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.



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 7
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    AP/Jae C. Hong

    Your summer in extreme weather

    California drought

    Since May, California has faced a historic drought, resulting in the loss of 63 trillion gallons of water. 95.4 percent of the state is now experiencing "severe" drought conditions, which is only a marginal improvement from 97.5 percent last week.

    A recent study published in the journal Science found that the Earth has actually risen about 0.16 inches in the past 18 months because of the extreme loss of groundwater. The drought is particularly devastating for California's enormous agriculture industry and will cost the state $2.2 billion this year, cutting over 17,000 jobs in the process.

       

    Meteorologists blame the drought on a large zone (almost 4 miles high and 2,000 miles long) of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast which blocks Pacific winter storms from reaching land. High pressure zones come and go, but this one has been stationary since December 2012.

    Darin Epperly

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Great Plains tornadoes

    From June 16-18 this year, the Midwest was slammed by a series of four tornadoes, all ranking as category EF4--meaning the winds reached up to 200 miles per hour. An unlucky town called Pilger in Nebraska was hit especially hard, suffering through twin tornadoes, an extreme event that may only occur every few decades. The two that swept through the town killed two people, injured 16 and demolished as many as 50 homes.   

    "It was terribly wide," local resident Marianne Pesotta said to CNN affiliate KETV-TV. "I drove east [to escape]. I could see how bad it was. I had to get out of there."   

    But atmospheric scientist Jeff Weber cautions against connecting these events with climate change. "This is not a climate signal," he said in an interview with NBC News. "This is a meteorological signal."

    AP/Detroit News, David Coates

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Michigan flooding

    On Aug. 11, Detroit's wettest day in 89 years -- with rainfall at 4.57 inches -- resulted in the flooding of at least five major freeways, leading to three deaths, more than 1,000 cars being abandoned on the road and thousands of ruined basements. Gov. Rick Snyder declared it a disaster. It took officials two full days to clear the roads. Weeks later, FEMA is finally set to begin assessing damage.   

    Heavy rainfall events are becoming more and more common, and some scientists have attributed the trend to climate change, since the atmosphere can hold more moisture at higher temperatures. Mashable's Andrew Freedman wrote on the increasing incidence of this type of weather: "This means that storms, from localized thunderstorms to massive hurricanes, have more energy to work with, and are able to wring out greater amounts of rain or snow in heavy bursts. In general, more precipitation is now coming in shorter, heavier bursts compared to a few decades ago, and this is putting strain on urban infrastructure such as sewer systems that are unable to handle such sudden influxes of water."

    AP/The Fresno Bee, Eric Paul Zamora

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Yosemite wildfires

    An extreme wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park forced authorities to evacuate 13,000 nearby residents, while the Madera County sheriff declared a local emergency. The summer has been marked by several wildfires due to California's extreme drought, which causes vegetation to become perfect kindling.   

    Surprisingly, however, firefighters have done an admirable job containing the blazes. According to the L.A. Times, firefighters with the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have fought over 4,000 fires so far in 2014 -- an increase of over 500 fires from the same time in 2013.

    Reuters/Eugene Tanner

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Hawaii hurricanes

    Hurricane Iselle was set to be the first hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii in 22 years. It was downgraded to a tropical storm and didn't end up being nearly as disastrous as it could have been, but it still managed to essentially shut down the entire state for a day, as businesses and residents hunkered down in preparation, with many boarding up their windows to guard against strong gusts. The storm resulted in downed trees, 21,000 people out of power and a number of damaged homes.

    Debbie Arita, a local from the Big Island described her experience: "We could hear the wind howling through the doors. The light poles in the parking lot were bobbing up and down with all the wind and rain."

    Reuters/NASA

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Florida red tide

    A major red tide bloom can reach more than 100 miles along the coast and around 30 miles offshore. Although you can't really see it in the above photo, the effects are devastating for wildlife. This summer, Florida was hit by an enormous, lingering red tide, also known as a harmful algae bloom (HAB), which occurs when algae grow out of control. HABs are toxic to fish, crabs, octopuses and other sea creatures, and this one resulted in the death of thousands of fish. When the HAB gets close enough to shore, it can also have an effect on air quality, making it harder for people to breathe.   

    The HAB is currently closest to land near Pinellas County in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is 5-10 miles offshore.

  • 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>