Occupy Wall St: from the horse’s mouth – book review

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Occupying Wall Street by Writers for the 99%

OR Books, February 2012, paperback £10/$15 ISBN 978-1-935928-68-3/ e-book £7/$10 ISBN 978-1-935928-64-5

This is a book about Occupy Wall Street (OWS) by participants, not outside reporters. It therefore gives an inside view of the protest, by some of its supporters. It recounts all the major milestones on the timeline of the New York protest and describes the major incidents of police harassment. It describes in detail the procedures for conducting a General Assembly and identifies the various working groups and components (library, medic tent etc) which are core to the occupation. It is a useful handbook for anyone who wants to set up another Occupy protest, with all the templates included.

Although the blurb on the back cover promises ‘a galvanizing on-the-ground account … a vivid, fast-paced story … conveying the excitement and drama’ of OWS, in the main the contents are mind-numbingly pedestrian in pace, blunt key points, are devoid of opinion, dull and bland. A prime principle seems to have been to avoid offending anyone and maintaining balance. So Class War activist KV (‘We don’t want to reform the system. We want to burn it to the ground’) gets partnered with a David Levine, whose sneering at ‘seedier elements’ and ‘fucking hippies’ just begs for a custard pie in the face, instead of serious consideration. At several points, the New York Police Department’s destruction of thousands of library books is mentioned – yet nowhere is the obvious parallel with Nazi book-burning drawn. The book was written using OWS techniques – and it shows. Elevating consensus from a desirable characteristic to a principle, the text appears to have been chewed over by all the writers until no taste is left, like yesterday’s chewing-gum. Most of the differences, the problems, the questions posed by occupiers just vanish, squeezing all life out of the account.

An exception to the rest of the book is the chapter ‘POCcupy – People of Color Occupy Wall Street too!’ Written with passion and verve, it attacks what one participant calls ‘the dangerously flawed logic of colorblindness’. The People of Color working group was set up to challenge the lack of diversity and of inclusiveness of OWS: ‘Let’s be real. The economic crisis did not begin with the collapse of the Lehman Brothers in 2008. Indeed, people of color and poor people have been in a state of crisis since the founding of this country, and for indigenous communities, since before the founding of the nation. … with your help, the movement will be made accessible to all. If it is not made so, it will not succeed. … this monumental social movement risks replicating the very structures of injustice it seeks to eliminate. … a movement to end economic injustice must have at its core an honest struggle to end racism.’ Attendees reported experiencing ‘full-blown racist attacks and sexual assaults’ – something laundered out of the rest of the book. Once again, it’s left to people of color to tell it like it really is.

Steve Palmer, US correspondent