American Autumn: A Viewer’s Guide

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By Joseph Orosco (February 17, 2020)

As part of our third installment of the This is What Democracy Looks Like:  A Genealogy of Movements film series, we are going to view “American Autumn”.

We will be in Milam Hall 318 on the Oregon State Campus at 6pm.

This is a grassroots documentary looking at the early days of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  It illustrates the ways in which Occupy tried to connect the dots between so many different structural injustices.  As Ronnie Schieb notes in this Variety review:

“Thus, in addition to airing grievances directed against banks and Wall Street by activists, professors, marchers, singers and comedians, the docu takes aim at student debt, covering marches protesting the skyrocketing cost of education; sits in on protestors seeking to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that increased the power of moneyed interests in elections; and interviews those involved in environmental protection and climate-control issues. The docu includes footage of an anti-foreclosure group, the Massachusetts Alliance Against Predatory Lending, as it interrupts the auction of a foreclosed home.”

Looking back at the Declaration of the New York General Assembly, its easy to see how the movement began by critiquing the undue influence of corporate money in the US political system, and the cascade of problems that follow the money trail:

“As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.”

Many people look back, almost 10 years later, and wonder if any of this noise made any difference.  The cynical among my students, for instance, think it was a failure.  I often have to remind them that there was a massive repression against Occupy, coordinated on a nation wide basis, just a few months in.  Someone in power thought this was a threat.

But its also clear that so much of our political space today would not be as possible without the openings in the radical imagination created by Occupy:  issues like student debt, minimum wage to living wage increases, houselessness, and the interest in democratic socialism represented by Bernie Sanders and AOC.

Emily Stewart, who does a good run down on the influence of Occupy still today, put its this way:

“But today, Occupy Wall Street no longer looks like such a failure. In the long run, Occupy invigorated ideas and people that influence today’s American left and Democratic politics.Occupy was in many, many ways a shit show,” Nicole Carty, a Brooklyn activist who was a facilitator at Occupy, told me. “But it deserves props, it really does, for unleashing this energy.”

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