On Saturday, 20,000 People Could Be Doing Yoga and Dancing to 'Thriller' on Wall Street

occupy wall street 2.jpg
On September 17, 20,000 people will pitch tents and set up kitchens at Chase Manhattan Plaza in an occupation of Wall Street that will last for months -- or at least, that's what the organizers of Occupy Wall Street are hoping for. According to them, the event will involve a couple thousand people dancing to "Thriller," doing yoga in the street, voicing their opinions, sleeping head-to-toe around a few city blocks, and trying not to get arrested.

We sat down with Occupy Wall Street organizer Will Russell, a grad student at Hunter College, to discuss the occupation's realistic results and possible failure, the internal workings of the organizing process (anarchists!), and how Lupe Fiasco is helping out.

How did the organizing process start and how has it progressed?
There's New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts, and they organized Bloombergville. They decided to answer the call that was put out by Adbusters to basically occupy Wall Street. Their idea was 20,000 people, but they didn't do any planning. They just kind of put out this call and said, "Hey, everybody should occupy Wall Street."

New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts figured they would put out a call again to see if anybody answered it. It was put in the form of having a General Assembly (GA), like they had in the plazas in Spain. That was kind of the start of it; we've had, I think, six meetings since the first one. I believe the first one was August 2. The objective has been to plan for the actions of September 17 and the occupation.

What do you think is realistically going to happen? The goal is 20,000 people, but on Facebook there are only about 7,500.
I have no idea. I think it's very likely we'll be getting in the low thousands, but we'll see. One of the things we're trying to do to spur people to come as the occupation goes on -- if we're successful at actually setting up an encampment -- is to have events planned for the week afterwards. We're doing a Michael Jackson "Thriller" flash mob like they did in Chile, a lot of stuff like that to hopefully bring folks down there.

Ideally, how long would the occupation last?
As you can imagine, the GAs have been a little bit difficult. They've been dominated by people with various anarchist tendencies -- some of which are easy to work with and make a lot of sense, others of which are very, very impractical and fantastical and have these idealized images of what society should be like and not really a clear idea of how to get to that. There are some people in the assembly who think we shouldn't even have demands because it recognizes the state and legitimizes it, which is obviously problematic. And a lot of other people see it as being undemocratic to formulate demands before the action comes up, because that's when people are going to be arriving, so we should be formulating the demands at that point. I disagree with that personally, but I think that's actually the dominant view in the GA.

If you go back to your original question of how long this is going to last ideally, it depends on the amount of police repression, which is likely to be very significant because they're still on high alert from September 11, and I know they're waiting for us. We've done everything in the open and we've tried to keep things as clear and as transparent as possible in our planning. We haven't always been successful in that, and I think not having demands going in is going to really limit what we're able to achieve. Bloombergville's success was fairly limited, but at least they had some demands for people to be sleeping on the street for. The question that's going to come up really quickly is why the hell are we still here on Wednesday, if we're still there at all.

You mentioned that a lot of the people involved are too idealistic. If your demands are very abstract and broad, when does it ever end?
I personally see a difference between vision and demands. There's a French woman I was speaking with recently; she was involved in a protest in 2006 in which they were going to reform labor contracts with people under 26. She told me that the reasons those protests were really successful, not only in getting their demands met but also in reaching out to millions of people who would not otherwise be politically active, is because they had these demands, and they were practical. That victory showed a lot of people that activism is not just a game; it can actually get real results. We don't have that here, unfortunately, at least not at this time. Another one of my worries is that we're not going to be able to formulate demands within a reasonable amount of time.

What kind of precautions are you taking against possible police action and arrests?
At the last GA, the anarchists voted down the idea of having police liaisons and marshalls because they don't like the idea of giving jobs to people. Their argumentation is extremely confused because they were saying we should have no police liaisons, but that we should have police liaison training. I tried to clarify that: "You mean we cannot endow that power into a person or everybody can be a police liaison?' And then they were still going to do the training. It just didn't make sense and when I brought that up, nobody seemed to get my point.

What we have been successful at is facilitating the spread of information about how to protest and occupy legally. Adbusters has not helped at all with this, by the way. In New York City, it's legal to sleep on the sidewalk. You can occupy half the sidewalk. It's legal to do this as a form of protest, as well. It's illegal to be in a group of more than 20 people in a park, so we're trying to let people know what is legal and what is illegal, just to facilitate a legal, peaceful occupation. We also have seven other spots we can go to if we get kicked out.

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17 comments
Simon matthew
Simon matthew

It would be really great and nice to watch people participation in the event which will involve a couple thousand people dancing to "Thriller," doing yoga in the street ans so on. This would be an amazing view.LNB

guest
guest

How are all those people answering nature's call?

kerouac
kerouac

playwright larry myers 

  wrote

"Wall Street War:Seizure of the Future"

Kapten Nemo
Kapten Nemo

you dont like money, do you? but stll you need work. and you dont want to start a Firm or a company. and the only usefull you can think about is a massprotest.yea we did it in Nam 1960 something for a reason. but I cant find the right purpose this time.the 9/11 wasnt that enouth......we have now a world economic krisis....

Billteud
Billteud

I'm all in favor of ending money's influence on government and creating a more fair society, but wow, I'm amazed at their lack of organization and lack of direction.  I predict it will devolve into a small group of dedicated hippies and career protesters within a few weeks.  Either that or mass arrests after agents provocateurs start a riot. 

And for what?  No one knows.  Not even the protesters, apparently.

