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Friday, October 14. 2011
Anyone who is familiar with the Occupy Wall Street movement knows that it has more or less 'settled' Zucotti Park. This is a very small area (roughly 33,300 square feet) down by the World Trade Center. It's a private park owned by Brookfield Partners. It has no habitable area, but the squatters are creating their own living conditions. They claim they will stay for as long as they have to.
Most of us doubt this is true. I'm willing to bet the minute the TV cameras leave, or the first large snowstorm blows through, most of them will leave. What if they don't, though? Could they stay forever?
It's possible. The potential is there. In fact, there is history supporting this kind of thing. So let's take a look at what might happen if these people never leave.
If you've ever been to Denmark, or Copenhagen specifically, you might be familiar with Freetown Christiana. Christiana is an old military barracks/base which was abandoned by 1970. In 1971, local residents broke down the fence to create a playground, and eventually many people began living in the facilities because housing in Copenhagen was hard to come by. It became a relatively autonomous commune. I found out about it as a teen, when I visited Copenhagen in 1976. At the time, I was deemed "too young" to see it. Seven years later, as a college student living abroad, I visited Copenhagen and this time I made three trips to Christiana. I will admit, it was a great party. But even then I realized it was no place to live. I was alternately impressed and repulsed. With each visit, I was less and less impressed.
As I said, Christiana is, or was when I was there, a great party. All kinds of mind altering goods were readily available, and on one of the first nights in Copenhagen I saw several bands in the renowned Loppen venue. This is an old hangar which was taken over and turned into a music/party hall. It's well established by now and hosts excellent music. And the night I was there was amazing. Well, what I remember of it was excellent. The details, as the night progressed, become quite hazy. I remember waking up and having to navigate my way through Copenhagen at 6am in order to get back to the apartment where I was staying. At the time, I considered this a great evening of partying and I was determined to revisit.
Revisit I did. Two more times with my college buddies. These visits, however, were about seeing the sights. And what we saw was not pretty. Considering this was 1983, and the people had settled there for about 11 years or so, one would have thought some kind of development or improvement had taken place. It hadn't, however. Sure, there were plenty of families, and there were plenty of 'businesses', but there was nothing substantial. It was an autonomous collective, but it was barely livable. There were rules, and part of the rules were that the residents tended to frown on people like me, gawking at their living space. We weren't treated poorly, but we certainly were not made to feel welcome. It was clear we were outsiders.
There were open markets that looked neither healthy or coordinated. There were 'chemists' who sold homeopathic remedies. Everything was non-commercial and the intrusion of commercial goods was considered a crime of sorts.
Dirt was everywhere, nothing appeared clean. By the time my second visit ended, I was still somewhat impressed that these people had pulled together and formed a community and were able to throw some outlandish parties. But I was already repulsed by the drug infestation, dirty children playing in hazardous conditions, and a general aimless atmosphere.
The third, and last, visit was worse. I really didn't feel welcome at all this time. As I walked through, it became apparent that my clothing was what set me apart. Clothing, and my general grooming, which was not impeccable, but was not nearly as disheveled as most of the locals. On this visit, I was looking at 'architecture' and art. I have to admit, the art was pretty impressive. The 'architecture' was not. The idea was that codifying rules for building or living was inconsistent with communal living and the advancement of a truly free society.
By the end of my time in Copenhagen, I had decided the autonomous collective movement is fine if you're willing to live a spare existence. If you believe that corporations and commercialization are 'bad', and you're willing to not have the wonderful things they bring, it's a great way to live. On the other hand, is it fair to assume others should or must live this way? Which is why Christiana is a good thing. It keeps the 'dream' of the autonomous collective alive, but acts as a sober reminder of the very shortcomings of this system for those who wish to live outside.
As a result, Zucotti Park could stick around for a long time. Its size clearly limits the impact it's likely to have - it could never be like the relatively huge Christiana. But there is staying power, and there is a model to which Zucotti denizens could point for continued existence.
Much has changed for Christiana, though. Many rules have been instituted, and public officials have cracked down many times in the last 28 years. There are several businesses which have since opened in Christiana, trying to adhere to the themes of the areas founding, but clearly altering these themes at the same time. As time went on, complaints about Christiana increased, even as the area worked to clean itself. The 'beauty' of a 'free zone' was consistently offset by the crime and hazards which accompanied the seemingly generous 'freedoms' left unmanaged by the collective. Despite recognizing their own shortcomings, the collective was unable to create a viable, safe, ongoing culture. In 2007, rights to the base were ceded back to the city over a 10 year period. The city's rights to the base have been upheld in court. Over time, Christiana will once again be a full and integrated part of Copenhagen.
Can Zucotti Park last forever? Sure, why not? But the prospects are dim. It's nowhere near as large as Christiana. But this is a benefit, too. Smaller collectives are easier to manage. The real issue is property rights. Since they do not have the right to occupy the space they are in, they must rely on the willingness of Brookfield Partners to allow them to remain. So far, this has not been a problem. At some point, if the occupiers begin to see complaints increase, the inevitable crackdown will come.
More likely, however, the TV cameras will leave. At that point, the OWS movement will cease to generate any organic interest and fade away. It lacks proper organization, it has no goals, no solutions, and no management. It is a grand party, however, and that will attract people for quite some time, just as Christiana did. Like Christiana, it's hard to call OWS illegitimate, because it's easy to sympathize with at least a few grievances which they have stated. However, in my experience, if you have a grievance you should not air it until you have a solution prepared to deal with that grievance. This is what creates a beneficial growth environment. Christiana survived for many years because its residents found short term solutions to keep it together. In the long run, they had no solutions to their worst problems.
