Occupy Wall Street, Year Two

Approaching its anniversary, the movement isn't dead. It's growing up.

So determined was the NYPD to deny protesters a space to gather that when a march passed nearby Tompkins Square in May, officers chained the entire park shut, closing it to the public.

The battle over ongoing police repression continues today, though mostly in the legal arena. A host of lawsuits accusing the city and police of violating protesters' Constitutional rights is just beginning to work its way through federal court; a damning and encyclopedic report by legal scholars released last month catalogs hundreds of specific police violations; and international human rights observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are conducting their own investigation of the repression.

But even as the legal battles continue, Occupy protesters agree more and more that while ongoing police repression might be unavoidable, Occupy's fixation on its foundational tactic—the physical occupation of public space—is, for the moment at least, a dead end.

"They're never going to let us have a public space like that again," one protester told me. "We can bang our heads against that forever, but it's not going to happen. All it does is draw us more into fights with the police and away from the issues that brought us all together in the first place."

The second focus of Occupy's attention over the winter and spring was planning for a major re-emergence on May Day. By many standards, the May Day events were a success. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers packed Union Square and coursed down Broadway.

Less obvious but perhaps more important was the behind-the-scenes coalition-building that May Day organizers conducted, brokering a more or less unprecedented alliance between organized labor and immigrants' rights groups and drawing unions to embrace May Day, an international day of workers that has been shunned by generations of American organized labor for its radical associations.

But despite these accomplishments, the dominant media narrative had already closed the book on Occupy, and organizers found they were unable to recapture the lightning that had struck in the park. Press attention to the day's events was cursory at best, leaving many inside the movement dispirited and reinforcing a popular perception that Occupy was moribund.

Nothing to see here, the sober voices of conventional wisdom declared. That moment you might have found exciting is over. What remains of Occupy is a shrinking band of addled and disorganized malcontents, retreading the same rhetorical ground with ever-diminishing effect.

Many Occupy participants now concede that they walked into that trap, and that staking their movement's credibility and vitality on a one-day spectacular show of force was a strategic mistake.

 

Occupation, after all, was a tactic, an action that took place for a moment, first near Wall Street and then in many other places around the world. Conflating the tactic with the social energy it represented is one of the easiest ways to misunderstand what happened last year and what is yet to come. If Occupy Wall Street is no longer occupying Wall Street, it's easy to say the movement is dead.

What the obituary writers fail to recognize is that the spectacle of the occupation was only the most obvious of Occupy's weapons. Its real strength, its true innovation, was the way that people who found their way to Zuccotti Park—literally and figuratively—related to one another.

There's one thing people say again and again when they talk about what Occupy has meant to them: "We found each other in Zuccotti Park." 

Most simply, they mean that they learned they were not alone in believing that something is seriously wrong in this country and that knowledge strengthened their resolve to do something.

"People at the beginning were like, "It's the revolution!" says Tammy Shapiro, a veteran organizer who helps coordinate the archipelago of Occupy groups across the country through interoccupy.net. "When that didn't happen, a lot of people got disappointed."

That conviction has burned off, but it doesn't mean that Occupiers now think of what happened as unremarkable, just the latest in a long line of upwellings of activist energy. There really is something fundamentally new about Occupy, about what happened when people "found each other."

"I don't identify as an anarchist," says a longtime Occupier who calls himself "Winter." "But some of the anarchist principles that manifest in Occupy are empowering: the fact that we use democracy to make our decisions; that we don't want to make compromises just to have political impact. We feel like we're creating another world just in the way that we're interacting with each other."

The energy unleashed when these people found one another has given birth to a panoply of projects, some of them local and focused on local issues, others national in scope and organization. The technological infrastructure of sites including interoccupy.net and occupytogether.org are helping these groups grow and coordinate.

Among the most notable of these projects is the national Occupy Homes movement, which operated locally in neighborhoods such as East New York but was most fully realized by activists in Minneapolis, Detroit, and Atlanta. By blocking the eviction of families from foreclosed homes—foreclosures often going forward in the face of banks' poor documentation and even outright fraud—activists continue to call attention to one of the most direct ways that the crimes committed in the financial stratosphere impact regular Americans.

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25 comments
faluovo
faluovo

Kind of pathetic how a spent movement desperately tries to hold on - propped up by self-important media blowhards.

dyckdyckdyck
dyckdyckdyck

Great summary.  Hope you'll follow up with a piece recognizing that the change Occupy brings is not only external.  Change can't occur w/o each of us changing our own lives... the way we relate to others and to the earth where 'inclusiveness'  and compassion resides. 

