Since the beginning of the Occupation, there has been a war of perception for Occupiers to fight on two fronts. From some on the right, we are fighting against the simplistic assumption that the Occupation is just a bunch of whining beggars looking for handouts. Others on the left, we are an unserious, misguided nuisance. From my vantage point working within the movement, I believe the Occupation has proven its worth in many ways overlooked by those who haven’t been witnessing it first hand.
Here are four reasons why I’m proud to continue supporting OWS:
4. We Have Forced the Police State to Reveal Itself
In case you need a reminder as to how much police brutality has occurred, here’s a handy video compilation.
I was never a full-time Occupier. Aside from the sleepover organized by Parents for Occupy Wall St., I was never able to spend more than a few hours at a time in Zuccotti. After I first visited the park on October 4th, I couldn’t get back enough. I would go on my lunch break, after work, on weekends, usually alone, and more than a few times with my family. Not once in any of that time in the park did I feel like it was an unsafe place to be. I knew that if anyone made me feel threatened, I could always just yell “Mic check! Asshole!”, point to the offending asshole, and consider myself covered. That never happened, but the point is that any reports that Zuccotti was full of dangerous, volatile people did not square with what I saw first hand. As such, the disproportionately large police presence constantly surrounding the park seemed almost comical if one didn’t pause to consider the intent and effect of this enforcement policy: to intimidate others from participating.
The first time I ever felt unsafe in Liberty Plaza was the night of the eviction, with the police in full riot gear and pepper spraying the crowd, seemingly at random. When you are dealing with cops in this situation, there is no reasoning with them and no predicting when they will decide to single you out, the only thing you can do is stay as far away as possible. That night, and other incidences of police overreaction and indecency, have successfully exposed the authoritarian nature of our police force.
One of the most forceful advocates against these practices to emerge from the OWS movement has been Captain Ray Lewis of the Philadelphia PD (retired). He has been present at OWS events since at least November 17th when he was arrested as part of a day of direct action. Lewis now speaks regularly to local occupations and other OWS affinity groups about the troubling trends in police enforcement that he has seen as both cop and protestor.
OWS has also helped bring much needed attention to the recent passage of the NDAA of 2012, as well as lesser-known, but equally abhorrent local law enforcement policies such as “stop and frisk“. From the Brooklyn Bridge mass arrests to the arresting of “livetweeters” at Goldman Sachs, The many first hand accounts of those who were arrested helped show what happens beyond the protecting eye of citizen controlled media. Speaking of controlling the media…
3. It Has Allowed Us to Influence the Conversation
Source: The Valley Advocate
Within my first hour of stepping foot in Liberty Plaza, I was approached by a reporter who asked me why I had come. I went on for about 10 minutes talking through and working out what has now been refined into my standard spiel of concerns. Then he moved on to talk to another person. Everywhere I looked, there were other camera crews talking to other ordinary people, people who weren’t getting that kind of amplification in August.
For far too long, there have been too many incompetent, immoral, and dishonest gasbags who have dominated the political conversation in print and on television. They don’t see a problem with American Empire, they don’t understand the economic perspective of 99% of Americans, and they don’t know the first thing about truly holding power accountable.
At just about any major OWS event you can expect to talk to the media. I’ve now got my reasons for supporting this movement boiled down to a handful of concrete talking points.
The bi-partisan consensus on far too many issues has become immovable through electoral politics. A non-partisan, semi-radical, non-hierarchical movement like OWS is necessary to break that consensus.
Over 90% of elections are won by money that is largely contributed by the richest 1%. The influence of money must be addressed by either stricter regulations on spending or offset through public funding of candidates.
No one of consequence has been held accountable for lying us into Iraq and laying the legal framework for the war crimes that followed. No one has been held accountable for the robbery of our tax dollars through the bailouts resulting from the 2008 financial collapse. Since Obama has decided to “Look Forward”, it’s up to concerned citizens to force this country to collectively look back without him, and truly assess the criminal actions our leaders continue to commit. Only by doing so, can make sure that these crimes do not occur again. If we do not address these crimes, their repercussions will eventually be our nation’s undoing.
