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