This article originally appeared in the Daily Pennsylvanian. It is re-posted here with permission.
“We are unstoppable! Another world is possible!”
In the fall, the Occupy movement worked to prove the first half of the chant, persisting even after physical encampments were shut down. Tuesday’s May Day marked the dawn of Occupy Spring when the movement began to make the case that “another world is possible.”
I arrived at Bryant Park early on Tuesday morning excited for the “pop-up” occupation. As a graduating senior, I see similarities between my transition and what the Occupy movement is experiencing. Just like the Occupy movement learned in the fall, I have learned in college to critique the “real world” and to believe I can change it. But this summer, those critiques will have to give way to positive proposals to address social problems.
Occupy has started to do this through specific campaigns targeting issues like housing. While these ameliorative campaigns are crucial, Occupy has not forgotten its most meaningful contribution is creating spaces that demonstrate the world it would like to see — with free medical treatment, food, shelter, education and radically democratic governance.
I began May Day eager to see a space that embodied the movement’s values. However, after 12 hours of activism, this other world that Occupy was trying to create seemed messy and racked by many of the contradictions that haunted the New Left in the 1960s.
As the day progressed, I spoke to different people and encountered many opposing perspectives. What stood out to me most were contradictions that concerned different leadership styles, activist cultures and attitudes towards confrontation.
In the morning, I marched alongside a young woman who has spoken out about the gender dynamics of Occupy’s decision-making processes. She was frustrated by the fact that a few aggressive men, including an ex-Marine, were leading the march poorly.
When the men leading the march paused at a crosswalk, the young woman became concerned that this would make it easier for the police to stop the march. After explaining this to the leaders, she led the group in another direction. Shortly after, a young man who had wandered from the sidewalk onto the street was chased down by the police and eventually arrested. The ex-Marine told me he was trying to protect the marchers and blamed the arrest on the woman, claiming that she was “on a power trip.”
This incident reminded me of the issue of white, male domination of movements of the 1960s like the Students for a Democratic Society. If Occupy doesn’t address the opposing leadership styles of its members, the movement risks splitting off, just as the march did on Tuesday.