Lost In New York: Can Occupy Find Its Way Back To Prominence In The Crowded, Distracted City

Occupy’s planned spring reawakening is the brainchild of a secretive group of protesters who have proved markedly unfriendly to outsiders. Progressive political types and union leaders who seem like the protesters’ natural allies have had difficult experiences working with them. Even some Occupiers are complaining they’ve been left in the dark and don’t know what’s on the menu for May Day. Amid this handwringing, the insular core planning the “general strike” are more than happy to do their own thing and confident they’re going to change the world.

The May 1 Occupy comeback is currently being planned at small meetings around the city. At one of these gatherings in a Lower East Side church Sunday night, a group of about 30 Occupiers met on folding chairs and a single couch. The crowd was evenly divided between men with shaggy hair and beards and women with edgy haircuts and thick glasses. They were almost all in their 20s. A handful were members of minority groups.

A skinny man with a combination Mohawk/mullet (call it a mullhawk) and striped overalls stood at the front of the room and scrawled a list of scheduled May Day activities on a large piece of paper as they were mentioned by the group’s members. There was a panoply of protest actions planned by different Occupy-affiliated groups—including marches, “choir flash mobs,” union rallies, games of “capture the flag,” a “music dance party” and a demonstration involving “trying to levitate the Goldman sign and throwing pennies at the Federal Reserve.”

Occupy has always prided itself on being a diverse, leaderless movement, but the downside of this structure was on display at the planning meeting. Many of the attendees clearly didn’t know the details of all the events in this smorgasbord of May 1 actions.

“There’s a ‘Shit Has Got to Go’ event posted on a news site,” pointed out a man named Malcolm, who wore a sleeveless shirt, Afro and beaded necklace.

“What does that mean?” a girl asked.

“I don’t know, I just thought people would want to know about it even though it’s vague,” Malcolm said.

At one point, a man named Chris discussed plans for the aftermath of one of the main marches, which was to take protesters from Union Square to Wall Street. The ideas were rather open-ended.

“At that point, some folks from Occupy are going to ask anyone in the crowd who’s willing to, to leave to go to an evening staging area,” Chris outlined. “From there, there’ll be, like, whatever the hell we want to make it. So, some people probably want to do a march. Some people probably want to, like, go sleep out on Wall Street or something.”

In addition to these activities, people at the meeting described even vaguer protests planned for “50 to 70 targets across Midtown.”

Organizers at the strategy session said union workers would be holding “99 pickets” as part of the festivities, but they had scant details about the union element of the protests.

“Some TWU union workers are going to be like, We don’t have a contract or whatever,” Chris said when asked to give details on a transit workers’ rally.

As attendees pressed for more information about union participation, a young woman seated on the couch explained that organizers might not be able to provide more detail about the union portions of the protest because they were being planned separately.

“There’s like 40 different groups plus that are doing this and we have to get confirmation from a bunch of different bureaucracies,” she said.

Another woman with a blond chunk of hair in her otherwise brown bob was clearly unsatisfied with this explanation.

“Talking about bureaucracy in this room makes me cringe and a lot of this info should be worked out already,” she said.

The distance from organized labor was maintained partially because many Occupiers are uncomfortable with the structured nature of established progressive political groups. Because of this, May 1 marches will be facilitated by union marshals but will also include segments solely made up of Occupiers.

“There’s an Occupy Wall Street zone in the march and anyone who doesn’t feel like marching with marshals should go with the Occupy zone,” one of the organizers said at the meeting.

After about two hours of talking, the disagreements over the unknown aspects of various events seemed to have taken their toll on the group.

“Can we do a vibe check? It seems like people are getting really angry,” said a young woman with a plaintive voice. “Can we all just take a moment and take a deep breath? We all want this to be really awesome and we shouldn’t be fighting with each other.”

The meeting concluded soon after.

Lost In New York: Can Occupy Find Its Way Back To Prominence In The Crowded, Distracted City