The Occupy Wall Street Bible Is Out, and It's Good

Posted by Julie Ma

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It’s probably no accident that the minimalist brown cover of Occupying Wall Street, the new title from OR Books about the now world-famous Manhattan movement, resembles the posters that, for a few months in 2011, came to define Zuccotti Park’s skyline. The title and subtitle—"The Inside Story of an Action that Changed America"—are written in black scrawl, adding extra authenticity to the stylization. It’s not just a book you’re holding, a reader soon realizes, it’s also a mini-protest sign.

Fair warning up front: A little rectangular box on the back cover reads, "All profits from this book will be donated to Occupy Wall Street." If you’re certain you disagree with OWS and don’t want to support their cause, then this book is probably not for you. But if you’re at all interested in how the now-global movement began, there’s probably no better resource than this.

Though Occupying’s author is a collective of roughly 60 unnamed people calling themselves "Writers for the 99%," the book is not a disjointed assortment of individual essays. Rather, and perhaps surprisingly, it acts as a concise historical account that sheds light on the varied and interesting minutia of OWS, covering everything from the guidelines of the General Assembly to the infamous Brooklyn Bridge protest to the drama created by class and racial tensions within the movement. So thorough is Occupying that even the thousands of people who lived in Zuccotti’s tent city themselves last year could probably learn something about the inner workings of the mass they once helped compose, or reinvigorate the fire that brought them there in the first place.

The authors admit at the beginning of Occupying that they could not cover every story that went on in and around Zuccotti during OWS—the days of the protest were too filled with action, and the protesters too numerous. They also warn that in no way should their book be considered an "official statement" from OWS, saying that "claims to formal representation of a horizontal movement such as OWS [are] both inappropriate and impossible."  Caveats aside, however, Occupying offers a vivid and worthy start to the eventual OWS canon.

To be sure, Occupying’s 200 pages are not for anyone looking for a general overview. The book’s attention to detail could be an overload for those interested in a quick read, as it covers nearly every vestige of the camp, from the art of Zuccotti to the General Assembly hand signals to the nearby supporters who opened up their apartments so campers could shower. Preventing the text from falling into drab guidebook territory, however, are the individual accounts of protesters. These add much-needed depth to the more unemotional minutia.

Occupying is, overall, as welcoming and peaceful as the movement itself, providing commentary and a backbone to a protest often scoffed at as a "movement without a mission." That said, anyone looking to this book for a big reveal about Occupy’s mission will be let down. The closest thing to a defined purpose provided within Occupying comes from Mark Bray, a member of OWS’ press relations working group, who says OWS sought “economic justice and a more democratic, accountable form of politics that was beholden to citizens rather than to corporations.” Bray later adds that OWS has no definable "demands," because it "was seeking a conversation about the current state of the country, not presenting a finite list of goals."

The OWS book isn't perfect, just as the OWS protest wasn’t. It’s slow at times, and perhaps a bit self-congratulatory. But the spirit of the 99 percent shines through, and it’s obvious that that’s what matters to the authors, who write, "What unified this disparate throng was a tangible sense of solidarity, a commitment to the cause of the occupation, but also an evident commitment to each other. … No one can deny the tensions within OWS and the broader Occupy movement, but so far a shared analysis and common language has bound the different strands together." What Occupying ultimately provides is an unprecedented look back at this generation’s most notable movement. At its best, it sheds light on the diversity of faces, stories, and voices that composed OWS, and it immortalizes the protests in a way nothing has yet. "You can’t evict an idea," was an OWS battle call. And Occupying Wall Street is full of great ideas.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user _PaulS_