The world is watching Occupy Wall Street and hundreds of occupations have sprung up in solidarity across the country. Last weekend, Occupy Venice kicked off in southern California. While they stand with the goals of nation-wide Occupy movements, Occupy Venice is also adding its own twist: turning attention inward to create lasting, local change. Their strategy is a reminder that we can make meaningful changes in our immediate communities while we fight for greater changes in national politics.
Nestled on the sunny coast of west Los Angeles, Venice has become a historic attraction renowned for its street performers, art, and eclectic beach culture. But beyond the boardwalk is a real-life, vibrant community with lots of “work that needs doing”.We had the chance to speak with Matthew Schildkret, a Venice local who decided to organize Occupy Venice in answer to the gaping need for greater community engagement. After meeting with the Occupy Los Angeles movement, Matthew decided Venice needed an Occupy site of its own that would be tailored to fit the needs of the Venice community and facilitate local discussion on how to improve the neighborhood.On Sunday, they kicked off with about eighty people in Venice’s Windward Circle, featuring performances by Damien Rice and other local musicians.As people continued to flow through the Occupy site, many offered up their own skills to start planning next steps. The group split into different councils based on interests and available talents - permaculture, media, housing, healthy living, music and art, etc. The idea is that if everyone contributes their talent, they can create the community they envision for themselves.“We need to realize we’re the ones we’ve been waiting for,” said Matthew.One of the first undertakings of Occupy Venice will be a bank divestment initiative. Out of their first meetings in Windward Circle, occupiers decided to pull their money out of banks like Chase and Bank of America to create a Venice credit union. Community members will then figure out ways to invest in neighborhood improvement projects and local businesses.Occupy Venice is bringing together all kinds of members of the community – from leaders of the library council to the head of the homeless league. Venice serves as a reminder of how we must remember to engage locally while we continue this broader national struggle.“We’re coming together at a huge scale locally,” said Matthew. ”We are conscious and awake and ready to change our world.”