treasurer’s office failed to send out foreclosure notices by first-class mail, as it has in past years. And the contractor tasked with making personal visits to the homes to notify residents of the impending foreclosure never showed up, the complaint alleges.

Baydoun also says the county blocked his clients from signing up for payment plans that would have removed them from the threat of auction.

“County defendants recklessly, knowingly and/or maliciously engaged in a conspiracy to withhold the required notices and deny payment plans in a manner that was neither lawful nor rational,” the complaint states. “As a result, the plaintiffs and similarly situated individuals lost record title to their properties.”

The lawsuit names the cities of Garden City, Dearborn, Lincoln Park, Redford Township and Wayne, saying officials in each “illegally bid, purchased and sold the properties.” In addition to the county treasurer, the lawsuit names retired Treasurer Raymond Wojtowicz and former Chief Deputy Treasurer David Szymanski.

Szymanski wrote in an email to The Detroit News on Monday morning that his office is clear with homeowners that not complying with payment plans could mean the loss of property.

“It is my firm belief that we acted properly in providing notice, explaining taxpayer options, and assisting as best we could in foreclosure avoidance,” Szymanski wrote. “It is indeed unfortunate that property is lost when taxes are not paid but such is the legislatively mandated process. It is not fair to those who do pay taxes to support government services that others receive those services when their taxes go unpaid.”

Calls and emails from The News to city officials involved weren’t immediately returned.

An official from Dearborn declined comment Monday, saying the city hadn’t been served with the lawsuit. After pleas to the City Council, the city resold several occupied tax-foreclosed homes to former owners this fall with restrictions.

A growing number of Wayne County suburbs are buying tax-foreclosed homes and selling them to developers, saying they want to prevent blight and discourage absentee landlords from acquiring the properties through the auction.

The auction is held in September and October for properties typically owing three years in unpaid taxes, but cities can take properties in July by exercising their right of first refusal. Taylor bought 106 properties; Lincoln Park, 90; Redford Township, 76; Dearborn, 35; and Garden City, 28, according to county records.

But many homeowners, who were on payment plans, said they weren’t aware the properties were sold until served with eviction notices from developers. Some acknowledged missing required payments but said county staffers led them to believe they had more time to save their homes.

Baydoun said he believes more than 1,000 property owners could have had property taken illegally by the county and given to cities. He is asking the U.S. District Judge Judith E. Levy to designate the case as a class action.

The controversy over the foreclosures exploded in November in Garden City when seven families, who wanted to plead their cased before its city council, were blocked from speaking at a public meeting. Mayor Randy Walker would later say he cut the meeting short because officials had a pizza party planned after that council meeting.

The developers generally buy the properties from the cities for the price of the unpaid taxes and are required to invest a certain amount in rehab costs. The developers keep any profits. The goal is to sell them to owner-occupants, city officials have said.

In the lawsuit filed Monday, Baydoun also named the three development companies who bought the homes from the cities.

cmacdonald@detroitnews.com

Article source: http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/wayne-county/2015/12/28/foreclosure-lawsuit/77973374/

Lawsuit accuses Wayne County, Detroit suburbs, and developers of foreclosure …

2 months ago

Article source: http://michiganradio.org/post/lawsuit-accuses-wayne-county-detroit-suburbs-and-developers-foreclosure-profit-scheme

6 Ways to Protect Your Home From the Coming Foreclosure Crisis

Think the mortgage foreclosure crisis is long over? Think again. A legacy of the Great Recession of 2008-2009, the problem of financially pressed Americans losing their homes wasn’t solved — only deferred.

Many public and private temporary relief measures will expire in 2016, likely triggering a new wave of home repossessions. This scenario is only one of many dangers lurking for investors in the new year. Below, we show you six ways to protect your home from foreclosure.

To be sure, eight years after the mortgage crisis initially emerged, foreclosures are down. At the peak in 2010, nearly 3 million homes experienced foreclosure filings in 2010; in 2013, the number was down to 1.1 million.

But that’s about to change. Notably, home equity lines of credit that homeowners took out during the prerecession “go-go” years (when homeowners routinely used their homes as ATM machines) will start to feature increased payments in 2016, as borrowers are forced to pay back principal instead of merely the interest.

Must Read: 5 Breakout Socks to Trade for Gains

If your bank is trying to squeeze you from your home, consider these options:

1) Carefully Scrutinize All Information

Take nothing for granted; trust no one; assume nothing. That means you should closely read all documents you receive from your lender or trustee. Put a magnifying glass to the fine print. If you don’t understand something, don’t be embarrassed — some contracts are purposefully confusing to allow/prevent certain loopholes. Ask your lender to explain specifically what you’re agreeing to. And remember, no one can ever force you to sign something. If you feel uncomfortable, ask to speak with your lender’s manager.

2) See if a Payment Will Extricate You

Determine how much money it would cost you to stop the foreclosure. If there’s an amount of money that would stave off foreclosure, then pay it. Get a precise total, as to the entire amount of back payments and charges. Don’t lose your home over a single back payment that you can scrounge together.

