When I started drafting this a few days ago, my lead sentence was “It’s probably too early to say that the issue of police violence in the US has been transformed by Occupy Wall Street! and the associated actions around the country.”
Maybe it’s not too early. The savage cop attack Tuesday night on Occupy Oakland! has intensified this change in climate, and changed the way the issue is being looked at and debated within the movement itself.
Videos of the tear gas and flashbang grenade attack on the encampment plus the skull fracture that put Iraq vet Scott Olsen on the critical list have also changed the calculus of repression for the enemy, but that’s not really what I am talking about here.
Direct targeting by the police is only one of three ways the gravitational field generated by the amazing and unexpected Occupy! movement is reshaping the issue of police violence in this country.
1. Most directly, the Occupy movement has posed the most powerful political and symbolic challenge in generations to private property and the day-to-day workings of the capitalist system. Inevitably, this has meant that the paid guardians of that system, the pigs, would be brought to bear to crush that challenge. So far, that has helped build the movement.
During one rainy graveyard shift stint at the information table at Liberty Plaza last week I talked to two fulltime occupiers, young white guys. Both said that what got them to the encampment (Brian from semi-rural North Carolina and James from Queens) was the Internet. More specifically, neither had been more than peripherally aware of OWS! before the notorious video clip of NYPD Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna pepper spraying already penned-up young female protesters went viral.
(It’s okay, even important, to note that this echoes on a small scale the widely-noted Missing White Woman Syndrome (MWWS) in the mainstream media. Shock and horror at cops imposing pain and humiliation on conventionally attractive young white women at a level experienced on a daily basis in communities of color around the country reveals something about the working of white privilege. But it also provides what some call a “teachable moment” if we choose to make that happen rather than sneer at those less directly affected or less enlightened than ourselves.)
That “Tony Baloney” pepper spray incident was the first big, well-publicized attack on the protests. Scores more have occurred around the country, and the arrests now number in the thousands. Every day’s news brings new reports of police evicting occupiers from parks. The threat of attack hangs over even peaceful, permitted occupations, where those following closely know that mayoral pledges to let us stay have been violated in New York, Oakland, Nashville and other cities.
2. Meanwhile the diverse and largely locally-based movement against police violence and terror has been looking hard at the new opportunities before it. For anti-cop activists, just as for folks from other social movements, like union strike supporters or environmental protesters, the Occupy! movement has become a kind of funnel into which particular struggles are poured. For instance, several of the earliest Occupy! encampments saw participants taking part in protests of the police-union-demanded execution of Troy Davis in Georgia. Occupy Oakland! named their base area Oscar Grant Park after the young Black man murdered by Bay Area Rapid Transit cops on New Year’s Day, 2009.
Here in NYC back-to-back demonstrations a day apart last week were each associated with Occupy Wall Street. Only blocks from my apartment, a group of mainly Black activists and religious figures headed by Professor Cornel West, who firmly declared himself part of Occupy Wall Street!, sat in at Harlem’s 28th precinct to protest NYC’s “stop & frisk” laws, racial profiling at its most naked. (City figures show that 85% of those rousted under this policy are Black or Latino)
The next day was October 22, the annual National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. This year’s march was over 800 strong, larger than it has been in recent years, and as militant as always. Folks who came up from Liberty Plaza made up a sizeable minority of the crowd.
There before me was the transformation made possible by this teachable moment. Scores among the young occupiers who had come out for the demo rolled through the Lower East Side, hollering “NYPD KKK” and other chants about “pigs”–formulations I suspect might never have crossed their lips, or maybe even their minds a month ago.
3. Forces within the Occupy! movement are consciously using it to deepen the movement’s ties in the 99%, to do outreach in and build ties with communities of color and to educate the more clueless of the white newbies in the movement. Police violence remains, for obvious reasons, a major issue in communities of color, an open wound that can trigger an eruption of local struggle at any time.
In raising it, these movement activists are coming up against various ingrained white supremacist assumptions, or more exactly, blindspots among some participants. In Philly, an October 22 action came spontaneously out of Occupy Philadelphia! An excellent journal entry describes how it evolved and wound up with 17 protesters arrested for civil disobedience at Police HQ. Another fascinating piece on the Occupy Philadelphia media website points out some of the contradictions the Philly action stirred up in the encampment:
Many support the sit-in, but some are criticizing it. After all, the police have been very accommodating of Occupy Philly--why provoke them with this action? Don't police officers, who are often overworked and underpaid, belong to the 99%? Most of all, shouldn't we stay focused on corporate greed instead of getting distracted by secondary issues? Among those working to break through this unclarity and resistance are those of us who are revolutionary socialists helping to build OWS! We’ve got a twofold task before us.
First is to be a part of the effort to undermine white privilege within the movement. Promoting understanding of how the police operate as an occupying army in oppressed nationality communities is a good tool to do that. Several Occupy! nodes have had useful workshops/meetings in which folks have testified about their own personal experience with cops. With a decent pool of people participating and egos kept in check, it soon becomes clear that a. yep, white folks get vamped on, too, and b. nope, nowhere near as comprehensively as people of color.
The other part of the job for reds is to spread a little class analysis. I suggested, in a previous piece about OWS!, that using 99% and 1% as our only categories for determining friends and enemies was not adequate. The question of the police, the bottom line defense of capitalist rule, is probably the biggest single reason why. True enough, cops come from working class and middle class communities. Nor are they paid enough to qualify them for that top 1%. That does not mean they are our friends.
A leaflet distributed at October 22 by Ignite!, a revolutionary collective of students and youth in New York, is an example of what I’m calling for here, as this excerpt shows:
The police are not a democratic organization; they are not directed or controlled by the community in any way. The police answer to the city officials, who answer to the politicians, who answer to the wealthy campaign donors who put them in power. A perfect example of this occurred just a few weeks ago (October 1st) when JP Morgan Chase bank gave the NYPD a massive and unprecedented $4.6 million "donation," just days after the mass arrests of protesters at Occupy Wall Street. This is the bankers reminding their NYPD guard dogs who they are truly hired to protect and serve: the interests of the capitalist class.(That last bit is a true fact, incidentally. Morgan put out a press release bragging about it.)