 

Inner change is such a difficult job as it involves dealing with our own contradictions.  To many this would seem daunting, to others impossible, and maybe to most it has not yet occurred to them this part of the journey.

Stereolab
Stereolab

Lots of Occupy haters and cynics here.  Weird.  History moves on.  Here's the obvious: Capitalism by its nature is never static and will always induce anti-reactions.  In some form or another, I don't think the nascent Occupy Movement is going away quickly or quietly.

hkguy
hkguy

And to those who object to my downplaying "repression," I have two words: Pussy Riot.

hkguy
hkguy

What police repression? A few sprays of some icky chemical and maybe, what, two dozen protests over the whole year while a group of thousands illegally occupy a PRIVATELY OWNED park? I'm in complete sympathy with most of OWS' aims, but I dismissed them from the get-do as clueless about how to organize an effective-over-time protest movement, how to wield real power, and especially the inherent self-contradictions of using the resources of capitalism to bring down capitalism. It was all summed up in an early photo of two earnest-looking OWSers eating McDonald's takeout while on their iPhones.

LorenHart
LorenHart

"The economic conditions are just as bad as they were a year ago." Sure enough.Thanks to Nick Pinto and the Village Voice for this helpful article. 

andy10003
andy10003

There's plenty to criticize in OWS but could we not single out individuals for attacks? That does all of us damage. Anonymous individuals who post here but can't formulate their criticisms without attacking individuals shouldn't be trusted or given credence.

bgray59
bgray59

To quote a former Senator, your guys talk a lot but you don't vote therefore I don't know why i'm wasting my time talking to you.  Like the collectives of the past they talk a lot but don't do anything.

joec12
joec12

These guys should get it together just in time to attack the democrats and ensure Romney gets elected-ensuring the final nail gets pounded into the coffin of the working class.

RR

JPMcMahon
JPMcMahon

I just visited NYC a couple of weeks ago and saw no indication of OWS either at the surprisingly small Zuccotti Park, or at Union Square, where there admittedly was an OWS 2012 chalk  drawing on the ground. There were just a lot of cops and security personnel, and sweaty tourists drinking 4 dollar Gatorades from the food trucks.  I visited the 2 Occupy DC sites at McPherson Square and Liberty Square before the DC cops shut them down in February, and they were smelly and grim, as were the people there. Who could be convinced that OWS was doing something worthwhile just by stumbling across the encampments is beyond me. I happened on to a Communications Workers of America protest in front of the FCC building in DC in June, and there was no one in the protest that didn't have a red CWA t-shirt on. When I tried to talk to one of these folks about what they were doing, I got a "Mind your own business." in reply. So much for outsiders working with them. The Occupy movements in other cities seem to have disintegrated as well if their web sites are any indication. A big issue became that there were no women at the General Assemblies anymore because they were afraid to be there. When you let homeless men join right on in, that is something that seems pretty likely to happen. Occupy Oakland occupied an Obama campaign office a few weeks ago, much to the chagrin of the people working there.

OWS isn't real, in the sense that there isn't an accurate contact list of the members with real names, phone numbers, and addresses. It's pretty much a group of people that gets together randomly to do what are pretty random things. When you don't have leadership, organization, and delegated responsibilities, that is pretty much what you get. The article pretty much skipped over the entire horizontal  governance thing.  I am sure that the Republicans are praying mightily that OWS has a big, crazy birthday party in September. The  out of control 1968 Democratic Convention got Nixon elected, and I am sure Romney and his boys would love to see the same thing happen again.

vava5815
vava5815

What a bunch of OWSHOLES.

organicsulfur
organicsulfur

Occupy the polling places and vote for Anonymous for President.  On the fifth day, not of September, but November, the Identity of Anonymous for President will be announced.  The way the occupy movement succeeds is we all write in the same name for President and watch the one percent run for the hills.  Won't Mutt and Jeff be surprised when Anonymous is elected President?

Warriorgal: you must be of the one percent describing the 99% as jealous beggars, no we are American citizens tried to seeing the one percent sell off our beautiful cities to those from other countries.  This will end when we end business ad usual by electing Anonymous for President.

 

Compressed air and organic sulfur will return Reason to the land, the whole land, even the land that Putin thinks he controls, Occupy may be a national thing but when the one percent fail they fail world wide, the non peaceful activities will be killing traitors to the Constitution who live in beautiful cities built with our hands.

November 5th fear will grip Mutt and Jeff, and we will vote for Anonymous, we the anonymous who are the United States of America, and we win!   Mutt and Jeff can go to their foreign lands they could get prosecuted if they stay.   And the corporations esp pHarma and Monsanto will be prosecuted out of existence, vaccines no more, culling the herd, no more we will cull the one percent with the Boycott and bankrupt your silly selves.

