Charlie Hailey, author of Camps: A Guide to 21st-Century Space, on Occupy Wall Street camps as urban stages.
The camp’s the thing. Apologies to Shakespeare but the Occupy camps have entered the global conscience. What some have criticized as a lack of goals has materialized as a network of urban spaces not just in the U.S. but throughout the world. The camps themselves were the goals all along, and they have answered the OWS Declaration of the Occupation’s gentle directive to “occupy public space” in order to “let these facts be known.” This primary objective forms the graphical center of the Declaration’s flow-chart diagram, a document that reminds me of the archetypal camp with multiple camping sites—in the radially-organized diagram, they are plotted as grievances—arranged around a central campfire. But with Occupy this central focus is more revelatory than reverie. The Occupy camps have in fact come to be scenes of disclosure, revealing the sometimes messy, at times ambiguous, process of achieving democratic consensus. Camping in public urban spaces is unavoidably theatrical, and the occupy meme camps that have sprung from OWS’s genetic code are also exercises in applied aesthetics, combining self-expression with the practicalities of self-organizing and day-to-day living. And the camps’ strategic locations have helped their visibility: OWS capitalized on zoning rules for Zuccotti Park’s privately-owned public space to allow for 24-hour occupation and to attain proximity to Wall Street; and the McPherson Square location allows Occupy DC axial linkage to the White House and interrupts a lobbyist corridor along K Street NW. Like Colin Ward’s “seeds beneath the snow,” the Occupy camps ultimately demonstrate a vision of everyday life. Though many have been forced to close, the encampments may return with the spring thaw and will likely continue as urban stages that do not require the platforms demanded by critics.