#occupywallstreet general assembly, Zuccotti Park, New York
The nightly meetings of the General Assembly at occupied Liberty Plaza (officially, Zuccotti Park) in New York have been treated by the media mainly as a quaint footnote to the mass arrests and alleged police brutality attendant to the occupation. In fact, though, the open, non-hierarchical assembly has been at the center of the movement. Starting with the planning meetings that took place in parks around the city prior to September 17, it was instrumental to bringing the #OCCUPYWALLSTREET Internet meme created in July by Adbusters magazine into real life. And as the occupation movement has caught on and spread from city to city, open assemblies have been spreading alongside.
Participating in the assembly process can take some getting used to. “It took me a while to figure it out,” a gentleman from Brooklyn confessed to me one day. A TV cameraman by trade, he had already made several impressive speeches to the GA at Liberty Plaza, to the effect that the occupation needed to send a clear, relevant message if it was to reach urban black people like himself. All this sitting around in meetings, he was saying, wouldn’t do. But now he’d changed his mind a bit. “I realized that this isn’t just about making some point out loud,” he said. “It’s about learning how to go back to your own community and organize there.” I heard almost exactly the same thing from a Nordic-looking college student an hour later—and again, and again.
Each night at Liberty Plaza since the occupation began, a few hundred people have clustered in loose, semicircular rows to attend the GA.
The GA usually lasts a couple of hours, but it could as easily go on all night.
While the occupiers take their time, the outside world keeps wondering why the “one demand” Adbusters called for hasn’t materialized yet, and whether it ever will. “This is not about the demands,” said facilitator Amin Husain at a recent Liberty Plaza GA. “The demands will come. It’s about the beautiful thing we’re doing here.” The demand, for now, is in process, and the process isn’t easy. It takes practice to work well, not to mention time, which is why duration is a crucial feature of the occupation: it’s not only a sign of commitment, but a practical necessity.