I locate a great deal of the power of Occupy Wall Street in the name itself, Occupy Wall Street, or #OccupyWallStreet. It works because the name contains everything you need to know: the tactic and the target.
The name is also modular. You can create your own offshoot in your own city. The name is built for it: Occupy Los Angeles, Occupy Seattle, Occupy Detroit, Occupy Paris. They are local protests and built locally, and yet through the name they connect to the bigger protest and become part of Occupy Wall Street. Everyone is invited in. You don’t have to have the time and money to go to NYC. You can be a teacher or a mother or a high school kid and just head to your local occupation. So the modular, flexible nature of the name is a big part of making the protest work. We need the right tactics for this historical moment. The financial industry is international, fluid, and not only in NYC. A significant protest needs to mirror that reach. All roads lead to Wall Street, but we feel the effects of Wall Street on every street corner. Certainly in Syracuse, NY, where I live.
I took my seven-year-old daughter to an Occupy Syracuse march. As we walked and chanted through the streets of Armory Square, I felt I was a small part of OWS. But I also realized that when other people saw us walk by, they could connect what they have been seeing on the news to what they now saw in their streets. To hear about rallies and arrests in New York City is impressive, but in some ways it can feel as far away as Cairo. To have it amplified by a local presence means that maybe this protest includes you and your local interests. Maybe this is something different. It helps the movement break through the media noise when you can see it with your own eyes and in your own city.
The modular nature of the name and the way it allows local tentacles to reach everyone feels truly new and powerful to me.
Then there is that word, occupy. It isn’t Protest Wall Street. Occupy is a much more specific word. It has its roots in the Latin verb occupare, which means to seize or capture. So although it is a nonviolent protest, the word is aggressive and warlike. Protesters have long appropriated war terms, and I understand that is a way of appropriating power. I admit I do have a little trouble reconciling the commitment to consensus and democracy with the martial language. Yet I understand that the militaristic connotation of the word projects the anger people feel. It galvanizes people and makes them feel formidable. And it also points to the endless duration that is a big part of an occupation’s power.
The duration is a crucial component. The press and the attention of the whole world have come because of the relentless sleeping and living in Zuccatti Park. The protest isn’t over when the rally is over. It isn’t over when the IMF or the WTO meeting is over. In that way it is more like a sit-in or a strike—all historically very powerful tactics. Occupying means refusing to go away. The longer people stay, the more impressive the statement becomes. It is ongoing, and it collects power as it continues. Our economic injustices are chronic, and so then must be the protest.
To occupy also means to engage someone’s attention. Occupy Wall Street means making Wall Street and the corporate power elite understand that the people affected by the binge of unregulated greed are not going away, and they are not going to give up. Occupation also means employment. The Occupy protests give the unemployed something to do. They are occupied with protest, political engagement, and justice. One of my favorite signs from Zuccatti Park reads “Lost my job, found an occupation.”
Everything we need to know is right there in the name. I don’t care that the movement doesn’t have specific demands. And I don’t care if I disagree with some of the protesters on some of the issues (hey, you with the Ron Paul sign, don’t stand so close to me). As long as the protest remains nonviolent, I am happy that it is diverse and inclusive and wide-reaching. Wall Street is occupied, and so are all of us.