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Prepare for an American Spring: Occupy! Scenes from Occupied America in Guardian & Financial Times

Huw Lemmey25 January 2012

Andrew Ross, reviewing Occupy!: Scenes from Occupied America, Verso's new book of essays and reflections on the Occupy movement, thinks we may be looking forward to an American Spring, or at least a resurgence in grassroots activism across the United States. In the meantime, he suggests we take advantage of the lull in antipathies to assess the impact and lessons of OWS.

Occupy! reads, according to Ross, "like  a series of diary entries – on-the-ground vignettes, testimonials of events, and snap analysis of where it might all be heading." It's a good starting point, then, to pull apart the complex tangle of ideologies, grievances and ambitions that make up the movement. Unsuprisingly for an urban movement of predominantly young people, Occupy has been adept at creating its own media outlets. But perhaps incoherence is programmed into the ideological structure of Occupy–Carl Wilkinson, writing for the Financial Times, certainly thinks so, claiming the "essays, diaries and sketches...reflect the protest's freeform nature and lack of coherent message."

This mix of perspectives is, for Ross, the value of Occupy!. It throws light on the logistical difficulties faced by occupiers, such as how to confront "the homeless question" at the camps, as well as issues around organisation emerging from the General Assembly (GA) model of consensus decision-making, such as avoiding reproducing the very patterns of oppression and privilege it was trying to combat:

Complaints about the neglect of race and gender are the most common, righteous cause of disturbance, and when the outcome reinforces the GA's reliance on the "progressive stack" - whereby speakers of (white, male-identified) privilege are encouraged to "step back" - the interference has an alchemy that is breathtaking. Manissa Maharawal describes how she and other members of South Asians for Justice stood up to block the GA consensus on the Declaration of the Occupation of Wall Street: she "felt like something important had just happened, that we had just pushed the movement a little bit closer to the movement I would like to see".

These are insights into a process which is under constant change, as well as constant stress. For Carl Wilkinson, a highlight of the collection is an essay on violence and the state by Rebecca Solnit which "underlines hopes for a new form of dialogue", as well Marco Roth's 'Letters of Resignation from the American Dream', which tackles the disparate nature of the antagonisms behind the protests, "the array of complaints collected under the catch-all banner of "We are the 99%".

These are the documents of a movement focused on, as Ross puts it, "prefiguration"–a fluctuating, amorphous social force trying to formulate its angers and desire in an inclusive, positive manner, learning from its mistakes as it goes. That inclusivity forms the backbone of the book as an editorial project; the editorial team grew from Occupy!: An OWS-Inspired Gazette, an impromptu publication aimed at reflecting the struggle from the point of view of those on the ground. Although the book features transcripts of addresses to the GA by Angela Davis, Slavoj Žižek and Judith Butler, the majority of the book, according to Ross, are the voices of "movement participants – not armchair analysts or journos on a short deadline – so the pages of each volume ring with authenticity."

Andrew Ross' review is now available on the Guardian website.

Carl Wilkinson's review can be read at the Financial Times.

To read more on the editorial process and the creation of Occupy! Scenes from Occupied America, please see our roundtable discussion with the editors.

Filed under: articles, reviews