As police slowly converge on the Occupy camps in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, The New Yorker published what can only be described as a 6,000-word punctuation mark on the outdoor phase movement. Penned by George Packer, a regular writer of war-themed retrospectives with titles like "The Last Mission" for the magazine, the piece follows one 99 Percenter, Ray Kachel, from his struggle to find a job and avoid homelessness in Seattle to being evicted from Zuccotti Park and ending up, well, homeless in New York City. There are some other characters and references to the burgeoning indoor phase of Occupy — they even have an office! — but Packer skims over a point that plenty of others are making this week. The Occupy movement doesn't actually need to physically occupy anything right now. We're on the cusp of a cultural war that might hibernate this winter, but it's far from dead. In its own obituary of sorts, the ever-edgy New York Magazine is ready to declare the next incarnation of the movement, one that will find a better home on the National Mall in Washington DC: Occupy 2012.
New York's John Heileman sums it up:
The people plotting these maneuvers are the leaders of OWS. Now, you may have heard that Occupy is a leaderless uprising. Its participants, and even the leaders themselves, are at pains to make this claim. But having spent the past month immersed in their world, I can report that a cadre of prime movers—strategists, tacticians, and logisticians; media gurus, technologists, and grand theorists—has emerged as essential to guiding OWS. For some, Occupy is an extension of years of activism; for others, their first insurrectionist rodeo. But they are now united by a single purpose: turning OWS from a brief shining moment into a bona fide movement.
Both the New Yorker and the New York articles couldn't have been better timed, and it seems like everyone's been pontificating about an inevitable end of the movement. Naomi Wolf caught fire over the weekend for a column she wrote for The Guardian in which she spares no hyperbole in parsing through the details of "a coordinated crackdown against peaceful OWS protesters in cities across the nation this past week" as signs that the "heavily surveilled and infiltrated" Occupy movement is entering its next phase. She invokes Tahrir Square and suggests that "what happened this week is the first battle in a civil war; a civil war in which, for now, only one side is choosing violence." Indeed, we've seen local governments start sharing notes about how to deal with the Occupy protests in the past couple of weeks, but Wolf's critics say she came up short. Conceding that the police crackdowns have been far too brutal, E.D. Kain at Forbes says, "She's just deeply, deeply wrong that there’s some shadowy plot to strangle the movement in its crib." Sure, the physical occupations might be winding down, but the movement as a whole, Kain believes, "is just another battle in the culture war."
On Monday morning, several hundred Occupy Los Angeles protesters sat on the steps of City Hall arms locked, signs held high, and waited for their impending, perhaps violent eviction. The Washington Post described a "celebratory atmosphere" and reprots that a number of signs read, "You can't evict an idea." At the movement's own website on Sunday a blogger wrote, "I am not physically at the occupation, but my heart still is" under the headline "OccupyLA Not Going Anywhere, We Are Everywhere!" On the same day in Philadelphia, the deadline for the eviction came and went without incident, but it's becoming increasingly clear that the decline and even fall of the physical camps around the country might matter little to the movement at this point. Many reported after police raided the Occupy Wall Street camp in Zuccotti Park that movement would bounce back twice as strong. Time will tell, but an obituary-like recap of the occupations like Packer's New Yorker item reads very differently from this point of view.
In the midst of the punctuating pieces about the Occupy camps over the weekends, The New York Times offered an enlightening look at Kalle Lasn, the Adbusters founder and man responsible for "the branding of the movement." We're left to believe that Occupy is now well-poised to fight the culture war, with or without physical camps. Lasn and his Adbusters colleagues created the original Occupy Wall Street hashtag on Twitter in July and have since taken a back seat to the movement it helped spark. "There's a number of ways to wage a meme war," Lasn says, and it's a war that needs no physical battlefield. Adbusters may have loaded the canon, but the collective lit the fuse. "This is what Adbusters has done for the past 20 years, to come up with these memes and to propagate them," Lasn told The Times. "That’s what it’s all about: may the best memes win."
And if you witnessed the explosion of awareness around the UC Davis pepper-spraying cop, it's not hard to believe that the Occupiers are the ones with the most powerful ammunition.