It was a flash seminar that led to deliberate dialogue. The first session of the Flying Seminar was remarkable.
On Saturday, we had a teach-in, proposing the seminar. From the floor a proposal was made to have a meeting between activists in Shiroto no Ran (Amateur Revolt) and Occupy Wall Street. We contacted the Japanese activists, who were camping out in Zuccotti Park. They agreed to participate. It was later reported to me that this is one thing they hoped to do coming to New York. I met with Harrison Schultz, the sociology student here most involved in the occupation, about the event. He spoke to friends. I went to the park to talk up the seminar, particularly with the OWS Think Tank group. It seems that there will be an ongoing relationship between this group and the Flying Seminar. We asked Jonathan Schell, given his long term focus on direct action and issues nuclear, to join us. We hoped people would come. And a diversity of interested people did, taking part in a fascinating serious discussion. As the video of the proceedings posted here reveals.
The event was defined by the people taking part. The New School provided a space for free thoughtful exchange and much was discovered. I will post my sustained thoughts about the discussion early next week. For now, I will just outline what happened.
I opened the seminar with a brief statement introducing our project. Then we started with the seminar participants introducing themselves as individuals. After which, the activists of Shiroto no Ran gave an overview of their political engagement through a slide presentation.
It turns out that they are a group of self-styled misfits, non-conformists centered in a kind of second hand retail store, where some live along with others who eat, drink, dance, sing, and exchange goods, all supported by the kindness of neighbors. Their small countercultural world (I would describe it as a quintessential example of the politics of small things), engaged a large public when they organized mass demonstrations after the Fukushima disaster. They took us through their experiences, how they reached people, where they stand in Japanese society. They explained how the size and the spirit of the anti-nuke demonstrations repeatedly attracted popular support beyond expectations. The vast majority of the protestors were first time demonstrators. Shiroto no Ran is engaging, inventive and funny.
The OWS people compared and contrasted their experiences with Shiroto no Ran, as its activists reported their experiences in the Park. There was a discussion about violence and non-violence, the evils of capitalism, how direct action here and there presents alternatives. There was debate about whether the alternatives were material or symbolic, and much more. Mostly there was a sharing of a common spirit, a common attitude toward the order of things and the pressing need to constitute alternatives.
We closed by pondering two questions: how do we imagine democracy and act upon our imagination? And, what are the prospects for and the means of achieving sustainable social change? I was struck by how the common concerns and similar practical actions are now appearing in such different cultural contexts.
More from the participants and more from me in the coming days. And please do post your comments and thoughts about Shiroto no Ran, OWS and the Flying Seminar: your judgments about this seminar session, and ideas for future ideas.