This roundtable discussion between myself and the editors of Occupy!: Scenes from Occupied America happened over email from December 7-9, 2011. Occupy!, the book, grew out of a forty-page broadsheet called Occupy!: An OWS-Inspired Gazette, put together by the same crew, and distributed at a select number of occupations around the country.
Occupy! editors Astra Taylor, director of the documentary films Zizek! and Examined Life; Keith Gessen, Mark Greif, Nikil Saval, Eli Schmitt and Carla Blumenkranz of the literary journal n+1; and Sarah Resnick, editor of Triple Canopy all participated in the discussion.
How did the Gazette come about?
Astra: Wasn't it Keith's idea? But I like Mark Greif's observation to me that Occupy! is a strange hybrid of my childhood newsletter, Keith Gessen's high school paper, and Sarah Leonard's college paper. I'm sure others made zines and other things too. In other words, we were destined to make the Gazette!
Mark: I think when I tried to explain it to people, I said, "You go home from the park, and you want to read about what you just saw. The Occupiers are doing this incredible thing, and they'll want to read about what they're doing. Maybe we could mirror the park to itself, for the Occupiers and the visitors and the bystanders." To help. Didn't we talk about the fence-sitters too--all the people we knew, who we thought should support what the Occupiers were doing? But they kept coming up with excuses not to come down to the park? Literary and political types. So we would bring the park to them. And it was definitely Keith's idea, the paper.
Nikil: Yep, Keith's idea for sure. I think the other term I kept using (to describe it to people) was "fellow travelers"--i.e. not just undecided people, but ones who wouldn't spend a bunch of time at the park, who nonetheless offered support and wanted to understand what was going on. People ideologically, if not organizationally, committed to OWS. Of which it turns out there are a lot. It was enough that there were people whose brain was like a homologue of the city--just like Zuccotti was always there in some crammed corner way south, your head could be burdened with daily life but still lighted by the obscure sense that the occupation was going on; growing, even.
This conversation came out of an email exchange between myself and Frank Bardacke in December 2011. Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of the United Farm Workers is the dramatic new history of the rise and fall of the UFW.
The Economist's only real complaint about Trampling Out the Vintage (apart from you being a leftist!) was that you "insufficiently acknowledged" Cesar Chavez's "significant legacy." What is your response?
It's not true. I fully acknowledge Cesar's role in founding the UFW, organizing the grape boycott, and inspiring Chicanos. What I don't do is reduce the history of the UFW to an aspect of Cesar's biography. That's what people have always done before. Instead, I write about the lives, working skills, and politics of the farm workers who were responsible for so much of what the UFW won in the fields. I don't think the folks at The Economist were much interested in that. They dismiss it as Leftism.
On the morning of Occupy Wall Street's second month anniversary, several of the editors of Occupy!: Scenes from Occupied America were arrested as they practiced non-violent disobedience in front of the Wall Street police barricades. One of them was Keith Gessen, who spent thirty-six hours in jail—sitting on the floor, singing "Bohemian Rhapsody," eating Corn Flakes, and explaining to a drug dealer that he was richer than most Americans because he had no debt.
Also, thirty-six hours of holding it in. The toilet was filthy, he writes in the New Yorker, and covered in piss. Read his account here.
Watch out for events in NYC over the next few weeks with the editors and writers of Occupy!, along with movement participants and allies. In fact, a discussion panel at Housing Works on November 7—moderated by Keith Gessen, and including editors Astra Taylor and Sarah Resnick, along with Mark Levinson, Liza Featherstone, Meaghan Linnick and myself—wound up being Housing Works' most well-attended event of the season.
Occupy! features the editors and writers of the celebrated n+1 magazine, as well as some of the world’s leading radical thinkers, such as Slavoj Žižek, Angela Davis, and Rebecca Solnit.