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On Occupy Wall Street’s radical roots

As it moves into a new year, and an election year no less, the Occupy movement will likely be claimed by more and more hopefuls in the mainstream trying to benefit from it, and to sanitize it in the process. I guess that’s why I’ve found myself writing a lot lately about the movement’s radical roots, radical ambitions, and radical tactics—to remind us that if it had played by the rules some now want it to play by, it wouldn’t have gotten where it is in the first place.

For the occasion of a recent panel discussion at Columbia Law School on Occupy Wall Street and the First Amendment, I wrote this essay, subsequently published on the website of Harper’s Magazine. It argues that one should not take the movement’s appeals to the Bill of Rights too literally in legal terms, and that its tactics and aims have always been infused with an impulse more revolutionary than the law could ever accommodate. The whole discussion at Columbia, which also included WNV contributor and legal scholar Jeremy Kessler, can now be watched here:

Following that, The Nation published my essay “Thank You, Anarchists,” which explores some of what anarchist thought has contributed to the movement and why it deserves to be taken more seriously than it often is by those on the outside:

As assemblies enter our own politics through the Occupy movement, we should take care to recognize what they’re not and will never be. Even more important, though, is what they’ve already done. They’ve reminded us that politics is not a matter of choosing among what we’re offered but of fighting for what we and others actually need, not to mention what we hope for. For this, in large part, we have the anarchists to thank.

Co-opt that.