November 14, 2011
Political occupations have a storied history starting with the first recorded labor strike. Some 3,176 years ago in Ancient Egypt royal tomb builders from the desert village of Deir el-Medina repeatedly occupied temples following the failure of Pharaoh Ramses III to provide wages consisting of wheat, fish, beer, clothing and other provisions.
In the centuries since, other movements have stamped their mark on history by occupying spaces, such as the Diggers who formed a utopian agrarian community on common land in 17th century England, and the workers, soldiers and citizens who established the ill-fated Paris Commune in 1871.
American history is rich with examples of political occupations that left a lasting impact. Sometimes the 99% pushed progress forward, as with Rosa Park’s occupation of a bus seat that propelled the Montgomery Bus Boycott and ended with Alabama’s bus segregation being declared unconstitutional. Often the 1% of the time – slaveholders, robber barons and merchants of war – re-asserted control with new methods of domination such as after the Great Upheaval of 1877. But each event proved that true democracy lies in collective act of taking space public and private, while corporations and the state are just two arms of the same beast.
With the spread of political occupations to all 50 states today, the most dynamic democratic movement since the 1960s, lessons can be gleaned from past occupations for a movement that shows no signs of going away. Here are seven of the most important occupations that changed American history.