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New Clear Vision


constructive commentary for the chronically farsighted


Re-Occupy Public Space

December 14, 2011 By: NCVeditor Category: Community, Economy, Keith McHenry, Politics

A Modest Proposal for a Coordinated Effort in Honor of MLK Day

by Keith McHenry

The occupation movement is the most important movement of our lives. I get calls everyday from average middle Americans asking how they can help, calling to say they are so proud of everyone, some even coming to tears expressing that we just had to succeed.

As Naomi Klein wrote on October 7, 2011, in an article titled “Occupy Wall Street: The Most Important Thing in the World Now,” the need to keep the occupations going is crucial: “Occupy Wall Street, on the other hand, has chosen a fixed target. And you have put no end date on your presence here. This is wise. Only when you stay put can you grow roots. This is crucial. It is a fact of the information age that too many movements spring up like beautiful flowers but quickly die off. It’s because they don’t have roots. And they don’t have long term plans for how they are going to sustain themselves. So when storms come, they get washed away.”

The corporate media is seeking to claim that the police have successfully swept away our movement, but as you know this is just the beginning. Reporters are claiming that we have “moved” to walking from town to town or other valid actions that should be supported — but the occupations are the action that is still applying pressure and providing a space for innovation and community.

We have the corporations and their governments really frightened. They have a coordinated media and police campaign to shut us down, but their logic — while perhaps effective in the short run — won’t work for long if we continue to reclaim public space. Even if this means we must survive a wave of evictions, at some point there will be another critical event: news of a national default or major bank failure, U.S. government failing to continue unemployment payments, or government shut down. News that points to the fact that we are sliding into a great depression and harsh austerity policies are necessary to transfer more of our resources to the one percent. Our continued presence will provide a visible place for those not yet living at the occupations to join us, as their personal situation changes or their revulsion at the bold disregard shown by the corporate state is so strong that they feel they must take action.

As has been the case in past years, the media will start to announce in January that holiday sales just weren’t as good as first predicted.  The re-writing of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy also will be in full swing as usual — this year with a special effort to ignore the fact that he would have been one of the first to sleep at Occupy Wall Street.

If there is a link made, it likely will be an attempt by the Democratic Party to strengthen the connection between King and Obama, with their special effort to ignore the impact of Wall Street on the policies adopted or not adopted by the president over the past four years. It is time to dust off our copies of King’s last writing, “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” and remind America that King would most likely be attending our General Assemblies and encouraging us to Re-Occupy Public Space after each eviction.

What would be a more fitting way to celebrate the legacy of one of America’s most dedicated nonviolent advocates for the 99% than to Re-Occupy Public Space during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday?

The hundreds of Occupations that have not been evicted or that have returned can remind our communities that news of our demise was premature. For the other occupations that have been driven from public space, we could return with large cardboard paintings of our tents and spend the holiday demonstrating the absurdity of clearing public space of our message at a time when half the people are struggling to survive according to the U.S. Census.

And America is not alone, as we can see. The Eurozone is collapsing as resistance to bank bailouts continues. The Chinese and Indian economies are teetering and resistance is growing there as well.  People all over the world are resisting the austerity measures proposed by the one percent. Economic leaders announce daily that the global economy is on the brink of disaster. If we don’t shop our way out of this crisis, 2012 may well be the big end we have been promised. Or perhaps the new beginning that we know is necessary!  What is more important? Clean sidewalks and undisturbed lawns, or the future of our country and the world?

Our work is not finished. We have made it clear that we must take money out of politics and replace it with democracy. We are the lobby of the 99%  seeking a new economic and political system, even as the current crisis continues to force our friends and families into poverty.

January’s economic news and reality will dramatize the continued need for our occupations. Let’s continue to talk and introduce some of these ideas at the next General Assembly:

  1. Organize a campaign of Re-Occupation during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, arriving first with paintings and other “images” of tents to challenge the logic of restrictions against tents, in addition to all other types of culture-jamming actions.
  2. Continue the global dialogue seeking a transition from the current failed political and economic system to a post-capitalist “real” democratic future.
  3. Strengthen inter-occupation communication of ideas, solutions, and calls for global days of action.
  4. Consider adopting some simple guidelines such as a dedication to nonviolence, that the food is free for everyone without restriction, that decisions will be make by consensus at the General Assembly, and that drugs and alcohol are not to be consumed at the occupation.
  5. Encourage local officials to end their efforts to drive the occupations and tents off public space with petitions, meetings, participation in public hearings, and all other nonviolent actions. Remind city officials that the UN and other international organizations support our right to continue these very important occupations.

It is time for Obama Administration and city officials to stop their efforts to evict our occupations. Clean pavement and healthy lawns are not even close in importance to seeking solutions to the global crisis, and as we can see our presence occupying public space has been the catalyst for this discussion.  We know this from firsthand experience. Decades of marches, rallies, phone calls, letters, lawsuits, and public comment at hearings just didn’t push the debate into the public conscience.  The occupations did, and will continue to do so if we don’t let ourselves be pushed out of sight and out of mind.

And I am sure your local Food Not Bombs group will be happy to do what they can to support the kitchens, so don’t worry about needing to eat!  We aren’t going anywhere.

Keith McHenry is the co-founder of the Food Not Bombs movement.  To learn more about starting a local Food Not Bombs group, or to donate to the effort, visit: www.foodnotbombs.net.

1 Comments to “Re-Occupy Public Space”


  1. Thanks for this Keith. So feeling it. Taina jumped in with both feet when i met her at Westlakd Oct. 7 and i camped with her for 5 days at the Decolonize occupy camp at her school on Capital Hill. I also did an all night vigil last Friday in the sanctuary tent which was the first smoke free space i spent time in which helped as asthma has gripped me due to widespread cigarette smoke. Most of the camp is now gone except for a few tents. It got quite arduous due to the addiction issues. I am shaping my life to be part of whatever emerges. I am in this for the long haul, which may be for the rest of my life.

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