Early Tuesday morning, surprised by a violent police raid on Zuccotti Park, dozens of Occupy Wall Street activists stayed and accepted arrest, a few chained themselves to a tree (which was cut down by police), and others fled, though not all fast enough to escape tear gas. Later that morning, protesters returned expecting the city would yield to a temporary restraining order allowing their camp, but police ignored the order. Tuesday evening, defeated in court, occupiers returned to Liberty Plaza, filing in one or two at a time past watchful police. There were new signs (“Curfew 10 PM”), new rules (no lying down), and a newly urgent question: What’s next?
For the two months since its birth, Occupy Wall Street -- and the international movement it’s inspired -- has been defined and driven forward through confrontations. Just as earlier threats to its existence helped make “Liberty Plaza” a teeming village and a household name, the latest attack could galvanize and inspire –- and keep the movement from devolving into debates over demands and how much drumming is too much. But Occupy Wall Street's newfound rootlessness poses challenges. Like a picket line, Zuccotti Park has served as an in-person movement center -- a place where newcomers can arrive and be put to work, and stalwarts can develop a shared culture. A winter without tents, let alone generators, will change the role of the park in the momentum and meaning of the movement.
So what could post-raid Occupy Wall Street look like? Here are some ideas on the next steps for the movement.
Activists said they plan to work more closely with Organizing for Occupation, an anti-foreclosure group which counts some of the early Zuccotti organizers in its ranks. In Atlanta, occupiers responded to a plea from a police officer and camped out on his family’s lawn to ward off the sheriff’s department. In Cleveland, a woman was granted a 30-day stay on her foreclosure after occupiers set up five tents in her yard. Last month at Brooklyn Borough Hall Court, OWS joined OFO in derailing a public foreclosure auction with chants and singing. “If we can keep on shutting them down,” says OWS and OFO activist Eliot Taver, “it means that those properties are not sold that week, and that those families can stay in their homes a little longer.” Following a recent OFO teach-in at Zuccotti Park, a hundred people signed up to take part in occupying foreclosed homes or abandoned buildings. OWS activist Biola Jeje senses an increasing focus on actions that can “bring concrete solutions now, not just later down the line.”
Like foreclosure resistance, labor activism offers Occupy Wall Street a chance for direct intervention in conflicts related to economic justice. Occupiers have joined workers in repeated pickets against Verizon, which is demanding major concessions from workers while paying zero net taxes. Wednesday, they rallied with employees of Murdoch-owned HarperCollins Publishers. OWS has also acted on behalf of unions where members faced legal obstacles to protesting, including restraining orders and fines, most recently by disrupting art auctions at Sotheby’s, which has locked out Teamsters. For the Occupy movement, labor activism has brought logistical support but also an infusion of diversity and opportunities to directly face down the 1 percent.
Thursday's OWS Day of Action began with more direct action attempting to shut down the New York Stock Exchange. The day will end with a musical march and “festival of light” on the Brooklyn Bridge. Last month, OWS activists joined other organizations on a “Millionaire’s March” to visit the homes of the 1 percent. Jeje was inspired by video of her Wisconsin counterparts drowning out Governor Scott Walker by repeating each other’s words through the “people’s mic”; she says a similar action will take place in the next few days in New York. “Expect flash mobs,” says the OWS Direct Action Working Groups’ Aaron Black. “Lots of flash mobs. We’re going to have fun.”
Escalation could also mean a greater number of occupations. Other U.S. cities have chosen multiple sites to dramatize their message, handle their capacity, and maintain their flexibility. Where occupiers have been denied a stable space, they’ve moved through several. Where they’ve been denied the right to lay down, they’ve taken shifts standing up. On Tuesday, OWS ran its “People’s Kitchen” out of Foley Square, while other activists used a Canal Street lot owned by Trinity Church. And New York City is chock full of public-private spaces, a legacy of decades of concessionary deals with the real-estate industry. There are already OWS working groups meeting in such spaces. A rolling occupation consisting of four hours at one location and 24 hours elsewhere could serve as a moving spotlight on corporate bad guys, while keeping police (as well as journalists) guessing.
But it won’t replace Zuccotti Park, where for two months people have gone to be inspired, trained, agitated, drafted, fed, or echoed. “It’s our spiritual base,” Black says, adding, “We should always have a presence in the park.” The rules of Bloomberg’s new regime are still emerging: no curfew, but no sleeping; instruments are allowed, tents are not. Though some activists have proposed that Trinity’s lot permanently replace Zuccotti, others are skeptical. OWS Media Committee member Jesse Myerson retorts, “That’s like Occupy Tribeca. That’s not really Occupy Wall Street.” He’d rather see activists take up “cold strikes,” where activists tell the city “we’re going to be here all day, all winter” in Zuccotti. Whatever form it takes, expect resistance at Zuccotti to Bloomberg’s restrictions. “We were a bunch of people who went down to Wall Street because we were angry,” Black says. Now “we’re being heard, so it’s time to take this to the next step.”