OccupyJax: The End of the Beginning

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Much like music (especially jazz), politics has been an obsession of mine since adolescence, which now covers a period of nearly 20 years. And in that whole time, I’d say that the first Occupy Jacksonville rally on October 8, 2011 was without question one of the greatest days in my life as a political junkie. The part of me that once scoffed at Hunter S. Thompson’s assertion that politics is “Better Than Sex” can now almost appreciate his sentiments, having seen that movement develop over the past six months or so, and the tremendous upside it’s had since.

Within a few weeks, members of Occupy had decided to take up the full-time, 24/7 encampments that defined the movement nationally, voting almost unanimously to begin the Occupation downtown on November 5, 2011. The four-month anniversary of the Occupation’s start arrived on March 5, but by that point there was no Occupation to celebrate, because the General Assembly voted the evening of March 3 to break down the camp two days earlier. I walked by, during a break in the Warehouse Studios benefit show at Thief in the Knight, and found out shortly after. I sat with four of the leaders at Burrito Gallery, debriefing over tacos and beer. It wasn’t a sad time—more like watching a friend’s graduation.

OccupyJax was one of the last of its kind in this country; where other cities saw the end weeks ago, ours stuck around long enough to do what no one ever expected was possible—to end it on their terms. Having run the most progressive political campaign this state has seen yet in this century, I can appreciate the patience and stamina that entailed. (Funny: While writing this column, at 6:23am on the morning of the 5th, news broke via WJXT that Occupiers in West Palm Beach had chained themselves to an old courthouse building downtown—further proof that, no matter what the haters say, they’re absolutely serious.)

So, what was accomplished in this stage of the movement, besides pedagogy? Well, it offered a disgusting display of widespread, coordinated police misconduct, which has been called out by professionals in that industry–like the police chief of Seattle during the WTO protests of 1999; the actual inventor of pepper-spray (who personally trained 10,000 officers to train most of the others) went on the radio to cite multiple cases of his own directions regard the use of these chemicals being disregarded. Had he not done that, we’d probably not know that the tear-gas being used to brutalize pro-democracy protesters in Egypt was actually supplied by US corporations—a useful tidbit.

It showed folks that even our most liberal politicians aren’t acting quite as progressively as their supporters might “hope”, and that conservatives are willing to violate the Constitution if it means suppressing political dissent. Occupy should have been the beginning of a progressive surge that stymies the upward trajectory of, how you say, “lunatic right-wingers”, in this state and nationwide. Instead it stands right now as another example of how Democrats have kept a defensive, compliant posture instead of challenging for those big-money spots the President needs to implement the policies he’s promised.

And it provided many thousands of people (especially young people) with direct, useful experience in political science, which they can carry on into the high-schools, colleges and professional careers; it’s the birth of the new political elite.  Around the country, friendships were forged, love affairs begun and ended, strengthened and made more complex (in ways surely both good and bad). It won’t be long before the first batch of Occubabies is born; sadly, the first one died, in utero, after its mother was tear-gassed and kicked in the stomach while Occupying Seattle—the movement’s first martyr.

Occupy also generated millions (if not billions) in economic stimulus for most cities where it occurred. Locally, the failed initiative to give $1.25 million in taxpayer money to JP Morgan Chase was stalled-out in large part because of the efforts of OccupyJax, along with Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County and others. Personally, I think it was great for downtown business, but others would certainly disagree.

OccupyOne thing is certain, here and nationally: The end of formal Occupation does not, in any way, mean the end of the movement itself. In fact, they may be now poised to achieve on a level previously unseen in the realm of progressive politics. Having already done the impossible, the next logical step is moving on to the extremely unlikely, and there is no better time than 2012. All the critics, who wanted the Occupiers off the sidewalks so badly, may now end up wishing they had just left well enough alone.

sheltonhull@gmail.com; March 6, 2012

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