Those of you who rely on corporate-sponsored media for your news may not realize that a non-violent occupation of Wall Street has been in progress since Sept. 17, 2011. The occupiers, whose number quickly grew from several dozen to several hundred present at any given time, are protesting on a broad platform of interrelated issues. Most (but not all) have to do with the privilege and power enjoyed by large corporations in our current economic and political landscape: corporate welfare (bailouts, enormous tax breaks), disproportionate political representation and the many forms of social, political and economic injustice that result. The General Assembly (as the occupation calls itself, though the handle “Occupy Wall Street” is also often heard), is devoted to the principle of direct democracy and rejects top-down leadership. And so the group’s self-definition – as represented by such things as a statement of purpose and a list of demands – is a work-in-progress being collectively composed at twice-daily meetings called GAs or general assemblies.
As the official website of the NYC GA (itself a work-in-progress) explains, “New York City General Assemblies are an open, participatory and horizontally organized process through which we are building the capacity to constitute ourselves in public as autonomous collective forces within and against the constant crises of our times.” The assemblies, along with the ever-growing number of Working Groups whose preparatory work feeds into them, are open to the public – in fact the public is encouraged to attend and become part of the process. The easiest way to get involved is just to show up for a GA – they’re held daily at 1:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. near the northeast corner of Liberty Plaza (a.k.a. Zuccotti Park), a square bordered by Broadway just a few blocks north of Wall Street. You will be astonished by the effectiveness of the “people’s mike” (human voices substituting for electrically amplified sound, which would require a police permit) and by the seriousness of the occupation’s goals and participants. Many have traveled across the country to take part. And many smart and influential people are taking the occupation very seriously. When I showed up this afternoon, both David Patterson and Cornel West were there. Last night I heard Russell Simmons when he dropped by to visit the General Assembly, and Michael Moore was in attendance as well, filming a program about the occupation for Lawrence O’Donnell’s show on MSNBC. The police have taken the movement seriously too, resulting in several horrifying incidents of obvious abuse and brutality last Saturday afternoon (slamming a press photographer’s head against the bumper of a car, blasting pepper-spray in the faces of young women standing peacefully on the sidewalk) – abuses carried out largely if not exclusively by high-ranking officers. There is a protest march from Liberty Plaza to One Police Plaza planned for 4:00 p.m. tomorrow. But protesting police brutality is only a small part of the occupation’s work.
And now a Working Group for Translation has been created, with the mission of organizing the translation of key GA materials into as many of the languages spoken in the greater NYC area as possible. These materials will then be available both for local use and, via the GA’s website, to people around the world interested in what we are doing. I am proud to be a member of this Working Group, which has no leader but, like the rest of the GA, works by consensus. Several of us met today and decided that our most urgent task was preparing documents for the big solidarity march planned for this coming Saturday; it will begin at Liberty Plaza at 3:00 p.m. and end with a donated picnic on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge, with special guests including Amiri Baraka. A flyer is in preparation for that event, and when it’s released we’re hoping we can get it translated into at least Spanish and Mandarin in time to be printed up beforehand. But for the longer range we are hoping to assemble a large pool of translators, representing as many different languages as possible, who are interested enough in the work of the occupation to be willing to donate their time and skills to translate at least some of the GA’s most important documents as they are released. This is where YOU come in. If you would like to volunteer your services to help the occupation, please e-mail me your contact information as well as the language(s) you can translate. At this point we are looking primarily for translators who can translate out of English into other languages, not the other way around. A web page that will allow for easy downloading and uploading of these documents is in the works.
We would also like – for Saturday’s march, i.e. ASAP – to assemble a handbill containing the slogan for the march (“Join the 99% of us who want to take back our country from the 1% who stole it”) in as many different languages as possible. If you are able and willing to translate this sentence, please do so in the Comments section below this blog entry (and please specify the name of the language, in case it’s one I might not recognize). Your participation is much appreciated. Power to the people!