Welcome Nathan Schneider (TheRowBoat.com) (WagingNonViolence.org) (Twitter), and Host Kevin Gosztola (FDL/Dissenter) (Salon.com) (Twitter)

Thank You, Anarchy: Notes From the Occupy Apocalypse

In contemplating what those who participated in the Occupy movement can do with their selves now, Nathan Schneider writes:

One can return to the world outside in defiance of the knowledge still creeping within oneself that the world is not in fact the same and should not be. But one can keep the thought suppressed well enough most of the time and manage to carry out a decent enough life.

Another option is:

One can try to keep the spirit of the movement alive within and in one’s way of being, aiming one’s defiance at the world outside, which carries on in ignorance.

Schneider, author of Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse, is a reporter who began covering Occupy Wall Street in New York City in the summer of 2011 when a small group was conceptualizing ideas for the action that would take place on September 17, 2011. He spent a considerable amount of time in Zuccotti Park, which occupiers renamed Liberty Square, even sleeping there. He witnessed police intimidation and harassment. He saw hundreds get arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge. He periodically assisted occupiers when they needed help with little things, like holding a sign for a moment or even drafting communiques to go up on the Occupy Wall Street website.

Numerous individuals at Firedoglake, including myself, encouraged the Occupy Movement as it was growing by writing about what encampments inspired by Occupy Wall Street were doing. I began live blogging Occupy Wall Street daily on September 17. Many FDL members chipped in donations to help fund my coverage as I toured Occupy encampments or made donations so that hats, gloves, boots, socks, and other gear could be sent as part of FDL’s Occupy Supply campaign to help encampments sustain themselves through the winter. So, in some way, we have probably all thought about what it means now that the encampments—decimated by America’s security forces (police)—are unlikely to return again anytime soon.

What do we do now? What has Schneider done? What choice did someone close to the initial group of occupiers make?

In his book, he says he finds himself “clinging” to what the movement “got right against a social order gone gruesomely awry: occupying parks against occupying countries, mutual aid against ruthless competition, horizontalism against mounting inequality, direct democracy against the rule of profit, no demands before a system that wouldn’t listen to them anyway.”

Schneider notes that occupiers at one point seemed to realize “helping shape the daily decisions of the occupation” could be “more empowering than trying to tell President Obama what to do.”

He explores the point in the movement’s growth where it outgrew the space. Like the Indignados in Spain who occupied and held general assemblies, maybe Occupy Wall Street should have left on its own terms before Mayor Bloomberg used his army, the NYPD, to decimate Occupy Wall Street’s encampment in the dark of night.

Schneider addresses the issue of anarchists in the Occupy movement. What he presents is an effort to de-stigmatize a group that is not what most people think.

In fact, anarchists were part of the core of the movement. Unlike liberal establishment organizations, anarchists were there from the beginning and did not sit idly by until it was being covered on a daily basis by news media. They also did not withdraw from the movement once all encampments were systematically wiped out.

Perhaps, the most thought-provoking aspect of Schneider’s book stems from how he casts what happened with the Occupy movement as an “apocalyptic moment.” An apocalypse, he describes, is a “lifting of a veil” and after “we cannot go back unchanged.”

An apocalypse is “when we enlist our reason to faith, the already to the not-yet.”

The “apocalyptic moment” Schneider recounts vividly in his book has come and gone. The “moment” was here and thousands seized it only to see it pass because “moments” like it are fleeting.

That does not mean the movement is dead. There are people, who in the spirit of Occupy, continue to organize in their communities and under banners that include “Occupy.”

It will hamper struggles for freedom, equality and justice if people insist on trying to recreate the magic of what happened in that “apocalyptic moment.” However, Schneider’s book reinforces my conviction that committed individuals, who conceive actions intended to advance the process started by Occupy Wall Street, may bring about another apocalypse that inspires and rejuvenates us all once again.

Now, join me for what I expect will be an engaging and provocative discussion.


[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

79 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Nathan Schneider, Thank You, Anarchy: Notes From the Occupy Apocalypse”

BevW December 15th, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Nathan, Welcome to the Lake.

Kevin, Welcome back to the Salon, thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

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dakine01 December 15th, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Good afternoon Nathan and welcome to Firedoglake this afternoon. Hi Kevin!

Nathan, I have not had an opportunity to read your book so forgive me if you address this in there but what do you see as the most lasting legacy of Occupy? Do you see any ability to continue to help guide the economic narrative (after at least getting Income Inequality some attention within the TradMed?)

Kevin Gosztola December 15th, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Hello, everyone. Thank you for being here today to discuss Nathan Schneider’s book, “Thank You, Anarchy.”

Nathan – I am glad to have an opportunity to discuss your reflections on the Occupy movement and movement-building in general.

I briefly highlight in the introductory post how you view the Occupy moment as an apocalypse. Will you expand and share a bit more about why you use this term to describe the moment?

Nathan Schneider December 15th, 2013 at 2:05 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 3

Of course. In the original Greek, “apocalypse” means simply “unveiling” or a “lifting of the vein.” Revelation. What I hoped to do with the book was portray the unveilings I saw happen to so many people through the Occupy movement — both about the depth of injustice in society around them and about the power they might have to confront it.

