Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Observations from the Edge 12.6.2

I was talking to my sister earlier today and she happened to ask me how the Occupy Wall Street thing started. It's actually something I have wanted to write about but other things always seem to come up and I never do. This is a little something I wrote up for another project that does a good if spare job of answering that question.

A short history of the beginning of Occupy Wall Street....

It all started with an email sent out by Adbusters magazine that included a hashtag, #OccupyWallStreet, and a date, September 17th. It quickly spread with the help of a poster depicting a ballerina dancing atop the Wall Street charging bull statue. When September 17 finally arrived, people came from all over the country but they numbered closer to 2,000 than the hoped for 20,000.

The plan was to hold a General Assembly meeting at Chase Manhattan Plaza and then figure out the next step from there. But the plaza had been closed off the night before. Leaflets showing a map and alternate locations were circulated through the crowd and a decision was made to go with plan B, Zuccotti Park, right between thoroughly barricaded Wall Street and the World Trade Center site. The name Zuccotti Park once had is still on a building across the street and it was too good to be true. Zuccotti Park was quickly renamed Liberty Square, not unlike Tahrir (Liberation) Square in Cairo. The first week there was rarely more than a few hundred protesters at Liberty and they were constantly harassed by police. The began to call themselves 'the 99%' as opposed to the 1% who control majority of the wealth.

Each time there was an incident with the police media attention increased. It sometimes seemed as if the police were trying to do the occupation a favor. Young women pepper sprayed without provocation, teenagers slammed onto the pavement, about 700 arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge, each episode brought more cameras, more sympathy, more people and more momentum.

The movement was born.

Observations from the Edge 12.6.1

At the end of my day of wandering Saturday I stopped in at a bar close to home for a quick drink. While I was there I ran into a guy I had meant weeks ago at Liberty Square but hadn't really talked to since. I honestly don't know if he knows as much or knows as many 'insiders' as he said he did but we did have an interesting conversation about where OWS goes over the winter.

One thing we agreed on was that the eviction of November 15th probably wasn't a bad thing. There really was no way the camp could survive a winter like the one we had last year. Being close to the water the winds would howl up the streets in a storm and anything approaching last year's snowfalls would have buried them, all their energy would have been spent simply surviving. Imperial Mike may have done everybody a favor in shutting Zuccotti down and would have better served himself by letting everybody freeze.

That being said the winter months are going to be very important to the movement's future. A time to organize, grow, and prepare for its part in the coming presidential election campaign including the rumored occupation of both the Democratic and Republican conventions. During a recent visit to OWS Jesse Jackson said, “At some point, movements must take on some form, some identifiable agenda. At some point, water must become ice.” Whether those in attendance liked hearing it or not, and I'm thinking not, this is very true. Not that I think the movement needs some set of concrete demands, everybody seems to have their own, but I do think it needs a clear direction, maybe destination is a better word, an end game to strive for.

I'll have to get back to that conversation some other time because I wanted to mention something that began today and ties in somewhat. Organizing for Occupation (O4O), a 200 member squatter group, and Occupy Wall Street today launched the Occupy Our Homes campaign. The idea is to disrupt foreclosure proceedings, liberate foreclosed properties, and help people facing eviction. With squatting on the rise O4O was formed months before OWS but in recent weeks over 50 new squatting support groups have sprung up, many affiliated with local occupy groups. Banks seem to be sitting on foreclosed homes at record levels akin to the trillions of dollars in cash they are sitting on overseas. In parts of the Bronx as much as 40% of the housing is foreclosed and empty as the unemployed go homeless.

“The Occupy Wall Street movement and brave homeowners around the country are coming together to say, "Enough is enough." We, the 99%, are standing up to Wall Street banks and demanding they negotiate with homeowners instead of fraudulently foreclosing on them."
You can read more at OccupyOurHomes.org.