Matt Stoller: #OccupyWallStreet Is a Church of Dissent, Not a Protest

Yves here. We are in the midst of a spate of “Ten years after OccupyWallStreet” articles. Keep in mind that OccupyWallStreet lasted in its original form, actual “occupations,” as in continuous gatherings in specific locations, for all of two months. Recall that by 2011, it was all too evident that the financial crisis bailouts had constituted the biggest looting of the public purse in history, yet pols around the world were so captured that they failed to prosecute any executives (we pointed out why the initial go at two Bear Stearns hedge fund execs was misguided; your humble blogger and many others, such as Charles Ferguson of Inside Job, cited specific legal theories and evidence that looked mighty viable, yet were never tested).

The Obama Administration coordinated a 17 city paramilitary crackdown and cleared out the occupations overnight; we watched as best we could in real time. The opening of our post mortem:

The crackdowns on the Occupations around the US are as ugly as they seem.

The area around Zuccotti Park was subject last night to a 9/11 level lockdown over peaceful, lawful protests by a small number of people. No credible case has been made by the officialdom that the protestors had violated any laws. Martial law level restrictions were in place. Subways were shut down.Local residents were not allowed to leave their buildings. People were allowed into the area only if they showed ID with an address in the ‘hood. Media access was limited to those with official press credentials, which is almost certainly a small minority of those who wanted to cover the crackdown (the Times’ Media Decoder blog says that journalists are describing the tactics, as we did, as a media blackout). Moreover, reading the various news stories, it appears they were kept well away from the actual confrontation (for instance, the reported tear gassing of the Occupiers in what had been the kitchen, as well as separate accounts of the use of pepper spray and batons). News helicopters were forced to land. As of 10 AM, reader Wentworth reported that police helicopters were out in force buzzing lower Manhattan.

It’s telling that the officialdom felt their hold on legitimacy was so weak that they had to make such an aggressive response. Or was this the Obama Administration being yet again overly responsive to the pet needs of Wall Street, which were being amplified almost daily by Mayor Bloomberg, frustrated that he could not (yet) deploy what he had described as the seventh biggest arm in the world, the NYC police? And unlike with Black Lives Matters, they didn’t see a way to co-opt it and reduce the (perceived) threat?

I strongly suspect that most of the writers did not visit an actual Occupation. Yours truly went to Zuccotti Park several times, was a member of an OccupyWallStreet follow on group, Alternative Banking, for a couple of year (that group still meets), and have close colleagues who are members of Occupy the SEC, which published a detailed critique of Dodd Frank that got national attention. Occupy Sandy ran rings around the Red Cross relief effort, despite the Red Cross engaging in fundraising around Sandy. Some local Occupy Homes efforts also helped prevent some foreclosures.

However, OccupyWallStreet pointedly did not have demands, and to expect a movement that for the most part lasted only two months to have gotten much done even if it had sprung to life, Athena-like, with a fully-fleshed out set of proposals, is hardly realistic.

Matt Stoller below describes OccupyWallStreet as an exercise in what those of us old enough to remember the 1960s would call consciousness raising. And OccupyWallStreet did greatly increase awareness of rising income inequality by calling out how the interests of the 99% diverged from those of the 1%. Sadly, Matt did not upload photos that accompanied this post to our server, and like so many things on the Internet, they’ve gone poof.

Matt Stoller, currently Director of Research at the American Economic Liberties Project and author of Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy, talks about the many ways in which the US economic system has become rigged to favor the richest.

This post was originally published on September 29, 2011

Last weekend, I spent a few days with the protesters downtown near Wall Street, and it was an eye-opening experience. The people there want something, but it’s not a list of demands, and it is entirely overlooked by the media and most commentators on the protest.

If all you read are news stories and twitter feeds about #OccupyWallStreet, the most trenchant imagery that will stick in your mind is that of police brutality, and the politics of Wall Street greed. The debate seems to be organized around whether the protest will be “successful” or not, how the protesters are stupid or a new American Tahrir Square, or rhetoric designed in a media sphere that maximizes attention. Glenn Greenwald suitably demolishes the sneering commentariat. But I think there’s something to add about what exactly this protest is, what it is doing, and most of all, what the people there “want”. They don’t have a formal list of demands.

And it’s obvious that this isn’t just about Wall Street, nor is it really a battle of any sort. There are political signs there attacking Fox News, expressing anger about Troy Davis, supporting the Iranian revolution, urging the Federal Reserve be reined in, and demanding rich people pay their taxes. There are personal signs about debt, war, and medical problems. And people are dressed in costume, carrying lightsabers, and some guys are driving around a truck with a “Top Secret Wikileaks” sign on the side. I asked if they were affiliated with the site, and one of them responded with “That’s what the Secret Service asked”. Most of all, people there are having fun.

