One of your #OWS colleagues is working on a group survey project of those sympathetic to the Occupy movement and its relation to other social movements, and he would love to have some responses from you.
London, UK - Almost every time I’m interviewed by a mainstream journalist about Occupy Wall Street I get some variation of the same lecture:
“How are you going to get anywhere if you refuse to create a leadership structure or make a practical list of demands? And what’s with all this anarchist nonsense - the consensus, the sparkly fingers? Don’t you realise all this radical language is going to alienate people? You’re never going to be able to reach regular, mainstream Americans with this sort of thing!”
If one were compiling a scrapbook of worst advice ever given, this sort of thing might well merit an honourable place. After all, since the financial crash of 2007, there have been dozens of attempts to kick-off a national movement against the depredations of the United States’ financial elites taking the approach such journalists recommended. All failed. It was only on August 2, when a small group of anarchists and other anti-authoritarians showed up at a meeting called by one such group and effectively wooed everyone away from the planned march and rally to create a genuine democratic assembly, on basically anarchist principles, that the stage was set for a movement that Americans from Portland to Tuscaloosa were willing to embrace.
I should be clear here what I mean by “anarchist principles”. The easiest way to explain anarchism is to say that it is a political movement that aims to bring about a genuinely free society - that is, one where humans only enter those kinds of relations with one another that would not have to be enforced by the constant threat of violence. History has shown that vast inequalities of wealth, institutions like slavery, debt peonage or wage labour, can only exist if backed up by armies, prisons, and police. Anarchists wish to see human relations that would not have to be backed up by armies, prisons and police. Anarchism envisions a society based on equality and solidarity, which could exist solely on the free consent of participants.
Anarchism versus Marxism
Traditional Marxism, of course, aspired to the same ultimate goal but there was a key difference. Most Marxists insisted that it was necessary first to seize state power, and all the mechanisms of bureaucratic violence that come with it, and use them to transform society - to the point where, they argued such mechanisms would, ultimately, become redundant and fade away. Even back in the 19th century, anarchists argued that this was a pipe dream. One cannot, they argued, create peace by training for war, equality by creating top-down chains of command, or, for that matter, human happiness by becoming grim joyless revolutionaries who sacrifice all personal self-realisation or self-fulfillment to the cause.
It’s not just that the ends do not justify the means (though they don’t), you will never achieve the ends at all unless the means are themselves a model for the world you wish to create. Hence the famous anarchist call to begin “building the new society in the shell of the old” with egalitarian experiments ranging from free schools to radical labour unions to rural communes.
Anarchism was also a revolutionary ideology, and its emphasis on individual conscience and individual initiative meant that during the first heyday of revolutionary anarchism between roughly 1875 and 1914, many took the fight directly to heads of state and capitalists, with bombings and assassinations. Hence the popular image of the anarchist bomb-thrower. It’s worthy of note that anarchists were perhaps the first political movement to realise that terrorism, even if not directed at innocents, doesn’t work. For nearly a century now, in fact, anarchism has been one of the very few political philosophies whose exponents never blow anyone up (indeed, the 20th-century political leader who drew most from the anarchist tradition was Mohandas K Gandhi.)
Yet for the period of roughly 1914 to 1989, a period during which the world was continually either fighting or preparing for world wars, anarchism went into something of an eclipse for precisely that reason: To seem “realistic”, in such violent times, a political movement had to be capable of organising armies, navies and ballistic missile systems, and that was one thing at which Marxists could often excel. But everyone recognised that anarchists - rather to their credit - would never be able to pull it off. It was only after 1989, when the age of great war mobilisations seemed to have ended, that a global revolutionary movement based on anarchist principles - the global justice movement - promptly reappeared.
How, then, did OWS embody anarchist principles? It might be helpful to go over this point by point:
1) The refusal to recognise the legitimacy of existing political institutions.
One reason for the much-discussed refusal to issue demands is because issuing demands means recognising the legitimacy - or at least, the power - of those of whom the demands are made. Anarchists often note that this is the difference between protest and direct action: Protest, however militant, is an appeal to the authorities to behave differently; direct action, whether it’s a matter of a community building a well or making salt in defiance of the law (Gandhi’s example again), trying to shut down a meeting or occupy a factory, is a matter of acting as if the existing structure of power does not even exist. Direct action is, ultimately, the defiant insistence on acting as if one is already free.
