Nov 13 2011

Rolling occupation

Published by at 8:02 pm under Northwest

A few words for the organizers of Occupy in Portland, and other locations where people are trying to take over spaces without end in sight … from someone sympathetic with the core messages they’re trying to convey:

Adopt as action the name of another organization of similar mind. Move On.

Occupy started out well, and powerfully, and it has already succeeded in what at least should have been its initial goals. The object was to change the conversation about what the nation’s core problems are, to a discussion about the power of great wealth, inequality and the resulting threat to democracy. After weeks of deliberate avoidance by national news media and others, attention was finally gotten. And the scope of action made clear that this was not just about a street crowd in downtown New York. When crowds in places from major metro centers to places like Mosier, Oregon – and there are only a small and scattered number of houses in Mosier – began joining in, a corner of some sort has been turned.

It started as a march, then an occupation, and a few other events have occurred. What needs to happen next for Occupy is to, well, move on.

It needs not to go away, but to evolve.

For a matter of days, maybe as long as two or three weeks, the presence of the protesters in Chapman and Lownsdale Square parks in downtown Portland added to the message, gave it a center, made it more powerful. Over the last week, maybe two, though, the encampment has distracted from it – inevitably. Occupy Portland became about a group of people camping in downtown Portland. The story became its governance, its gradually growing clashes with police (after a highly cooperative beginning) – up to more than 50 arrests today. And the arrival of people whose interest had little to do with promoting the message the original protesters were so passionate about.

The message has gotten left behind. Not totally obscured – a lot of the national conversation really has changed – but the Occupy Encampments are no longer adding to the message, or spreading it. As any organization, however intentionally unorganized, will do, its top priority eventually becomes itself.

That suggests a solution to the problem: Do other things.

Find other ways to get attention. Stage other events (peaceably and legally – there’s plenty of room for action within the law). Do more marches. Keep the focus, above all, on the message.

The primary Occupy organizers seem to want that, at least as demonstrated by their determination to avoid a leadership hierarchy and a series of spokesmen.

If they’re really serious about it, their next move is clear: Break up the encampment, and schedule another activity in, say, a couple of weeks.

Otherwise, their message is almost sure to be trampled underfoot.

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