In short, we appear to find ourselves in one of those amazing historical moments when a social tornado shakes the old order. Cracks and fissures suddenly appear in accepted wisdom, revealing glimpses of how things really work. Those who plunge into the whirlwind, especially, are learning more about how the world in weeks than they might in years of ordinary times.
Tens of thousands are already learning the kind of lessons that that previous upheavals like the ‘60s have taught. That cannot help but retool and refuel the struggle against police violence in this country.
October 29, 2011
posted by Jimmy Higgins
When I started drafting this a few days ago, my lead sentence was “It’s probably too early to say that the issue of police violence in the US has been transformed by Occupy Wall Street! and the associated actions around the country.”
October 24, 2011
posted by Jimmy Higgins
When you don’t have a strategy, your tactics are your strategy. And the tactic of occupying Zucotti Park in the heart of the downtown financial district of Manhattan has been a stunningly successful one.
The collapse of the Bloomberg administration’s bid to oust the Occupy Wall Street! encampment on Friday, October 14, was a major milestone in the development of the movement. It insured that the flagship occupation would remain intact for weeks to come, as the movement continued to spread and sink roots in cities around the country.
About 600 or so of us spent the night there, amid intermittent rainstorms, a larger than usual overnight crowd. I had planned to be there anyhow, but when the eviction deadline was announced the day before, it set that plan in stone. My computer's inbox before I headed downtown Thursday was filled with unusually short and unusually urgent emails from a variety of lists I am on—-labor, anti-war, community and so on. The messages all boiled down to this:
Get your ass down to Wall Street by 6 ayem tomorrow to stop the eviction of Occupy Wall Street! This is important!
Starting at about 5:00 in the morning, the incredible happened. From every direction, people came walking into the plaza we had spent the night scrubbing and started listening to the discussion of resistance taking place in the General Assembly.
By 6:30 or so, we had quadrupled in size. The word came that the city and Brookfield Office Properties, the corporate owner of the park, had folded like a cheap suit. Folks still pouring in joined our celebration.
We were Too Big To Jail!
The victory was temporary, of course (and also reflected additional factors beyond just our numbers). Bloomberg keeps proclaiming his determination to drive us out, and you know the NYPD has been studying the sometimes brutal police attacks on Occupy! encampments in Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Orlando, Oakland and too many other places.
The victory highlighted the greatest strength of the movement, the responsive chord it has struck deep in millions who have found a voice for their anger, fear and sense of powerlessness as the ultra-rich use bought-and-paid-for politicians to offload the economic crisis onto us.
It has also revealed a very serious weak point--the distance or even disconnect between the occupying core and the hundreds of thousands who are actively supportive.
You could see this in the very emails that mobilized those hundreds and hundreds of people to rise at some revolting hour of the morning to come down to the park. Their tone was: it’s time for US (union members, liberals, environmentalists, whoever) to rally in support of THEM (the protesters), those splendid young people down there.
It’s pretty simple. If you aren’t actually in Liberty Plaza (or some other occupation site), you tend not to think of yourself as an active part of a movement whose very name declares the centrality of that tactic, Occupy Wall Street!
Even some old friends who’ve gone down several times to bring food, or take part in other ways (let alone those who’ve haven’t but have donated money or called Bloomberg or publicized it to neighbors and family) speak of the core group of ongoing occupiers as if it were the movement.
It’s built into the structure of the occupation. The core is mainly young people who have the freedom to spend extended periods of time and a smaller number older folks who can hack sleeping on concrete for days. They help shape them the grooves of daily life which define the occupation so naturally they fit into them most easily. More formally, they are able to take part in the committees and even the general assemblies with a greater sense of how things have been going and how they work. Often, the other stuff people point to as barriers, like cultural differences and the loosey-goosey horizontal structure, are in part manifestations of this structural factor.
I think it is instructive to look for a moment at the Tea Party. Now, cool your jets. I am not, repeat, not, equating OWS! with the teahadists. There are, however, things to be learned by looking at the two side by side. The point I want to make here is that when the Tea Party thing was starting to rip, people who responded found no structural barrier to considering themselves teabaggers. If you went to a rally, or heckled a Congressperson’s town meeting or just liked what you saw of them on Fox News, you were by God in the Tea Party. Buying a cardboard tricorn hat and stapling a bunch of Lipton teabags to it was optional. (Of course, that stage lasted about 45 minutes before rival groups with dues and pricey paraphernalia and minders from the Koch brothers and the Republican National Committee took things in hand.)
We can’t wish our obstacles out of existence and it would be unwise to pretend that they aren’t there. Better to recognize them and deal with them. The more people who think of themselves as part of OWS! and its offspring, as US, the stronger the movement will be, and the harder to attack.
One major step has already been taken--framing of the issue as a conflict between the 99% and the 1%. This is becoming one of the main memes of the movement. From a Marxist standpoint, this is of pretty limited utility as a class analysis, to be sure (though it is in the spirit of Unite All Who Can Be United To Defeat The Real Enemy). In terms of the movement, however, a lot of people are going to find it easier to declare "I’m the 99%" than to assert "I’m a part of Occupy Wall Street!" if they’ve never been to an occupation site.
There are smaller, but very significant things that can be done as well. A single example: There are two stenciling/silkscreening sites in Liberty Plaza. Vistors, whether supportive or merely curious (a lot of tourists come through the encampment), bring a shirt or a jacket or just take their own off, to get it adorned with a slogan—-Occupy Wall Street! seems to be the favorite though several choices are available.
Folks have told me--and I have found myself--that when you are out and about wearing one, on your own turf or just in public, people will definitely come up and ask you about it. I’ve had some heartening and fascinating conversations with neighbors and people on the subway alike which tend to confirm the recent spate of surprising pro-OWS! poll results. "Been there; done that; got the tee shirt…" is, in this case a battle cry, a declaration of involvement in the struggle!
