Occupy Movement Shows National, Local Staying Power
The seeds for the event went back to mid-2011, when the popular magazine Adbusters published a suggestion that citizens set up encampment and "occupy Wall Street for a few months." The call caught the attention of some veteran activists, who began talking about the hybridization of tactics used in the successful Tahir Square protests in Egypt with those developed in Madrid's seminal Puerta del Sol uprising.
Despite drawing thousands of demonstrators to the financial district and the sudden full-scale encampment at Zuccotti Park, local and national media largely ignored the ongoing activist siege, until more than 700 people were arrested while marching on the Brooklyn Bridge on October 1.
On Oct. 14, the ongoing demonstration and emerging mini-society at Zucccotti Park faced its first threatened eviction from the City of New York. iBerkshires reported from on location at Zuccotti Park, where Mayor Bloomberg ordered an 11th-hour stand down after thousands of supporters including numerous local unions arrived in force to resist the removal en masse. Over the course of that day demonstrators celebrated their victory and planned for actions as part of the worldwide solidarity day that followed, some sharing their thoughts with this correspondent at what it all meant at the one-month mark.
Just one month later, NYPD returned, in force and without warning at around 1 a.m. this past Tuesday to evict the demonstrators. Tents and tables were dismantled, and about 70 people were arrested when they refused to leave the premises.
John Garb, former host of Talk Berkshires on WBRK radio and now living in New York City, visited Zuccotti Park on Nov. 14, just hours before the unannounced eviction of the two-month encampment.
Garb said that while generally an advocate of progressive politics, he had yet to even visit the site, though he works nearby. "I'm in no way an occupier. I have a job where I work about 60 hours a week," he said of his position representing a major Fortune 500 company in unemployment disputes.
"It was surprising. The degree of order, and the degree of civility inside that little 'town' there was amazing. There were tables set up everywhere with brochures, and of course electronics, and various information available," he said. "The 'library' is the first thing you see. Everywhere you looked there were little signs of a community. Every corner you turned around there was a discussion, and people sitting around in a circle. The communication was very sophisticated.
"It was like a bazaar ... a bazaar for knowledge, for the exchange of information. It could have been what like a university would be like, if it had been hit by a hurricane and had to reopen outside."
Garb admitted he was surprised and impressed with the level of organization he saw there. "It looked like it had been there a long time. Everyone was just sort of sharing the space, and you could see where garbage was being picked up, and there were signs everywhere telling you what was going on, and the daily activities and meetings and marches. There was a sort of self-imposed civility. Maybe I imagined it, but that's what I saw there."
Even without the beacon of the original Zuccotti Park encampment, some say the genie of an ongoing movement is already out of the bottle, with a majority of American cities now having experienced some local manifestation of the Occupy tactic.
On Oct. 15, 2011, close to 1,000 cities worldwide hosted Occupy-oriented demonstrations to protest economic injustice in solidarity. In some foreign cities, most notably Rome, protests turned destructive, with extensive property damage and bloody clashes with police and military in the streets.
Since then, occupations, evictions, injuries and arrests now numbering in the thousands have made headlines throughout the world on almost daily basis. Currently, OccupyTogether.org maintains a listing of more than 500 ongoing Occupy locations, though there are said to be many more not included in this listing.
Several other Berkshire County expatriates have been sending me perspectives and updates from occupations in other cities.
Alexia Pritchard, who has done extensive documentary film shooting at Occupy Boston said the movement there, which includes a space maintained by a group of protesting chaplains, has many religious parallels.
"'What is your position? Why are you doing this? What is the point? Aren't you just causing trouble?' These are the same questions that Christ faced during His ministry. And He often frustrated the questioners by confusing them further, with parables or His own questions," she said. "Then He went back to being a teacher and exemplar, just as much in what He did as what He said. We're following Christ in this way, as are many of the Occupation. The point isn't to demand something, get it, and then go home. The point is to show people the Way to live that gives us life, joy, and allows us to flourish as who we all are: the children of God. And that Way is lived, as Jesus shows us over and over again."
Ted Lee shared his experience of being at Occupy Portland early Sunday morning, when an eviction by local police was initially held off, Lee said, by a nonviolent cooperation by thousands of Portland residents.
"We did not hold the park all of the next day — we were evicted. But it wasn't and it isn't entirely about the park. The park made us visible — it created a constituency — it created a 99 percent. The movement grew up in that night, and I with it. I celebrate that long night of holding the park because in that moment of victory we learned a feeling. We learned what we will need to feel in order to prevail… What we witnessed and felt this morning was the very moment of victory that we will feel when the world starts healing."
On an economic level, the economic offshoot "Move Your Money" movement has begun to show a more tangible result from these sweeping trends. In the four weeks leading up to the planned Banked Transfer Day on Nov. 5, 650,000 Americans transferred a total of more than $4.5 billion from national banks to a credit union or other small local bank, according to a survey by the Credit Union National Association.
The siphoning of funds out of these major financial institutions continues at an estimated rate of about 20,000 accounts per day, those these numbers have been disputed by the American Bankers Association, and definitive statistics will not be available to the public until February.
Berkshire Activists to Occupy Town Hall Around the Clock
In more rural areas, such as the Berkshires, the Occupy movement has taken on new shapes, reflective of their own local demographics and issues.
Occupy Berkshires, which began in early October, has held weekly standouts in downtown Great Barrington, joined forces with longtime Pittsfield demonstrators in the Berkshire Citizens for Peace and Justice in their Park Square standouts, and rallied in force in Lenox to protest the Department of Environmental Protection's proposed plan for partial cleanup of the southern Housatonic River.
This weekend, participants in the local movement will hold their first 24-hour Occupation, intending to camp in front of the Great Barrington Town Hall from noon Saturday to Sunday afternoon. Organizers alerted the Board of Selectman of their intention at its Monday meeting, followed by a meeting with the town manager, police and fire officials on Tuesday to agree upon details for the overnight event.
Occupy Berkshires will hold a general assembly meeting, open meetings with its various work groups, and host guest speakers. Organizers invite anyone interested to bring tents, blankets, food, and so forth and join in the effort, or simply drop in to discuss issues and hear the perspectives of other area residents.
With upheavals, evictions, and new branches appearing all the time, the future direction and impact of this movement nationally is difficult to predict. What can be safely said, looking back over just two months, is that the meme that arose when those first protesters took up their encampment at Zuccotti Park became a global event faster than any imagined, and the word Occupy seems likely to remain prominent in the news headlines for some time to come.