Occupy Wall Street, Year Two

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

But they also know that the workings of the news cycle mean that the anniversary of Occupy presents the movement with a unique opportunity.

"For months, we've been anticipating a renewal of interest by the media," says Dana Balicki. "We know people are going to be talking about it, so how do we make sure that the story of the 99 percent is not told without us?"

So even through the ongoing wrangling over tactics and ideology (a recent meeting witnessed a heated debate over concert plans: Should Occupy ever seek city permits? Does building a stage to elevate celebrity performers jibe with a horizontalist ethos?), organizers are doggedly hammering out plans for the anniversary weekend.

Kevin Vanden/wordpress.com

Starting September 15, bus loads of people from Occupy groups will converge in Lower Manhattan. Some will be coming from as far away as Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Seattle. Many will be finishing off a month-long pilgrimage of protest with stops in Tampa and Charlotte for the Republican and Democratic national conventions.

The September 15 events will be based in Washington Square, with thematic assemblies, direct-action training, and, for those interested, an ecumenical faith service led by sympathetic religious figures, all followed by an outdoor dance party.

Sunday, September 16's program will be centered on downtown, around Foley Square, where as-yet-unnamed musicians will perform on a permitted stage with a sound system secured by union allies.

On Monday the 17th—the one-year anniversary of when a few hundred protesters first set foot in Zuccotti Park—the morning will begin with protests throughout Lower Manhattan. At the core of the financial district, some protesters will attempt to form a cordon around the New York Stock Exchange and block eight critical intersections, much as they did on November 17th. The stated goal is to shut the exchange down, but organizers are realistic about that unlikelihood. More important, they say, is to make their presence felt, to make the financiers contend with them on their way to work.

Beyond this central core, plans call for broader street actions filling hundreds of intersections throughout Lower Manhattan, with discrete groups shifting from intersection to intersection in a loosely choreographed swirl. Groups visiting from other cities—including Occupy Boston, Occupy Oakland, and Occupy Chicago—will hold down intersections.

Others will be filled with protesters from allied organizations: ACT UP, 350.org, Picture the Homeless, Vocal NY, and participating unions.

After the morning's protest, participants will retreat to a "green zone," a park sufficiently removed from the action so that people can feel safe from arrest, to relax, regroup, and talk about what happened.

The last scheduled event will be a General Assembly at the Vietnam Veterans Plaza on Water Street, where people can talk in a more structured way about what they think, what they want, and what they've learned.

"One of the reasons we do these one-day or three-day mobilizations is just that we know how to do it," Shapiro says. "But there's also an intrinsic value to them—not just as a way to flex our muscles and say, 'We're still here,' but because they're an opportunity for people to meet each other, work together, and build those bonds that carry on afterwards."

Still, she says, street protest is only the most visible tip of a movement that has grown broad and deep since it first caught national attention.

"There's so much happening below the surface that the mainstream media doesn't pick up," she says. "The fact that we're not getting seen every day is actually indicative of our maturity. We'll still be on the street on a regular basis, but we're also thinking more strategically and long-term."

Bornstein agrees, noting that most movements for social change take decades to reach fruition.

"This is sort of like 1956, when some people said the civil rights movement was dead because there were no more bus boycotts," he says. "No, those people who had found each other at the bus boycotts were still working, building the next phase of the movement."

Looking forward to the year ahead, Winter says he's optimistic. "What we're doing is going to continue to grow and morph," he says. "We may lose the name and the identity of 'Occupy,' but I don't fear that. As long as we have the feeling in our hearts that there are better ways to be together, it doesn't matter what we call it."

npinto@villagevoice.com

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