In an upcoming post, I plan to return to this topic, focusing more on what policies and practical steps we can undertake to reduce these structural obstacles. Your thoughts are more than welcome.
October 23, 2011
posted by Rahim on the Docks
On Wednesday, October 19, the 116th day of the Daily People's Campaign for Jobs, Peace, Equality & Justice, Local 108 of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, AFL-CIO (RWDSU) joined the People's Organization for Progress and other community-based organizations, individuals and Newark residents at the Lincoln monument in front of the Essex County Hall of Records between Springfield Avenue and Market Street.
Local 108's participation was an important development in the proposed 381-day campaign. While many individual union members have participated over the past months, while labor organizations have sent out members, this was the first time an endorsing union local has come out in force with their leadership.
"We must grasp Newark's unique situation," Charles Hall, Jr., President of RWDSU Local 108 said. "While national unemployment figures hover around 10%, Newark's numbers are 22%, double-depression levels!"
"In this situation, politicians' promises fail to spark hope among the city's unemployed," Larry Hamm, NJ Chairman of the People's Organization for Progress added. "When unemployment among minority youth approaches 75%, Mayor Booker's claimed 'concern' about jobs looks more like a campaign slogan than an actuality."
The Daily People's Campaign's goal of at least 381-days of continuing picketing was conceived by the People's Organization for Progress to recall the length of the Montgomery Bus Boycott 0f 1955-56, but as this momentous movement enters its fourth month, local residents …and supporters far beyond Newark's boundaries… are linking it to the many Occupy! actions (Occupy Wall Street!, Occupy Chicago!, Occupy Boston!, Occupy London!, etc., etc.) that are drawing national and international attention.
Perhaps, as the Black Agenda Report's Glen Ford has noted (see People's Organization for Progress protest), POP's Newark "demonstration marathon" shares a community of interest with Occupy Wall Street. To me it appears that by uniting labor and the community against the failed banking and government policies that reduce the vast majority of Newark's citizens to poverty, the People's Daily Campaign is Occupy Newark!
This past weekend, during the late-Fall blizzard (which plunged most of the Newark-area into almost a pre-electronic age situation as it brought down trees and power-lines all over Northern NJ) the People's Organization for Progress kept our daily picket active, sent a delegation to Wall Street and issued the following statement in support of Occupy Wall Street:
[Thanks to sister Ingrid Hill, POP's Corresponding Secretary, and Angenetta Robinson, POP's Treasurer for the excellent photographs in this FotM blog] Read more!
October 15, 2011
posted by Jimmy Higgins
[I didn't write this. My 'rade Meizhu Lui did, for some folks in the organization we both belong to, the Freedom Road Socialist Organization / Organización Socialista del Camino para la Libertad. Whether or not you currently consider yourself a red, you will, I think, enjoy and benefit from reading this. Meizhu is co-author of the indispensable The Color of Wealth: The Story Behind the U.S. Racial Wealth Divide.]
By Meizhu Lui
The Occupy! moment brings me back to one of my favorite topics: slime mold.
The individual slimes just wander around doing their own thing - until there is a catalyst, like a really great food source, and then they slime together and move as one. It's another form of social organization, different from, say, the traditional communist mode, which historically has seen organization as hierarchical, or with action generated from "centers."
Some of the biggest moments in recent US history have been more in the slime mold category, taking us all by surprise: Seattle, the immigrant rights marches of 2006, now Occupy!. People are doing their individual thing, and then bam! something catalyzes them into action. Of course, once the catalyst dissipates, as it will, the slimes all wander off again. Clearly that's what's going to happen here. I do not mean anything derogatory about slime. It is a legitimate and natural form of self-organization.
So what does this amorphous mass moving as one look like closer up? There are a few free floaters on the periphery swept up in the tide, but there are also many nodes within the mass, connected to the rest by the desire to follow that great smell!
I don't think we should worry much about the Democrats or whomever, who will try to do what they do, and frankly do what we also want to do: capture the movement and become its center and get more people following their line. It's not going to work for them, it's not going to work for us. And it is a victory of sorts that this is a movement the Democrats want to co-opt! If those in the streets have woken up the Dems to the massive anger at their coziness with the major players of the capitalist class in the financial sector who have now put their own short-term interests above their long-term ability to defend the system, that's a good thing.
So what do we, as revolutionary socialists, do? We concentrate on strengthening our "node." Since there is no wheel with a hub, nor will there be, our actions must be within the context of network organization. We should not get derailed by showing how wrong the other people in the Occupy movement are. We must recognize that for the foreseeable future, any mass movement will likely be like this. Over time, we will need to continue to stay in touch with those other sections, even those that are not fully anti-capitalist, and work and play well with them.
Part of becoming stronger is achieving a position of being respected and influential within a broad array of forces. It also means putting forward some clear demands that speak to the anger of the people. Ones that bail out those who got sunk by the latest crisis of capitalism.
Of course, we will concentrate on demands for those those sunk the lowest: people of color and those in the bottom rungs. We must make the case that a victory for 50% is not a victory. There's a difference in being in the first percentile and being in the 99th percentile, even if 99% are not in the same league as the top 1%. Many of those new to Occupy! are middle class, surprised and angry to find that they will not cash in on the American dream. Perhaps this is why people of color were not as excited; they've known that all along. If there is a victory for 50%, it would just be the same old.
Our demands must be ones that not only close the gap between the 1% and the 99%, but that close the vast racial gap. Given Freedom Road's position on oppressed nationalities, this can be a way we distinguish ourselves yet again. But this time, it's not that far off before our nation is majority of color, only a few short decades (2042 is the magic number). Can we be part of a node that can, as MoveOn does for liberal white folks, have the cred to put out a call that can be a catalyst for mass action among people of color? Let's take a long view, and let's not get disappointed when Occupy! stops occupying the public imagination.
October 6, 2011
posted by Jimmy Higgins
I was wrong.
