After weeks of drought on this blog, this week saw a sudden blossoming of commentary from you all, some of it on posts I published quite a while back. I am thrilled to see folks are still reading and delighted by the care & thoughtfulness you’ve put into your comments.
Murph, as usual, has not shied away from challenging me. A lot has changed since I posted about Occupy Wall Street a few days back, beginning with Mayor Bloomberg’s decision to evict the Occupiers in the middle of the night, a decision that was shocking in its brutality, its stupidity, and its short-sightedness. (You’re not going to read any more defenses of him by me.) So in light of those rapid changes, I thought I’d take the opportunity to consider some of Murph’s points on my OWS post.
I see Wall Street as a fairly singular site in the American economy and iconography–Occupy Troy or Occupy Southfield might be closer analogues to OWS than Occupy Detroit, in terms of their relation to the seats of financial power in the region (or Occupy Orchard Lake, or Occupy Franklin, in relation to the beds of financial power), but a couple of points in the other direction:
1. Occupy Troy wouldn’t have the same PR impact as Occupy Detroit. Nobody knows where Troy is. Occupy is as much about message as about geography–outside of Occupy Wall Street itself, the Occupations are more significant in visibly showing national support for OWS than they are about literally encamping the financial districts.
Every passing day serves to strengthen the idea that “Occupy is as much about message as geography.” Needless to say, after Bloomberg’s raid on Zuccotti Park, OWS no longer even has a space to permanently occupy. Chicago’s Occupation never did, but it’s survived nearly as long. I think the occupation of specific physical spaces was a temporary phase in the evolution of OWS, helpful in establishing basic networks and relationships, but temporary nevertheless. Bloomberg’s raid and similar actions at other camps have forced the Occupiers to begin to figure out what their purpose is besides holding on to the spaces they occupy.
With a nimbler, more mobile Occupation, I don’t see why the Occupiers couldn’t take their show on the road to venues like — to use Murph’s examples — Troy or Southfield. I think those places are poor comparisons, though. Part of what makes the Occupations so visible is that they are located in dense areas that see a fair amount of daily foot traffic, near downtowns. Were the Occupiers to Occupy the Suburbs, I’d call out Birmingham as the ideal next place to land: lots of foot traffic, lots of shoppers and other affluent visitors.
If anything, it would be more courageous to attempt to Occupy a place like Birmingham, because unlike wildly permissive Detroit, I expect its elected officials, citizenry and police force would be far more hostile and restrictive, closer to Bloomberg than to Bing. An Oakland County Occupation would be braver and more disruptive than a Detroit Occupation.
Also, as far as PR impact, you could move the encampment to a place like Troy and still call it Occupy Detroit, because it’s still part of the Detroit metropolitan area. After all, Chrysler can get away with running ads flaunting their Detroit street cred from all the way out in Auburn Hills, no?
2. In many cases, the national Occupations are “being the change they wish to see in the world”. Occupations are feeding and clothing the poor and the homeless–it’s not that the Occupations are *creating* issues of “crime and sanitation and infection control”, it’s that they’re taking those issues, which already exist in those cities, bringing them into the light, and attempting to address what pieces of them they can. (Salon has a good piece on some examples of this, here:http://www.salon.com/2011/11/17/ows_inspired_activism/
I don’t think the national media has done a great job of highlighting these activities, so I appreciate the reminder. Having said that, central cities like Detroit have long been warehouses for the poor and homeless, and human services providers focused on helping the very poor are disproportionately located there, letting suburbs off the hook of having to deal with poverty. So apart from its ability to attract media attention — which is nothing to sneeze at, for sure — I don’t understand how the Occupation does anything to change that status quo. Detroiters are the last people in this country who need a reminder of what crime and deprivation look like.
In closing, should Occupy Detroit remain in the city proper, I have at least one suggestion of an alternate site. Today, I stumbled across this update on Occupy London:
They’ve taken over an abandoned building owned by banking giant UBS, where they’ll set up a “bank of ideas” and “and open the disused offices and meeting rooms to ‘those who have lost their nurseries, community centres and youth clubs due to savage Government spending cuts,'” reports the Telegraph. A dozen occupiers broke into the building last night…
An abandoned building owned by an embodiment of the mercenary 1%. Reading this, it occurred to me: Why, I think we have plenty of those to choose from in Detroit. When Occupy Detroit has to vacate Grand Circus Park, why doesn’t it occupy, say, the Michigan Central Station?
Just a thought.