“The whole world is watching”
Criticisms of #Occupy have often focused on its lack of a centralized agenda. My reporting from Occupy Providence, especially during the week that I lived there, has focused on contextualizing individuals’ goals in the broader movement. Learning more about the many issues and viewpoints that are represented at any #Occupy event has been fascinating and informative. At times divergent, they were united by their shared space; we Occupied Together. Occupying Together implies not just sleeping in the same park, but being part of the same movement – with people with whom you actively disagree. As a community-building model and decision-making process, this is powerful.
But without the shared space, what does #Occupy do?
Last night, occupiers in Zucotti Park were evicted with tear gas and pepper spray. Journalists were removed and prevented from documenting (see Josh Stearns’ excellent ongoing tracking of journalist arrests at #Occupy events everywhere). It bears repeating: when the police prevent journalists from filming an event, it’s almost always because they or the decision-makers don’t think that what they’re doing is defensible (or legal – see below). Furthermore, it goes without saying that denying the public information about current events is a very good tactic in preventing them from mobilizing, which is pretty clearly the motive here.
All this said, there’s been some interesting commentary on how this fiasco could end up benefiting #Occupy. Here’s Ezra Klein:
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.
Now more than ever, the future of #Occupy depends on mobilizing around concrete goals. Lots of people within the movement are going to resist that, but there’s only so long they can fight over the physical space of Zucotti Park (or any other location) without becoming irrelevant. The occupations were an excellent way of bringing people together and getting attention. Mayor Bloomberg has done us a favor by throwing #Occupy back into the spotlight, but it seems likely that this sort of eviction is going to occur elsewhere as well – in Oakland, it already has. It’s time to use the renewed media attention, as well as the ongoing legal battle over #OWS’ right to occupy Zucotti Park, to organize Occupiers everywhere around a core set of political principles and achievable goals.
I’m debating on exactly this topic on Friday at 4. If you’re in the Providence area, please come by, share your opinions, and join the conversation!