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Live From Wall Street

A dispatch from Zuccotti Park

Willie Osterwell, a punk singer from Brooklyn, reported from the frontlines in Barcelona about the free-form protest camps erupting all over Spain this summer for the Shareable.net. Now with a similar action happening close to home, Osterwell offers a vivid portrait on Shareable what’s happening with the Wall Street occupation. He was arrested Saturday on the Brooklyn Bridge, so look for his next report.

Another general assembly is beginning here in Zuccotti Park, a small park at the corner of Broadway and Liberty in Manhattan’s financial district, two blocks from the World Trade Center site, three blocks from Wall Street. Zucotti, renamed “Liberty Plaza” by its occupiers [which was actually its original name], has been held as a home base by protesters since September 17. This, in itself, is a kind of achievment. In the General Assemblies leading up to the first day of protest that culminated in the occupation, organizers hoped that the occupation would last days, weeks, perhaps even months, but no one could guarantee it would make it six hours. Yet hundreds are here, on day ten, holding another open discussion of tactics, infrastructure and politics. Even a week ago this wasn’t a foregone conclusion.

Inspired by the methods of Arab Spring, and the protest movements in Israel, Greece and Spain, protesters from New York City and the rest of the country (I spoke with one man who had come all the way from Alaska) have built an encampment of sorts—so far tents and structures have been taken down by the police, and so people have slept out in sleeping bags. Police presence and instruction has, thus far, been a major problem: Zuccotti is surrounded by cops without and crawling with them within: blue shirts and lieutenants walk freely through the square, and protesters foolishly follow the rules set out by the police. I’ve watched plainclothes enter the square, pump protesters for information, and then walk straight back out to talk to their superiors. TARU, NYPD’s intelligence unit, has been constantly on the scene, and I can only guess at the number (tens?) of undercovers. NYPD is using OccupyWallStreet as an intelligence gathering bonanza, and if, as I believe, Zuccotti is the beginning of a serious movement here in NYC, we’re giving the cops everything they need to know: who is friends with who and who has sway and organizational ability. That is a serious tactical problem that protesters have yet to address.

Still, numbers are growing everyday, and are buoyed by appearances in the General Assembly of Michael Moore, Cornel West, Susan Sarandon, Lupe Fiasco, and Immortal Technique. Rumors have even been percolating that Radiohead might come to Zuccotti Park on Friday for an impromptu show.

As the General Assembly grows, major meetings with everyone in the square become unweildy and incredibly difficult. There is a need to shift decision making to smaller groups and it would be great to see a focus on neighborhood organization: General Assemblies in the burroughs would be an incredible achievement. As with the movements in Spain and Greece, occupiers have eschewed simple demands or sound-bite messaging. As elsewhere, there is no official representative body which speaks for the protesters, no centralized or formally heirarchichal power structures. The lack of a clear, easily reguritated message tends to enrage both the media and the traditional and professional left, but the demandless occupation is not a reflection of stupidity, political impotence or idealistic naivete, as many within and without the protests have claimed.

When we look around us, we see a world that is burning, a planet being consumed by capital, an economic system which thrives on the production of human suffering, mass imprisonment, violence, economic strife. We see a world that cannot be fixed by the same people who brought us here, with the same methods, ideologies and processes. And we see that we are not going to win the fight tomorrow. But we want to win. We’re going to win. So we do what we can. We take a space, we build our resolve and our numbers.

With every day that we hold the square, we chip away at our fear, at our confusion, at our alienation. We improvise new ways of living, new relations, new forms of solidarity. We create. We meet each other. We share food, sleeping space, music and drink. We fight the cops together. We talk about what a new and better world would look like, and we try, to the best of our abilities, to build it. And, as we discuss our ideas and principles in Liberty Plaza, it becomes clear that, though we may have different focuses, different politics, though different goals brought us all here, we can only achieve them together.

We are preparing ourselves for the fight ahead, because we have been left futureless by a group of people who insist we ask them to solve the problem, so they can refuse us. We don’t make one simple demand because this isn’t for the media to turn into sound bites, for politicians to aggrandize or argue against, for bankers to gamble on and academics to study. We’re not asking the people in power for permission, we’re teaching ourselves how to take what we need and make a better world without them.