Noam Chomsky has advice for the Occupy movement, whose encampments all over the country are being swept away by police. The occupations were a “brilliant” idea, he says, but now it’s time to “move on to the next stage” in tactics. He suggests political organizing in the neighborhoods.
The Occupy camps have shown people how “to break out of this conception that we’re isolated.” But “just occupying” has “lived its life,” says the man who is the most revered radical critic of American politics and capitalist economics.
Chomsky gave his counsel answering questions in a small group after a speech Monday evening, December 12, in the 1000-seat Westbrook Middle School auditorium (a/k/a Westbrook Performing Arts Center), which was filled to capacity. The speech was sponsored by the University of New England’s Center for Global Humanities.
The Occupy movement’s repression, which Chomsky decried, has a saving grace, he said: the opportunity for it to expand more into “the 99 percent” by engaging people “face to face.”
"Don’t be obsessed with tactics but with purpose," he suggested. "Tactics have a half life."
My message will have to be brief. But let not this brevity take from it, its strength.
You are the central movement of the hour. You’re raising questions that are in the hearts of millions. Your motto, “We are the 99%,” has been heard, heeded, and responded to by millions. You can be certain that the 1% have heard you clearest of all.
Your work, however, is just beginning. You must deepen, strengthen, and further your work until it truly reaches the 99%, almost all of us: workers, black folk, Latinos and Latinas, LGBTs, immigrants, Asians, artists, all of us, for we are integral parts of the 99%. I salute you and hope fervently that you will grow beyond number.
Though I speak to you today by proxy, I’m confident that you will hear my voice soon.
Here’s a tip for the do-it-yourself crowd: Go to your computer’s Start menu, and either go to “run” or just search for “cmd.” Open it up, and type in “ping [website address],” like so:
Once you have the IP for a website, all you really need to do is enter it like you would a normal URL and hit enter/press go. Typing in “184.108.40.206” should bring you to the front page of AO3, for example, just as typing “220.127.116.11/dashboard” should bring you straight to your Tumblr dashboard. Since we’re obviously bracing for the worst case scenario which would involve you not being able to access Tumblr regularly, you should, like, save this list, I guess.
Hello! I was hoping you could help promote our protest against religious institutions interfering with politics to the detriment of the LGBT community. All the information can be found on our tumblr/facebook. It would be a great help if you could put the word out on your tumblr! Thanks!
> local PUBLIC law enforcement agencies distribute flyer on ‘domestic threats,’ to protect corrupt businesses from criticism
> local PUBLIC law enforcement agencies include in said flyer a warning that protesters might try to record and embarrass them (as if this is the police’s business)
> local PUBLIC law enforcement agencies denounce the ‘anti-capitalist profile’
The police are not the 99%. They are the armed watchdogs of privilege and convenience for the corporate and financial class. They are here to protect an ideology, and they freely acknowledge that in the flyer obtained by Occupy London.
City of London Police have sparked controversy by producing a brief in which the Occupy London movement is listed under domestic terrorism/extremism threats to City businesses.
Picture- Occupy LSX
The document was given to protesters at their “Bank of Ideas” base on Sun Street – a former site of financial corporation UBS. City police have stepped up an effort to quell the movement since they occupied the building on 18 November, with the document stating: “It is likely that activists aspire to identify other locations to occupy, especially those they identify with capitalism.
“Intelligence suggests that urban explorers are holding a discussion at the Sun Street squat. This may lead to an increase in urban exploration activity at abandoned or high profile sites in the capital.” The Occupy movement is listed alongside threats posed by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), Al Qaeda and Belarusian terrorists.
The hidden infrastructure of the 2012 campaign has already been built.
A handful of so-called Super PACs, enabled to collect unlimited donations by the continued erosion of campaign finance regulations, are expected to rival the official campaign organizations in importance this election. In many cases, these groups are acting essentially as outside arms of the campaigns.
These are America’s best-funded political factions, their war chests filled by some of the richest men (and almost all are men) in the country.
More than 80 percent of giving to Super PACs so far has come from just 58 donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics analysis of the latest data, which covers the first half of 2011. The Republican groups have raised $17.6 million and the Democratic groups $7.6 million. Those numbers will balloon, with American Crossroads, the main Republican Super PAC, aiming to raise $240 million.
