Occupy Wall Street Inspires Non-Violent Resistance across US
Occupy Wall Street Activists Inspire Non-Violent Resistance Across the U.S.
Interview with Joe Hill, Occupy Wall
Street organizer, conducted by Scott Harris
October 5, 2011
As the Occupy Wall Street protest encampment entered its third week in lower Manhattan, activists there launched a march over the Brooklyn Bridge on Oct. 1 that resulted in the arrest of 700 people. Although New York City police say they warned protesters over bullhorns that marching onto the iconic bridge’s roadway was illegal, eyewitnesses accuse police of leading hundreds into the car lanes before moving in to make mass arrests.
Whatever the original intent, the police crackdown on the Occupy Wall Street activists, including the documented earlier unprovoked pepper spraying of protesters, has given the action widespread and mostly positive publicity across the nation and the world. By skillfully employing social media and circulating viral video of police abuse, the Occupy Wall Street model of protest encampments has spread to more than a dozen cities across the U.S. Occupations of public spaces have been organized in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and other cities large and small, with the number growing every day.
Although activists gathered in New York and other cities don’t as yet have a comprehensive list of demands, those involved clearly have a common set of beliefs focused on resistance to unbridled corporate greed facilitated by a corrupt political system – linked to a call for accountability. Between The Lines' Scott Harris visited the protest site at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan’s financial district on Oct. 1 and interviewed one of the Occupy Wall Street organizers who goes by the name of “Joe Hill,” just before he and hundreds of others were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge. Here, he talks about the origins and future direction of what appears to many observers to be the foundation of a new national economic and social justice movement.
JOE HILL: About a month ago, some of us got together and formed the New York City General Assembly and began to make groundwork and planning for the hopes that we would be able to claim a space in the financial district to raise a critique about what's happened in the economic system and to build a movement to fight back against consolidation of wealth.
BETWEEN THE LINES: What did you envision back before Sept. 17 and the beginning of the occupation? And, compare that with maybe to what actually has happened in the couple of weeks since.
JOE HILL: Well, I've been hoping for 20 years now, but most recently with the last crash that people would begin to fight back. But frankly, I thought that we wouldn't last more than a couple days and that we would be cleared by Monday and that there wouldn't be enough people to maintain the strength of this space. And so, I didn't expect that we would last more than a couple of days, but hoped that we would.
BETWEEN THE LINES: What's been your impression about how this has taken off? Not just here in New York City. But, there are other groups forming around the country with similar occupations happening or being planned.
JOE HILL: My impression is that this the most exciting moment in my adult life. I've been working for social justice in various capacities for 20 years and have never seen the excitement and enthusiasm that's taking place right here and across the country. And I think a lot of that is due to the method of organization that's being employed here, which is not having slogans and cookie-cutter approaches that could quickly be co-opted by anybody, be it the Democratic party or trade union. But rather, it's individuals, and people who may or may not be part of groups coming together to find common solutions and common ground, which has really struck a nerve with people who don't have other avenues of protest. And the process itself is exciting, of course it's based on things that have happened in other countries, including Spain, Greece and North Africa. And people are really serious about this. This is not a ragtag group of people who don't know what they are doing. Most people have read quite a bit about the other movements and are actually employing those tactics and strategies so that we can grow and build the kind of movement it's going to take to take the country back.
BETWEEN THE LINES: As you were planning this before Sept. 17 and the occupation began, were you consciously trying to formulate something here that would go beyond a simple protest and actually be the seeds for the start of a movement?
JOE HILL: Absolutely. Some of the feedback I got from people that I invited to this is, "Why are doing it on a Saturday?" And I would explain that this isn't a demonstration, this is an occupation, and most people move into new houses on a Saturday. And, so, it's a day that we could begin the movement but wasn't going to be a one-day protest. The days of being able to effectively have a one-day symbolic protest and affect policy are in our past. What we need to do is actually have a sustained resistance.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Where do you see this thing heading in the next few weeks to long-range future? People talk about camping out here in the middle of January when it's below zero or 20 degrees and a lot of wind and snow. What do you see happening?
