Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Occupy New Orleans, Dec. 3, 2011
A Ship Drifting At Sea With No Rudder?
Or The Real Deal--A Camp of the Bottom 1%

All photos and video by the author.

New Orlean's Ninth Ward, Dec. 2012

Occupy New Orleans (NOLA) felt a little like walking onto the set of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." A lot of shouting in the background, and groups of people spread out as if trying to avoid each other. The welcome station long abandoned, I had trouble finding someone to tell me what was going on. Then I saw the torn sign stating "This asylum...."

 In a couple months the one year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street's glorious uprising will arrive--Sept. 17, 2011.  The Wall Street Journal may say it's all over, but a better read is the analysis of the Occupied Wall Street Journal co-founder Arun Gupta (link at end). Occupy doesn't operate on a five year strategic plan, so it is hard to predict what will happen. Recently students have risen up in big protest movements in Canada and Mexico, and the indignados of Spain are in the streets again. On July 12, an Occupy march returned to Zucotti Park in New York City and occupied the park again but police moved in and made several arrests including a 56 year-old Occupy grandmother who was knitting in a lawn chair (not permitted!)

Dec. 3, 2011--
New Orleans, LA.

Can this really be the United States of America? Seven years have past since Hurricane Katrina and the ruins are still vast, the devastation still painfully evident. Makeup has been applied where the tourist dwells, but venture a few blocks beyond and a city in crisis is apparent, or is it a country in crisis that crys out. The newspaper tells of the final trial of police officers who gunned down unarmed civilians during the madness of Katrina. But don't worry about these unplesantries; the playoff bound Saints are playing at home. Times are good.

This Asylum is under the.....?
Occupy NOLA
The Rabbit Hole Cinema at Occupy NOLA
The political documentaries went unwatched.
I pull up to Occupy NOLA's  downtown encampment in front of city hall. Trash and tarps are blowing in the wind among loose clusters of tents spread around the huge park. I hesitate before walking into the less than welcoming scene.  I try to interview one woman but she is wary, another man declines to talk--I abandon that approach and decide to be a fly on the wall. An eviction order is in effect--this is the last night the camp can remain. Many vestiges of the Occupy movement are there, but Occupy NOLA is unlike any other site I have visited.

 I learn that weeks ago the police evicted a large homeless camp beneath a bridge and they moved into Occupy.
After months in the plaza, the rough edges present in most Occupy encampments seem to have overrun the capacity of those who initially established the camp. No meals are  served from the community kitchen. People are mostly fending for themselves. 

In the evening a general assembly (GA) is held, but it is attended mostly by folks who are not staying in the encampment. Bill Quigley, a well known human rights lawyer, gives a legal briefing about the upcoming eviction (when the eviction happened two days later there was only one arrest--the rest just moved back into other dark corners of New Orleans.) During the GA a fistfight breaks out in the former community kitchen and the remnants of the security team rushes into action.

An altar in the park at Occupy NOLA

A local organization holds a workshop on foreclosures at Occupy NOLA. A few days later they disrupted the regular foreclosed homes sales conducted by the Sheriffs office.

The video on the right gives a little grand tour of Occupy NOLA, a couple of days before the eviction (A judge ordered that the camp be allowed to return for another week since the police acted before the court hearing was held).
One of the many creative signs of the Occupy movement
Camp Jesus At Occupy NOLA
ANARCHIST SQUARE DANCE VIDEO--The night I passed at Occupy NOLA featured an unexpected surprise. A group of musicians showed up and organized a square dance attended by Occupy supporters.  All afternoon fans going and coming from the Saints football game had passed the encampment, many in their quaterbacks #9 jersery, and would occasionally shout insults at the camp. But one couple coming from the game, the woman wearing the #9 jersery, joined the square dance!  _______________________________________________________________________________________________________ After New Orleans I visited Dauphin Island, Alabama where two police "pulled me over" (actually I was sitting on the side of the road to safely make a cell phone call). They informed me there was a report of suspicious activity and then ran my license as part of their fishing expedition.  I asked them politely to inform me of the suspicious activity I was engaged in order to avoid it in the future--the response-"just checking to make sure you're ok."  In Nov. and Dec.  2011 Alabama police arrested a German Mercedes-Benz executive and subsequently a Japanese Honda executive for not carrying proper i.d. under the state's new draconian anti-immigrant law (even worse than Arizona). Ironically the police officer who made sure I wasn't an "illegal" informed me he was from Arizona after seeing my Arizona license plate.
Occupy Memphis located downtown by City Hall is now one of the longest lasting
Occupy encampments in the country, having passed nine months.  A July 2
AP article ( stated that about " eight of the camp's 20 regulars
are homeless" and that the camp once fed 70 to 120 a day, though those numbers
have dropped over time.  According to an occupier Memphis mayor A.C. Wharton Jr.
"developed a commendable live-and-let-live attitude." Shelby County commissioner
Steve Mulroy even spent a night in the camp in November, stating "It's a source of
pride for me." (photo taken during Jan. 2012 visit)

