May 24, 2012

Occupy In A Transitional Period

[This article was written by a young 'rade of mine who has been involved in Occupy Boston since its inception for the folks at the Norwegian magazine Rødt, published by the Red Party there. At a time when there is still real unclarity about how to proceed among many Occupy! activists and supporters, it draws some deep lessons from the movement's first phase last fall. It addresses some of the same questions I talked about in this FotM piece last month.]

by Evan Sarmiento

Shortly before 5am on December 10, 2011 Occupy Boston was evicted from the encampment at Dewey Square, a short walk to our main busing and transit hub South Station in Downtown Boston. The raid came after Boston judge Judge Frances A. McIntyre lifted a temporary restraining order prohibiting the police from taking action against Occupy Boston. The terms 'encampment', 'protest' and 'civil disobedience' are protected under the U.S. Constitution. The state of Massachusetts, in it's official judgement, however, considered the term occupation a deliberate seizure of private property.

Ironically, the Massachusetts judiciary understood the occupation better than many of the occupants itself, who considered our encampment at Dewey Square as more of a rallying cry for the 99% than a permanent form. But, perhaps most interesting was that the state of Massachusetts considered Occupy Boston to be ineligible as plaintiffs, as each court witness claimed not to represent Occupy Boston. Occupy Boston, following upon the general rules adhered to by the entire Occupy Movement, practiced horizontalism and consensus in it's operation and therefore, individuals participating could only represent themselves.
Post-eviction, I spoke at a panel at Harvard University entitled "What is the Occupy Movement?" Emmanuel Telez, a young, voracious legal assistant, co-facilitated the panel. Afterward, we discussed this very strange contradiction. Occupy Boston, in itself, was so heterogeneous to the state and its judiciary that, in legal terms, it could not even exist. To the state, Occupy Boston was an invisible, traumatic element which confronted the State as a non-entity enacting and surpassing bourgeois rights. Some would say, "using bourgeois rights in a non-bourgeois way."

What we lost in our eviction wasn't so much the often chanted "We are unstoppable, another world is possible" but an understanding of our heterogeneity versus the State. In Dewey Square, we stood, unprecedented, reclaiming private space and transforming it into a political carnival, a meeting space and a center for all social-movements. In Dewey Square, we objectively served the people. Our food and shelter committee fed and clothed homeless families, who constituted a sizable bloc of occupiers, rendering around $200,000 in vital services the City of Boston slashed or eliminated all together. But, perhaps understandably, many Occupiers saw the encampment as nothing more than a propaganda stunt, an immature activity antecedent to the production of a "real movement." They, too, were perplexed in defining our own accomplishments, unable to consider the extent of our ideological and political victories during our nearly three months at Dewey Square. 

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