When the NYPD cleared Zuccotti Park of Occupy Wall Street protestors back in November, the Occupy movement seemed to have reached a high point. New restrictions were placed on the number of people who could gather in the park and what they could keep there, making the spot much less ideal for an “occupation.” Media coverage of Occupy sites fell off, and more and more cities cracked down on encampments. We barely hear about it at all these days.
So is Occupy irrelevant? It hasn’t lived up to the promise that some saw in it—it hasn’t become an strong, enduring national movement that continually speaks truth to power—but I think there are still a couple reasons that what remains of the movement (and it’s far from dead) is still valuable. The first, as Aaron Bady points out in his review of the book Debt: The First 5,000 Years over at The New Inquiry, is that Occupy encampments are little laboratories that keep alternative ideologies and philosophies, alive. Very strong liberal and conservative narratives dominate the American political scene and leave little room for competing views on government, the economy, and society. It’s important that any democracy have something like Occupy to keep alive a full spectrum of political ideas, and it’s a little disheartening that little else in American politics these days serves that role.
The other main thing, though, is that while the national significance of the Occupy movement may have declined, it remains profoundly important in certain cities and local contexts. Occupy sites were always tied to particular urban contexts, and as they grew their messages tended to mold themselves more closely to the concerns of the people in those particular contexts. Check out Al-Jazeera’s article on Occupy Oakland and the Oakland Police Department as well as Aaron Bady’s personal blog, which features frequent coverage of Occupy Oakland and other Occupy sites in California. The Oakland context is a particularly good example of how the movement has advanced a criticism of local political dynamics that’s difficult to ignore or dispel.
While you’re at it, keep tabs on the modest but tenacious Occupy Detroit, if only for a different take on the live political and social issues in the nearby city. Occupy Detroit has worked to help victims of foreclosure and participated in demonstrations against local businessman Matty Moroun, who was even briefly jailed for failure to complete an addition to the Ambassador Bridge. For now, at least, Occupy Detroit is part of the landscape.
(And if you do read Aaron Bady’s book review (referenced above), it’s worth checking out Freddie de Boer’s follow-up, too).
By: Aaron Bekemeyer
(Photo by *eddie under a Creative Commons license)