What these people are doing is building, for lack of a better word, a church of dissent. It’s not a march, though marches are spinning off of the campground. It’s not even a protest, really. It is a group of people, gathered together, to create a public space seeking meaning in their culture. They are asserting, together, to each other and to themselves, “we matter”.

Meaning is a fundamental human need. The act of politicization, of building any movement, is based on individual, and then group self-confidence. As Daniel Ellsberg said, “courage is contagious”. I’m reminded of how Howard Dean campaign worker and current law professor Zephyr Teachout characterized the early antiwar blogosphere and then-radical campaign of Dean, as church-like in their community-building elements. That’s what #OccupyWallStreet reminded me of. Even the general assemblies, where people would speak, and others would respond, had a rhythmic quality to them, similar to churches or synagogues I’ve attended.

You can tell this is a somewhat different animal than other politicized gatherings. No one knows what to expect. There are no explicit demands. It’s not very large. And yet, celebrities are heading to Zuccotti Park. Wall Street traders are sneering and angry. The people there are getting press, but aren’t dominated by it. People are there just to be there, because it feels meaningful. The camp is clean and well-organized, and it feels relevant and topical rather than a therapy space for frustrated radicals. Just a block away is the New York Fed, a large, scary, and imposing building with heavy iron doors, video cameras, and a police presence that scream “go away”.

There are a lot of police, but unlike the portrayal in the press the relationship between the protesters and the police is fairly good. The arrests and macing you saw happened because protesters decided to march to Union Square without a permit, and many joined the march on the way. Police began arresting people to keep control of the streets, and that’s when the macings happened. I’m not downplaying what happened, but context is important for understanding why the camping in the park isn’t really problematic while the marching has seen conflict. Police and firefighters routinely come through the park to make sure there are no open flames and no tents, often to applause. There are hints of a more menacing presence; I was told by several organizers that men dressed in business suits accompanied with what looked like police have on several occasions ordered them to vacate the park, handing protesters official-looking orders that on closer inspection were not actually from any governmental authority. Lawyers at the protest made it clear these were to be ignored.

The organizers themselves seem quite experienced. Adbusters didn’t have much to do with the protest organizing, in fact much of the energy came from people that did anti-budget cut campaigns against Mayor Bloomberg in New York City, as well as the May 12th protest march. The organizers have set up committees to handle most tasks, like media and sanitation. There’s a hotspot, and lots of computing and video equipment to record and broadcast. There are living space areas, and the camp site has had to contend with rain without the benefit of tents (which are illegal).

The protesters make decisions in twice a day consensus-based “general assemblies”, where anyone is allowed to speak. No amplification is allowed, so the crowd has figured out a model to make sure everyone is heard. The speaker says half a sentence, and the crowd repeats it so it can be heard. This continues until the speaker is done. There are hand signals that allow others to express agreement and disagreement. I didn’t spend enough time to really get into the nuts and bolts of the organization, but it doesn’t seem very formal. There’s a deep fear of official spokespeople beginning to monopolize and misinterpret the non-hierarchical model of community protest. Of course, there’s not really that much to do; people are there to be there.

The protesters are what you’d expect, a kind of hippie dippie group of students, anti-globalization activists, and antiwar movement actors. There are backrub circles, innumerable pizzas (“the food of revolutions”), but these people do not think of themselves as fringe in any sense. They believe themselves to represent all Americans who are frustrated by politics and finance. Whether or not this is true, what is happening is that there is a belief that their actions matter, that they themselves are moral beings who have dignity and power simply by the very act of self-expression. This is rare in radical activism, most of it is so infused with cynicism that self-marginalization, deadly irony, and mau mau’ing by professional liberals works to persuade protesters to believe themselves a sort of libertarian nihilists. Not so here. There are people wearing tape over their mouths, grandmothers for peace, signs about new death penalty icon Troy Davis, and signs with coherent messages about debt, the Fed, and various wars. Many of the organizers were inspired by Wisconsin and Egypt, by attacks on teachers, by corruption on Wall Street, by money in politics, and are just happy to be out in the streets after a long period of absence of formal protest.

