But is it Occupy?

As the movement ages, it's becoming harder and harder to determine which groups exactly belong to it

Topics: Occupy Wall Street, ,

But is it Occupy?A Black bloc protest in London. (Credit: alightman / CC BY 3.0)

Updated with correction below.

I was reminded this weekend that it’s still unclear what exactly Occupy Wall Street is — or, more precisely, what does or does not count as part of “Occupy.” Events in New York once again brought this to the fore for those organizing and agitating under the movement banner.

On Saturday, following the annual Anarchist Book Fair, a crowd gathered in New York City’s Washington Square Park for an anti-police march. They took to the streets with numbers nearing 100 and little police accompaniment, at first. They wound through the East Village, leaving some minor property damage in their wake. By the end of the night, there had been three arrests, carrying hefty charges including assault on a police officer and inciting to riot.

I followed the march — it was rowdy, energetic and fast. Barricades and trash cans were dragged into the street to stop traffic and impede the police cars that eventually arrived on the scene. At one point, two young women watching the surge of people winding through stalled traffic asked me whether this was an “Occupy thing.” I answered “yes.” But, as I soon appreciated, it’s more complicated than that.

One of the arrestees — Nicholas Thommen — was held on bail and the issue came up as to whether the OWS bail fund (a $90,000 nest egg set aside for bailing out activists) should be tapped into. A number of people suggested that since no established OWS working group had announced the march, and since the action had not been publicized on any OWS website, the event was distinct from Occupy plans and thus ought not receive its funds. After a fair amount of back and forth, an individual who supports OWS posted Thommen’s bail. Across Twitter and in numerous media reports, people asked whether the march was or was not Occupy. The Village Voice reported:

At first, reports brought up a possible link between the black bloc and Occupy, members of whom had already been attending major protests throughout the day and a march at Washington Square that started around 7pm. But the coincidence was soon found to be false.

You Might Also Like

The report is wrong on two counts: First, as has now been pointed out ad nauseam, the black bloc is a tactic — not a group — that involves march participants covering their faces and donning black hoodies and bandannas so that no one member is identifiable. Although some of Saturday’s marchers covered their faces with bandannas, this didn’t amount to the whole march employing black bloc tactics. Second, connections between the march and Occupy were anything but “coincidence.”

Many long-term Occupy supporters were part of the march, which was planned autonomously and anonymously, and publicized on fliers given out by hand. Although it was not announced by any OWS website, it arose from decentralized organizing, which falls in line with the horizontalism underpinning the idea of Occupy. (Unlike, for example, the 99 Percent  Spring, which was developed by institutions like MoveOn that do not organize horizontally.)

A number of those involved in OWS will want to distance the Occupy name from anything involving property damage or black bloc tactics. To do so, however, would miss the importance of “Occupy” as a broad and confusing banner under which a diversity of tactics are supported — namely that such decentralization can empower vast numbers of people across the country to plan and orchestrate actions on their own, but also in solidarity with the ideas and principles associated with Occupy (as we saw with the original spread of encampments); it would also miss the fact that many of the longest-term participants in Occupy are anarchists who appreciate the utility of black bloc tactics and reject the idea that damage to corporate property constitutes violence.

Last August, as general assemblies became a regular occurrence in New York’s parks and squares, the plan of “Occupying Wall Street” on Sept. 17 served as an anchor point for organizing. The attendees wanted to form affinities, to plan actions, to spread information and agitate; the idea was never to form an organization with members. But as actions and encampments grabbed headlines and resonated across the world, it ostensibly made sense to ask whether an action or protest was or was not part of Occupy.

As Saturday’s actions illustrated, there is no determinate answer to what is or isn’t Occupy. There are procedures and principles broadly understood and developed that tend to characterize that which is part of the movement, but there is no membership, no central committee. There is an ongoing conversation about when funds donated to OWS should be used, and there will continue to be contentious cases. As groups mobilize in anticipation of the planned general strike on May 1 and protests in Chicago around the NATO summit in late May, the line between what is and is not Occupy will become unclearer still.

I would be saddened if energy went into trying to develop rules or qualifications to determine whether a group or action is “Occupy” or not. How bail funds should be raised and distributed will remain a difficult question in need of careful addressing. However, if Occupy participants have created something with sticking power, this spring we will no doubt see many more street marches like the one in New York last Saturday; the sort of actions that challenge assumptions about what is or is not Occupy, but perhaps point to a fabric of unrest related to, but broader than, the Occupy name.

Correction: an earlier version of this story mistakenly reported that the OWS bail fund covered Thommen’s bail.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>