Friday, October 14, 2011

Why Outdoors, and Why Specific Sites to Occupy Outdoors?

Occupation encampment at Westlake, Seattle WA.

I'm watching the Seattle GA right now on the Livestream. They have assembled in what is obviously Westlake Plaza -- after being evicted over night and this morning, with 10 or 12 arrests and confiscation of their camping gear and other property (according to reports, they will get their property back if they identify it and make a claim on the City.) They have been offered space at City Hall Plaza about 10 blocks away, but they are resisting conducting an Occupation there.

I'm fairly familiar with Seattle, but I didn't know where the City Hall was, never having any reason to go there. But it turns out that the City Hall complex is directly across the street from the Key Tower -- now the Seattle Municipal Building -- where I was working nearly every time I went to Seattle from 1998 to 2006 or so. The Bank of America Tower also looms darkly in the next block, and all of it is connected with underground access passages, shopping areas and restaurants. At least that's the way it was.

It's quite a remarkable complex of buildings, shopping areas, restaurants and so forth, with a very heavy population of executives -- both civil and corporate -- including a few banksters, I'm sure.

As I say, the distance between City Hall Plaza and Westlake Plaza is about 10 blocks on 5th Avenue, which is the main artery in the Downtown, and which is lined with theaters, hotels, galleries, and many high end retailers.

In other words, it's a perfect marching route to Westlake -- the only problem being a very steep uphill climb to get from City Hall Plaza to 5th Avenue.

But why are the Occupations outdoors at all? I still hear that question. "Why don't you get an office? A board. Raise funds. Make your mark the way all the other interest groups do? Lobby."

I would think the question answers itself, but apparently it doesn't. When I got this question the other night, I replied, "Organizations that are set up like that are everywhere, and some of them have been dealing with some of the same issues we're trying to deal with and have failed miserably. We're trying a different organizational model; it may not work, but the standard advocacy model doesn't work either, except to provide a cushy living for a handful of executives. That's the opposite of what we want."

When people say, "Get an office." I say "No." When people say, "Incorporate." I say "NO!" When people say, "You need a board of directors and a proper staff," I say "No." When people say, "You need to conduct a proper fundraising campaign," I say, "Why?" When people say, "No one will take you seriously if you don't look and act like the rest of the interest groups and follow the rules," I say, "They're taking us seriously precisely because we don't follow the rules."

Why outdoors? It's a matter of claiming public space for the public purposes of expression, debate, and preparing for petitioning for redress of grievance. The public space in question is often the city's central square (as in Sacramento) or an urban park (as in New York), or a park adjacent to civic centers (as in Los Angeles). In Seattle, the occupation chose a park that is in the middle of the shopping district, while they have been offered one that is adjacent to a very busy civic and banking area. It seems to me that the city's offered space is actually the better one for the purposes of bringing attention to corruption of government by corporate interest and money, but there are a couple of major problems with it. First, it apparently faces 4th Avenue rather than 5th Avenue. 4th is busy but not as busy as 5th, and 5th is altogether fancier. Second, and more importantly for the philosophy of Occupation, the city has offered the space at City Hall Plaza, whereas the Occupation has claimed the space at Westlake.

It is considered very important for the success of the Occupation Movement that the Occupiers claim and hold public space rather than request and receive space from civic authorities.

The evictions last night and earlier this week were of occupations that had claimed and held public space, and in some cases they had refused to move to offered space. That was true in Seattle and San Diego. I'm sure it's true elsewhere.

The Occupation-that-isn't-quite-an-Occupation in Sacramento is a daily gathering in the central square, waiting on the city to provide it either a permit or an use exemption in order to spend the night.

In Austin, the Occupation took over the steps at the City Hall, with -- they thought -- the permission of the city, but without a permit. Suddenly, the city discovered they had to "clean" the space and evicted the Occupation. They folded up their camp and took it down or across the street to await the completion of the power washing and then moved back, but they were told (if I recall correctly) that they were not allowed to sleep there.

Why is it necessary to sleep on site? This is a matter of holding the space and making clear the Occupiers' determination to stay and persist in the important work they've set for themselves. Public work that they are (mostly) doing in public.

So much of what's gone wrong in our oligarchic republic has to do with the fact that public business is often conducted behind closed doors, with a remarkable level of contempt for the public and the public interest, and essentially complete impunity. Ordinary people are locked up routinely for the most innocuous crimes ("failure to disperse" ring a bell?) while the high and the mighty just get richer...

How then do the People reclaim their rights as actual sovereigns of the nation? By playing the political game? Or by going outside and around it? By making a ruckus. And by coming up with a model of what ought to be rather than succumbing to what usually is.

Being outside is an emblem of truth, because the 99% are mostly outsiders to the halls of Power, not even recognized by the Powers That Be.

This is the basic rationale behind claiming, holding and using significant public spaces in the public interest for the work of the People. It is the rationale for not accepting space offered by civic authorities, for that then makes the Occupation a dependent of the civic authorities, dependent on their good will and continued cooperation.

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