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Occupying your bookshelf

Occupy! Scenes from Occupied America, ed. by Astra Taylor, Keith Gessen and others, Verso, 216 pp, $14.95Occupy! Scenes from Occupied America, ed. by Astra Taylor, Keith Gessen and others, Verso, 216 pp, $14.95To refute critics in the mainstream media who claim that the Occupy movement has no demands, Occupy! Scenes from Occupied America, edited by a team of activist editors including Astra Taylor and Keith Gessen, begins with a list of demands from organizers in an OWS planning meeting in New York.

These range from the expected — repealing Citizens United, debt forgiveness and a “Tobin” tax on financial transactions — to the quirky — removing the bull sculpture from Wall Street and pay-as-you-go warfare.

But just as concrete policy proposals are not really the point of the Occupy movement, so they’re definitely not the point of this book, a pastiche of reporting, essays, documents and artwork as eclectic as the encampment at Zuccotti Park.

The book’s variety makes for entertaining reading that’s also informative, offering up answers to all the questions about OWS that you were afraid to ask.

For example, what’s the deal with drum circles? Turns out that they’re partly historical, inspired by Native American and African traditions, and partly whimsical, their true adherents found at Venice Beach or Santa Cruz. But people who want to talk in a general assembly hate drummers as much as the neighbors do.

How about the deep meaning behind the “We are the 99 percent” Tumblr blog where people post all those handwritten notes about how they’ve suffered in the Great Recession? It’s a way of “resigning from the American Dream” and creating a class consciousness not seen in decades.

And who really initiated Occupy Wall Street? While Adbusters magazine takes credit for the initial announcement, a group of anti-globalization organizers in New York actually did the groundwork for the encampment that began on September 17 of last year.

The Yes Men

This Changes Everything ed. by Sarah van Gelder and the staff of YES! Magazine, Berrett-Kohler, 84 pp, $9.95.This Changes Everything ed. by Sarah van Gelder and the staff of YES! Magazine, Berrett-Kohler, 84 pp, $9.95.This Changes Everything: Occupy Wall Street and the 99% Movement is a more conventional book, though its editors, Sarah van Gelder and the staff of YES! Magazine, rushed it into print as an “instant book” to catch the OWS wave before it hit the shore.

But there’s nothing rushed about the high quality of the book’s contributions, many of which have been in print or online before but all of which were worth collecting into this slim but powerful volume.

This second book is less an immersion in the culture of OWS than a collection of good old-fashioned essays showing why Occupy is not just a movement demanding change, but a revolution that is “transforming how we, the 99%, see ourselves.”

Anyone who considers themselves middle class but has suffered in the economic turmoil of late can’t help but feel consoled by van Gelder’s intelligent empathy:

The shame many of us felt when we couldn’t find a job, pay down our debts, or keep our home is being replaced by a political awakening. Millions now recognize that we are not to blame for a weak economy, for a subprime mortgage meltdown, or for a tax system that favors the wealthy but bankrupts the government. The 99% are coming to see that we are collateral damage in an all-out effort by the super-rich to get even richer.

Of course, this is the kind of talk that we’ve been hearing for years from YES! and its éminence grise, David Korten, author of numerous books on the economy including When Corporations Rule the World. But as America and the rest of the industrial world head into what could be the final collapse at the end of two centuries of fossil-fueled economic growth, we need to hear just this kind of talk more than ever.

So it’s most appropriate that YES! should bring together some of the best lefty writers (with Korten joined by Naomi Klein, Ralph Nader and Rebecca Solnit) to praise a movement that has vindicated the magazine’s own years of crying in the wilderness about economic and financial reform, human-scale and local economies and even peak oil.

– Erik Curren, Transition Voice

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