Occupy the mind

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Occupy Wall Street (OWS) has been raging for almost a month here in the Big Apple, and more than a week back in my home state, Minnesota. I have been scrambling to finish a post about the movement for the blog.

But every time I find a minute to write, new developments have re-informed my perspective, like the back and forth over cleaning the Occupy Wall Street site.

Unlike Occupy Minnesota’s space, our home base in lower Manhattan is the privately-owned Zuccotti park. After three weeks of 24/7 wear and tear, the owners are (legitimately) distressed about safety and hygiene. They’re working out a plan to give the occupation zone a thorough cleansing.

Occupy Wall Street is, yes, an attempt to force the powers-that-be to listen to the masses by occupying public space as an attention-getting tactic and eventual bargaining chip. But more than that, and as a precursor to making specific demands of those powers, OWS is the General Assembly: a nightly open public forum for the structured discussion of ideas.

The GA allows us all to build an understanding of the extent and variations of the problems we face by listening to others’ perspectives. It allows us to generate ideas for potential solutions. It also allows, from what I’ve seen, for a lot of talk about the logistics of occupation: coordinating donations, communicating needs, maintaining sanitation.

That last piece, sanitation, is a particularly hard thing to maintain here in NYC – in a relatively small park with no nearby restrooms intended for mass use, little sunlight, hundreds to thousands of people at any given time, and piles of blankets everywhere. During my visits to Zuccotti, I have found myself pondering the almost-surely-impending bed bug crisis, the potential for contagion, and other hazards.

The real power of this movement is in proving what “the 99%” can do when we pool our resources and expertise. The homemade water filtration system that has been set up at Zuccotti, the offer of free legal counsel from the National Lawyers Guild, and the mountains of donations alone are among mounting testament to the power of pooling. But right now, it is most important to share our mental resources.

My hope for the future, if the occupiers are indeed displaced from their 24-hour vigil at any point, is that we can begin to focus more on what really matters and let go of the show.

I hope we can continue to plan demonstrations, continue to assemble in the hundreds and thousands by day for meaningful, inclusive GA sessions and working group discussions. And I hope that occupiers in cities around the country will take heed – think about what really matters to the movement, what they can do with their resources, and how best to proceed.