To casual observers, it would appear as if the Occupy movement faded away this winter almost as suddenly as it burst onto the scene in September. With most of its encampments swept aside with the last of autumn’s dead leaves, Occupy has little steady physical presence. There are no mass marches disrupting traffic, few rousing speeches from the human microphone, no late-night drum circle to annoy the neighbors. At Occupy Wall Street, the movement’s first spark, activists report that they’ll likely be out of money by the end of March. And the mainstream media, both less charmed and less horrified by Occupy’s existence, have devoted less airtime to it, focusing instead on the latest inane comment to emerge from the GOP primary.
Like all winter landscapes, this surface stillness conceals something more complicated. In people’s living rooms, in donated office spaces and in indoor parks, Occupy’s working groups are as busy as they were in the fall. Occupy Our Homes has resisted foreclosures and evictions in dozens of cities across the country. Occupy the SEC filed a public comment on the Volcker Rule urging regulators to strengthen this aspect of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act. Other groups have been hard at work on issues ranging from student debt to alternative banking to worker-owned cooperatives. Meanwhile, protests—against police brutality; against corporations like Bank of America, Pfizer and Walmart; against budget cuts; and against institutions like the Whitney Museum—have continued at an almost frenetic pace. Organizers have also been using the winter to incubate grander plans, among them a May 1 Day of Action that may turn into a call for a nationwide general strike and proposals to occupy corporate shareholder meetings, the NATO summit in Chicago, and the Democratic and Republican conventions at the end of the summer.
There’s no question that Occupy will be back this spring—it never really went away. But what will this second stage look like? Will it continue to function largely as a set of loosely connected, issue-based campaigns? Or will it retake public space and re-establish physical encampments and general assemblies as the heart of the movement? How much attention will it pay to the upcoming elections? Is Occupy’s chief value as a branding device to focus the attention of the 99 percent on the issue of inequality? Or is it the leading edge of what will become a more radically anti-capitalist revolution?
Nobody knows the answers to these questions, and all paths forward come with pitfalls. Obsessing about public space and protests risks turning the movement into one long street battle with cops. But continuing to organize primarily within working groups may lead the movement to degrade into its component parts, reduplicating the left we already know. And of course, Occupy picked a fight with the biggest bully in the world—corporate America—and you can bet the bully hasn’t spent the winter in hibernation.
But rather than dwell on the danger, we asked eleven Occupy observers to focus on the possible, to speculate about what comes next for Occupy with the same vista-opening spirit that animated the fall. Their responses follow.
IN THIS FORUM
Michael Moore: “The Purpose of Occupy Wall Street Is to Occupy Wall Street”
Ilyse Hogue: “Occupy is Dead! Long Live Occupy!”
Bill Fletcher Jr.: “Occupy the Imagination”
Marina Sitrin: “Occupy: This Is What Democracy Looks Like”
Todd Gitlin: “More Than a Protest Movement”
Frances Fox Piven: “Occupy! and Make Them Do It”
Stephen Lerner: “Horizontal Meets Vertical; Occupy Meets Establishment”
Jeremy Brecher: “Occupy Climate Change”
Jonathan Schell: “If Vaclav Havel Met Occupy's Human Mic…”
Arun Gupta and Michelle Fawcett: “Occupying the Unexpected”