Occupy Wall Street found a new home today—not a new park, or a plaza, or a square, but a house. Just weeks after the eviction from its encampment in the financial district, hundreds of occupiers joined local community members in a foreclosure tour of the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn through the rain, which concluded with a celebratory block party as a family reclaimed a foreclosed home owned by Bank of America. It was one of many anti-foreclosure actions taking place in communities across the United States today.
As the march passed, I heard a local woman saying, “This was a long time coming.”
For those of us who have been organizing and reporting on Occupy Wall Street for months, the afternoon was a reunion of familiar faces, of people who used to see each other daily in Liberty Plaza. But more visible than usual at Occupy Wall Street actions were collared clergy and members of the State Assembly and City Council. Together with locals and organizers with the NYC General Assembly’s Direct Action Committee, they were leading the marches and queuing the chants—all through the people’s mic, of course, megaphone-free. Along the way, staffers of groups that were once waiting-and-seeing from afar what Occupy Wall Street would do were now busily coordinating the action; among these are Van Jones’ Rebuild the Dream, New York Communities for Change, and Organizing for Occupation. And this, it seems, is our clearest glimpse yet of what Occupy Phase II will look like.
The General Assembly and its related working groups are only able to do so much on their own. Without the focal point of an encampment anymore, the movement’s actions will rely more and more on coordination with institutions more firmly entrenched in neighborhoods where it works—as well as, despite the movement’s own leaderless structure, those institutions’ leaders.
While occupiers have almost always welcomed the support of outside organizations cheerfully, today I heard grumbling among some of the older ones who have had negative experiences with this or that public figure in the past, and who are suspicious of traditional institutions as a whole. A City Council member might stand with the movement one day, but what will he or she expect from it on election day? And how far will a given non-profit organization go with civil disobedience before it starts to scare away its funders? These are new questions that the Occupy movement will be facing more and more.
The answer, though, seemed clear to me when I passed an activist running from the soon-to-be-reclaimed house with a drill in his hand—which presumably had been used to bypass the lock. With the march came a team from Occupy Wall Street’s Sanitation Committee to clean up inside the house. Outside, the occupation’s library and kitchen set up shop, along with teach-ins and a piñata. The answer I had in mind, that is, is direct action. As long as this movement keeps nonviolent direct action at its center, refusing to wait for the powers that be to approve of the undertakings it deems necessary, its momentum will continue to grow. Politicians and non-profits will join the cause not so much because they see an opportunity for themselves but because they can’t afford not to.
That’s exactly what appears to be happening in Phase II, even more than Phase I. As more and more occupations are hardened by the experience of forced eviction, they’re less receptive to the kind of coddling by politicians that took place in some cities early on. The spirit of direct action is spreading. David DeGraw of OWSNews.org tells me that he has been getting text messages from all over the country today like the following:
I just removed a newly changed lock off of a house to let original owner back in. my leatherman rules!
Without the need to focus on encampment sites, furthermore, the attention of Phase II is much more carefully oriented around root causes, around the very means by which the movement’s corporate opponents perpetuate themselves: foreclosed homes, ports, rampant consumerism, and more to come. Foreclosures, as ground zero of the 2008 financial crisis, are a fitting place to start. They’re also where the often-abstract machinations of Wall Street actually hit home for many Americans. By preventing them, or reversing them, the movement will find new allies who were less moved by the earlier talk of ending corporate personhood or imposing a Tobin tax.
This was a foregone conclusion for the May 15 movement in Spain, which was such an inspiration to many Occupy Wall Street organizers in the first place. (See our report on the Spanish squatters from back in September.) At the action today, I talked about this with Monica Lopez, who was part of the Spanish movement and has been at Occupy Wall Street since the beginning:
How movements settle the debate on whether to engage with political parties from the inside or outside will have a profound impact on their effectiveness.
The so-called ‘world’s friendliest people’ are finding power in vulgarity as they protest the brutal torture of a novelist for ridiculing the dictator’s son.
Activists throughout history have put social movement work on hold for the electoral arena. Determining whether to do so is a matter of strategy and calling.