Friday, December 2, 2011

Is it time to occupy the highways?

Now that billionaire New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has evicted protesters from their encampment in Liberty Plaza, some are wondering what the future might hold for the “Occupy” movement. Without their strategic base near Wall Street, activists might find it more difficult to coordinate demonstrations in the vicinity. On the other hand, if Bloomberg and the financial elite hoped that the NYPD’s preemptive move on Occupy would eviscerate political protest, then they will probably be disappointed. If anything, the authorities have merely succeeded in dispersing demonstrations which could wind up proving even more difficult to contain.

As Occupy now moves to “phase two” in its evolution, protesters might want to weigh the various advantages and disadvantages of street demonstrations and even roadblocks. It is here where the case of South America might prove instructive. For years, indigenous peoples in the Andes have employed road blocks as an innovative tactical weapon in pressing for popular demands. One thing’s for sure: Roadblocks get you noticed. As traffic piles up, trucks can’t move and companies are unable to get supplies in. That in turn pinches agribusiness, which can’t move its grain. Before long, the day of reckoning approaches for the financial elite, whose profits get squeezed.

From Argentina to OWS

In no other country have activists perfected the concept of the strategic roadblock more effectively than in Argentina. There, virtual armies of unemployed called “piqueteros” have been able to disrupt commerce and thereby exert significant political pressure on the central government. With their calls for everything from food parcels, state-funded jobs, living wages, unemployment benefits and public investments in water, electricity, paved roads and health facilities, in addition to the release of incarcerated militants and withdrawal of police, the piqueteros have succeeded in shifting the political discussion in Argentina.

Even before Bloomberg evicted protesters from Liberty Plaza, demonstrators seemed to be taking an increasingly Argentine tack. Recently, a small group of occupiers left New York en route to Washington, DC so as to draw attention to a meeting of the so-called Congressional Supercommittee charged with settling the rancorous debate over US debt. The occupiers wished to send a succinct message to Congress: Eliminate the Bush tax cuts for the rich in order to help balance the budget and save severely needed social programmes.

It would be a stretch to say that "occupy the highway" approaches the same level of radical tactics as the Argentine roadblocks, yet perhaps this walk is a harbinger of things to come. A kind of experiment in mini-democracy, the march featured so-called “General Assemblies” held in local towns along the route. The activists, who were funded by the original encampment at Liberty Plaza to the tune of $3,000, made the arduous 300-mile trek to DC on foot, no less, passing through the New Jersey town of New Brunswick along the way. There, activists met up with Rutgers University students, and the two groups took over a roadway alongside a local bridge. As downtown traffic was brought to a standstill, pedestrians curiously looked on.


Meanwhile, check out

The Last Photographs of Occupy Los Angeles

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