And just how wrong I was still remains to be seen.
When the Occupy Wall Street! action was announced and even after it started, I thought it had FAIL written all over it. The core was a few score young, mainly white, activists from the radical youth milieu with plenty of demonstration experience but limited ties in the people's movements and communities of NYC. The messaging was vague, the tactical implications of the call to Occupy! even vaguer. This, I thought, was bound to be a nothingburger.
Now just three weeks later, it is clear that Occupy Wall Street! has slapped the defibrillator paddles to a constellation of social movements which have been on the critical list since at least the run-up to the 2008 election and is drawing thousands new to activism into motion. The spirit, determination and self-organization which characterized the Wisconsin uprising of last winter have gone nation-wide. And this time the struggle is not a desperate battle to turn back an ambush.
Because it has roared into existence so quickly, has spread so spontaneously and is still evolving so rapidly--new slogans and memes supersede the old almost daily--almost everybody I’ve talked to who identifies with OWS! feels that all of us 99%ers are playing catch-up ball, trying to relate to our own upsurge.
Here are three brief points roughed out during hours at Liberty Square (or Zucotti Park or whatever we are calling it today) and then refined at yesterday’s mass march. I offer them for orientation purposes as we attempt to figure out what’s going on--and where to go next.
1. This is fucking broad. Everybody has seen the reports, Over 200 Occupy! actions are underway or planned around the country. School walkouts are spreading. Endorsements are piling up. The media whiteout of the first couple of weeks is gone, and we have entered the "then they laugh at you" phase.
One of my first clues that this had real legs was the attention it was getting from the start on the influential left liberal Daily Kos website. An aggregated site with hundreds of bloggers, thousands of commenters and tens of thousands of readers every day, Daily Kos’s declared mission is to elect Democrats and, where possible, better Democrats. Yet overall it is a fairly left site with many self-identified socialists and a visibly high level of dissatisfaction with the Obama administration. By the end of September, it was not uncommon for a third or more of the top posts (“diaries” as they are known) recommended by member vote to be about the Occupy movement. This is as spontaneous a development as the movement itself, and demonstrates clearly how disgruntled many of the Kossacks, who think of themselves as very political people, are with a purely electoral, “politics of the possible” approach to society and government at this juncture.
An analogy: Probably high schools no longer can afford sodium acetate for their science teachers to demonstrate supersaturated solutions, but older readers may remember this one. The idea is simple. Dissolve in heated water more of a chemical than it can absorb at room temperature. When it cools down, drop in a single crystal and watch the liquid rapidly crystallize into a solid.
Occupy Wall Street! has acted like a seed crystal. It has not caused the mass anger at the way things are going in this country, but it has provided a focus around which that anger can crystallize, mobilizing both folks who have historically been active around issues like the war or the environment and regular folks who have been hard hit by the economic crunch and are both mightily pissed off about it and extremely cynical about about a "democracy" which is so permeated with corporate cash.
Because of this, the occupations also serving as a funnel through which various social movements can take action and respond to attacks. When the State of Georgia carried out its legal lynching of Troy Davis, the protest rally marched from Union Square to the encampment and then headed down Wall Street itself. There the first in a series of escalating police attacks on Occupy Wall Street! took place when the cops busted some young activists near Federal Hall. Last Sunday, several dozen teachers and college faculty showed up for an inspired action. They held a Grade-In, sitting quietly and marking tests and homework, and graphically refuting the anti-union, anti-public education lies of the right wing about how overpaid teachers are and how easy they have it.
Then came yesterday when a wide array of unions and community and student groups mobilized upwards of 20,000 people to march from the seat of city and federal government at Foley Square down to the OWS! Encampment and Wall Street itself.
2. This is a return to the Seattle moment. Pretty much everybody over 25 will remember the heady days of the upsurge against globalization and neo-liberalism as the new century began. It was famously captured in the slogan handwritten on a sign by one demonstrator, "Teamsters And Turtles, Together At Last"! Organized labor and youthful environmentalists and solidarity activists began to unite under the slogan “Another World Is Possible.”
That upsurge was derailed by 9/11, the changed focus of political discourse in the US to discussion of terrorism and what's "American" and the need for a massive anti-war movement. The economic meltdown which began in 2007 started shifting the tectonic plates of US society again, making possible this new thing we are seeing.
The working class majority in this country, and communities of color in particular, are sharply aware of having been screwed, blued and tattooed by the banks and are disgusted with the role their elected officials have played in that. The economic pinch is the unifying factor here--from college grads enmeshed in debt and unable to find jobs, to homeowners facing eviction to 99ers who have fallen off the end of unemployment insurance, to workers facing demands for monstrous givebacks, to poor people threatened by the erosion of basic civil services. That is the foundation for Occupy Wall Street!.
But it is very much to the credit of the folks at the encampment that they realized that workers are key allies they must unite with, and that it was up to them to take the initial steps. Thus, within days of opening the camp, nine activists stood, one after another, and disrupted a sale at the high-tone Sotheby's auction house in support of Teamster union members locked out by the hugely profitable firm. The following week 100 people from the encampment showed up at a rally called by postal unions (including my old local, NY Metro) to defend Saturday delivery and post offices in poor neighborhoods threatened with closings.
The unions too, battered by a decade of losses in membership and influence, facing savage union busting attacks, and painfully aware that there's precious little they are going to get from the Obama administration or a divided Congress, see an opportunity to be part of a broader fight back against corporate power. And so the first steps toward rebuilding the Seattle united front are being taken.
3. This has a profound global impact. Think back to the early months of this year and how we watched when first the Tunisians and then the protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square launched, then maintained and defended occupations that challenged longstanding entrenched undemocratic regimes. People around the Arab world and the globe watched, transfixed, and tried to figure out how to replicate these magnificent uprisings. Even here, it provided massive inspiration and something of a template to the working class and its allies in Wisconsin.
