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A visit to Occupy Wall Street: This movement is too important to fail

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Last weekend I was in New York City attending Left Forum, conveniently located at PACE University in Lower Manhattan, just a short walk from Zuccotti Park. So it was easy to head over and take part in events this past Saturday, March 17 marking the six month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street (OWS). I wrote about the experience in the bilingual Vancouver newspaper La Source:

"The atmosphere was a microcosm for the inspiration OWS has provided, and the challenges it faces. At first, the mood was celebratory, especially when Michael Moore and a few hundred friends marched over from the nearby Left Forum conference. The chant of the hour was, 'We are unstoppable, another world is possible!'

Alas, the NYPD had other ideas. Shortly before midnight, after the crowd had thinned somewhat, they moved in, arresting dozens of people and clearing out the park -- again.

This is still a very young movement, and the ideas and debates it has brought out throughout society are not going away anytime soon. I think the same is true of Occupy Vancouver (OV), however much the physical encampment that dominated the headlines in the fall has been wiped out. OV faced a relentless wave of negative press, culminating in physical eviction. When occupiers tried to move the camp over to the provincial courthouse downtown, it was Premier Christy Clark who moved quickly to draw a legal and rhetorical line in the sand. 'I’m fed up. It’s time to end this nonsense,' Clark snapped, and a day later OV was moved out from the law courts complex.

A camp is easy enough to evict, but issues that Occupy Vancouver brought to the forefront will prove harder to banish."

Despite my overall sense of optimism about the long-term prospects for the ideas of Occupy, being there and witnessing the police repression left me feeling angry. I was a couple blocks away, meeting up with anti-war colleagues from the U.S. and Canada, when we got word that arrests were taking place at Zuccotti. We rushed over and, by the time we got there, it was a tense and volatile scene with hundreds of NYPD officers and barricades to block off the park. There was a lot of anger in the crowd, as people had just witnessed dozens of their friends roughed up and taken away to jail. 

Of course, none of this really comes as a surprise. It's obvious that the Bloomberg administration and other levels of government in both the United States and Canada are determined to use physical and legal repression to stifle the movement. They recognize the resonance of the message, and they rightly sense a threat to their vested one per cent interests.

Seeing this reality up close at Zuccotti drove home that this is a young movement under sustained attack. It also renewed my sense of just how irresponsible some on the political left have been in making carping, sectarian critiques of Occupy. We need criticism, but it should be constructive and somewhat humble, since movements for social change rarely spring up where our theories predict them. At the risk of overstating things, some on the left have a tendency to start doing the autopsy when they should be trying to keep the movement alive and helping it to thrive.

That's why I'm so excited that Judy Rebick's new digital book on OWS, Occupy This!, is now available. I've always been impressed by her ability to throw support behind new and innovative movements, no matter where on the left they get their ideological inspiration. This wisdom, of course, comes from hard decades of experience as a participant and leader in many of Canada's most important social movements. Occupy This! is in part updated material from her last book, Transforming Power, drawing on her experience and looking at OWS in the context of some of the key events in world politics over the past decades.

Right now we need to keep an open mind and an open heart when it comes to OWS. As Judy Rebick chronicles, it's part of a global uprising with roots in the Arab Spring and Spain's Indignados movement, among others.

You can check out an excerpt of the new book right here on rabble, and for only $3.99 you can read the whole thing. Read, discuss and act. This movement is just beginning. We can't afford a dismissive or cynical attitude. Occupy Wall Street and some of the Canadian counterparts it continues to inspire are too important to fail.

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