Saluting Occupy NOLA, a movement as quirky as our schizoid city

A march in October launches the News Orleans chapter of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Photo by Matt Davis

By Tiffany Marceaux, The Lens contributing opinion writer |

On Oct. 6 I arrived at Duncan Plaza for Occupy NOLA’s first  General Assembly with revolution in my heart.  And I wasn’t the only one.  Nearly 400 people from all over the city had gathered, and the excitement was palpable.  A change was coming—we could feel it.  We didn’t know what it would eventually look like or how long it would take, but we were eager to be part of it.

Over the past two months, both the numbers and the excitement at Duncan Plaza (symbolically renamed Avery Alexander Plaza, in honor of the late civil rights leader and state legislator) have ebbed and flowed.  Seasoned activists and first-timers have come and gone; an influx of homeless people proved challenging, and disorganization and infighting persisted right up to the moment, Tuesday night, when city police threw out the last of us – a motley crew ranging from stubborn optimists to the certifiably masochistic.

The thing about Occupy NOLA is that it is a product of New Orleans.  This city is a seething, borderline schizophrenic mass of contradictions that somehow, by sheer force of will, manages to hold itself together no matter what ugliness is thrown our way.  It is a city where crime and corruption live side by side with a commitment to community and beloved traditions.  It is beautiful and messy, and Occupy NOLA is its spitting image.

We are all flawed human beings, and we bring our flaws with us into the movement.  But we also bring our ideals and our aspirations. Many people have joined Occupy NOLA only to leave with their hopes for the movement shattered.  I myself became frustrated and left many times with no intention of returning.  When I showed up that first day with revolution in my heart, I thought I would be surrounded by others who would somehow have the answers, who would know what to do, where to go and how to get there. What quickly became apparent was that almost everyone was just as full of hope and lacking in answers as I was.

The Occupy movement is, by choice, a “leaderless” movement, but what this really means is that every one of us is empowered to be a leader.  This puts the onus on the individual to take personal responsibility for creating the change he or she wants to see.  This is not what we are used to.  The idea that we need someone more experienced than ourselves to tell us what to do is so firmly entrenched that when called upon to decide for ourselves, many are helpless—frozen with indecision. Too many of us demand action while waiting around for someone to tell us what to do.  This tendency makes organizing an uphill battle—one that even the most committed can tire of quickly.

What we have to remember is that Occupy is still a new movement.  Many of its participants (like me) are new to activism.  Many are new to the realities of working in cooperation with others who may not share the same beliefs, ideologies or even the same goals.  Cooperation of this sort is challenging, and as a group we are still learning how to do this effectively.

I see Occupy NOLA as “the little occupation that could”.  It may not always succeed, but no matter what it thinks, it can. Those who stuck around until police cleared the plaza, overcame tremendous obstacles to make incremental progress toward positive change.  We provided meals and shelter to the homeless and highlighted the city’s inability to deal effectively with homelessness. We joined  Survivor’s Village to successfully disrupt the sale of foreclosed homes.

Tuesday’s eviction from the plaza did not quash the spirit of the Occupy movement. Occupation is not bound by the restrictions of a particular time and place.  Occupation is a state of mind.  It is a rejection of selfishness and greed and a commitment to cooperation, compassion, and personal responsibility for effecting the positive change we want to see in the world.  These ideas cannot be evicted.

Tiffany Marceaux studies filmmaking at the University of New Orleans and blogs about life and culture as Rosina Rubylips at Bitchbuzz.com.  


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