Article source: http://www.thestreet.com/story/13407907/1/6-ways-to-protect-your-home-from-the-coming-foreclosure-crisis.html

Safety dominates public discussion in La Grange for 2015

Shootings, window smashings and traffic safety dominated the headlines in La Grange in 2015, and a heated debate on a homeless center brought fierce debate..

BEDS Plus homeless center gets OK

A proposal for a BEDS Plus center serving the homeless sharply divided La Grange residents, often spurring heated debate before the Village Board unanimously approved it April 27.

But plans for the center have been mired in a legal challenge over who owns the parcel southwest of Ogden and East avenues, formerly in foreclosure. The next hearing is scheduled for Feb. 8 on the proceedings brought by resident Josh McGee, represented by a lawyer in a firm owned by Plan Commission member Julie Egan, who voted against the project.

Led by religious leaders, supporters said the center is needed to provide counseling, referrals and job training in offices on the first floor and permanent housing for the chronically homeless in 20 units on the second and third floors.

Opponents argued the center will bring more problems to their neighborhood to the south, posing safety concerns, an adverse impact on property values, a drain on village services and the loss of a potential commercial opportunity and tax revenue.

If BEDS overcomes the legal roadblock, the nonprofit agency has 12 months to raise at least $4 million and another six months to begin construction, according to terms of village approval for the project.

New safety measures at LTHS campuses

The first day of school brought new traffic patterns with a long awaited stoplight to improve safety at the Lyons Township High School South Campus in Western Springs.

The villages of La Grange and Western Springs joined with the school, the Park District of La Grange and La Grange Memorial Hospital to conduct traffic studies and apply for funding for a traffic signal and other safety measures in front of the school at 4900 S. Willow Springs Road.

The $416,000 project under development since 2011 was financed largely by state and federal grants.

Complaints about pedestrian safety and traffic concerns around the LT North Campus in La Grange prompted school and village officials to reevaluate safety measures, beginning in the spring.

Two new stop signs were added in September on Park Road at Elm Avenue and at Cossitt Avenue, which were two of six recommendations from a traffic study jointly funded by the school and village.

Neighbors concerned about using their driveways and pedestrian safety asked for greater input at village and school meetings to develop a comprehensive traffic plan and beef up enforcement of parking and other violations along Cossitt and Brainard avenues.

Sales tax hike to fund flood projects

Voters gave a decisive nod in April to a 0.75 percentage point sales tax hike to finance flood control projects in La Grange.

By about a 2-1 margin, residents voted to boost the local sales tax to 1percent, the maximum allowed for a nonhome-rule community. The measure was expected to generate an estimated $750,000 the first year, beginning July 1, and $900,000 the next year.

The new revenue is earmarked to pay for bonds financing the first phase of sewer improvements at $14.4 million to alleviate flooding. Areas south of 47th Street suffered devastating floods in 2014 and 2010 that ruined basements, furnaces and electrical systems.

Plans are underway to build a storm relief sewer below 50th Street, a lateral sewer along 9th Avenue between 49th and 50th streets, a flood retention wall along Brainard Avenue between 49th and 51st streets and for sewer lining throughout town,

Pet Parade without pets

A spring outbreak of canine influenza prompted organizers to ban dogs as participants and spectators at the La Grange Pet Parade in May.

Instead, dog owners were encouraged to bring photos of their pets in costume, or a stuffed animal in costume for judges to view in the 69th annual march.

In early April, the Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control reported at least 1,000 cases, as well as five fatalities. Dogs were banned from some other area events, including pet-friendly races.

Although they missed the stars of the show, most residents and spectators said they understood the safety concerns, and few dogs were on hand for the parade.

Daytime drive-by shooting

A mid-afternoon, drive-by shooting not far from a school bus stop Jan. 26 sent shock waves through a La Grange neighborhood southwest of La Grange Road and Ogden Avenue.

A 22-year-old man was shot in the lower abdomen while in front of his home at 34 Washington St. in what police determined to be a targeted drive-by shooting, rather than a random incident.

Police also acknowledged a correlation with a Nov. 16, 2014 incident when a 16-year-old Countryside boy was shot following a verbal altercation with a group of young men near Calendar and Sawyer avenues.

Police said neither victim and no witnesses have come forward to identify a suspect, essential for charges to be filed.

Gang graffiti was found in two locations in the neighborhood Feb. 5, prompting Nazareth Academy to stop sending student volunteer tutors, due to safety concerns.

A community meeting was held Feb. 23 to determine additional safety measures and an action plan. Suggestions for jobs programs, a neighborhood watch with block captains and improved neighborhood relations with police were given, but further plans haven’t been announced.

Vehicle window-smashing rampage in LaGrange Highlands

A bizarre lunchtime attack on a dozen vehicles in a preschool parking lot Feb. 9 left staff members and parents stunned at Kensington School in LaGrange Highlands.

