Grassroots Occupy Movements accumulate victories

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Despite popular media reports saying the Occupy Movement is dead in the United States, in fact it is expanding through local grassroots activism, says Rose Aguilar.

In a recent San Francisco Chronicle piece, ‘Occupy movement must move toward the center’, associate professor of history at the University of San Francisco Tony Fels writes that the Occupy "...movement has reached a tactical dead end".

Demonstrators don't have nicely packaged sound bites; there's no go-to spokesperson; Occupy DC is one of the last camps standing — but the movement is far from dead.

Here in California, the movement is exploding. In a recent study called "Diffusion of the Occupy Movement in California", UC Riverside researchers surveyed 482 incorporated towns and cities in California and found that 143 – nearly 30 per cent – had Occupy sites on Facebook between December 1 and December 8.

According to the study, many of the small and medium-sized towns are active with likes, posts and events on their Facebook pages. For example, the town of Arcata has about 17,000 people and 2,950 subscriptions on their page.

Professor of sociology Christopher Chase-Dunn and graduate student Michaela Curran-Strange write in the report:

"The Occupy Barstow website proclaimed that Barstow is 'about as far from Wall Street as you can get'. But the Barstow occupiers probably did not know that there were also Occupy actions in Weaverville, Idyllwild, Calistoga, El Centro and many other small California towns, even in very remote areas."

And the majority of Occupy cities are not in the Northern, more liberal, part of the state. They are almost equally divided between the north and south.

Chase-Dunn and Curran-Strange write:

"The north-south finding is interesting because most people believe that the political culture of Northern California is much more Leftist than that of Southern California. Our findings suggest that this is no longer true, at least as indicated by the propensity to establish Occupy sites."

The study also listed several success stories within individual movements. Occupy Riverside activists helped an ex-Marine reoccupy the home that he and his family were evicted from as a result of foreclosure. Occupy Petaluma protesters successfully petitioned Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to suspend evictions during the holidays. Occupy Redding is supporting postal workers who are protesting job cuts.

UC Riverside researchers conclude that these actions, along with the recent port shutdowns, prove that

"…this movement has broad support and is capable of powerful collective action."

Occupiers are using their collective action in a myriad of ways. In Des Moines, Iowa, demonstrators are occupying President Obama's campaign headquarters, saying this is the only way their voices will be heard.

"We can't afford lobbyists, so we have to be our own lobbyists, and the lobbyist job is to go to the candidates and the politicians and advocate on the behalf of issues and people," said protester Kelly Griffins in an interview with WOI-DT.

On December 19, eight Occupiers were arrested at the Iowa Democratic Party headquarters in Des Moines. They took over the office to demand that President Obama veto the National Defense Authorization Act and the massive $1 trillion spending bill. The Occupiers were joined by Veterans for Peace and immigrant rights groups.

"They don't want to be here to listen to us. We decided to go to the state headquarters and make them listen to us," Occupy member Daniel Bragg said in an interview with The Des Moines Register.

On December 12, Occupy groups organized a coordinated shut down of ports along the West Coast, from San Diego, California, to Anchorage, Alaska. Ports in Oakland, California, Portland, Oregon, and Longview, Washington, were shut down.

The closures were intended to support the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in Longview, Washington, in their ongoing contract battle with the Export Grain Terminal. The union did not officially support the shut down, but many workers stood in solidarity with the demonstrators.

On that same day, Occupiers in Utah and Colorado expressed solidarity by attempting to halt trucks at Wal-Mart central distribution centres. More than a dozen Occupy Denver demonstrators were arrested at a distribution centre in Loveland, Colorado. According to The Coloradoan, about 50 Occupiers waved signs accusing Wal-Mart of paying low wages and treating the country like a plantation.

In Utah, demonstrators targeted three Wal-Mart distribution centres by blocking the entrances with their bicycles. Demonstrators also entered the Tooele Wal-Mart store chanting that "low, low, prices come with high, high exploitation". According to Salt Lake City Weekly, demonstrators called on employees to "organize for their rights and revolt against their employers".

On December 7, demonstrators and Occupiers from 46 states across the country gathered in Washington DC to occupy the offices of their representatives as part of the "Take Back the Capitol" action. Demonstrators wanted to meet with their senators and representatives to discuss issues like income inequality, workers' rights and tax breaks.

A note on Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wisconsin) office door said, "Please knock. Only Scheduled Appointments will be admitted today".

That same day, 62 people were arrested after shutting down K Street, the home of Washington's lobbying firms. About a dozen more were arrested in front of the Supreme Court.

As we near the end of 2011, where do you think the Occupy movement should go from here? What's most effective? How should the Occupy movement move forward in 2012? What can the movement do to convince people watching from the sidelines to join the movement?

Listen to Your Call discuss the future of the Occupy movement.

Vanessa Carlisle, member of Occupy Los Angeles
Katt Hoban, member of Occupy San Francisco
Justin Kramer, member of Occupy Salt Lake City

(This story was originally published in Truthout on 27 December 2011 and has been republished under a Creative Commons licence.)

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