Occupy. Resist. Produce.

Allison Kilkenny December 19, 2011

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.

Alli­son Kilken­ny is an In These Times Staff Writer and the co-host of the crit­i­cal­ly acclaimed radio show Cit­i­zen Radio. Her blog for In These Times, Upris­ing, focus­es on efforts around the world to address the glob­al eco­nom­ic crisis.
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