Occupy’s National Gathering: A Vision for the Next Step Forward?

The movement has been accused before of lacking direction. But this week in Philadelphia, delegates to the first-ever national Occupy gathering created a streamlined vision for the change they want to see.
Natgat photo by James Trimarco

Photo by James Trimarco.

Occupy participants from every region of the United States poured into Philadelphia from June 30–July 4 for the movement’s National Gathering. Many arrived in caravans from far-flung states like California, Texas, and Alabama, and about 500 people attended the event in its final days, according to Occupy Wall Street’s Linnea M. Palmer Paton.

“It feels exactly like an Occupy,” said Michael Wilson, who came from his hometown of Salt Lake City with three fellow occupiers, each of them driving a three-hour shift. “It’s like all the months of an occupation compressed into just five days.”

The activities of the National Gathering—or “Natgat,” as occupiers invariably called it—covered a wide range of styles, tactics, and approaches to social change. At the gathering's center was a visioning process in which small groups of occupiers spent days carefully hammering out their ideas about the kind of changes they’d like to see. Then, these groups were combined and began compiling their ideas into a single document, which is rumored to now be 75 pages long.

Attendees held nightly General Assemblies, or GA’s, open meetings that form the heart of most local Occupy groups. Their marches and demonstrations saw relatively little of the police violence that has marred other Occupy events. And there were daily workshops on topics like direct action, maintaining encampments, and interactions between activists. Many attendees said the workshops and skillshares were their favorite part of the week.

“I’m just here to learn,” said Jacqueline Lundy of Occupy Chicago, pointing out that activists from around the country often faced similar dilemmas. For example, she said, everyone seemed to be talking about ways to improve on the structure of the General Assemblies. And indeed, a large GA on Wednesday focused on the need for more voices to be heard and for people who felt marginalized to have those feelings addressed.

Other events included a baseball game that pit the 99% against the 1% Tax Dodgers, and a “Wells Fargo Circus” in which ersatz bankers forced acrobats playing the role of loan applicants into all kinds of contortions—literally. These moments showed off the movement’s talent for comedy, costumes, and playfulness.

Reverend Billy photo courtesy of Reverend Billy
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While some aspects of the gathering could have been stronger, there was no doubt that the movement is alive—and kicking. The Natgat was “smaller than what was hoped for,” said Pete Tridish, a local Philadelphian and a founder of a community radio advocacy group called Prometheus Radio. But he remained hopeful about the future of Occupy: “The main goals of the gathering have been to think through the next steps of the movement, and they’re meeting those goals.”

Linnea M. Paton Palmer of Occupy Wall Street shared that feeling, pointing to an inspiring march through Downtown Philadelphia on the night of the Fourth of July. She’s already rolling up her sleeves for the next big event, Occupy’s first-year anniversary on September 17.


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