We are the front-line workers who haul container rigs full of imported and exported goods to and from the docks and warehouses every day.
We have been elected by committees of our co-workers at the Ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle, Tacoma, New York and New Jersey to tell our collective story. We have accepted the honor to speak up for our brothers and sisters about our working conditions despite the risk of retaliation we face. One of us is a mother, the rest of us fathers. Between the five of us we have 11 children and one more baby on the way. We have a combined 46 years of experience driving cargo from our shores for America’s stores.
We are inspired that a non-violent democratic movement that insists on basic economic fairness is capturing the hearts and minds of so many working people. Thank you “99 Percenters” for hearing our call for justice. We are humbled and overwhelmed by recent attention. Normally we are invisible.
Today’s demonstrations will impact us. While we cannot officially speak for every worker who shares our occupation, we can use this opportunity to reveal what it’s like to walk a day in our shoes for the 110,000 of us in America whose job it is to be a port truck driver. It may be tempting for media to ask questions about whether we support a shutdown, but there are no easy answers. Instead, we ask you, are you willing to listen and learn why a one-word response is impossible?
“Occupy” protesters on the West Coast moved Monday to disrupt ports in Los Angeles, San Francisco and elsewhere.
The “Wall Street on the Waterfront” protests seem to have had more success in Oakland [than elsewhere]. KQED says that a crowd their reporter estimated to be 1,000 strong marched through the streets of West Oakland this morning. At the port, protesters were able to disrupt operations:
Caitlin Esch, who is at the port now, says at least three of the six gates at the port are effectively blocked, with nothing moving in or out as protesters clog up the entrances. Trucks are lined up, some trying to drop off, some trying to pick up.
Other ports targeted by Occupy protesters today include San Diego; Seattle, Tacoma, Washington, and Anchorage, Alaska.
Up to 50,000 people braved the cold and snow on Saturday to turn out for the largest ever protest against the rule of prime minister Vladimir Putin.
Bolotnaya Square, across the river from the Kremlin in central Moscow, was filled to overflowing with thousands standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the bridges and along the riverfront leading to the site. Tens of thousands of police and interior troops were deployed around the area, but protesters had been allowed by officials to gather in an unprecedented show of discontent.
Shouts of “Russia without Putin!” and “Freedom!” were mixed with demands that the Kremlin annul a disputed parliamentary election that saw Putin’s United Russia party gain nearly 50% of the vote despite widespread accusations of fraud.
"I demand new elections," said Maxim, 26, an economist. "If they don’t agree, we will continue to come out. The people have woken up – they see there’s a point to going out into the streets and expressing what they don’t agree with."
Opposition leader Vladimir Ryzhkov said a further protest would be held on Christmas eve if the Kremlin refused to cancel the election results. The overwhelmingly young crowd organised via social networking sites and exceeded early estimates of 30,000.
Activists at Occupy Wall Street have issued a call to thousands of protesters across the US to reoccupy outdoor public spaces to mark the movement’s three-month anniversary.
The Occupy movement has stalled in recent weeks after a wave of evictions swept away a raft of encampments, including the largest in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York. On Wednesday, it suffered a fresh blow as police in riot gear cleared Occupy San Francisco camp on the orders of the mayor, who had been sympathetic to protesters, while Occupy Boston lost legal protection against eviction.
Organisers said they hoped the call to reoccupy on the 17 December would galvanise and grow the movement.
Amin Husain, a press spokesman for OWS, said: “We know that occupation empowers people and eliminates fear. It permits individuals to assert themselves as political beings even although the system doesn’t represent them.” […]
In a piece published this week in the first issue of Tidal, a magazine published by the Occupy movement, Judith Butler, academic and feminist theorist at the University of California, Berkeley, spoke of its importance.
Butler said: “When bodies gather together as they do to express their indignation and to enact their plural existence in public space, they are also making broader demands. They are demanding to be recognised and to be valued; they are exercising a right to appear and to exercise freedom; they are calling for a liveable life.
"These values are presupposed by particular demands, but they also demand a more fundamental restructuring of our socio-economic and political order."
“Propaganda is to democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.” ~ Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent (1988)
Consider this rather dramatic contrast: when 300 liberals are arrested during an anti-Putin protest in faraway Moscow, the New York Times splashes the news onto its front page. But when 700 radicals are arrested in an anti-Wall Street rally in New York itself, the Times systematically ignores them, pushing the news onto its obscure ‘City Room Blog’.