BrandonJ December 15th, 2013 at 2:05 pm

Good day Nathan, hey Kevin and hello to everyone else.

I must say, Nathan, I read your book in six days. The images you gave, the characters in the book and the events that occurred left me wanting more. It is such a riveting read and made me question why I hadn’t gone when I was 16 at the time.

My first question, however, is on the leader-less movement. You mention how Occupy and other movements had no leaders and were proud of it. Is this a new concept? I only ask since Eugene Debs famously quipped that he was against being a Moses for the masses and wanted people to think for themselves. Could leaderless movements be an old concept and Occupy and other recent movements placed a new spin on it?

Nathan Schneider December 15th, 2013 at 2:08 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 3

There’s another sense of apocalypse, too, the more popular meaning: as some vision having to do with the end of the world as we know it. There was that in Occupy, too, and that was a big part of both its tremendous appeal and its undoing, at least for the moment.

bluewombat December 15th, 2013 at 2:10 pm

As someone who contributed to Occupy at FDL, and routinely took supplies to Occupy Los Angeles, I’m glad to see there’s a book about it.

My question: President Obama presided over a brutal, militarized nationwide crackdown against Americans acting on their First Amendment rights. (See this remarkable article about police thuggery at Occupy Los Angeles, for example.) Why didn’t that adversely affect his popularity? I assume the corporate media’s tacit approval of what he did is a large part of it, but why are Americans so willing to go along with their own repression?

RevBev December 15th, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Speaking about the appeal. I was esp struck by how moved some of the people in the narrative as they “felt” the apocalyse, the intensity of their experience, etc. To you what seemed to have such a deep and moving impact?

Nathan Schneider December 15th, 2013 at 2:12 pm
In response to BrandonJ @ 5

Many, many popular movements of the past have aspired to be leaderfull, rather than relying simply on a rather cartoonish figurehead at the top. Consider civil rights, for instance; MLK was one of the leaders involved in that movement, among many others. But the way the history has been told, he has been chosen for particular reasons and given a sort of kingship over a movement that in fact was very diverse and certainly by no means under his control.

I think there was a particular appeal of not having particular leaders in the movements that emerged in 2011. You saw this not only in Occupy but also in Egypt, Tunisia, Spain, and Greece. I think it was part of the attempt to show powerfully and definitively that these movements sought a deeper kind of democracy, a rule truly of the people, and they were not willing to hand their power over to strongmen.

CTuttle December 15th, 2013 at 2:18 pm

Aloha, Nathan and Kevin…! Mahalo for all your Occupy efforts, and Occupy Hilo is still going strong here in the Isles(along with(De)Occupy Honolulu)…! ;-)

Nathan Schneider December 15th, 2013 at 2:18 pm
In response to bluewombat @ 7

That’s a good question. I think Obama was very careful to distance himself from the repression. In DC, for instance, where the occupations were on federal land, the police were very careful. In his reelection campaign and now, Obama has done very well in benefiting from the rhetoric of the movement while remaining aloof from both the movement and the crackdown against it. The serious brutality happened mostly at the discretion of the mayors.

At first, of course, the police attacks on Occupy caused a great deal of sympathy to shift to the movement. After a while, though, I think many people got cowed into accepting the rule of force over this uprising. I’ve met many people who at first were sympathetic because of the crackdowns, but who later simply felt afraid to participate because for one reason or another they couldn’t risk arrest.

Kevin Gosztola December 15th, 2013 at 2:20 pm

One aspect of your book that I appreciated were the pages you spent going over how Occupy Wall Street was being conceptualized and who was involved in that process. For example, you highlight Alexa O’Brien, who had the project US Day of Rage. But these people were not necessarily the people who occupied Liberty Square (Zuccotti Park) in those first days. Some of these people who helped develop the concept of OWS remained in the periphery.

How did the group of people planning in the summer differ from the group that occupied Liberty Square in those first days?

bluewombat December 15th, 2013 at 2:20 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 10

Kudos to you, Tut. I wonder how many Occupy — not encampments, I think all the encampments are gone — but how may Occupy groups are still going things?

BrandonJ December 15th, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Great point, the emotion and environment really contributed, as the book showed, to the idea of the movement as a leader, rather than a figure leading it.

That leads into my next question. You mention in the book religious folk who work for Occupy’s goal and go against it. Despite being an atheist, I found it powerful and love the imagery you gave. Pope Francis has been in the news for critiques of capitalism. Did Occupy help shift discussion so much that figures like the Pope talked about problems with the system? Or was this something else? What’s your take on what he talked about?

LibWingofLibWing December 15th, 2013 at 2:22 pm

What is going on with legal issues for those arrested for involvment in Occupy? Our Occupy movement here in Bellingham, Washington had an action to occupy the railroad tracks to protest building a coal terminal here at Cherry Point to ship coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming to China, which would have meant a steady stream of coal trains through out little city. One of my friends was arrested two years ago now for this action and she is still waiting for her court date.

