11/21/2011 06:30 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Is Occupy Wall Street Fetishizing the Public Square?

Is the Occupy Wall Street movement fetishizing the spaces that they occupy? Are they defining the movement based on place rather than the many, many other powerful elements and symbols the movement has developed as it has birthed and evolved?

At almost all the occupied territories I've visited the words fetishize or fetishizing have been used.

The dictionary definition of fetishizing is " Have an excessive and irrational commitment to (something)."

It's not a word that one encounters in ordinary conversation, but it seems to be routinely used in general assemblies and conversations among people in the Occupy Wall Street locales. I've heard it repeatedly used at almost all of the occupied territories I've visited.

A number of anarchist blogs talk about "fetishizing" non-violence, using the term to attack the idea of non-violence as an unreasonable obsession. It seems that if you use the word fetishize to attack an idea you don't have to engage in supported or reasoned argument against the idea.

On the other hand, the word is used here, in an Occupy Toronto interview with Justin Podur in a different way.

A lesson from other movements is that you don't want to fetishize how to do things. The only things non-negotiable are the main, basic principles. And how you fulfill those and what methods and tactics you use are up for grabs.

So I ask the question, "Is the Occupy Wall Street Movement fetishizing the occupying of public squares, parks and plazas?"

There's no doubt that the occupation of highly visible, central locales can be very effective in terms of visibility and getting media coverage. And staying in one central place is creating community and a new way, even a new paradigm of relating, of taking care of each other.

There is word that the FBI and Homeland Security are coordinating with the mayors of many of the cities that have occupied locales, which suggests a top down-- all the way to the very top, Obama involvement in attempting to kill the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Two weeks ago, when I was attending the general assembly at Occupy Philly, there was animated discussion of whether or not to move across the street to another area, because the city had construction under contract for part of the area where Occupy Philly is currently occupying.

It may be that the location of the occupation is a key factor in making an occupation successful.

Or, it could be that what are most important elements are:

  • the direct actions that come from occupied territories,
  • the horizontal democracy practiced in General Assemblies
  • the community that is built and maintained,
  • the relationships developed.
  • the positions that are established by General Assemblies,
  • the connections to the community.
  • the outreach and interconnection between different community organizations and the #OWS movement that is evolving.

I raise this question knowing that one of the best ways to get new participants in the occupy movement is for them to be assaulted by violent police.

Still, it seems that the heads of cities across the U.S. -- mayors, city managers, city councils, police chiefs -- are using strategies to freeze out the northern occupied territories and arrest and remove people from the southern, warmer occupied territories.

What's the alternative to fetishizing locale? Some cold weather occupied territories are already doing it -- finding indoor places to stay -- warehouses, large, un-used indoor facilities, churches.

I don't have all the answers, just the question. But perhaps the thing to do is to find sleeping quarters, at least for the winter, and to shift strategy to a total free-speech oriented occupation of public places -- which will be harder for police and municipal leaders to defend tearing down.

Perhaps the de-fetishizing of occupy locales is a bad idea. But perhaps, by de-fetishing the physical locales and instead focusing on all the other actions, characteristics and strengths of the embryonic Occupy Wall Street movement, the movement can be liberated to an even more powerful range of options on how to operate.

Another way to think about it is that if the physical locale is de-fetishized, then, when police clear or harass an area, occupiers can brush it off -- use the harassment for media exposure first, then move somewhere else and step up the really important actions, discussions and community building -- a kind of Jiu Jitsu that makes the movement stronger when it is attacked.

 Occupy D.C. Currently Occupies McPherson Square -- Fronting on K Street It's a beautiful locale, with soft grass ground for occupiers to sleep on and just a few blocks from the White House. 

Occupy Washington D.C., at Liberty Plaza: Tahrir Square in, English, translates for Freedom or Liberty Square. So the locale is symbolic and also very close to the White House, across the street from the Commerce Building and just a few blocks from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- a defender of big corporations and an almost daily target of Occupier protesters.

How would a non-locale Occupy Wall Street look?

People sleeping in warehouses, churches, community centers

The places might change on a regular basis. It might mean that occupiers stay three days in a church, then five days at a community center, then a month at a warehouse, or an emptied outdoor community swimming pool.

In Occupy Augusta, the occupiers face a right wing controlled situation. So they meet 6-9 p.m. on weekdays and 3-6 p.m. on weekends. Sure it would be better if there were a permanent, 24 hour presence, but SOME presence is better than none.

If people don't sleep in the public park or square then challenges to curfews based on first amendment rights will be far more robust.

Bottom line, I am not saying to stop camping in central, downtown, high-visibility locales. I'm saying don't make those places defining, required elements of the occupy movement. Explore alternate ways to enable the occupy movement to maintain its identity in places where camping in public places does not work. Develop new ways to occupy the country, the city, the county, the planet, in ways that raise awareness and visibility, that allow for continuing development of democracy, continuing actions, including marches, civil resistance and civil disobedience, as well as local Occupy newspapers, websites, and streaming videos.

This article was originally posted at

Photos by Rob Kall