Why Occupy Needs Days of Action
As I sit in the New York City Police Department’s central booking, which has become my second home over the course of the last 48 hours, I’m reminded again why we keep mounting days of action and protest. Since last Saturday’s attempt to re-occupy Liberty Square, my role as an organizer in the Occupy movement feels more and more like it did back in the late fall. While doing jail support for arrested and brutalized comrades, my phone has been ringing and buzzing relentlessly with inquiries from fellow Occupiers, press, community-based organizations and union allies. Members of our movement, emboldened by #M17, have been living, sleeping and organizing in Union Square for the last two days, an occupation that continues as I write. It is safe to say that spring is here and that, once again, we have a day of action to thank for this resurgence.
An impromptu Direct Action Working Group meeting on the steps of the courthouse on Sunday turned into an hours-long whirlwind of organizing, regained momentum and vigor. We quickly reached consensus to acknowledge that the unwarranted acts of barbarism which ended Saturday’s celebration of the movement’s 6-month anniversary are not exceptions under Ray Kelly’s NYPD, but the rule. Systemically marginalized communities all over New York City live in fear of Kelly and his cronies every second of their lives. Plans were made to host a press conference on the steps on 1 Police Plaza at noon on Tuesday to highlight this reality. Speakers have been invited from the Muslim community, the homeless community, the LGBTQI community, communities of color, sex workers, the Occupy movement and countless others, to attest to the NYPD’s ongoing assault on the people of New York.
Plans are also being made to strike back on Saturday the 24th with a broad coalition of people from all over the city in solidarity against the capitalists and their servants in the police force, which the one-percenter mayor has accurately described as “my own army.” This Saturday, with our allies from labor and community-based organizations all over the city, we will demand the resignation of Ray Kelly and an end to the prison-industrial complex that has buried us in a climate of fear for far too long.
After #M17, the arguments of those who have discouraged such single days of action ring emptier in my ears than ever. Critics assume that days of mass action can only happen through mobilizations that bring activists to unfamiliar cities where they have no roots. They assert that mass actions don’t really inspire people to effective resistance against the 1 percent. They see these days as a distraction from long-term campaigns and the building of new institutions. As someone who has helped organize many of our mass days of action at Occupy Wall Street, I disagree.
Days of mass action are about more than simply what happens on the day of; the preparations for them are campaigns unto themselves. They are about coalition-building, outreach, engagement, solidarity and showing strength. The process of planning our May 1 “Day without the 99%” and general strike, for instance, has brought us much closer to allies in the immigrant worker justice movement and the labor movement than we would have imagined three months ago. Together, we’re organizing a unified solidarity march at the end of the day, which is unheard of in recent May Day history here in New York. After the march there will be a series of more aggressive direct actions by Occupy Wall Street, which our partners are prepared to back with their words and defend with their bodies. Working with us on the basis of mutual respect, many of our coalition partners are starting to organize themselves using modified consensus models, against the grain of the hierarchies in their own organizations. By cultivating these relationships over time, we can work toward a day when we have the capacity to simultaneously occupy all our workplaces and hold all the power in assemblies of our own making, peacefully subverting the system from within.
One of the most distinctive features of the nascent Occupy movement lies in its local character. General assemblies and direct-action networks are forming spontaneously in cities, towns and neighborhoods across the country. They are being created by residents and are tackling local issues in ways that speak to their own communities. Unlike the trend in the global justice movement of a decade ago, the mass days of action coming out of the Occupy movement do not ask people to converge at a single unfamiliar city. Our days of action — like the “Day of Rage” on October 15, #N17, the West Coast Port Shutdown and the May Day general strike — ask communities to adopt the call as they see fit. These days thereby become conduits through which we forge a movement that is both diverse and coordinated.
#M17 illustrated last weekend with incredible clarity that single, unified days of action are powerful tools in our arsenal as activists working to bring down an economic and political system that serves only the elite. On days of action, we can disrupt these forces, show our solidarity with one another, build revolutionary coalitions, expand our base and draw media attention to the injustices we oppose. #M17 was just the latest in this ongoing struggle. On Saturday, #M24, we will strike back once more in what is likely to be our biggest action since November, as we demand the immediate resignation of Ray Kelly and an end to the police state and capitalist tyranny.
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Chris Longenecker, based in Manhattan, has been a full-time organizer, activist and facilitator with Occupy Wall Street since September 17. In late October, he traveled to occupations across the United States, conducting direct action, consensus and facilitation trainings. His work has appeared most recently in the Anarcho-Syndicalist Review and Occupy.com. Follow him on Twitter @CLongenecker.