The level of knowledge among protesters on how Wall Street works is fairly high in terms of abstract conceptualizations, but they don’t actually have a lot of immediate connection to policy-making and financial practice. Furthermore, the space is fraught with the problem of consensus-based anti-leadership organizing. There are no spokespeople, and you can’t get on their media list (they don’t have one). The anti-leadership non-hierarchical consensus method is designed to avoid the way that leaders can be smeared and/or co-opted. It does not really scale, and this is a serious challenge going forward. But ultimately, the energy of just having a bunch of people in one place for a long period of time is very different, and much more interesting, than just a march. The protesters are creating a public space for the discussion of economic justice, just by showing up. Some told me they are planning teach-ins. At one point, one of the organizers suggested protesters do a mass drinking of Hope kool-aid, and mimic a die-off. I asked if they had anything planned for Sept. 29, when the Germany parliament will pass their bailout, and I was told that while they had nothing planned as of yet, someone from Citigroup had come by the night before and told them the German bailout was happening.

Many of the angry establishment liberals are frustrated that this protest has no top-down messaging strategy (this tweet from Dave Roberts of Grist in which he calls the protests “horrific” and “designed to discredit leftie protest” is representative). But these people, who represent the rump of support for Obama, are not part of the conversation here. The conversation is global. And you can sort of tell that this protest really bothers the community on Wall Street, stirring up deep existential questions for the people that work there, many of whom know there is a spectacle going on in the streets below.

I don’t think anyone knows where and how this ends, or if it does. I’ve been part of movements full of meaning just like this, movements that utterly failed based on structural weaknesses and the power of the status quo. They seemed full of life, zest, and ended up as yet another set of bloodless bureaucratic failed institutions. These protests may yet be another false start. I’m told, though, by those who were in successful civic uprisings around the world that they all had many, many false starts. But perhaps success and failure isn’t the right way to think about what’s going on in downtown New York, any more than thinking about a church as successful or failed based on its political objectives is the right way to think about how those in the pews satisfy their thirst for spiritual vigor. What these people have found in themselves, and created for each other, is meaning.

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  1. Cocomaan

    I was involved in occupy Philly. Still get the emails.

    My wife and I stopped just short of camping in dilworth. The weekend we had set to do it was, I believe, the weekend before they razed the camp.

    The reason the movement appealed to me was its skepticism: skeptic of bankers and technocrats and large corporations. I even participated in a local action at a university calling out the administration for rising costs, since I was a grad student at the time.

    Today, much of the left seems enamored by whatever pet corporate project drives them. Covid. Warfare. Woke posturing. Etc.

    Fun while it lasted!

  2. NorwegianRockCat

    It is possible to see the pictures using the Wayback machine at They managed to take a snapshot from 30 September 2011. You’ll need to be patient.

    I don’t know if Matt has opinions about rescuing the pictures from that snapshot, but one can at least look at the pictures there.

  3. Tom Stone

    Thanks, Obama!
    Hammering Occupy, the DOJ illegally selling thousands of guns to Mexican Cartels,
    “Extrajudicial Killings”, murder in plain language.
    And sloppy murder at that, how many people were killed and maimed when Abdulrahman Al Awlaki was turned into pink mist?
    16 years old, and an American Citizen, his crime was having the wrong Father.
    “I’m all that stands between you and the Pitchforks”
    27 Million refugees…how many wars?
    Now the obscene Ziggurat in Jackson Park.
    Blessed be his heart.
    Any guesses on why he didn’t get the Silicon Valley board seats he was angling for?
    Or how soon he and Michelle become Billionaires?

    1. lance ringquist

      you have to remember, none of this was possible if it was not for the disastrous polices of nafta billy clinton,

      without nafta billy clintons disastrous polices, wall street and the chinese communist party would not have been able to loot america till we face a third world scenario today, a banana republic without the bananas.

      obama simply bailed out nafta billy clintons disastrous polices, then doubled down on them.

      nafta billys disastrous polices are mostly still in effect today, the fraud trump did nibble around the edges like on nafta, but almost all of his policies still rule the day.

      biden is like a deer in the headlights, he is incapable of understanding whats wrong. he knows something is wrong, he just does not think its a system that he himself helped to build.

      nine months now into bidens administration and what has he done? we lost extended unemployment benefits, the housing moratorium, a complete mishandling of covid, no infrastructure or stimulus, and with free trade, a lot of that will just leak offshore anyways.

      nafta joe biden is making it easy again for another trump type.