The incident also raised alarm among parents at nearby Highlands Elementary School, where Kirk Waishwell, who was charged in the vehicle vandalism, had been seen allegedly intoxicated and yelling at students outside the school in September 2014.

About 200 parents packed a meeting Feb. 17 clamoring for stiffer charges and protection from Waishwell, who had been released after posting a $125 bond for misdemeanor property damage charges.

The charges were upgraded to five felonies, and Waishwell, 34, who lives adjacent to the preschool, was held in the Cook County Department of Corrections and ordered to receive mental health treatment.

On Aug. 28, he pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to wear two monitoring devices on home confinement for 60 days. He is barred from contact at either school and must receive additional mental health treatment.

Article source: http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/la-grange/news/ct-dlg-year-in-review-tl-1231-20151228-story.html

Circleville Police Reports

December 26

- Officers took a report on domestic violence in the 100 block of Walnut Street after a caller reported a male subject was intoxicated and left the residence in a work van following an argument.

- Officers responded to reports of a semi truck on U.S. Route 22 East that had gone left of center, failed to maintain lanes and almost struck a guardrail. The subject checked OK during a traffic stop at Court and Main streets.

- Officers responded to an activated alarm at Applied Technical Service on East Mound Street. The scene checked OK.

- A caller reported a male in a silver Honda stopped by the 200 block of Town Street trying to sell brand new truck liners, and the caller thought it was suspicious. The vehicle left, and all units were advised.

- Officers responded to an activated alarm in the 300 block of Sycamore Drive. The scene checked OK.

- A resident came to the police station to request a stand-by to retrieve some belongings from a residence in the 100 block of South Court Street.

- A caller reported a male subject was walking around a property in the 1200 block of Eastwood Drive, and the caller ran him off. Officers reported the scene checked OK; the home is in foreclosure, and someone was attempting to look at the property.

- Officers responded to an activated panic alarm at Taco Bell on U.S. Route 23. The scene checked OK.

- A caller reported an open garage and residence door in the 900 block of Circle Drive. The homeowner arrived on the scene and advised another family member had left the door open. The scene checked OK.

- A resident in the 400 block of Half Avenue reported her cell phone had been stolen the day before. A report was taken on theft.

- Miranda L. Dixon, 22, of Somerville, was arrested on a warrant from the Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office following a traffic stop at the Duke and Duchess station on East Main Street.

- A resident in the 900 block of South Washington Street reported a missing laptop, but she was uncertain if it was stolen or just misplaced during a move.

- Officers responded to an injury accident on U.S. Route 23 South at Pickaway Crossing.

- A caller reported she had been assaulted by a known female subject at the Eagles on East Main Street. The female advised the caller was refusing to leave the bar and was escorted out. A report was taken.

- Officers responded to a 911 hang-up call from the Pumpkin Show building on East Franklin Street. Officers advised it may have been due to the weather. The scene checked OK.

- Officers responded to reports of a suspicious vehicle in the 500 block of Northfield Drive. The scene checked OK.

- Officers responded to a parking complaint in the 100 block of West Mill Street.

Article source: http://www.pickawaynewsjournal.com/circleville-police-reports-cms-1562

Wayne County Illegally Foreclosed on Homes: Lawsuit

DEARBORN, MI – The Wayne County Treasurer’s Office and several Metro Detroit cities illegally foreclosed on and sold their properties to developers, 18 families alleged Monday in a request for a federal judge to issue an injunction to stop their eviction.

The plaintiffs — who are from Dearborn, Garden Center, Lincoln Park, Redford Township and Wayne — allege in their petition filed in U.S. District Court that the treasurer’s office led them to believe they still had time to save their homes,b were working all the while to illegally take the properties, The Detroit News reports.

Their attorney, Tarek Baydoun, wrote in the complaint that county officials failed to properly notify homeowners of the foreclosure, and blocked them from signing up for payment plans that would have halted foreclosure actions.

“County defendants recklessly, knowingly and/or maliciously engaged in a conspiracy to withhold the required notices and deny payment plans in a manner that was neither lawful nor rational,” the complaint states. “As a result, the plaintiffs and similarly situated individuals lost record title to their properties.”

Retired Treasurer Raymond Wojtowicz, former Chief Deputy Treasurer David Szymanski and three development companies that bought the properties were also named in the complaint, as were the cities and townships of Dearborn, Garden City, Lincoln Park, Redford and Wayne.

Baydoun alleges officials in each jurisdiction “illegally bid, purchased and sold the properties.”

In an e-mail to The Detroit News, Szymanski wrote that his staff explained taxpayer options, “assisting as bet we could in foreclosure avoidance.

“It is indeed unfortunate that property is lost when taxes are not paid but such is the legislatively mandated process,” he wrote. “It is not fair to those who do pay taxes to support government services that others receive those services when their taxes go unpaid.”

The newspaper said calls to city officials involved were not immediately returned.

It’s common in the suburbs for governments to buy foreclosed properties and sell them to developers for a price equal to the unpaid taxes to prevent blight and discourage absentee landlords from buying them at auctions, the newspaper said. Developers are generally required to make improvements on the land, but are allowed to keep the profits those improvements generate.

