After the Occupation

What Would It Mean to Win?

by Liz Pelly
The Phoenix
November 16, 2011

From Oakland to New York, city police departments and their elected overlords are crushing lawful Occupy movements in their midst. Which moved us to think: in a worst-case scenario, if the encampments are wiped out, does Occupy have a future after the occupations?

For perspective, we turned to Ben Trott, a Berlin-based editor of What Would It Mean To Win? (PM Press, 2010), a book about defining victory for diffused grassroots struggles.

“In some ways, of course, the movement has already won,” says Trott in an e-mail. “They’ve opened up a space for discussion about political and economic questions traditionally left to elites.”

Dr. Timothy Patrick McCarthy, director of the Sexuality, Gender, and Human Rights Program at Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, agrees. “It’s winning in the sense that it has altered public discourse about some of the most vital forces in our society. It’s winning in the sense that it’s growing.

“This movement is bigger than Zuccotti Park,” he adds. “This movement is bigger than Dewey Square.”

With ongoing oppression from public officials—and winter fast approaching—maintaining a permanent encampment is becoming a challenge, especially in the Northeast. Having a physical base for protest, however, might not be needed for Occupy to continue its advance.

“The expectation that the Occupy movement would physically occupy all of these public spaces forever is unrealistic, and not necessary, frankly,” says McCarthy. “What matters is the persistence of some kind of presence in public spaces.”

McCarthy suggests other public, permanent forms of protesting: regular general assemblies could still take place. Weekends could be devoted to marches and rallies. Lunch hours could be dedicated to occupying public space.

“We need to get in the streets if they’re not going to let us in the parks. We need to march, we need to mobilize, we need to protest,” says McCarthy. “There are a million different things that would be successful in the absence of a physical occupation.”

Even if police continue to disassemble encampments nationwide, McCarthy says that we are witnessing the beginning of a social movement—not an end. “There is a lot of will behind this movement, a great moral purpose behind this movement. There is great suffering and alienation and anger that’s driving this movement. And there are a lot of smart people who are organizing this movement. And that’s a recipe for success.”

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