Occupy: on the move
How a broad-based movement came into being, how it's growing, and who's joining up
Published: December 7, 2011
The tents and makeshift kitchen are gone from Grand Circus Park, cleared out by order of city officials in time to keep it from besmirching the festivities surrounding Detroit's nationally televised Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Who wants a bunch of scruffy political malcontents and homeless people drawing attention to the problems of capitalism as the holiday shopping season is about to kick off?
And, unlike occupiers of public spaces in a number of other cities — from New York and Philadelphia to Los Angeles and Portland — the demonstrators peacefully complied, avoiding even the possibility of the mass arrests, police brutality and dramatic television images that occurred elsewhere.
But don't be misled.
Occupy Detroit's move out of the park wasn't a surrender. It was a decision both practical and tactical.
With winter approaching, it made little sense to try to tough it out in the park once temperatures began to drop. Moreover, much effort was going into simply surviving: maintaining the camp and feeding anyone who showed up. As one of the occupiers noted, setting about building a political movement is difficult to do when much of your energy is going into running a soup kitchen.
So, when city officials announced it was time to leave, the occupiers, with some heated debate about the importance of fighting to remain in a public space, agreed in their own cumbersome consensus-building way to peacefully vacate the downtown park.
By that point, though, the encampment had already served a crucial purpose: It provided a rallying point for the diverse components of Occupy Detroit to come together.
As with the movement in general — which is now worldwide — it is truly diverse. In the course of reporting this story, Metro Times has interviewed students and businessmen, anarchists and community activists, the homeless and academics, lawyers and poets and computer programmers. They are young and old, city dwellers and suburbanites, black and white and brown.
What they have in common is the belief that the current system is failing them — and everyone else not fortunate enough to be counted among the top tier of this nation's economic elite.
They are young people who see higher education being priced out of their reach, or who are graduating from college burdened by crushing student loans and little prospect of obtaining a decent job. They are middle-aged people who worry that the social security that was promised them won't be available when they retire. They are people who have lost their homes to foreclosure. They are people who've seen what life is like trying to survive working minimum wage jobs and failing. They are people who have seen their jobs shipped to Mexico or overseas.
They are the 99 percent.
They are you.
And what they are doing is trying to find their way, creating a movement where not long ago there was only angst and apathy and disillusionment and frustration and fear and a lack of hope that things would ever get better.
Then, a year ago, a 26-year-old Tunisian fruit vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi, feeling many of those same things, set himself on fire, and in martyrdom ignited what would become known as the Arab Spring, with first one dictator and then another and then another toppled in popular uprisings.
Six months after Bouazizi's self-immolation, the Canadian anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters registered the domain OccupyWallStreet.org and proposed holding a peaceful demonstration in New York City by posting this message on its website: "Are you ready for a Tahrir moment? On Sept. 17, flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street."
The concept, that Wall Street could be occupied as Cairo's Tahrir Square had been, quickly spread across the United States and throughout the world. In less than three months, the movement has taken root in hundreds of cities large and small.
An oft-noted critique of this pheomenon in the mainstream media is that, for all the clamor caused by the protests, there is no clearly defined set of demands. But, as we noted in a previous story, part of the great significance of this movement is the message sent by its very existence: Unrest and rebellion against the status quo are growing quickly.
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