Douglas describes the meetings as a learning process, a way to address the problems he encountered at the old Zuccotti Park general assemblies. After all, in many ways, Occupy Bushwick is a conscious attempt to tailor and localize a movement that grew uncomfortably beyond its borders.
“What really helps to make a general assembly effective is we’re all local, we all know each other,” Douglas says. “Some people come to our meetings and they’re like, ‘Y’all are talking about gardening! We wanna do action.’ And there’s somewhere they can go for that.”
“But to think of Occupy as a long term movement, it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Douglas continues. “And I feel like we’re in the right posture for that.”
If there ever were a time to sprint, Douglas, who—in a deep irony—works in advertising for a large national bank, knew that May Day would be it. As Occupy Bushwick’s “little march” began winding its route along Flushing Avenue, it picked up more protesters along the way. A partial marching band showed up. By the time the group had reached Continental Army Plaza, the protest’s ranks had grown to roughly 200 people.
The response from neighbors and bystanders was atypically and overwhelmingly positive. When Occupy Bushwick crossed a bridge over the highway, trucks beneath them honked in approval. Hands waved from windows, neighbors clapped, and bodega owners came out of their stores to chant with the demonstrators, “El pueblo unido jamás sera vencido!” One protester spoke to a police officer who reassured them she didn’t want anything bad to happen. Later, she handed that protester her card.
For many local OWS factions, May Day was just a beginning. In Manhattan, members of Occupy Bushwick met up with Occupy Astoria, Occupy Sunset Park and Occupy Red Hook. It was unexpected, but hybrid community organizations and Occupy splinter groups have thrived in the fragmentation of the larger movement.
When I ask Andrews what this kind of decentralization might mean for Occupy’s future, he pauses and takes a moment to think before answering. “I think Occupy is actually not a group of people,” he says. “It’s a tactic and it’s a set of principles. And that if you employ that tactic and adhere to those principles, you’re part of the Occupy movement.”
He continues. “That’s why after September 17, when this whole thing caught on, you had people in dozens, if not hundreds of cities across the nation, set up something in a square or park. They didn’t call us and say ’Hey, can we be part of this movement?’ They didn’t apply for membership.”
With Elected Officials On Their Side
On April 30, four City Council members, a local Democratic official, journalists and protesters filed a 143-page federal civil rights lawsuit against the NYPD for violating the constitutional rights of those present at the Occupy protests. The impetus stemmed largely from a blundering arrest of Ydanis Rodriguez, a Council Member and the lead plaintiff on the case, back at the eviction of Zuccotti Park on November 17. While Rodriguez had been accused of resisting, he claimed he was “physically attacked by multiple officers with night sticks for no apparent reason” and was seen later bleeding from the head. Charges against Rodriguez were eventually dropped.