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Is Occupy Wall Street Dead?

The movement has gone from hibernation to invisible, but can rebirth still flourish summer and beyond?

- Common Dreams staff

"Most of the social scientists who are at all like me - unsentimental leftists - ... think this movement is over," says Harvard University professor Theda Skocpol, speaking to Reuters about the grassroots 'Occupy' movement that began in Manhattan last fall and sparked nationwide encampments of public spaces and opened a long-ignored dialogue about income inequality and unaddressed Wall Street malfeasance.

(Adbusters: Peter Leeman) The guffaws of OWS activists and organizers can already be heard as the news that a Harvard professor has called the movement null and void.

But even Adbusters, the 'culture-jamming' magazine that help spawn the original Wall Street occupation, says that things have changed dramatically for the movement. "Our movement is living through a painful rebirth..." began its frontpage essay this week, and then quoted a Zuccoti park regular who declared, "We are facing a nauseating poverty of ideas.”

Bill Dobbs, a member of Occupy New York's press team, challenged Skocpol's view, explaining to Reuters that he compares the OWS struggle to that of America's civil rights movement - long and uphill, with broad goals to radically alter American society. The first step, he said, has been to re-animate America's long-dormant spirit of social activism.

Adbuster's prescription: flash encampments. But is that enough?

The questions, however unpleasant for some, remain: what now for Occupy? What now for those who still believe in the causes of the movement, but are perplexed on how best to move it forward?

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Reuters: Can Occupy Wall Street survive?Occupy Wall Street activists, one wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, rest on a sidewalk during a May Day demonstration in New York May 1, 2012. (Credit: Reuters/Allison Joyce)

More than eight months after Occupy Wall Street burst onto the global stage, decrying income inequality and coining the phrase "We are the 99 percent," the movement's survival and continued relevance is far from assured. Donations to the flagship New York chapter have slowed to a trickle. Polls show that public support is rapidly waning. Media attention has dropped precipitously.

Bursts of violence, threats of municipal chaos and two alleged domestic terror plots have put Occupy on a recurring collision course with law enforcement.

Even its social media popularity, a key indicator of the strength of a youthful movement, has fizzled since its zenith last fall.

National electoral successes - the legacy of the Tea Party, the other major American grassroots movement created in recent years - are not even on the agenda of the famously leaderless organization.

While the movement's signature triumph has been to draw worldwide attention to income inequality in America and elsewhere, some who are sympathetic say it has nevertheless failed a crucial test of social movements: the ability to adapt and grow through changing tactics.

"Most of the social scientists who are at all like me - unsentimental leftists - ... think this movement is over," said Harvard University professor Theda Skocpol, a liberal academic who wrote a book on the Tea Party.

She and others wonder whether Occupy will ever really thrive without solid footing in the mainstream of American political discourse.

Bill Dobbs of Occupy New York's press team takes a different view. He compares the OWS struggle to that of America's civil rights movement - long and uphill, with broad goals to radically alter American society. The first step, he said, has been to re-animate America's long-dormant spirit of social activism.

"We in America have allowed ourselves to be put into a political coma," Dobbs told Reuters. "Occupy Wall Street has shaken the country out of that coma."

But are sporadic protests enough to change the nation?

*  *  *

Adbusters: Occupy morphs into new model

Our movement is living through a painful rebirth… “There has been a unfortunate consolidation of power in #OWS,” writes one founding Zuccotti. “This translates into ideological dominance and recurring lines of thought. We are facing a nauseating poverty of ideas.” Burned out, out of money, out of ideas… seduced by salaries, comfy offices, book deals, old lefty cash and minor celebrity status, some of the most prominent early heroes of our leaderless uprising are losing the edge that catalyzed last year’s one thousand encampments. Bit by bit, Occupy’s first generation is succumbing to an insidious institutionalization and ossification that could be fatal to our young spiritual insurrection unless we leap over it right now. Putting our movement back on track will take nothing short of a revolution within Occupy.

The new tone was set on Earth Day, April 22, in a suburb bordering Berkeley, California when a dozen occupiers quietly marched a small crowd to a tract of endangered urban agricultural land, cut through the locked fence and set up tents, kitchens and a people’s assembly. Acting autonomously under the banner of Occupy, without waiting for approval from any preexisting General Assembly, Occupy The Farm was notable for its sophisticated preplanning and careful execution — they even brought chickens — that offered a positive vision for the future and engendered broad community support. While encampments across the world were unable to re-establish themselves on May Day, this small cadre of farm occupiers boldly maintained their inspiring occupation for nearly four weeks.

In Minneapolis, a core of occupiers have launched an Occupy Homes campaign that is unique for its edgy tenacity. “What is unusual, in fact utterly unprecedented, is the level of aggression and defiance of the law by these activists,” a spokesperson for Freddie Mac, a U.S. corporation that trades in mortgages, told a local paper. “Over the past week … the city has tossed out protesters and boarded up the house, only to see the demonstrators peel back the boards and use chains, concrete-filled barrels and other obstacles to make it more difficult to carry them away,” the article reports. Last Friday, police were so desperate to prevent a re-occupation of the foreclosed home that they surrounded the house with “30 Minneapolis police officers with batons” and “over two dozen marked and undercover squad cars and a paddy wagon.” Occupiers responded by laughing and signing songs… joyous in their struggle to elevate the home into an symbol of democratic resistance to the banks.

In its own sweet way, our movement is now moving beyond the Zuccotti model and developing a tactical imperative of its own: Small groups of fired up second generation occupiers acting independently, swiftly and tenaciously pulling off myriad visceral local actions, disrupting capitalist business-as-usual across the globe.

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