When The Nation assigned me to do a story about questions of violence and nonviolence at Occupy Wall Street early last month, I had no idea how much the subject would explode. Occupy Oakland’s “Move-In Day” on January 28 and a subsequent article by Chris Hedges (as well as some heated discussions on my articles at Waging Nonviolence in between) triggered a national identity crisis in the movement. I followed the controversy as it played out in the OWS Direct Action Working Group, one of the movement’s most active and radical corners during the relatively quiet winter. Over the course of the month, I found yet another example of what “diversity of tactics” really means for Occupy Wall Street — the overcoming of challenges through raw creativity. In particular, I wrote about the birth of a new undertaking called the + Brigades:
The urge for this first came from a frustration with the same old tactics that Natasha Singh had been feeling for a while. “The marches were pointless,” she says. Then, just after the incident in Oakland, her friend and artistic collaborator Amin Husain returned from a World Social Forum meeting in Brazil, where he learned about the Chilean student movement’s creative tactics. He wanted to bring some of that home. The two of them recruited others and settled on a name: “+ Brigades.” They scoured photographs of movements through history at the New York Public Library. The goal, says Husain, is “addition and supplement rather than negation, opposition and subtraction.” Thus their answer to all the worry about black blocs: create blocs of your own.
Husain, who with Singh was one of the earliest OWS organizers, took part in the first intifada as a teenager in the West Bank. But he identifies neither with principled nonviolence nor, for instance, anarchism. The movement’s problem, he and Singh thought, wasn’t a matter of violence or not; it was a lack of imagination. There was too small a repertoire.
“Don’t negate the things you don’t like,” said Austin Guest at that inaugural + Brigades meeting in the church basement. “Add the things you do, so we can get a real diversity of tactics.”
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Copyright 2012 Waging Nonviolence