In my view, the most impressive accomplishment of the #occupywallstreet and Occupy Together movement is the speed with which we have found a collective voice -- without resorting to cookie cutter slogans or short term policy demands. This hasn't been easy. Coming from the perspective that nearly everything in the system is broken, where exactly do you start? Yet the coherence of the OWS vision is obvious from the speed with which it has spread to 1,000 similar occupations around the world. My own participation in Occupy New Plymouth has to be one of the most inspiring, soul-changing experiences of my life. Not only has it given me the unique privilege of connecting and hearing the views of young (some high school age) activists, but it has taught me how to totally set aside my usual routine for the more important task of change making.
Occupy New Plymouth started with a rally of about 35, and an open forum in which activists read statements and spoke about their reasons for participating. The forum was videoed and will be uploaded to YouTube. It was a big shock for the older established activist community to meet a strong cadre of 15 young (some high school age) well-read activists with highly developed political views. Neither group had any idea the other existed.
A total of about 50 of us maintained the occupation throughout Saturday with five maintaining it overnight. The occupation has received surprisingly strong support from the community and the police (we're right across from the New Plymouth police station). People of all ages drop in throughout the day to ask about our reasons for occupying Robe Street Park and express their own thoughts about fixing a broken New Zealand economy and political system. My main role has been helping to coordinate food and other necessities. Occupy New Plymouth updates are available from http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=227956857259804
The Occupy Together protests were larger in the bigger New Zealand cities (New Plymouth only has a population of 55,000). Wellington had a kick-off rally 200, with a dozen maintaining the occupation overnight; several hundred marched in Christchurch, with thirty staying overnight; in Auckland 2,000 marched up Queen Street with 100 committed to maintaining the occupation until November 30; in Dunedin (a strong student town) there is an on-going occupation of 70 on the Upper Octagon. Occupy Invercargill had a similar turnout as New Plymouth but have yet to post a Facebook update.
Refusing to Let the Media Define Us
I feel the second most important accomplishment of the #occupywallstreet movement is our absolute refusal to let the media to define us. I was sitting next to our spokesperson Luke (age 17) when the Taranaki Daily News rang him Sunday to find out why Occupy New Plymouth was still occupying the park in front of the courthouse. Luke had already given them a detailed explanation on Saturday about the New Zealand political process being totally controlled by international banks and corporations and the 1% of New Zealanders who own most of this country's wealth. That wasn't good enough. They wanted to know specifically what was going on in New Plymouth that we were protesting.
Luke covered the phone to consult with the rest of us. "We don't have a say," I suggested. The others seemed to like this. The reporter didn't get it. "We all feel that we don't have a say in government policy," Luke explained. Today's Daily News also quotes from a pamphlet Occupy New Plymouth handed out stating, "One in five of our children currently live in poverty," and Our government repeatedly undermines democracy by passing legislation under urgency to fast track public consultation." (http://www.stuff.co.nz/taranaki-daily-news/news/5795147/Protesters-line-up-against-corporates)
The national coverage of New Zealand Occupy Together occupations (which TVNZ refers to as Anti-Greed Protests) in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill has been mostly even handed. However we have received the same criticism - of being incoherent and disorganized - as the American OWS protests. I suspect the New Zealand coverage we're getting stems from success of US activists in transforming initial dismissiveness and derision to grudging respect.
The Media Already Know Why We're There
After a valiant attempt to ignore #occupywallstreet, the US media pretended not to understand why the American people might be unhappy with the corporate takeover of government. It's an extremely flimsy faÃ§ade. Witness the abrupt turnabout by the New York Times in their October 9 editorial, under the headline "It's obvious what they want. What took so long, and where are the nation's leaders?" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/opinion/sunday/protesters-against-wall-street.html)
The editorial speaks of "income inequality grinding down the middle class, increasing the ranks of the poor, and threatening to create a permanent underclass of able, willing but jobless people" and the outrage being "compounded by bailouts and by elected officials' hunger for campaign cash from Wall Street, a toxic combination that has reaffirmed the economic and political power of banks and bankers, while ordinary Americans suffer."
It concludes with the highly insightful paragraph:
"It is not the job of the protesters to draft legislation. That's the job of the nation's leaders, and if they had been doing it all along there might not be a need for these marches and rallies. Because they have not, the public airing of grievances is a legitimate and important end in itself. It is also the first line of defense against a return to the Wall Street ways that plunged the nation into an economic crisis from which it has yet to emerge."