Baydoun wrote in the petition that his clients, who believed they had worked out payment plans for the back taxes, weren’t aware their homes had been sold until they received eviction notices. Some admitted they had missed payments, but they claimed treasurer’s office workers had led them to believe they had more time to prevent a foreclosure.

The number of properties purchased by local governments in the auction this past fall included 106 in Wayne, 90 in Lincoln Park, 76 in Redford Township, 35 in Dearborn, and 28 in Garden City.

Baydoun said as many as 1,000 property owners may lost their homes due to illegal foreclosures. He has asked U.S. District Judge Judith E. Levy to allow a class action lawsuit.

Article source: http://patch.com/michigan/dearborn/wayne-county-illegally-foreclosed-homes-lawsuit-0

REVEALED: The inside story on what really caused the Occupy Wall Street …

By Yotam Marom, AlterNet

I’m in a warmly lit apartment on the Lower East Side. It’s a cool night in early October of 2011, the height of Occupy Wall Street.

What a fucking whirlwind it’s been. Two months ago I had just moved into my parents’ basement, feeling deflated after the end of Bloombergville (a two-week street occupation outside city hall to try to stop the massive budget cuts of that same year), convinced this country wasn’t ready for movement. Now I’m in this living room with some of the most impressive people I’ve ever met, at the shaky helm of a movement that has become part of the mainstream’s daily consciousness. It’s my first time feeling like the Left is more than a scrawny sideshow, and it’s surreal. Truth is, I wasn’t much of a believer until I was caught up in the mass arrests on September 24th, until Troy Davis was murdered by the State of Georgia and I felt the connection in my body, until more people came down and gave it legs. But now it’s real. The rush of rapidly growing numbers, recognition from other political actors, and increasing popular support and media acclaim is electric and overwhelming. It feels a bit like walking a tightrope.

I’m a leader, and people know it, but no one says it. It’s a strange feeling. I’m not the only leader, of course — there are many. In this room, we’re a wide range of people. Some of the folks go back to the Global Justice Movement, but most of us have met in the middle of the whirlwind, building the kinds of relationships you can only build in crisis or struggle. Some of the room is seasoned and experienced, some very new to this type of thing, but all of us have demonstrated leadership early on (some before the thing even really started) and come in with lots of relationships. Between us we lead a number of working groups, drive some of the major mass actions, play formative roles in much of the media being pumped out, and more.

The meetings are closed, and we all feel kind of bad about it, although this is another thing we don’t talk about often. There isn’t much coherence to how we ended up here in the first place — one person invited a few over and the next invited a couple and so on, until the room was full. It was as arbitrary a time to stop inviting people as any, but this is how things often happen in movement moments. We justify the boundary by reminding ourselves that we are certainly not the only collection of people meeting like this — there are many affinity groups and other kinds of formations — and that we are here to plan and strategize, not to make decisions.

But we also know that there are a lot of movers and shakers in the room, and that this affords us a disproportionate ability to move things through the rest of Occupy. We know the age-old pitfalls of people making plans in closed off rooms, and it’s not lost on us that — while this space is also led by some of the most powerful women and folks of color in the movement — most of us are white, middle class, and male. If someone had asked any one of us directly, we’d likely have agreed that, collectively, we have quite a bit of power and aren’t being held accountable to it.

But for the most part, we keep that nagging feeling under wraps, so we can continue the work. There is a confidence we seem to share that we are filling a void, meeting a real need, putting everything we have on the line to keep momentum going. We seem to agree, even if quietly, that movements don’t exist without leadership, that the general assembly has been more performance art than decision-making forum since the first couple of weeks, that leaderlessness is a myth, that we need a place to have sensitive discussions hopefully out of reach of the surveillance state. And in truth we know our jobs aren’t glamorous by any stretch of the imagination; after all, a good deal of the efforts of the folks in the room are aimed at getting occupiers port-o-potties and stopping the incessant drumming.

We know we’re breaking the rules, but for the most part we conclude that it must be done. And besides, we’ve broken the rules our whole lives — it’s how we ended up here.

Torn at the Seams

It wasn’t too long before it came crashing down. It got cold, the cops came, the encampments were evicted, and momentum died down, as is to be expected. This is the story we tell, and it has some truth in it, but those of us who were on the inside know there was more to it than that.

Truth is, we hadn’t planned that far ahead. Probably because not many of us thought it was going to work. As the folks at Ayni’s Momentum trainings will tell you, all movements have a DNA, whether it’s intentional or not. When movements take off and decentralize, they spread whatever their original DNA is, and while it’s possible to adjust it as it goes, it’s sort of like swimming against a tide. Our DNA was a mixed bag. The title had the tactic (Occupy) and the target (Wall Street) baked into it, the 99% frame demonstrated some level of shared radical politics, and the assemblies represented a commitment (an obsession, perhaps) to direct democracy. But we didn’t have too much more than that. As Occupy grew and spread, its DNA evolved to its natural conclusions: On one hand, a real critique of capitalism, powerful mass-based direct action, a public display of democracy. On the other hand, an infatuation with public space, a confusion of tactic for strategy, a palpable disdain for people who weren’t radical, and fantasies about leaderlessness. And then there were the questions we had never answered at all, which were begging to be explained now that we were growing: How would this transform into something long-term? Who were we trying to move? What were we trying to win?

