Message from the Sarah Stookey
I write this from a hotel room in Orlando, Florida where I’ve come for a management conference. Below me and across the street in a small park a group has been gathering for almost two weeks under the banner of “Occupy Orlando”. A sign announced that the General Assembly would be meeting this evening so I went. General Assemblies are the deliberative and decision-making body of the Occupy movement. Guiding principles and suggested practices refer to this year’s Commission for Group Dynamics in Assemblies of the Puerta del Sol Protest Camp (Madrid). Because it is damp this evening’s General Assembly occurs next to the park, under the overhang of the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce. Someone notifies everyone that the Chamber of Commerce has just recently posted signs warning that occupation of the space after 7pm constitutes trespassing and is cause for arrest, “indefinitely”. As he says, “I’m not telling you what to do, just sharing information”. As it is, every night the occupation has to move its considerable equipment to a three foot-wide strip of grass between the street and the sidewalk where people sleep and talk in a long line.
The group of 30 or so people is a mix of people who generally live on the streets, university students, community organizers, activists. People raise their hands to speak on a variety of topics: the appropriate role of the functional work groups charged with food, media, etc. There’s a few minutes of discussion about how the benefits of organizing structure coexist with the need for individual initiative and expression. As someone says, “If you have a passion act on it and if people want to follow they will”. The importance of developing self-sufficiency (a woman suggests planting seeds in wagons). Someone reports on her visit to the Wall Street Occupation and shares that group’s experience of having the media call into question how donations are used; it’s important to be completely transparent. There’s a call to encourage musicians and artists to come. A call to organize teach-ins. An update on the status of the website. Agreement or support is communicated by silent snapping of fingers. The meeting is an impressive performance of organizational coordination and participation. Some of the people I’d talked with before the Assembly asked me to say a few words about the Occupation movement in Massachusetts where I live. I was not eloquent. I didn’t feel as if I had much of anything useful to say to this group, except “Thank you”.
As critical management academics we study and write about organization and organizing to reveal and disentangle mechanisms of oppression and illuminate alternatives. As teachers we encourage our students to evaluate norms and practices in terms of effects on individual and collective expression and wellbeing. As individuals some of us are connected to social or labor movements and our immersion in CMS may guide us in those roles. But I worry about the depth and breadth of the space between our academic work and the needs of the people and communities and around us. The modes we tend to work in are not – and here I’m going way out on a limb – generally useful to the people who occupy squares and parks and streets around the world. One constraint is that the basis of our shared identity is professional: we differ in terms of ideology, ontology and interest but we are (virtually all of us) professional academics. Our most familiar ways of acting and speaking and producing can easily create a wall between us and the people in the plaza who are using blue plastic, Facebook and their bodies to such powerful effect.
Each of us weaves CMS and our academic work into our political and social lives in different ways. We balance theory and practice and wage-earning and activism and family and geography and it’s a challenge to make it work. We participate – as I am - in conferences in the embrace of the business establishment and blessed by the Chamber of Commerce. Contradictions are inevitable. But for me, it’s become increasingly clear over the years that the vitality of CMS comes – for me – from its ability to learn from, disseminate work by, contribute to and support resistance and organizing. The folks across the street here in Orlando give me hope, humble me and spur me to try to do that better.
Central Connecticut State University
Posted: October 28, 2011