Organizing Occupy, Without Occupations

After the weekend's crackdown on camping at Occupy D.C., the final high-profile Occupy encampment in the country has been reduced to a tiny collection of tents.

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After the weekend's crackdown on camping at Occupy D.C., the final high-profile Occupy encampment in the country has been reduced to a tiny collection of tents. Occupy Austin also got the boot over the weekend, and Occupy Maine's been served a notice, as has Occupy Pittsburgh. This would seem like a bad thing for the movement. But it's not, necessarily.

In forging its identity through a nationwide series of encampments, Occupy's moniker grew to signify more than simply taking up space. And now that activists don't have to focus their efforts on keeping their encampments intact, they can focus on new tactics, such as Monday's rally at a New York State tax hearing, or the nationwide May Day "general strike," that about 10,000 people have promised to participate in on Facebook.

Even without its tents, Occupy has managed to introduce a slew of new ideas into the national dialogue: The voice of the so-called 99 percent of people who don't fall into the wealthiest 1 percent, the idea of making decisions using a consensus process, the notion that corporate greed does harm to the rest of us. It also created its own little subculture that came to represent these ideas. As the movement fades from the headlines, these bits of activist shorthand have remained, and Occupy is counting on the shared culture they represent to carry it through to bigger actions this spring, organizers in New York said on Monday.

"Even though the state came down hard and shut down these different camps, the nature of having all these camps set up with the same name -- Occupy -- it’s really been building a sense of national solidarity," organizer Jason Ahmadi told The Atlantic Wire. "The connections have been happening and really the national organizing is happening, which is really difficult in this country because it is so big and spread out. But as the spring unfolds, I think we’ll start to see a lot more nationally coordinated actions." Without the encampments to forge that sense of solidarity, Ahmadi said, the movement wouldn't have built its local and national networks.

But as it moves out of static, urban encampments to become a national movement, Occupy faces a problem in fund-raising. Haywood Carey, an accounting volunteer with the movement, told us in an earlier interview that donations had dropped off precipitously after the raid on Zuccotti Park because they didn't have physical collection bins, nor did they have the nationally recognized symbol of a park full of tents that kept the movement in the news -- crucial for the kind of passive fund-raising Occupy does. Far fewer of those symbols exist now than have since the movement started, but Occupy itself hasn't shifted to an active fund-raising model, in which it solicits donations. And Carey said it probably wouldn't. Rather, he said, individuals and small groups have started raising money on their own and then donating it back to Occupy Wall Street's general assembly. "If a brother or sister wants to go throw a fundraiser, they can. That’s fine," Carey said. "I have for time to time raised money for OWS, and I don’t need to seek permission to do so because I’m not doing it as OWS. I anticipate that’s going to grow."

Carey and Ahmadi agreed that organizing and fundraising were easier for the movement when it still had Zuccotti Park. "We were able to plan so many more actions and have them happen so much more easily when the camp was going on just because it was so much easier to talk to each other," Ahmadi said. "You could wake up and find your organizing group because they’d all be eating breakfast at the same time." Carey predicted that face-to-face organizing would return: "Yes, the camps are gone, but when it gets warm, we’re going to take another camp."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.