Occupy Beyond Occupy

December 28th, 2012  |  Published in Politics  |  3 Comments

Occupying a foreclosed home in St. Paul, MN

As everyone knows by now, Jacobin issue 9 is out (except for you print subscribers, sorry you lot). There’s lots of great stuff there to dig into.

My lead editorial for this issue began its life as a blog post, and it was originally just going to be a quick response to the absurdly wrong-headed hit on Occupy that Tom Frank wrote for the neo-Baffler.

It sprawled, obviously, into a larger chunk of wannabe-Perry Anderson intellectual history. But what I was originally reacting to was an essay whose false conclusions derived from one specific misbegotten premise: that Occupy was obviously and decisively a failure, and a defeat.

The encampments, from lower Manhattan to Oakland, are long gone. And hence, so is Occupy, from the vantage point of people who didn’t really participate in or understand it. But the legacy of Occupy goes far beyond pitching tents in a few parks or public squares. The people who built those camps went on to build a successor politics that’s ongoing, and both its successes and its failures are worth paying attention to. After hurricane Sandy, Sarah Jaffe covered an iteration of this for Jacobin, when the afterglow of Occupy in New York City re-ignited as an impromptu relief organization that put mainstream relief agencies to shame.

But Occupy’s afterlife extends far beyond New York. Anyone who read my contribution to Jacobin 3-4 knows that I feel a special connection to the politics of Minnesota. So I was delighted that my annual Christmas return to Minneapolis coincided with an action from Occupy Homes, which is what the Minnesotan fraction of Occupy has evolved into.

Occupy in Minnesota, as in many other places, begain with an occupation of public space. But in the upper Midwest, it was particularly pressing that activists find something else to expend their energy on that didn’t involve camping outside through the long winter. As Occupy Homes activist Nick Espinosa explained to me, the focus on housing began when a foreclosure victim simply turned up at the camp and told her story. Since then, Occupy Homes has been involved in multiple foreclosure defenses, including one that resulted in (since-dismissed) riot charges against Espinosa and other activists.

The most recent action, pictured above, was as simple and media-friendly as it was politically powerful. We helped to move a homeless family of three into a vacant, foreclosed house in St. Paul, just in time for Christmas. The woman shown speaking above is the previous owner of the house, who is in the process of losing it to US Bank. She gave her blessing and support to the activists from Occupy Homes and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (an ACORN successor organization) as they reclaimed the place for Carrie, Xavier, and young Caleb, shown on the left.

The activists are demanding that US Bank give the house to a community organization and take it as a tax write-off, so that it can be used to house people again instead of sitting empty. But even if the bank won’t play ball, Espinosa told me that they should be able to keep the family from being evicted for at least a month, and quite possibly longer. And Occupy Homes has every intention of creating a publicity nightmare for the local authorities, if they decide to start evicting families on behalf of big banks. With luck, the action I took part in in St. Paul will be the first of many.

Getting a personal look at what Occupy activists are doing in Minnesota reinforced my conviction that the hopeful note on which I ended my editorial was the right one: “The old may still be dying, but the new is already being born. Our task is to help it grow.”