As is now becoming consensus, the overwhelming feeling among those keeping tabs on Occupy Wall Street is that last week's Zuccotti eviction represents a significant turning point for the movement. (A good one, if you're an OWS supporter.) Invigorated and adrenalized, protesters stormed NYC streets and bridges along with their allies across the nation and the world in an impressive display of vitality. In the following days, as if on cue, an increasingly militant police force continued to feed its own developing narrative, highlighted by an utterly perplexing display
at UC Davis of all places.
Now that the dust has settled and Occupy 2.0 is officially underway, it's time to reflect, starting with the encampments themselves. What was their value? Obviously, physical encampments were the essential incubators of the movement. Aside from providing the fertile ground necessary for the multifarious exchanges that would forge the ideological bedrock of the movement, camps were a physical representation of the most powerful message of OWS – a full-fledged rejection of the current zeitgeist. If the media wanted to cover it, they could. If interest groups wanted to try and co-opt it, they could try. If celebrities wanted to be seen, nothing stopped them. This wasn't about engaging any of the pre-existing institutions on their terms or seeking their acceptance. It was about creating a real alternative, with its own set of values, completely separate from them.
That said, the shortcomings of physical occupation became more magnified in recent weeks. Health and sanitation complaints, whether justified or not, offered a convenient point of entry for OWS opponents, as did the questionable legality and civility of a 24/7 public occupation. Regardless of the shaky notion of appealing to the law in a country where politicians are for sale and crime is a profitable industry, the fact of the matter is that the absence of a physical presence in Zuccotti Park instantly removes some of the sharpest arrows in the quiver of those seeking to sway public opinion against OWS.
Additionally, the General Assembly, though pure in its intent, was perhaps becoming a victim of its own fetishization. With more occupations now decentralized, new, more agile models of consensus and decision-making will emerge. Last and perhaps most obvious – the energy required to simply maintain the encampment was energy deducted from more important tasks, owing to a subtle yet substantial feeling that the movement had outgrown the occupation tactic. That's not to say physical occupations are a thing of the past or don't have a future in the Occupy movement. Many still remain and more will surely pop up later with different form factors and purposes. But now that the movement’s spearhead has been uprooted, the days of the remaining initial encampments appear numbered.
So where do we go from here? Many will attempt to answer that question, and the answers will be numerous – from good ones to bad ones, arising from face-to-face meetings to forum posts to ramblings in cyberspace. Indeed, the biggest asset, and obstacle, for OWS is processing the embarrassment of passion and ideas and possibilities originating from all corners at breakneck speed – yet there are only so many hours in a day, and only one step can be taken at a time. Some will insist on leadership, deeming it essential in sifting through these possibilities and providing an overhead view of the chessboard. Others will insist the opposite, asserting that to assume a more conventional stance would open up the movement to more conventional attacks. Some may relent in their idealism and try to play the political game one last time, others will simply call for more protests. Either way, decisions will have to be made.
I realize now that I could fill a novel's worth of my own opinions on how I personally think the movement should proceed on various fronts, but I understand that long scrolls tend to scare people away, so I'll save those ruminations for future posts. For now, I'll keep it general and say that the most important thing for OWS to do is maintain its identity. This doesn't just mean avoiding getting co-opted. It means remembering and not straying from the core value on which I feel OWS was founded – awareness.
Why is awareness so important? Because that’s what got us here in the first place. People who count themselves supporters of OWS did not always hold the views they do today. Most can pinpoint a time in recent memory when, though still unsatisfied with the status quo, they still believed the existing institutions could be effectively petitioned to bring about the will of the people. It was only after serious thought and reflection that they arrived at the unfortunate conclusion that the primary objective of these institutions had nothing to do with people’s welfare, and was only concerned with self-preservation.
The kind of thought required to arrive at such a realization had nothing to do with emotion, bias, or laziness. It would have been much easier and preferable to just believe in the current system, and it took a lot of work to dig deeper and truly investigate why all our big problems are perpetually locked in stagnation. That work was guided by a genuine interest in the truth, whatever it was – not a truth we wanted to see manifested. It was also guided by a belief that truly understanding the way things are would naturally inform the appropriate next steps to take, which would in turn lead to the best results for all – both collectively and individually.
So it’s that kind of unemotional awareness, intuition, and regard for truth, whether convenient or not, that must guide OWS into the future. Don't hesitate to call out police brutality, but don't egg it on either, or look for something that isn’t there in the hopes of becoming the next viral video purveyor. Condemn corruption and aberrant behavior wherever it occurs, but be equally eager to condemn it if it occurs within your own ranks. When considering matters such as leadership or specific action items, understand the value of unorthodox structures, but don't simply submit to newly established dogma that says anything remotely resembling established protocol must be automatically shunned, or that a small victory isn't worth pursuing. Give it the same seriousness of thought that led you to acknowledge the viability of the Occupy movement. It's a movement that was founded on truth and honest reflection – not emotional, reactionary, haphazard thinking. Given the incredibly difficult task of reaching a highly indoctrinated society too busy maintaining the operation of the 1%'s well-oiled machine to give serious thought to anything, our own capacity for this serious thought is essential. To betray it now would be to betray the cause.
This post also appears at Primitive Times, a new media platform currently focused on the Occupy movement.