Memphis's Longest Occupier. Jacqueline Smith has camped outside the Lorraine Motel (site of
Martin Luther King's assassination) for nearly 25 years. She previously lived and worked at the Lorraine until she was evicted by Sheriffs deputies. Here she is on a cold day (highs in the
20s) in Jan. 2012. She states Dr. King would have been opposed to the gentrification of the
area and that he would have wanted the money spent on the museum to have served the poor.
Last fall Occupy Memphis marched to the site and honored Ms. Smith for her sacrifice.
The sacred balcony outside room 306
THE OTHER MEMPHIS, only blocks from the National
Civil Rights Museum housed at the Lorriane Motel.
Occupy Nashville in Leglislative Plaza, Jan. 2012, outside the
 state capitol. Eviction occurred in March 2012.
Another Nashville occupation from over a half-century ago,
 two blocks from where Occupy Nashville stood. Photo was taken
 in the Nashville library, former site of Woolworth. 

After the lunch counter was cleared and the youth
 were hauled off to jail, another group would move in to
take their place.
The Occupy movement has had over 7,000 arrests.
Also in the Memphis Public Library I noticed this
quote and realized where the sign I had seen
at so many Occupy encampments had originated from.
Would Thomas Jefferson have supported Occupy Wall Street?
This quote of his leaves no doubt.
Occupy Nashville
 Fifty years later John Lewis's legacy at Occupy NOLA,  2011
Final Thoughts---------- Of the ten Occupy encampments I visited in the U.S. only two survive, Occupy Memphis and Occupy Tampa (which is located on private land).  While there is no question about the value of the encampments as the catalyst for the movement, they also presented enormous challenges. They were inherently transitory, but became magnificent magnets of solidarity, publicity, etc., but also attracting people who were problematic which led to huge discussions and energy spent on resolving internal issues, which itself would drive people away. The Occupy encampments which openly defied authority and occupied public spaces were certainly the ones to make the biggest splash. In the excellent video "History of an Occupation" linked in Occupy Boot Camp part 1, a veteran Occupy Wall Street Organizer stated that the challenge was always how you could keep people in the camp, but that once you could keep people in the camp they began to leave.  In other words once the pressure eased up the thrill was gone for many. The encampments were a huge manifestation of civil disobedience, inspiring many to abandon their former lives and pitch their tent as a form of resistance, until forces lined up to drive them out.  Some camps, like Occupy New Orleans initially, were allowed to set up by city government, which only later turned against them. The larger "illegal" camps were the ones that certainly caught the nation's attention, and were the ones to face the severest repression. But the fact that hundreds of camps sprung up around the country in communities of all sizes was key.  The encampments certainly fostered a remarkable sense of community among many, and so far there has been no substitute to drive the movement like the camps did. But the encampments were never a means to an end, and whether they return or not the movement for economic justice will survive and one day return with another unexpected big splash. In the meantime the struggle continues out of the spotlight, but it continues all the same. *********************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************** LINKS ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- A good read by one of the founders of the Occupied Wall Street Journal "What Happened To The Occupy Movement?" by Arun Gupta ************************************************************************************************************************************************* A fascinating video about the American Indian Movement (AIM) led occupation of Alcatraz Island in 1969.  Incredibly inspiring, but also showing the difficulties and challenges of sustaining a long-term occupation, challenges which many Occupy encampments have faced. Alcatraz Is Not An Island
************************************************************************************************************************************************************ A remarkable film about the freedom rides of the early 1960s, in which John Lewis and other university students and youth challenged racial segregation laws at bus stations in the Deep South. "Freedom Riders" 2010 documentary on PBS