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.
Occupy!: Scenes from Occupied America editors Keith Gessen, co-founder of n+1, Sarah Leonard, an editor at Dissent and The New Inquiry, Kathleen Ross, business manager of n+1, and Eli Schmitt, an editor of the Occupy! Gazette, were arrested while protesting in downtown Manhattan the morning of November 17, 2011.
Kathleen, Sarah, and Eli were released later that day and and returned to join the gathering at Foley Square that evening. Each was given two counts of disorderly conduct.
Keith was charged with two counts of disorderly conduct, plus an additional charge of disrupting government administration, a misdemeanor. The reason is unclear. It could be because he declined to stand and walk to the paddywagon, and allowed police to carry him there.
Keith was released, along with the last of the OWS detainees, late the following night. The reason given for his being detained for over 36 hours was that the arresting officer forgot to sign his statement.
ABC News ran footage of Keith's arrest and the statement he gave while in handcuffs:
"Our political system is broken, our politicians get to Washington and don't do what we ask them to do and it seems like they don't listen to our votes. We don't have the money or resources and we have to come out to the street."
Occupy!: Scenes from Occupied America 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.