Nov 162011
Authors: Jesse Benn

With Occupy protesters getting evicted from their encampments across the country, most symbolically from Zuccotti Park, the movement faces some major challenges. In the most Darwinian of senses, its ability to adapt will now determine its ability to survive.

After last night’s surprise eviction in New York, initial court rulings have not been in favor of the occupation’s right to camp in the parks. And despite my support of the movement, the New York court’s decision was logical and far from a trampling of protesters’ First Amendment rights.

The ruling doesn’t deny anyone the right to protest, but rather, it said that this right doesn’t include camping out in parks indefinitely.

I think another argument could be made that this type of encampment is exactly how this movement’s participants have decided to exercise their First Amendment rights, and that’s a fair argument too. But so far, nobody has made this case strong enough to convince a judge of its validity.

My point, though, is that both sides have a logical argument, and if I disagreed with the protesters’ message, I would be more inclined to side against them.

So what to do now? That’s the question set before the movement.

Occupy Fort Collins has already moved from a permanent encampment to a daily protest — something I support as it’s more manageable and continues to deliver the message. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

And every OWS movement across the country will eventually face the same decision, because no one can camp out forever.

Now is the time for the movement to pick its battles wisely. Instead of fighting the police state that has pretty effectively flexed its muscles in the face of this peaceful movement, move the confrontation from the one they’ve prepared for to one that is less predictable.

Finding new, innovative ways to “Occupy” and protest should be easy if the movement can harness the ingenuity that has been so prominently on display in its art and in its messages.

The protesters can continue operating as a true democracy with weekly General Assemblies — taking votes on the big issues and goals instead of wasting time dealing with the daily social problems arising in the camps.

OWS organizers can work to build partnerships and coalitions with groups that have been fighting for the underprivileged long before the takeover of Zuccotti a few months ago, and at the same time, strengthen the movement as it coalesces around shared values and goals.

Because if OWS gets hung up fighting over how the movement expresses itself —be it through daily protests, marches or permanent occupations — it risks losing its very ability to express itself at all.

Even if a judge eventually rules that OWS protesters are allowed to have tents in the park and remain there indefinitely as an expression of their First Amendment rights, is that really what’s best for the movement?

Personally, I think it’s time to take the movement beyond the parks. It’s time to take the baton from the die-hard occupiers who carried the message around the world and move together toward implementing the changes to our system they’ve brought into the spotlight.

Working with groups like and lawmakers like Bernie Sanders (and Elizabeth Warren in a little while) will legitimize the movement and start the ball rolling on the changes its supporters want to see realized.

This reworking of the movement’s course of action needs to happen. If it doesn’t, OWS is going to continue to get bogged down in petty infighting. If you don’t know what I mean, take a look in the comments section of a post on the Occupy Denver Facebook page — you might even catch me in there getting heated with someone, and you’ll see that the “small stuff” is dangerously at risk of stopping the progress of the “big stuff.”

If the movement doesn’t let itself get too distracted by its eviction from the parks and instead chooses to adapt and move forward, it will survive and remain relevant. If it gets overly focused on fighting to keep permanent encampments in the parks, then it will die or, at best, become stagnant.

The goals of OWS are big, and the path to achieving them is long. Whether or not its participants acknowledge this and roll with the punches — instead of fighting a losing battle — will now determine its success.

Jesse Benn is a senior political science major who has a paper due today. Hopefully it’s finished. His column appears Thursdays and he can be reached at

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