Well, trust me, the US is far more visible on a global scale than Tunisia. From pure self-defense, people across the planet keep one eye on this country at all times. And now they are watching very closely indeed, They want to see what we, the 99%, can do against such a powerful and deadly enemy, one with claws sunk in their own countries, and with their junior versions of our 1% in power at home.
Tbis is very clear in the message from left wing Chinese activists and intellectuals in support of Occupy Wall Street! published here at Fire on the Mountain a few days ago. Describing the repression we face here, they mention how much worse it is elsewhere, like in China, then matter-of-factly say, “There is nowhere left where we can live and die as people.”
We must not turn our heads away from what this implies. The battle launched by Occupy Wall Street! is one in which the stakes are the future of the planet. No wonder Occupy! actions have broken out in more than a dozen other countries, in which contradictions had not yet reached the intensity they have in Spain and Greece, where far more massive battles have raged for months.
This means that what we do in the coming months as the movement unfolds is a contribution to the people of the world. Stepping up is our internationalist duty. To stand aside from this unfolding movement or critique it at a remove is to abdicate that duty, to settle for being Americans, instead of standing with the world’s people.
In closing, I have only argued here the importance of Occupy Wall Street and the movement it has spawned. I have not commented on its shortcomings--like the weaknesses of "leaderless resistance," the chasm between the relative handful of full timers and the millions who will want to be part of the action but whose lives do not permit them to set up camp on a city street indefinitely, the replication of hierarchies of privilege under the banner of horizontalism. I have not addressed the challenges--like doing outreach, preparing for more violent repression, avoiding suffocation in the embrace of the Democratic Party and its allies and fronts, I could write a basic list of things that need consideration as long as this article itself.
Well, these are the kind of questions all of us need to grapple with, and the starting point should be involving ourselves as deeply as possible in this wonderful, contradictory, unexpected eruption. See you at the Occupation!
October 4, 2011
posted by Jimmy Higgins
[This statement, translated by the worthies of the China Study Group, is extremely important. It has been signed by a crew of intellectuals and activists in China, many of whom are left critics of the Chinese state and its capitalist economy. Its analysis of the economic roots of the crisis and the connection to politics is trenchant and goes much deeper than denunciations of corporate greed by themselves can.
But more important is what it teaches us about the global importance of the movement that started less than three weeks ago. True, the statement may seem to be far too optimistic about the immediate prospects of the upsurge and to make more sweeping claims for the movement than any of us who have, say, actually been down at Liberty Plaza would dare, but consider the meta-message here. People around the world are looking to us in the US for inspiration, courage and ideas about how to fight the system--and to build a global movement to end capitalism and build a new world!
Think about that for a minute before you let cynicism about the movement's very real shortcomings justify your inaction.]
Message from Chinese activists and academics in support of Occupy Wall Street
From the middle of September, a great “Wall Street Revolution” has broken out in the United States. This street revolution, going by the name of “Occupy Wall Street,” has already expanded to over 70 cities and countries in North America, Europe, and other areas. In their statement on “The Wall Street Revolution,” the American people have sworn that this demand for “a democratic country, not a corporate kingdom” mass democratic revolution must spread to every part of the world, and they will not rest until this goal is met. From the anti-capitalist demonstrations that began after the 2008 financial crisis, and which this year have spread across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and South America, this magnificent global mass democratic movement has finally spread to the center of capitalism’s financial empire–Wall Street.
The eruption of the “Wall Street Revolution” is an historical indicator that the popular democratic revolution that will soon sweep the world is set to begin. It is an especially significant and important event for this movement. Before this most recent action, street protests had virtually been exclusively used as a tool by US elite groups to subvert other countries. Now, however, the “Wall Street Revolution” – with its goals of shared prosperity and popular democracy – has launched protests in the country that is the self-proclaimed defender of democracy. This will inevitably strike a hard blow against the US elite group, itself responsible for the plunder and oppression of people all over the world, and the group that pushed the world into crisis and instability. The protests ring the death knell of the rule of capital. Popular democracy will replace elite democracy in the 21st Century, and the curtain has lifted on the movement from elite politics to popular politics. Using the language of the “Wall Street Revolution,” this is a struggle of the popular 99% against the corrupt 1%, a struggle of the popular 99% against the elite 1%,and is the final struggle of the popular forces against elite capitalist rule.
The world belongs to all of the people of the world. Countries belong to the entire people of those countries. Even moreso, wealth is produced by the entire people, and therefore should be shared by the entire people, it cannot be monopolized by the 1% – or even less than 1% – that is made up of an extremely small number of elites. The demand for common prosperity in economics, and popular democracy in politics has become an unstoppable historical trend! The rapid expansion of a fictitious economy and the massive flow of social wealth has created an amply reliable material foundation for the realization of the common wealth of all people. The development of internet technology and political civilization has created the conditions for human society to make the transition from capitalist democracy to popular democracy. Human society is fully capable of transforming, on the foundation of the past democracy of slaveholders, the democracy of feudal lords, and the democracy of the capitalist class, to make the fundamental shift from the democracy of the elites to real popular democracy. Common prosperity and popular democracy will become the main content of the historical transformation of the 21stCentury. No matter how brutally the American riot police will attempt to suppress the participants in the Wall Street revolution, no matter how much the global elites – especially those in the U.S. and China –try to suppress news of the Wall Street revolution, they cannot stop the vigorous growth and ultimate victory of the democratic revolution of the people of the world.
