For my report that appears in this week’s issue of The Nation, I had the chance to call Occupy movement organizers around the country and check in. The thing I heard, more than anything, was something like this: “I now know who I’m going to organize with for the rest of my life.” But this organizing is taking a lot of different forms—ones that I think may be even more important than the occupations themselves.
Distance and time—as well as involvement in ongoing local struggles—have lessened many people’s attachment to the Occupy label. “I’ve been working with all the same people I worked with in Occupy,” said Kate Savage, who specialized in facilitating assemblies at Occupy Nashville, “only it’s not called ‘Occupy’ for a variety of reasons.” For many issues and on many fronts, onetime Occupiers are finding that the Occupy brand—and all the associations that come with it—can sometimes hurt more than it helps.
Thus, the internally splintering movement shows signs of morphing into a productively subdivided movement of movements. One example of this has been this summer’s escalating wave of direct actions against the worst culprits of the environmental crisis. For the first time, a fracking well was blockaded and shut down in Pennsylvania, and a mountaintop-removal coal mine in West Virginia, at the request of local residents, received similar treatment. The Keystone XL oil pipeline, which inspired protests at the White House last year, now has locals and out-of-towners putting their bodies in the way of construction in Texas. In New York State, the fight is against the Spectra pipeline, which would funnel explosive fracked natural gas into parts of Manhattan.
At each of these protests, Occupy veterans have brought their bravado, their experience and their networks with them. “Lots of folks are going from eco-action to eco-action,” said Longenecker. “They’re building their skill sets.”
The environmental campaigns are only one such beneficiary of the movement. Some Occupiers are serving as hired guns for big unions, helping to agitate in unusually militant campaigns against corporations and austerity budgets. Others are working to draw attention to the massive influx of corporate cash into the electoral system post–Citizens United, while still more are fighting the National Defense Authorization Act and have successfully challenged its most troubling provisions in federal court. Home liberation efforts are taking place around the country—from Occupiers’ support of a high-profile rent strike led by Latino women in Brooklyn to under-the-radar house reclamations in the poorest neighborhoods of Chicago’s South Side. Partly thanks to the light that Occupy Wall Street has shined on it, the NYPD’s use of a discriminatory stop-and-frisk policy has declined dramatically. Meanwhile, the Strike Debt campaign being mounted by Occupiers in New York is developing online memes and public assemblies meant to mobilize those suffering from predatory lending into a mass movement.