2)The refusal to accept the legitimacy of the existing legal order.
The second principle, obviously, follows from the first. From the very beginning, when we first started holding planning meetings in Tompkins Square Park in New York, organisers knowingly ignored local ordinances that insisted that any gathering of more than 12 people in a public park is illegal without police permission - simply on the grounds that such laws should not exist. On the same grounds, of course, we chose to occupy a park, inspired by examples from the Middle East and southern Europe, on the grounds that, as the public, we should not need permission to occupy public space. This might have been a very minor form of civil disobedience but it was crucial that we began with a commitment to answer only to a moral order, not a legal one.
3)The refusal to create an internal hierarchy, but instead to create a form of consensus-based direct democracy.
From the very beginning, too, organisers made the audacious decision to operate not only by direct democracy, without leaders, but by consensus. The first decision ensured that there would be no formal leadership structure that could be co-opted or coerced; the second, that no majority could bend a minority to its will, but that all crucial decisions had to be made by general consent. American anarchists have long considered consensus process (a tradition that has emerged from a confluence of feminism, anarchism and spiritual traditions like the Quakers) crucial for the reason that it is the only form of decision-making that could operate without coercive enforcement - since if a majority does not have the means to compel a minority to obey its dictates, all decisions will, of necessity, have to be made by general consent.
4) The embrace of prefigurative politics.
As a result, Zuccotti Park, and all subsequent encampments, became spaces of experiment with creating the institutions of a new society - not only democratic General Assemblies but kitchens, libraries, clinics, media centres and a host of other institutions, all operating on anarchist principles of mutual aid and self-organisation - a genuine attempt to create the institutions of a new society in the shell of the old.
Why did it work? Why did it catch on? One reason is, clearly, because most Americans are far more willing to embrace radical ideas than anyone in the established media is willing to admit. The basic message - that the American political order is absolutely and irredeemably corrupt, that both parties have been bought and sold by the wealthiest 1 per cent of the population, and that if we are to live in any sort of genuinely democratic society, we’re going to have to start from scratch - clearly struck a profound chord in the American psyche.
Perhaps this is not surprising: We are facing conditions that rival those of the 1930s, the main difference being that the media seems stubbornly willing to acknowledge it. It raises intriguing questions about the role of the media itself in American society. Radical critics usually assume the “corporate media”, as they call it, mainly exists to convince the public that existing institutions are healthy, legitimate and just. It is becoming increasingly apparent that they do not really see this is possible; rather, their role is simply to convince members of an increasingly angry public that no one else has come to the same conclusions they have. The result is an ideology that no one really believes, but most people at least suspect that everybody else does.
Nowhere is this disjunction between what ordinary Americans really think, and what the media and political establishment tells them they think, more clear than when we talk about democracy.
Democracy in America?
According to the official version, of course, “democracy” is a system created by the Founding Fathers, based on checks and balances between president, congress and judiciary. In fact, nowhere in the Declaration of Independence or Constitution does it say anything about the US being a “democracy”. The authors of those documents, almost to a man, defined “democracy” as a matter of collective self-governance by popular assemblies, and as such they were dead-set against it.
Democracy meant the madness of crowds: bloody, tumultuous and untenable. “There was never a democracy that didn’t commit suicide,” wrote Adams; Hamilton justified the system of checks and balances by insisting that it was necessary to create a permanent body of the “rich and well-born” to check the “imprudence” of democracy, or even that limited form that would be allowed in the lower house of representatives.
The result was a republic - modelled not on Athens, but on Rome. It only came to be redefined as a “democracy” in the early 19th century because ordinary Americans had very different views, and persistently tended to vote - those who were allowed to vote - for candidates who called themselves “democrats”. But what did - and what do - ordinary Americans mean by the word? Did they really just mean a system where they get to weigh in on which politicians will run the government? It seems implausible. After all, most Americans loathe politicians, and tend to be skeptical about the very idea of government. If they universally hold out “democracy” as their political ideal, it can only be because they still see it, however vaguely, as self-governance - as what the Founding Fathers tended to denounce as either “democracy” or, as they sometimes also put it, “anarchy”.
