Wednesday, 11 April 2012
By Arun Gupta, Truthout | Report
Occupy Wall Street demonstration on March 15, 2012. (Photo: Sunset Parkerpix)
I met Nomi on a bus in Baltimore. She was from Wisconsin and had been involved with Occupy Wall Street. She was part of Occupy Judaism and fondly recalled the Yom Kippur services she attended at the Wall Street occupation with hundreds of other people. Nomi said that, for the first time, she and her friends felt like they could combine the religious and radical dimensions of Judaism. The conversation fell silent as the bus rolled along. Suddenly she turned to me and excitedly announced that she met her girlfriend at Liberty Plaza. I smiled and responded, “That’s why Occupy Wall Street matters.”
By enabling people to find fulfillment in all parts of their lives, whether romantic, spiritual, political or cultural, the Occupy movement is more than a movement. It is life-changing. People experience themselves as complete social beings, not just as angry, alienated protesters. Nomi said she was no longer involved in the movement, which I thought was more evidence of why the actual occupations were so important.
Occupy Tampa protest Oct 2011 (Photo credit: Sasha Rae Photo - Shanna Gillette)
After a wave of shutdowns, about 20 Occupy camps still stand. What do they tell us about the state of the movement?
Occupy Tampa has had a rough life. Born on a “Day of Rage” that drew 1,000 people to Tampa, Fla.’s downtown on Oct. 6, it put down roots three days later on a public sidewalk bordering Curtis Hixon Park. It soon blossomed into a community of more than 100 residents adorned with tents, medics, media, kitchen and library on a concrete patch less than 10 feet wide.
From day one, the Tampa police were a fixture in their lives. “They would come by at 6 a.m. to wake us up, and again in the afternoon to make us move our belongings off the sidewalk,” says Samantha Bowden, a 23-year-old senior at the University of South Florida. The occupiers taped off a 6-foot section of the sidewalk for egress and say the city conceded it had the right to a 24-hour presence, but the police were intent on retarding the occupation’s development by wielding a code against leaving articles on the sidewalk. Occupy Tampa occupiers adapted by placing their belongings on carts so they could be wheeled away whenever the police descended.
From Boise to Nashville, the movement faces an unconstitutional legal siege
Occupy Boise is under legal and meteorological siege. (Credit: AP/John Miller)
The Occupy movement is an exercise in the workings of power whether it is social, financial, policing or political. The occupations that began in September spread with an infectious passion in part because the police violence and mass arrests, the tried-and-true methods of state power employed to suppress radical movements, backfired and the movement grew more. By October hundreds of encampments had popped up nationwide with the tacit cooperation and sometimes explicit approval of local officials. For a few heady weeks Occupy Wall Street had the glow of popular legitimacy – social power – trumping whatever fusty laws prohibited camping or a continuous presence in a public space.
The inevitable counteroffensive was launched in November. Using the mass media, politicians hyped the movements as imminent threats to public health and safety, justifying aggressive evictions of prominent occupations in Oakland, Calif., Portland, Ore., and New York City. Within weeks other major encampments in Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston and New Orleans were scattered with hundreds of arrests. A third wave of closures has been underway since late January with occupations shut down from Hawaii to Miami and Austin, Texas, to Buffalo, N.Y.
Nonetheless, some encampments survive. In Houston a small contingent is legally maintaining a presence in downtown Tranquility Park, though a ban on tents and tarps has kept all but the hardy or desperate away. In Tampa Bay, after months of police harassment, occupiers found a safe haven in a privately owned public space donated by a wealthy supporter.
Now, a new strategy is being deployed to yank the rug from under occupations in four cities: legal power. Politicians have recently passed laws in Honolulu and Charlotte, N.C., that with a stroke of the pen made the occupations illegal, enabling police to sweep them away. Two more occupations, in Boise, Idaho, and Nashville, may be nearing the end as their respective state legislatures are on the verge of outlawing the democratic villages that for months have been thriving next to edifices of power. Critics charge that the anti-Occupy laws reveal how the law is not an objective code that treats everyone equally, but an arbitrary weapon wielded by the powerful.
From Texas to Kentucky, the service economy doesn’t serve up a future
Occupy Charleston, WV
Occupy Charleston, WV
AUSTIN, Texas — Under a photovoltaic glass trellis, on the terraced steps of Austin’s modernist City Hall, dozens of occupiers sprawl amid sleeping bags and sleeping dogs. A few people tap on computers while others nestled in bedding sit up, looking as if they are slowly sloughing off a hangover. It’s about 4 in the afternoon.
Trying to escape the pungence of fermenting compost, I gingerly climb the steps, scooting around one young woman with a brown sweater knotted around her waist and blue jeans around her ankles. A few feet away, a wiry guy in a flower-print sundress with body hair spilling out like Borat in a mankini strums a guitar.
At a table that passes for the kitchen on the plaza below a hefty man with a bandanna hanging off his chin eagerly offers mashed beans and vegetables on bread to passersby. A dozen homeless youth pass around a bowl as three impassive cops hang on the edge of the occupation. Two older women waltz to music only they can hear and a shirtless man grabs his shorts with one hand and a protest sign with the other as he chases a death-defying dog across four lanes of traffic.
When I describe the scene to Michelle Millette, an organizer with Occupy Austin, she laughs and in a rising voice says, “Keep Austin weird!” She explains that the encampment, which is mostly street people, stems from the fact that “Austin has a huge homeless population. A lot of the people are there because they say, ‘This is the only place I can legally sleep because I’ve been chased out of everyplace else.’” Plus, Millette adds, because the city has banned tents, “it looks like a hobo camp to people walking by. Many people are afraid to leave their stuff because it’s just lying out there.”