By Sonia K. Katyal
and Eduardo M. Peñalver
, Special to CNN
updated 3:17 PM EST, Fri December 16, 2011
-- Over the past few weeks, cities have continued to remove Occupy Wall Street protesters from their encampments. Occupy has responded to these ejections by changing its focus from public spaces toward private property: foreclosed homes.
This shift may end up leaving Occupy even stronger than it was before the ejections began. It answers critics who have accused Occupy of lacking a political program and will help the movement build stronger ties with working-class Americans. To understand why, it helps to view Occupy in the context of earlier social movements that employed similar tactics.
A straight line runs from the 1930s sit-down strikes in Flint, Michigan, to the 1960 lunch-counter sit-ins to the occupation of Alcatraz by Native American activists in 1969 to Occupy Wall Street. Occupations employ physical possession to communicate intense dissent, exhibited by a willingness to break the law and to suffer the -- occasionally violent -- consequences.
Effective occupations, however, have managed to do more than convey intensity. They have crafted visible signs of the reality protesters hope to create, thereby spurring legal change. The sit-down strikes arguably laid the groundwork for the enforcement of federal labor laws; the lunch counter sit-ins led to the enactment of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and the Alcatraz occupation paved the way for a milestone reversal in Federal Indian policy, leading President Nixon to support tribal self-determination.