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Bring Back the Encampments, Occupy the Vote

In the year since the evictions swept away our encampments, we've struggled might main just to survive. May Day's general strike, the Chicago NATO protest, and #S17 were bright points in an otherwise dark sky, and our actions at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions did not even dent business as usual much less disrupt it. Attendance at General Assemblies (GAs), spokescouncils, and working groups has dwindled in New York City (NYC) and has ground to a halt in most places outside NYC.

We've learned the hard way over the past year that the encampments continue to be irreplaceable, as living spaces, as organizing hubs, and as rallying points to push back against the class war waged by the 1% against everyone who can't afford a lobbyist. Without our encampments, we've been without much focus, coherence, or success in terms of inspiring and mobilizing the 99% to act up, speak out, march forward, or occupy much of anything beyond their couches.

Given this, I'd like to make two radical, counter-intuitive suggestions: 1) we go back to the encampments, not out of misguided nostalgia but out of hard-headed pragmatism and 2) the road back to the encampments is, paradoxically, through the unrepresentative, rigged, and corrupt circuses that pass for elections in America that necessitated encampments in the first place.

Before anyone objects, "we don't want to legitimize the system" or "voting doesn't change things, direct action does," hear me out.

If we evict Oakland's Mayor Jean Quan by electing Scott Olsen in her place, would that not make a difference for direct action? When we set up encampments again, does anyone seriously believe that police commissioner Ray Kelly and the New York Police Department (NYPD) will get the exact same orders from the mayor's office this time around if the mayor is Sergeant Shamar Thomas and not Michael Bloomberg?

The tactical experiments with general strikes, port blockades, roving pickets, organic gardens, co-ops, and guerilla theatre over the past year has proven that what the authorities fear most is people armed with a tent and a dream banding together to form a community without greed or hierarchy. Our post-eviction efforts to do just that at a Trinity Church lot in NYC and the Kaiser Convention Center in Oakland were unsuccessful because the cops were ready for us and we didn't have the numbers to push them aside as our counterparts did in Tahrir Square. So the encampment tactic no longer has the element of surprise it did in fall of 2011 and we can't get the 10,000-100,000 bodies necessary to peacefully push past police lines or nonviolently resist evictions.

That leaves us with one option we haven't tried: infiltrating the power structure and disrupting business as usual from within it by evicting our evictors and electing occupiers to enable our encampments.

What might an occupy the vote effort look like? In NYC, the Green Party and Working Families Party could both put Shamar Thomas on their mayoral ballot line for the 2013 race (or some other courageous, respected occupier; Thomas probably won't want to run since he's not a power-hungry narcissistic egomaniac like most people who run for elected office). Going through the local Democratic primary is a fool's errand, a way to keep us on the plantation. (Remember Howard Dean's 2004 primary campaign to end the Iraq war? No one else does either.)

An Occupy Wall Street (OWS) mayoral campaign independent of the two-party state would focus our disparate organizing initiatives, give the unions Bloomberg has stepped on a better choice than the party of Rahm Emanuel, and serve as a way for people who wholeheartedly supported us but never made it to Zuccotti a way to register that support (we had majority support in a city of 8 million, so we're talking about millions of voters, potentially). An OWS candidate's visit with rent strikers in Sunset Park or picketing workers at Hot and Crusty would give these small struggles much-needed publicity from the local press. OWS campaigners could flood their neighborhoods and subway stations with "Occupy the Vote" flyers, hold campaign meetings and revamped GAs where they live, and reach out to local businesses, mosques, and churches for support. Imagine barbershops in Harlem or Red Hook with "Occupy the Vote – Thomas 2013" in their windows and you get some idea of what this could look like.

Running serious campaigns for local office would scare the hell out of the 1% since they'd see we are dead serious about stripping them of their political power over us. In addition to declaring NYC a safe haven for occupations, an occupy mayor could fire Kelly, purge the worst of the NYPD's white shirts, and finally put an end to stop-and-frisk, a win-win-win if there ever was one.

Is there an anarchist among us who wouldn't dance like it was 1936 all over again if these things happened?

Let's turn the New York City 2013 mayoral race into a referendum on the (mis)rule of Wall Street and use elections and elected office against the lobbyists, the corrupt, and the craven. Let's evict our evictors, occupy the point of corruption, and disrupt business as usual right where the dirty deals are made.

Occupy the vote – not because we support severely limited democracy but because in this case it might be the only road back to what got results – occupying public space.

Pham Binh, OWS Class War Camp,

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