Occupy has gotten a lot of heat in this city. It has been called a waste of time and resources. To talk just about the Occupy movement does little justice to the activism that took place before Washington Sq park was occupied, and the activism that still takes place in our city. In honor of the 1 year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street I met up with Josh Krause, a local activist, to talk about the legacy of the movement, the beginning and end of Occupy, and what is next for the city’s progressive culture.
You were at Occupy Rochester during the very beginning correct?
Yes I found out about Occupy Wall Street they day it broke. I watched the live stream for 2 weeks straight. After those girls got maced, things went viral and there was a call for a general assembly here in Rochester. We met October 1st at the Liberty Pole; it was local activists, some of the ISO people, and some lefties. From there we decided that we were going to meet at the Flying Squirrel community space for General Assemblies. It was almost a month of meeting weekly before we decided that we needed to take it a step further, and have start General Assemblies outside.
On October 28th we had an event called the “Zombie March” where we marched to different banks; specifically Bank of America and Chase because of their involvement in foreclosures. We ended the march at Washington Sq Park. When 11pm came, the police showed up and told us that if we didn’t disperse we would be arrested. We didn’t leave they arrested all of us, which began the politicization of this Washington Sq Park.
In hindsight I believe we went to quickly, just because we were trying to communicate very complex ideas that got sucked into a narrow narrative of “look at those bums in the park”. Ultimately our message was that we are not represented by our political system anymore, and we have to fight for our own rights.
It seemed like the movement here evolved from a broad Occupy Wall Street view to a more local focus. Does that sound right?
That’s one thing that we never fully acknowledged, we were not Occupy Wall Street, but we modeled a lot of our internal structures after Occupy Wall Street. In a mid-sized post-industrial city it doesn’t really work. Not only because the number of activists isn’t enough to sustain a large movement, but also because we don’t have enough meeting grounds to facilitate a large protest movement.
We have done a lot, but there is still a long way to go. The amount we have gotten done is minimal to the amount that needs to be done. Police here are stopping and frisking people based on the “Cool Down Operation” Basically they are allowed to violate someone’s rights as long as you think that they might, at some time, have any thought of breaking the law in the future. When asked if this violates the rights of citizens the Mayor replied “The ultimate violation of your civil rights is to be shot to death”. That just shows the lack of respect the government has for basic civil rights.
The education here is horrible, the mayor is a corporate crook, the police beat people here everyday, those were the things we were trying to , and still try, to bring to peoples attention.
Now that the occupy movement is out of the park most people thinks its over, is that true?
No, It basically went underground. Occupy Rochester was basically nothing more than a coalition of activist groups around Rochester. All of the various parts are still very active. Here in Rochester, Occupy was never meant to be a ideological organization, it was meant to be a tactic. It was more like the Arab Spring, people rising up and realizing only they can create real change.
You can’t just vote in a president and expect everything to change. The system itself is so corrosive to actual change you have to rise up and do it yourself. You have to have someway to get your narrative out there. It’s not just your narrative, it is the narrative of the 99% of people on this earth.
What is the legacy of the Occupy Movement in Rochester?
It could have worked a lot better. Working with diverse activists is like herding hamsters. You have to get them in the right room at the right time for anything to happen. This is why showing up is the first part of activism.
The definition of an activist is to go somewhere, do something, and share your thoughts with a crowd. You cant post something on Facebook and change the world. You have to get out in front of the media and let the elected officials know that we are watching them.
We have twenty four empty houses for every one homeless person, yet the corporate agenda of America is how do we build more bombs, start more wars, and continue to rob the middle class. Occupy, looking at the past year, changed the dialogue of politics.
Before we were talking about which budget we were going to take, the Democrats who push everything back to 2015 or the Republicans who want to gut the whole system. Now we are talking about the real issues. Corporate greed, corruption from local to federal level, all sorts of environment issues, Federal Reserve being a private bank.
These were not issues that that were brought up before. I think in modern context Occupy needs to be understood as an organic left movement that is completely separate from the democrats that raised these issues.
We are not connected to any party. By definition the political parties are sponsored by money. Doesn’t matter who wins, Goldman Sachs still wins the election this year. That is out in the open now that Occupy had the chance to voice this message.
The government does not give you your basic civil rights, they are guaranteed to you, the government is supposed to uphold those rights. When the government does not uphold them, the people need to hold them accountable.
The biggest criticism of the Occupy movement in Rochester was infighting in the camp. Does that criticism have any merit?
There were people that understood that Occupy was a tactic and needed to keep moving. But there were people that, not on purpose, but so often we replicate old habits of oppression, people started to carve out little pieces of the movement. It held a lot back. When it started the movement was based on autonomous association and working together. Someone would organize a march and people would show support if they believed in the cause. Instead many projects were hindered because people felt they had to get permission from all of the different groups involved with Occupy.
That was a big problem with the “Occupy” name. It formed an organization in which people thought they had to control as opposed to a coalition which it was meant to be.
It’s the movement better off then going underground and loosing the Occupy label?
Absolutely; I tried to position myself in a way from the start to try and keep the movement honest; I later that you couldn’t count on people to be reasonable, and that people will sometimes act like animals. But because of the movement I was able to get in contact with the right people. I knew which people I wanted to work with, so even though the Occupy movement crashed I was still able to stay in contact with different activists and keep going.
I ended up moving in with a friend I had made during the Occupy movement, we have a print shop now. All sorts of activist circles are popping up in the wake of the Occupy camp all with the same view that we have to work together to move towards our goals.
Do you think personal agendas got in the way of an overall goal?
I think that is what is holding the entire human race back. The inability to look outside the personal self, we all feel the same pain but we act like we live in a bubble with no one else around. It’s a huge ego trip.
Everyone has an ego expression. When you are working under a goal of solidarity, you still have ego but you are working to suppress that or channel that into constructive measures.
I am clearly an asshole and ego maniac but that doesn’t mean I don’t have my place in a political organization. My place is not behind a desk organizing things, my place is probably yelling at someone. That’s just what I want to do, but that also keeps me in check. I know I can’t just talk over people and I can’t just expect everyone to feel the way that I do.
So what is the next step?
There is a lot of next steps. Occupy kicked it off but it needs to keep going. For me it is getting the police under control. The idea that one man has the power over an entire police force is tyranny.
If you look at where out country was founded from you see that we have believed that people are born free and we have to fight to remain free against tyrannical structures of government. That is what we have now, never has the human race seen this level of authoritarianism.
What’s next is waking up the American giant. What made this country great was never an elected leader or a social institution. It was people working towards a goal together. Ultimately I would like to see a subversion of the main stream narrative that civil rights and poverty are not to be talked about anymore.
What’s next for Rochester? The housing campaign is going to heat up. Cop Watch and the Rochesterians for Police Accountability is gaining speed and influence. There are even just communal service goals like Food Not Bombs getting off the ground.