But there’s more to it than that too. There was, alongside the external pressures of growth and definition, an internal power struggle, as there so often is in moments like this.

It happened in many circles of Occupy, and it happened to the group I was a part of, too, in that Lower East Side apartment. Some of the folks in the group got frustrated, and pulled away. They accused the rest of us of being liberals (this was a curse-word), said we were co-opting the movement for the unions, claimed that even meeting like this was a violation of the principles of the movement. Those claims were false, but they were hard to argue with, because most of us were already feeling guilty for being in closed off rooms. So we shrunk. Sort of like when an over-zealous white “ally” trips over other white folks to call out an example of racism; the first to call it out sits back smugly, having taken the moral high ground and pointed a finger at the others, and then the rest clench their jaws and stare at the floor guiltily, hoping the storm passes over them.

We tried to stop the split. We slowed down. We spent time trying to figure out what the right thing to do was. We tried to be honest about how much of this had to do with differences in politics and how much of it was really just ego on all sides. Some of us tried to reach across the aisle, to mend broken relationships. But in the meantime, the folks who had taken the moral high ground had begun building a separate group. That split happened in October in that living room on the Lower East Side, perhaps in other circles in the movement around the same time; by November it was playing out in the movement more broadly, until in December there were distinctly different tendencies offering different directions to the movement as a whole. It would be overly simplistic to trace the overall conflict inside the belly of Occupy Wall Street to the dissolution of this one group or even to in-fighting more broadly, but at the same time, it was a significant factor. All movements develop mechanisms for leadership and coordination, whether formal or informal, and they suffer real setbacks when those systems collapse.

Of course, in the midst of the squabbling and the confusion about our direction, the state came crashing down on us. We became a real threat and the men in suits and uniforms who make decisions about these sorts of things realized that that the benefit of being rid of us outweighed the negative press they would get for the state violence necessary to do it. They were right. The mayors got on conference calls to coordinate. The newspapers turned on us. They dragged us out of parks and squares all over the country, arrested thousands of people. We did our best, but we weren’t organized, disciplined, or grounded in communities enough to stop it in the end. Ultimately, we weren’t powerful enough. Without the park, we were rootless. It got cold. We had no way to huddle together, to learn from what had happened, to support one another through what had become an existential crisis. We met in union offices instead of public squares, and the organizing core shrunk. We went from actions in which the whole base participated to projects different collectives tried to drive on their own, and ultimately, that dwindled too. By the following summer, the true believers who insisted that Occupy was still going strong had become an endangered species.

But the truth is, it wasn’t the state, or the cold, or the media. The real problem underneath it all was a deep ambivalence about power. In fact, all of the things that made Occupy Wall Street brilliant had this paradox built into them, this politic of powerlessness woven deep inside, like a bad gene or a self-destruct mechanism.

For example, the mantra of leaderlessness came from a genuine desire to avoid classic pitfalls into hierarchy, but it was, at the same time, a farce, and divorced from any sense of collective structure or care for group culture. It foreclosed on the possibility of holding emerging leaders accountable, created a situation in which real leaders (whether worthy or not) went to the shadows instead of the square, and made it impossible to really develop one another (how, really, could we train new leaders if there weren’t supposed to be any in the first place?). Similarly, the refusal to articulate demands was brilliant in opening radical possibilities and sparking the popular imagination, but it also meant we didn’t have a shared goal, meant the word winning wasn’t even part of the movement’s lexicon. In many ways, it was an expression of a fear of actually saying something and taking responsibility for it, and it encouraged the often-repeated delusion that we didn’t even want anything our enemy had to give, that Wall Street and the State didn’t have any power over us. The vigilance against co-option came from honest history of movements falling prey to powerful forces hoping to dull or divert their aims; but it ultimately became a paranoia more than anything else, a tragic misunderstanding of the playing field and what it was going to take to build popular power. Instead of welcoming other progressive forces and actually co-opting them, purists shamed “liberals,” cultivated a radical macho culture more focused on big speeches at assemblies and arrests in the streets than the hard organizing behind the scenes, and turned Occupy into a fringe identity that only a few people could really claim to the exclusion of the hundreds of thousands who actually made it real.

Occupy Wall Street created a new discourse, brought thousands of people into the movement, shifted the landscape of the left, and even facilitated concrete victories for working people. But at the same time, a substantial chunk of its leadership was allergic to power. And we made a politic of that. We fetishized it, wrote articles and books about it, scorned the public with it. Worst of all, we used it as a cudgel with which to bludgeon each other.

Sure, the cops came for us — we invited them, after all. But we were the problem: When the state tugged hard enough, we tore at the seams.