JOE HILL: I think the commitment and the conditions that most of these people are facing by being unemployed, by coming out with massive student debt will keep this thing going for the long haul. I'm not sure exactly what sort of shape it will take, but I certainly think that what started here is not going to stop any time soon. I hope that the encampment can stay throughout the winter. But the ultimate goal isn't just to hold and occupy this space; the goal is to create a platform by which we begin a resistance against the one percent, and that's already happened. The contacts and connections that people have been making in this square will last beyond this square and the tactics and things that we're all learning from each other are things that will help us get through winter and certainly will be around in the spring and summer. And really, frankly, if you talk to people here, they're saying as long as it takes. And I believe that. I believe that that's the overwhelming sentiment of people here.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Beyond the occupation and the symbolism it represents and the hope it represents for people who want to take the tack of resistance what concretely do you want to have come out of this thing in terms of change and policy or presenting policy alternatives and then making demands to invoke them?
JOE HILL: I don't think that change in policy is in the cards with the way that our government is structured, be it money in politics or be it the two parties that are acting for the same class of people. We're not thinking – I'm not, and many people here – aren't thinking about it as any short of policy fix. So we don't want to get behind the "healthcare for all" banner that turns into healthcare for everybody from 19 to 26 years old. We don't want to get behind some employee free choice act that ends up people don't get collective bargaining and then hear great speeches from some candidate. That's not where it's going.
In terms of the concrete things that could happen, those are happening. People are learning how to feed each other, people are learning how to take care of each other, and people are learning to share skills and frankly, creating a new democracy and a new economy in a small square in the heart of the old economy. And, so when we get a new economic system in this country, I don't know, but it seems to be happening faster than I would have thought it would have happened. If you look at mainstream labor unions endorsing this action and people coming in off the street, this thing is growing quicker than any of us had hoped. And we take a long vision for how the change can happen and it's happening one person at a time.
• "Why the Elites Are in Trouble," by
Chris Hedges, Truth.dig, Oct. 9, 2011
• "Is the Wall Street Occupation a Spark that Can Ignite a New U.S. Economic Justice Movement?" Interview with Chris Hedges, author of "The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress," Between The Lines, Sept. 28, 2011
• OccupyTogether.org Compilation of other Occupy groups nationwide, includes advice on nonviolent organizing, how to follow on Twitter and Facebook. This site was started Friday, Sept. 23, 2011 and has grown practically overnight. Some events may overlap with site mentioned below. Follow on Facebook: OccupyTogether and Twitter @OccupyTogether
• Occupythenation.org: Compilation of other Occupy groups nationwide - protest tips (Group is more involved in "engaging police"; be aware of potential for police action)
• LiveStream: Occupy Wall Street Live stream video coverage from independent journalists on the ground in New York City
• LiveStream: Global Revolution Live stream video coverage from independent journalists on the ground at nonviolent protests around the world
• "'Occupy Wall Street' protests economic injustice" by Anna Manzo, New Haven Register, Oct. 6, 2011
• "Why is the Occupy Wall Street movement growing so fast?" by Anna Manzo, Reading Between The Lines blog, Oct. 4, 2011
• "The NYPD led protesters onto the Brooklyn Bridge roadway," by Hank Hoffman, Reading Between The Lines blog, Oct. 2, 2011
• "Time to Take a Stand," by Reginald Johnson, Reading Between The Lines blog, Sept. 30, 2011
• "Part Three: An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Occupy Wall Street Solidarity Growing," by Anna Manzo, Reading Between The Lines blog, Sept. 30, 2011
• "Part Two: An Idea Whose Time Has Come: And Occupy Wall Street Will Spread," by Anna Manzo, Reading Between The Lines blog, Sept. 27, 2011
• "Part One: An Idea Whose Time Has Finally Come: Nobody Can Predict the Moment of Revolution," by Anna Manzo, Reading Between The Lines blog, Sept. 27, 2011