The violent repression and virtual blockade of news about the “Wall Street Revolution” by elite groups led by the US proves that the fate of oppressed people around the world is the same, regardless of whether they are from developed or developing countries, whether they are from so-called democracies or authoritarian countries. The international elite was the first class to link-up internationally via globalization. Their plunder of public wealth and repression of popular democratic movements is cruel and far-reaching, and utterly lacking in freedom and democracy. So-called freedom and democracy in modern society is nothing more than democracy for capitalism, an elite democracy. Freedom is another word for the elite to plunder, oppress and violently suppress others. Popular forces have been completely excluded from the freedoms and democracy of modern society, and the extent of democratic rights is to choose between presidential candidates that have already been vetted by capital. You can vote once every four years, but you have no way of affecting the people above you who directly determine your fate: your boss or superior. And there is no way of constraining the capitalist oligarchs who can take away the wealth of the majority of the population with the slight of hand of fictitious capital. Freedom and democracy have become a virtual game, nothing more than a tool to subvert other countries. Now the popular and democratic world revolution – symbolized by the “Wall Street Revolution”- demands an end to this political game, and that freedom and democracy be returned to the people. Democracy is not just a check on the president, but a check on government officials; democracy is not just a check on power, but a check on capital. If the rights and privileges of feudal and absolute rulers are understood to be a sin and abomination, then giving those rights to capital is also a travesty.
Securities and computer networks should have been two crucial elements of our shift from an industrial society to an information society, from a material economy to a virtual economy, from capitalism to a human-centered economic system, and from elite politics to popular politics. But the elite class has turned securities into a tool of appropriation akin to the ‘indulgences’ issued by middle-age church functionaries in Europe. In the new securitized economy, all the public’s wealth can easily melt into thin air – including their houses, wages, labor power and even their hope for the future. All these things have become the targets of appropriation by a tiny elite minority. Both the white-collar middle classes in developed countries – owners of fictitious property, and the blue-collar workers in developing countries who cannot afford housing or health care, belong in point of fact to the same class: modern proletariat. When the people protest the unprecedented plunder and vast income gap perpetrated by fictitious capital, they are met with violent repression – both in so-called democracy countries that claim to be defenders of human rights such as the US, and in authoritarian countries that are said to lack freedom and democracy. Faced with street protests erupting from the Balkans to North Africa, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have repeated over and over, “The rights of peaceful protest and the occupation of public space should be respected at all times.” Yet when US citizens attempt to exercise this right they immediately are faced with violent repression by armed police, and a blockade by the news media. If this is reaction of the US – the self-proclaimed leader in human rights – then we can imagine what the reaction will be in other capitalist countries. Rule by the capitalist elite is just as described by the “Wall Street Revolution” – everywhere. There is nowhere left were we can live and die as people.
The eruption of the “Wall Street Revolution” in the heart of the world’s financial empire shows that 99% of the world’s people remain exploited and oppressed – regardless of whether they are from developed or developing countries. People throughout the world see their wealth being plundered, and their rights being taken away. Economic polarization is now a common threat to all of us. The conflict between popular and elite rule is also found in all countries. Now, however, the popular democratic revolution meets repression not just from its own ruling class, but also from the world elite that has formed through globalization. The “Wall Street Revolution” has met with repression from US police, but also suffers from a media blackout organized by the Chinese elite.
The same fate, the same pain, the same problems, the same conflict. Faced with a common enemy in an elite global class that has already linked-up, the people of the world have only one option: to unite and in a unified and shared struggle overturn the rule of the capitalist elite, to ensure that everyone enjoys the basic human rights of work, housing, health care, education, and a secure old-age. But we must go further if we are to realize shared prosperity and popular democracy in a new socialist world historical framework, If we are to fully escape and neutralize the crises and disasters that capitalism has brought the human race, and realize harmonious social development.
The great “Wall Street Revolution” and the great popular “Chilean Winter” that preceded it signal that the day when we realize shared prosperity and popular democracy is approaching. It signals that worldwide popular and democratic socialist movement – dormant since the 1970s – is waking up again. But this time, it will be the final battle to put capitalism in its grave. The victory of popular democracy and death of elite rule are inevitable! The embers of revolt are scattered amongst us all, waiting to burn with the slightest breeze. The great era of popular democracy, set to change history, has arrived again!
Resolutely support the American people in the “Wall Street Revolution”!
Resolutely support all street protests pushing for shared prosperity and popular democracy!
Long live the “Wall Street Revolution”!
Long live the global movement for popular democracy!
Long live popular international solidarity!
41. 陈红兵 (郑州当年红卫兵)
43. 熊 炬（男，中共党员，诗人，作家，重庆出版社退休干部）
(list of signees awaiting translation, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to help!)
October 2, 2011
posted by Jimmy Higgins
[This fascinating reflection on the significance of yesterday's (!) arrests of over 700 Occupy Wall Street protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge for the prospects and strategy of the movement are published with the writer's permission, as the third in FotM's occasional series on tactics.]
Some Thoughts On Leaderless Resistance And Occupy Wall Street
I will go out and say it outright: the "Occupy" movement in itself is a snowclone, viral movement with a lot of promise - regardless of the many valid critiques others have engaged regarding its many short-comings. I do not intend to add to the chorus, but provide a fresh perspective, hopefully thought provoking, on a key aspect of the movement: the claim of "leaderless resistance". (While I am cognizant of the fascist origins of the strategy and tactic, in particular Louis Beam as a voice of the far-Right, I am ignoring this for the time being: the truth is that in practice in the last 20 or so years it has become widely used in the left and in the animal rights and ecological movements, and hence as a practice, divorced from the right - however, the theoretical underpinnings are indeed elitist)
My intent, in this note, is to raise context and observations on the nature of "leaderless resistance" as a strategic outlook, and as a tactic. I am particularly motivated by the counter-intelligence coup the NYPD achieved in the Brooklyn Bridge kettle (which echoes a similar one in London nearly a year ago). That is, my intent is a strategic and tactical observation of the "leaderless resistance" concept as applied to "Occupy Wall Street", its problems, its roots, and more importantly, alternatives that increase the effectiveness, security, accountability, and survivability of this movement. I do so as a veteran of the anti-colonial struggle in Puerto Rico, and in particular both the relative victory against the US Navy in Vieques Island in 1999-2003, and the relative defeat of the 1998 anti-privatization strikes - as well as the student and community struggles there. Also, as a red diaper grandchild, having the dubious honor of being exposed to the worse excesses of counter-intelligence and State repression since before birth. As an active student of these matters, I do not claim authority, but I do not claim ignorance either.