  4. farmboy

    OWS was remarkable to watch on the internet. AdBusters was in full view as protagonist. OWS was like a sneeze at the beginning of dis-ease, full of focus on the body politic in such an innocuous way that any negative response just amplified the need for this teachable moment. Seeding the discourse for years to come with the likes of Stoller, Teachout, Smith, et al is no small subset of Graeber and Picketty and Sanders. Definitely a high tide moment in bottom up democracy.

  5. DJG, Reality Czar

    As other members of the commentariat know, I am leery of churchy metaphors. Too much of U.S. life is made up of Baptist testifying and Methodist sermonizing. Two problems: The vast majority of Americans aren’t Baptists. And just when will the sermon end so that other people can speak? I’m waiting.

    In the U S of A in particular, politics has to be secular. Let’s start there.

    I was living in Chicago. A friend of mine and I went down twice from the far North Side (and she was living in Evanston) to see what was happening. There were large meetings in Grant Park. Then there was an encampment on LaSalle Street, Chicago’s miniature answer to Wall Street.

    What struck me most is what Yves Smith refers to as consciousness raising. At Grant Park, the stack was creating a discussion. There was a line for those posing questions. There were gestural responses coordinated among the crowd. As someone older than most of the demonstrators and occupiers, what concerned me was that they had had so little information. Someone mentioned (with a bit of wonder) there had been enormous demonstrations against the Vietnam War. The U.S. of A. as land of planned discontinuity.

    It seemed as if a body of knowledge also was being raised: The breaks in history were being mended by the people in the stack. And yet U.S. history, with its amnesia, with its divide-and-conquer through racial classifications and baubles to certain classes, with its Don’t Know Much about History, seemed to be hard to overcome.

    On LaSalle Street, there were fewer people, and it was obvious that everyone wanted to talk. My friend and I, being older, were peppered with questions. From basic ones, like why we were there, to bigger issues in U.S. society.

    Would that OWS had continued. But Obama, who couldn’t admit his biggest mistake to Trump, had little imagination, less patience, a fair amount of petulance, and a strong belief in his own “brand.” So cultural ferment had to go in favor of something approved: I still see overly curated postings by the so-called Occupy Democrats.

    What’s remarkable is that Trump comes out looking like someone with self-awareness in that anecdote. Maybe he genuinely wanted to know. Maybe Trump has an opinion about his own worst mistakes.

    But Obama, ever ceremonial and symbolic, also likely didn’t want the groundlings taking over symbol-creation that year.

    1. Basil Pesto

      What’s remarkable is that Trump comes out looking like someone with self-awareness in that anecdote. Maybe he genuinely wanted to know.

      That struck me too. Still, I’m not sure how inclined I am to take the anecdote at face value. Obama surely – and perfectly reasonably – understood that DJT couldn’t be trusted with personal confidences. Why risk giving him anything he could use in answering a question of potentially dubious sincerity? (“do you wanna know what Obama told me his biggest mistake was, in the limo?” etc)

  6. Basil Pesto

    I’d be curious to hear from commenters who were there about their memories of the camps. Good or bad, whatever comes to mind really.

    And actually if anyone knows of good primary source material, online or published, along similar lines about the Zucotti Park camp in particular, I’d love to know about it (have had a fiction project rattling around in the back of my mind for a little while now).

    I only saw one camp briefly, in Liverpool, but I can’t really remember much about it.

    1. BeliTsari

      It’s in moderation, sorry. We’d been proud of some follow-up: BLM and the cop murders, preceeding them, drew tens-of-thousands (mostly old honkeys, from here in the UWS) to midtown, trying to close West Side Highway & Lincoln Tunnel approaches, SPONTANEOUSLY. BLM, curfew marches & support for rank and file Amazon, produce yard, nurse and teacher walk-out strikes, during COVID and the first delivery/ shopping-app protests (EVERY New Yorker ows our LIVES to these folks. They were all basically spun or totally ignored by national media and spun or lied about by folks like Amy (and virtually ALL purportedly lefty blogs!)

    2. Henry Moon Pie

      My memory of Occupy here in Cleveland is primarily a sad one. I went downtown to check out the encampment and found a few people there from the Wobs and Lefty activities. Later, some muckety-muck decided Occupy could have a suite of offices in the same building as the City Club, and I attended some meetings there.

      There were a group of young men, boys really, in their teens, who were usually present at the encampment and who were obviously crashing in the offices. They would glide around the encampment waving a Circle A flag, and if you talked to them, they were full of enthusiasm about what they were learning about politics and economics.

      Toward the end of Occupy here, I went to an Occupy committee meeting on housing, an interest of mine. The attendees were mostly NGO people and progressive Dems with a few possible infiltrators. A lot of the conversation revolved around the breaching of norms by those young men with the Circle A flag. The tone was on the order of “something must be done!”

