International Solidarity and Occupy Wall Street

By Isham Christie

Since the brutal eviction of Occupy Wall Street’s encampment at Liberty Plaza, questions about the future of the movement loom large. The Occupy Movement’s rapid development was two months of near constant actions, arrests, and activity. What we built in those two months from Sept. 17th to Nov. 17th is now transitioning into long-term movement. One important way that plays out is creating coordination between all the different occupations. Because the Occupy Movement spans the globe (including Japan, Pakistan, South Korea, Brazil, Canada, etc) a strong sense of international solidarity is beginning to emerge. And it is these political and personal bonds that are laying the basis for a transformation of global solidarity and anti-war work.

Most of the participants of Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Movement were deeply inspired by the Arab Spring. The military aid given to the Egyptian army by the US sheds light on US imperialism, particularly for the newly politicized. The deep support of the Egyptian movement makes US military aid all the more enraging. And real lines of solidarity are being built between OWS and Egypt by way of personal connections, letters of support, and coordinated action between Occupy Wall Street and Egyptian activists in the US. The Occupy movement has faced its fair share of tear gas, so targeting the US-based company, Combined Systems Inc, whose teargas is being used on Egyptian protesters, has a strong connection.

The process of connecting international popular movements has achieved much in the last couple of months. Beginning to develop are avenues for global movement discussion, from internet based modes (takethesquare.net and occupytogether.org) to face-to-face global meetings. Early in November 2011 a People’s Forum was held in Nice, France. Described as a counter-summit to the G-20 in Cannes at the same time, those involved in popular struggle from all over the world were in attendance. People from Spain, Senegal, Greece, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel, Brussels, England, Italy, Portugal, Canada, Germany, and the US came to coordinate, protest, share, learn, and ultimately build a global movement for social change. A couple of Occupy Wall Street organizers, including myself, had the fortune of attending.

The highlight of the conference was two global general assemblies translated into French, Spanish, English, and Arabic. Each country gave brief updates on where the movement was in our respective countries. Despite local differences, a remarkable unity emerged at the global general assembly. We are all struggling for very similar objectives. What were the social problems that various movements were addressing? Sovereign debt, precarious work, unaffordable housing, privatization, austerity, war, unemployment, lack of real democracy, increasing education cost, and the harmful effect of banks on the lives of many. Sound familiar? The striking degree of common social problems across much of the world shows the problems we face are not a matter of a few cronies or bad politicians, but are systemic problems. This allows for a strong international movement; a global oppositional movement to break the logic of capital. The fault lines in global capitalism are surfacing.

The wide-spread failure of social and economic institutions to provide for people creates the ripe conditions for alternative institutions. Movements are increasingly focusing on building alternative institutions whose guiding values are based on equality, solidarity, and participation. The alternatives to capitalism are emerging from the movement, and global coordination means among other things, learning lessons from past and present experiences. These lessons guide both how we oppose current injustice and also how we build alternative institutions to change the conditions and quality of our lives. Mechanisms for international discussion help think collectively and globally on how to struggle and how to build. No longer are global revolution and alternatives to capitalism hallowed words, but a sense of collective power and resolve is being felt. The 1% have their summits, and so too are the 99%.

In just a couple of days, and in spite of language barriers, many important problems were addressed at the People’s Forum and useful tactics were shared. In our discussion with Indignados from Spain, we talked about their practice of taking a building to use the top half of floors for people who need homes and the bottom half for movement infrastructure. This model meets both the needs of the people and builds the infrastructure of the movement. We also learned the specifics of organizing long-distant marches from their experience before Oct. 15th marching from Spain to Brussels. Egyptians who participated in Tahrir Square gave us advice on maintaining safety and security in an open square, a reoccurring problem for open encampments. We spoke with people from Occupy London about process issues in general assemblies and the role that collective consensus and working group autonomy plays in the decisions of the movement. The role that unions, established organizations, and NGOs play is a reoccurring issue that was address here as well. And lastly, we spoke at length with Sorbonne students who were worried about starting an occupation in Paris in a week or so. I shared my initial anxiety before the start of Occupy Wall Street. In the discussion, their initial anxiety gave way to excitement at the possibility.

There are points in the struggle where pure solidarity gives way to mutual aid; where circuits of inspiration push the horizon of what is possible. Occupy Wall Street occurred in part because of the wave of inspiring social struggles from Tunisia, Egypt, Spain and elsewhere. And we are profoundly humbled and glad to help push the wave of inspiration back to the very same places that gave us hope. The People’s Summit in Nice shows that there is a global movement, that each city, nation, or region is not alone, but that we are all together, struggling for a better world. This work of international solidarity building is continuing. International solidarity working groups are emerging in encampments and movements around the US and the world. We are working towards building a global general assembly in Tunisia in late March of 2012. If the economic crisis is global, then so to is the resistance. And we will continue to coordinate, communicate, learn, and act as one. The movement is growing. It is becoming more coordinated. The resistance is global, and an international revolution is appearing in the horizon!