Toward Sustainable Occupations by Amateurs: Reflections on the OWS – Shiroto no Ran Flying Seminar

OWS meets Shiroto no Ran at The Flying Seminar at The New School, Oct. 25, 2011 © Kei Nakagawa

Contingency is of the essence for creativity. The Flying Seminar session with members from Shiroto no Ran (Amateur Revolt), an anti-nuclear and counter cultural social movement group from Japan, and Occupy Wall Street, I think, was not an exception. What started as a rash decision by the Shiroto no Ran to come to New York to show their support to the OWS protest and to experience the heart of the occupation first-hand took an unplanned change after a chance meeting. Through a New School effort to create the time and space for deeper and meaningful dialogue, a valuable Japanese – American encounter occurred.

I heard the news about Shiroto no Ran’s visit just a day before their arrival. During their short stay at the Liberty Square, we met and talked about OWS. From our conversations, I began to realize how difficult it was for them to actually get the opportunity to really meet and get to know the people who are most engaged in the OWS movement. The activists in Zuccotti Park were too busy and things were changing too rapidly there. I realized that there was a need for creating a space that would facilitate a dialogue between these two groups of activists. A teach-in session organized by two New School professors, Jeffrey Goldfarb and Elzbieta Matynia, not only opened a door of opportunity, but also gave a concrete structure to my vague idea. From listening to their ideas about the Flying Seminar, I realized that we could have a serious conversation between these movements from different cultures. Just two days after I proposed the event, we all met, and my sense that it could be worthwhile, proved to be correct.

As a participant in both movements, I see my contribution in creating a space for dialogue as a modest one. But on the other hand, as a researcher who is working on the Japanese 1968 movement from a transnational perspective, I am especially interested. I am fascinated how such a dialogue is now possible . . .

Read more: Toward Sustainable Occupations by Amateurs: Reflections on the OWS – Shiroto no Ran Flying Seminar

Deliberately Considered 2.0: The Flying Seminar, Occupy Wall Street and Our New Format


Over the past week, big changes have occurred in the little virtual world of Deliberately Considered. We have put up a changed format that has been on the drawing boards for months. You will note that while now the text of only the most recent post is to be found on the home page, the titles and images of many more posts can be viewed and easily accessed. We have been thinking about doing this for quite some time, but rushed this week to get it going in response to events just south of my New School office in lower Manhattan, in Zuccotti Park and its neighborhood. We are part of the neighborhood and seek to have neighborly discussions.

The new format provides easier access to more of the unfolding reports, analyses and debates on our site, and allows us to bring forward posts past that continue to address pressing problems, particularly in the editors picks.  And most important now, it will permit us to highlight more intensive investigations of pressing political issues, hoping to inform debate about those issues. Thus, now you will find the continuing posts on Occupy Wall Street.

Elzbieta Matynia and I find the occupation movement to be of great interest. For her, it is a case where her ideas of performative democracy apply. For me, the occupation is a clear case of the power of the politics of small things. We proposed and are now coordinating the Flying Seminar with our intellectual interests  and our previous work together on the Democracy Seminar in East and Central Europe and beyond in mind. As we have already reported, it is off to a quick and extraordinary start. Occupy Wall Street and Shiroto no Ran on Tuesday, Adam Michnik on Saturday. And Deliberately Considered now has a space for the announcement of upcoming sessions of the seminar, for reports on the seminar sessions, including videos of the events, and for what I hope will be sustained ongoing . . .

Read more: Deliberately Considered 2.0: The Flying Seminar, Occupy Wall Street and Our New Format

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

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 . . .

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

Occupy Wall Street, The New School and The Flying Seminar

The Flying Seminar © Naomi Gruson Goldfarb

The Flying Seminar is taking off! At the teach-in yesterday, Elzbieta Matynia and I presented our idea (described in my last post) to a group of Occupy Wall Street activists and New School colleagues. It was received with strong support and also with creativity. We are already working to turn the idea into a reality.

We want to create a setting for making intellectual and political connections. We recognize that OWS presents something unique. We hope to learn from it, and we also think that experiences “past and present,” and “from here and elsewhere,” can not only inform our understanding of the world wide occupation movement, it can also help the occupation and other social movements act in an informed fashion. Our seminar is dedicated to this learning and informed action.

Elzbieta and I worked together once on such an activity in East and Central Europe, the Democracy Seminar, which she describes in her book Performative Democracy and which is also described briefly in my bio here. The comparison excited great interest yesterday from OWS activists and New School students, as did other comparisons that were discussed around the room.

One seemed particularly pressing and interesting. Kei Nakagawa, a graduate student at The New School from Japan, informed us that a number of prominent Japanese activists from Shiroto no Ran are now in New York to observe and support OWS, and that they will be here until the middle of next week. Shiroto no Ran is a leaderless, network oriented social movement organization, which focuses especially on anti-nuclear issues, responding to the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant following the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. By using the tactics of sound demonstration and non-violent action, the movement successfully mobilized people, especially young citizens, who have never previously participated in political demonstrations. On September 11th, the half-year anniversary of the disaster, Shiroto no Ran played a key . . .

Read more: Occupy Wall Street, The New School and The Flying Seminar