It was March of 2012, and a large group of us had assembled to plan the occupation of Union Square. We were sitting in a circle, discussing our plans, most the people had had nothing to do with the original occupation of Zuccotti Park. One man—a gen X’er in his early forties—stood up and said, “I think my children will say, daddy you were there when the great awakening happened.”
A day later, we attempted to occupy the park but we were dispersed with pressure washers and threats of arrest. Union Square was wet all the next day, a reminder that it was not normal for the park to be “cleaned” so many times in a day. A few days earlier I had been in Zuccotti Park, celebrating the six month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. Lorenzo, who had helped organize the original occupation, stood up to address the crowd.
“We already occupied Zuccotti Park,” he said, “we did that, it’s time to do something else.”
This sentiment is echoed by many people I’ve met, and many articles I’ve read.
Later that night our mutual friend Cecily McMillan was pegged with a felony for allegedly assaulting a police officer. It’s two years later now and—just like in every decade—the scribblers are writing about where the Left is going. If it seems like there is a glut of people asking this question, it’s because it’s a common project. We all employ different strategies when addressing the question of what the Left is and where it’s going, recently though our interpretation of Occupy’s history has become a cruel joke.
Occupy left such a large impression on us, and so many of us laid so many hopes and dreams on it, that now we’re affected by major feelings of failure. Slavoj Zizek, writing about Occupy for The Guardian, warned us not to fall in love with ourselves. The flip side to falling in love with yourself, however, is falling in love with your failure; the narcissist loves himself and hates himself at the same time. Some of the people involved with Occupy have reacted very negatively to a movement they were once a part of, while others can’t seem to shake a particular moment.
Occupy was the most serious political event of my life, and there are many others like me who would say the same thing. What we need to remember is that just because occupation as a tactic is no longer feasible in the face of brutal suppression, and just because Occupy has receded, does not mean that we have to embrace failure. To do so is to forget just what an upward spike Occupy was. If we compare our current moment to 2010, maybe we can instead feel hopeful for the future.
Occupy’s legacy gets attacked from many directions. Anarchists—once the biggest group involved in Occupy—now see the movement as too populist. Many of them have turned away from challenging capitalism in favor of inclusiveness. I can sympathize, it’s understandable when we live in such a toxic culture. In the Socialist camp, we’ve seen a flourishing of intellectual writing and while Occupy rarely gets brought up, discussions of class are in vogue again, which has allowed more and more people to be exposed to some truly important Socialist writing. Liberals, no longer looking to Occupy for their populism, have now turned to the much safer de Blasio.
Now that Anarchists, Socialists, and Liberals are safely back in their fringe groups (myself included) we can have a reprieve from the pursuit of massive change, which proved to be so exhausting. It’s a good thing too. We don’t want to actually try to influence the whole world. I maintain, however, that things can be better. Although occupation no longer works, there are other techniques. The last Occupy milestone was disheartening but we have a great opportunity coming up: May Day 2014. Let us make a massive show of force. Let us try to make this May Day look like May Day 2012. It would make a strong statement that while occupation is no longer a viable strategy and while the character of 2011 is not coming back, we are still here and we are still angry. If not May Day, then September 17th, as long as one of these events has a large showing, it’ll point to a bright future for the Left.
Maybe what we need is a young radical environmental labor movement, one that offers a different, more radical take. It would be crucial to fill Zuccotti Park again, not to attempt an occupation but to reconnect and show the world that we are still here. It’s not an impossible task. It would help if the 20-something Anarchists were at the forefront again. That is not to say that Anarchism is any better or worse than Socialism as a system or strategy, it just tends to be the case that Anarchists are the most well connected and the most energetic. What we really need though, is for people to show up at Zuccotti Park on May Day 2014, and not attempt a re-occupation. If this doesn’t happen, we shouldn’t see it as the end of the left, but just as an opportunity to try again next time.