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The Olympia Assembly:  building local power and community bonds

Fred Silsby

This article introduces our community of older  “progressive” folks to younger activists who have formed around the legacy of the “Occupy” movement. They have taken the title of The Olympia Assembly and have been quietly organizing to confront local social justice issues in the most straightforward manner.

Occupy Wall Street in 2011 brought together people from all economic classes and ethnicities to call attention to the unbridled influence of money and corporate domination of public life. It was a grand attempt to demonstrate democracy in its simplest form. Although there were definite leaders, the mass of demonstrators were peers in action, respectful of the need of each member to be recognized and heard. Listening to the experience of another validates  our own feeling of “rightness” in working to correct social inequality.

As with any “movement” there are strains within the family as it comes to terms with the slowness of change in public policy through government processes. Activists don’t enjoy waiting for study and deliberation unless they hear sincerity in the words of public officials and see movement toward justice. If you see people protesting, and they worry you by their tone of voice, bear in mind that Martin Luther King Jr. dealt with the same stresses during the campaign for civil rights in the ‘60s.

Elements of the Olympia Assembly approach (1)

Olympia Assembly seeks to transform our city, region and the world along horizontal and cooperative lines, and to provide a practical and revolutionary structure for non-ruling class people to resist systems of domination and hierarchy. They work in solidarity with other regional and global efforts toward a new politics of participatory democracy, ecology, freedom and socialism.

Olympia Assembly connects people from a variety of backgrounds and political perspectives around 5 basic points of unity—Direct Democracy & Free Association, Direct Action, Social Justice & Solidarity, Cooperative Economics & Mutual Aid and Social Ecology.

Dual power

Their strategy is one of “dual power” which combines Oppositional Politics (Protest, Resistance, Direct Action) with Reconstructive Politics (Alternative Social and Economic Institutions, Radical Reforms, Community Building).  They approach this work gradually, experimenting with and testing new ideas rather than trying to do everything at once. This means they  learn and deliberate as a community about the best courses of action to take, and contribute to a global Just Transition that protects people and the environment, and moves away from Capitalism.

Popular Assemblies—people to get together to talk about political and economic issues and solve problems without representative politicians, bureaucrats, and other ruling classes above them. General Assemblies are organized four times a year, and Assemblies on particular topics are announced periodically and publicized through our networks.

Solidarity Network—Olympia Solidarity Network (OlySol) organizes with tenants and workers to win back stolen deposits, rent-hikes, housing discrimination and other abuses of power by landlords and bosses while building a popular base committed to long-term institutional change and people power.

Neighborhood Organizing—working toward a network of alternative community institutions to provide a scalable outlet for the practice of direct democracy, direct action, solidarity and mutual aid on a face-to-face basis in Olympia and Thurston County. The Neighborhood Action Council meets monthly in downtown Olympia.

Popular Education—a monthly reading group discusses radical theory and practice, for learners of all experience levels. The group meets on the first Sunday of every month at Burial Grounds Cafe from 4-6pm.

(1) This is condensed from the Olympia Assembly website. For details, go to https://olyassembly.org/

Fred Silsby finds himself among “older progressives” in support of the younger ones.

 

 

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