At least ten activists from Occupy Boston were in New York from March 16-18 to attend the annual Left Forum conference. Left Forum brings together intellectuals and organizers to share their perspectives and strategies and to envision alternatives to capitalism. Despite the longstanding fragmentation on the left, Left Forum serves as a common meeting ground for people from different left traditions to share ideas. The theme of this year’s conference was “Occupy the System”.
Left Forum 2012 had over 400 panels and nearly 1200 speakers and four thousand attendees. The topics discussed ranged from election strategy to Marxist historiography to the use of social media by the Occupy movement. Left Forum also was host to leftist booksellers such as Haymarket Books, Monthly Review Press, Verso Books and Dollars & Sense. Perhaps in part because of Occupy, many publishers saw a spike in sales for radical literature.
Occupy Boston activist Joseph Ramsey gave a lecture entitled “Taking Theory to the Streets” in which he discussed how to “conduct a reform struggle in a revolutionary manner,” specifically focusing on protests against the planned service cuts and fare hikes to Boston’s public transit. Ramsey spoke on the dangers of Occupy being submerged in focusing on concrete demands, “in that radicalism can be difficult to sustain, but it raises the opportunity to talk to people who haven’t been involved before.” Ramsey pointed out that it was important to link the struggle over public transit to the larger issues of how wealth is distributed in society.
Stephanie McMillian a radical cartoonist from Fort Lauderdale and activist in the anti-capitalist group One Struggle , discussed the importance of linking the socialist and green traditions. McMillian linked the environmental crisis to capitalism’s endless need to expand, saying that “capitalism is fundamentally in contradiction with life itself.” She then argued that a new economy that builds a sustainable and healthy relationship with nature can only be one that breaks with capitalism.
Victor Wallis, an editor at the journal Socialism and Democracy, spoke on the panel “2012 Elections: Lesser Evil or Left Alternative.” Wallis’ remarks were directed against those on the political left who support the Democratic Party as the “lesser evil” of the two major political parties. By “lesser evil” Wallis meant those who “refuse to consider progressive candidates, but use the argument of electability to rationalize their choices.” Wallis pointed out that Democrats share the same basic economic platform with the Republicans “with only minor reservations.” Wallis summed up the effects of “lesser evilism” on American politics as defining “the limits of policy debates, where the opportunities for positive electoral alternatives are most fully closed off.”
Left Forum has been held annually since the 1960s, when it was originally called the Socialist Scholars Conference. Originally, the conference was a major effort by left-leaning academics to create a forum to present their theoretical work. By the 1980s and 90s according to the Left Forum website,“the conference largely lost its scholarly character,” and has become more accessible to activists. This year’s conference took place in the midst of the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement.
While the conference was taking place, Occupy Wall Street was celebrating its sixth month anniversary. To mark the occasion, Left Forum participants and OWS activists marched back to Zuccotti Park, the birthplace of the movement. The police were waiting for them and according to Occupy Boston activist Chris Sturr, who attended the forum and the march, “it was clear that the police were not going to treat protesters gently.”
Occupy protesters gathered in Zuccotti Park from around 7:30pm until after midnight, when the police declared the park closed. The protesters attempted to stand their ground, but the police moved in and made 73 arrests. There were complaints that the NYPD used excessive force. At least one person suffered from cracked ribs.
One of the Left Forum keynote speakers, filmmaker and activist Michael Moore urged conference attendees to “head over to Zuccotti Park.” Moore highlighted the importance of the Occupy Movement to the conference by stating, “up until recently, a vast majority of our fellow Americans believed in the Horatio Alger theory, that anyone in America can make it. [Now] they know that there’s no truth to that whatsoever. They know that the game is rigged.”