Nathan Schneider December 15th, 2013 at 2:22 pm
In response to RevBev @ 8

I think Occupy is in many ways best understood as a spectacularly effective performance. It did a powerful job of dramatizing the failure of political and economic institutions to meet our most important needs. By self-organizing good food, music, amazing conversation, and a kind of political process in the occupations, Occupy was for many people a reality check about what politics really should be all about — not just a set of choices offered by corporate-sponsored politicians, but a process by which we the people seek to meet our own and each other’s needs. The latter view of politics, compared to the former, is by its own nature hugely exciting.

bigbrother December 15th, 2013 at 2:25 pm

The leaders of a popular movement cannot be taken out, bribed or threatened. That is the advantage of a leaderless movement. Is that right Nathan?

spocko December 15th, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Interesting. A leaderless movement might have helped protect the movement in the early days. The press, and especially pundits, crave leaders so they can create a narrative that is easy to understand. This person can be lionized or demonized.

In this case not having an official leader confused the press and forced them to look at what it meant overall. It also meant greater engagement of individuals. I think it helped in the coverage on one hand because it was different and didn’t lead to putting it into easy boxes to dismiss.

It also hurt because the media used the lack of named leaders to be confused, often willfully so. “Who’s in charge? What do they want? Where is their list of demands? ”

Also, with authorities, they like a leader so they can focus on them using the classic, “cut the head off” or discredit them or negotiate with them. I noticed that with media coverage their ability to find someone to comment on the Police side was easy and they were often at sea getting someone to speak “for Occupy” and because of this there were a consistent way to the movement to get a message across.

Nathan Schneider December 15th, 2013 at 2:27 pm
In response to BrandonJ @ 14

As a Catholic myself, Pope Francis’ language isn’t all that surprising to me, though I am glad for it. But Pope Benedict, at times, was just as strident in his critique of capitalism. He was just less good at making people notice it, and his heart wasn’t really in it. This should be kind of obvious. Throughout its history the core tenets of Christianity (as well as Islam and Judaism and just about any other moral system that has stood the test of time) have been in either tension or downright opposition to a society built on greed like we are in the process of creating.

I do think there are ways in which Occupy and movements like it are part of what makes Pope Francis recognize that the time is right for this kind of emphasis. Many politicians are realizing that too — Bill de Blasio comes to mind. But the tradition Francis is speaking from is much older than Occupy.

bluewombat December 15th, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Well said. Plus they were very good at phrase-making: The one percent vs. the 99 percent. We never would have gotten that out of the Democratic Party of Charles Schumer, Hillary Clinton, and Obama.

Nathan Schneider December 15th, 2013 at 2:31 pm
In response to bigbrother @ 17

That’s part of it — you can’t be as easily decapitated. That’s a strategic advantage — and there are also major strategic costs, such as the challenge of forging unity without it being dictated from above. But I think the really prime benefit of a decentralized movement is that real, grassroots life is decentralized. People want a society that is more democratic, and a democratic movement is more likely to result in a democratic society. I think people want a movement like this to work because it resembles the kind of world they want to live in.

But it’s hard. So much of our training and education and socialization and work life inclines us to follow orders and believe in leaders. So many of us don’t know how to self-organize. Two communities that are exceptions are artists and open-source software developers, for whom self-organizing is often a way of life, and those two were quite common in Occupy.

spocko December 15th, 2013 at 2:33 pm
In response to bluewombat @ 20

Agreed. And for all the people bitching about, “What is their message? What are their demands” Just that concept.
“The one percent vs. the 99 percent” is a huge, huge sea change. A metaphor that can reconfigure your thought is nothing to sneeze at. In fact had we hired an Ad Agency to come up with it and Frank Luntz to focus group test it, it would have cost millions. Effective? YES! If how you measure an ad or concept is how well known it is then this has an almost 90 percent hit rate. And that’s a big fraking deal.

Nathan Schneider December 15th, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Some people are still dealing with legal ramifications of Occupy in various ways. There was actually just a legal victory in New York:


Many people who were arrested multiple times are suffering a variety of consequences, legal and psychological, and are therefore feeling less eager to get involved in that kind of street action anytime soon. Which hopefully will lead them to even more effective strategies. But in some cases it just leads to fatigue.

CTuttle December 15th, 2013 at 2:35 pm
In response to bluewombat @ 13

Honolulu is still actively ‘camping’ clinging to the sidewalks after being forced out of the parks and continuously being harassed by City officials…!

One thing that doesn’t get much mention is how many other groups it has inspired, here OH, has spawned several movements tackling GMO’s, Public-Private Partnerships, Sunshine laws, etc., and, often has coordinated many of the direct actions…!

spocko December 15th, 2013 at 2:35 pm

I have my own responses to the sneering right who point to Occupy as a failure and to the Tea Party as a success.

What do you say when people ask you to compare the two?

Nathan Schneider December 15th, 2013 at 2:38 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 12

It was interesting. There were many Occupy Wall Streets! Folks like Alexa were very busy in the background but almost never on the plaza. Others were on the plaza all the time during the day but hardly ever slept there. Others slept there but hardly participated in any committee-based organizing. It was a phenomenon where many people played many different kinds of roles based on where they sensed they could fit.

Many of the people involved in the Tompkins Square Park planning meetings, however, remained with the central organizing process for months or even to the present. They often felt a sense of special responsibility for the movement and became among its most committed participants, dropping everything else in their lives in the process.

