The focus of Occupy Wall Street on the 99% movement and the actual grievances of income inequality and Wall Street greed have devolved somewhat into a discussion of police brutality and how to local governments are dealing with occupations on public spaces. In San Diego last night, police in riot gear broke up an Occupy protest and arrested over 50. Protesters who were arrested in Nashville, Tennessee were released by a judge, though they were still cited for criminal trespassing. They have returned to their site. Occupy Atlanta protesters who were kicked out of their site relocated to the Martin Luther King national historic site, a federal location out of the jurisdiction of the city’s law enforcement. They planned an additional move to private property later.

There’s a debate among progressives about whether this focus on holding the physical space is taking away from the economic message. First of all, the Occupiers are engaging in peaceful protest. They didn’t invite local governments to attack them and arrest them. The occupation part of this, the endurance of it, does set it apart from other protest movements. There’s something to be said for that, and there are international models to look at. The fact that Egyptian protesters marched from Tahrir Square in support of the rights of the Occupy Oakland protesters is revealing. This chorus of international dissent against a system they feel robs them is best manifested by getting in the way of elites and staying there, refusing to move.

In addition, it’s not like the only things the Occupy movement is discussing are how to best camp in a public park. This mothership protest put on by Occupy Wall Street today is an example of some of the innovations here, for what in the end is really just a petition delivery for Occupy the Board Room:

(1) Throughout the march a flyering team will be handing out copies of the letters that have links to the website at the bottom. Both marches will be accompanied by (a) a team of bicycling pirates, (b) a choir, (c) a marching band, (d) a set of “postmasters” with stenciled OTBR logos to guide the march and lead group activities. At the top of the march, postmasters will distribute “mailing instruction” 8.5×11 sheets with (a) the march route, (b) description of activities, (c) song lyrics, (d) a space for marchers to write their own letter.

(2) Group 1 and 2 march to first banks, at which we will have a mass paper airplane throwing event. (Postmasters to instruct crowd in paper airplane folding and throwing via people’s mic.) After airplanes are thrown, postmasters will help crowd collect all planes and put them in a big mailbag, which will be left in the lobby of the bank.

(3) Groups 1 and 2 march to second bank at which the choir leads everyone in a unison singing of one of the letters. The text for that letter will be printed on the “mailing instructions” handout and on giant (6′ x 8′) posterboard blow-ups so that everyone can sing along. At the end of the song, we attempt to leave the giant letters in the lobby of the banks.

(4) Groups 1 and 2 converge on Chase HQ at which we sit down and convene a special reading and writing GA. Austin will (tentatively) MC. The main event will be three letter-writers reading their letters to Jamie Dimon over the people’s mic. After the letters are read, there will be a brief writing exercise in which the crowd is given 5 minutes to write a letter to the 1% on a detachable portion of their “mailing instructions” sheet. After 5 minutes, we will leave all our letters in or outside of Chase’s lobby and leave.

Finally, the act of the nightly protests at encampments highlight a major by-product of income inequality and injustice, the plight of homelessness. It’s no surprise at all that the homeless are becoming part of some of the protests.

The homelessness situation in Phoenix is dire. According to an October 2011 report by the advocacy group Phoenix Homeless Rising, Arizona has one of the highest poverty rates in the country: 18.6 percent as of 2010. There are approximately 17,000 beds in Phoenix shelters, which is woefully inadequate for a homeless population that ranges between 20,000 to 30,000 on any given day. Heavily enforced anti-camping ordinances in the city have criminalized sleeping outdoors while strict and often punitive rules within the shelters as well as unsanitary and unsafe conditions force many out onto the streets. It’s a catch-22 designed to keep the homeless out of sight in overcrowded shelter campuses and arrest those who dare to (or are forced to) break away […]

I also now realize that it is the most powerless, the most voiceless of our population who has the biggest stake in this movement. They are the ones who’ve lost the most: their homes, their livelihoods and their families. And they must battle every day to maintain their self respect. It is only fitting that they are the ones who have stepped forward and assumed these roles in our own little corner of the Occupy movement. And if we accomplish nothing else, the very least we can do is raise awareness about how the city of Phoenix has made their existence even more miserable.

So those aching for a white paper or some kind of action that will result in legislation passing or a voter registration drive need to chill out. I see no reason to question a movement that has already changed the conversation in the country in a little over a month. And the physical occupation does have an importance all its own, as a manifestation of the determination to change the debilitating path the country has been under for so long.

UPDATE: Here’s video of the paper airplane protest referenced above.

David Dayen

David Dayen

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