Photos Sydney Brownstone
On September 17, 2011, Mike Andrews, along with two other proto-Occupy Wall Street organizers, chose Zuccotti Park as the place to host a general assembly. Little did Andrews anticipate that the team’s decision would snowball into a full-fledged occupation. The L sat down with Andrews, who was organizing direct action for May Day at the time, over a beer in Fort Greene to reflect on how far Occupy Wall Street has come—and where it’s going. The following is an edited transcript of that conversation.
The L: How did you get involved with Occupy?
MA: There was the whole financial crisis in 2008, and there was a kind of sense that “Okay, this is really bad. Now, finally, people are going to have to get angry and do something, right?” But nothing seemed to be on the horizon. So in the summer, last summer, and this is a story that’s been told countless times…
The L: To journalists?
MA: Well, yes. But not always by me. Essentially, Adbusters put out the call for an occupation of Wall Street. They, however, didn’t plan on doing any actual organizing. So folks in New York, sort of local radicals or anarchists or organizers kind of got together and said, “Okay, should we do something? Okay, what should we do?” And then on August 2, a group of these people started having weekly meetings. I wasn’t there at the first meeting, but at the second.
That was what effectively became the first meeting of Occupy Wall Street.
We met for six weeks in general assemblies and formulated a plan to have a general assembly on Wall Street. It was not necessarily to have an occupation. We were going to have a general assembly and encourage people to stay and sleep on the sidewalk if they wanted to. So, September 17 came around, and we had our general assembly, which was big and inspiring and great. I helped facilitate the general assembly. And people just stayed. And they stayed another night and another night. It’s a well-known story at this point.
The L: Had you anticipated that at all? Had you made any efforts for people to stay in the park?
MA: No. We were frustrated that Adbusters had made a call for people to sleep, bring tents specifically. And Adbusters were in Vancouver, Canada. They had no idea that in New York there’s a law that says erecting structures is illegal. But there’s also another law that folks have been using, were using, at the occupation at Federal Hall. So we were going to try to use that law and simply say, “Okay folks, if you want to stay over there’s this law. You can sleep on the sidewalks in political protest as long as you don’t block more than half the sidewalk and erect a tent.” We were sort of positioning ourselves to inform people of this law, and inform them of what they could do, but we weren’t positioning ourselves to actually organize an occupation.