As Occupy Wall Street enters its third month and its members try to regroup from Tuesday's police raid of Zuccotti Park, Occupy Vermont protesters are suggesting that the movement use the eviction as an opportunity to move into a new phase.
Protesters in Burlington, Vt., told the Burlington Free Press on Wednesday that they thought the New York Police Department's use of force and the perceived suppression of free speech by Mayor Michael Bloomberg could rally more supporters to the Occupy cause.
The heavy-handed police-style crackdown in NYC has a silver lining in that it will garner public sympathy, one protester, Suzanne Schultz Sakai, wrote on the Occupy Vermont-Burlington Facebook page. Now the protesters can take that sympathy ... and think of a new tool to capture the public's attention.
Hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protesters did just that on Thursday, taking to the streets around the New York Stock Exchange. A group of Occupy Vermonters traveled down to New York to join in, while others held a companion demonstration in Burlington.
Is a New Strategy Ahead?
In her Facebook post, Sakai urged the movement, both in New York and elsewhere, to come up with a new strategy.
It doesn't have to be camping ... it's getting too cold anyway, she wrote. What shall the new tool be? I vote for a nonviolent protest tool that will capture the public's attention, broaden interest and appeal, as the camping did in the First Phase. ... A significant portion of the broader public is actually with us on a lot of the issues themselves. We need to keep them with us on the protest tools we use as well. This is a wonderful opportunity to launch into Phase Two.
Occupy Vermont has already moved into that new phase since the Burlington encampment was disbanded after one of the protesters died last Thursday from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound. At the request of police, the protesters voluntarily took down their tents, allowing them to recapture public support by appearing to be flexible and reasonable, Sakai wrote. But they have remained visible by holding fundraisers and marches in downtown Burlington.
But Occupy Wall Street does not seem to have any intention of abandoning the occupation component of the movement. While it has supplemented the occupation with marches around the city and spent Thursday afternoon taking our own stories to the trains at 16 subway hubs in all five boroughs, the focus remains very much on Zuccotti Park, which the protesters reentered on Thursday in spite of a court decision upholding the eviction.
Zuccotti Park: Important to the People Who Claimed It
I really get the sense that Zuccotti Park has meaning for the people that were occupying, Heather Gautney, a sociology professor at Fordham University in Manhattan, told the International Business Times. I don't think they're ready to give that up yet. I think people still want to fight for that space, even if the sleeping out doesn't work, to still occupy the park.
The sheer size of the movement in New York makes it different from the spinoff movements in small cities like Burlington, if only because the Occupy Wall Street protesters have the numbers to withstand mass arrests, said Gautney, a social movements expert who has visited the protesters in Zuccotti Park multiple times.
I wouldn't be surprised, either, if they tried to occupy other spaces illegally, other parks, she said. I don't get the sense that people are afraid of getting arrested or of civil disobedience, [and] I don't think that it's just going to remain in the realm of demonstrations. I think they want to stay really contentious, because they can.