The overnight police raids in Philadelphia and Los Angeles that dismantled two of the US’ biggest Occupy Wall Street encampments leave just a few major “occupations” still going on around the country. However, activists are already changing tactics and warning of a winter of discontent, with rallies and marches every week.
The camps may bloom again in the spring, organizers said, and next summer could bring huge demonstrations at the Republican and Democratic conventions, when the whole world is watching. For now they are promoting dozens of smaller actions, such as picketing the US president in New York and staging sit-ins at homes marked for foreclosure.
“We intend to use this for what it is — basically six months to get our feet underneath us, to get strong,” said Phil Striegel, a community activist in San Francisco.
On Wednesday, masked sanitation workers hauled away 25 tonnes of debris from the lawns around Los Angeles City Hall after police raided the protesters’ camp in the middle of the night and arrested more than 300 people. In Philadelphia, dozens of police patrolled a plaza outside City Hall after sweeping it of demonstrators and arresting 50 people.
In the past few weeks, police broke up encampments in cities like Portland, Oregon; Oakland, California; and New York, where the sit-down protests against social inequality and corporate excesses began in mid-September.
Demonstrators are still at it in places like Boston and Washington, which each had encampments of about 100 tents on Wednesday. Dozens of protesters are fighting eviction from a community college campus in Seattle.
While some observers wondered whether the movement would wither without ground on which to make its stand, many protesters refused to concede defeat.
Protesters in Philadelphia planned a march from the city’s well-to-do Rittenhouse Square to police headquarters on Wednesday afternoon and also called for a “victory march” for today or tomorrow.
“Occupy Philly is alive and well,” said Katonya Mosley, a member of the group’s legal collective. She said members have been communicating via list serves, text messages and e-mail and planned to continue meeting in cafes and other spaces.
While one faction received a permit for a scaled-down protest across the street, she said, Occupy Philadelphia as a whole hasn’t decided whether to go that route. The city has said any new permit would include a ban on camping.
The Occupy movement is beginning to follow a familiar pattern, said Todd Gitlin, a sociologist at Columbia University and an authority on social movements. He noted that the 1960s anti-war movement grew gradually for years until bursting onto the world stage during the election year of 1968.
He predicted big rallies around the Republican National Convention next year in Tampa, Florida, and the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Until then, “I think there will be some kinds of occupations, but I don’t think they’ll be as big and as central,” Gitlin said.
Protesters themselves were trying to draw lessons from history. Yesterday a group of protesters from Occupy Washington planned to set out on a march from the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial on the National Mall to King’s gravesite in Atlanta. Yesterday was also the anniversary of Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus in 1955. That led to the year-long Montgomery bus boycott.