This is the first in a series of articles from the Post Growth Institute reporting on-the-ground impressions of Occupy events around the world.
How did you first hear about Occupy?
I live part of the year in New York and part in Sweden. The first news I heard of Occupy were whisperings in emails from friends in New York about the upcoming event – many not quite sure what to make of it. It was not something that I had consciously chosen to pay attention to. But, as we were harvesting the last carrots and busy putting layers of hay on our gardens for the winter in Sweden, news of it crept in. I began to see Facebook postings from people I know who were at Wall Street, and cell phone snapshots of well-known artists and cultural theorists who where there, such as (theorist) Cornell West and (filmmaker) Jonas Mekas.
The next I heard of Occupy was a series of articles printed in the Stockholm commuter newspaper, Metro, that many people read on the way to work and school (see image below). This made it feel real to me: the news of the demonstrations in New York reaching across the world to become a part of the rhythm of daily life in Sweden.
What was the feeling like at the Occupy you visited?
Returning to New York last week I visited Occupy Wall Street for the first time. Zuccotti Park, the heart of the occupation, is a place that I’d never particularly noticed before, though I have walked by and through it. It lies just up the street from Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange, and on the other side is Ground Zero, and the September 11 memorial. The first evening I visited there were a couple of hundred people gathered in the concise rectangular park, which has a footprint the size of the large buildings in the area. I was struck by the organization of the space: paths were clear, tents were neatly covered in tarps, folks were singing in one corner dedicated to song and spirit, delicious looking pizzas were being served for dinner, there were people staffing a media relations tent, and a library with books for loan and reference organized in rows inside water-proof containers.
In the evening darkness, most people were gathered at one end of the park, and a meeting was underway. When a person spoke they would stand in the middle of a thick circle of people. As they spoke, the crowd repeated their words, amplifying them for others to hear. It was a beautiful, slow dance: people chose their words carefully and spoke in short, clear sentences, that could be then carried out further on the crowd’s voices. Ripples of agreement or disagreement with the speakers and ideas being discussed moved through the crowd: not in voices, but through hands. Among other things, the demonstrators were considering how to spend some of the $100,000+ raised in recent weeks. A sea of approving hands moved up from the crowd as a proposal was made to buy tents to send to fellow protesters in Oakland, CA – a sign that consensus was being neared. And, the meeting continued making space for further debate…
Any other thoughts?
Being there physically, at Occupy Wall Street, the symbolism of the occupation hit me. That is: the occupation as a symbolic gesture. In the midst of the surrounding highly charged buildings – the sites of the 2001 attacks on New York and the epicenter of the financial world and its crisis, it seem that a new kind of power had arrived. A perhaps tenuous, but fierce and measured power holding a space, its own space, a space for another way of being in the world – for that possibility – for many people’s desires of what that possibility could be. A power occasionally drawing its energy from opposition to the status quo, but also from within itself. Asserting itself as an equal, as a way of walking forward with or without the approval and acceptance of the powers that be. Even more beautifully of course, this power has been spreading across the country and the world. I hope that it continues to develop it – resisting the pressures to collapse or temptations to extremes (and there are certainly many contradictory and challenging energies in the mix) – evolving a space for the 99%.
Any particular readings or resources you would recommend?
If you get a chance take a look at Ethan Miller’s OCCUPY * CONNECT * CREATE series, at www.geo.coop, for a thoughtful perspective on Occupy. For a post growth related perspective, take a look at filmmaker Ben Zolno’s work for the Post Carbon Institute on talking about the “end of growth” at Occupy.