Sparkyb
Sparkyb

Make sure to come out and see if your predictions come true-I think we've learned from this article that you can't trust the press for an accurate picture.  With that said, I've never heard of a predictable revolution.

Billteud
Billteud

This is a blog.  Blogs can publish anything they want.  It's not a conspiracy of the main-stream media to oppress you.  It would be very easy for you to find a blog that coincides with your worldview and only tells you the things that you want to hear, but that doesn't mean it will be providing "an accurate picture".

I'd rather spend my weekend at a positive event like Maker Faire that celebrates education and inventiveness, than a negative event like Occupy Wall Street that loudly criticizes and complains but has no clear goals for reform.  Some people just like to get angry and yell, regardless of whether it  has a positive outcome.  Have fun with that!

Remember that 50% of the US population vehemently disagrees with the other 50%.  This is seen by the other side as a "Marxist Mob" trying to take over the country by violent force.  I don't agree with them, but I suspect any "revolution" in the US will require a civil war first.

What is your goal for the protest/revolution? What specifically?

Billteud
Billteud

You really think this protest will be non-violent? 

You really think it will get people together to vote politicians out of office?  You need a majority on your side to do that.  Somehow I don't think a "leaderless consensus-forming structure using rotating facilitators" will make much of an impression on the type who get their news from Oprah.

Jemcgloin
Jemcgloin

I, personally, am hoping for evolution.  As a leaderless consensus forming structure, using rotating facilitators, I feel that the general assembly is the perfect vehicle for those of us without $millions to spend on campaign contributions to get together and agree on what the real middle (not halfway from Republican to Democrat) thinks is good policy and (dare I use the word?) lobby for what real people need, instead of more power and wealth for mega corporations.Having studied history and economics for almost 40 years, I see this as the scariest time since WWII.  Giant transnational corporations and their billionaires are collecting wealth and power like blackholes.  Still I don't think violence will do anything except earn them more profits.  They are more afraid that we will get together and vote their shills out of office and use the power of numbers to create and equitable world.

Will Russell
Will Russell

Hey People, especially those from the GA,

I just wanted to clarify a few things from the article which came out earlier today.  After reading it, I think the tone of it came out way too pessimistic regarding the GA and S17.  More importantly, I didn't mean or expect for things to sound so much against certain tendencies within the GA, especially since nearly everyone involved has been such a pleasure to organize with.  I have an enormous amount of respect for these individuals from the GA both as people and as organizers, even if there are some political differences between us.  In the end I believe we share common goals, which is why I value our relationships and the importance of us working together.

While I do stand by arguments I made, I recognize that the Voice was not the best place to air some of these differences, particularly the one about liaisons, which was inappropriate for me to talk about with a reporter.  If I had fully understood the format of the article which was to be written, I would have refrained from discussing several of these issues and instead have focused on the more logistical issues around S17 and its promotion.

I would also like to clarify that New Yorkers Against the Budget Cuts operates as a separate group from the GA.

 

As an individual I fully stand with the GA, which we have all worked so hard together to build, in the expectation that S17 will be a step forward in the fight against budget cuts and the war on the working class in the United States and internationally.

In solidarity,

Will Russell

Alexa Hamilton
Alexa Hamilton

You know, what I'm all for integrating yoga (slash Thriller-I suppose) into a protest against. "The Man." I'm a bit put off by all the anarchist though. In my experience I've seen them be highly unpredictable. But hopefully there will be a lot of team work and people won't get too out of hand so they can get there point across.

--Alexayogatrainingguide.com

GA Member
GA Member

I'm not sure where Will is coming from on this. I've also attended the GAs, and I haven't seen the anarchist process or the anarchists as destructive or unreasonable: the group has been making decisions based on consensus, and we've been achieving consensus regularly.

The organizing has been going fluidly (if slowly), the people of the GA are working together as a team, and the event is going to be a success. Everyone should come down, not just because it's a bad ass idea and it's going to be fun (both of which are true) but because it is, in fact, an effective method of movement and consciousness building: this is the method being employed by the protest movements in Egypt, Tunisia, Spain, Greece, Israel and elsewhere.

Billteud
Billteud

What's your definition of "success"?  What concrete goals will be accomplished if the event is a success?

K9
K9

I don't know why Will has put himself in a position to speak for the GA. He has shown his misunderstanding of the project by doing so--and reaffirms it whith what he actualy says. Calling out "anarchists" is also extremely unhelpful-- it is clear he has put no effort into actualy finding out what those who disagree w/ him think, prefering to take the position that "they are confused".

Will has shown himself to stand opposed to everything that I and many of my friends in the GA are working for.

Voice, try to find someone better, someone who hasn't staked their ego on manifesting their individual vision of politics, someone who wants to collaborate and doesn't think they know all the answers, to talk to. But thanks for your interest.

dsingsen
dsingsen

@K9: You chide Will for "speaking for the GA," but you then proceed to do exactly the same thing yourself by saying that his vision of it is wrong. Will definitely said some things that he shouldn't have in this article, which he has acknowledged and apologized for, but it seems like you're saying that no one can talk about the GA or say anything about it without being accused of "speaking for the GA."

mr. milkdud
mr. milkdud

A better question is why is the Voice cozying up to Russel.  I know David Graeber, the internationally known anthropologist and veteran anarchist organizer is part of Occupy Wall Street.  Graeber has a decade's experience talking to the press, and a knack for emphasizing the commonalities of a coalition while also appreciating its diversity of tactics- a skill Russel obviously lacks.  In 2005, the Voice did a whole profile on Graeber, now he's not even in their address book?  Are anarchists now blacklisted in their office?

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