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What Has Occupy Been Up To? 6 Great Actions You Can't Miss This Spring

Occupy changed over the winter from outdoor camps to internal work and debates. But that laid the groundwork for a very big spring. Here's what to expect.
 
 
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This past weekend the air in New York started feeling warm again; that first hint of spring in the way the air smells and feels. While it has been one of the warmest winters on record in New York City it was still winter. It was still bitterly cold often, it was still gray often and if you were used to spending time outside as part of Occupy, it became hard to have meetings and protests and marches outside. This has made it seem as if Occupy has gone away; in fact, for the past few months I have often been asked questions such as: “Are you still involved with Occupy?”

I answer these questions with a long list of actions and meetings and protests and ways we are planning for the spring. But I also answer it by saying simply: “Occupy, of course, has not gone away because the issues and problems it brought up and the questions it has asked of society have also not gone away.”

While most of the occupations around the country, and around the world, have been dismantled (most recently Occupy London last week) and Occupy has less of a physical presence in that there are not as many occupied public spaces, this does not mean that Occupy, as a movement, is any less real.

But during the winter Occupy did have to change. The intensity of our early days is over, the days, weeks and months when we proved that this is a real movement, that we aren't going away because the questions we are asking and the problems we are highlighting are too important. The early days were beautiful, they were inspiring, but it is now that we are being deliberate, that we are building relationships with each other and with our communities, it is now that we are building our infrastructure, it is now that we are doing the internal work that we need to do in order to be smarter, faster, better at bringing people together, better at sustaining ourselves as a movement, it is now that we are more committed then ever. And we have been planning for the spring. So below I present you with a list of things to look out for from Occupy in the coming weeks and months and as it goes from winter, finally, to spring:  

1. Fight BAC! Occupy Takes on Bank of America

One of the big new projects to come out of the winter is the Fight BAC (Bank of America) campaign. The message of this campaign is beautifully simple: Bank of America's financial problems have led it to being propped up by the government and in the coming year it might need a bailout. Instead of being bailed out it should be broken up into smaller banks that have more community control. The reason it is failing is because of its fraudulent mortgage practices that have led to the foreclosure and housing crisis and it does not deserve more taxpayer money to foreclose on people's homes. This is a chance for the country to have a real discussion about the financial industry, and alternatives to it, as well as what collective wealth means and can do.

This is a campaign with a broad-based and nationwide coalition. The best way to get involved? Participate in one of the March 15 actions being planned (see this Web site) and move your money out of Bank of America (use this simple tool here).

2. May Day General Strike: A Day Without the 99 Percent

Occupy Wall Street has called for a general strike in New York City on May 1 and for it to be thought of as a “day without the 99 percent.” Traditionally a tool of labor unions, a general strike allows workers of every kind to join together and withdraw their labor from the economy, therefore showing their collective power. Occupy is working with unions to plan marches and protests. By calling for a general strike to be thought of as a “day without the 99 percent” (like the 2006 Day Without Immigrants) there is the chance to reframe a general strike as a day in which everyone who feels disenfranchised from our current political and economic system must take action. Therefore on May 1 Occupy is also calling for a Student Debt Strike, a Student Strike, an Art Strike, a Women’s Strike, a Housing Strike. Here the idea of a strike can be rethought so people can take to the streets to demand the changes they want to see in all of these areas of their lives.  

What to do? Get involved with planning May 1 here. To learn more about the history of May Day, attend one of these events. Also prepare to join everyone in the streets on May 1 in what will be a day of joyfully coming together.

3. The Student Movement

Inspired by Occupy, but distinct from it, the Occupy education movement has taken off. Most recently there was the March 1 nationwide day of Student Action which saw protests around the country from California to Chicago to New York. This day of action focused on the issues of student debt, school closings and the increasing privatization of education.

