7 Occupations That Changed US History
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During the 1730s organized slave rebellions and conspiracies occurred in the Bahamas, Jamaica, Antigua, St. John and Guadalupe. On the morning of Sept. 9, 1973, up to 100 black slaves who had covertly gathered at the Stono River in South Carolina launched the largest rebellion in pre-Revolutionary War America. Slave revolts are by their nature a secretive affair, but Stono’s Rebellion involved the occupation of public space: a procession of liberated slaves who marched toward Florida where the Spanish had promised freedom. The leader of the group was a literate slave named Cato, who “wrote passes for slaves and do all he can to send them to freedom,” according to a descendant. After killing a handful of whites, seizing weapons and freeing other slaves, the growing group continued south, “ with drums beating and banners flying, in some show of military order.”
Eventually a militia of some 100 whites caught up with the insurgents, “ who fought well and bravely, but the armed militia won the fight,” with 20 whites and 40 blacks killed in total. Many slaves escaped from the battlefield, but captured rebels were shot and some decapitated with their heads mounted on posts.
As a result, South Carolina’s slaveholders imposed draconian measures prohibiting slaves from gathering in groups and learning to read, while also doubling tariffs on new slaves to try to slow the growth of the Black population. Nonetheless, accounts from Georgia indicate freed slaves had managed to escape that far, while Stono’s rebellion presaged even more dramatic uprisings led by Nat Turner and John Brown in the 19 th century.
6) The Battle in Seattle
The immediate pre-cursor to the Occupy Wall Street Movement is the alter-globalization movement that caused the collapse of the WTO ministerial in Seattle in late 1999. Horizontalist and anarchist, the movement occupied areas around conclaves of the ruling elites: the WTO, IMF, World Bank, World Economic Forum and NATO.
While heavily influenced by Mexico’s Zapatista movement, which itself used occupied public spaces to advance its political agenda, the alter-globalization movement built upon other movements that used occupation to advance political and social goals. While many of these began abroad, they found a ready audience in the United States. This included Reclaim the Streets, which began in England in 1995 as a “disorganization” devoted to liberating public roadways – and blocking the construction of new ones. Much of the goal was fun, roving street parties, but it was layered upon a resistance to the socially atomizing and ecologically destructive effects of a car-centric society.
Related to this was Critical Mass, the international movement of bicycles reclaiming public space by organizing a mass rides through streets. An explicitly leaderless movement, the first Critical Mass was staged in San Francisco in 1992, but was inspired by one filmmaker’s experience in China where bicyclists would have to wait until there was a critical mass of bicyclists to cross through major intersections. Rides now take place in thousands of citieswhere bicyclists, roller bladders, skateboarders and others take over the streets for a few hours. In New York City, thousands of bicyclists would occupy the streets in a peaceful procession, changing people’s perception of how the roadways and public space could be used. Starting in 2004, however, the NYPD started arresting riders and seizing their bicycles to deflate the movement, but it still continues strong in hundreds of other cities around the world.
A third occupation movement that heavily influenced the Seattle movement was tree sitting, which took root in the Pacific Northwest in the 1980s. By setting up camp in trees, often 100 feet off the ground, ecological warriors stymied logging industry and U.S. Forest Service from felling unique old-growth forests. Supporters on the ground popularized many nonviolent tactics used by subsequent protest movements such as tripods, arm tubes, bicycle locks and concrete lock-ons to passively impede business as usual.