Lacking in solutions, Zucotti Park will die. But it may take quite a bit of time, as the history of Christiana might suggest.
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Re OWS, I'm just waiting for the first snows. That will clear up the situation rather promptly, I expect.
If you want to occupy somewhere for the long haul, it's usually better to do it somewhere like Berkeley where the weather is better.
most likely, when the snows come, NYC, the Red Cross, and "mercy groups" will start handing out free heaters, tents, etc. to the squatters...
Useful idiots, the lot of them.
Right now, people take turns cleaning and doing jobs around Zucotti. Ben and Jerry's showed up and gave away free ice cream.
Several celebrities (part of the 1%, mind you) have voiced their support for the "99%".
Several have provided food, medical care, and other forms of material support.
Over time, however, the people volunteering to do the work will tire of the freeloaders. The celebrities will lose interest when the cameras leave and they get no marketing bang for their buck. The freeloaders will be forced to either live in squalor or pay for things which were previously free. The volunteers will move on to something more 'meaningful', because that's what they do - they are the true believers.
Meanwhile, let's just sit back and enjoy the show. I'm not angry at them. I consider them a drain on city resources, though. I don't consider them illegitimate. Crony capitalism is a problem. Too bad that's not their only message. In fact, if they had a cohesive message, I might be more sympathetic.
Most importantly, I want them to provide solutions. Solutions are what make things work, long term.
i agree with most of your points and am glad to hear a modicum of sympathy since the tirades seem a bit much given that we are talking about a young demographic which doesn't necessarily have much life experience to draw upon. crony capitalism IS a problem. but they do not have the education/tools for the most part to figure out the specifics of the problem nor the solutions, they are just experiencing the detritus since things are expensive and jobs are tough to find. doesn't mean they shouldn't figure out how to get off their tushes to do something other than complain about it or expect someone else to solve their problems. but they are perhaps copying some of us grown ups. present company excluded, of course.
FWIW, I wouldn't say I have sympathy for them at all. I consider them misguided and out of touch with reality. I have sympathy for a very small part of their agenda.
I see people like Russell Simmons, Ben and Jerry, and several other celebrities voice sympathy. These people put effort into getting where they are.
They accomplished things.
I don't see the people in the OWS movement doing that. I see them placing blame. We've discussed this quite a bit on Maggie's. Blame doesn't fix things.
yes, i didn't mean to exaggerate your sympathy. just the few elements that might be worthy of it - if they knew how to focus on something useful. and being part of the solution.
sorry, i should also explain the backdrop of my comment - i don't think we should give this generation or movement up to the forces surrounding them that make them think the blame thing is a valid game plan. it's not. but if those who think gov't is the solution to it all, and that capitalism is evil, we who think differently are not working our case very well by getting obnoxious about their "movement".
This is no generational "movement." As Mead said, it's the usual suspects who show up for any protest.
I don't support the Tea Party - but didn't these very same people get 'obnoxious' about the Tea Party?
I don't think we need to be obnoxious 'just because'. But tit for tat is a valid concept for growth and retribution and proven to work time and again.
I'm willing to give them a smidgen of credit for being willing to speak up. Beyond that, I give them nothing mainly because they didn't give credit to those who came before them and offered solutions.
They are, primarily, freeloaders supported by celebrities and the press seeking to make a misguided point.
Fair's fair. If they think anyone is being obnoxious about them - maybe they should think about what they are doing to make that happen.
maybe it's a local thing and varied by location....the folks here holding up the signs or hanging out (even in the rain) appear to be either young with nothing else better to do and looking for some "excitement" or "cause" - or older and looking for a job.
i didn't say they "they think anyone is being obnoxious about them"....I am merely commenting from my own experience of plenty of negative comments in blogs and elsewhere.
"I don't support the Tea Party"
Well, at least you're honest about it. As a way to express my support for your honesty, try this site.
I have to leave if I don't support the Tea Party?
I have nothing against the Tea Party. I just don't support them. I know quite a few people who are members here in NJ, nice guys. It's just not my cup of.....
Some things never change. The OWS call themselves the "99%" for the same reason Lenin's tiny faction named itself "Bolshevik." Because names convince more people than evidence.
No way this last as an encampment.
First off, Brookfield isn't going to cede millions of dollars worth of property in the hear to NYC. So at some point they will have to end the squatting to protect their property rights.
Second, if they are left alone, then the real homeless of NYC will start to show up. Especially, if the evil corporations keep trucking in free food. Even more if someone provides heaters.
Third, the local small businesses that are being abused will stop cooperating and even start closing up if their sales stay low.
Fourth, eventually, the Wall Streeters will tire of this sideshow and either "suggest" it be shut down or start moving their operations elsewhere since really all Wall Street is, is office fronts. The backend with the data, etc, are not in the city. At least, for any company that want to stay in business after the next attack.
I tend to agree. I really think property rights will eventually be the issue which forces them to leave.
Brookfield is probably OK with all this for now, but when a few lawsuits show up ("oh, I cut my finger", "I broke my ankle"), they will absolutely not stand for it anymore.
However, assuming these people are actually high-minded and don't sue Brookfield (it's already happening, I'm sure), I can see it lasting. Why not? Weirder things have happened.