      A few weeks later, I was at another meeting, a workshop on anarchism actually. It was held in an old brick warehouse, and it was evident that those young men were crashing here now. They were present at the workshop, and I learned a little about their lives. Two were living with mothers who were living with boyfriends who didn’t much care for their girlfriend’s son. Another had a father who was a schoolteacher under suspension for alleged sexual abuse of a student. These were lost boys.

      May Day arrived, and there was an actual march called out of Occupy and even included the local labor affiliated Dem boxcar organization. We were texted that a terrorist plot had been foiled, and given the Occupy associations of the terrorists, the march wasn’t a good idea. I quickly went and bought a newspaper because I had heard that it included a copy of the indictment. Sure enough, the building where the anarchist workshop had been held was “owned” by the FBI informant. This informant had given these nearly homeless boys housing, beer and pot while massaging them into becoming terrorists. According even to the affidavit, when one of them proposed knocking the bank sign off the top of a 1,000 ft. skyscraper, the informant moved the conversation to blowing up a bridge in a federal park. Then the informant and the people he introduced to these boys provided them with “the bomb” and the money to pay for it, transportation to the bridge because none of them had cars, and the magic device whose button one would press from the nearby Waffle House to “blow” the bridge.

      These were white, poor kids. If they had been something other, they would probably be dead rather than in prison for 25 years.

    3. lyman alpha blob

      I worked with Occupy in Portland, ME – I demonstrated and donated some materials to help build the camp but didn’t camp out myself. The demonstrations were pretty well received judging by the responses of passing motorists. I do remember hanging out with a decent sized group of Occupiers on the sidewalk one day when one guy came through the crowd wearing a hoodie and not talking to anyone else in the group. He looked like he had pretty short hair under the hoodie and I noticed him make a call as he walked away. About 30 seconds later a few police cruisers came around the corner – to their credit they didn’t mess with anybody but I’m pretty sure the hoodie guy was law enforcement of some kind judging by the suspicious way he acted and the cops showing up right when he did.

      One kind of funny memory – there were some hippie drum-banging types among the Occupiers. As a former percussionist myself I’ve always found those who take pleasure in thrashing on any drum they can find and doing it poorly more than a little annoying. Evidently I wasn’t the only one – I heard that one morning they started the pounding early and wouldn’t stop so one of the guys still trying to sleep in his tent got up, grabbed a hammer, and put it through one of the drums which finally elicited some peace and quiet. Not a completely happy ending though – unfortunately they called the cops on the hammer guy and he got arrested. They should have given him a medal.

    4. ks

      Probably not much use to you, but I went to Occupy Oslo and found no camp, about 30 young people who looked like university students, a sign in English about the Tobin tax, and a drum lying on its side on the grass. My impressions were those of a curious complete outsider, but I remember thinking that it’s hard to feel the fire when you’re part of a society that works pretty well for most people.

  7. Pate

    Once taught government at the local community college. I used this read (FBI Documents Reveal Secret Nationwide Occupy Monitoring) to answer the fundamental question presented in that class: “who is your government?”:

    “FBI documents just obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) pursuant to the PCJF’s Freedom of Information Act demands reveal that from its inception, the FBI treated the Occupy movement as a potential criminal and terrorist threat even though the agency acknowledges in documents that organizers explicitly called for peaceful protest and did “not condone the use of violence” at occupy protests.
    “These documents also show these federal agencies functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America”
    In that class we compared the two post financial crisis protest movements to help answer the question “who is your government” and pointed out that OWS was a pro-government (more regulation) protest movement that was shut down by government. In contrast, the Tea Party was an anti-government protest movement that was allowed to exist by government.

    1. ChrisRUEcon

      Or to put this another way, #Occupy was a threat to the real seat of power – the 1%; while the Tea Party was a shell game which did not really threaten the plutocrat class, but rather, merely changed the kleptocrat minders whose fealty was to be bought under the guise of “culture wars”.

    2. Tom Stone

      The FBI took over from the Pinkerton’s starting IIRC in 1916 or 1917.
      Woodrow Wilson and Attorney General Palmer, unequalled until Obama and Holder.
      And they have been doing their best to preserve the status quo, erm, “Maintain Public order”
      Using the tried and true all American methods they have brought so close to perfection over the last century.
      When that FISA judge described the FBI as having an “Institutionalized lack of Candor” she misunderstood the FBI’s job, which is to preserve the status quo.
      Lying for the greater good is part of the job.
      Fusion centers, stingray devices, public private partnerships with the right people, today’s FBI has resources that are historically unequalled.
      Total Information Awareness.
      And I have faith that they will continue to do the job they are paid to do , keeping the rabble in line.