If nothing else, this would help explain the enthusiasm with which they have embraced a movement based on directly democratic principles, despite the uniformly contemptuous dismissal of the United States’ media and political class.
In fact, this is not the first time a movement based on fundamentally anarchist principles - direct action, direct democracy, a rejection of existing political institutions and attempt to create alternative ones - has cropped up in the US. The civil rights movement (at least its more radical branches), the anti-nuclear movement, and the global justice movement all took similar directions. Never, however, has one grown so startlingly quickly. But in part, this is because this time around, the organisers went straight for the central contradiction. They directly challenged the pretenses of the ruling elite that they are presiding over a democracy.
When it comes to their most basic political sensibilities, most Americans are deeply conflicted. Most combine a deep reverence for individual freedom with a near-worshipful identification with institutions like the army and police. Most combine an enthusiasm for markets with a hatred of capitalists. Most are simultaneously profoundly egalitarian, and deeply racist. Few are actual anarchists; few even know what “anarchism” means; it’s not clear how many, if they did learn, would ultimately wish to discard the state and capitalism entirely. Anarchism is much more than simply grassroots democracy: It ultimately aims to eliminate all social relations, from wage labour to patriarchy, that can only be maintained by the systematic threat of force.
But one thing overwhelming numbers of Americans do feel is that something is terribly wrong with their country, that its key institutions are controlled by an arrogant elite, that radical change of some kind is long since overdue. They’re right. It’s hard to imagine a political system so systematically corrupt - one where bribery, on every level, has not only been made legal, but soliciting and dispensing bribes has become the full-time occupation of every American politician. The outrage is appropriate. The problem is that up until September 17, the only side of the spectrum willing to propose radical solutions of any sort was the Right.
As the history of the past movements all make clear, nothing terrifies those running the US more than the danger of democracy breaking out. The immediate response to even a modest spark of democratically organised civil disobedience is a panicked combination of concessions and brutality. How else can one explain the recent national mobilisation of thousands of riot cops, the beatings, chemical attacks, and mass arrests, of citizens engaged in precisely the kind of democratic assemblies the Bill of Rights was designed to protect, and whose only crime - if any - was the violation of local camping regulations?
Our media pundits might insist that if average Americans ever realised the anarchist role in Occupy Wall Street, they would turn away in shock and horror; but our rulers seem, rather, to labour under a lingering fear that if any significant number of Americans do find out what anarchism really is, they might well decide that rulers of any sort are unnecessary.
Tell the Senate “NO to Indefinite Military Detention!”
The U.S. Senate is considering the unthinkable: changing detention laws to imprison people — including Americans living in the United States itself — indefinitely and without charge.
The Defense Authorization bill is now on the Senate floor with troubling provisions that would give the President — and all future presidents — the authority to indefinitely imprison people, without charge or trial, both abroad and inside the United States and would mandate military detention of some civilians who would otherwise be outside of military control. The indefinite detention without charge or trial provisions are so harmful that the Obama White House has threatened to veto the bill if they are not removed from it.
Urge your senators to vote YES on the Udall amendment to the Defense Authorization bill which would remove the harmful provisions from the bill and in their place, mandate a process for Congress to use an orderly process to consider whether any detention legislation is needed.
Just earnt yourself an unfollow. Someone sais ‘lets try and change the world’ and you said ‘but people who feel bad about who they are might imagine that other people have a problem with it even though actually other people are just fuckheads!’ then I said ‘fuck you.’
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Deadlines for Wall Street protesters to leave their encampments came and went in two cities with no arrests in Philadelphia and a festive, party-like atmosphere as protesters in Los Angeles defied the order clear out early Monday.
Protesters defied the mayor’s deadline to vacate their encampment near City Hall in Los Angeles, with about 1,000 flooding into the area as hundreds of tents remained standing as they have for nearly two months.
A celebratory atmosphere filled the night with protesters milling about the park and streets by City Hall in seeming good spirits. A group on bicycles circled the block, one of them in a cow suit. Organizers led chants with a bull horn.
“The best way to keep a non-violent movement non-violent is to throw a party, and keep it festive and atmospheric,” said Brian Masterson.