Others got fed up quite quickly, including some of the most influential voices in those early meetings.

bigbrother December 15th, 2013 at 2:38 pm
In response to bluewombat @ 20

And great minds were attracted to meet and discuss solutions to problems that have not been solved by the powers that be. Labor has risen from it’s sleep with many demonstrations. And more will find the courage and wisdom to ask for change. It was also a demonstration of our right to protest and ask for change. Demonstrating how we can exercise our constitutional rights as a free people. Now we are in a militarized police and survielance state.

bluewombat December 15th, 2013 at 2:39 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 24

Double kudos, Tut. How many people are involved?

defogger December 15th, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Nothing could be greater than OWS being the first major voice to say our problems are a manifestation of class warfare and must be addressed accordingly. Now, Bill Moyers and others respected by the status-quo are carrying that torch. OWS changed everything, and will be seen in many future permutations. They are fighting TPP, foreclosures, and myriad threats everyday.

Nathan Schneider December 15th, 2013 at 2:42 pm
In response to spocko @ 25

When people ask me to compare Occupy to the Tea Party, I say it’s the wrong comparison to make. The Tea Party almost immediately did something Occupy’s basic DNA wouldn’t allow it to do — take massive corporate and 1% funding to sponsor electoral candidates. (Numerous people tried to run for offices under an Occupy banner in different areas and they were universally clobbered by opponents who vastly overspent them.)

A more accurate comparison on the political right in the US, I think, is the role of churches: These are grassroots communities that build power not primarily by electing their pastors to office directly, but by providing for their communities and building a pervasive culture on values that have political consequences. It’s this kind of organizing (or something like it, with some major caveats) that Occupy generally aspired to. Late at night, when folks talked about what they wanted for their movement, they wouldn’t tend to fantasize about electing politicians; they fantasized about building communities of mutual aid.

LibWingofLibWing December 15th, 2013 at 2:45 pm

My friend is fatigued, but she won’t give in and take a plea; she sees her day in court as part of the action.

BrandonJ December 15th, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Interesting, I went to Catholic school and talk against greed would have been laughed at by teachers and students alike.

The book details how Fox News was the only one to understand Occupy’s critiques on capitalism, though attacked them instead of showing images (as you write). Today, there are folks who say Occupy has failed. I took a course on social movements that had everyone, even the professor, saying Occupy failed. One student said it failed because it didn’t work with the establishment. Why are some folks so quick to dismiss Occupy? Even in high school, I had classes where people said they “don’t know what they’re doing anymore.”

Kevin Gosztola December 15th, 2013 at 2:47 pm

In your book, you write that when you witnessed the mass arrest of people on the Brooklyn Bridge you weren’t satisfied that you knew what had just happened.

What do you think of that point in the movement’s history now? How critical were those arrests? And if you want to – how crucial was it to the health of the movement to invite that kind of confrontation? To more generally make themselves vulnerable to police violence?

bigbrother December 15th, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Yes, an example is the top down management model versus the bottom up management that built the powerful tech industry. And you are absolutely right that grass roots activism is what creates real change. Transition Towns is another example: local control. We saw what happened when Wall Street banks engineered the housing bubble and the bailout by the 99% in a top down model destroying wealth for the under class and transferring wealth to the uber rich. Legislation has failed to harness the greed and regulators have been co-opted. Getting flushed down the economic toilet is unacceptable. Power centralized is not democracy.

Nathan Schneider December 15th, 2013 at 2:50 pm
In response to BrandonJ @ 32

Yeah, that’s a shame! It’s a lie. I mean, take “usury,” which is a good word for the basic moral structure of contemporary capitalism. It was loudly denounced at the highest levels by Islam, Christianity, and Judaism for most of the centuries of their existence. Losing track of that tradition is a relatively recent innovation. And Muslims, at least, have developed forms of “Islamic banking” that reign in some of the most speculative and dangerous practices through moral oversight.

Here’s a statement that came from Occupy Catholics in support of Occupy’s “Rolling Jubilee”:


Nathan Schneider December 15th, 2013 at 2:53 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 33

Great question. I think that early on, the arrests were a crucial form of disobedience and performance. They really were what got public attention in the first place — no doubt, since for the first week or two of the occupation, hardly anybody outside it seemed to care.

But over time, I think the tactic of street arrests started to work against the movement. It meant that many people of color and undocumented immigrants and parents didn’t feel comfortable participating. What at first caused the movement to grow soon caused it to shrink. That’s why lots of Occupiers are involved now in grassroots campaigns that are much more careful because they have affected communities at the front and center of the work — campaigns on issues like immigration, environmental justice, police brutality, and low-wage labor organizing.

spocko December 15th, 2013 at 2:53 pm

This is a really important concept to make. And I like how you move do a different comparison.

I don’t just listen to Fox news. I listen to mainstream news and they also constantly make that comparison. Part of it is because how they define success. Getting the MSM to stop making that comparison will be tough but you provide a useful answer.

If Occupy did not want to sponsor electoral candidates then not getting them elected wasn’t a failure.

What I am curious about are things that Occupy did want to do that could be defined as success. I’ve already mentioned the reconfiguration of the mind with the 1 percent vs 99 percent concept.

What other ways did Occupy succeed in ways they wanted to?

