Social Text on Occupy Wall Street

Continuing a series of shout-outs to interdisciplinary journals hosting content related to the Occupy movement on their blogs, it is time to highlight the Social Text collective’s series, “Dispatches from an Occupation.” Written by New York-based scholar Hannah Chadeayne Appel, these dispatches, introduced here, present ethnographic observations of Occupy Wall Street since mid-October.

On the “people’s mic”:

Amplified sound requires a permit in New York City for which OWS has applied repeatedly, and been denied. While this ordinance is unevenly enforced across the city’s landscape, violating it in Liberty Park would give the police an expedient rationale to end the occupation. Yet messages still have to be communicated to thousands of people, whether during decentralized days of small-group work or during the nightly General Assembly meeting at 7pm. The people’s microphone is the solution. Perhaps tracing a genealogy to the phrase’s use in hip hop, the call of “mic check!” followed by its response, “mic check!” from all who heard, begins what is one of the most definitive experiences of communication at the occupation–the repetition and amplification of one another’s voices.

On the first threatened eviction of Zuccotti Park under the pretext of cleaning the park:

First, some background on “dirt” in Liberty Park. As the occupation began, OWS requested port-a-potties and dumpsters from the city. These requests were denied, arguably to hasten a situation in which the city could label the occupation a public health hazard. And yet, with neither on-site bathrooms nor adequate waste facilities, the Sanitation Working Group and the citizens of Occupy Wall Street have kept Liberty Park remarkably clean. Not only is the ground free of trash, but there is a recycling system in place as well. The kitchen, which feeds up to 2,000 people per day, not only maintains astonishing cleanliness in service and disposal, but filters used dish-water through a plant and stone gray water filtration system, using the cleaned water to nourish the park’s flowers.

With these practices of as-clean-as-possible living already in place, the OWS response to Bloomberg and Brookfield’s cleaning order set out to prove that “dirt” or sanitation was not in fact the issue, but rather that the occupation’s contravention of social norms–matter out of place–was at stake.

On the rituals of the General Assembly model:

Every night, the GA meeting at Liberty Park starts with members of the facilitation working group (WG) introducing themselves over the people’s mic to those assembled. All are welcome at these meetings, and downtown’s after-work crowd often fills in the twilight square, with others lingering around the edges. Meeting facilitators change every evening, and anyone can facilitate a GA after attending a facilitation training, held every afternoon at 5pm. In general GAs are co-facilitated, and meetings begin with the two facilitators introducing themselves, followed by introductions from those filling the other facilitation-team roles: stack-taker, stack-greeter, time-keeper, and minute-keeper. There is clearly an increasing effort to keep this nightly team diversified by gender, ethnicity, nationality, and sexuality, though less-so by age.

See the full series of dispatches here, and more Occupy-related writings in the Politics and Activism section of the Social Text blog.

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