5:00am

Sat March 3, 2012
Governing

Occupy May Seem To Be Receding, But Look Closer

Originally published on Sat March 3, 2012 11:45 am

For people who watch TV news or read newspapers, the Occupy movement might seem to be in hibernation.

Most of the encampments are gone, and diminished numbers take part in protests.

But there's a lot of ferment behind the scenes — at least at Occupy Wall Street.

Check the Occupy Wall Street website and you'll see at least 15 events every day: meetings by working groups on arts and culture, alternative banking, media, security.

'Pop-Up' Protests

And there are actions. This week, it was anti-corporate.

"We're kind of going to occupy a Bank of America and turn it into a 'Food Bank of America,'" Occupy protester Luke Richardson says, describing an event on Wednesday.

Richardson stood behind a table with donated cans of food. Then, an hour later, 200 demonstrators braved the pouring cold rain and marched to the Bank of America headquarters, where they were stopped by police.

The following day, there were Occupy student debt rallies and marches by college students across the nation, including New York, protesting budget cuts and rising tuition.

Richardson describes these daily actions as pop-up occupations.

"We're going to different areas in the city and kind of just becoming a visible presence, letting people know we are still here and trying to get them interested again," he says.

Occupying Indoors

Many Occupy events now happen indoors.

If you show up any afternoon at the public indoor space with cafes, tables and chairs, you will see people sitting in circles; they are the movement's working groups.

"We have many different spaces throughout New York City that have opened up for meetings and processes and actions and events, but it is not as visible in the same way," says Lisa Fithian, an Occupy organizer and trainer.

The General Assemblies — big public meetings — still happen three times a week, although they're far smaller than the ones last fall.

At one recent meeting, a participant in the crowd turned and said, "Pretty uninspiring."

Then there are the biweekly "spokescouncils," where representatives of each working group try to come to consensus on larger proposals.

Serious activists come to these.

Instead of votes, representatives can stand aside, meaning they have concerns but will not block a decision. If a group blocks a decision, its concerns are addressed until hopefully consensus is reached.

Sometimes this process works well. Sometimes it's messy.

An author and organizer named Starhawk has facilitated a number of these councils.

"It's not always easy to figure out how people with totally different perceptual styles, understandings of life can work together and make decisions," Starhawk says.

But the upside is many people who participate feel they "own" the movement.

Hibernating While Processing

Mark Bray, who is with the Occupy Wall Street press team, says most people are not aware of all these different activities because the mainstream media just cares about numbers.

"What we've been doing over the last months is we've been consolidating our organizing, getting better prepared to deal with what may come and getting involved in these struggles on a local level," Bray says. "And I think that we'll see the benefits of that starting to pay off as we move into the warmer months and more people come out. But I think the criteria by which we've been judged in the mainstream media is by crowds."

Organizers point out that this movement is barely six months old. The civil rights and anti-Vietnam war movements took years to take off.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Most people who watch television news or read regular newspapers, the Occupy movement seems to have almost disappeared. Most of the encampments are gone, and diminished numbers take part in protests. But as NPR's Margot Adler reports, there's a lot of ferment behind the scenes - at least at Occupy Wall Street.

MARGOT ADLER, BYLINE: Go on the Occupy Wall Street website, NYCGA.net, and you will see at least 15 events every day. Meetings by OWS working groups: arts and culture, alternative banking group, media, security - and there are actions. On Wednesday, it was anti-corporate. Occupy protester Luke Richardson.

LUKE RICHARDSON: We are kind of going to occupy a Bank of America and turn it into a Food Bank of America.

ADLER: He was behind a table with donated cans of food. An hour later, some 200 demonstrators in the pouring cold rain, marched to the Bank of America headquarters where they were stopped by a cordon of police. On Thursday, there were Occupy student debt rallies and marches by college students across the nation, including here, protesting budget cuts and rising tuition. Richardson describes these daily actions as pop-up occupations.

RICHARDSON: We are going to different areas in the city and kind of just becoming a visible presence, letting people know we are still here and getting them interested again.

ADLER: Many OWS events happen indoors. Yuritch Dmitri Markov is a Russian immigrant artist who makes wire word sculptures for donations and frequents the public atrium at 60 Wall Street.

YURITCH DMITRI MARKOV: The working groups is where the things really are.

ADLER: If you show up any afternoon at this lovely public indoor space with cafes, tables and chairs, you will see people sitting in circles - 20 here, 10 there. They are OWS working groups. Lisa Fithian is an organizer and trainer for OWS.

LISA FITHIAN: We have many different spaces throughout New York City that have opened up for meetings and processes actions and events, but it is not quite as visible in the same way.

ADLER: The general assemblies - big public meetings - still happen three times a week, although they're far smaller than the one's in the fall. At the most recent one I attended, someone turned to me and said: pretty uninspiring. Then there are the biweekly spokes councils where representatives of each working group try to come to consensus on larger proposals. Serious activists come to these. Instead of votes, representatives can stand aside, meaning they have concerns but will not block a decision. If a group blocks a decision, their concerns are addressed until hopefully consensus is reached. Sometimes this process works well, sometimes it's messy. Author and organizer Starhawk has facilitated a number of OWS spokes councils.

STARHAWK: It's not always easy to figure out how people with totally different perceptual styles, understandings of life can work together and make decisions.

ADLER: But the upside sis many people who participate feel they own the movement. Mark Bray, who is with the Occupy Wall Street press team, says most people are not aware of all these different activities because the mainstream media just cares about numbers.

MARK BRAY, PRESS TEAM, OCCUPY WALL STREET: What we have been doing over the last month, is we have been consolidating our organizing, getting better prepared to deal with what may come and getting involved in these struggles at a local level. And I think that we'll see the benefits of that starting to pay off as we move into the warmer months and more people come out. But I think the criteria by which we have been judged in the mainstream media is by crowds.

ADLER: Will crowds and attention come back to the movement when the weather warms? No matter what you hear or read about the Occupy movement, nobody knows. Margot Adler, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.