The People Went Home

I spent years being angry about it. I was angry at the people who had attacked the group I was part of from the inside, the people who bullied me into giving up every piece of leverage I had by making me feel like I didn’t have the right to organize the folks I had access to, who punished me every time I was quoted or interviewed, who came to the meetings I facilitated and intentionally disrupted them. The stories are too long and too many to recount here, and anyone who was in the middle of it has their own share of war stories too.

But more than anyone else, I was angry at myself for letting it happen. I spent months waking up in the middle of the night, replaying the different moments I had capitulated to cool kids and given up real opportunities to grow the movement out of fear that I’d be iced out if I didn’t. And the truth is, I had no excuse. I had already learned this important lesson at the New School in 2008 when a couple hundred of us occupied a building to get a war criminal thrown off the board, win back student space, and push forward student self-governance and responsible investment: Bad politics don’t go away on their own, you actually have to fight them.

Maybe it’s counter-intuitive, and it’s certainly unpleasant, but it’s true. In those moments, when we refuse to engage in these fights because they feel childish and below the belt, we forget that the majority of people are standing in the middle, wondering what the hell is going on and looking for people they can trust. When those of us who are thinking about power and trying to grow the base don’t step up to that challenge, the folks in the middle assume that the people bringing in toxicity are the leadership, and they don’t want to have anything to do with it. They find no other voices providing leadership they can feel a part of. So they go home.

And that’s kind of what happened. The state upped the ante, raised the heat on us. Shit got ugly, and directionless, and toxic. The self-destruct mechanisms went off, the politics of powerlessness played out to their logical conclusions. The folks best equipped to offer leadership in that moment didn’t step up. So everyone went home.

And as I think back on the mistakes I made — among them, this grand mistake of shrinking from the responsibilities of leadership, however personally costly — I can’t help but feel a little bit ashamed. We did a tremendous amount. But we could have done more. We could have lasted longer, brought more people into the movement, established more powerful institutions, won more material gains. If we understand the prison industrial complex and climate change and wealth inequality and the foreclosure crisis as hard and tangible threats to people’s literal survival, then we have to see, with equal clarity, that our movements are nothing short of an attempt to save lives. And we could have saved more lives.

The Politics of Powerlessness

Many of us left that moment bitter, depressed, heart-broken. Some of that is predictable, maybe, on the downward spiral from such a high. Some of it was the product of a lot of young folks experiencing their first tastes of movement and thinking the result was going to be a revolution. But some of it was specific to this toxicity, the sudden snapping of this unbelievable tight rope we had been racing across.

From there, I went wandering. I bumped straight into the movement’s social media call-out culture, where people demonstrate how radical they are by destroying one another. It felt like walking into a high school locker room. In this universe, we insist on perfect politics and perfect language, to the exclusion of experimentation, learning, or constructive critique. We wear our outsiderness as a badge of pride, knowing that saying the right thing trumps doing anything at all. No one is ever good enough for us — not progressive celebrities who don’t get the whole picture, not your Facebook friend who doesn’t quite get why we say Black Lives Matter instead of All Lives Matter, not your cousin who mourned the deaths in Paris without saying an equal number of words about those in Beirut. Instead of organizing these people, we attack them. We tear down rather than teach each other, and pick apart instead of building on top of what we have.

And of course, the politic of powerlessness doesn’t only live on social media, but in our organizing spaces as well — and it’s in the realm of identity that so much of the battle takes place. We confuse systems like white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism with individuals we can use as stand-ins for them. We use the inevitable fuck-ups of our potential partners as validation that we should stay in our bunkers with the handful of people who make us feel safe instead of getting dirty in the trenches. We imagine identity as static and permanent, instead of remembering that all of us — to borrow terminology from organizations like Training for Change — have experiences of marginalization that can help us support one another, and experiences of being in the mainstream that can help us understand the people we want to shift. We forget that, while identity gives us clues and reveals patterns, it doesn’t fully explain our behavior, and it certainly doesn’t determine it. We abandon the truth that people can transform, that ultimately we all — oppressed and potential oppressors alike (if such simplistic frames should even be entertained) — can and must choose sides. So we shirk this ultimate responsibility we have as organizers: To support people in making the hard and scary choices to be on the side of freedom. In all of this commotion, we turn inward. We forget the enemy outside, and find enemies in the room instead, make enemies of one another.

And here, just as from Occupy Wall Street, the vast majority of people — those great many on whom this system relies and the very same ones we will need to organize to make it come to a screeching halt — grow tired. So they go home. And we lose.

Compassion and Curiosity on the way to Power

It’s October of 2013, brisk and breezy, with the leaves changing in dramatic colors. I’m in a Mexican restaurant in Minneapolis with organizers from Occupy Homes — the same folks now part of the leadership of Black Lives Matter MN. We’re debriefing the retreat a couple of us just held for them as part of the Wildfire Project. Wildfire supports new, radical groups emerging from movement moments with long-term training and support, and connects them to one another to help them become greater than the sum of their parts. We’re tired from a big weekend, and I’m getting feedback on my facilitation.

