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Shift in Tactics Marks New Phase of Occupy Movement

Yesterday’s Occupy Together day of action yielded hundreds of protests and hundreds of arrests. Union involvement was palpable, and provided a model into closer connections going forward. In addition, the incidents of police brutality seemed to ramp up a notch, particularly in New York City, where even a state Supreme Court justice received a shove. But yesterday’s actions also represented a subtle but definitive shift in tactics, away from ongoing occupations of public space (though that’s still an element) and toward more temporary occupations of symbolic sites:

The “Day of Action” saw Occupy Wall Street organizers trying new tactics: a roving protest model; continuous, decentralized direct action; and disruptions to New York City that reach beyond the boundaries of downtown’s financial district.

The leading occupiers are spinning the eviction as creative destruction, a way to refresh and revitalize a movement that had grown stale and claustrophobic. Amid reports that the recent spate of police raids were nationally coordinated and federally planned, organizers hope to boost coordination themselves — from Oakland to Albuquerque. The new message: Leave the parks and take to the streets; occupy offices, bridges, subways, and Ivy League schools.

Harrison Schultz, a central organizer of the protests, has been at the occupation since it was just a handful of people in used sleeping bags. Along with the AdBusters crew, he was among several early arrivals who laid the occupation’s foundations; now, they’re racing to rethink them. “Many of my colleagues and I do think that this is the beginning of a new phase for the occupy movement,” he told New York. “New tactics are in order to respond to a national effort against the occupy movement.”

A good example of this from abroad is Occupy London’s move into an empty former UBS bank, and transformation of the space into a “Bank of Ideas,” kind of a performance space for political discussion and organizing.

Ultimately, I think this is positive, and I think creative destruction is a good way to look at it. The movement already had been branching out. Yesterday’s bridge protests were planned for weeks. Across the country, Occupy members are delivering “Mic Checks” on powerful politicians, confronting them with the consequences of their own policies. The Occupy Homes and Occupy Foreclosures movement has advanced, saving at least a few homeowners from eviction. One ubiquitous quote I’ve seen in recent days is that “you cannot evict an idea.” There are plenty of opportunities to move forward.

When even Robert Rubin, of all people, is forced to respond to the Occupy movemnet, and agree that they have “highlighted important issues,” you can see the potential here. The naysayers questioning the wisdom of dissent and protest will have to get ready for this shift in tactics, rather than lazily intoning about what could be done differently.

UPDATE: And just as I write this, the announcement is made for Occupy Congress next month.

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David Dayen

David Dayen