Occupy Wall Street Has Big Plans, But Lacks Backup

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Occupy Wall Street protesters, dressed as billionaires, stage a demonstration against US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in front of the Waldorf Astoria hotel as Romney holds a campaign fundraiser inside the hotel, in New York, March 14, 2012. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunand (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
Photo: EMMANUEL DUNAND/2012 AFP

Even before the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park was forcibly cleared in November, many of the demonstrators were ready to pack it in for the winter and regroup. The bad weather was coming (or so everyone thought) but more crucially, the protesters had already made their point by altering the national conversation. Although winter temperatures never really came, the eviction decided that debate, and in the subsequent months, Occupy mostly fell off the map.

That will all change now that spring is upon us. Protesters showed signs of life during last weekend's anniversary party, as police once again got rough and dozens of people were arrested. With warm weather here to stay, it's showtime for the movement, and while Occupy has ambitious events planned — culminating in a May Day "general strike" — they're going to have to overcome some skepticism and other familiar obstacles all over again. 

Today, protesters marched to demand the resignation of NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, not only for Saturday's violence, but various other NYPD abuses dating back to the killing of Sean Bell. Criticism of Kelly's department has been building for some time, but the commissioner's approval rating remains high. For protesters once indicted by critics for having no demands, this one might be too far in the other direction to effectively fly under the official Occupy Wall Street banner.

Next month  "99 percent Spring Action Training" will begin across the country. "In April we will train 100,000 people in nonviolent action," the group's site says. "It's an audacious plan, but movements can do great things when everyone works together." The group is backed by organizations like Greenpeace, MoveOn.org, and the United Auto Workers, but is not officially affiliated with the broader Occupy movement.*

Occupy is planning for a general strike on May 1: "No Work, No School, No Housework, No Shopping, No Banking — and most importantly, TAKE THE STREETS!" But as Rosie Gray reports at Buzzfeed, Occupy may be overselling their strike, since they're lacking the substantial union support that proved so crucial last time around:

None of the union leaders BuzzFeed spoke with said they’d been contacted by occupiers about plans for a strike, a silence that has made the grand talk of a general strike even more puzzling to people whose members are familiar with picket lines.

“A general strike is a very specific thing,” said Bob Master, co-chairman of the Working Families Party and the legislative and political director of Communication Workers of America District 1. “It’s when all the workers in a city decide that they’re not working. It’s not when an outside group says, ‘How about we stop working for a day because we’ve got a set of demands that you weren’t part of formulating.’”

More creative preparations are underway too, such as the Bail Out NY! project: "Starting on May Day, we aim to bail out thousands of pretrial detainees who cannot afford bail. And we don't want this to be just a one-day action. We hope this will kickoff a permanent NYC bail fund." But while organizers are meeting all over, official edicts remain hard to come by in the leaderless system, and could prove especially problematic for a local prison program. Smaller general assemblies, each with their own plots, keep popping up, but often stay marginalized nationally.

Financially, things are much worse. A report from earlier this month put the main Occupy account as low as $45,000 from nearly $500,000 in November. Weekly donations have dropped to about $1,600 weekly, and the group said that at "the current rate of expenditure," Occupy could be "out of money in THREE WEEKS." Actions at August’s Republican National Convention in Florida and September’s Democratic National Convention in North Carolina have been long expected, but are still a ways off and will require resources.

Occupy rallies have formed in Union Square this week, and more marches are on the calendar. Yet the numbers simply aren’t big enough at this moment to draw notice without arrests — the more violent the better, in terms of news coverage — and massive actions require harmony between a range of Occupy constituencies with disparate aims. In this sense, Occupy is in much the same place it was just prior to being evicted, except with better weather. Without a permanent camp, visibility and organization are a struggle. There are still whispers from protesters about huge forthcoming actions, but if May Day is any indication, not everyone is on board. And so the seasons have changed, but the setbacks and roadblocks remain the same.

*An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that "99 Percent Spring" was part of the Occupy movement.