What are some things that people from Occupy are doing now that are especially interesting. (e.g. Debt relief)

TarheelDem December 15th, 2013 at 2:55 pm

For me, watching through Kevin’s coverage of the Occupy movement around the country, one of the staggering realizations was how the civic use of public space has so dramatically collapsed. New York acted like Bull Connor’s Birmingham but just had the sense to use fire hoses. But the permitting and the enforcement of “unauthorized assemblies” was similar. And the fuzzing of public space through public-private partnerships or privately owned public-accessible space. That was the first revelation for me.

The second was how the authorities both abuse and use the homeless population, herding or moving them around in response to different geographical political concerns. That was the second revlation for me.

The third was how ready the US is for a movement like Occupy. You had kids in Boaz, Alabama protest on their Main Street and get arrested just on the basis of a movement that was spreading through social media. You had two elders claiming Occupy Provo in the town square of Provo, Utah for maybe six weeks. Occupy Columbia, South Carolina was conducting general assemblies with Tea Party and Green Party affiliated people.

One wonders what would have emerged if PERF had not organized the coordinated takedowns of the encampments.

Nathan, what have you found outside of New York City in researching this book?

spocko December 15th, 2013 at 2:56 pm
In response to BrandonJ @ 32

Interesting. When and where did you go to Catholic School? Which order? I’m Jesuit trained in both the midwest and California. The California Jesuits were much more plugged into social justice than the Midwest ones, but the midwest ones didn’t miss Jesus’ message about the poor. Now granted this was decades ago when I was a young Vulcan.

spiritof1848 December 15th, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Sam Gindin has a piece on the jacobin blog about the role of art. He’s arguing that the Left suffers from a strategic fatalism and Occupy comes in for a thrashing. However, he concludes that “art can best contribute to social change inf it acts in an autonomous way alongside the political. Its explorations must share certain sentiments with its political compatriots, but it must also remain prepared to interrogate and critique the Left itself”

And it seems to that this is the way many people who were involved in Occupy described what they were doing. In what ways does it make sense to describe Occupy as an artistic endeavor? Do you think of yourself as an artist?

Nathan Schneider December 15th, 2013 at 2:58 pm
In response to BrandonJ @ 32

I think many people were likely to dismiss Occupy because of how they’ve been taught history and political science. Another lie. They see a movie like “Lincoln” and come away believing that real change happens when a group of white men get together in a “civil” setting and hash things out and write a document together. Nonsense. Abolition, for instance, was the result of a long and extremely messy struggle in which the people who advocated it were, for decades and centuries, dismissed by most of society and referred to in many of the derisive ways in which one heard Occupy talked about.

It’s really interesting to watch old TV interviews of ML King. He gets almost the same kinds of questions that Occupiers would get: What do you really want? Aren’t you just stirring up trouble for its own sake? Shouldn’t you be doing this through the correct channels?

If we understood just how critical popular movements have been in our history, and that they really are always messy and complicated things, we would be much less likely to be so dismissive of Occupy and so many other movements underway right now.

Kevin Gosztola December 15th, 2013 at 2:59 pm

That was going to be my follow-up question. So, in your opinion, was the issue of disobedience and performance inextricably tied to the larger issue of privilege, which the movement grappled with?

People of privilege can make themselves vulnerable because they are not undocumented or people of color, who will suffer the worst aspects of repression that are systemic in society. For example (and I know this happened before the Occupy movement), Tim DeChristopher can disrupt a land auction and go to jail and not suffer to the same extent that a person of color or undocumented immigrant would.

What your saying is the Occupy movement had to recalibrate to take into account what the oppressed could not get away with doing when confronting police?

bigbrother December 15th, 2013 at 3:00 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 33

The overwhelming election of Bill deBlasio as mayor and his campaign on policies more in line with Occupy seems to point to change that occupiers hoped for.

bluewombat December 15th, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Unless I’ve skimmed through this thread too quickly and missed it, I want to mention another way Occupy Wall Street was important: highlighting gratutitous police brutality. One could argue if they were fighting for their lives, then some overreaction might be understandable. But I think this classic video of a police supervisor pepper spraying three young women who were hemmed in by orange netting highlighted the issue as no position paper could have done.

Nathan Schneider December 15th, 2013 at 3:03 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 38

Unfortunately I didn’t get out of NYC quite as much as I would’ve liked. The book has scenes in DC, Oakland, San Francisco, Fresno, and Athens, but that’s about it. Still, I think you’re very right that it was quite powerful to see how people rose up to occupy in so many places. IN the early days in NYC, there was a map on the plaza where people would add a pin every time news of a new occupation somewhere in the world came in. And there’d be a huge cheer. People couldn’t believe it.

At the same time, the movement still was mainly led by a certain kind of over-educated, under-employed precarious worker who could afford to spend all that time occupying. So many groups were largely left out: families, immigrant workers, low-wage workers, full-time students, and more. I think a movement about inequality and democracy has a lot of room for growth way beyond what we saw in Occupy.

Kevin Gosztola December 15th, 2013 at 3:06 pm
In response to bigbrother @ 43

Assuming this isn’t some kind of snark…

It’s more accurate to say Occupy’s effect on the electorate helped lead to deBlasio’s win. But, not being a New Yorker, I do not know how much of a factor it really had. People wanted a change from Bloomberg and deBlasio was present just as Obama was present to be an alternative to Bush and McCain.

