Leaving the Shore: Reflections on a Night with Alice Walker, Ali Abunimah and Historic Occupy Wall Street Protests

I had to admit, it was hard to shift gears for the Alice Walker/Ali Abunimah talk yesterday. Just a few hours earlier, the Occupy Wall Street protests were hitting their apogee, where I’m told some 15 to 50 thousand people took to the streets in numbers so great that they swelled at the seams and burst into the streets at times, challenging the right of the city and police to control popular expression. I’m obviously passionate about Palestine to put it mildly, but it seemed somehow anti-climactic to sit down for a political conversation.

At its heart, that feeling was a reaction to the segmentation of issues that infects our political discourse. We seem to organize ourselves into movements on the left that are under the same umbrella, but tend to take us in different directions on the ground. During the question and answer period last night, one young woman asked the question, that for myself, has always echoed—that the nationalism that sometimes permeates the movement for justice for Palestinians seems often at odds with our other political viewpoints.  And during a current moment that asks us to look inward for lack of a visible discourse on war and globalization, its difficult to feel equally passionate about both issues of foreign policy and domestic economics.

But the speakers wove a theme for their talk last night that framed many of the events intersecting our political lives right now and that I’m happy to disseminate. It began with Walker’s description of the frustrated attempts to leave Greece with the Freedom Flotilla, and her interactions with both her comrades and the Greek military assigned to turn them back not far from the dock. Of course, this was a failure to break the siege, but at the same time, an important aspect was leaving the shore: of what is comfortable, known and safe. Leaving the shore means leaving behind ideas and paradigms that haven’t worked. Two state solutions led by institutional actors and leaders haven’t worked. Electoral politics led by organizations and politicians to change our nations haven’t worked. Timid progressive protests haven’t worked.

Leaving the shore of comfortable and traditional activism is a movement all by itself, as the wildfire success of OWS shows.  The movement is a preamble that carries an embedded message that can’t be ignored or misunderstood, no matter the attempts by some in the media and halls of power:  ‘we exist and we resist’, as Abunimah put it so aptly. Where we take it from there, really is an issue between us and the ocean and which we’ll have to face soon enough, lest we simply become a reiteration of J14. That’s to come, but for the moment, there’s much to be hopeful about.

The presentations from both Walker and Abunimah are really worth listening to. Ali also gave a great presentation on BDS/Pro-Palestinian activism and the increasingly frenetic reaction to it. I made a pretty decent recording of it all, which is available here in either streaming or downloadable form.

 

Comments

I was there at the talk last night (sitting next to you, actually). I agree, it was a great talk. I just want to point out that part of the "leaving the shore" theme was that, even if you know that you probably will not arrive at your destination, it is important to try, and to keep trying. In other words, that it is important to "leave the shore" of complacency, and to do something, anything, to say, "we exist, we resist" even if you know that it will not accomplish all the change you wish to see in that one attempt.