Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Space is the Place -- in memoriam Occupy London

So Occupy London is no more -- evicted after a court fight with the City of London Corporation, the private entity that controls things in the square mile that comprises the central business district of London. Giles Fraser, the former canon chancellor of St. Paul's Cathedral, who resigned last October in protest against the church's plan to work with the City of London Corporation to forcibly remove the Occupy tent city, has penned an eloquent elegy in The Guardian.

To visit Occupy London was to take a huge cultural turn from Zuccotti Park in NYC. No drum circle. No constant harping for funds. No ugly racists using the cacophony as a forum. Instead, when I stopped by in December, theologian Timothy Gorringe, of the University of Exeter, was making a presentation on the religious roots of protest and the occupy strategy in the space that organizers had christened "Tent City University." (This truly public school boasted a great motto: "Anyone can teach, everyone can learn.") After Gorringe finished, the general assembly had a rather angry (though in respectful British style) discussion of whether the group should even hire a solicitor to respond to the court case brought against it -- because to reply to the eviction case was to acknowledge the legal standing of the City of London Corporation.

The occupy encampments around the world were undoubtedly all different. But my experience at the New York site taught me a valuable lesson in organizing. Before I became a writer, I spent a decade working as a community organizer. In the tradition outlined by Saul Alinsky, the groups I organized used confrontation tactics to level the playing field and power relationships. What that meant in practice, however, was that people could come to our meetings passively, as followers. That's because our leadership core had worked out the tactics in advance.

The first time I went to OWS, I didn't get it. The second time, under the tutelage of my girlfriend, I arrived with an old manual typewriter and started banging out manifestos (that's me in the photo above). And with that simple action, I came to understand a new style of organizing. That first time I dropped in on Zuccotti Park, I was passive. I spent the evening listening to Naomi Klein amplified by the people's mike and waiting for someone else to do something. It was an alienating experience. You couldn't join OWS as a follower. You had to bring an action with you -- even something as simple as typing on a typewriter. The Occupy movement demanded active participation.

That was its power.

In the manifestos I pounded out on my 75-year-old Remington Model 5, I dubbed this principle 'un-organizing.' The Occupy Wall Street encampments were not disorganized (indeed, they seemed hyper-organized.) But they were un-organized in the sense that they were open to adopting every person's style of activism and every individual's unique form of action. Un-organizing created a space of true empowerment, an egalitarian and utopian platform. For the time that each individual was there, each was a leader, a spokesperson, a theorist, an organizer, an equal danger to society, an equal contributor to the job of building a better world.

By denying the movement a location, the powers that be have struck at its heart. It's true, as Giles Fraser notes in his Guardian article, that you can't evict an idea. But Occupy was more than an idea. For a short while, there was a place -- an actual, physical space -- for activism in more than 100 cities around the world. Now one more city has ripped that space away. A private entity went to court. The judges ruled. The police rushed in. And they combined to make the world a poorer, meaner place.

1 comment:

FreemonSandlewould said...

Well they were after all just piles of occupy.

I hope you realize that the socialist minions that populate the occupy movement are PRO government and as such antithetical to any truly free market AKA shadow economy.

So don't wax romantic on me. It would be embarrassing for you if it were to come out you were pro government / pro taker / pro monopoly.