Amin Husain recently appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal to discuss the movement.
Lost in the debate over whether Palestine is a pertinent issue to the Occupy movement is this interesting fact: two of the core organizers behind Occupy Wall Street in New York have close ties to both Israel and Palestine.
A new New York magazine feature on the Occupy Wall Street protests does not delve into the controversy over Palestine solidarity, it does paint an interesting picture of organizers Yotam Marom and Amin Husain.
Take Amin Husain, who is characterized by a number of the prime movers as one of OWS’s “deep thinkers.” Husain, a 36-year-old Palestinian-American who grew up poor before becoming a corporate lawyer, spent much of the aughts working on complex structured-finance deals. His last job before leaving the law to become an artist was as a contract attorney at Cravath, laboring on behalf of its client PricewaterhouseCoopers when PWC was being sued over its auditing (or, arguably, non-auditing) of AIG, reading hundreds of internal e-mails that may expose the perfidy of both.
In his kaffiyeh and a camouflage military cap, Husain certainly has the look of a revolutionary, but he sounds more like the artist he’s become. When I ask what drew him to OWS, he says, “I felt it was a moment for something to shift. It’s time to have people empowered to imagine, what does it mean to live in a beautiful country like the United States of America? This is a movement not about speaking to people, but about hearing. It’s not for the people. It’s with the people. It’s a new way of thinking.”
This kind of talk is common among a certain sort of OWSer, especially those who are newbies to public agitation. But then there is another sort: committed activists. Among the OWS prime movers, a goodly number, including Yotam Marom, were involved in Bloombergville, the sidewalk protest near City Hall against the city’s budget cuts that took place last summer. While their vernacular is at times as airy as Husain’s, their politics are much firmer, steeped in the cut-and-thrust of battles for tangible objectives. And, unlike Husain, who invoked the phrase “leaderless movement” again and again, the activist prime movers make no bones about the fact that OWS has a leadership cadre—and that they are part of it.
“Anybody who says there’s such a thing as a totally nonhierarchical, agenda-less movement is … not stupid, but dangerous, because somebody’s got to write the agenda—it doesn’t fall out of the sky,” says Marom, who in some ways is Husain’s mirror image. A 25-year-old veteran of the New School occupation and co-founder of the quasi-socialist Organization for a Free Society, Marom was raised in Hoboken by Israeli parents and has lived in both a commune (in Israel) and a collective (in Crown Heights). Articulate and charismatic, he came to OWS with a bone-deep wariness toward many of the far left’s ingrained tendencies, notably “the glorification of process and vagueness,” he says.
Marom is a familiar face in New York’s activist scene. He was a part of the occupation of the New School two years ago, and was a key activist involved in Bloombergville, a 24/7 protest encampment earlier this year that is seen as a precedent for Occupy Wall Street. Marom, a member of the left-wing Zionist group Hashomer Hatzair, has written some on Israel/Palestine (here he is responding to an article by Ilan Pappe), although his interests also include “communalism, education…parecon, gender, sexuality, student activism, and vision and strategy for a new society.”
Husain is also an interesting character. The Toronto Star writer Leslie Scrivener reported on Husain in a recent piece on the protest movement:
Husain, 36, a former finance lawyer, smiles. A tall man, lightly bearded, wearing a kaffiyeh, he saw that day as the start of something he had longed for all his life. He grew up in the Palestinian uprisings of the ’90s and spent time in prison in his early teens. He links that movement to the present one:
“It was this hope we can create a better world.”
And he believes that it is now underway: “There are moments when the stars align.”
Kalle Lasn, the editor of Adbusters, told me that he believes the Occupy movement has the potential to change
not just the way we think about financial speculators and fat cats on Wall Street, but all kinds of arenas as well, including the political and foreign policy arenas
Husain’s linking of the Palestinian intifada to the Occupy movement is indicative that Lasn may be right.