I. Starting from the end
The Brooklyn Bridge kettle is a historic event: it represents both the first time in living memory that a mass disruptive action has happened in New York City that was pro-active in form: there is no RNC convention, there is no WTO meeting, there is nothing to fight for other than the atrocious malfeasance of the State and Wall Street.
It is also historic in that in represents a conscious shift in police tactics. For those who remember the "Guantanamo-on-the-Hudson" during the RNC protests in 2004, it is clear: while mass arrests did happen, they were the usual random snatching operations in a large scale street isolation. As such, violent tactics, such as the use of pepper guns and baton charges were the norm. Perhaps the most recent example in a mass movement of this set of tactics was the Pittsburgh G-20 protests in 2009 in which even sonic weapons were used. However, in those protests, already the first change of tactics was visible: two of the most dramatic events of the protest were the identification of passive plainclothes police among the protesters (not active provocateurs) and the preemptive dismantling of a media center, including the arrest of those behind one of the main Twitter accounts used for organizing (which was part of a months long intelligence operation).
This "kinder and gentler" approach has its roots in contemporary policing theory, and had its first essay in the London kettles in fall of 2010. Some of the same tactics first used there were clear in the Brooklyn Bridge kettle.
Let's give a short overview of the ones I find significant:
1) Tactical assumption of a lack of leadership in the protest. While politically and even on terms of prosecution they wouldn't admit this, the police didn't try to snatch particular leaders from the protest as they would normally; this pragmatic approach to dealing with the situation is novel and proved very effective to their ends. In London, this allowed easier kettling by tricking naive and idealistic people into moving in the direction the cops wanted, to then kettle them. In the Brooklyn Bridge incident, this was semi-successful: apparently the majority of the people saw the obvious trap and side-stepped the police. Still, hundreds fell for it. In effect, since there are no leaders, the police become the leadership, de facto.
2) Use of high-ranking officers in the front-lines. One of the origins of the Police Riot, which is what often leads to the most violent actions on the part of the Police in mass situations. In the Brooklyn Bridge kettle, nearly all the front-line officers present were "white shirts" or officers of Lieutenant rank and above. While Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna earlier provided a one-man Police Riot, he is indeed a rotten apple: white shirts are often the cooler heads under pressure, and in the videos you can see open chastising on the part of these white shirts to even lower rank white shirts. This also a pragmatic recognition on the part of the Police of the non-violent, yet provocative, nature of the protest: they do not expect violent actions on the part of the mass - they do expect a few cops to lose their cool and riot, with the consequential spectacle in the media. This robs the mass action of the provocative intent of civil disobedience: since the State's reaction is pedestrian and "acceptable", there is no message transmitted. The medium of mass civil disobedience is robbed of its only effect. The cops win, not the movement.
3) The measured proportionality of action. Until recently, the tactics of mass policing in the western world were based on intimidation and control via overwhelming force. The use of non-lethal weaponry, the massed deployment of physically imposing riot police on exotic steroids, the use of provocateurs and active counter-intelligence. This has given way to a more proportional and surgical utilization of what they call "the quiver": all of the options previously available are still available, but not deployed. In the recent English riots, this perspective gave way to much criticism on the part of right wing elements who sustained that the police intervention was ineffective. However, a careful look at the arrest and convictions show they doth protest too much. All of the people allegedly involved in murders during the riots have been indicted. Nearly all active participants, including those involved in minor crimes, have been arrested, indicted, and for the most part convicted. Turns out that the Police were not asleep at the wheel, or even overwhelmed: they switched from a tactic of direct control and intimidation to one of post-facto enforcement: essentially hitting participants when they least expected it. Rather than street fighting and running battles, the police chose CCTV video, and intelligence operations to get the participants. The result is even more effective than that of a running street battle from the perspective of the state.
With all this in mind, and with some further elaboration below, I think it safe to conclude that the Brooklyn Bridge kettle had a particular intent, all related to counter-intelligence:
1) De-articulation of the main base of the "Occupy Wall Street" camp. By successfully depopulating the main base, the police were able to isolate the committed participants in the infrastructure of the camp, the unaccountable true leadership of the movement. Like sifting sands for gold, the identification of the logistical leadership is priceless to future intervention. Those targeted should be very vigilant: they are no longer Anonymous. Leaderless resistance claims to solve this by allowing any compromise member to be taken over by another anonymous member, but the false egalitarianism promoted that we are all willing, able, and equally effective in any capacity is a lie. If this were true, we wouldn't need surgeons or pilots because we would all be able to do it, without a need for skill, talent or willingness. If, say, Lorenzo, gets arrested, who will take over him? A model of leadership that identifies, protects, and prepares people for accountable leadership is less vulnerable in this respect.
2) The de facto Red Squad needed to update the databases. This movement has attracted lots of people who are new activists, unknown to the State. They needed to round them up and identify them, and in particular those willing to be arrested for the movement. Rounding them up in a diffuse open plan like that of the camp, or tediously using CCTV and on foot video for no crime cannot be justified. However, the process of booking is an intelligence coup. Not only are the databases updated, but new items added, biometric data collected, network analysis made. In effect, 700 arrests mean, 70,000 data routes for the average person, who knows 100 people or so. There is overlap, so obviously the number made vulnerable is not 70,000, but it will still be in the five figures. This is a counter-intelligence coup. Yes, we are Anonymous, we never forgive, we never forget. Neither does the State - and its power is underestimated. One of the claims of leaderless resistance is that since people do not actively conspire in cells or pyramids, it protects the independent cells. But as the Federal de-articulation of the North-west USA eco-cells (the Elves of the Earth Liberation Front) shows, there is no need for active conspiracy to connect the dots via social network analysis (and I do not mean Facebook: social networks are not a technology, it is how humans connect socially everywhere). In effect, the movement has provided the State with an intelligence head-start of great value - and did so because the leaderless resistance's directionless approach failed to notify people of this consequence.
