Occupy Albany movement gathers momentum downtown
Published: Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Updated: Sunday, June 17, 2012 14:06
The not quite full moon softly illuminated the streets of Albany on Sunday, Oct. 9.
People spilled out of the Grand Street Community Arts Building at 68 Grand St. and stood in small groups on the city sidewalk.
A large white Albany police RV was parked about a block away. Multiple squad cars circled the block and two uniformed officers were positioned across the street from those congregated outside.
Inside the building, hundreds of people were gathered. Some sat in folding chairs and some sat on the floor. There was no formal seating chart, but the center of the room was left open.
The crowd was diverse. Girls who looked like they would get carded in the liquor store across the street sat next to silver-haired women who looked like they had stepped out of a J. Crew catalogue.
Some of the men carried skateboards, others were balding and a few young children tossed a balloon back and forth in one of the corners of the room.
This was the second general assembly meeting attended by people interested in the organization called Occupy Albany.
Occupy Albany represents a part of a movement, seen in cities across the country, influenced by the occupation of Zuccotti Park, N.Y. that began on Sept. 17, 2011. The original occupation dubbed itself Occupy Wall Street.
While the media was slow to report on the growing groups of people participating in Occupy Wall Street, many mainstream media outlets are now covering the occupation regularly.
Referred to as the "hash tag revolt" the occupation's public profile was elevated by social media.
What originally began as a cry for action in the Canadian magazine Adbusters, the daily happenings at Zuccotti Park can be seen broadcasted online at Livestream.com, followed on Twitter and on Facebook.
A Tumblr blog that shows photos of people holding hand-held signs describing their personal economic troubles also boosted awareness of the demonstrations.
However, Jason Martin, an artist and teacher who resides in upstate N.Y. as well as Brooklyn, NY, didn't hear about Occupy Wall Street via social media.
"Months ago, I saw a piece of graffiti in New York City that just said, ‘Occupywallstreet.org.' and I asked some friends about it and looked up the Web site," he said.
Martin was skeptical at first. "It seemed like it was going to be one of those social networking phenomenon's."
Martin, like many others, was used to seeing what is referred to as "slacktivism." The term refers to clicking a "like" button on Facebook for certain causes and feeling as though you have done something socially relevant, without actually getting up off your couch.
After visiting Occupy Wall Street's camp, Martin felt differently.
"It was not all hipsters or yuppies on Facebook with their blackberries," he said.
Martin was referring to some of the early news report issues by a couple of the mainstream news outlets, which colored the occupation as a circus side show of well-off youth with little else to do but parade around New York City in a mock protest.
Early criticism of the occupation also focused on the idea that there didn't seem to be a goal. However, Martin found the camp to be highly organized and that the movement had purposefully eschewed a hierarchal system with a list of specific demands.
"There was areas set up for food, media, sanitation, medical health and legal advice. People were debating while others listened," Martin said. "A veteran in a wheelchair was holding a sign with pro-socialist slogans on it. He was talking to other people his age, maybe tourists, and they were arguing. It wasn't contentious. They were exchanging ideas. It was democracy."
Two major components changed the way that many, including the mainstream media, viewed the occupation in New York City.
The first was the release of videos that showed police using what appeared to be unnecessary force on people protesting. One of these controversial incidents resulted in the arrest of over 700 people.
The second factor was the support from labor unions, including The United Steelworkers (USW) and The New York Transit Workers Union (TWU), who recently announced their support of Occupy Wall Street. The TWU has over 200,000 members across the country.
The meeting at 68 Grand St. on Sunday night was obviously influenced by Occupy Wall Street. While a few people helped to facilitate the meeting, it was the group that decided how it should go.
The people's microphone was used periodically throughout the night. People also used a series of gestures to indicate how they felt about proposed ideas and only a 90 percent majority could swing the vote.
There was one gesture that stopped discussion in its tracks. If any one of the large groups crossed their arms in front of them in the shape of an "X," that indicated that they "blocked" the proposal based on concerns over safety or ethics.
Zhenelle Falk is an events and artist coordinator who lives in Valley Falls, N.Y. She heard about Occupy Albany on Facebook after commenting on a post about Occupy Wall Street.
"I'm inspired by the force of messages and action accumulated in such a short span of time. There is power behind this movement and unlike other recent grassroots efforts; this one appears to have the momentum we need to demand real change," she said.
She attended the Occupy Albany meeting with the goal of leaving with "assignments and work we can each do to push this movement forward locally."
"I felt like there was too much debate on irrelevant points and not enough planning and logistics," she said after the meeting.
In spite of these criticisms, Falk plans to participate again.
Only a few proposals were discussed at the meeting. The group agreed that Occupy Albany would be a non-violent organization, reserving the right of self-defense.
Only time will tell how far this movement will go or how long it will last. But for all of the criticism that it has received, it has gained supporters far and wide.