Eight days ago, at Occupy Denver, the Denver Police Department showed up and demanded the removal of a four foot high, three walled, art project/shield from bad weather built out of cardboard. While around a dozen people sat down and risked arrest in order to save this structure, many leaders of the leaderless Occupy Denver attempted to do the job of the police and tear the structure down for them. Others (myself included) got involved; demanding that these liberals stop taking the side of the police and blaming the victims. When Sunday afternoon’s brutal raid of a squat was brought up, the general response was “well, if they weren’t breaking the law, they wouldn’t have gotten in trouble” and “we can’t support that. We don’t break laws; we are a nonviolent movement.” Any attempt to point out the hypocrisy in these statements was met with blank stares and constant repetition of the same message. I was involved in many arguments and debates during the hour or so that the police were present, and one thing stands out the most in my mind.
When I pointed out to one of the leaders that the people risking arrest have the right to risk arrest, that no vote can change what they want to do and that they should be respected and supported, the rebuttal of “it doesn’t accomplish anything” was thrown in my face. I chose not to bring up the thousands of examples throughout history where symbolic arrests did actually accomplish things, and instead focused on the events of two weekends ago. On the morning of Friday October 14th 24 people were arrested. The next day (Saturday) around 4,000 people showed up for the weekly march, a number higher than all previous marches combined. That evening, another 24 people (some of whom had just gotten out of jail) were arrested for trying to defend the rebuilt kitchen and some who sat down the road, blocking traffic. The next day, we had a general assembly at 3pm. There are usually between 10 and 20 people at the 3pm general assembly, but this particular Sunday saw almost 300 people. We were able to agree on the fact that the numbers increased on the days after the arrests, but then came the split.
The next Saturday (the 22nd), a very small amount of people showed up for the march and rally and the energy was the lowest I have seen at any Occupy Denver event. Why? The leaders claim that people were scared to come because of the fear of crazy anarchists who talk people into getting arrested, but I demand to differ. I think the momentum of Friday carried over into the march on Saturday. The momentum of the march, combined with the arrests carried over to Sunday. Then, on Monday, nothing happened. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday featured much of the same. Nothing was done to harvest the momentum, so that by the time the next big event rolled around, people had lost interest.
I’m not advocating for symbolic action and the arrest of 24 people every day, but I am saying that something should be happening every day. Denver has a rich history of activism, with a plethora of priceless resources available; free school, the American Indian Movement, members of the Ruckus Society, Denver ABC, and a long list of others. In other cities with as rich of a history – New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Oakland, Chicago, etc – there are events happening every day. In Boston, speakers are on-site almost every day! In Oakland there are trainings happening every day. In Denver, free school does not feel comfortable enough to operate consistently.
Sure, people who previously had no activism experience and are now participating in something weekly is great, but how do we harness the momentum and carry it throughout the week? For starters, not everyone works Monday through Friday 9-5; many people work on Saturdays, but have off on Tuesdays or Thursdays. Also, how many of the people only come on Saturdays simply because there isn’t anything exciting going on during the week? Marching to the Federal Reserve is great, but wouldn’t the impact be felt more if the building were actually open? Yelling at closed banks as we happily stroll by makes us feel good, but wouldn’t going inside during business hours actually have an effect? How do we strategize for direct action if breaking the law is deemed violent.
The leaders are claiming to have started a movement. I’ll ignore the fact that the movement has been happening before the liberals showed up, and will continue long after they are gone. Instead, I’d like to focus on how this is not a movement. What has the potential to be created at Occupy Denver – and what is actually happening at many other Occupies – is a change in consciousness: A place where we depend on each other instead of police, instead of CEO’s, and in the place of politicians. We are creating an area where not only we can get free food and medicine, but also choose from dozens of conversations and debates. Where we can attend a free class or teach a class on anything and everything under the sun. A place where we are judged on the content of our character rather than how much money we make or how much stuff we own. This doesn’t just happen from weekly marches. This happens through building community. A community cannot be built if there is an obvious hierarchy and the masses are ignored. A community cannot be created if people who have priceless resources to share are pushed out or made to feel uncomfortable. A community cannot be created if the leaders constantly blame the victims and side with the oppressors.
I don’t like to complain while offering no solutions, and admittedly I have been very burned out with the Occupation and consequently have not been there as much as I used to. However, it’s not out of laziness, it’s out of fear. The leaders of this movement have shown time and time again that they have no problem throwing people to the wolves if it helps their political aspirations. Each has proven that they care more about public image – what people think about them – than including actual community members with valuable resources to offer.
Despite my extreme pessimism, I don’t think it’s too late. There are enough people on the fringes, enough people who are sick of following leaders who can change things before it’s too late. Winter is coming, and with the harsher weather there will sure be harsher police treatment. Unless we band together as a community, and that means respecting a diversity of opinions and tactics, this so-called movement will fall apart before Christmas.