3) Separate the "hardcore" from "softcore" and from "nocore" activists. A key goal of counter-intelligence is to de-cohere movements so they implode. One of the methods used in the past is to take advantage of the inherent wedges within movements. The leaderless resistance model claims to solve this by eliminating hierarchy - but this is also a lie. The elimination of formal hierarchy doesn't eliminate informal hierarchy of will, charisma, economic/racial/gender privilege and other such background hierarchies. In effect, counter-intelligence hoists the movement on its own petard in a pragmatic approach. This wedging is formally addressed in "leaderless resistance" theory as "weeding out the weak", a sort of social-Darwinist process - but this is anathema to a true mass movement. The inherent elitism of "leaderless resistance" with the onus of dedication and self-sacrifice is exploited effectively by the state.
4) Criminalization. This is the most political of the goals. By criminalizing the movement, in other words, by equating active participation with the possibility of being processed criminally, the same "preventative" logic of policing is imposed on political speech. The idea, however, is not to prevent gang violence or other crimes, but to prevent political speech that questions the groundwork of the State. Leaderless resistance in this sense doesn't figure at all: no matter what strategic and tactical method is uses, this response will happen. However, leaderless resistance has a specific weakness in this respect: the inability to protect participants from State criminalization. No team of lawyers, no bail fund, no clarity to participants on what can criminalize you or not. The kettling exploits this: by criminalizing behavior that normal citizens assume to be legal, and because leaderless resistance is unable to provide clarity to participants that kettling can happen, participation is limited to those willing and able to be subjected to criminalization. This has concrete effects: in many jobs, even a misdemeanor can get you fired, and definitely having to serve time and pay a fine is an economic hardship to the bulk of people.
II. The Law of Unintended Consequences
Another problem is that even the strategy and tactic of leaderless resistance is not actually being followed as prescribed by its creators. One of the most important aspects of the leaderless resistance concept is the aspect of direction: it is "leaderless" in so far as it puts the onus on acting on the principles, rather than organizing anything around them, but it is not "directionless".
So, one of the fundamental problems of "leaderless resistance" as carried out by the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, is not the concept itself, but a lack of clarity and education on what the concept means, and furthermore, an irresponsible assumption that not having leaders means that a decision is a good idea by the sheer power of numbers. As those in the Brooklyn Bridge kettle will now find out, a lack of leadership that devolves into a lack of direction.
There is a difference between wanting a non-bureaucratic, open, transparent, participatory, decentralized, and accountable leadership, which can provide direction to the movement and not having leadership and direction at all.
One of the unintended consequences is that in the context of a lack of leadership and direction is that the State, and their enforcers, the police, become the leaders and directors of the mass. As happened at the Brooklyn Bridge, by all accounts.
The abandonment of any pretense of leadership also signified the abandonment of any pretense of direction, with nefarious unintended consequences.
III. Mass movements require mass leaderships
All of this means that the concept of "leaderless resistance" needs to be reformulated to the actual mass movement as it exists.
As we see, "leaderless resistance" is a theory that applies to vanguardist, elitist struggle: it is perhaps a viable alternative to direct resistance (that is, defensive) politico-military situations, such as occupation by a foreign power, or as a way to mobilize direct action around narrow, single issue campaigns, such as ecology or animal rights. It is, at heart, a politico-military theory that requires each member to become a soldier. This is anathema to any mass movement: not even in hunter-gatherer societies do all members of the group engage directly in warfare or even military affairs. In effect, leaderless resistance theory is elitist: it calls only upon the most dedicated, the most "clear", the most capable - all while seemingly advocating egalitarian participation.
However, it is not applicable to a movement that aspires to be a mass movement: the mass movement needs a mass leadership, a mass direction.
Personally, I view the development of a broad united front of the different affinities is needed: far from the NGO model of bureaucracy, it needs to be based on actual active participation, not simply endorsing a proclamation. This will of course accept and respect the existence of multi-polar and pluralist politics: false unity is always false. Differences of opinion and of direction are healthy if they are in good faith. The need for poles of leadership to emerge is not to be feared, but recognized and embraced: let only those forces and affinities willing to be accountable and responsible emerge. We shouldn't be little children hedonistically acting upon our whims: real action in real life has real consequences, only those willing to grapple with those consequences, to protect the movement, to advance the movement, and to engage the movement with wider society should take leadership, but leadership shouldn't be a bad word. With leadership also comes direction: in particular, is this movement for true revolutionary political and economic change, or simply aimed at extracting reforms that "return" to a mythical "better" past? These are questions others address, but the fact is they need to be addressed by the mass itself: the "leaderless resistance" claim is in itself a leadership and direction that seeks to exclude, implicitly, the addressing of these questions.
The alternative, quite frankly, is to continue to let the cops be the de facto leaders of the movement, surely a way to de-articulate any potentiality it has to effect actual change - and surely a way to cause more harm than good to future movements of resistance. The struggle for peace, justice, jobs, equality is not a short or direct one. We shouldn't kid ourselves into thinking there won't be bends in the road, or one in which leadership is irrelevant. Those defending the status quo certainly recognize the immense value of leadership, and have effectively used that against the movement.
Participants in Occupy Wall Street, and the other viral snowclones that emerge for it, would be doing themselves a service by critically approaching this central question: there are no shortcuts, there are no easy victories. The Financial-Industrial complex that rules the USA, the crumbling Empire that feeds it, the nuclear deterrent that holds the world hostage is not easy to beat. And it cannot be beaten, no matter how hard you will it to be, without leadership and direction. Leaderless resistance is a self-kettle, a straight-jacket that will keep the movement from acquiring the true mass, political, basis that can enable actual change to happen.
Those who want a wide-tent should understand that a free-for-all is not the answer: the enemy of my enemy is not always my friend. This a strategic and tactical consideration, a politico-military one, if you will: the ability of the movement to resist, grow, and triumph against the present odds require that it doesn't straight-jacket itself into what doesn't work anymore. Be realistic, do the impossible...
[Earlier Tactics installments can be found here and here.]