Quinn Lester – Pomona ’13
I must admit that, like most people, I had lost track of the Occupy movement over the last few months. Since the brutal police takedown of Zuccotti Park Occupy encampments across the country have fallen one by one. The Occupy groups who were not outright destroyed adapted to local conditions, acting with other progressive groups to protest home foreclosures, police profiling, anti-war protests, and all other kinds of issues. However, none of these local movements inspired the same kind of mass media appeal as the early weeks of Occupy NYC did, not even another general strike by Occupy Oakland. Part of this was undoubtedly a result of both corporate mass media denying Occupy coverage and further attacks by police on independent journalists, but it also says something about the movement itself. Two aspects primarily have characterized Occupy movements so far: a utopian idealism that both claims no demands and opens toward a revolutionary future, and the brute materiality of occupied spaces and sleeping bodies huddled together. Absent this material aspect, the literal presence of bodies, it has suddenly seemed like Occupy disappeared.
Not so fast. The official Occupy NYC site shows a flurry of activity. Weekly workshops to prepare for a May Day general strike, more foreclosure protests, and most interestingly a New York Metro fare strike on Weds. March 28th in coordination with local unions. In a fare strike people chain open the security gates and turnstiles so that anyone can ride the subway for free. The intention of this particular fare strike was to protest spending cuts to public transportation that directly hurts working class folks. In this kind of action protestors were not trying make themselves heard or shame the powers that be; they were radically claiming part of the city for themselves, directly seizing the means of transportation. If Occupy is to have a future it will have to come through more action such as this. Much has been discussed about the Occupy movements online presence, its use of social media, twitter, and livestreaming video to spread its message and organize rapidly, to the point where many claim what is innovative about Occupy is its role as a 21st century technologically literate movement.
I would argue that instead what made Occupy so prominent was its very materiality. These were bodies in a (very small) space, eating, sleeping, and organizing together. Against the fantasmic aspects of the financial capital that had wrecked large swaths of the economy, they were presenting themselves as the “real” victims, in multiple senses of the word. Occupy should best be understood as a movement for social justice that, at its best, roots itself in the spatial environment of our late capitalist age. By “occupying” space it brings the political discourse back to the material, the way that the economy and society is an organizing system that benefits some over others and that the disruption of this system can only take place at the level of the material, such as chaining open subway stops for the free flow of people instead of money. It is when Occupy movements forget this that they risk becoming irrelevant, falling back on old methods of political organizing that do not directly address the material reality of things. This does not mean that Occupy should be solely focused on re-occupying spaces, but also on the spaces where interlocking flows of capital, goods, and people come together. Justice sprouting from the blood of the indigent, built from the ground up.