Joe Macare December 15th, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Hi Nathan!

It seems to me that in 2013 we’ve seen a distinct trend of anarchism being dismissed or even smeared, post-Occupy – and by a wide range of other people on the “left.” This has taken various forms, including the usual accusations of violence, the claim that anything that “went wrong” with Occupy was the result of horizontalism, etc. But perhaps the most remarkable, to me, has been the attempt to conflate anarchism with libertarianism and with the Tea Party – something we’ve seen done by everyone from Harry Reid and Elizabeth Warren to commentators from much further on the left. What do you think accounts for this?

Nathan Schneider December 15th, 2013 at 3:07 pm
In response to spiritof1848 @ 40

I have a chapter in my book, the one on May Day, in which I come to the realization of just how much this movement really is best understood as a work of art. But that also has limits — and that’s why old-fashioned political organizing is so, so important too. Art can inspire, and spread inspiration, and change how we think, as it did in Occupy. But to transform the structures of power, other forms of organizing are needed too. People’s needs need to be met in better ways.

I think there are lot of lessons about this in past movements. In France of 68 as in Egypt in Tahrir, there was a great rupture created by young people, but it was the people who were really organized who then stood to benefit from the artistic rupture — the unions in France, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

If there were a Tahrir-sized rupture in the US right now, who would fill it? If the president and Congress were unseated? I bet corporations, the military, and churches.

BrandonJ December 15th, 2013 at 3:08 pm
In response to spocko @ 39

Saint Francis Prep, an ironic title given that Francis gave away his possessions and the entire school is filled with (mostly) over-privileged white Long Island teenagers with lots of money in their parents’ pocket.

Nathan Schneider December 15th, 2013 at 3:09 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 42

Absolutely. It seems like the best, most obvious way to deal with privilege is to build a movement in which the most vulnerable people are the ones choosing the strategies and tactics. That way they can decide when it does and doesn’t make sense for them to take risks. When they’re really in charge, the past suggests, they will indeed take amazing, courageous risks far greater than what many more privileged people took in Occupy.

Nathan Schneider December 15th, 2013 at 3:12 pm
In response to bigbrother @ 43

It’s true that de Blasio very much rode in on Occupy’s coattails to get elected mayor of New York. I can explain more about why I think so if you like. But a really interesting consequence of this was a weirdly Occupy-like “tent” that got set up by some foundations in preparation for his inauguration, Talking Transition: http://talkingtransitionnyc.com/ The Occupy legacy is definitely playing out in de Blasio, though I think it’s very unlikely that he’ll bring about major change unless there are strong, focused mobilizations pressing him to do so.

bigbrother December 15th, 2013 at 3:13 pm

But social media is available to almost all. Egypt is just one example. You can express without physical presence. A very powerful communication tool. If more people are asked to tweet or use facebook that will expand the dialogue and more good ideas will be shared.

Nathan Schneider December 15th, 2013 at 3:13 pm
In response to BrandonJ @ 49

As a Catholic, I know as well as anyone that there are more obvious ironies in how our church’s tradition is presented in the U.S. today than could fit into even the biggest collection basket. It’s a big part of why ex-Catholics are one of the largest religious groups in the country.

spocko December 15th, 2013 at 3:14 pm
In response to bluewombat @ 44

Bluewomabat. Excellent point. So whatever happened to that guy? What were the consequences to him of that act?

One of the things that I advocated for during Occupy was creating our own media and media narratives. With the advent of portable TV studios in our smartphones we could do that. And, in one case of police brutality, our footage was used to get someone released after the police said the occupier hit the police first. It was going to be. He said She said, until footage from an occupy person proved that the protester never hit the officer and the officer started it. Interestingly a police camera was also right there but the police claimed it “wasn’t turned on” HA!

So although it didn’t turn out that the police got punished for their abuse, we were able to turn the tables on them and prove our innocence.

Also, I encouraged people to use the media that we gathered to challenge the Police narrative.
“We didn’t throw any flash bangs!”
[Shows footage of flash bang coming from Police ranks.]
“That was some officer who wasn’t trained. They weren’t supposed to do that.”

I loved that exchange. The police out and out lied to the media and then when provided with evidence of the lie they press just said, ‘Okay.” not, “Hey you just LIED TO US. How can I trust anything you say in the future?”

I wish I could have hammered the press more about that, but of course in their mind some short termer Occupy person vs. the Police Information Officer? They go with the PIO every time because they will see him next week at another protest.
(And that is another problem with leaderless groups, it’s hard to manage the image as well as the message, top down groups can do that easily, and can talk to other top down groups like TV and newspapers.)

Kevin Gosztola December 15th, 2013 at 3:14 pm

That is essentially what I found when I traveled, although I did run into some people who were homeless and had gone to work staffing the encampment so it could operate daily. They were there for the food. They were there for clothing. They were there for the shelter. They were difficult to integrate into the organizing that Occupy groups were trying to do, but this kind of aid was seen as essential. It was really hard to say no in many cases because I think as a movement people felt like they had to do this for people, even when they were unstable. There were individuals in Occupy groups around the country, who wanted to be patient and work with homeless people, and turn them into someone who was able to contribute toward making the encampment better.

