Occupy protestors could spring American Autumn: Is Van Jones, The Next Jessie Jackson?


As deadline loomed for this column, cities across the nation hunkered down in anticipation of massive reactions to the New York City police department’s 1 a.m. November 15 eviction of the two-month old Occupy Wall Street urban village. Hundreds of the sleep-in protestors returned to Zuccotti Park that evening after a judge ruled they could be in, but no longer sleep in the space. The action mirrored similar prior clear-outs across the country. With 52 arrests for violating a downtown park curfew in Atlanta, occupiers there settled for rallying in front of banks and foreclosed houses. In Portland, Oregon, two downtown squares were cleared of encampments and surrounded with chain-link fences, closing them “for repairs.” In Salt Lake City permits allowing an encampment were revoked when a man was found dead in the park. Arrests were also involved in the Portland and Salt Lake City incidents.

After an eviction with 20 arrests in Denver, protestors simply moved to another park. Other cities with significant occupation presence, however, avoided police action. In Burlington, Vermont, the mayor’s office called protestors “generally cooperative” when their encampment outside City Hall was disbanded after one of them shot himself. With 150 tents set up in a downtown square in Boston, the city administration was keeping watch, but had no plans for action. With 450 tents set up on his City Hall lawn, the mayor of Los Angeles said the encampment was peaceful, but couldn’t “go on indefinitely.”

Locally, there seems to have been no hassle at the Occupy Syracuse encampment adjacent to Centro’s Common Center at Salina and Fayette, in front of Chase Bank, across the street from Merrill Lynch. While some occupiers speak cynically of local authorities, most sense a go along and get along attitude, as long as they stay in their geographic space, don’t get too loud and don’t disrupt the bus riders. “I just hope our voices can be heard,” a newbie camping out at Perseverance Park for the past week reflected, “and that there will be change.”

While they maintain a leaderless MO without agenda, however, the Zuccotti eviction has protestors striking new strategic postures with the creation of a multidimensional cyberspace communications network including chatrooms, e-mails, message boards and text messages. And ersatz settlement of the urban villages is not the ultimate line in the sand. Just as the efforts of student sit-ins at southern lunch counters in the Sixties escalated into voter registration drives, agendas will emerge. In Oneida, a group marching in solidarity with the occupiers has enlisted the mayor to support a call for limiting corporate campaign contributions, public financing of presidential and congressional elections, prohibition of former elected officials immediate switch to becoming lobbyists, and collecting a fair share of taxes from that now famous wealthiest one percent.

To graduate from unwieldyness, leaderlessness will also begin to fade. Van Jones, who two years ago resigned his post overseeing green-jobs programs in the Obama administration, is now working full time to coalesce student, environmental, labor, feminist, immigrant groups and organizations of color to help translate the range of Occupy movement issues into electoral results in 2012 by recruiting candidates and training volunteers as local organizers. “You talk about the Arab Spring,” Jones is fond of saying. “We could be on the verge of an American Autumn.”