When covering what was called the “first real occupation” of 2012 in San Francisco last week, I posed the question: could Occupy Wall Street still be Occupy Wall Street without ongoing occupations? It appears the movement itself is struggling with that same question as OWS ponders various protest tactics.
The newest strategy is called “sleepful protest” (#sleepfulprotest, for Twitter users). Over the weekend, Occupy DC activists established what they hoped would be a permanent, though purely symbolic, camp outside a Bank of America branch near the White House. The “camp” was only one tent, but activists thought its presence was important to remind people of Occupy’s roots. (photo of Occupy DC protest by @johnzangas)
On Tuesday, Washington, DC, police cleared the camp and protesters, and arrested two of them, including Harris Nicholas, 30.
“I told the officer, ‘I’m not breaking the law,’ ” Nicholas told The Times, adding that he cooperated with the police. Later in the day — and back on the sidewalk outside the bank — Nicholas pulled a court summons for “blocking passage” out of the back pocket of his pants.
Occupy DC protesters being arrested:
Occupy chapters in New York and Philadelphia are also adopting the tactic, arguing that a ruling by a federal judge allows them to sleep on city sidewalks. Monday night, forty protesters slept on the sidewalk by the New York Stock Exchange, and while rumors of arrests circulated online, a spokesman for the NYPD told the Times he wasn’t aware of any arrests. (Photo of Occupy Phili by @michaelmizner)
In New York, protesters handed out slips of paper before the “sleep over” that read, “It is our First Amendment right to sleep on the street!” The papers briefly outlined a court challenge to a ban on sleeping in public places that was brought in 2000 by the Metropolitan Council on Housing, an advocacy group that planned sleep-outs near Gracie Mansion to protest rent increases approved by the Rent Guidelines Board.
David Graeber, an anthropologist and anarchist who participated in meetings last summer that helped shape the Occupy movement, carried a large placard that bore part of the decision in the case, Metropolitan Council Inc. v. Safir.
In that decision, Judge Kimba M. Wood wrote, “the First Amendment of the United States Constitution does not allow the city to prevent an orderly political protest from using public sleeping as a means of symbolic expression.”
Protester Lauren DiGioia told the Times, “As long as we don’t block doors or take up more than half the sidewalk there is no disorderly conduct.”
The concept of sleepful protests combines Occupy’s two most powerful elements: physical occupations and the targeting of Wall Street, thereby alleviating one of the major criticisms of OWS, which was that the occupations of parks and squares is too far removed from the movement’s actual targets.
When people see Occupiers sleeping outside a bank, the natural question for them to ask is “Why this bank?” And that allows the protesters to segue into an explanation of what Occupy is and what they stand for. In fact, that exact interaction happened with an Occupier and Colin Moynihan:
“Why Citibank?” said Rich Carollan, 23, who was reclining near Broadway. “Because they received a large portion of the bailout funds.”
Physical occupations outside the very corrupt institutions Occupy is protesting brings the message home in a profound way.