You Can’t Evict an Idea Whose Time Has Come

By Caron Atlas


The sun rises the morning after the OWS encampment was raided 

At the recent Policy Link Conference in Detroit at a session called “Holding Ground,” progressive presenters—including Wisconsin State Senator Lena Taylor, who participated in the “driving filibuster” to prevent the dismantling of collective bargaining, spoke about maintaining equity in a time a cutbacks. At the end of the session one of the younger audience members, Michael Collins, asked where in all this talk of holding ground were the progressive ideas, the vision for the future. His question significantly shifted the room.

The conference had begun with Grace Lee Boggs inspiring us to seize this moment to “create something new.” Artists Invincible and Rha Goddess later spoke about shifting the culture and did just that as they performed, bringing economic injustice home. Occupy Wall Street organizer Nelini Stamp noted that Occidental professor Peter Dreir has researched a three-fold increase in the word “inequality” in the media since OWS began. She then asked us to “think big”.

This blog is supposed to be about placemaking. But right now I’m thinking about holding ground and thinking big. OWS’s place at Zuccotti Park has just been bulldozed. At Policy Link and other conferences I have been to this fall I have found many organizers embracing the energy around the 99%. For some it has woken up the “radical imagination” called for at the Policy Link Summit. Across the country it has unleashed creative expressions: Hip Hop Occupies and Occupy Sound, Occupy theaters and Occupy Halloween. Occupy musicians and Occupy filmmakers inspired by Occupy writers and Occupy filmmakers. There is live drawing documentation, stand up comedy, puppet cabarets, installations and visual design. Foreclosure hearings in New York are being halted with song, and people are claiming the 99% as the meme progressives have been looking for. (See our e-newsletter for descriptions of arts, culture, and creative actions that are part of the Occupy movements.)

My work falls more towards ongoing cultural organizing than occupying parks, but I’m interested in how multiple approaches can join in a movement for social justice. As artist Gan Golan says, art at OWS “has created new identities of solidarity.” Having just watched the raid on the Zuccotti encampment – including the trashing of their 5,000 book library—I agree with OWS that “you can’t evict an idea whose time has come.” And so, thinking of the previous blogs, I wonder how this idea will plant seeds in the public imagination and roots in the long term civic engagement that Anusha Venkatraman writes about. As we go about placemaking – will our places share cultural and economic benefits equitably? Will we just hold ground? Or will we create transformative places informed both by the social media participation of Tom Borrup’s cultural corridor project and the deep cultural values described by Erik Takeshita from the New Mexico roundtable

One of the best stories I heard at the Policy Link conference was shared with me by Jennifer Vanica about Market Creek Plaza, a wonderful example of arts and culture combined with equitable development. They wanted to build a stage in the creek but the Army Corp of Engineers wouldn’t allow a permanent structure. While the experts were stymied, a neighborhood participant asked what could be built in a creek. The answer, beautifully simple, is a dock. And so Market Creek gained a stage that is a dock, which rises with the water, creatively transformative. Like a dancer balancing on the Wall Street bull. Like art and social change. 

 Caron Atlas, November 15

This blog was originally written for Animating Democracy's Blog Salon.  The other blogs noted and linked to are also part of this series and are recommended.