Notes from a peaceful protest

by Keith Barber

Around noon on Sunday, the intersection of South Stratford Road and Knollwood Street in Winston-Salem bustled with significantly more activity than usual. As motorists passed the100 to150 members of Occupy Winston-Salem — the independent, nonviolent, leaderless movement — engaged in a peaceful protest outside a Bank of America branch, it seemed as if three out of every four honked their horns, pumped their fists and spoke words of encouragement.

With each expression of support, the Occupy Winston-Salem demonstrators cheered loudly. What was happening along this suburban thoroughfare was something that has been sorely missing in our democracy: a true dialogue among citizens and real participation in the process. The event offered a rebuttal to the criticisms leveled at demonstrators participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the other “Occupy” movements it has spawned. Critics have consistently said the folks demonstrating in New York and around the globe don’t have a focus to their protest.

What became crystal clear Sunday afternoon is Occupy Winston-Salem is focused on fighting economic and social injustice. The group’s statement of purpose defines the reason for its existence.

“Occupy Winston-Salem stands in solidarity with our brothers and sisters across the globe as a non-violent, leaderless movement of Americans united to fight the corporate abuse of our democracy, and to take the reins of power away from profit-driven interests and assert our rightful place in the political process,” the statement reads. “We serve not only as a movement of protest, but as a means to liberate Americans from the shackles of corporate greed.”

Occupy Winston-Salem is inclusive of all citizens as “we are all suffering under the top-heavy power structure of the 1 percent,” according to the statement.

After three hours of picketing, the Occupy Winston- Salem members met at Miller Park Amphitheater for their second-ever general assembly meeting. Ashaya Hammond read the minutes from the group’s Oct. 8 meeting, including the group’s approval of non-violence principles.

The 11 non-violent principles adopted by the assembly include a declaration that no member of the group will carry a weapon of any kind, carry alcohol or illegal drugs, or vandalize or destroy property.

The non-violent principles also include a declaration to “protect those who oppose or disagree with us from insult or attack,” and not to “assault, verbally or physically, those who oppose or disagree with us, even if they assault us.”

Occupy Winston-Salem has adopted Martin Luther King, Jr.’s principles of nonviolence, which include a declaration of faith that the universe is on the side of justice and justice will eventually win. The group has also adopted the steps of nonviolence implemented by Martin Luther King, Jr. The first step is gathering information, followed by educating others, remaining committed, peacefully negotiating, taking action peacefully and, finally, reconciliation.

During the general assembly, democracy was present in its truest form.

Everyone’s opinions were thoughtfully considered during the session. As Occupy Winston-Salem members broke out into individual groups to focus on specific areas, the process of formulating a strategy got a bit bogged down by the fact that everyone offered their input and there was no designated leader. Despite the tedious nature of the process, what was revolutionary was the lack of a hierarchy among Occupy Winston-Salem members. All points of view were respected and listened to carefully.

Marcus Hodges, a group member, explained to newcomers how the consensus building process works with Occupy Winston-Salem. Hodges stated that a single member can block a group proposal by crossing their arms in the shape of an “X.” The member is then given an opportunity to explain their opposition. The resolution is either revised or passed or defeated by a majority vote.

A perfect example of the group’s parliamentary process came when Andrew Hobbs, a representative of the communications sub-group, proposed a resolution encouraging Occupy Winston-Salem members not to respond to provocative comments from opponents on the group’s website or facebook page. Nathan Welling said if the Occupy Winston-Salem criticizes its opponents, the group will begin to fracture.

One speaker suggested group members use a standard phrase, such as, “That is not appropriate for this discussion.” Hammond disagreed with the proposal, saying using such a phrase is oppressive and reminded the group of the non-violence principle that they will protect those who oppose or disagree with them. Another speaker suggested members use the phrase, “Thank you” in response to provocative comments. Terry Smith re-introduced Hobbs’s motion to simply not respond to provocative or inflammatory comments. The measure passed unanimously.

Granted, the group spent a good 10 minutes discussing one proposal but the agreed-upon process of decision making maintained its integrity. The group is planning a number of demonstrations in the coming weeks, and with each direct action event, Occupy Winston-Salem members said they expect awareness of social and economic injustice to grow along with their membership base. Considering the success of their inaugural protest, members have good reason to feel that more members of the Winston-Salem community will see that their concerns are reflected in the thoughts, ideas and revolutionary, non-violent approach to effecting positive change in the community as endorsed by Occupy Winston-Salem.