Occupy without the Occupation

The police in Oakland and New York City have cleared out their local Occupy encampments.  Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, who claims to be a supporter of Occupy efforts, saw the downtown encampment as unsustainable–and dangerous.  The shooting death of one Occupier, perhaps executed by another one, gives some credence to this claim.

New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg has expressed support for the right of free speech, but no sympathy for the substance of the Wall Street Occupiers’ claims.  Mayor Bloomberg announced that the situation in Zuccotti Park had become intolerable, and that people were coming to the encampment to commit crimes rather than political speech.  The concrete park would be available for speech, the Mayor announced, but not sleeping bags or tents or overnight residence.

Both mayors learned from previous efforts to clear their parks about the advantages of surprise and overwhelming force.  Using trained and armed police, both should be able to keep the protesters out of their choice spots.

Although Occupy encampments continue in hundreds of locations around the country, police actions have underscored how important it is for the Occupiers to think of ways to innovate and develop their movement.  (For more than a month, I’ve been arguing that Occupy needs to develop an “exit strategy.”)   To some extent, this is already happening:

Some activists are escalating, taking visible protest and civil disobedience out of the encampments to other targets.  Occupy Los Angeles staged an Occupy effort inside a Bank of America branch (right).

Others have urged Americans to take it to the banks through the market, moving their accounts out of the large national banks to smaller credit unions.  On November 5, thousands of people participated in Bank Transfer Day, voting with their money.  Although this sort of action may seem more moderate than the encampments, it may ultimately engage more people and be more disruptive to business.  (The Christian Science Monitor says no.)  And politicians will try to cultivate Occupy support as well.

Meantime, the evicted activists are trying to regroup and plan next steps.  In New York, this has meant marches at City Hall, vigils by the barricades at Zuccotti Park, and legal pleadings for the right to camp downtown (momentarily successful, then overruled: a state supreme court judge has ruled that free speech rights don’t include tents and encampments).

Over the next few days, expect all of these efforts (litigation, protest, and vigils) to continue.  Occupiers in New York and Oakland are also likely to try to stake out other sites for encampments.  As activists disperse into a broad range of activities, look for the strong consensus norm to evaporate; actions will be initiated by coalitions of the willing.  For innovation and activism, this is a good thing.

But remember: when mainstream media, politicians, and people milling at the water cooler are talking about political and economic inequality, the Occupiers are winning.  When they’re talking about police, reasonable time and place restrictions on speech, or the sanitation of downtown parks, well, not so much….

About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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2 Responses to Occupy without the Occupation

  1. scott says:

    I think it’s worth noting that, according to several people who participated in Oakland’s occupation, the murder was unrelated, but the victim might have been seeking refuge in the camp. Plus, it is a crime-ridden area with over 100 murders this year. It seems like Quan used the incident as an excuse rather than a legitimate reason.

    • Absolutely! But the story of any of the Occupations is that people can join–and participate in deliberations–for any number of motives. As the Occupations continue, they draw in all kinds of people, and often their attendant problems as well.

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