Every now and then, we need to take stock of the Occupy Wall Street movement, not just here in San Diego, but across the United States. And right now seems very appropriate to take stock what with the recent crack-downs and break-up of the encampments by police of the occupations around the country.
What has happened? Is the Occupy movement moving into Phase Two? Just where is it going? This question is on every pundit’s lips, across the political spectrum, from left to right. And observers, supporters, and opportunists everywhere are unhesitating ready to offer advice to the fledgling wave of activism whose abbreviations are OWS.
What is next for the movement that has transfixed the nation, changed our lexicon, that turned around the political discussion in this country – all in less than three months?
Are we now entering the “Winter of Discontent” where the movement breaks up, or breaks down into smaller parts, all the while bubbling up for a protest here and a protest there, but over-all submerging itself until spring? Or will the Occupy movement remain visible, creating new ways and forms to remain constantly visible?
In recent weeks, police have broken up the occupy encampments in San Diego, Oakland, New York City, Portland, St. Louis, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and now Los Angeles – which at its peak had 400 to 500 tents (as well as many smaller cities and towns). The largest camps – LA and NYC – are now gone. All measure of tactics were used by the big-city mayors to disband their around-the-clock demonstrations, from Oakland to LA, from New York to Atlanta.
Yet, some occupation camps are still surviving and are still in existence. San Francisco – under threat of eviction – is the largest remaining occupy site on the West Coast. Camps are continuing in Washington, DC, Boston, Seattle, and Detroit – each with roughly one hundred tents.
It seems that now, the big-city mayors (and Federal government) clearly want to see the end of the occupy movement, and because they carry a lot of weight, it does appear that the era of the big occupy tent city is over. The urban camps – the epitome of the occupy movement – are collapsing under the dual weight of the corporate establishment’s avoidance and of the big-city police, militarized to the hilt in the post 9/11 world. With the first phase one of occupation of public space (or private space open to the public), phase two will see a decentralization, a blossoming of occupy movements on college campuses, and a diffusion into causes and issues of the 99 per cent.
These very real issues and new directions – much needed for a drastic improvement in the body politic – pull at the mass of the occupy movement – now that it has been forced to reshape itself. So, we can see three tendencies for the immediate future of the Occupy Wall Street movement, inherent in recent actions and developments.
De-centralization, Colleges, and Diffusion
There will be a shift in momentum and focus from the large occupations to more regional and smaller ones at more moderately sized cities. Now that the largest encampments have been disbanded, other cities will have an opportunity to play larger roles in their own locales, as circumstances may push them to the political and media spotlight.
Ideally, the activists of the more moderate metropolitan areas will pick up the batons. This could very well bring the occupy movement closer to more Americans than it has up to now. Instead of the local news carrying the latest from New York, it’s bringing vids of the occupation at your own city hall.
Also here in the California, the growth of – and subsequent police crack-downs at – Occupy movements on UC campuses, signifies a new development where universities and colleges become the new battle-ground of occupiers, and potentially a new foci to the movement.
The move to and passing of the urban occupy movement onto college campuses is definitely part of this decentralization. At these sites of academe, there is already a body empathetic to the movement – the students. With cooperative administrators, supportive faculty and uber-local community, the non-violent struggle for the solutions to the economic disparity can take a visible and stable form. There can be some real relief for the occupiers in a more sympathetic environment from the constant drama with police and government officials.
One of the promising areas for the Occupy movement is its entry into efforts to block the foreclosures of homes. There is no more heady symbol of the 99%’s fight than resisting foreclosures. Mobilizing around and actually occupying homes on these bank forced cutting blocks is a tantalizing tactic – already employed in several arenas, like Atlanta.
Yet, there are other compelling causes that draw the activists – such as the West Coast port closures in December. Here on the Pacific, there is a campaign rapidly gaining ground to close all the commercial ports on December 12th. Occupy in LA, Portland, and other port cities are gearing up for this in an effort to have an visible impact on the economic system. The October shut-down of the Oakland Port for a day is hot in people’s memories, and excites the mind as a model – never mind local conditions.
