The occupation of Zuccotti Park was always going to have a tough time enduring for much longer. As the initial excitement wore off and the cold crept in, only the diehards -- and those with no place else to go -- were likely to remain. The numbers in Zuccotti Park would thin, and so too would the media coverage. And in the event someone died of hypothermia, or there was some other disaster, that coverage could turn. What once looked like a powerful protest could come to be seen as a dangerous frivolity.
In aggressively clearing them from the park, Bloomberg spared them that fate. Zuccotti Park wasn't emptied by weather, or the insufficient commitment of protesters. It was cleared by pepper spray and tear gas. It was cleared by police and authority. It was cleared by a billionaire mayor from Wall Street and a request by one of America's largest commercial real estate developers. It was cleared, in other words, in a way that will temporarily reinvigorate the protesters and give Occupy Wall Street the best possible chance to become whatever it will become next.
I don't see it. Maybe if the purging of the occupiers had been as brutal and violent as the October 26 clash between police and Occupy Oakland, this would be true -- but why would anyone want something like that to happen again? The New York occupiers are going to see this as an outrage, as are people who are already sympathetic, but to anyone who's hostile to the movement, or even just wary, it's going to look like a measured (and, for some, long overdue) response. And OWS didn't end this on its own terms, which conveys a sense of weakness.
Derek Thompson of The Atlantic has a reaction similar to Ezra's:
The protesters were lucky to be kicked out of Zuccotti last night.... Last night's raid gives them a banner headline in newspapers across the country and lets this particular occupation with a bang instead of the whimper of a three-month trickle-out. Just as nationwide enthusiasm was starting to wane, the raid reminds the nation where the movement started....
Whether or not the protesters return to their tents, New York police have given them a chance to lift up, take stock, and pitch their energies in an issue worth occupying....
But they could have done this on their own terms and under their own power, and that would have made them seem stronger.
The New York Times reports that Adbusters has been thinking along those lines:
In a new "tactical briefing" issued on Monday, hours before the Occupy Wall Street camp was raided by the police, the editors of Adbusters, the Canadian, anti-consumerist magazine that dreamed up the movement, suggested that it might be time for the protesters to "declare 'victory'" and scale back the camps before winter sets in.
...Imagine, on a Saturday yet to be announced, perhaps our movement's three month anniversary on December 17, in every #OCCUPY in the world, we reclaim the streets for a weekend of triumphant hilarity and joyous revelry.
We dance like we've never danced before and invite the world to join us.
Then we clean up, scale back and most of us go indoors while the die-hards hold the camps. We use the winter to brainstorm, network, build momentum so that we may emerge rejuvenated with fresh tactics, philosophies, and a myriad projects ready to rumble next Spring.
I don't know about the dancing. I do like the idea of leaving on the occupiers' own terms -- or, better, moving directly on to other actions on their own terms.
Derek Thompson has some suggestions for future Occupy activities. Try not to put your fist through your screen when you get to the third suggestion:
Maybe they should focus on student debt reform. Today, student debt lives with you until you die and cannot be unwound in bankruptcy court; perhaps it should be. Maybe they should focus on the minimum wage, which has declined in real value for the last few decades. Maybe they call for repealing the Bush tax cuts, a savvy request that would represent broad sacrifice (it would raise taxes on almost all households, but mostly at the top) to demonstrate to Americans that the movement is willing to sacrifice for its ultimate goals. There is also welfare reform, unemployment benefit support, and other platforms that would aim to support the least well-off.
A few of us were actually discussing this at the Manhattan Balloon Juice meet-up on Sunday. My idea? Occupying foreclosed homes (with residents' permission, but, of course, against the wishes of foreclosers). Get in out of the cold and stick it to The Man! Act in the spirit of neighbors who blocked farm auctions during the Great Depression! That's what I wish the Zuccotti Park occupation could have proudly segued to -- with dignity, not dragged kicking and screaming. But it's still a possible Phase 2.