Like Yglesias, I pretty much believe that being evicted from Zuccotti Park is about the best thing that could happen to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Let’s face it, they had not succeeded in the last couple of weeks in retaining the media’s attention. The movement was beginning to seem stagnant to a larger public. Eviction gives them new life, regains the media’s attention, and the, to use a Marxist term, heightens the contradictions. This is important–there’s a concrete reason Martin Luther King chose Birmingham as the spot for the 1963 campaign. In 1962, the movement tried to desegregate Albany, Georgia. The sheriff there, Laurie Pritchett, killed them with kindness, arrested thousands but never using violence and never giving the media any reason to report. Pretty quickly, the news cameras left and the civil rights movement withdrew in defeat. King specifically chose Birmingham because of the violence he knew Bull Connor would unleash. It was a great success.
The clear strategy in response for OWS is to keep reestablishing the tent towns, forcing the cities to continue responding, burning money and political capital to do so, potentially creating situations of police brutality. But this also begs another question–is this movement becoming more about occupying space than a progressive upheaval? I think the lack of concrete goals really plagues the movement here–because they aren’t asking for anything specific, at what point do they leave? Because there has to be some kind of end point to this. No city is going to allow this to continue for 2 or 3 years. Nor should they.
The worst case scenario here is that Occupy Wall Street ends up being the 2011 version of Mexico City’s UNAM protests in 1999-2000. These protests started in response to the creation of tuition at the nation’s most prestigious university. While it was only intended to apply to those who could afford it, it threatened to limit the poor’s access to higher education. It also tapped into general discontent over the neoliberal reforms overturning the gains of the Mexican Revolution. The government backed down on the tuition, but then a large group of protestors stuck around as part of a movement not dissimilar to OWS–anger at globalization, economic inequality, and rapid changes in Mexico that were hurting the poor. They didn’t have any concrete goals at this point either other than to spark political upheaval in the name of change. And while noble enough, the protestors also quickly wore out the patience of the Mexican middle class, not to mention the government. When the military finally dispersed the encampment after 10 months, not a lot of Mexicans were too sad to see it go.
The encampment needs to be a strategy, not an end in itself.