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Spring should mean a new approach for Occupy
The key strategies of the Occupy movement have always been rooted in the idea of physically taking up space—democratically reclaiming it as a locus for populist action. However, as winter set in, police forces across the country brutally evicted the activist encampments. Eventually, though, as the movement’s energy fizzled, those who sought to reclaim its communal spirit looked forward to the spring, when they hoped Occupy could move back in to its former camping sites. So far, no major sites have been reoccupied. Now in the middle of what would be “Occupy Spring,” the movement is facing an identity crisis of sorts. If it wants to survive, it needs to rethink its position as a force for social change.
From the onset, Occupy was a local affair. Going forward, the movement should capitalize on the fact that it was manifested in local encampments by mobilizing around local issues. For instance, Occupy D.C. has executed successful actions to save people’s houses from foreclosure, beginning with the push to “Save Bertina Jones’s Home.” As a result of protests at Freddie Mac headquarters, petitions and social media campaigns, Freddie Mac agreed to rework Jones’s mortgage and called off the foreclosure.
Such small but meaningful victories can help invigorate local activists, but they can also help perpetuate the nebulous nature of Occupy as a whole. The movement has been criticized for not issuing a discrete manifesto with an eye towards national goals. However, translating the broad principles of Occupy to tangible local campaigns will help solidify the movement’s relevance and maintain national focus on its worthwhile ideals.
Meanwhile, a coalition of progressive organizations, including the likes of Moveon.org and Greenpeace, has launched a project called “the 99% Spring.” These mainstream institutions are holding training sessions to school Occupy protesters in traditional direct-action techniques. Although Occupiers tend to be wary of being co-opted into other movements, the 99% Spring is an example of meaningful coalition building that could serve to radicalize liberal groups like labor unions and progressive non-profits and make their methods more effective. For instance, MoveOn.org founder Justin Ruben has recently spoke of the need to diversify their efforts beyond support for the Democratic Party, as it has moved too far right on the political spectrum.
One of Occupy’s greatest strengths is its capacity to attach itself to an array of issues that speak to fundamental inequality. Going forward, Occupy should see itself as a movement that can shape national priorities by forming coalitions to tackle specific issues. As a horizontal organization, its tentacles in different cities are in a position to influence local politics and rally local activists to the greater cause. Going forward, this will mean it will be most effective at fighting for progressive goals when it can successfully cooperate with institutionalized and even mainstream liberal organizations on local issues without being co-opted by them.