Liberty Park can be anywhere

At Open Democracy, Todd Gitlin writes: Since Sept. 17, there have been so many moving parts in the evolving ensemble known as Occupy, each rubbing against the others in a whole ecology of protest, that predictions are foolhardy. But there’s a good chance that the great sprawling hard-to-pin-down Occupy movement is well along in the learning process and that it can gain more than it loses by leaving the Zuccotti/Liberty campground.

The urban planner Peter Marcuse, a strong supporter of the movement, has cautioned against “fetishizing” Zuccotti Park. He usefully distinguishes among seven functions of the movement:

  1. A confrontation function: “taking the struggle to the enemy’s territory, confronting, potentially disrupting, [its] operations.” That means the Wall Street area, for which Zuccotti Park was and remains, obviously, a convenient launch-pad.
  2. A symbolic function as a visible testimonial to a line of argument and a way of looking at the world.
  3. An educational function, promoting debate and clarification, toward the end of clarifying what the 1 percent and the 99 percent mean, and how that infernal cleavage developed.
  4. A glue function, “creating a community of trust and commitment to the pursuit of common goals.”
  5. An umbrella function, “creating a space … in which quite disparate groups can work together in pursuit of ultimately consistent and mutually reinforcing goals — … a political umbrella, an organizing base for an on-going alliance, not just a temporary coalition, of the deprived and discontented.”
  6. An activation function, “inspiring others to greater militancy and sharper focus on common goals and specific demands … providing space for … cross discussions among supporting groups and interests, organizing … events in support of … reforms that point [toward] Occupy’s own ultimate goals of change.”
  7. A model function, “showing, by its internal organization and methods of proceeding, that an alternative form of democracy is possible.”

Hey, whoever said that organizing movements is simple or mindless?

Marcuse goes on to say that only the confrontation function required Zuccotti Park as such, and even that is far from clear. There do need to be meeting places, sites where people of different dispositions brush up against each other and stay in touch. Zuccotti offered advantages — Wall Street proximity, for one — but at a cost: very limited sunlight, leading one prominent supporter I know to publicly call it “hell’s half-acre.” There are other public places, even ones with symbolic resonance. (By some accounts, after all, on Sept. 17, when the occupation began, Zuccotti Park wasn’t the first choice — it was Plan B.) As Peter Marcuse writes, “the defense of the permanent and round-the-clock occupancy of a specific space can lead to a fetishization of space that make the defense of that space the overwhelming goal of the movement, at the expense of actions furthering the broader goals that that space is occupied to advance.”

As for the model function, the utopian, communitarian spirit, it can thrive in many spaces. Now that the symbolism has been established in the public mind, some token encampment through the winter probably makes sense, but Liberty Square can be movable; Zuccotti has no patent on liberty. Anyway, it would be foolhardy to think that the tent-city way of life Zuccotti has promoted is a way of life that the 99 percent cottons to. It’s that 99 percent that needs, continually, to be assured that the movement speaks to and for them.

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