Police presence was slight right after the 12:01 a.m. PST Monday deadline, but it began increasing as the morning wore on. At the same time, the number of protesters dwindled.
“People have been pretty cooperative tonight. We want to keep it peaceful,” police Cmdr. Andrew Smith told The Associated Press.
He refused to discuss how or when police will move to clear the park, but he said: “We’re going to do this as gently as we possibly can. Our goal is not to have anybody arrested. Our goal is not to have to use force.”
A deadline set by the city for Occupy Philadelphia to leave the site where it has camped for nearly two months passed Sunday without any arrests.
The reactions to the expired deadlines in Los Angeles and Philadelphia were far different from those in other cities in recent weeks, where pepper spray, tear gas and police action have been used in the removal of long-situated demonstrators since the movement against economic disparity and perceived corporate greed began with Occupy Wall Street in Manhattan two months ago.
Dozens of tents remained at the encampment outside Philadelphia’s City Hall Monday morning, twelve hours after a city-imposed deadline passed for the protesters to move to make way for a construction project.
"…CLGC’s memo proposes that the ABA pay CLGC $850,000 to conduct “opposition research” on Occupy Wall Street in order to construct “negative narratives” about the protests and allied politicians. The memo also asserts that Democratic victories in 2012 would be detrimental for Wall Street and targets specific races in which it says Wall Street would benefit by electing Republicans instead…"
“I was there to take down the names of people who were arrested… As I’m standing there, some African-American woman goes up to a police officer and says, ‘I need to get in. My daughter’s there. I want to know if she’s OK.’ And he said, ‘Move on, lady.’ And they kept pushing with their sticks, pushing back. And she was crying. And all of a sudden, out of nowhere, he throws her to the ground and starts hitting her in the head,” says Smith. “I walk over, and I say, ‘Look, cuff her if she’s done something, but you don’t need to do that.’ And he said, ‘Lady, do you want to get arrested?’ And I said, ‘Do you see my hat? I’m here as a legal observer.’ He said, ‘You want to get arrested?’ And he pushed me up against the wall.”—Retired New York Supreme Court Judge Karen Smith, working as a legal observer after the raids on Zucotti Park this Tuesday, via Paramilitary Policing of Occupy Wall Street: Excessive Use of Force amidst the New Military Urbanism (via seriouslyamerica)
It’s getting rather exhausting listening to people try to use the Tea Party rallies as some sort of check on the Occupy Wall Street movement in order to demonize it. While the Tea Partiers do have some legitimate political concerns, for the most part, they were and still are pawns. Why was there constant mainstream media coverage of Tea Party demonstrations? Why were there so few incidents of clashes with police and zero arrests? Why were Tea Party protesters who carried guns, many semiautomatic riffles, untouched by law enforcement? Why were they taken so seriously? Why were they hailed as “patriots?” Why weren’t any Tea Party rallies shut down?
Because the Tea Party in no way threatened the establishment. They demanded completely privatized healthcare, eating right out of the hands of Big Pharma and healthcare insurance companies. They protested against corporate and environmental regulations, allowing big business to essentially steamroll over whatever they please, even if that meant destroying our Earth, with zero accountability. They demanded funding for services and programs that generally help the lower classes like Medicaid, employment insurance, Planned Parenthood, etc. be cut in order to “slash the deficit.” After billionaires like the Koch brothers poured money into their groups, they demanded it was unfair to tax big corporations and the rich because “they’re the job makers.” Maybe we should look at some of their corporate and mega-rich sponsors:
Americans for Prosperity
Castle Rock Foundation
Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation
F.M. Kirby Foundation
Gordon and Mary Cain Foundation
Jaquelin Hume Foundation
John M. Olin Foundation
Philip M. McKenna Foundation
Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation
Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation
Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
Sarah Scaife Foundation
George C. Marshall Institute
American Enterprise Institute
Scaife Family Foundation
Shelby Cullom Davis Foundation
Americans for Tax Reform
Family Research Council
John Birch Society
Ensuring Liberty Corp.