The organizers tell me to step up. They notice that in the training, I didn’t tell my story, shared very little of my experience at Occupy or elsewhere even when directly relevant, evaded every opportunity to offer opinions on their strategic plan even when asked, deferred to the group on everything. They say they know I have more to offer, that they asked me to come here because they trusted me, that they demand that I bring more of myself next month. They want to invest in me, they explain, because they need me to be my most powerful self so I can support their members in that same transformation, and so I can go out and help build a powerful network for them to be a part of.

The feedback makes me a bit blurry. I can’t remember the last time anyone told me they wanted me to be powerful. I’m a straight, white, class-comfortable male in the North Eastern United States, certainly not part of the groups most impacted by the systems we are fighting. I’ve spent the past few years duking it out with the voices in my head — on one hand knowing I have something to offer in this important moment, and on the other hand internalizing deep shame about where I come from and guilt over the mistakes I’ve made along the way as a result. In the midst of those mistakes and in the face of a movement culture that seemed to see me as a threat, I internalized the message that the best thing I could do for the movement was to mitigate the damage I’ve done by existing — that my job, really, was to disappear. There are historical reasons for this dilemma, and current reasons that our movements have adopted these knee-jerk responses to what it perceives as power or privilege. But in the end, the impact was that it made me less effective, whether as an ally to other oppressed people, a leader in Occupy, or a facilitator with Wildfire. This is part of the politics of powerlessness, I think to myself as I sit in this restaurant booth in Minneapolis, and it has found its way into my bones.

But the demand to become powerful comes from the folks to whom I am most accountable — heroes who are defending themselves from foreclosure, occupying already-foreclosed houses to keep people off the street, taking over local political offices to try to use eminent domain to take back people’s homes, and asking Wildfire for support — so it feels different this time. I go home to New York and I do the work. I go through all sorts of transformative processes to remember where I come from, to try to understand the conditions that made me internalize those self-sabotaging politics. I find partners who want to win more than they want to be right, who forgive me and help me forgive myself, who invest their time and love and energy in me while holding me accountable and demanding I do the same for them. I re-commit to using everything I’ve been given in the service of the movement.

Along the way, I start to internalize wisdom taught me by a mentor and coach from Generative Somatics, an organization that fuses emotional healing, physical practice, and radical politics: People do what they must to survive. Our behaviors — even the self-sabotaging ones — are our bodies’ responses to threat. Our instincts are clumsy at times, and they often cut us off from our better options, but credit where credit is due: these instincts, at some points, probably saved our lives. Instead of hating those traits so much, we might be better off tipping our hat to them, thanking them for the safety they have provided us, and letting them know that we don’t need them anymore — that we want to practice something new instead. It doesn’t mean excusing bad behavior in ourselves or the movement; it means understanding where it comes from for the sake of changing it.

This is our task as organizers and revolutionaries: to become our most powerful selves and supporting the whole movement in that same transformation. In the service of that goal, my anger thaws into compassion and my self-righteousness becomes curiosity, and it’s with this lens that I start to look at the movement with fresh eyes. I wonder what really caused the implosions at Occupy in the first place, and why those behaviors persist across the Left. I start to try to figure out where the politics of powerlessness come from, what needs they meet for us. And as I dig below the surface, I can’t help but notice the shifts that the Black folks rising up across this country have already offered the movement; so many enormous contributions in the struggle for freedom, but even something as small as hats that say power on them are a challenge to the politics of powerlessness, a reflection of our ability to make and practice new rules for ourselves as we transform.

Undoing the Politics of Powerlessness

Today, when I think about the politics of powerlessness, it feels clear as day to me that the source of all of it is fear. Fear of leaders, of the enemy, of the possibility of having to govern, of the stakes of winning and losing, of each other, of ourselves. And it’s all pretty understandable.

We call each other out and push one another out of the movement, because we are desperate to cling to the little slivers of belonging we’ve found in the movement, and are full of scarcity — convinced that there isn’t enough of anything to go around (money, people, power, even love). We eat ourselves alive and attack our own leaders because we’ve been hurt and misled all our lives and can’t bear for it to happen again on our watch. We race to prove we are the least privileged, because this is the only way we can imagine being powerful. We turn our backs on people who don’t get it, because organizing them will not only be hard but also painful, because we will have to give up some of our victimhood to do it, because it will mean being vulnerable to the world we came to the movement to escape. Our ego battles are a natural product of a movement that doesn’t have a clear answer for how leadership is to be appreciated and held accountable at the same time. Our inability to celebrate small victories is a defense from having to believe that winning is even possible — a way to avoid the heartbreak of loss when it comes.

And perhaps most importantly: Our tendency to make enemies of each other is driven by a deep fear of the real enemy, a paralyzing hopelessness about our possibilities of winning. After all, whether we admit it or not, we spend quite a lot of our time not believing we can really win. And if we’re not going to win, we might as well just be awesome instead. If we’re not going to win, we’re better off creating spaces that suit our cultural and political tastes, building relationships that validate our non-conformist aesthetic, surrendering the struggle over the future in exchange for a small island over which we can reign.

