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Thank You Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse

Occupy Wall Street posed legal, moral, strategic, and political dilemmas about the meaning of free speech.
 
 
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The following are excerpts from the new book Thank You Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse by Nathan Schneider ( University of California Press, 2013):
 
Planet Occupy 
 
There was this moment, while I was standing on the steps of the New York County Supreme Court building overlooking Foley Square, when things came together right in front of me. It was October 5, the day of the first big march when organized labor turned out in support of Occupy Wall Street. A few thousand union members, students, and allies were rallying in the square when a few thousand marchers from Liberty Square poured in from the north end on Worth Street. They kept coming, riverlike, and it seemed as if they’d never stop.
 
In the union crowd, people held mainly matching, printed signs. Among the Occupiers, the signs were mostly hand-scrawled on the cardboard pizza boxes that were so plentiful at the plaza. The distinction couldn’t have been clearer. Leading the way was a big banner that I’d seen arrive at Liberty fresh from the printer the night before: “occupy everything,” it said.
 
There’s a memory I have of being a little kid—sitting on one of those orange seats on the Metro in DC, I think—and wondering, What will my generation do? It seemed to me then, there, before that crowd, that I might be looking at the answer. The trouble was knowing what it really was, or what it meant.
 
What it meant should have been obvious: why do you think a bunch of angry Americans would be making a fuss at the exact center of their country’s concentrated wealth and reckless corruption? Yet the more that pundits and their adherents on the outside talked about it, the more they kept harping on the absence of something like the “one demand” that Adbusters had initially recommended, especially one that would fit cleanly into the poisonous discourse in which politics supposedly begins and ends with what politicians are willing to talk about.
 
“How many politicians does it take to change a light bulb?” went a joke Jason Ahmadi told, with slurred words but clear meaning.
 
“Ha! Politicians don’t change anything!”
 
 
The fact was, even though no single policy proposal had been raised by the Occupiers as a whole, by the end of September the General Assembly had approved two significant documents about what it stood for, which were also indicative of the experience of the occupation for those taking part. These were almost completely ignored, however, by the critics who kept demanding demands.
 
“This is not about the demands,” said a facilitator at a GA meeting on September 26. “The demands will come. It’s about the beautiful thing we’re doing here.”
 
The demand, so far, was simply the right to carry out a process—one in which people could speak and money could not. You wouldn’t hear people on the plaza discussing whatever bill happened to be before Congress or the latest presidential talking point. They were deciding not between choices presented by corporate-sponsored politicians but among choices that seemed reasonable to them, on their terms.
 
On September 23, a statement called Principles of Solidarity passed by consensus in the General Assembly as a working draft . (Th is qualification was important again, process.) In its preamble, the Principles stated a complaint about “the blatant injustices of our times perpetuated by the economic and political elites.” The principles themselves, though, were all matters of method:
 
• Engaging in direct and transparent participatory democracy;
• Exercising personal and collective responsibility;
• Recognizing individuals’ inherent privilege and the influence it has on all
interactions;
• Empowering one another against all forms of oppression;
• Redefining how labor is valued;
• The sanctity of individual privacy;
• The belief that education is a human right; and
• Endeavoring to practice and support wide application of open source.

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