I began writing every day about the Occupy movement both as a commitment to that movement and to be able to take its measure from my own perspective over time. Whatever anyone else makes of it–and many thanks to those of you who do take the time to read it–it has often surprised me. I find myself again surprised today as I look at the movement renewing itself, as a very different project than when I first published online about it back in October 2011.
Whatever happens on May Day, it’s now clear that on May 2 the movement will be closer to its goal being autonomous, decentralized and, yes, horizontal. Even if, as I suspect may be the case, the police in New York succeed in kettling protest to Union Square and a few other locations, the mobilizing for May Day now appears to have set in motion a transformation. Back in October, we were explaining the hand signals of the global justice movement and thinking about the General Assembly as a model. Now, autonomy is reinventing itself, not as a set of institutions but as “a process without end,” as Bifo has described it. Even ten days ago this pattern wasn’t evident–perhaps because I have not been able to be as active myself in the crunch period of semester–as it now appears to be.
With the continued sleepful protest in the vicinity of the Stock Exchange, the occupation aspect of Occupy has become both more pointed and less complex. It points directly at the scandal of Wall Street’s continued insanity: even Citibank shareholders protested the other day, when they refused to endorse a $15 million base salary for CEO Vikram Pandit. At the same time, it is not so difficult to sustain as the full encampment. It involves a fluid and revolving population of sleeping protestors, who are not required to abandon their political project to support themselves.
This version of occupying has attracted notable sympathy in the city, including from such unlikely sources as the free Metro newspaper.
Since January, the May Day organizing has generated a number of innovative approaches. Most notable, perhaps, is the 4×4 co-ordination of the rally in Union Square and joint march downtown. The four groups present are the trade unions, the Immigrant Workers Coalition. the May 1 Coalition and OWS. The first three groups send delegates. OWS send four spokes and as many May Day working group members as can attend. When a decision needs to be made the OWS delegates consult with the people present and report back the sense of the group. While many might think such a system to be unworkable, it has gone smoothly so far and there has been some interest from trade union rank-and-file as to how they might adopt a similar process.
Mirina Sitrin today reports back from the Brooklyn Court House, where many Occupy people congregated to prevent a series of foreclosure hearings from proceeding:
[W]ith tons of others, preventing foreclosures by singing, well, I have chills and tears from our power, so I am sharing again. I, along with dozens of others did not even get into the courtroom since it was full half an hour early
Such actions make no media waves but do make a real difference in people’s lives, people directly affected by the crisis.
Next, I got a copy today of the OWS Project List, reporting on all the different activities going on around the city. It’s in eight folio-sized pages of three column news and activities, ranging from an oral history project to the Feminist General Assembly and the Stop the Empire Tour. People are working with or without wider attention to create a space that they would like to live in and create new ways of interacting. It all looks like fun.
Finally, there has been much gloom and doom about the General Assembly and how to co-ordinate the movement. This Saturday, there’s a May Day Assembly in Union Square. It’s a way to share all the different things that people have been doing, to give others who have not yet taken on a project a chance to join in and for an open discussion that does not have the burden of taking collective decisions. Volunteers are out leafleting and fly-posting all over the place. As ever, I feel humbled by the amazing energy of the young people in this movement.
I can’t vouch for all these activities because no one person, however busy, could possibly go to them all, let alone be active in them. That’s a very good sign. Obviously, I’m having an “up day” in the whole bi-polar pattern of what it is to be involved with this whole project. In the beginning, there was a hope for decentralized autonomous projects. Now it begins to look like coming to reality. Some are small, some attract national attention. It’s so interesting.