Occupy Wall St, Valley Forge Reenactors

The following commentary was contributed by MYD member Jon Reznick.

© 2011 Jon Reznick - The Tent City I Didn't Expect to Find in Manhattan

In late October, I deliberately visited Occupy Wall Street during bad weather. Usually, it was dark and rainy and I took no pictures but I saw people doing fine, even though the crowds were smaller. Before the evening of the 2nd, I actually had not been back to the campus by daylight or during good weather since the day the city cancelled its sweep & clear. That day proved to be as much the turning-point as it seemed at the time: after calling the city’s bluff to go all-in, clear the park, and enforce property rules there, the movement has redoubled its efforts not only by establishing official relations with the community board, but also by hauling in prodigious amounts of tarp and erecting a sea of tents (which were both previously banned), expanding the facilities and deploying consistent wayfinding, alongside many far subtler signs of the planning horizon now envisioned by the Occupation. Now that they have successfully asserted both their social legitimacy and their staying-power, they are beginning serious preparations for winter. This raises the legitimate and totally sane question of why this movement would launch itself in September, rather than April or even May?

Revolutionary pretensions can be dangerous. They threaten the status quo, suggest instability, and often threaten and provoke real violence. America, like it or not, has a stable and venerable system of government which yields ceaseless peaceful transfers of power, and is in actual fact fairly responsive to voter sentiment, despite even the most level-headed criticisms made over the issues of inaction and corruption. Isolated incidents and injustices aside, our civil servants are professional and disciplined.

Despite mounting one of the most successful and frankly stunning revolutions ever, despite making full use of international diplomacy, despite proving the concept of terrorism, with such activities as the Boston Tea Party, organized by terrorist/revolutionary/freedom fightin’ group, the Sons of Liberty, and despite also pioneering the use of asymmetric (read: guerilla) warfare (conducted by what was formally a non-state actor, the Continental Army) against a fearsomely well-disciplined and equipped, numerically superior foe, it has until recently seemed to me as if all contemporary Americans had lost track of what it was that made America so exceptional, so freaking awesome, so early on: revolutionary zeal to form a better nation, proven at Valley Forge.

General George Washington selected Valley Forge because it was close enough to the city of Philadelphia to keep the British army, which was wintering there, from foraging in rural Pennsylvania, but it was also far enough away that they could not be surprise-attacked by selfsame British army. Geographic features made Valley Forge easily defensible for a winter occupation. Essentially, they had nothing to do but #OccupyValleyForge until, get this, until the British army was the one that moved. So they brought in what were known as Regimental Camp Followers, women and children, basically, relatives and families of enlisted men. They built structures, erected defenses, and two more things. They worked out an alliance with France, and they basically made the Continental Army out of their troops at Valley Forge. They did this with the help of Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, who had been, dare I say, a community organizer type for the Prussian military… community. The Continental Army was built through shared hardship and struggle, with excruciating drilling and training, and they were provided with ample moral support in the form of the Regimental Camp Followers. If the occupation of Valley Forge had failed or been broken, by the British or by the inevitable winter, there would have been no further revolutionary activity against the British out here. That the war went on for five more years and that the Continental Army kicked the British out was a testament to what was wrought at Valley Forge.

© 2011 Jon Reznick - Our Martial Flag

Now, our American exceptionalism is founded on power largely projected by what has long ago surpassed the British version as the finest, best trained and most fearsomely equipped standing army on Earth. It is founded on our being rich, on being on top of the world and on having conquered enough territory to knit together a nation with unparallelled material abundance. Most of us were born into American rule, and take our place in the world for granted. Even now, in this time of scarcity, we are still great China’s bank (our unprecedented borrowing power makes us everyone’s bank, in fact), we maintain the finest research institutions in nearly every field of study, giving us a natural edge in innovation, and we remain one of the best places ever devised to do business. And the oldest among us preserve memories of a world which America strode forth into with great fanfare, in order to vanquish true, unambiguous evil.

Therefore, American protest is an orderly thing. We have freedom of speech, but it is not absolute, it is both protected and circumscribed by courts and legislatures. We have freedom of assembly, same thing — we accept it is not absolute and we apply for permits. Generally, we respect property rights, and do not burn cars as in Athens, Greece. We respect public service and do not have frequent strikes, as in France. We are not going to have to die in large numbers merely to change our government like people in Syria are doing right now, because despite being a little broken, and kind of ragged and imperfect, our system does a surprising job of changing itself, at least cosmetically, so we generally don’t get that mad anymore.

So how do modern Americans show that a rigged political/economic system is an unbelievably serious issue worthy of attention and correction without resorting to a shooting war or fleeing into the hills to join a separatist militia? How do they organize aggressively, form esprit de corps up to here, and demonstrate their efficacy as a change movement? How do they organize for what is bound to be a longer and harder campaign than anyone likely expects?

Will Occupy Wall Street succeed as an elaborate Valley Forge reenactment?

© 2011 Jon Reznick - Lantern