The difference in framing between these two items is particularly remarkable. First of all, there’s the title: “Moscow Moves to Quell Second Day of Anti-Putin Protests.” Compare the laden term “to quell”, which implies an authoritarian type of crackdown, with the following matter-of-fact statement: “Police Arrest More Than 700 Protesters on Brooklyn Bridge.”
Then compare the introductory paragraphs of the two articles: “Russian authorities acted decisively to quash a second day of anti-government protests,” versus “In a tense showdown above the East River, the police arrested more than 700 demonstrators from the Occupy Wall Street protests who took to the roadway as they tried to cross the Brooklyn Bridge.”
This afternoon, at least 99 different groups of Americans outraged at income inequality and the lack of jobs are at the U.S. capitol, demanding that Members of Congress support jobs legislation. The action, called “Take Back The Capitol” is one of the few times that Members of Congress will be directly confronted by unemployed people.
About half an hour ago, a group of demonstrators entered Rep. Joe Walsh’s (R-IL) office. These protesters asked to meet with the congressman. The Chief of Staff, Justin Roth, said that Walsh was busy and could only meet with them later but offered to meet with the protesters himself. “I think we’ll stay,” said one protester. Roth shrugged and the protesters sat down and decided to occupy the office until Walsh arrives.
A remarkable thing happened several weeks ago in a small city in North Carolina. A group of Occupiers from Chapel Hill affiliated with the national movement, emboldened by similar actions by Occupiers in Oakland, California, reclaimed an old used car dealership that had sat vacant for years. The owner, a deadbeat who has been apparently at odds with city government for some time now, has kept the lot vacant and undeveloped for the better part of ten years. This large building and land, unoccupied and unused for a very long time, was converted to serve the interests of the people of Chapel Hill…
Of course, soon enough, the police decided to intervene in this ugly display of wanton public compassion and unity. That brought us photos of police dressed in full military fatigues and flak jackets, brandishing assault rifles, heading in to clear the building of the people who had attempted to give it a viable purpose to serve the community…
Through the occupation of both public and private abandoned space, the Occupy movement, as well as anti-capitalist political movements across the globe, are showing that they have the capability to escalate their tactics in a meaningful way. The reclamation of public space for political thought and dialogue is an important first step to breaking the bonds of capitalist hegemony in the sphere of public consciousness. This has been done in the past few months by brave Occupiers willing to risk arrest to get the public to pay attention to the issues staring them in the face. It has been proven to be a successful tactic, and should be continued. Now, an important next step is to carry the occupations to private space that can be converted to better use serving the wider needs of the community.
The drive to stop foreclosures and squat bank property marks a radical shift from the occupation of public space to the public repossession of private property.
The Occupy movement is racketing up the resistance. Inspired by the Spanish indignados, this Tuesday activists all over the United States will be taking the struggle indoors: to the homes of poor families who are under threat of being evicted by large and powerful Wall Street banks. The move from occupying public space to reclaiming private property marks a radical escalation of civil disobedience, striking the capitalist system right at its institutional heart.
On December 6, during a national day of action, the Occupy movement will mobilize activists in over 25 cities to “protest fraudulent lending practices, corrupt securitization, and illegal evictions by banks,” by physically halting the attempt to evict families from their homes and by occupying vacant bank-owned homes and donating them to those in need. As Occupy Wall St. reported, “the day of action marks a national kick-off for a new frontier for the movement.”
The action is partly inspired by the 15-M movement in Spain, which — through the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hypoteca, or the platform of those affected by their mortgage — has stopped hundreds of evictions in Spain and has occupied numerous large vacant buildings and offered them to people who had been kicked out of their homes by their banks. Locally, the action also builds on the groundbreaking activism of Take Back the Land.
“I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I’m frightened to death.”
— GOP strategist Frank Luntz, quoted by Yahoo News, noting the Occupy Wall Street protests are “having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism.”
