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One Year Later, Occupy Protests Reveal New Tactics

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Occupiers celebrate the movement's first birthday with a rally in near Wall Street in New York City, September 17, 2012.

CREDIT: Emily Crockett

The one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street on Monday featured familiar elements: thousands of protesters flooding the streets of New York City, joyful celebrations in public parks, and NYPD cops aggressively arresting both protesters and journalists. While many in the mainstream media might claim that the anniversary “fizzled,” the scene on the ground showcased some of the ways Occupy is moving into a new phase.

Although short of the tens of thousands seen in Occupy’s heyday last fall, the few thousand protesters who showed up were dedicated and strategic. Protesters split into “affinity groups” that chose different targets and tactics, from marching on the World Financial Center to confusing cops with small groups that marched in figure-8 patterns to shut down intersections.

For their part, the NYPD continued using “snatch and grab” tactics—arresting people off of the sidewalks—to split up larger marches and intimidate protesters. Officers also marched in the streets to flank occupiers marching on the sidewalks, prompting one protester to joke, “Get out of the street or you will all be arrested!”

A total of 180 people were arrested on Monday, including several journalists, and eyewitnesses called many of the arrests violent or unprovoked.

The NYPD also seemed determined to make life difficult for anyone trying to photograph arrests. Officers stepped directly in front of cameras during one violent-looking arrest I witnessed. When other journalists and I attempted to film an incident in which several protesters in wheelchairs were detained by police, we were told to either clear the sidewalk or be arrested for “obstructing” the path—even when huddled just one person deep against the side of a building.

Actions were scattered across the city and larger marches were constantly being split or redirected. As a result, it was impossible for any one person to fully understand what was going on—but that doesn’t mean the tactics were ineffective. Occupy is likely to use the affinity group model in the future: using the connections they made at Occupy protests, people will take independent actions in smaller groups while finding solidarity under the Occupy banner.

Offshoot groups like Occupy Our Homes are already getting real results, while Strike Debt aims to teach consumers about abusive debt practices, from student loans to mortgages, and how to combat them. Free University events were also held in Madison Square Park, furthering Occupy's focus on equal access to education.

Unions still have a seat at the Occupy table, too.

National Nurses United made a big showing at rallies with signs advocating a “Robin Hood” financial transaction tax, and Postal Workers Union members spoke in favor of getting money out of politics. Occupiers have also joined pickets at locations such as Golden Farms.

After a long day of acting up and fighting, occupiers relaxed into a festive birthday celebration at Zuccotti Park, complete with cake.

Although the scene conjured up memories of the good old days of the fall, most occupiers have resigned themselves to never again try to reoccupy the park; all that brings them is more police violence and heartache.

Besides, they have more important work to do.

Emily Crockett is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @emilycrockett.

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