Occupy Wall Street, one of the largest grassroots mass movements in US history, celebrates its first anniversary next week on September 17, and the group has planned not only a day of protest and direct action but also weekend workshops in which protesters will bring awareness to ongoing projects, and lay out Occupy’s vision for what will happen September 18 and beyond. The week leading up to Occupy’s anniversary will include training in direct action, reflection on the past year of popular resistance, and ultimately the September 17 action on Wall Street.
Washington Square Park on September 15 will be a site of convergence, for gathering and information-sharing under the banner of “Education for Liberation,” according to Nina Mehta, an Occupy organizer who has been working the convergence spaces around S17.
“We’ve mostly been building a framework with some structure and scheduling, and open space for participation around education, solutions, movement and coalition-building,” says Mehta.
The following day, Occupy has planned a celebration in Foley Square, which Mehta says will be similar to S17, complete with an “area for tabling, information and Open Space, for participants to sign up and plan things to share,” and later in the afternoon the “99 Revolutions” concert, featuring Tom Morello and Jello Biafra.
For about six weeks, activists have been meeting inside an office on 23rd Street to plan the logistics of the movement’s commemoration. The debate sometimes became heated, particularly when it came to specific tactics that will be implemented on Monday.
The direct action part of the day includes the “People’s Wall,” which will be centralized on Wall Street, or as near as the activists can get (when I attended a meeting, Occupy activists discussed the possibility that most of Wall Street will be closed off by the police), with other actions “pinwheeling” out from the heart of the protest. The idea is to coordinate a highly organized, peaceful piece of civil disobedience while providing space for independent “affinity groups” to do more creative actions.
This is the balance Occupy has always struggled to find: organizers want to create both structure and facilitate space to allow for more radical actions. Heavy emphasis has been placed on the “non-threatening,” “peaceful,” and “civil disobedience” aspects of the anniversary, however, the underscoring of which has frustrated some of the more radical members of the movement.
While organizers hesitate to make turnout predictions, they do expect Occupy activists from all over the country to converge on Wall Street come Monday. For example, OWS is expecting around 250 people from Occupy Philadelphia to attend the action.
Organizers hope the anniversary will serve as a refresher to people, and remind them of the importance of addressing Wall Street’s influence on politics.
“By having a clear demand for money out of politics, it just lays it down very clearly that this system is broken, that no matter whether Obama or Romney gets more or less funding is not the point. It’s that Wall Street has massive control over the election itself. It doesn’t matter which way Wall Street picks,” says Andrew Smith, an organizer.
“The action on September 17 is deeply tied to the election in a lot of ways because the complete nature of our democracy is bought and sold,” says Smith.
“I’m not particularly motivated by anniversaries,” says Mehta, “but I think it’s important to gather, and bring people together on this weekend, and on dates to come, to do what we’ve been doing for the year…expressing our discontent, learning, teaching and caring for each other.
“Sure, I want tens of thousands of people to gather for the assemblies, for performance, to circulate around and sit in intersections in the financial district, blocking business as usual, but I’ll be happy if this is done, and keeps being done by people, as many or few as are willing and wanting, as we build a movement over time.”