This dispatch is being written from the observation deck of the Amtrak California Zephyr line. The train is meandering alongside the Colorado river as it snakes, semi-frozen, through the soft undulating peaks of the snow covered Rocky Mountains. The hillside powdered white with the earth and brush speckling it in greens and rusty shades of red. It is a beautiful sight. Moments previously, a bald eagle, an ever iconic exhortation to the American democratic ideal, began to fly alongside the train.

Yesterday in Denver the towns Occupy group held a forum to discuss the future direction of the movement there, as the people try to regain ground lost to the corporate erosion of American democracy. Between seventy and eighty people attended, with a live web-stream broadcasting events and three more people participating via Skype. The group was almost entirely white and a majority, going by a rough head count, were aged between twenty-five and thirty-five. The core of the Denver movement, who have been active consistently since it began last October numbered between ten and twenty people.

There was an admirable attempt at a completely inclusive, democratic process. No preference in allocation of time or merit was given to the more active members of the movement. There was clearly a small group far more active in participating who led the discussion, as would be expected. The majority of the scheduled agenda, two thirds in fact, was given over to issues of organisational structure and how to improve coordination, communication, and decision making.

The process of developing structure for the movement, whilst maintaining a leaderless democratic ethic, is clearly a slow one. The meeting was scheduled to take six hours and many people did not last the course. (I must confess that I did not either, but returned to check the video stream, after watching god bless Tim Tebow in his significant work one more time.) The nature of such intricate, and perhaps bureaucratic, fine detail has far more relevance to those members struggling to hold together and move forward this idealistic process than the people attracted from the street by the discussion of issues that affect them. Whilst it may be nice that people care, politicians obviously don’t, as yet Occupy is offering no answers on how to get people jobs. At best, it currently aspires to be a pressure group, so it seems, although I would imagine participants might talk of loftier goals for some indeterminate point in the future.

I personally think that the work being carried out by the Occupy movement is to be praised. It is an attempt to bring people back together, to mobilise politically, and to defend the right to be represented of those currently suffering needlessly in the world’s richest countries out of simple neglect and pure spite all inspired by greed. That said, to see this taking place is also a reminder of how far back the social forces of compassion and fairness have been beaten.

That the most basic elements of working class coordination, class consciousness, and political organisation are being built ground up and largely in isolation is a testament to the successes of business interests. Trade unions are almost extinct and emasculated where they do exist. The church serves mainstream politics more as a wellspring of bigotry and jingoism than anything jesus might have endorsed. Alternative political parties with an economic alternative challenging vested interests, such as the communists, were persecuted out of existence long ago.

At the Denver meeting there were visiting members of other Occupy groups. There were also local people who had travelled to New York to learn from what was being done there. Local institutions are being developed whilst working within and benefitting from a national framework. Hopefully, this will lay the groundwork in the future for coordinated action that will then attract a growing number of supporters and participators, as the movement can show results and gain legitimacy. In the short-term though, there is clearly a delicate balance between this sort of planning and waiting, and maintaining the energy that bought the movement to national recognition.

The Denver Occupy lists twenty-one committees and five working groups, alongside the general assembly meetings that form the decision making body of the group. This has meant that, without sufficient numbers to staff these groups, a few people appear on multiple committees, inevitably slowing the work of each. Even from the regular members there were comments that the time being spent debating the difference between the functions of a working group and a committee was semantic. There was also evidently a long-running theme over whether the group could be referred to as an organisation or not. Resolving these disputes probably doesn’t rank as an achievement, when they do.

Much of this did bring to mind the protestation encountered on the street in Chicago that until one thing could be done properly, it was pointless to try and tackle over twenty different issues, each through its own working group. Perhaps especially so when the groups are often staffed by the same people. Ultimately, nothing concrete was decided at the meeting, decisions can only be made by a vote in assembly by those people attending on that day. Numbers dwindled through the meeting and it was easy to see how some people would be put off by the preponderance of discussion, all heavily laced with stylistic flourishes like breathing exercises to maintain peoples clarity and respect, and signals called ‘spirit fingers’.

I spoke to Craig at the start of the meeting. He had been in Denver for eight days, having moved down from Ohio in search of better job opportunities. (I spoke to several beggars who had followed the same path.) He said that for the first time in his life he had found himself living in a homeless shelter. He had visited the site actually being occupied, but been turned off by the fact that now the only people left were the terminal homeless who had coalesced there. A young lady, Liberty she called herself – I’m not sure if that was her real name – said that the camp had been raided six times since October, often violently and that tents were now banned by the city. In the harsh Colorado winter no one who had a choice was any longer staying on the street, so occupy now meant a community of drunks and drug addicts often too apathetic to hold the signs they had, so said Craig. Matt, another keen participant in laptop meetings, suggested that he get out and hold a sign then; there is an undertone of superiority, quite possibly justified, from those people who dedicate the most time to the group.

Seeing some of the difficulties being faced by the Occupy movement internally reminded me of reading about the civil rights movement of the 1960′s, which is not to conflate them at all, beyond being movements for social justice, on very different scales. Eventually the civil rights movement exhausted the formal concessions that power would allow it, (Occupy has yet to achieve any) as well as the patience of its base. The fracture between the more radical element and the more political – in the tactical sense – old guard saw the latter fade from prominence and the former violently repressed. Ultimately change ceased and everything that the former slaves would be given was had. To this day there remains a historic and economic injustice that is brutally tough to overcome. The eloquent, prep-school and Harvard educated president of foreign wealth is not an example of this long route to equality.

The other correlation, as I perceived it, and perhaps far more instructive for the future, was the movements stage of development. The literature on the black civil rights movement is always at pains to highlight the crucial and essential role in the successes of the 60′s played by the organisers in the decade preceding it. It was the people who worked under threat, often made good, of death that constructed the bonds in the black community in the south that enabled them to mobilise on mass, overnight when needed, to protest injustice, as happened in Montgomery bus boycott, for example. It seems that Occupy is beginning this process now.

This is essential work if change is ever to come about. The past is a clear guide that concessions will not come without struggle. However, it does also highlight the sort of time frame that seems realistic for the groups work. Occupy will have no representation in next years election, people on the street, thankfully, all rejected voting Democrat as a more useful step than bending over and asking for another hard fucking. The green party is the closest party at present to their platform, but as yet I have seen no coordination between them and clearly the priorities of the green party, whilst desirable, are not the movements own focus. With the current trend towards ever greater sums of money, now corporate also, in the American political system, it is hard to see Occupy garnering many votes four years further forward either. Things can change quickly, but it seems that a party even being formed is still a long way off.

Still, the one quite tangible and significant achievement of the movement has been to establish a common ground that can be identified by people in a culture that promotes alienation. That people such as Craig continue to arrive, hopeful, indignant, and without illusion that either political party will help them, there remains a strong base of support to draw on. Certainly, channeling the energy of the base into action will be as significant a part of Occupy’s future as structural procedure. Next stop San Francisco.

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