What’s Next for OWS?

Last night, Occupy protestors in Philly and LA were evicted. According to an article posted on MSNBC this morning, about 200 protestors are being held in LA, though police did say the arrests were mostly peaceful. In Philly, meanwhile, the police issued three warnings that the protestors would have to leave, and nearly all did so, according to the article. But then they started marching through the streets, disrupting traffic at times, and even halting some of the city’s mass transit system.

Now that these two sites have been evicted, there are very few large cities left with ongoing occupation encampments. NYC was dismantled  a while ago, though they still have been meeting at Zuccotti park, though without tents. Occupy Chicago was also evicted a while ago. Occupy Boston still has an encampment, but for how long?

These evictions pose a question for the Occupy movement: what comes next? The encampments were successful in the sense that they changed the national dialogue and sparked conversations among Americans and in the media about economic inequality. They also helped create a community of diverse people that have been exchanging ideas about how to fix this country.

However, it’s my belief after visiting occupation sites in Philly and Boston and working with some local activists that for this movement to succeed, it has to grow beyond encampments. The Tea Party succeeded in   a sense that people within the movement ran for office, and about two dozen Tea Party members now occupy the federal House of Representatives. They’ve been able to derail legislation and push their agenda. At some point, the Occupy movement needs to consider running people for office, working with the system, and coming up with clear legislative goals. So far, the movement has been against creating clear demands, but there has to be more than just protest. The Civil Rights movement succeeded in getting desegregation legislation passed. The 1930s labor movement succeeding in getting FDR to pass the New Deal programs and creating Social Security. Occupy can push for certain legislative goals, including a constitutional amendment to ban the notion of corporate personhood, which would counter the Supreme Court ruling of Citizens United in 2010, which made it possible for corporations to funnel an unlimited amount of money into politics. The movement can also push for even greater regulation of Wall Street and lobbyists, a higher tax rate for millionares, and a more comprehensive jobs bill than what Obama has offered.

OWS is about three months old now, a very new movement. But for it to stay relevant and continue getting media coverage beyond arrests of protestors, it should move beyond encampments. Recently, the encampments have created issues between police and protestors, and how sustainable will encampments even be when winter comes?

Beat Poets, not beat poets

Over the last few days, there have been countless clips on the news and videos that have gone viral of Occupy Wall Street protestors getting arrested, pepper sprayed, and hit with clubs in various cities across the country. Today, I came across an article in the New York Times written by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass about how he was at the University of California, Berkley late last week, when he witnessed the police assault some of the protestors, and he, his wife, and another poet/professor were also assaulted, according to his first hand account. In the article, which you can read here, he states, “They had hit me hard enough so that I was sore for days, but not hard enough to leave much of a mark. I wasn’t so badly off. One of my colleagues, also a poet, Geoffrey O’Brien, had a broken rib. Another colleague, Celeste Langan, a Wordsworth scholar, got dragged across the grass by her hair when she presented herself for arrest.”

That same university was also in the news because a group of protestors were sitting on the campus, linking arms, when a police officer in riot gear walked in front of them and sprayed pepper spray in their faces. You can see that video here.  After that happened, the chancellor of the university forced that officer to take a leave of absence, while the school investigates whether or not excessive force was used. Students have also called for the chancellor’s resignation.

These mass arrests and the video of protestors getting pepper sprayed marks a week in which NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg evicted protestors from Zuccotti Park, but then allowed them to return, but without tents. The irony is that after he did that, the protestors had a large day of action on Thursday, one capped with a march across the Brooklyn Bridge.

In Berkley, the Occupy Movement continues, even after police tried to evict the protestors.  Hass sums this up beautifully at the end of his New York Times article:

“On Thursday afternoon when I returned toward sundown to the steps to see how the students had responded, the air was full of balloons, helium balloons to which tents had been attached, and attached to the tents was kite string. And they hovered over the plaza, large and awkward, almost lyrical, occupying the air.”

 We’ll have to see what the next page in the history of this movement will be, but every time the police try to crack down on it, it just seems to get bigger; however, the Occupy Wall Street Movement does need to ensure that the police crackdowns and mass arrests don’t overshadow the overall message of income inequality. That’s the real danger.

I was at Occupy Philly this weekend, after I had a reading at the Doylestown Bookshop Friday. I saw a few hundred tents surrounding City Hall, but very few police officers. The officers I did see were talking to some people on the street, and there was generally little tension. Maybe the organizers in that city have done a good job reaching out to police, communicating with them, and making clear they are not the enemy. Maybe Occupy Philly has been strictly non-violent. I don’t know, but I wish and hope the issues of economic inequality, high unemployment, and corporate money in politics all become more of  focal point than mass arrests.