zaterdag 21 april 2012

The first history of Occupy Wall Street reviewed

The occupation of Zuccotti Park began in mid September and by December at least three books had been published about it. If that is not showing the way it captured the imagination of a great number of people what will? 

"Occupying Wall Street” tells the inside story of the occupation from the original Addbusters call to the eviction in November and a little beyond that. A large group of writers contributed material but the book speaks with one assembled voice. This means that while the book mostly reads well is it is written without style or literary embellishment. It sears through the history of OWS with the finesse of a transportbike at rush time. This is a sympathetic but detached account meant to be the first history of the movement. It attempts to represent the various and sometimes conflicting viewpoints and positions of the people involved as objective as possible by including a lot of interviews. As it documents the occupation from its humble, unsure beginnings to an unexpected mass movement it captures the key media moments like the 700 arrests on Brooklyn bridge as well as the evolving organizational structure of councils, working groups and caucuses. This turns this book into a how-to-occupy manual of sorts.

The chapter that discusses what it was like to actually live on Zuccotti does a good job explaining how the mass of occupation stratified into in smaller, often non-communicating groups with a rough division between the smart side and the down and out side. It takes you through the birthing pains of the formation of a city within a city with astonishing detail with all the social tension but also with all the bustle and excitement. The book shows what a bit of good will and energy can do: OWS did manage to provide good on-site services from daily mails, to book lending, to laundering and medical and legal assistance.

In the long run the use of this book will probably fade as better books telling the story of OWS come out but for now I will rate this book for the fact that it provides a huge amount of information that I had never encountered before. Great stuff.

PS: The Economist called this book self-congratulatory and boosterish but that can easily be explained because this book lacks the cynicism that the editors of the Economist mistake for integrity.

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