#occupywallstreet

Head into Liberty Plaza in Lower Manhattan, and one is immediately struck by the self-governing nature of the “Occupy” encampment.

A community which adheres to non-hierarchical decision making, Occupy conducts General Assembly meetings which are transparent and open to the public. Meals too are prepared communally, and there’s even a public library. On the other hand, it’s not as if Occupy is putting novel ideas into practice, since the encampment harks back historically to the co-operative movement.

According to the International Co-operative Alliance, an independent non-governmental organisation founded over a century ago, a co-operative is “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise”.

Co-ops, which tend to aspire to other values besides pure profit-making, can be heterogeneous and may range from small-scale businesses to multimillion-dollar enterprises.  

Though co-operatives are now a global phenomenon, they hark back originally to England in the middle of the nineteenth century. In 1844, a small group of cotton artisans from the town of Rochdale established the first modern co-operative business, known as the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society. By pooling their resources and working together, the workers were able to access basic goods at a lower price. Such democratic principles continue to inform the thinking of co-operatives today, even within the bustle of highly capitalistic cities like New York.

With Occupy now sweeping the nation, some may wonder whether the co-operative movement could be poised to seriously take off. One particularly successful business is the Park Slope Food co-op, a market located in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, New York. The business was established in 1973 by a small group of committed neighbours who sought to make healthy and affordable food available to everyone who sought it. 

Today, business is booming and the co-op has more than 12,000 members. By working once every four weeks for three and a half hours, members receive a whopping 20-40 per cent savings on groceries.

To ensure our society is sustainable over the long term, we have to attend not just to environmental issues and climate change, but to the economic crisis, and the depletion of natural resources. Responses that deal with all three aspects of our sustainability predicament will not only be more effective than those that don’t, but they can be framed in terms of whichever aspect can gain broader public support.

The powerful corporate elites who profit from our continued addiction to fossil fuels have misled the public and blocked climate change response.  On the other hand, the Occupy Wall Street movement is successfully raising public attention to economic injustice and the financial crisis, also caused by those elites. Both campaigns are missing crucial parts of the story, but each can supply what the other lacks: a message that has traction with the public, and a clearer strategic focus[…]

Personal changes are necessary but insufficient.  Government action is needed, but is often blocked by political and cultural factors.  By organizing at the community level, wherever we can get traction, we can eventually involve enough citizens to trigger the wider government responses needed.

Occupy Wall Street: Good for the Environment?
Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan — the site of the Occupy Wall  Street protests for the past month — is a pretty desolate place to camp  out: it’s fenced in by glass towers, paved with granite slabs, and  landscaped with a few spindly honey locust trees. There’s no grass or  fresh water, not even a drinking fountain, though there is a tiny flower  garden that the protesters do their best not to trample. The park  itself is only 33,000 square feet, little more than half the size of a  football field. Tourists gather at a safe distance around the park’s  border and snap photos of the 5,000-some-odd protesters as they sprawl,  stretch, pace, paint signs, bang on things, drink bottled water, and,  occasionally, roar. It feels at times less like an acampada than a zoo.
But don’t let that fool you — this arguably is the most technologically sophisticated protest in history. Twitter-born, optics-aware, and social-media savvy, the Occupy Wall Street  activists have managed to capture the nation’s attention and spawn  copycat protests around the world. And so it was both fitting and  charmingly absurd on Saturday afternoon when author and climate activist  Bill McKibben — staging a “teach-in” on climate change at Washington  Square Park before the Occupy Wall Street general assembly — had to  resort to the most analog form of amplification imaginable: the “human  megaphone,” whereby members of the crowd repeat after him, like members  of a gospel choir, to transmit each phrase of his speech to those out of  earshot. (Police had prohibited the use of megaphones.)
"The reason it’s so great…" McKibben said, his long thin arm chopping at the air like a scythe.
"The reason it’s so great…" the crowd echoed.
"That we’re occupying Wall Street…"
"That we’re occupying Wall Street…"
"Is that Wall Street…"
"Is that Wall Street…"
"Has been occupying the atmosphere!"
"Has been occupying the atmosphere!"
"The sky does not belong to Exxon," McKibben continued. "They cannot keep using it as a sewer into which to dump their carbon."

Occupy Wall Street: Good for the Environment?

Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan — the site of the Occupy Wall Street protests for the past month — is a pretty desolate place to camp out: it’s fenced in by glass towers, paved with granite slabs, and landscaped with a few spindly honey locust trees. There’s no grass or fresh water, not even a drinking fountain, though there is a tiny flower garden that the protesters do their best not to trample. The park itself is only 33,000 square feet, little more than half the size of a football field. Tourists gather at a safe distance around the park’s border and snap photos of the 5,000-some-odd protesters as they sprawl, stretch, pace, paint signs, bang on things, drink bottled water, and, occasionally, roar. It feels at times less like an acampada than a zoo.

But don’t let that fool you — this arguably is the most technologically sophisticated protest in history. Twitter-born, optics-aware, and social-media savvy, the Occupy Wall Street activists have managed to capture the nation’s attention and spawn copycat protests around the world. And so it was both fitting and charmingly absurd on Saturday afternoon when author and climate activist Bill McKibben — staging a “teach-in” on climate change at Washington Square Park before the Occupy Wall Street general assembly — had to resort to the most analog form of amplification imaginable: the “human megaphone,” whereby members of the crowd repeat after him, like members of a gospel choir, to transmit each phrase of his speech to those out of earshot. (Police had prohibited the use of megaphones.)

"The reason it’s so great…" McKibben said, his long thin arm chopping at the air like a scythe.

"The reason it’s so great…" the crowd echoed.

"That we’re occupying Wall Street…"

"That we’re occupying Wall Street…"

"Is that Wall Street…"

"Is that Wall Street…"

"Has been occupying the atmosphere!"

"Has been occupying the atmosphere!"

"The sky does not belong to Exxon," McKibben continued. "They cannot keep using it as a sewer into which to dump their carbon."