We've all been waiting for this moment ever since the banks destroyed the economy in 2008, and I think the whole world has been wondering how long we were going to take before we stood up.
-- Naomi Klein
What is this? Something. And isn't that exactly what we wanted and needed, something? How many times during these bad years have you heard people here lament the lack of protest, the absence of agitation? Most of us have said it or thought it: why aren't people in the streets? Well, they're there now, and some are getting beaten by cops.
The anti-bank campaign has in fact been incubating for years — a “seed beneath the snow,” as the Italian novelist Ignazio Silone once termed the slow-to-arrive left. The sit-ins, teach-ins and street demonstrations popping up in Boston, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles are formally the handiwork of a coalition of community groups that recently gathered together as the New Bottom Line. Many of these groups have focused on immediate goals — such as stopping particular banks from foreclosing on more homes. They, along with unions, have demonstrated on Wall Street many times since the 2008 financial crisis. But only now, as Occupy Wall Street — an organization that they didn’t create — has grabbed the public imagination the past few weeks, are the myriad mobilizations commanding the media’s attention.
So why, then, did this particular action grab the public imagination? That's a question worth trying to answer as we try to build on the movement. My speculation:
Because it's different. It's not a brilliant, earth-shattering idea perhaps, sleeping out in a square, staying, but an occupation signals commitment and distinguishes itself from marches and other temporary actions. Several of my fellow New Yorkers have asked me: How can do they do that? Beginning with the reign of Rudy and intensifying post-9-11, authorities have controlled public spaces (and citizens) in a heavy-handed way. (If these protestors were conventionally homeless, the police would have already cleared them out.) Ah, but this thing is going off precisely because the square's not public, it's private. Well done!
Because Wall Street is its proximate target. OccupyKStreet or OccupyBigOil wouldn't have had the same resonance. I mean, where are the oil companies even located? Wall Street is a particularly grotesque villain, the belly of the beast. And the finance sector, the most powerful interest group in both parities, owns DC. While Wall Street didn't cause all of our economic woes, it's simply a fact the banks sent the country into a recession. As Elizabeth Warren put it, “The people on Wall Street broke this country, and they did it one lousy mortgage at a time.” Americans understand the connection between Wall Street crimes and their own lives. It's also important that unlike the WTO conference that sparked the Seattle protests, Wall Street isn't going anywhere. Either are the protestors.
Because the protesters lack baggage and leaders.. Novices? Not so much.
The direct action committee lies at the heart of this success. Numbering anywhere between 35 and 50 activists, the committee is "empowered by the general assembly" to plan action. The committee includes campaigners, community activists and those with relevant organisational skills, some of whom live in collectives and already base their lives around a communal system.
So maybe, just maybe, they know what they're doing. But they don't carry the baggage and complications of an affiliation with an organization or a cause other than this one. Nor do they have a leadership that can be demonized or coopted.
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So yeah, this gives me hope. And I know I'm not the only one. I wonder if this movement can bear the weight of our expectations. But then it will be what we make it. Camp out if you can, march if you can't camp out, send money if you can't march, send supplies if you can't send money, spread the word if you can't send send supplies.
Over the last few weeks, Daily Kos -- all of you -- has reminded me of how vital blogs can be, getting the facts out, countering the corporate media bullshit, telling the 99ers' side of the story, cultivating enthusiasm. This role is important. At Ezra Klein's blog, labor organizer-historian Rich Yeselson has an excellent piece about OWS and political movements generally. I'd like to highlight the part especially relevant to bloggers.
[W]]hen a movement does arise, it needs an articulate exposition, and the brainy liberal left infrastructure’s time has come. Edmund Wilson put down his Proust long enough to report from the bloody coal mines of Eastern Kentucky. College professors all over the country held public “teach-ins” to educate their students and others about the history of the Vietnam War and American interventionism.
So there’s a big job to do explaining and defending the Wall Street demonstrators to curious Americans.