Do you have any additional thoughts on this tension of when to expend resources to help people and try to get them to be part of organizing and when to say no because they were not able to be integrated and were just disruptive?

Nathan Schneider December 15th, 2013 at 3:16 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 47

Great point. I did an article about the misuse of “anarchism” in the democrats’ rhetoric against the shutdown:

For more on the role of anarchism per se in Occupy I highly recommend Mark Bray’s book “Translating Anarchy.” It’s a great account of how the movement spread old anarchist ideas in new ways. I also did an introduction to the New Press’s new collection of Chomsky’s anarchist writings that touches on these issues as well: http://thenewpress.com/index.php?option=com_title&task=view_title&metaproductid=1899

Kevin Gosztola December 15th, 2013 at 3:16 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 47

Hey, Joe

I’m glad you asked this question. It was next on my list. As I say in my introductory post, liberal organizations were not there when anarchists were from pretty much the beginning.

Nathan Schneider December 15th, 2013 at 3:19 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 46

At first in the campaign, de Blasio was in behind. He didn’t really become a serious contender until he started acting like an occupier — getting himself arrested, talking about racial injustice, and denouncing Wall Street. Then, suddenly, he burst ahead in the polls and won decisively. I think this was a huge vindication for Occupy-style rhetoric.

Perhaps de Blasio’s greatest risk was believing that his white base wouldn’t abandon him when he started talking about racial injustice. And here, I think Occupy was hugely important. It did a lot to put the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy on the radar of white New Yorkers. (People of color, generally, already knew about it very well.) The movement prepared that white base to sympathize when he started talking about race, rather than turning against him (which, unfortunately, would have been more in keeping with the tradition of New York’s racialized politics).

bluewombat December 15th, 2013 at 3:20 pm
In response to spocko @ 54

Well done, Spocko.

bigbrother December 15th, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Thank you… and you are not a lone I have read many influential minds have renewed hope in progressive agendas being implemented and that is change that you can believe in. G)

Nathan Schneider December 15th, 2013 at 3:24 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 55

Yes, the homeless population was incredibly important in Occupy. I don’t mean to diminish their significance! According to some research, Occupiers had an unemployment rate at about the same level as society at large. (So much for “Get a job!”) The major difference between OWS and New York itself is that in Occupy, the homeless had a voice.

I think in OWS it was extremely important not to turn people away — unless, of course, their disruption was violent. The point of the Occupy performance was to be all-inclusive, and it would have been a slippery slope to turn people away. Of course, for organizing in more structured ways, beyond the space of performance, there have to be lines drawn. There has to be a bottom-line agreement. And in many of the more effective Occupy groups working now (like Strike Debt, for all its problems) have developed very robust groundrules and participation requirements to ensure that they remain productive.

bigbrother December 15th, 2013 at 3:25 pm

I remember visiting a Newman Center at Berkeley during the peace movement on Campus. It was very supportive of what we thought that ending war was something that could support.

BrandonJ December 15th, 2013 at 3:29 pm

I can acknowledge that. I first entered high school, thinking I could re-commit myself to Catholicism, but slowly lost interest and felt disgusted by my surroundings of greed, betrayal and close-mindedness. It fueled my atheism and I vowed never to return to the religion. I still uphold both to this day, though am more open to work with religious individuals.

Nathan, you had a great introduction by Rebecca Solnit, a favorite author of mine, on the life of Occupiers. Moreover, your book presents a way of life Occupiers held while fighting the system that failed them.

Is a way of life the same as political change? Anarchist and Bolshevik support Victor Serge loved the way of life of anarchism, but preferred Bolshevik politics in Russia as political change since it was more effective. Has things changed since then or was he wrong?

Kevin Gosztola December 15th, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Here’s a media question for you—

What effect do you think Occupy had on reporters? Keeping in mind that some will always approach protest with what I will call establishment, elite, or law and order views, do you think it helped some learn how to cover protests better?

I actually thought I had seen an uptick in coverage of protests in general because of the Occupy movement. That uptick may not have been sustained but I believe it happened.

marym December 15th, 2013 at 3:30 pm

In addition to the 99%/1% formulation, another “unveiling” was expressed in the Declaration of the Occupation of NYC. It presented a view of the interconnections of the multitude of issues we face. Whether other Occupy groups chose to adopt or express solidarity with the Declaration, some sense of that inclusiveness must have played a part in why it suddenly made sense for so many people to Occupy in so many locations, even though there were differences in issues and priorities that were most important to particular communities.

Given how we’re so often “divided and conquered” seeing that spark of recognition was really encouraging, as are signs of it when Occupiers and other activists engage in less explicitly connected forms of activism.

Thanks for participating here, Nathan, and Kevin for hosting. Looking forward to reading the book.

Nathan Schneider December 15th, 2013 at 3:34 pm
In response to BrandonJ @ 63

Great questions. (And yes, I was thrilled that Rebecca agreed to right the foreword; I’m a great fan of hers as well!)

A lot of effective movements in the past have been so because of how they blended way-of-life with counterpower strategy. They achieve high participation (which is the highest determinant of success https://cup.columbia.edu/book/978-0-231-15682-0/why-civil-resistance-works) by creating a movement that people WANT to be a part of. And the way-of-life helps counteract anti-democratic tendencies like the Bolsheviks fell prey too. They were very good at taking power but very, very bad at sharing it.

