Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Occupy Movement, from Burlington to New York.

The Occupy Wall Street movement started on September 17th in New York City. It's spread to cities all over the world since then, and through opportunities as an SMC student I've been lucky enough to catch glimpses of the Occupy movement in Burlington, Washington D.C and most recently, New York City.

As a disclaimer, I'm just going to mention that I wont push my political views in this post. Although I have made it clear in earlier posts that my political leanings tend to be democratic and that the environment is an issue of concern for me, I only want to report on my experiences with the Occupy movement, not whether I support it or not (although it would be difficult to say that one supports the movement or they not, since it represents such a wide range of issues).


Tents at Occupy D.C, K Street location.

I first saw an Occupy encampment in Washington D.C, when I was there for the Tar Sands Protest. Unfortunately we weren't there for very long, but I got a glimpse of the movement, the people and their goals (which were many; they were also coming to the Tar Sands Protest). Frankly, it left me with the same impression I got from the media. Some impassioned intellectuals, and more than a few vagrant hippies, all sleeping in a bunch of tents. But it was interesting nonetheless.


Gogol Bordello live at Occupy Burlington.

Another experience I had with occupy was right here in Burlington, VT. One Wednesday I dropped in on a S.L.A.M (Student Labor Action Movement) meeting with my friend Dan, where we heard that Gogol Bordello was going to be playing at Occupy Burlington that night. We then proceeded to ride our bikes into Burlington and wait approximately 2 hours for a show that we weren't even sure was going to happen. But while we waited I got the opportunity to learn more about the Occupy movement, and I was impressed by one UVM student who seemed to know a lot about it. If I can remember correctly, his argument was something to the effect that our current economic system in unsustainable, because the rich have too much money to spend, and the poor have so little money that they have to spend it constantly, but mostly on necessities (not enough to keep the economy going). Excuse me for just this blurb on such a complex topic.

Another thing I observed, and actually my original reason for going, was the art/culture aspect of the movement. Like a lot of social movements, Occupy has produced some pretty cool art, especially posters. I see them around Saint Mikes all the time, here's a favorite:

Photo credit:

Here's another, which I like but have not seen around campus:

Click here to find this poster and others.

Emerging from the Occupy Movement is another activist culture. I've observed this, an older man at Occupy Wall Street shared this observation with me; I think that a lot of people have noticed this. I remember at the Tar Sands protest a woman proclaiming that our generation is the generation that's going to change things, like the famous protesters of the Vietnam war and others of the same era. It's exciting and intriguing to see this happening with people my age and to have been a part of it myself. It makes one wonder where this new-found activism will take our country, and the world.

I also learned on this night that Gogol Bordello was my new favorite musician.

Occupy Wall Street

Onlookers at food justice rally at Occupy Wall Street.

Finally, this past Saturday, the 19th of November 2011, I had the opportunity to go to New York and see where it all began. At first, there weren't many people and I was a tad disappointed (we were all aware that the camp had been raided and disbanded the previous Monday, but according to Twitter and other online sources, they were still congregating). Although that changed pretty quickly, as you can tell from the picture above.

There was a ton of stuff going on during the day. We brought signs, and passers-by took pictures of us holding them, there was a food justice group speaking, union workers, "911 was an inside job" marchers (whom some were convinced had been hired by Fox news to make Occupy look ridiculous). 

A lot of what I had recognized during Occupy Burlington I noticed again, and amplified, at Occupy Wall Street. Before, I used the term Micro-Culture to describe it, but the legitimacy of that word was questioned so instead I will use microcosm. What I found in New York was a very democratic microcosm of society, fit with its own laws, culture, barter system; and that's nothing to what it was before, according to one unnamed Occupier, who claimed that "we could perform minor surgery in here before they tore us down". Whether that's true or not I can't say for sure, but from what I heard and what I saw, they had at least been very well established. 

The most impressive thing I saw here, though, was the General Assembly. It was the epitome of democracy; everyone was allowed to participate, granted they adhered to the rules of etiquette set by the people during previous G.A.'s. The purpose of these meetings is to make decisions for the movement through horizontal organization and participation from all those who care to do so. When someone isn't adhering to the rules, there is a hand signal that participants put up to encourage that person to stop. Facilitators ask permission of the assembly if it's alright with the assembly that they facilitate. It is all up to the assembly; every little detail. There is no official leader, and anyone who takes a leadership position of any sort asks permission to do so first. It is very much how you wished Animal Farm would have turned out while you are reading it.

While I was there, one man was arrested for allegedly having blown cigarette smoke in a police officer's face (although everyone around him claimed that wasn't the case, and even if it were, it would not be grounds for arrest), someone who appeared to be a Wall Street worker gave my friends and I the finger, and all day I saw different people from all over the place, occupying Wall Street. Finally, we left around 8.20PM after the General Assembly, fit with lots of videos, photos, stories and, something I thought was pretty clever, a few issues of The Occupied Wall Street Journal.

The Occupy movement is a hot topic of controversy and discussion, and after these experiences I feel that I have gained more understanding on where the Occupiers come from, even if others aren't sure where they're going. I think the problem isn't that the movement lacks direction, but that there's so much change to be had, and they're willing to accept anyone who is looking to create this change. So whether New York wants them there, or Boston, London, Seoul, Los Angeles, or hundreds of other cities want them there, occupiers are looking for change, and they're not backing down until they get it.

Also, check out this short film called "Why Do You Occupy" by my friend Dan Quigley, about our trip to NYC, and why people choose to occupy Wall Street!

Thanks for Reading!

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed the video, sums up the movement well. Good work.