As you well know by now, the Occupy protests have been going on for two months now, gaining considerable media attention across the world and significantly altering the public conversation about life in the post-financial-crisis West. As you probably also know by now, over the last week, protesters in many cities — most notably New York, Oakland, London and now Toronto — have finally met with their most formidable challenge. Not the onslaught of cold weather, dwindling commitment, or internal disputes, which many suspected would dampen the movement’s ongoing resolve. Rather, protesters have been faced with the long arm of the law, as cities have begun to cite everything from public health and safety concerns to the “improper” use of public space in order to remove tents and possessions from the parks as well as prohibit overnight protest. While these fairly dubious justifications (are there not dirtier and more dangerous places these cities could be dedicating these vast resources to?) are being used to physically re-assert control over the main hubs of protest, many believe that they are also directly undermining the established sense of community protesters are identifying as the central symbolic force of their struggles.
Disgracefully, over the last few days, this has played out in the US with hundreds of arrests, pepper spraying incidents, and the disproportionate use of police force. Inadvertently, though, they have also galvanized protesters and organizers, and reinvigorated the solidarity and sense of struggle expressed by the many involved. What remains however, is uncertain, and what is already on most people’s minds is how these recent events will affect the future of the movements and determine the directions they will take.
The Globe and Mail has been providing live coverage of the events at St. James park, and in a longer article, John Allemang helpfully situates the Occupy movements in a broader context, offering a welcome reflection on the protests occurring in Canada.
Michael Greenberg, speaking to several organizers and protestors for the New York Review of Books offers some insight into the perspectives of those right in the middle of it.
Mattias Schwartz, providing interesting background for the New Yorker, writes about Kalle Lasn (of Adbusters fame) and Micah White, the two initially responsible for starting the protests at Zuccotti Park, giving voice to their thoughts on the future of what they helped spark. The two also co-wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post expressing their optimism.
As these recent responses to the protests pose obvious existential threats to the movements, they raise a number of larger and uncomfortable questions about society, ones which one would be in bad faith not to consider whatever one thinks of Occupy. Bob Ostertag, a professor at UC Davis involved in the protests, provides a disturbing look at the police brutality recently demonstrated, raising important questions about how we define public space and whether any room exists in our society for the real expression of dissent. A recent essay by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, whose book Empire and writings on power, politics and globalization many claim anticipated recent events, asks us to consider the Occupy movements in relation to the larger “fight” for democracy being waged right now. Finally, there is also the consistently thoughtful and incisive coverage of the last two months at Zuccotti Park by Verso Books and n+1, who together just published the first book of collected articles and reflections on the Occupy movements which engage in depth with precisely these issues.