Sept. 17, 2013
September 17 marks the two-year anniversary of the establishment of Occupy Wall Street. This movement captured the attention of the world in the fall of 2011, though it’s almost forgotten now. The gathering at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan was probably inspired by the occupation of Tahrir Square in Cairo early in the year, and by the occupation of the state capital building in Madison, Wisconsin, soon afterward. But once OWS got rolling, it in turn inspired similar encampments all across America and all over the world.
For all its considerable imperfections, Occupy performed a very important service for this city. It drew attention to the gravest problem of our times—the concentration of too much money and too much political power in the hands of a very small number of very, very rich people. This is the crisis of democracy, not just here in New York but all over this country.
OWS found bold, creative ways to get the message out—marches, rallies, and civil disobedience all over the city—but the heart of the movement was the encampment at Zuccotti. During that autumn two years ago, evenings often found me at the Outreach table in the park, collecting names and contact information from people who wanted to get involved. I was also very active circulating copies of the movement’s newspaper, The Occupied Wall Street Journal. (And later I joined Occupy Astoria/LIC, our Occupy group here in the neighborhood.)
Everyone who ever saw Zuccotti at that time will remember the Library, the Kitchen, the Spanish Table, the Medical Unit, the Drum Circle, the Media Tent, as well as all the visitors from all around the city and the region, many of whom felt safe enough in the park to bring small children. Dozens—hundreds!—of small committees and working groups sprang up to plan activities around every conceivable issue.
When the Mayor came around one evening to suggest that everybody leave the park, just long enough for Sanitation to get in there and clean the place up, a small army of volunteers with push-brooms and garbage bags worked round the clock to make the City’s official clean-up unnecessary and its likely goal of evacuating the Occupiers impossible. On the morning of Friday, Oct. 14, expecting a real army of cops in riot gear along with the Sanitation workers, everyone rejoiced to see instead hundreds—thousands!—of union members from all over the city converging on the park. Bloomberg was backing off, and the roughly 5000 people there celebrated with a joyous, deafening chorus of the chant: “We—are—the ninety-nine percent! We—are—the ninety-nine percent!…”
Things were not as idyllic as that for much longer, but most of the people who were living at the park were nevertheless talking about ways to keep the encampment going through the winter. Even Police Commission Ray Kelly admitted there was nothing illegal about the encampment itself. “The charter, it gives access to the park 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Kelly told reporters on October 6. “Right now they’re on private property and the people who own that property don’t have the power to eject them.” (http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2011/10/06/kelly-protesters-to-be-met-with-force-if-they-target-officers/) But of course we all know that the army of cops in riot gear did finally arrive, at one o’clock in the morning on November 15, completely destroying the encampment and arresting many peaceful protesters and seven journalists.
Occupy is sort of a shadow of what it was two years ago, or even one year ago. But the crisis of democracy that caused OWS to rise up in the first place—that crisis is still going on. I think eventually that spirit of constructive rebellion will make a comeback.
At least one way this could happen is in the form of a small army of militant candidates for public office. They could be thousands—hundreds of thousands!—of smart, energetic, articulate, angry people all over the country, people who have never held or run for public office, who have no connections as such to the people currently in power, and who will run not as Democrats or Republicans but as independents or as members of small, fully independent parties. It would be a broad movement, acting legally, constitutionally, and nonviolently. But even within that legal, constitutional framework, it would break new ground. It would be a kind of rebellion—a rebellion at the ballot box. It would solve the problem, all right. I think someday it will.
Populist Party candidate for City Council in District 22, Astoria.
Paid for by Kann for Council 2013