The Intellectual Situation
Song for Occupations (Reprise)
From the creation of a spokes council, meant to cut through the unwieldy consensus process of the directly democratic general assembly, came a paradoxical result. The spokes council was paralyzed by conflicts over power. Who could join this decision-making group? One meeting was delayed by ten minutes because someone was angry that the timekeeper sat elevated above the rest of us. Was it so that people could see her signal time—or so she could rule over everyone else? Another meeting turned to chaos over whether Chaim should be allowed to finish his statement about the differences between men and women. At emptied and fenced-in Zuccotti, meanwhile, the general assembly still met four times a week, for anyone who cared to come and sit in December’s bitter cold. The ranks were reduced, but open to newcomers and unaffiliated folks, and most of the disruptors who caused trouble at the spokes council didn’t bother to go. So the general assembly passed resolutions effectively, including the most practical ones (approving $1,500 for building supplies to improve the office space on Broadway housing phones and logistical meetings), while the spokes council was an exercise in intrigue, theater, and paralysis.
For much of the autumn, we were traveling, which meant we went to occupations around the country. Only rarely did we have to search to find them. All we had to do was look for any green or concrete square in the center of town, with government buildings looming and one or more luxury hotel, and there the occupiers were, with similar bulbous tents and signs. It was comforting, the sense that friends were everywhere. The legal argument that the tents weren’t just for sleeping in, but expressive symbols of the movement, made perfect sense when we saw them this way, in town after town. It felt like seeing America filmed from space, the camera detecting the ribbon of the Mississippi or the peaks of the Rockies. A defining feature of the continent—outposts of civilization.
In all these places we heard the same refrain, at the information tables, or from the tents, or at the coffee shop next door. “We can’t let New York dictate what we do. Their demands aren’t our demands. Occupy everything!”
On the internet we watched Oakland broken up and revived, triumphant. We watched Boulder brutalized. We watched Portland, where thousands of people stood their ground, then slowly, ever so slowly, nonviolently moved forward, as riot police retreated before them. We watched the kids beaten at Berkeley, the footage of the students pepper-sprayed at Davis. We watched the silent protest, hundreds of Davis students sitting still and observing the university chancellor on her endless walk to her car, like a funeral for her administration’s dignity. We compared American cities to pictures of Athens, Madrid, Lisbon. We watched London, Frankfurt, Toronto, Vancouver. We would go to the grid of livestream feeds and see scores of cities and know where things were happening by the numbers of people watching. Then the mayors colluded, and we watched the evictions: Atlanta and Chicago online, then New York in person, then a cascade, so that we still don’t know exactly in what order they happened: Oakland again and again, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles. We couldn’t bring ourselves to watch Boston, where many of our friends are. All we know we have left is Tampa and Washington DC.