The politics of powerlessness is a defense mechanism, meant to protect us from our worst fears. And as I’ve been learning, it never works to hate one’s defenses, to bang our heads against them, to bend them into submission. No, the way we change is by really getting curious about their source, and trying to address their root causes. Of course we’re afraid. Fear is a totally grounded response to what is happening around us. We need to sit with that. And we need to find new practices for dealing with our fears, because in the end, those hard truths are precisely the reason we need to do away with the politic of powerlessness.

This defense mechanism, which may have saved our collective lives somewhere along the way, has outlived its usefulness. It has become a barrier to the success of the movements being born around us, the flourishing of our people, the world we want to win. We are standing against a series of crises one more terrifying than the next, stemming from systems more towering than ever before, guided by people who are happy to kill many of us to preserve their wealth. If we don’t get powerful soon, we’re going to lose. And in this case, losing means not only the immense oppression, exploitation, and repression this system guarantees; it also means the extinction of our species. Challenging the politics of powerlessness and replacing it with something that can win is not an academic question; it is truly a matter of life or death. We had better get our shit together, and quick.

We need to replace judgment and self-righteousness with curiosity and compassion. Those are the tools that will help us support each other in the face of the crises ahead, and they are the qualities we will need in order to truly understand the very many people we still need to organize. They will help us become facilitators instead of polemicists, teach us to build instead of tear apart. Flexing these new muscles, we must convert a politic that punishes imperfection into one that uses everything at its fingertips to win — that compels each and every one of us to turn our gifts into weapons for the sake of freedom. We need to build groups — collectives, organizations, affinity groups, whatever — because groups are what keep us in the movement, they’re what keep movement moments going, where we transform, how we fight, and the best way to hold each other accountable to the long struggle for liberation. We need to win small victories that open up space for bigger ones, and we must celebrate them, because that’s the best inoculation against a politic based in fear that nothing is winnable. We have to develop powerful visions for the world we want, so we can put those small victories inside a broader strategy that strikes at the roots of the systems we face. We must all engage in the hard and transformational work to become our most powerful selves; after all, it is truly the only way we even stand a chance.

Honoring Fear

I’m at a retreat center in Florida, at the first ever Wildfire National Convening, with 80 members of organizations from all over the country: folks from Ohio Student AssociationDream DefendersGetEQUAL,Rockaway Wildfire, and the Occupy Homes groups in Atlanta and Minneapolis. It’s the first night, and the organizations are performing skits that explain their origin stories. It’s Rockaway Wildfire’s turn — a group that formed in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, merging the relief effort with organizing in Far Rockaway, Queens. Out there, floods fell on top of broken schools, impoverished projects, and a population that was drastically underemployed and over-policed. The folks in the Rockaways were losing their homes to foreclosure before the floods wrecked them, losing their sons to prisons long before the storm came to displace them.

The skit begins, the lights go down. We hear the pounding of feet against the floor, which sounds unmistakably like heavy rain. And then a chorus of howling that sounds like the violent wind that battered the New York area that October in 2012. Then heart-wrenching wailing, like a child crying. Pounding and howling and wailing that get more and more intense like an orchestra building up to its crescendo. Suddenly, I’m crying. The sounds catapult me back to the hurricane, but also to the fear I carry with me of the many more hurricanes surely on the way, and the children and parents and friends we will have to protect when they come. Suddenly the sounds come to a crashing halt, the lights go up, dimly, and I realize most of the other people in the room are weeping too. There is silence, the kind of hanging stillness you stumble on rarely, when a room full of people dedicated to the struggle are all quietly reckoning with the fear we carry in us every day and the doubts we have about whether we can do what must be done. Then one of the actors breaks the silence with the last line of the play, delivered soothingly to her child, as if she has read the minds of the 80 fighters gathered here: “Don’t worry, baby, don’t worry. We’ll be alright. Momma’s gonna start a revolution.”

The fear is real — palpable and also grounded. In addition to good organizing, it will take some small miracles to win the world we all deserve. It’s better to acknowledge that than to try to bury it. At least it’s honest. And who knows, maybe there is something about fear that — when we turn and face it — can be grounding instead of handicapping, can help us sit in the stakes rather than live in denial, can compel us to take the risks we need to take rather than to hide, can drive us to be the biggest we can be instead of shrinking. Or at least, that’s my hope.

And when I’m in doubt, I remember the most important lesson I learned at Occupy Wall Street: We don’t know shit. The secret truth is that Occupy Wall Street wasn’t supposed to work. But it did. It created a whole new world of possibility. That possibility is here — we can feel it in the very heart of the movements being born around us. And we have been invited; the only question, now, is whether we will rise to the challenge.

Article source: http://www.rawstory.com/2015/12/revealed-the-inside-story-on-what-really-caused-the-occupy-wall-street-movement-to-collapse/