Brianna Lee: Occupy Movement at a Crossroads as Evictions Spread

By November 16, 2011

Occupy Wall Street protesters were still in Zuccotti Park Wednesday morning, but without their tents after Police removed them during a raid on Tuesday.

In several ways, the Occupy Wall Street movement has gained more momentum and publicity than many had dreamed possible.

Occupy protests have cropped up nationwide, credit unions recently saw a boom in business, and inequality and mounting student debt have made their way into the national conversation.  

Now, with local municipal governments’ patience wearing thin, that momentum seems to be slowing. City governments, faced with growing tent cities and reports of health and safety violations, made major moves this week to evict protesters after weeks of tenuously assessing the trajectory of the movement.

Police in Portland, Oregon, made mass arrests in the Occupy Portland camp on Sunday. In Oakland, after last month’s violent raid on Occupy Oakland protesters, police finally cleared the Frank Ogawa plaza early Monday morning. Shortly after, on Tuesday morning, the New York Police Departmentcleared protesters from the Occupy movement’s origin, Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park.

Is this the beginning of the end for the Occupy movement? Several observers asked this question as the crackdowns began to spread this week. In New York, protesters were allowed back into Zuccotti Park Tuesday evening, but a state Supreme Court ruling upheld the city’s ban on overnight camping. Oakland protesters have largely moved to support the burgeoning movement at UC Berkeley, which faced its own crackdown by university police last week.

In general, far more Americans identify with the sentiment of Occupy Wall Street – that income inequality has run rampant, Wall Street banks should be held accountable for their role in the financial crisis and that the American dream is declining – than agree with the tactics of the Occupy protests, which in several cases have put the movement at odds with local businesses and city governments. With winter fast approaching and the rift between protesters and city officials widening, calls from within the movement to shift gears are growing louder.

One push has been for Occupiers to move out of outdoor spaces and into foreclosed homes, where they would be able to make a clearer statement of protest against the financial practices that led to the housing crisis. In California, the Occupy Oakland group has formally proposed moving into foreclosed homes and vacant properties around the city. The tactic has already received support from one Congresswoman, Marcy Kaptor (D-OH), who encouraged the protesters to squat in their own homes that had been foreclosed. In several cities, including AtlantaCleveland and Tucson, Occupy protesters have banded together at homes about to be foreclosed and at auctions of foreclosed houses.

And even before Occupy sites began to face shutdowns, protest organizers called for an International Day of Action for Thursday, with planned marches and occupations of banks, bridges, subways and college campuses worldwide.

But for the most part, the Occupy movement is at a crossroads over how best to keep its message resonating with the 99 percent – and keeping the focus on its goals, rather than the logistics of its operations. At the Atlantic, Derek Thompson articulates this need:

To persuasively argue for these things does not require a permanent home base cobbled together from camping tents in a private park. If Occupy Wall Street is ultimately about where protesters can and cannot physically be, then it’s already sacrificed macro strategy for logistical tactics. OWS has its newspeg. It’s time to write the larger story. To get moving again, Occupy Wall Street doesn’t need to re-pitch its tents. It needs a bigger tent.

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