Know your enemy. Here are some Luntz GOP talking points about OWS:
What Luntz says in a list:
1. Don’t say ‘capitalism.’ 2. Don’t say that the government ‘taxes the rich.’ Instead, tell them that the government ‘takes from the rich.’ 3. Republicans should forget about winning the battle over the ‘middle class.’ Call them ‘hardworking taxpayers.’ 4. Don’t talk about ‘jobs.’ Talk about ‘careers.’ 5. Don’t say ‘government spending.’ 6. Don’t ever say you’re willing to ‘compromise.’ 7. The three most important words you can say to an Occupier: ‘I get it.’ “First off, here are three words for you all: ‘I get it.’ … ‘I get that you’re angry. I get that you’ve seen inequality. I get that you want to fix the system.” Then, he instructed, offer Republican solutions to the problem. 8. Out: ‘Entrepreneur.’ In: ‘Job creator.’ Use the phrases “small business owners” and “job creators” instead of “entrepreneurs” and “innovators.” 9. Don’t ever ask anyone to ‘sacrifice.’ 10. Always blame Washington.
The idea is what the GOP has been trying to do for the last forty years — trying to get the hard-working people to ignore the difference between themselves and the economic elite — basically that that elite is all-powerful and the rest of us are at their mercy.
GOP solutions are lower pay, less job security, more economic inequality, harsher discipline in the workplace, more rapid depletion of resources, and accelerated destruction of the environment on economic matters, and more deceit and entrenchment of power in politics.
Occupy Wall Street and their far-flung allies might as well give up on addressing their demands to the government, at least for the time being. The slogan ought to be something like “We’re tired of being pawned off on the help; from now on, we insist on dealing directly with the masters.”
And the plan should be to spend the next several months developing, articulating, and organizing toward a major national mortgage and student-loan strike. Such a loan strike would begin—provided enough people sign on in advance (and I’m talking hundreds of thousands), and unless a concrete set of intervening demands is squarely met in the meantime—on, say, October 1, 2012, right in the middle of the next presidential campaign…
The Occupy movement could enlist the advice of sympathetic economists and loan experts to craft the precise terms of the demand. In addition to the alleviation of tremendous amounts of individual and family anxiety and suffering, the more generalized goal of the reset—and incidentally, why is it that up till now in this crisis only the improvident banks and investment houses have been allowed to reset the terms of their deals, without any penalty, whereas none of the rest of us have been accorded similarly revivifying largesse?—would be to free up all sorts of spending money at the lower reaches of the economy where it might actually do some good.
Submission from acaskofbrando: Senate Votes To Let Military Detain Americans Indefinitely
This just came in regarding the un-American NDAA: “The Senate voted Tuesday to keep a controversial provision to let the military detain terrorism suspects on U.S. soil and hold them indefinitely without trial — prompting White House officials to reissue a veto threat. The measure, part of the massive National Defense Authorization Act, was also opposed by civil libertarians on the left and right. But 16 Democrats and an independent joined with Republicans to defeat an amendment by Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) that would have killed the provision, voting it down with 61 against, and 37 for it.”
Do yourselves a favor & take down the name of every single senator that voted in favor of it. With the pending passing of the bill, Section 1031 of S. 1253 would be one of those sections enacted, meaning it now be the first time in more than 60 years that our so-called representatives in Washington would openly allow indefinite detention of American citizens with no charges or trial without Congressional authorization. The loopholes under this section makes exploitation all but an absolute certainty, despite the ACLU’s claims that it would not apply to you or I.
Huffington Post cleverly ignores the worst sections of the text - those involving our own citizens, aside from “terrorist” detainees - but lists all those that voted. Pressure the White House to veto this un-American bill.
Police across the US have been criticised for their actions in clashes with Occupy Wall Street protesters. The man who led the police response to the Battle in Seattle protests at the 1999 WTO meeting blames the post-9/11 militarisation of American policing.
"Law enforcement across the country is pursuing the same tactics that failed so miserably in Seattle," Norm Stamper tells BBC World Service’s Witness programme.
"There’s a lack of patience, there’s a lack of imagination and there are clear over-reactions to the challenges the police perceive. It is all so disheartening."
In November 1999, Chief Stamper was one of the main officials charged with managing the huge numbers of demonstrators who brought the city to a standstill in protests against the launch of a new round of global trade talks…
Chief Stamper says he has learnt his lesson but that other US police forces have not. He blames what he calls the militarisation of the police in America.
In the years following 9/11, the federal government provided military equipment to police forces across the country and instilled in them a military mindset, all in the name of homeland security, the former police chief says.
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.