Magazine distro as direct action

At 8:30 a.m. this past Monday morning, more than 50 women and men were bottlenecked at the top of an escalator in New York City’s Grand Central Station. Workers of every class and industry were bunched together, pinstripe suits and Carhartt jackets brushing shoulders, no one making eye contact. The crowd waited to descend to the subway and hop on a rumbling car that would  carry them back into the workweek. The mass was restless. It was time to strike.

“Occupy Wall Street!” Diego Ibanez called from the edge of the crowd. “Why don’t they just get jobs?”

“Because we spent three months creating this magazine!” I answered. The crowd chuckled, and individuals began to emerge from the half-sleep of a Monday morning transit commute. Four sets of hands flew in the air waving colorful copies of Tidal, a theory and strategy magazine for the Occupy movement.

“Get your free Occupy Wall Street magazine! No ads! No cost! No capitalism!” cried Yates McKee, with the intonation of a hawking paperboy. An older black woman reached for the magazine, then a white man in an ill-fitting suit, then two helmeted construction workers. Soon, everyone wanted one. As the crowd filtered onto the escalator, it formed a single-file line of downward tilted faces studying the magazine’s cover image: a mass surging against a collapsing chain link fence that was protecting an empty gravel lot. Two police officers try to support the fence, with heels dug in and bodies taut.

As Occupy Wall Street has demonstrated, no press release, tweet or Facebook post can speak as loudly as bodies do when they cause disruption at sites of economic injustice. These gatherings, then, must explain themselves; our actions must embody our message. So we drop “Foreclose on Banks” banners; we stage a passionate romance between puppet versions of lawmakers and bankers; we assemble beds in front of the governor’s office to protest budget cuts to homeless shelters. The distribution of Tidal is no different. Although the contents of the magazine are words, art and ideas, the distribution is a direct action.

Over the coming weeks, 50,000 copies of Tidal will hit the streets. Like the hundreds of occupations and thousands of tents that popped up all over the country last fall, these physical magazines allow the ideas inside to materialize in a way that websites and online petitions cannot. As Judith Butler wrote for the first issue:

When bodies gather as they do to express their indignation and to enact their plural existence in public space, they are also making broader demands. They are demanding to be recognized and to be valued; they are exercising a right to appear and to exercise freedom.

Similarly, by printing the magazines, we are demanding that the ideas inside—which include condemnations of neoliberalism, examples of large-scale horizontal organizing and a call for strike on May 1—appear and be heard. This is a demand that has not gone unchallenged; on Monday morning at Grand Central, the police threatened to arrest us if we continued to distribute the magazine. (We did, and they didn’t.)

The sites and manner of distribution are equally significant. Our flash-mob distributions in Grand Central and Union Square during Monday morning rush-hour strategically inserted Occupy’s presence into one of the fault lines of capitalism: the transition, literally, between the weekend and the workweek.

“Stop hating Mondays,” we suggested as we handed out copies. People smiled, at first halfheartedly, then more contemplatively. With so much so-called information being communicated through fiber optic cables and satellites, this kind of human interaction is disarming. It makes people have to confront the words. I hope we reminded them that they don’t need to live in a society where it is acceptable to hate a whole day out of the week—a whole one-seventh of our lives. Inside, they found articles on the May 1 strike, on shedding their complacency and on pillowfighting. There’s also an article about what they’d just experienced—media as a direct action.

Then, two days later, as marchers who had been arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge in October and men who’d been picked up for petty drug charges walked out of the courtroom, they too were handed copies of Tidal. Inside, perhaps the “Communiqué” speaks to what they already felt but might not have been able to name—that our nation’s social contract is in crisis because it expects the 99 percent to accept a legal system in which only the 1 percent can exert any control.

By hitting public transit stations, courtrooms, union halls, barber shops, bars, free newspaper stands and the outer boroughs, the distribution of Tidal is breaking down barriers to access. It is refusing to participate in racist and classist assumptions about who reads theory and strategy. Street teams are already organizing for further distribution, inspired by the Paris Situationist movement of the 1960s, when artists painted the city with slogans pulled from essays. For a period, the walls, storefronts and edifices of Paris spoke, and so too is New York City now beginning to reverberate with a new conversation—one that began in Liberty Square, that runs throughout Tidal and that is now preparing the way for a loud, honest and imaginative spring.

Video by Natasha Singh.

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