occupy wall street

Can Occupy Ditch Wall Street for New Tactics, Fresh Territory?

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 17: A protestor affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street Movement raises his fist in the air while chanting on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City on November 17, 2011. The day has been marked by sporadic violence, arrests, and injuries sustained by both protestors and police. Protestors marched around Wall Street throughout the morning, attempting to disrupt businesses from operating. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Andrew Burton/Getty Images Photo: Andrew Burton/2011 Getty Images

After a volatile day of protests and nearly 300 arrests, Occupy Wall Street rang in its two-month anniversary with a show of force across lower Manhattan on Thursday. But it doesn’t change the essential fact that nobody will be sleeping in Zuccotti Park tonight, or perhaps ever again.

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 officesbridgessubways, 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.”

Jackie DiSalvo, a former member of SDS and English professor at Baruch College who has helped coordinate Occupy’s dealings with the labor movement, said that unions will intensify their efforts outside of the park. “The labor movement is pretty angry,” she told me. “They’re going to get their forces out.”

More broadly, DiSalvo said, “things are spreading out.” As Brendan Burke, a security-minded occupier, told the Village Voice, it “doesn’t have to be about holding ground anymore.” The occupation’s presence will grow in Brooklyn and Harlem. Their motto: “Occupy the Hood.” In Harlem, a group of occupiers are planning on occupying old brownstones. And although many reports alleged that the occupation intends to “shut down” the subways, organizers say the real plan is to “recruit people on the trains.”

But even as the protesters talk about roving further afield, Thursday’s protests were still concentrated downtown: Zuccotti Park, the New York Stock Exchange, and the Brooklyn Bridge. Given the eviction, this is harder to justify. Not many of the  traders and bank CEOs that inspire so much ire among the protesters actually work on Wall Street these days. The New York Stock Exchange, site of Thursday morning’s opening protests, does virtually all of its trading electronically; the few remaining blue-jacketed traders are mostly visual props for CNBC. The major banks are all headquartered in midtown, Manhattan’s real business district. The hedge funds are in Greenwich. The new tactics may never hit pay dirt if they remain clustered around Occupy’s former stronghold in Zuccotti. In other words, Occupy Wall Street may need to forget about Wall Street.