Tag Archives: Occupy Wall Street

Arts of Occupation, Part 2

Responses from W. J. T. Mitchell’s class on Space, Place and Landscape:

Stephen Parkin, “Occupy Walla Walla”

Walla Walla is a sleepy town of 30,000 in far south-eastern Washington State. Its economy is primarily agricultural (mainly wheat and fruits, but increasingly viticulture and wine as well), though many in town are employed at one of the three colleges (a medium-sized regional teaching school, a small liberal arts school, and a community college), at the state penitentiary, or in the growing tourism sector. The town is just large and historic enough (it’s the first permanent White settlement in Oregon Territory) to maintain a slow-paced individual identity in spite of the relatively significant number of students (roughly 3,100 BA students and 13,000 at the community college out of 60,000 total residents in the valley).

We might not expect to see evidence of the Occupy Movement in rural, conservative territory, but Walla Walla–largely on account of the significant student body–hosts an active chapter. Like many medium-sized rural towns, Walla Walla’s cultural center is defined by it historic Main Street which runs for about 3/4 mile through the center of town. (The other social center of gravity is the Wal-Mart Supercenter and its accompanying recent commercial development on the outskirts of town). The Occupy movement, then, holds its demonstrations along Main Street; many protests gather at the cultural heart of the town (at the intersection of Main and First Avenue), while the Occupation (whose permanent physical presence was short-lived) gathered in a small park just over a block away.

In many ways, the above photograph captures much of the symbolic force of OWS. For one, the protesters are strongly identified with Main Street, the icon of contemporary populism (versus the techno-plutocracy represented by Wall Street and the intellectual elite represented by (esp.) elite universities such as the Ivy League). Another point to notice is the plurality of populist positions represented, which the media has gleefully reported as the lack of cohesive “demands” on the part of the protesters (thus entirely missing the reactionary variety of protesting, the protesting because of rather than for): the signs urge us to “amend the constitution,” “tax Wall Street,” “abolish government,” and “support unions.” What this eclectic variety of perspectives shares is its goal: to “save democracy” from putative encroachment by a variety of socio-cultural institutions, from banks and bureaucracy to teachers and unions.

It is also worth noting that the protesters in Walla Walla used tactics similar to those in other protests nation-wide, including peaceful, non-violent protest and the creation of an alternative community (complete with entertainment, food, etc.) in a public place. Furthermore, the demographic of protesters is similar to that of nation-wide protests, with students, aged civil rights activists, and (often unemployed) workers forming the majority of the movement.

In all, these photographs are not much different than those more commonly seen from the encampments in such places as New York, Berkeley, and Denver, except with the important addition that they reveal that such leftist populist sentiments are not merely an urban phenomenon, but have also erupted in rural, conservative, and agricultural communities as well.

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Bernardine Dohrn on Occupying Wall Street

Occupying Wall Street

Bernardine Dohrn

Up from the musty subways, two blocks down Broadway, the controlled chaos of Occupy Wall Street leaps into view, part happening (musicians drumming, piles of clothing, an efficient and tasty food service, a library, the medical unit) part street fair (homemade postering, people browsing, the brilliant Beehive Collective art posters, bustling tables of conversation) and part BugHouse Square/Union Square (debates, engaging passers-by, speakers, daily democratic meetings).  Liberty Plaza, formerly Zuccotti Park, is long (going East/West) and narrow (up and downtown).

Occupy Wall Street is entering its 4th week.  It’s fresh, a break, visceral bolts of lightning.  Pointing fingers at the fat cats, it challenges the gouging 1%.  It unites the 99.  It (so far) has no program, no demands.  It occupies the park at the foot of the stone and glass citadels.  Located just two blocks East of the World Trade Center abyss, and blocks West from the Tombs (the massive gulag that cages the poor and people of color, Occupy Wall Street is multiplying, replicable.  The titans roost high above all of our cities.  This occupation is decentralizing itself.  Sparked by the young who have no jobs, but have crushing student loans that will keep them indebted to the banks and banking universities for decades (Cancel the Debt!), witnessing their parents’ homes foreclosed, they see the gross financial/corporate money grab for what it is and in contrast, they illuminate another way of being.

Two inventions are stunning to experience: the General Assembly, the daily horizontal, consensus-seeking, rebellious, anarchist meeting; and the peoples’ microphone.  Since the police prohibit amplification, the occupying forces invented a living mike, repeating every 6-8 words from the speaker.  When Naomi Klein spoke, she kept turning on the stage as in a theatre in the round, and as the crowd swelled, she had to wait until 3 echoes of her thought were repeated out from the center before continuing.  It was funny and hard to catch the rhythm but it also involved all of us in restating her words, making them our own, amplifying out.  We were all both speaking and listening, and the exuberance is contagious.

I approach two women holding Grannies for Peace signs, but all is not juicy here.  I’m a granny for peace, I begin, looking for somewhere to join in.  A torrent of complains flow forth: “This is just a Be-In!” (I remember my first Be-In at the lakefront in Chicago, 1966, I liked it.)  “No politics!  No demands.”  They aren’t wrong, but not right, missing the flame.  I move on.

OWS is the inheritor of the 1999 Seattle challenges to the World Trade Organization.  It openly acknowledges the inspiration of Tunisia, Egypt, Wisconsin and Greece.  Flanked by (some) important union support, multiracial (to some extent), revolted by endless US invasions abroad and national security wars against immigrants and the poor at home, and zealously passionate about climate change and protecting the earth, OWS is nurturing a beginning, a seed, a spark.

The police presence is massive, ominous and ugly, despite the extended and firm non-violent civil disobedience stance of the occupiers.  Wall Street itself is blocked off by police barricades, making visible what is implicit.  OWS says in response, “Occupy Public Space” and “Generate Solutions Accessible to Everyone,” living differently so everyone can live.   Join us.  Quickly.

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