Ernst & Young
Fed. of Amer. Hospitals
There’s a major incentive to allow the AstroTurf Tea Partiers, which make up only 18% of the population, to stomp their little feet. There is, however, virtually zero incentive to allow the Occupy movement, which denounces such overreaching corporate power, to even open their mouths and let out a single utterance. So, how do you suppress an all-inclusive movement with legitimate and striking concerns regarding the unequal balance of power? You beat them in the streets and try to do everything possible to cut off their resources because your corporate overlords, guys like Bloomberg who made billions by doing business with Wall Street, said, “jump.” Because you’re part of the 40% the top 1% owns. They buy you with their massive amounts of wealth to do their bidding in order to increase that wealth.
I will give these critics of the Occupy movement one thing though: it’s difficult to figure out how the system really works because of how horribly broken it is. However, it doesn’t take a great mind to understand the very fact that it’s broken in the first place or pinpoint who broke it.
Since today is supposed to be a “day of action” — and certainly hasn’t failed to deliver in this respect — I think it’s important to talk about just what kind of action is desperately needed from OWS. This is where Fanon’s discussion of decolonization becomes relevant. Make no mistake: The wholesale restructuring of the dominant ideologies and institutions of a society is always and necessarily a radically violent act. It was in this sense of the word that Slovenian philosopher and critical theorist Slavoj Žižek could say that “Gandhi was more violent than Hitler: Gandhi’s movement effectively endeavored to interrupt the basic functioning of the British colonial state” whereas Hitler merely “stages a big spectacle of Revolution so that the capitalist order could survive.”
This is the fundamental failing of those who resign themselves to passivity and surrender from the outset according to a ridiculous and inaptly named principle of “nonviolence”: what they create is mere spectacle, devoid of substance — an occupation without seizure of power. Such movements can never formulate, let alone defend what Fanon calls “the minimum demands of the colonized.” Just as Orwell claimed during the Second World War that “the pacifist is objectively pro-Nazi,” so too with OWS. The pacifist now is objectively pro-Wall Street and, regardless of intention, stands should-to-shoulder with members of the financier and rentier classes.
Read the whole thing, it’s really a fantastic analysis.
I'd like to begin by saying I watch the Daily Show and Colbert Report regularly (because I can't tolerate any other news station), and on tonight's episode of the Daily Show Jon Stewart and Samantha Bee talked about the "end" off Occupy Wall Street, and Colbert did a segment called "Occu-bye". I'm pretty sure OWS isn't over, but I just needed some reassurance.
What both programs do, more than make fun of politics itself, is make fun of political media. I haven’t been watching much TV lately myself, but my best guess is that they weren’t calling the end of OWS, they were parodying other media prematurely calling the end of OWS.
Besides that, this is far from over.There are occupations still happening everywhere. The changes we need, the shift in paradigm, have not happened yet. Today is the day of direct action.
“I believe change begins in the streets, and all citizens have the power to make a difference, together we can make our voices heard in the ivory towers of government, so lace up your combat boots.”—Dorli Rainey (84 year old women pepper sprayed at Occupy Seattle)
Law enforcement is there to protect a wealthy elite from the rest of the population
A teenage girl holds a hastily written sign saying: “NYPD, we trusted you – you were supposed to protect us!”
The sentiment is a familiar one. Across Europe, over a year of demonstrations, occupations and civil disobedience, anti-austerity protesters have largely shifted from declaring solidarity with the police – as fellow workers whose jobs and pensions are also under threat – to outrage and anger at state violence against unarmed protesters. Following last month’s police brutality in Oakland, and today’s summary eviction of the Occupy Wall Street camp, American activists too are reaching the conclusion that “police protect the 1%”.
“Who do you guys work for?” Shouts one Manhattan protester, as police load arrestees into a van. “You work for JP Morgan Bank!”
As hard as the NYPD and New York City’s government might try to obscure the truth though, one truth remains: At 1 a.m. this morning, in the heart of New York City, protesters exercising their constitutional rights to free speech and assembly were swept away by the state, while that state also did all it could to prevent media coverage. No matter what one may think of the occupiers or their cause, nothing they’ve done justifies blockading the press or ignoring court orders. Mayor Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and other New York leaders who ordered the eviction should take a long, hard look at their handling of the occupation. This morning’s action may not be what a police state looks like, but it’s certainly how one begins.