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Dan Lawlor: Where the Occupy Movement is Still Alive

Friday, November 23, 2012


The debates and discussions about the direction of the Occupy Movement continue, even a year after the evictions of Occupy camps across the country. Even in that famously contrarian state, New Hampshire.

Occupy Wall Street (OWS), a global protest against corporate greed, began roughly a year ago. OWS spread from protests in Manhattan to affinity groups in Wilmington (DE), Rochester (NY), Oakland (CA), Denver (CO), Los Angeles (CA), Providence (RI), Austin (TX), Orlando (FL), Boston(MA- where they had an Occupy library!), and, believe it or not, Nashua, New Hampshire.

Marian O'Connor, a participant in Occupy Nashua since fall 2011, describes Nashua as, "Once a thriving mill town, the city has always been a place that’s welcomed immigrants from the French Canadians to other ethnic groups. We’ve seen an increase in the Latino population and have a diverse culture of Puerto-Rican, Columbian, Brazilian, Portuguese and Dominican families moving into the community. In 1989, Money magazine named Nashua the best city to live in the US."

Many people I met in Nashua spoke of a "great little town," a "friendly" feel, "lots of foot traffic," "a Gate City- whether from Lowell or overseas," boutique restaurants and arts stores, and attempts to rehab mill buildings. Most were very proud of the city and its reputation. The downtown is fun to walk around, and the river walk near the public library was beautiful!

But despite New Hampshire's low unemployment rate, high levels of tourism, and low taxes, there are still people frustrated with life on the ground, especially in some of its cities and de-industrializing mill villages. On a recent trip, when I asked a man in Nashua, "Brian," what Rhode Island could learn from New Hampshire, he laughed and said, "I'm actually not working."

Dan Keating , a worker and veteran, is a former communist (“they were sectarian and focused on issues not related to real people”), current Occupy NH participant, and member of the Socialist Alternative Party. "NH is seen as this great model for development," he mentioned, clearly frustrated. "Our [pre-November election] governor was at the new outlet malls proudly touting that the highest number of people in the state are employed in retail. Retail! The jobs that are being created here are low-wage, no hope for the future...manufacturing jobs continue to disappear... We could do so much to invest in green energy - solar, wind, geothermal- and bring back positive, high paying manufacturing in this region..."

Discussing the development of Occupy Nashua, O'Connor writes, "We held a state wide General Assembly in the winter at a Nashua church, and over a period of time, people began attending regularly. Some not so regularly. I would say that most of our members would consider themselves progressives, some Democrat, some Socialist Alternative. Lately, we’ve had attention from Libertarians and the Free State Project. Within Occupy NH there has been conflict over this subject and much disagreement."

The Socialist Alternative Party (of which Keating is an organizer) is an international third party that includes Kshama Sawant, a professor who generated a lot of buzz in the North West alternative press for challenging Washington State's Speaker of the House in this November's election (she won over 20% of the vote). The goal of SA is to build "democratic socialism where ordinary people will have control over our daily lives." In Keating's words, "Wall Street has two parties."

The Free State Project is a movement of Libertarians "to recruit 20,000 liberty-loving people to move to New Hampshire." The goal is to build a critical mass of folks in a selected state to make the place "free" - a site of limited government and maximum individual choice. The Free Staters cite Samuel Adams, “... it does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds...” Tim O'Flaherty, a self-described anarchist, was elected as a Democratic- Free Stater to the New Hampshire House of Representatives.

Despite the different worldviews of Occupy members, the group can point to organized actions.

O'Connor writes, "During the NH Primary, different Occupy groups from all over New England coordinated actions. The Occupy Nashua action was a Pride Parade that was named “Operation Pride”. The idea started on a Facebook thread. There was outrage over many of the GOP candidates like Santorum and Perry coming into NH as a marriage equality state and making demeaning and demoralizing statements about gays. Operation Pride was about showing these guys we are a proud movement and we do not share their homophobic values."

Several hundred people participated in the Operation Pride march.

Occupy New Hampshire is still an organizing presence, with affiliates in multiple cities - Manchester, Nashua, Keene. Occupy NH has translated its actions into political marches, public education through film screenings and discussions, and candidacies for office.

Meanwhile, Occupy Providence kept its aims last year very concrete – specifically the opening of a day shelter for the homeless (in which they were successful!).

More recently, in New York, the Occupy Wall Street sprung into action following the drama of Hurricane Irene to bring food and assistance to residents without power in Manhattan.

I'm not Pollyanna. The protest camps often attracted people with severe needs, some who unfortunately were dangerous and caused real pain, yet the camps were also sites of organized outrage against the current economic and social situation. "The game is rigged!" a decent number of people feel, even if they're reluctant to join up with Ron Paul or the Socialist Alternative. Occupy (and for that matter, the Tea Party) both tap into frustrations with the way things are. If more of us work to build connections across group boundaries inspired by real needs and ideals, then we will see more actual, positive change in our communities.


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