In New York City, the fight over education is not just at the level of higher education, where students want to graduate with less debt and where students in the CUNY system are still fighting over budget cuts that raise tuition while increasing class sizes, but also at the middle school and high school level. The Department of Education is closing schools it claims are “failing,” leaving parents and students, mostly from districts that are primarily low-income people of color, increasingly disenfranchised from having power over their children's education and scrambling to find places to send their children to school.

From the elementary all the way to the higher education level this struggle is one over the right to education, who has control over our educational systems and the issue of student debt. What to do? Sign the student debt refusal pledge here and pledge, when they have a million signees, to stop paying. And look out for actions on April 25, the day that student debt is going to surpass $1 trillion.

4. Occupy Our Homes

Occupy Our Homes brings attention to the disconnect between the fact that there are thousands of homeless people and thousands of empty homes. The movement demands that the banks negotiate with people instead of just foreclosing on their homes. In doing so Occupy Our Homes articulates our dissatisfaction with banks and the financial industry but it also works to connect these issues to the ways these industries affect people’s lives. Along with eviction defenses and occupying foreclosed homes, more recently Occupy Our Homes has been shutting down foreclosure auctions by singing; a beautiful way to participate in some important civil disobedience. Watch a video here.

Find out more about what Occupy Our Homes has planned here and look out for the upcoming nationwide week of action against the banks March 12-16.

5. Re-Occupations: Citywide Assembly and Pop-Up Occupations

Since Occupy Wall Street lost Zuccotti Park, the question of reoccupation has been on everyone's minds, and on December 17 a failed attempt was made to take Duarte Square. Since then, people have occasionally tried to sleep in Zuccotti Park (most recently last week) and the idea of reoccupation has been thrown around. Whether Occupy Wall Street does reoccupy a space or a park in the spring remains to be seen but what is for sure is that there are plans for, and have already been, lots of pop-up occupations around New York City. These pop-up occupations are a chance for people to come out and gather in a park (last time Tompkins Square park in the East Village) and for different working groups to talk to people about what to do. These events are fun and give Occupy a chance to do outreach as well as meet together in a park for an afternoon -- look out for lots more of these in the spring.

The other type of non-traditional reoccupation to look out for is the Citywide Assembly that is being planned for April 14. This will take place somewhere big, fun and public in New York City. The idea behind the Citywide Assembly is simple: to have a positive and festive day to re-open the spring. Here there will be organizations from inside and outside the movement represented, tabling and connecting with people but there will also be music, teach-ins, dancing, games played as well as meetings and collective time for people to reconnect, be drawn into the movement and to be excited about it. Watch out for more information on all these exciting versions of occupation.

5. Representing Ourselves, Organizing Ourselves: New Publications, Nationwide Coordination and Better Structures

While the movement has been planning actions and projects and protests for the spring, it has also spent the winter having deep internal conversations and taking on some of the structural issues that arose in the fall. This has been done in a wide range of ways: from the People of Color Caucus being engaged in conversations about what its purpose and goal should be to the Safer Spaces working group writing and then fine-tuning a Community Agreement that can serve as a template for the rest of the movement about how we treat each other and act as part of the movement, to people questioning our structures and if they are still the best way for the movement to organize itself.  

The movement has also started to coordinate nationwide through the creation of an inter-occupy network in which people from occupations around the country have channels to connect with each other, share experiences and resources and plan together. You can find out more about them here. Lastly there are new publications for the spring, with another issue of the Occupied Wall Street Journal and the second issue of the Occupy Theory journal Tidal just out (you can see Tidal here.) One of the strengths of Occupy has been its ability to self-represent and theorize itself and to produce materials in which to do so. With new issues of both of these publications, Occupy is ready to take on the task of producing its own media in the spring.

Some call it wintering; the resting and planning and preparing that happens during the winter in preparation for the spring. Occupy might have been quieter in the past few months but that does not mean it was over. In fact the reality is far from it. The plotting and planning and resting that Occupy has done through the winter means that we are all the more ready for the spring and all the more ready for everyone to join us now and then. 

Manissa McCleave Maharawal is a doctoral student in the anthropology department at the CUNY Graduate Center and a New York City-based activist.