  8. Michael Hudson

    I think the people who were actually in Zucotti Park and in the OWS already had their consciousness raised. The raising was in the population who saw that there WAS a critical mass of response.
    I often had lunch with David Graeber in that period. Afterwords, I would walk to the subway on 14th St. and he would literally melt into the crowd at Union Square. the crowd was like a conscious amoeba, absorbing everyone in almost a single-cell organism.
    The Soros-and-Hillary people and Democratic Party operatives sought to gain control, but David’s anarchist strategy prevented any commanding heights from being seized. I brought him to dinner with Yves and we discussed the attempted DNC takeover, which was easily repulsed — and no doubt led them to urge Obama to indulge in his usual solution of police violence. I suppose he was watching on the TV where he sat launching his drones on Afghanistan as if it were a video game, wishing that he could play that game in NYC too.

    1. BeliTsari

      I think a LOT of participants, figured it was all a practice run; as WTO/ CAP figured out how to stereotype lefties, away from what’s been indentured into 1099 gig-serfdom “essentials,” and Schumer’s rust-belt death o’ disparity deplorables? As Jay Gould didn’t put it: “Why PAY half the working class to kill the darker, poorer half, when you can sell them Freedom Arms Bushmasters and Z-Max .223 jhp at Walmart?”

  9. ChrisRUEcon

    Thankful again to this amazing Family Website … :)

    I concur that #Occupy was a consciousness raising event. For me it was twofold:

    – The first aspect was Economics. I had been a regular on New Economic Perspective, which led me to #NC. It was after #Occupy that I decided to pursue the Econ Masters. I literally felt that I could not “do nothing” anymore.

    – The second aspect was political. #Occupy put paid to the notion that Obama was any kind of transformative figure. It became inescapably clear after #Occupy, that Obama was exactly the dude Adolph Reed had described. That pulling back of the veil, as it were, was actually a huge moment for me. It would separate me from so many people in my life politically because after that, I really refused to engage in the blanket politics-as-sport/team-blue-vs-team-red thing anymore.

    1. DJG, Reality Czar


      Good to see you.

      Yes. This is important: “It would separate me from so many people in my life politically because after that, I really refused to engage in the blanket politics-as-sport/team-blue-vs-team-red thing anymore.”

      I would also note that in the U.S. scheme of things, rejecting the Aqua Party / Mauve Party thing is a characteristic of the left. People keep asking what is left of the left. Well, not recognizing the legitimacy of the monoparty is one aspect of the left. Basing politics in economics, economic benefits–and the importance of placing political choices over economic nostrums–all of these are characteristics of the left.

      When people can’t tell what the left is for, it usually means that they still think that something like Occupy Democrats is the left. Well, no.

      1. ChrisRUEcon

        Hi DJG!

        Good to see you as well.

        Yes, I’ve become leery of the nomenclature wars as well – or as Marley/Tosh put, the “ism-schism”. Left, far-Left, alt-Left – are meaningless without what you described: Basing politics in economics, economic benefits–and the importance of placing political choices over economic nostrums.

        I would only add recognition of, and opposition to America’s (and the West’s) imperialist pursuits in the Global South. But at the end of the day, I care less about what name someone wants to put on the bucket into which they seek to place me; I care far more about the tangible material benefits for the masses and the elimination of the political corruption and oligarchy from societies all around the world.

  10. Daniel Raphael

    I’m told that ours was the last actual tent camp in the nation–here, in Tacoma, Washington. Be that as it may, we had several marches over the span of Occupy’s active life (a handful of corporatist folks briefly continued its formal existence for a few months after all activism had ceased), picketing outside banks, and some useful information exchange. It wasn’t a church, it did engage in protest actions (what else do you call an action to “shift your account” from a bank to a credit union picket?), and it did give a fair number of folks their first experience of direct democracy (teachers even brought their students to a GA, on occasion). All this said, Occupy isn’t dead–how can a non-organization die? Its component threads of mutualism, spontaneity, and resistance to 1% rule are permanently “in the mix” now. We are in the struggle for so long as we live, and of course forms and focus will change. The two-party farce is designed to deflect, dilute, and deny everything we need to prosper and even to survive. We rise up or perish; updating Rosa Luxemburg’s famous dictum, we face the choice of either socialism or extinction. Too extreme? Take a look outside.

