In late December, more than a half-dozen major museums and organizations, including the Smithsonian Institution and the New York Historical Society, announced they would begin collecting materials produced by the Occupy movement.
The timing seemed odd. Here was a movement in its infancy—not yet four months old—that is still very much ongoing. For example, sixty-eight people were just arrested in Zuccotti Park during a New Year’s protest.
Naturally, the desire to preserve Occupy makes sense. The camps were temporary and any items left from their time are now precious relics any history enthusiast would be eager to examine. But the rush to archive, preserve and endlessly study the Occupy Wall Street movement perhaps also reflects America’s thirst for a grassroots protest, and the belief that any such movement is, by its very nature, extremely temporary.
NYU and Columbia University have both announced they will offer courses on the nascent movement.
Offered by [Columbia’s] Anthropology Department, the course [pdf], called “Occupy the Field,” will offer “training in ethnographic research methods alongside a critical exploration of the conjunctural issues in the Occupy movement: Wall Street, finance capital, and inequality; political strategies, property and public space, and the question of anarchy; and genealogies of the contemporary moment in global social movements.”
[NYU’s] “Cultures and Economies: Why Occupy Wall Street?” lists goals as wide-ranging and frenetic as the protests themselves. According to the class description, students will focus on “economic inequality and financial greed” around the globe. Alright, that’s a honed-in goal —but they’ll examine those in the context of “race, class, gender, sexuality, region, religion and other factors.” It’s a mission statement as diverse as the demands of the actual protesters.
The fact that major education institutions are now hurrying to tailor their curriculum to accommodate an Occupy world is remarkable. Here are universities that normally study protest movements as archaic events — something poor people of color did way back in the day. Once there was a lady named Rosa, and so on.
It’s curious to witness the archival process of a movement that may be merely the opening salvo of a great cultural shift in America. The process of collecting the scraps of Liberty Park has a sense of finality to it. Once there was something called Occupy…
The desire to dissect OWS may reflect the modern era in which everything and all things are consumed at a frantic pace. Sure, Occupy just got off the ground, and is constantly evolving, but the want for information about the movement is overwhelming. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the archiving Occupy might also be a byproduct of Americans’ limited ability to imagine the possibilities of a serious protest movement.
No one, including those of us who have been following Occupy since its first day, truly understands its power. As such, every day of Occupy seems like it might be the last day, which has led countless publications to tirelessly declare the End Of Occupy seemingly every day since September 17.
After all, major protest movements happen in Tunisia, or Egypt or Libya, but not in America. Whatever minor blip occurred in some parks has come and gone and now it’s time to reflect on what the hell happened. That reflection, by the way, is a great thing, and universities and museums should be applauded for recognizing the majorness of OWS.
Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how Generation Meme handles an ongoing protest movement of Occupy’s magnitude. Barely four months in, Occupy is beginning to lose its shininess and the Smithsonian is hurrying after it with a broom and evidence bag. At least OWS has the luxury of being a protest movement in America, so by its very nature, every action is new and thrilling because it’s someone doing something instead of sitting on the couch.