Write up your own bullet points, things that go unsaid on any major network, and make them heard! More importantly, listen to the concerns being voiced around you. Show up at an upcoming Occupy Town Square Popup Occupation, and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to do both.
2. It has Cultivated a New Generation of Activists
I have no idea what I’m doing. All I’ve done is keep in touch with people I’ve met at Zuccotti and working group meetups. More and more as I started to take advantage of the networks OWS has established and the momentum of the initial Occupations, there seems to be no limit to the possibilities. That rosy optimism comes from meeting so many other folks who are equally “green”, and equally driven to see this movement succeed. I would say that about 50-75% of the people I’ve met and worked with so far in this movement are similar to me in that they have almost no prior experience in non-partisan activism. Some have very little experience in public protest at all. The common thread that binds us isn’t support for a leader, a political party, or even an ideology, but discovering and implementing solutions.
Zuccotti Park in it’s brief time was an amazing social and political incubator, with working groups demonstrating innovations in water recycling and energy usage, hosting teach-ins and skill-shares, and others taking up the cause by taking up a dustpan and broom. By simply creating a space where so many people could come and talk about what was wrong with the country, they sparked a change in our culture that will reverberate for a generation. In my own social circle alone, I know of dozens of people who are now more engaged in and vocal about politics than they were prior to the Occupation.
The beauty of Occupy is that more and more people are recognizing that if you want to help the movement and keep it centered and honest, you can step up and be an organizer, a facilitator, a broadcaster, a tweeter, or a donor (of time, money or food). Even if it should all fade and fizzle, no one who is passionately working to support OWS will suddenly stop to caring and become inactive should those three letters cease to have cultural relevance. Too many of us have found our voice will not return silent acquiescence of the status quo. By the end of spring, we should be able to walk without teetering too badly, and who knows, maybe by fall we’ll be ready to run.
1. We are Discovering New Tools for Civic Engagement
Source: The Architecht’s Newspaper
Winners and losers, that’s what the world of politics is based upon today. One year, you’re the dominant party, the next you’re in decline. What I have discovered through the OWS movement is the process of achieving consensus, which can be a far more satisfying form of democracy. This process comes with its own problems, but so does voting. The current two-party system has severely narrowed the range of acceptable debate, and local government isn’t the proper forum to address the fundamental institutional changes that need to take place in American society. The OWS General Assembly provides us with a different path.
My early experience with the GA in Zuccotti was a mixed bag. I would pop in and out of a few of the outdoor public GAs to help out on people’s mic, throw up my happy hands when I liked what I heard, and then pop out. I simply couldn’t attend enough to feel invested in the process. When I later tried to participate in the “Spokes Council” meeting, as a representative for Parents for Occupy Wall St., the process was continually derailed by disruptive people (who have since lost all credibility within the movement). I eased my worry about these problems by reminding myself that as a culture, we really don’t have a lot of experience in civic participation. To anthropomorphize this movement, back then we were just a baby learning how to rollover. Right about now, we’re actually learning how to crawl and move forward deliberately.
The folks who meet regularly at the Bushwick General Assembly are definitely moving forward. I’ve been most excited about this new channel to support OWS, because it has proven to be the most dedicated and spirited. No one has been afraid to voice their concerns about any topic, and everyone attending so far is capable of dissenting without derailing the process or the conversation. We’ve had enlightening existential discussions about the feasibility of a totally horizontal movement, and are all dedicated to making sure that everyone who attends feels empowered and encouraged to participate fully.
As we move closer to deciding what types of direct actions we want to execute, we are looking into some exciting tools for collaboration. Besides the reliable standards like an email list, web forum, and social media outlets, our attendees made us aware of tools such as InterOccupy, a conference call networking service, and a new and very promising tool available at collaborate.occupy.net called BetterMeans. It will allow us to stay task-oriented as well as track each person’s contribution to a project’s success:
If you live in Bushwick and would like to come out and find more ways to help us continue to succeed, join us every Thursday at 7pm in March at The Loom. Here’s a list of our online touchpoints:
If you don’t live in Bushwick, here’s where you can find local Occupations.
If you don’t find one, start a general assembly in your neighborhood. As the sign says, “This is just starting.”