Flying Seminar Events

Oct. 25th: OWS Meets Japanese Anti-Nukers in Conversation with Jonathan Schell (Video)

The Flying Seminar:
OWS Meets Japanese Anti-Nukers in Conversation with Jonathan Schell

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011
8:00 PM
6 East 16th Street, Wolff Conference Room
(11th floor, room #1103)

Event Description

Please come to meet Japanese anti-nuclear activists from Shiroto no Ran ('Amateur Revolt'), who are briefly in New York to observe and support Occupy Wall Street. Shiroto no Ran emerged in response to the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant following the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. The conversation with this leaderless and network oriented social movement will be moderated by Jonathan Schell, author of The Seventh Decade: The New Shape of Nuclear Danger and the Peace and Disarmament Correspondent for The Nation.

Event Recap

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.

  • Esther

    The exercise in comparing and contrasting was illuminating. While Shiroto no Ran and OWS sprang up under different circumstances and in contrasting contexts, the level of overall dissatisfaction with current economic and social living conditions is striking. While it’s uplifting to share a common spirit, I am skeptical to the extent protesters all over the world can unite in a meaningful way. While ‘boxes of discontent’ are being opened all over the world, the factors behind the discontent vary. There may not be one alternative that works for all. As I see it, at the moment it is about the urgency of expressing the need for alternatives.
    The question of alternatives is a pressing one amidst the broad and colorful scale of factors behind the discontent. What to do after the camping and the protests? As important and illuminating the voices of the protesters are, how can the different groups become institutionalized in a better functioning democratic system? How can their wishes become reality? How can change be realized in a peaceful way? Yes, by creating the alternative public spaces, where people meet and act (Arendt). But is there a mechanism to ensure that the voices are not only listened to but also acted upon?

  • Jeffrey Goldfarb

    I think you are right Esther. What is heartening is that people are saying no, but how you say yes to specific principles and act upon this in a consequential way is a real challenge. One part of the challenge is to maintain the alternative public space and enrich it, as we are trying to do here, but also no doubt is the need to engage the larger society and political forces. In Parliamentary systems new parties can and should be formed. In the odd system of the US connection and influence upon the Democratic party is the only alternative. I think this is the way that, for example, that Obama can become the Obama of our hopes. Some will opt for only the creation of alternative spaces. Some will want to connect with greater forces (here also crucially unions), I think most important that these differences are accepted even celebrated and don’t lead to self destructive sectarianism.