When I tell people that I work at a library, a common response is to ask whether I sit around reading books on the job all day. Although asked jokingly, the stereotype contains a kernel of truth and points to a real site of conflict.
May Day was a gamble for Occupy Wall Street, and a necessary one. Instead of heralding a national renewal, springtime has found Occupy short of ideas and running on vapors. Life after the encampments has not led to a generalization of occupations, and the prospect of reestablishing them in their initial form is remote. The 1st of May was logical timing for a revival – or at the very least, a lifeline, a confirmation of vitality, an open door. Bolstered by the call for an expanded general strike, May Day 2012 smelled of hope, but also desperation. Our sense at the outset was that failure in the streets – whether the result of low turnout, police out-maneuvering, or flat repetition of gesture – would radiate far beyond New York, effectively bringing the movement to an impasse. Although our fears ultimately proved unwarranted, there was little in our experience of May Day that augured an escalation of struggle; no spark to set the summer ablaze.
Occupy Oakland’s call for a day-long general strike on November 2 has revived interest in the tactic, calls for which were also heard over the winter in Madison, Wisconsin. Yet the general strike is practically unknown today in the United States, functioning more as a rhetorical index of militancy than a serious proposal for unified action. In solidarity with this movement’s profound rupture in political language, we’ve selected a few important moments in the history of the concept to illustrate its potential directions.
On the morning of October 14, one week into Occupy Philadelphia’s encampment beside City Hall, someone emptied the contents of a paint can on the building’s southwestern entrance. This incident suggests the ambiguity and contradiction in the political imagination of Occupy Philadelphia. What constitutes meaningful action – a spectacular act of vandalism, the peaceful occupation of public property, or direct action on the horizon more confrontational and radical? There has been no shortage of activity – daily marches strike out to the usual targets – but as of yet no dramatic confrontations like those of Occupy Wall Street have occurred.