SitRep: Occupy Wall Street’s “Summer Disobedience School!” Workbook
With headlines like “Could the end be near for the Occupy Wall Street movement?” and “Can Occupy Wall Street survive?” one wonders how much longer the Occupy movement will continue. The major events some thought would reinvigorate the movement—May Day and the NATO protests—were underwhelming and derailed by violence (in the case of May Day, at least).1
To help rejuvenate its efforts, the Occupy movement released its “Summer Disobedience School!” workbook in May.2 The workbook’s primary focus is to explore the extent and effects of capitalism over the course of twelve weeks. It aims to do so by translating its principles of participatory democracy into pedagogical principles (in the spirit of major pedagogical theorists like Paulo Freire and bell hooks).
The workbook, however, does not only establish the curriculum and pedagogical principles for the school sessions. It also contains the lyrics to protest songs (set to classic songs and anthems), drawings, and places for note-taking. The workbook, I would argue, divides its focus between actual pedagogical principles and continued efforts at building community amongst Occupiers. While Occupiers may feel constrained by the tentacles of capitalism, I’m not sure what good coloring in an octopus will do in the attempt to break capitalism’s stronghold on the 99%.
Conor Tomás Reed presents a much clearer pedagogical approach for the Occupy movement in his piece “On the City as University: Occupy and the Future of Public Education.”3 Reed, obviously drawing from the principles established in David Harvey’s recent work on cities and urban revolution4, advocates a form of “crowd scholarship” as the way to educate, based as it is in experience and dialogue rather than traditional, hierarchically-structured classroom settings.
Perhaps the most important—and impressive—incarnation of crowd scholarship is “Free University,” a discussion-based model of education, free from the bureaucratic constraints of formal academia, that is becoming immensely popular amongst Occupiers. As Reed says, the lessons of Free University, or “Free U,” are meant to be “catalyzed into movement activity.”
In my estimation, neither the workbook nor the Summer Disobedience School itself are enough to reinvigorate the movement. Occupiers should concentrate their efforts on educational programs like Free University. Since the movement began, its greatest success has been changing the national dialogue and getting Americans to talk about the real problems facing the country and the economy today.5 If the movement pours its efforts into education, it stands the best chance of continuing to positively alter the national dialogue—and potentially even the national conscience.
* For earlier discussion of Occupy Wall Street, see “Is #OccupyWallStreet the beginning of a revolution?” (7 Oct. 2012) by Michael Ross.
1 Matt Pearce, “Could the end be near for the Occupy Wall Street movement?” Los Angeles Times 11 June 2012; Chris Francescani, “Insight: Can Occupy Wall Street survive?” Reuters 7 June 2012. For more on May Day’s violence, see “Not Fit for Dinner: May Day and the Danger of Violence,” Christ and Pop Culture (4 May 2012)
2 “Summer Disobedience School!” Workbook, OWS Direct Action May 2012
3 Conor Tomás Reed, “On the City as University: Occupy and the Future of Public Education,” Tidal May 2012
4 See David Harvey, Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution (London: Verso, 2012). I can’t locate the exact passage to which Reed refers, but here is one similar in point: “The right to the city is . . . far more than a right of individual or group access to the resources that the city embodies: it is a right to change and reinvent the city more after our heart’s desire” (4). Harvey goes on to call this right a “collective” right, one that is exercised all too infrequently today.
5 Consider, for instance, Paul Krugman’s much-discussed op-ed on inequality in America, where he points out that Occupy Wall Street has realigned America’s focus on real issues, refusing to be sidetracked by think tanks, pundits, and the likes. See Krugman, “Oligarchy, American Style,” New York Times 3 Nov. 2011