March 2012 | Nate Pedersen

Guest Blog: Occupied Collecting

Occupied Collecting

A guest blog by Brooke Palmie
ri (Bookseller and Collector of the Occupy Movement)

On 17 July 2011, a nonprofit called Adbusters, who consider themselves "creatives working to change the way information flows", posted this image in a blog entry:


It was the first of many calls to occupy Wall Street, New York. The post contains everything you need to know about the movement: from its slick, arresting imagery, its ability to deliver information and intent in short and sharp bursts ("to separate money from politics"), and its use of social media to aid in the cause. The hashtag (#) refers to Twitter, a social networking website which uses that symbol before any word or phrase to instantly link it with others who have written the same. Hashtags are shorthand for a united front. As I've said elsewhere, when the visual and the political combine in such a provocative way, it's time to start paying attention, and to start collecting.


Photo by Marion Siegel

But it can be hard to install bookshelves on the cutting edge. Maybe they're not meant to be there. Canonical books like the Bible and Shakespeare set standards that cannot possibly be brought to bear upon makeshift cities of tents maintaining their own libraries, newspapers, zines, meeting minutes. Even Walter Benjamin in his Arcades Project considered the collector as a hero of the distant past,  "constructing," as he phrases it, "an alarm clock that rouses the kitsch of the previous century to 'assembly'". But if you're collecting the art and writing of Occupy Wall Street, you don't have a century's head start. It's equal parts speculation, political engagement, and flexibility: it's the closest you can get as a collector to harnessing the tempest with the teapot, chasing tornadoes a la Bill Paxton in Twister. Which brings up a few crucial issues to consider when collecting Occupy, something like a "five W's" to ask yourself when collecting on the fringes:

Who will be included? The movement has generated a large body of writing, by prominent thinkers like Naomi Klein and Slavoj Zizek, but also by unknown authors. I go for both: from the Vice magazine Occupy edition, to limited-run or print-on-demand works like Scott Shafer's Occupy Wall Street Guide to Tax Reform and Economic Recovery. There is also the question of collecting the counter-movement. Will you buy Anti-Occupy propaganda? For all my sins, I don't.

When does the archive begin? According to Adbusters the movement traces its roots back to the Arab Spring, as well as the Spanish indignados. Lots of writers have drawn parallels between the Occupy Movement and the French Situationists of the 1950s-60s. Technically, Zuccotti Park was occupied from 17 September 2011. And I begin with 17 July 2011 - the blog post I mentioned above - and for the Arab Spring I rely only on the good work of Tahrir Documents who are keeping an archive, and providing translation, in ways that I cannot.

Where will you focus? Only on events taking place in Zuccotti park? Or the rest of the US - Oakland, Portland, Philadelphia, etc? Will you go global, just as on the 'Global Day of Protest' (15 October) when protestors in 22 countries marched in solidarity with those in New York? Scope greatly impacts thoroughness, which is a weakness of mine, but I like having things from all over so I don't care.

What will you limit your collecting to, if anything? Libraries acquire a lot of non-book material: I have known swords, scientific instruments, and duck-presses to accompany collections. There are lots of print-related Occupy material that aren't books, like screen-printed t-shirts, buttons, and even "prayer flags." There is Occupy money. And that's not to mention the variety of jewelry including Guy Fawkes earrings and Julian Assange lockets. I don't do jewelry. I'm tempted by the prayer flags, but at this point only have room for paper products.

Collecting Occupy also means familiarizing yourself with some of the newer forms of buying. - where you find a project, pledge any amount of money in support of it, and get something in return., the collective of artists partially responsible for defining the look of Occupy, has just opened a Kickstarter to fund the production of more artwork. In exchange for pledges they send editions of the Occupied Wall Street Journal, and posters. My means are limited, but I wanted their copy of the Occupy Wall Street Journal (Issue #4), so I went for it.

There is also writing from blogs, and .pdfs downloads to consider. Even if a .pdf is a total non-entity in the world of rare book collecting, we have no way of guessing as to its scarcity in the future. To leave out considerations of digital collections misses the point of Occupy: whether or not it's hauled off by the NYPD, websites remain constant places to regroup. The "We Are The 99 Percent" tumblr is a textual artifact unlike any other, and the Occupy Archive pulls together documents across the globe - to name a few. This is where I began: it's a good way to start because it's like compiling a bibliography for yourself to get a sense of what's out there. More importantly, this is a feature of the movement that most of all separates it from your typical collection: with one foot online and one foot planted firmly in many cities across the world, to complete the picture of the social movement is to consider both on equal terms.

Why does this matter? Major museums are collecting this stuff. Counterculture has been taking up more and more space in institutions as time goes on (even the Riot Grrrl has a home at NYU). If you ask me, the real writing on the wall comes from booksellers: when sellers dating back to the 1850s have a Counterculture Department, when you see sellers with Occupy artwork at the California Book Fair, it's definitive. But that's not even getting to the heart of things, which is evidence enough. Occupy has changed the terms of civic engagement, it's a record of resistance, and grass-roots lobbyism. It's altered the course of mainstream reporting in a huge way, and opened up other possibilities that were unheard of until now.

BullBeginningIsNear.pngAlexandra Clotfelter "The Beginning is Near," one of the offerings at the Occuprint Kickstarter

Many thanks to Brooke Palmieri, a bookseller in London who we recently profiled in our Bright Young Things Series.  Brooke works for Sokol Books and maintains her own blog on bookish things.