  11. Rod

    It’s not even a protest, really. It is a group of people, gathered together, to create a public space seeking meaning in their culture. They are asserting, together, to each other and to themselves, “we matter”.

    What Stoller says here was what I found Inspiring and Humbling.

    Yes, the largest Banking Center south of the Mason Dixon had it’s own encampment there on the County Courthouse lawn.

    Being there was better than a mid afternoon shower on a sweltering southern August day and I could not wait to get down there almost daily when work was done and before I drove home.
    Banktown and it’s Enforcement Arm as well as the McClatchy mouthpiece were not happy.
    Yes it’s function was unwieldly at times, as most things you make up as you go are.
    The dynamics of the Stack and Repeats were mesmerizing and revealing in their novelty and inclusivness and focused attention unbelievably for such mass gatherings.
    As Yves said, my Conciousness got Raised.
    Then I found Taibbi which lead me to which lead me here-to NC.

    The feeling of the energy and vibe took me back to end of the VN War and the Power Check Rallys that echoed across the Parade Ground of the Kaserne I was stationed at and mood prevalent amongst us troopies in the Cold War.

    The last big, permitted March in Banktown funneled everyone onto Trade St lined with Bike Racks for two miles. The Blue were thick behind the Barriers–with SpOps and CommCenters mobile and rolling behind them.
    It was too much of a cattle chute for me to bear–so I walked my bike parallel(early on the Police showed me how much of a tactical asset a bike can be in such a situation) and observed the Tactical Maneuvers(a lesson held dear and shared since with those who seem oblivious to such counter-measures).

    After the second march, I took more care in covering up after I got an E-mail from the CC Admin. commenting that someone had recognized me marching, and reminding me that what I did personally should not be conflated with what I did Professionally for the Institution.

    Anyway, when Stoller said this:

    There’s a deep fear of official spokespeople beginning to monopolize and misinterpret the non-hierarchical model of community protest.

    I could not help but think of the recent discourse here on NC in regards to Our Revution.

  12. Watt4Bob

    I visited the OWS site at the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis a few times.

    On one of my visits, I witnessed a variety of marked police vehicles from various departments, some out-state, soliciting people at the curb adjacent to the center, for what I didn’t know at the time, but it seemed strange that cops from out of town would be asking young people to accompany them anywhere in a squad car, and stranger still that the kids were going with them.

    Then I started reading articles like this from Southwest Journal;

    Protesters part of the OccupyMN movement say that suburban and rural sheriff’s deputies picked up people from Peavey Plaza and provided them drugs as part of the state’s Drug Recognition Evaluator program.

    A YouTube video (“MK Occupy Minnesota: Drugs & the DRE Program at Peavey Plaza”) posted by independent media activists and members of Communities United Against Police Brutality show several people getting into cruisers and alleging the officers provided them drugs at a Richfield Minnesota Department of Transportation facility.

    And this one from Mintpressnews dot com;

    The head of the Minneapolis Police Department’s Drug Recognition Evaluator (DRE) program currently under investigation was allegedly fired from the department earlier in his career before being brought back, former and current State Patrol employees told Minnesota Public Radio (MPR). Sgt. Rick Munoz has received nine internal complaints during his eight years with the force. DRE came under fire in May when a video showed officers supplying young people, with some identifying themselves with the Occupy movement, with illegal drugs. Sources say the complaints against Munoz show allegations of constitutional rights issues to “belittling” others. The department says it will continue to look into the claims against the DRE program.

    “We’re going to get to the truth,” department spokesman Bruce Gordon said at a news conference. “Right, wrong or indifferent, we’re going to know what happened. And we’re going to make sure, going forward, the program is administered legally, ethically, and in a way the community is comfortable with.”

    There’s a YouTube documentary here

    There are so many things wrong with this kind of behavior on the part of cops that it’s hard to know where to start.


    1. truly

      I remember that day so well. I had brought lunch for 30 people and before I lugged it over to the Plaza I wanted to make sure the camp still existed. A quick walk over and I saw cops chatting with “the residents”. A decent size group was there so I carried food over and we had a nice meal. Over the next few hours I saw the cops offering drugs to people in the group. They said they needed people to study the effects on. Looking for anyone currently using, “and if there is something stronger you would like to be using we can probably get it for you”.
      Forrest came back TOTALLY baked and by morning there was a you tube video up exposing the program.
      One of the outcomes of Occupy was the birth of a new kind of “instant” media. I think who ever made that you tube video overnight went on to be part of “Unicorn Riot” that now gives a voice to protesters.
      I made friends who I know will be my closest allies. for the remainder of my life.
      I learned things there that I would have never learned elsewhere.
      I observed police brutality in a way that has changed my view of my country permanently.
      I learned about and witnessed agent provacateurs. (Anyone else remember when the box of “rocks to throw at the pigs” showed up?
      I watched so called liberals and progressives expose that they would not put there money where their mouth was.
      I learned about people like Hudson, Graeber and Hedges.
      I was exposed to MMT!