We spend the money, we do the labor we are the Citizens, and answer only to citizens, not a world bank, or any rich fuck.  Rich just became a liability.

Anonymous for President 2012 is the vote the one percent failed to recognize as the end of the ride.

Our new President will not wage war on Iran, but Monsanto, GE, pHarma will save lives, screw the jobs, poisoning children is un American.  Israel did you hear the warning, grow up or go into captivity again, arrogant bastards, and I am a Jew and Campaign mgr. for Anonymous.

Anonymous for President is true occupation and we win.

warriorgal
warriorgal

What a peaceful bunch of people!  Is that Bill Ayers in the photo?  These people should go back to their countries and get jobs.  We are NOT France nor Greece.  We BELIEVE IN WORKING!  NOT destroying nor defacing our beautiful cities.  These are jealous beggars.

lloyd31
lloyd31

Glad to read that OWS' network is intact and active. Next month they should use the resources at their disposal to go all out to help Obama get re-elected. He may not be their perfect choice, but if Romney takes control, OWS won't be able to accomplish much of anything...

thebat
thebat

http://youtu.be/YixCFJjj6J8 shows what the self proclaimed leaders of OWS nyc think of the actual activists and needy people that are the heart of Occupy.

 

People like Aaron Black, Justin Diaz, and the Occupied Air group have all but killed Occupy in nyc, in their hunger to be a 'force' at the tables of power instead of embracing the cause. Abandoning the homeless and the most needy among us in the name of 'image' and the 'brand' they have made OWS nyc just another PAC, spending hundreds of dollars a week on taxi rides and other luxuries while true Occupy activists globally work together for change.  People like Fatima, Mik Check, Occupy Trinity, Shawn Carrie,  Recai Iskender and others in nyc keep fighting for the people and the causes Occupy stands for without mention or assistance from the OWS nyc spin machine, while others merely seek to profit and control. But it can be said that Occupy in nyc has inspired the world two times, first by bringing activism to life again for some, and now a year later by showing what pitfalls to avoid in the future.

The_Yeti_Knows
The_Yeti_Knows

@faluovo They're all too busy enjoying all the perks of a prosperous bountiful free society, hands in pants and free astroglide samples to bother putting down the double big macs created by the oh so evil 1%

JPMcMahon
JPMcMahon

There's plenty to criticize in the Republican Party, but could we not single out individuals for attacks? There's plenty to criticize in the Democratic Party, but could we not single out individuals for attacks? andy, If you want to play politics, those "attacks" are part of the game. Can't deal with it? Get out.

bloomster
bloomster

 @lloyd31 Occupy Wall Street is dead. All the banks got bailouts. The money is already spent. The bankers got their big bonus checks. We got nothing. A bunch of kids thought it would be Kool to demonstrate. Now they're sending E-Mail resumes to banks for jobs. Wachovia Wells Fargo & HSBC are laundering money for the Latino narcotics traffickers while Barclays Bank is rigging LIBOR. Whose kidding who. The OWS demonstrations are dead. Money talks BullShit walks.

justinstonediaz
justinstonediaz

 Thanks for the awesome mention "Bat". You seem to have gotten the wrong impression of the work many of us hard grounders do in NYC. You should really double check your facts before you go dragging your personal trolling games into a perfectly nice article about the movement. You might be shocked when you find out who bottom lines the Homeless Working Group & has been at #TrinitySleeps & #OccupyUnionSq since day one defending Occupy from NYPD Livestreamers. As always I invite you to come Occupy with us & Speak TO US, Not For Us. Happy Occupy!@thebat 

pella7387
pella7387

@justinstonediaz @thebat really? Well you should ask Fatima and Mik Check what they personally think about me. I would like to say that you are extremely ill informed, you have no idea who is on the ground, you have no idea who works their tails off for the movement. Aside from Trixie, Uppity, Rocky, and yourself, not too many folks have anything bad to say about me, why? Because I put Occupy before everything else, my own health, my own family, my own livlihood..And here you are sitting in your mother's basement making attacks not just regular attacks, but personal attacks, against my friends (even threatening physical harm to one) making insulting remarks about my physical appearance, and my love life (you should be one to talk) you really are an ignorant human being. But it's OK I have my own stream now, you want to destroy my reputation because you are envious of my hardwork, or because you have a secret obsession with me, you are more than welcome to. You go right ahead and you sit in your mother's basement, you make your little attack, videos, you make your little attack tweets...Because you are really making your folks proud by doing so...Seriously, get a life, you loser...

 
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