Tuesday, November 15, 2011

It's Over. And It's Only Just Begun.

It's over.

At about 1 a.m. Tuesday, New York City police handed out notices from Brookfield Office Properties, owner of Zuccotti Park, and the city saying that the park had to be cleared because it had become unsanitary and hazardous. Protesters were told they could return in several hours, but without sleeping bags, tarps or tents.

Hundreds of former Zuccotti Park residents and their supporters were marching along Lower Manhattan before dawn Tuesday and threatened to block Broadway during the morning rush hour.

Others gathered near Foley Square, just blocks from Zuccotti Park, where they can’t get arrested.

Paul Browne, a spokesman for the New York Police Department, said the park had been cleared by 4:30 a.m. and that about 70 people who’d been inside it had been arrested, including a group who chained themselves together. One person was taken to a local hospital for evaluation because of breathing problems.

According to NYT, about 150 people have now been arrested... And a NYC council member has been injured, along with a number of journalists and several protesters. It's the brutal end of what's already become an iconic protest.

Yesterday, we were trying to digest what happened in Oakland and across The West as Occupy sites were being forcibly cleared. This may end up being the end of a short-lived era... And hopefully, the start of something greater and longer lasting.

Ezra Klein made an interesting point this morning. Perhaps the NYC Mayor is doing Occupy a favor?

The occupation of Zuccotti Park was always going to have a tough time enduring for much longer. As the initial excitement wore off and the cold crept in, only the diehards -- and those with no place else to go -- were likely to remain. The numbers in Zuccotti Park would thin, and so too would the media coverage. And in the event someone died of hypothermia, or there was some other disaster, that coverage could turn. What once looked like a powerful protest could come to be seen as a dangerous frivolity.

In aggressively clearing them from the park, Bloomberg spared them that fate. Zuccotti Park wasn’t emptied by weather, or the insufficient commitment of protesters. It was cleared by pepper spray and tear gas. It was cleared by police and authority. It was cleared by a billionaire mayor from Wall Street and a request by one of America’s largest commercial real estate developers. It was cleared, in other words, in a way that will temporarily reinvigorate the protesters and give Occupy Wall Street the best possible chance to become whatever it will become next.

As we talked about yesterday, the fights with local authorities over actual occupation space might have been distracting both the occupiers and the viewing public from what's supposed to be the real focus of The 99% Movement. Now, they have a chance to refocus that conversation on inequality and economic justice, as they were so successful in doing earlier this fall.

And perhaps that will be the legacy of Occupy Wall Street. That would certainly be more than most protests achieve. If they are to go further, however, they are going to have to figure out a way to wield power in a more direct and directed form. The movement has always been uncertain on whether it wants to do that, and if it does, how to do it. It requires a willingness to work with the system that is, in certain ways, inimical to the founding of Occupy Wall Street. The good news, if they choose to make that transition, is that they don’t need a park to do it. The bad news is that, in most cases, it requires more hierarchy, clearer leaders, a more obvious agenda.

Back in October, I asked Rich Yeselson, a union researcher and a scholar of social movements, what he thought Occupy Wall Street would need to do to survive and succeed. “Whether they will grow larger and sustain themselves beyond these initial street actions will depend upon four things,” Yeselson said. “The work of skilled organizers; the success of those organizers in getting people, once these events end, to meet over and over and over again; whether or not the movement can promote public policy solutions that are organically linked to the quotidian lives of its supporters; and the ability of liberalism’s infrastructure of intellectuals, writers, artists and professionals to expend an enormous amount of their cultural capital in support of the movement.”

It seems like the American people have resonated with the central theme of The 99% Movement. All one needs to do is look at the recent polls to see the impact Occupy has already made on the nation. Perhaps Jeffrey Sachs is correct that America is finally ready to end "The Third Gilded Age" that started with "Reaganomics", and replace it with a New Progressive Era and a New Deal for the 21st Century. I just think it will take more than just drum circles and tent pitching to make that happen.

And I think Occupiers need to start making this happen by realizing that the central theme needs to be about economic inequality, not about the actual occupation sites. Perhaps they will succeed in their legal maneuvers to restore the Zucotti Park cam site. But regardless of whether or not they do go back, Occupy Wall Street and the massive nationwide network that formed alongside it ultimately need to think ahead and start building a real, lasting movement.

Coming closer to home, I'm saddened by the recent strife and division at Occupy Las Vegas, but I hope that it can emerge stronger out of these growing pains. Helping small businesses is great. I hope Occupy Las Vegas can keep going in this direction of engaging in the kind of direct action that lifts people up, and I hope it recognizes the value of getting members more involved in our democratic process.

If Occupy can do this, then I see a great future for The 99% Movement, regardless of where the actual occupation camp site is.

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