There were no drums when I visited Occupy Wall Street's small protest on the steps of Federal Hall on Wall Street Monday. It was in keeping with the current tenor of the movement, which seems dangerously quiet for what is supposed to be a massive spring resurgence.
It's less than two weeks until Occupy Wall Street's big May Day General Strike, and things have not taken off for protesters since we last checked in on them. More ink has been spilled in the past month on Lena Dunham's sex life than the great populist movement of our time.
Occupy Wall Street is currently staging small sleepovers down on Wall Street itself. Sympathizers frame this as Occupy's triumphant return to its roots, but chances are you completely missed the start of these so-called "sleepful protests" two weekends ago. I almost did—and my job is covering them. A few dozen protesters set up camp on a sidewalk on the corner of Broad and Wall Street, relying on a 2000 court ruling that said sleeping in public as a form of protest was protected by the First Amendment. Protesters chilled on Wall St. until this past Monday morning, when police decided to clear protesters out anyway, arresting four.
Protesters quickly reconvened on the steps of Federal Hall, the former New York City Hall which also was the first capitol of the U.S. I stopped by on Monday evening, and found a few dozen occupiers—many whom I recognized from the earliest days of Zuccotti Park—in good spirits. But there was a definite lack of urgency among the crowd, considering the ambitions of Occupy's plans for a spectacular General Strike on May 1, just a few weeks away. On May Day, Occupy organizers promise that "Millions of people throughout the world… will take to the streets to unite in a General Strike against a system that does not work for us." This is a day whose success even many Occupiers admit will be crucial for the future of the movement.
Judging from Monday's protest, though, Occupy's ability to mobilize even hundreds—much less millions—of people remains severely dampened after a quiet winter. As a National Monument, Federal Hall officially closed on Monday at 5 p.m. and Occupiers, who had no intention of leaving, braced for a showdown. Facebook events called for backup, and major Occupy Twitter accounts summoned protesters down to Federal Hall. A similar call brought hundreds down to Zuccotti Park last winter and temporarily staved off an eviction, but on Monday, turnout was sparse. NYPD arrested at least 10 protesters, and the rest were told to keep it down. You couldn't blame the scant crowds on the weather, as it was the most beautiful day of the year.
Of course it would be foolish to write off Occupy based on a few months of downtime, just as it was foolish for so many to discount it until it blew up in their face in the beginning. And with this in mind, a resurgence is always possible: This could be the calm before the storm as much as it could be the movement's last gasp. But it's also very possible that Occupy has turned into a few hundred of the same people going to the same meetings and getting arrested for doing the same things over and over, spiraling gradually into irrelevance. I hope they prove me wrong on May Day—even if that requires bringing back the goddamn drums.