Earlier in the month, I wrote about how Occupy Wall Street has been largely forced “underground” following the NYPD raid on Zuccotti Park, which in the long-term might actually be more advantageous for the group. Instead of sitting around like ducks in a barrel waiting for police to come and destroy them, OWS is now a moving, camouflaged target that is capable of sudden, dramatic actions like occupying foreclosed homes.
When I moderated an OWS panel at Netroots Nation New York this weekend, members of Occupy The Hood and OWS said that these kinds of pro-active occupations (occupying warehouses, closed schools, foreclosed properties, banks, etc.) are the future of Occupy.
Nelini Stamp, one of the original Occupiers and the woman who announced to Zuccotti Park that Mayor Bloomberg had stood down from his plans to evict protesters for the Oct 14 park cleaning, said she imagined a day when OWS would occupy closed factories.
Such plans truly represent actual anarchist philosophy, not the property damaging hooligan cartoon character deemed “anarchist” largely by the media. As Noam Chomsky explained, “A consistent anarchist must oppose private ownership of the means of production and the wage slavery which is a component of this system, as incompatible with the principle that labor must be freely undertaken and under the control of the producer.”
The tagline “Occupy. Resist. Produce” for Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis’s 2004 film “The Take” served as a premonition of things to come in the United States.
The documentary takes place in Argentina in the wake of a dramatic 2001 economic collapse. Factories are now ghost towns. There is mass unemployment. In the wake of Neoliberalism ruin, workers at the Forja auto plant join a daring new movement to occupy bankrupt businesses and create jobs after the leaders of their country fail to do so.
“Armed only with slingshots and abiding faith in shop-floor democracy, the workers face off against the bosses, bankers and a whole system that sees their beloved factories as nothing more than scrap metal for sale,” The Take’s website reads.
OWS has already began to join the tradition of occupying and resisting at 702 Vermont Street in East New York, and Boston seems set to be the next large Occupy presence to adopt the same tactic.
Observers say the tent encampments were just the beginning and the movement will have to enter another phase of organizing if it’s to accomplish policy changes. Some demonstrators say the movement will become floating — occupying warehouses, banks, closed schools and foreclosed properties, which Occupy groups around the country have already done.
Occupy now, as it always has, finds itself in a difficult position.
Part of the movement’s power has always resided in its broad appeal and refusal to condense its message into a ten-point policy plan. While solely focusing on foreclosed homes or abandoned schools might limit the movement’s appeal, the group stands to gain more favorability among mainstream Americans, who perhaps need clearly defined actions to really understand what Occupy is all about.
On the plus side, occupying abandoned factories is deeply symbolic on a multitude of levels. Occupiers would still be able to focus on foundational messages of job creation, healthcare access, fighting foreclosures and addressing the central failures of hyper-Capitalism.
Picking smart occupation targets would help limit damage inflicted by OWS’s biggest criticism: that the movement is scattered and has no real platform. Of course, this notion is misguided. OWS stands for something -— many huge, broad things — because there are many huge things wrong with the country right now. But such broad criticisms overwhelm a plethora of Americans. Where to start if everything is so extremely fucked?
By occupying a foreclosed home, or abandoned school, or closed factory, OWS could help focus those sweeping critiques into one easy-to-understand microcosm. Families need shelter. Children need schools. Workers need to work. These things are universally understood and valued.
If there was any doubt this better-focused strategy can win Occupy mass appeal, those fears were put to rest when the New York Post, famous for belittling Occupy and everything it does, gave the group a favorable write-up for its occupation of a foreclosed home in East New York.
In the shockingly balanced article calmly titled, “Protesters help family Occupy foreclosed home,” Jennifer Bain and Josh Saul detail how protesters helped move a mother and two children into a vacant home at 702 Vermont Street. There are no screaming accusations of anarchist hooligans or damage to property or any of the usual Post hysteria. Quite simply, protesters preemptively defeated any such allegations by picking a wise occupation target and sympathetic recipients.
While rushing to potentially soul-crushing jobs, it’s easy to see how suits viewed the campers at Zuccotti as being the “dirty hippie” characters of Bill O’Reilly’s nightmares. I simply lost count of how many times I heard a business person angrily shout “get a job!” at the Occupiers. As though finding a job is as easy as waking up in the morning. As though many of the protesters haven’t been searching for a job for several months. However, that unfair characterization of Occupy is understandable given that camping in Zuccotti was a largely passive, albeit groundbreaking, act.
Switching gears and occupying factories, schools, and foreclosed homes is not only a way to take the movement underground and make it more easily defendable, but also a way to open up Occupy to extended mainstream appeal.