Occupy Today, Occupy Tomorrow, Occupy Forever

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 16 2011 10:39 AM

Occupy Today, Occupy Tomorrow, Occupy Forever

My new piece was mostly reported from the happy camps of Occupy D.C., which, thanks to lax city laws and a permissive city council, is not facing the existential threat that Occupy Wall Street is. Harry Siegel, in New York, has a great piece about how the crackdown in Zuccotti may have rescued the movement.

Bloomberg and [Police Commissioner Ray] Kelly have breathed new life into what had been a struggling political movement. First, their brief eviction helped split the occupiers from Zuccotti Park itself, which had become a sometimes shady, frequently overpacked and unpleasant place. The park that was supposed to be a model society — and had become the star around which other cities’ occupations rotated — had become a burden to many of the organizers. Even the culture jammers at Adbusters, credited with calling for a day of action, which in turn sparked the occupation, argued on Monday it was time to move on from the parks.
The one-two punch of the police eviction and court decision gave purpose back to a broader movement that has lately seemed adrift.
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I guess the question is to what extent occupying parks is "the movement," and to what extent it has somewhere else to go, something else to do. There really wasn't any wing of the Tea Party that wanted to rebel against Obama by, say, setting up an alternative civilization in Texas. (That happened naturally.) It was dramatically easy to move the new conservative brand, new movement, toward achievable political goals like winning Congress. Contrast that with OWS. There's some frustration that the new activists aren't honing their focus, that they may be overly obsessed with holding parks. The labor organizer Rich Yeselson gave me a longer answer for my piece, and I couldn't fit it all in, but I can post it here.

No, it should not be a priority to take back the park, or any other public spaces in cities around the country.  occupations served their function by helping to construct a context for political and intellectual contention over income and wealth inequality.

It would have been better if occupiers had declared themselves an end to occupation and walked out with heads held high. Leave on their own terms.  But police rousting [is] still a plus for OWS and other groups around the country if occupiers take this moment to create a vertical, but still democratic power structure, and propose specific policy demands of specific individuals and entities.  "Wall Street" has no president or CEO or members of congress.  Neither does the "top 1%.". These tropes have served their purpose.

If the movement CAN'T exist without occupation, then it wasn't really a movement in the first place.  It was merely an episode with some significant rhetorical and political impact.  Not bad, but without the enduring impact of a movement.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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