By Vasudha Desikan and Drew Franklin
WELCOME TO D.C.
“Occupy is not a panacea, but an opening. It will help us clear the way to a more mature political landscape. It has begun to breathe in the many currents of dissatisfaction and breathe out a new radical imagination.” Vijay Prashad
The question of what the “Occupy” movement is has concerned us ever since it spread to Washington D.C. in October of last year. After witnessing Occupy Wall Street’s tremendous growth in New York, we were inspired to see for ourselves the potential for radical mobilization in our city, where the corporate and state arms of global capital meet. The seat of power in the United States, D.C. has a long history as a center for protest, frequently drawing in activists from all over the country. It is also home to 600,000 legislatively and electorally disenfranchised residents, who have been engaged in their own unique struggles. Occupy D.C. had (and in some respects still has) exciting potential to work in solidarity with these community struggles and catalyze radical growth here and around the country.
From day one, we spent considerable time at Occupy D.C.’s chosen encampment, McPherson Square, a quiet park situated two blocks from the White House on K St. (this location was strategic and symbolic, as downtown K St. is recognized for its concentration of corporate headquarters and lobbying firms.) As anarchists committed to direct democracy, we helped build up the Facilitation committee and worked to implement consensus building processes at general assemblies, spokescouncils, and working groups. We watched the occupation grow quickly from a small group of no more than fifty people making and holding signs, to a “tent city” practicing mutual aid, with free medical care, a free kitchen, and its own library, among other things. Marches grew from ten or twenty people with poorly coordinated chants to hundreds of marchers taking the streets, blocking traffic, and barricading or taking over targeted buildings.
Occupy represented an exciting, transformative moment that saw rage and disillusion fuse with direct action tactics in a strike against oppressive institutions. It brought together hundreds of strangers who might have never worked together, deeply inspired and reinvigorated many burned-out activists, and fostered the development of leadership among a new generation of young radicals—all while helping change the national discourse around inequality. But the movement also has flaws, some quite serious, and they merit further examination.
It was many of these shortcomings that resulted in our very intentional abstention from Occupy D.C. Having stepped back from McPherson, we want to critically reflect on these past few months. 2012 will be a crucial year for popular uprising, as revolutions continue around the world, and as the U.S. gears up for the most expensive presidential election in history. We can learn a lot from the Occupy movement—its successes and failures—and use that experience to keep building momentum and guide popular discontent toward revolutionary struggle.