Gandhi had many faults, but I think one thing he understood very well and used very effectively was the recognition that a movement should be about 90% alternative-culture-building and 10% resistance work.

Nathan Schneider December 15th, 2013 at 3:37 pm
In response to marym in IL @ 65

Thank you so much for mentioning this. For all the talk about how Occupy supposedly didn’t stand for anything, or didn’t articulate its goals, in the very first days of OWS, some excellent documents were passed by the General Assembly. They stated the movement’s goals and methods very, very clearly, but they were almost universally ignored by the mainstream media, which struck me as very odd. Here’s another one, the Principles of Solidarity:


Nathan Schneider December 15th, 2013 at 3:43 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 64

Yes, I think OWS was unusually successful in attracting reporters. For instance, 20,000 people marched on Wall Street earlier that year, in May, (organized by unions) and it was hardly reported at all.

After they got over their initial skepticism, reporters generally loved Occupy. It was one of the most heavily reported stories in recent memory. And then I think a lot of editors started feeling a bit guilty about how much they drunk the Kool Aid and by mid-2012 it was suddenly very, very hard to get anyone to publish a serious article about it.

I hope that Occupy inclines more reporters to be attentive to popular movements. I’m afraid that a lot of them have now bought the story that it was simply a failure and they feel a bit embarrassed about their previous enthusiasm. In many cases, though, they now know lots of activists they met through Occupy and those connections lead to some important non-Occupy organizing stories.

Bottom-line, though we need more serious grassroots movement reporters at our major publications. The Washington Post ombudsman once noted that this is a need, but nothing was done about it:

defogger December 15th, 2013 at 3:44 pm

Hey blue@44, RT used that police-state moment against Kerry when he portrayed us as better than the Kiev police brutality. No need for agitprop ,the owners write the script.

Kevin Gosztola December 15th, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Appreciate you highlighting the WaPo ombudsman. (WaPo no longer has an ombudsman and is much worse now.)

BrandonJ December 15th, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Superb point, something I often think about when it comes to art and political change, though must say I am more of a Marxist than an anarchist.

Occupy Sandy is something you touch upon and seems to have taken the energy from OWS to something even more positive. What lessons can we learn to move forward? You mention how new tactics and strategies made the police unable to respond in a tradition way to suppress and uphold order. Wouldn’t OWS strategies for the next movement do the same now that the police know what’s going to happen?

Kevin Gosztola December 15th, 2013 at 3:51 pm

You write in your book, “Movements survive when they keep on moving and keep on re-creating themselves,” and the final question I ask you—with the thought in mind that the Occupy movement is not really dead, there are people still struggling—is, what steps have you seen in recent months to re-create Occupy and keep it alive?

And what do you see being done now that anyone following this chat should know about?

BevW December 15th, 2013 at 3:52 pm

As we come to the last minutes of this great Book Salon discussion – Any last thoughts?

Nathan, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and where Occupy is now.

Kevin, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Nathan’s website and book

Kevin’s website and Twitter

Thanks all, Have a great week. If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

Nathan Schneider December 15th, 2013 at 3:53 pm
In response to BrandonJ @ 71

Great questions, BrandonJ.

Occupy Sandy was a powerful example of what can happen when folks take self-organizing out of the performative work and into affected communities. It inspired a lot of people. One thing that I think is especially instructive about it is that much of the online and offline infrastructure that made Occupy Sandy happen was stuff developed after OWS was out of the media gaze — a reminder that sometimes the most important organizing work is what happens when nobody’s paying attention.

As for police, I think US activists have a lot to learn from movements around the world in places where folks already know that the police are against them. They therefore tend to act much more carefully and pick their battles. I think a major mistake in Occupy was that a lot of young white folks thought the police were their friends and were kind of amazed that so much military force was brought down on them. Then they kept encouraging it just to make sure, or something… Immigrants and people of color in this country tend to already know this, so they’ll approach such confrontations in more sophisticated ways (though no less daring, as the radical segments of the immigrant-rights movement has been showing, for instance, by actually purposely getting put in detention prisons to organize).

Nathan Schneider December 15th, 2013 at 3:55 pm
In response to BevW @ 73

Thanks for your support, Bev!

bigbrother December 15th, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Thank you Nathan for uncovering what MSN did not!

Kevin Gosztola December 15th, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Thanks, Nathan and Bev.

And everyone who participated by contributing questions/thoughts, thank you.

TarheelDem December 15th, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Thanks Nathan for a great book salon.

Thanks to Kevin for hosting and to BevW for lining up another good author.

BrandonJ December 15th, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Internationalist perspectives is valuable to give a connection with the work we do here and the work done overseas. You raise a great (and often neglected) point that some activists I met failed to do. It’s frustrating, but expected if we have a culture of no organizational education.

Thank you Nathan for your responses today. Again, a marvelous and brilliant read that will definitely be recommended to friends. Hope to see your next book and will attempt to get your first book, if I have the time available during my short break.

Thanks Kevin for hosting this discussion, thanks to everyone else for their input and Bev for organizing things like this. Very educational indeed (moreso than some political science courses I took).

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