      1. Watt4Bob

        What impresses me is the fact that the ‘full-court-press’ of repression, focused on OWS, and the funding of that reflexive, repressive impulse, reached all the way down to grant money no doubt, intended to teach rural law enforcement personnel to recognize the symptoms of drug-use.

        Why is it so hard for the average American to see that systemic racism exists…

        …considering it’s so obvious that an aggressive systemic classism exists.

        I don’t think there were many emails and telephone calls exchanged before the Minnesota team had determined they could surveil and co-opt the OWS movement, and get paid for it.

        There’s been over fifty years of effort on the part of our rulers, to marginalize and discredit the Left in general, and by association, every splinter-group thereof, (read every IDPOL silo dweller), and the subconscious impulse on the part of a large portion of the populace has been ‘trained’ for decades to view all collective political organization/action as obvious evidence of creeping, atheistic communism…

        …So, I’m saying that law enforcement didn’t have to be told to pig-pile on OWS, they’ve known exactly what their job is, and who the boss is for 150 years or so.

        Law enforcement, as a system, recognized OWS was the enemy in about a New York second, so to speak.

        Law enforcement is Capitalism’s immune system, and all forms of resistance are infections to be fought.

  13. redleg

    I vividly recall how much the VBNMW crowd in my social circle hated occupy. They (sn-)cheered when the takedown happened- “it’s about time” was a common phrase. That’s when I finally accepted the fact that the VBNMW Dems are more conservative than Rs in some things. Prior to this it only seemed that way. This was the proof, or a trend with an r^2 of .99 that was proof-eqivalent, and all the team-Blue diehards actions after that have only confirmed the trend.

    I also received a warning from my employer about participating, that if we were caught there we would be dismissed. One person was, veiled in some “more time with family” nonsense, and that was enough for me at the time.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles


          One could counter that with . . . . ” no . . . we need Fewer and Better Democrats. We need a Few Red Gingriches”.

  14. PhilJ

    I visited the London Occupy that was camped outside the stock exchange (in front of our largest church funnily enough). I remember a very friendly atmosphere, with multi-generational families sitting on picnic blankets listening to speaks on the steps of St Paul’s and small children running about laughing.

    I also remember realising that lines of police in riot gear had suddenly arrived and blocked off the three roads leading to the square. They would not let anyone leave “to prevent breaches of the peace”. They would not say how long people were being detained for. It lasted hours.

    I liked the question that was often asked of the officers – “do you realised that this is a protest for your benefit too?”.

  15. drumlin woodchuckles

    My memory is vague and I am just a layman anyway, but didn’t the original Occupiers have a mind to try formulating some brain-catching demands?

    And wasn’t it at least several days before David Graeber and some Graeberites invaded the Zucotti encampment, took it over, and diverted it from a movement capable of formulating demands into a live-in diorama based on LARPing ” this is what Anarchism looks like”?

    If my memory is correct, then Graeber played a majorly destructive role in diverting a movement into a LARP excercise incapable of formulating demands or pursuing goal-achieving politics or any such thing.

    Or am I wrong?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      No, they consistently rejected the MSM and political insistence that they present demands. Mind you that might have changed if they had lasted > a year.

  16. Etrigan

    I never would have found this site or the works of Yves, Lambert, Hudson, Graeber, Stoller, Kelton, Taleb et al of it wasn’t for Occupy. Not to personalize a tragedy but watching it be (spatially) crushed by the state was itself also a moment of change. The various interlocking governments and corporate arms were clearly -terrified- of it.
    Occupy Sandy was such an impressive and effective aid organization It was designed to be scaleable, replicable, decentralized but interlinked while also taking advantage of any available inputs, dispatch or goods space no matter how small or large. While Red Cross was delivering garbage bags of hamburger patties and Mayor Bloomberg was literally fleeing encounters in a helicopter it established a national goods supply chain and delivery system in weeks. It demolded NYCHA and community spaces, it repaired electrical systems, it trained wave after wave of people who had never even considered stepping up. It was amazing.

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