The third stage is confrontation, and I am awed by the amount of creativity and courage that Occupy participants showed in direct action. Because the confrontation stage can bring on serious repression, it's easy to get distracted by the repression itself, instead of seeing it as one of the factors that can help us achieve our goal. The temptation for Occupy was to waver in its attention on the central issue -- the 1 percent and class oppression -- and focus instead on the violence of the police.
Barbara Deming, a feminist activist-writer on revolution, used to say that the hardest part when we're doing confrontation is keeping our equilibrium. That's why, in the Living Revolution stages, the confrontation stage comes third instead of first. The first stage's clarity of message and values and vision, and the second stage's building of an organizational infrastructure of solidarity, are what make a movement tough enough to withstand repression without losing its focus.
As I was reminded while working to assemble the Global Nonviolent Action Database, a great many movements have grown -- and have even won -- by hanging tough and remaining nonviolent through the repression associated with the confrontation stage. It's not rocket science. To maximize the chance of succeeding, though, a smart movement prepares for it, just as an army prepares for battles.
Confrontation leads to the fourth stage of mass political and economic non-cooperation, especially if stages one and two were done well. It's futile -- and probably disempowering -- to call for something as ambitious as a general strike (as Occupy did in 2012) before the fourth stage, but once the fourth stage is reached, various kinds of strikes can make a major difference.
Events since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt show, however, that while strikes and mass non-cooperation can open up a power vacuum, they don't fill that vacuum with a new and democratic order by themselves. That's another reason why stage two -- organization-building -- is so important. If a critical mass of people have new skills and confidence in non-authoritarian relations, then when the power vacuum opens, democratic and participatory organizations can fill the vacuum and facilitate the transition to a new society. That's stage five, a very tricky period in which success depends on whether there's been a clear vision that has won wide support and whether people have released their shackles in the course of the struggle sufficiently to dare to behave in new, more human ways.
I see the Occupy movement as one of the grander "experiments with truth," as Gandhi might have put it. We'll all gain from learning what we can from the experiment. Bill Moyer's MAP reminds us that reflection is a good thing to do during the downtime of his stage five. Meanwhile, the Living Revolution model suggests that what time we spend clarifying our visions and organizing ourselves will go a long way when the next big moment of heightened drama comes along.
Reprinted from wagingnonviolence.org