As a visitor, you quickly realise that New York City is unsentimental. New Yorkers are always looking forward.
It’s in the nature of Wall Street. No wonder the Occupy movement started here in downtown Manhattan, the financial district.
As in all other US cities, there is a dramatic contrast between rich and poor, a Third World within the First World.
Yet only 17% of the population thinks this is a problem: most have bought the American Dream that perhaps next year they too will become millionaires. But for many of the poor, it will remain bleak.
Frustration with the question mark that Occupy Wall Street represents is to be expected: both the 99% and their aspirations are “floating signifiers”.
However, Occupy Wall Street is focused on establishing roots in a world where rights associated with “freedom” and “liberty” are said to already exist, but do not.
The global financial crisis erupted in the mortgage belt of the United States and house repossessions continue.
Alongside occupations of public space, Occupy groups are springing up all over the country. There are at least 300, said speakers at the Left Forum, held in March in New York City.
These Occupy groups focus on neighbourhoods, across policy areas (such as education and health), gaining ground in workplaces and the heart of “private space” — homes — as repossessions show “even our houses aren’t ours any more”.
In response to threatened repossessions, some neighbourhoods have joined together in successful collective resistance. Hundreds of homes have been saved after communities banded together to block foreclosures, leading to negotiations with creditors.
At the History of Social Movements and the Future of the Occupy Movements session at the Left Forum, Yesenia Barragan of Colombia OWS reported that the common sentiment could be phrased as “in the event of repossession reserve the right to abolish capitalism”.
It isn’t a great surprise that police repression appeared, as John Holloway in the closing plenary pointed out, because this is “revolt in the heart of the empire”. In fact, the theme of the forum was “Occupy”.
We came to the forum as invited speakers to discuss our non-market socialist book Life Without Money. Our session was called “Occupy the World”.
At the mid-forum plenary, filmmaker-activist Michael Moore called on hundreds of the 4000 participants to join a 24-hour celebration of Occupy Wall Street’s six-month anniversary at Zuccotti Park. The police called a curfew at 11.30pm and followed this with 74 arrests and several brutal beatings requiring hospital treatment.
The next morning we passed the cleaned and cordoned square, its bare modern stone stairs and pavements being hosed down by the sanitation crew. They started out with no demands, but Occupy Wall Street responded with one demand: that New York Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly resign.
Our comrades then set up near George Washington’s statue in Union Square, only to be cleared out by “New York’s finest” four days later. But the occupiers soon returned and are still there, despite being evicted repeatedly.
It seems the authorities are having trouble coming to grips with the anti-capitalist nature of these insurgents, their pop-up politics and the implications of how they describe themselves: “Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions.
“The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.
“This #ows movement empowers real people to create real change from the bottom up. We want to see a general assembly in every backyard, on every street corner because we don't need Wall Street and we don't need politicians to build a better society.”