Wednesday, December 21, 2011

After Evictions Does Occupy Really Need to Occupy?

The first Occupy Wall Street encampment began September 17 with a few dozen protesters rolling out sleeping bags in Zuccotti Park in downtown Manhattan. Since then Occupy movements have sprung up in cities in every part of the United States, all securing encampments in public parks to serve as meeting places, staging grounds, and symbolic homes to this nascent, nonviolent revolution. Fast on the heels of the first tent on public space, however, was heightened police presence, posturing from myriad mayors' offices and eventually eviction of the peaceably assembled protesters.

In the national narrative Occupy survived eviction, re-occupation, and re-eviction in various cities from Seattle to Portland to San Francisco to Chicago to Boston to, famously, Oakland, et al, but through it all it seemed as though as long as the first encampment at Zuccotti Park - redubbed Liberty Park - stood then Occupy still had a space to thrive. Indeed, at first it seemed that the New York movement would have an easier time standing up to mayoral pressure since Liberty Park was one of New York City's many privately owned public spaces*. Eventually though, on November 16th, even this encampment proved vulnerable and in an early morning raid police cleared the park, leading to the arrest of several protesters, severe property damage - including the destruction of several laptops and several thousand books - and the arrests of many protesters and journalists.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: Why Do They Occupy?

I've recently had several conversations regarding the Occupy Wall Street protests basically revolving around the question, "What are these things about?" Most people that are friends with me on Facebook or Google Plus, or who follow me on Twitter know that I've been following these goings on pretty closely (and have been plastering coverage all over all of my various social media personae.)

Full disclosure: I've never stayed overnight at the park, and I've never faced down police. I have marched with the movement several times, have brought food down to Zuccotti park on several occasions and have been an ardent supporter for quite some time. The vibe I've always gotten from marching with occupiers and hanging around the park during "off" times is very different than what gets out on a lot of broadcast news channels. There's a lot more age variation for one, and it's not just the stereotypical protester-type that shows up. Yes there are some overly idealistic college kids and there are some older lifetime protesters, but Occupy Wall Street is more complicated than these folks. Those are usually the people that give the most sensational soundbites, or tell the most familiar story which is why they tend to end up on the news. In truth, the vast majority of OWS supporters have jobs. Some have families. Some have never protested anything before. Some are even in the 1%. Their stories are varied and not easily related in a five minute montage on the evening news. If you really want to know the people in this movement just look around you. If the first person you see is not a supporter then chances are there's someone in the movement much like them.

Why do they occupy? Well, according to Twitter the reasons are more varied than their backgrounds. It's a common complaint that OWS has no singular purpose; no clear, concise list of demands. I respond by saying if the issues of the last couple decades had only resulted in a short, easy-to-read list of problems then Occupy Wall Street wouldn't have the support that it does, and wouldn't be as necessary as it is.