Today was perhaps the most emotional day in the two-month-old Occupy Wall Street movement. Coming shortly after dramatic park clearings in cities such as Oakland (for the second time) and Portland, the epicenter of the movement, Zuccotti Park in Manhattan, was trashed, hosed, and disinfected starting about 1 a.m. Tuesday.
The overwhelming sentiment expressed by the occupiers: This changes nothing. They said they may find another spot (although that was proving difficult after eviction from a backup location). Or they may be physically disbanded. But it was hard to find anyone who said he thinks the movement will break up.
That’s because Occupy Wall Street, which began as a global online phenomenon, had continued to grow well beyond the park. It spread into off-site working groups that actually were tackling those elusive “demands” and at least unifying informally on a few. It also infected existing organizations such as MoveOn.org, a plethora of labor unions, esteemed economists such as Joseph Stiglitz, and of course the stars.
“This is a setback for Occupy Wall Street,” said Bill Dobbs, a member of the PR team in front of barricades blocking the freshly scrubbed park. “But it’s important to realize that the ideas which Occupy Wall Street has put into discussions across this country and around the world about who has what, who has a safety net, and who gets thrown under the bus will continue. We’re going to regroup and we are going to be stronger.”
A nearly identical sentiment came from an unofficial spokesperson, Jeff Charroin, an employee with the State Attorney General’s Office (who coincidentally had worked with Dobbs as volunteers with Act Up). “The movement doesn’t need this park. This is a visual,” said Charroin, who is focusing on reforms to benefit small businesses. “This is the next step…. The movement is online, and it’s bigger online.”
In fact, the Occupation has already done what was intended. From the first New York General Assembly, the plan was to occupy for as long as possible, which the proto organizers envisioned at as little as a long weekend and as much as a few months. People speaking for Anonymous had also named “a few months” as the goal.
And from the early planning, members of New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts, the incubator of many future organizers, were concerned that yet another protest would draw away from the hard on-the-ground organizing that should be there priority. The movement did achieve plenty of that groundwork, with more than 200 “occupations” big and small sprouting up around the globe.
But it can also expand beyond the largely white and often highly educated core of activists who thrive on such take-the-square protests. Marina Sitrin, a longtime Occupy organizer in New York, recounted a recent trip to the occupation in Athens. “They were talking about how important it is to be in the neighborhoods,”she said, echoing that same concern from the earliest planning days.
Encampments will likely still come. And they will probably go. Marches and arrests will continue. But what will be the long-term campaigns? Here are a few possibilities.
Electoral Reform. Overturning Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruling that corporations and unions could essentially make unlimited campaign contributions, has been a bull’s-eye from the beginning. Getting money out of politics is supported from the actual Ben and Jerry to U.S. Day of Rage, an early driver of the movement that seeded the first occupations outside New York on the first day.
Restoration of Glass-Steagall. It’s the Depression-era law that separated commercial from investment banks to protect people’s savings from the Wall Street casino. Support spans from MoveOn.org to LaRouche. It seems to have been the first concrete demand ever mentioned.
Ending corporate personhood. Undo the 19th-Century Supreme Court rulings that gave corporations the civil rights of human citizens.
Alternative banking. A working group of PhD-level experts has been considering new banking structures with the goal of making them more equitable for general citizens.
Student debt reform. As the largest chunk of consumer debt at about $830 billion, student loans are a key economic issue for the occupation as well as a personal one for the many students and recent graduates driving it. Demands range from measured reform of bankruptcy laws to blanket debt forgiveness. StudentLoanJustice.org, Hillary Clinton, and Representative Hansen Clarke of Michigan are or have been leading proponents.
Federal Budget reprioritization. Seemingly everyone in the movement wants the government to spend money differently, from Libertarians who want to cut it drastically (and trash the Federal Reserve Bank) to socialists and other strong liberals who want far more spending (perhaps diverted from the military) on social and job-creating programs. It was the dominant topic in the “Think Tank” discussions that took place every day in Zuccotti, said a young woman with the nom de occupation “Bearbasher.” “The occupation’s not over. That’s for sure,” she said.
Occupy Wall Street has also propelled many causes that may not be directly related to the economy but are near to the hearts of protestors, who see these other problems as decisions of the power elites. They include environmental concerns (The Keystone Oil Pipeline and hydrofracking natural gas extraction), criminal justice (the death penalty and the swelling number of inmates in corporate-run prisons), and of course the First Amendment and the right to free assembly.
And even further beyond, it’s fueled technology such as increased support for open-source software and reevaluations of how
social media can evolve to better coordinate social movements.
“Ideas are like 800-pound gorillas. You cannot arrest them. In fact, when you are dancing with an 800-pound gorilla, the gorilla decides when it’s time to stop,” said Alexa O’Brien, the founder of U.S. Day of Rage, in an email to Fast Company. In particular, she said to watch for the long-planned but now undoubtedly evolving day of action coming on November 17.
Of course O’Brien is also fond of repeating the old humorous maxim, “Opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one.”
That’s of course a dig on the inevitable divisions in any movement and the propensity for at least a few people to tarnish the overall image.
But ironically it is also a testament to how Occupy has incubated a cauldron of ideas that are bubbling over in many directions.
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[Homepage image: Flickr user Dan Nguyen @ New York City; top image: Sean Captain]