What Happened? Civil Liberties Met Militarized Urban Police
What happened is that the movement to criticize Wall Street and the economy for victimizing the 99 per cent ran right smack into the brick wall representing the state of civil liberties and the militarized urban police forces in this country.
While no well-known or influential politician stepped forward to openly champion the occupy movement, coupled with the inability or unwillingness to “deal” with the urban occupations by the big city mayors and establishments, the occupy movement stood vulnerable after its initial popular splash. With time it was abandoned by even its most liberal big city mayors. Although not alone, as labor unions and councils lent support – both logistical and moral – the occupy movement still was on its own.
What happened is that the ability of the Occupy Wall Street movement to establish, develop, and maintain its defining and physical manifestations – the tent cities – became contingent on the state of a combination of significant factors: the current status of American civil liberties, or in other words, the acceptable level of the mass exercise of First Amendment rights, and two, this militarization of America’s urban police forces.
The criticism of Wall Street – as correct and as timely as it is – ran into a hardened attitude maintained by urban establishments that utilize a police force that has been militarily and technologically developed to combat “terrorists”. This post 9-11 gear-up by police then is what is available to the mayors to deal with the occupiers. Excuses to clean up the parks and to save the grass damaged by the demonstrators are the reasons given in order to sanctify the often forcible removal of the protesters and their tents.
In all of this, the tent – the solitary, modern tent with its aluminum self-fitting poles – has now become the iconic symbol of the occupation movement. It is the tent that the establishment, the mayors and police cannot stand. It represents a permanence that is unacceptable. A tent means that the occupiers are in them, living and sleeping, but importantly, staying. And this is what the establishment is just not down for. Sure, have your first amendment demonstration, but you can’t stay.
The struggle to pinpoint the problems on the economy has become sidetracked in a sense. Before Occupy activists can focus on the banks and the corporations as perpetrators of the capitalist crimes laid on the 99 per centers, they have to face up to this central fact of modern American life: our civil liberties are in deep danger. Freedom of assembly and of speech – and with the mistreatment of the established media by police – freedom of the press – all of these – have been so eroded as to be nearly unrecognizable.
All of these make up the stew of the current American socio-political state of affairs that the occupy movement finds itself, in a society where corporations are people, and where governments cannot govern.
A Round-Up of Recent Occupy Developments
While we figure out our next moves, here is a round-up – in bullet point fashion – of recent developments in the Occupy movement cities:
Occupy Los Angeles
- On Wednesday, early morning, 1400 police officers were used to clear out the West Coast’s largest camp at City Hall;
- Nearly 300 peacefully arrested;
- Arrestees reportedly swabbed for DNA samples;
- Occupiers regrouped at a local church to consider their next move.
Occupy San Francisco
- Now the largest remaining occupy site on the West Coast;
- Occupiers rejected latest offer by the City and were supposed to be removed by noon, Thursday, Dec 1. – but they still remain;
- Mayor says he won’t order police raid any time soon;
- City offered new site at a closed local school, but no cooking, no kids and no pets.
- 100 tents remain
Occupy Washington, DC
- Demonstrators began a march to Atlanta on Thursday, Dec. 1, some 700 miles;
- Camp closed down by police same day as Occupy LA;
- 52 arrests;
- Activists marched on police headquarters;
- “Victory March” is planned for this weekend.
Occupy St. Louis
- The camp was broken up by police on Nov. 12th.
- Organizers are marching on the Federal Reserve Bank
- Occupiers driven out of Woodruff Park;
- The movement moved into a homeless shelter;
- They occupied a house up for foreclosure;
- Camp in Grand Circus Park was dismantled;
- Organizers found site in low-income African-American neighborhood;
- Initial racial tension between mainly white occupiers with Black supporters
- 150 campers reside in camp;
- Movement ousted from park in city center
- Moved to Seattle Central Community College
- Encampment includes 100 tents;
- Organizers plan march on state capital on Monday, Dec. 5th