Saturday, November 12, 2011

Occupy--What Next?

What happens next with the Occupy movement? Should every camp fight for its continued existence or should those unable to sustain a livable environment for the campers because of the authorities or lack of logistical support pack it up? We always figured on having to make these decisions sooner or later because of the winter weather that is bound to come. However, the recent deaths in and near the Occupy camps in Salt Lake City, Burlington, VT., and Oakland forces the folks in those areas to think about the next move. Other camps have reported rapes. This movement is bigger than the camps, but the camps have been crucial in expanding the movement by providing a place for supporters to gather, an actual piece of turf to defend and identify with, and, for those warriors that have no other place to live, a home.
Each of the camps mentioned above are different in terms of their demographic makeup, the local politics, the police forces arrayed against them and the level of community support. Oakland has seen the most aggressive police action, while Burlington has probably seen the least. However, as soon as I heard that a shot had been fired in the Burlington camp I knew that the local authorities would manipulate whatever happened into a way to close the camp. That is exactly what they did. After inviting occupiers to meet with the Mayor and other officials inside City Hall (which is adjacent to the Occupy site), the police quickly went into the encampment, threw up a yellow tape and threw folks out. A couple folks were arrested for resisting this attempt (one was released immediately and the other was released a few hours later), but the move had been made. Nobody has been allowed back into the Occupy site except for a few folks who were allowed to retrieve their belongings after the police searched them and the belongings. The city is now calling the camp unsafe and is on record as refusing any more camping. As I write a GA is gathering. The future is uncertain. Just as it is in Oakland where the police forces are considerably less friendly and the big business that runs Oakland tightens the screws on the Mayor and police to clear the camp. Meanwhile, in other cities up and down the West Coast, eviction notices have been served on at least three other camps, with the police itching for a fight in at least two of those towns. (November 14-Both Portland and Oakland were shut down with massive displays of police force that were met with mass resistance.  November 15 New York was cleared).

So, back to the question: what next? Are those camps that have been placed in limbo the most important aspect of the movement? Should we go down swinging to protect them? For those that found the camps to be a safe place to live where they were making a difference, they may well be. At the same time, will the extra police surveillance and harassment certain to accompany any further camping at these sites turn them into places where the presence of (or fear of the presence of) police make political organizing difficult or impossible? I myself would find it hard to discuss the squatting of a foreclosed building with cops in and out of uniform within hearing distance.
Although I am not as big of a fan of Gandhi as many people in the movement, the history of the movement to chase the British out of India that he is identified with is instructive. In terms of the current discussion, the most relevant fact is that he and his fellow organizers were able to recognize when a tactic they were using had failed or at least run its course. When they acknowledged this (with much discussion no doubt) they moved on to another. The same could also be said of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and others involved in the movement for black liberation. Both movements never strayed from their goal, but both were quite keen at recognizing what should be the next set of tactics. If I were to express the goal of the Occupy movement, it would be this: redistribute the wealth hoarded by the wealthy few fairly. This simple statement has created space for those who want to effect this change from all walks of life except perhaps from that so-called 1%.
Some camps may (and should) remain the thriving alternative spaces they have become. At the same time, we must ask ourselves what the next set of tactics should be. Getting arrested for defending a piece of land that the cops will take back by any means necessary has to be weighed against the potential of the multitude of possibilities that exist for this movement. At the same time, should an Occupy camp choose to defend its turf, then the rest of the movement must do what it can to support that decision.

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