Month: November 2011
Here is a picture I took looking up at the Downtown L.A. Bank of America building from a patch of grass owned by Brookfield Properties, the same owners of Zuccotti Park in NYC. This picture was taken just before my arrest defending an encampment in a solidarity action on November 17.
I wrote about the action an my arrest experience here.
In the last weeks, the world has witnessed a massive and coordinated national crackdown on the Occupy Movement, culminating in an early morning raid on the original encampment in Zuccotti Park by the NYPD and NYDS under the direction of billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Here are some highlights from around the country:
NEW YORK CITY
The eviction of Zuccotti (Liberty) Park took place under a media blackout, so there is not a lot of imagery or video available, for example, of the trashing of the OWS People’s Library, but there are plenty of eyewitness reports of police brutality and destruction of property. The best immediate coverage of the raid I saw was here, but this video from OccupyTVNY shows the progression of the eviction from the inside:
And, by the way, here is an image of an LRAD weapon on the scene — an increasingly prevalent weapon against peaceable assemblies.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan accidentally let it slip that cities coordinated the crackdown on Occupy Movment. (On this coordination, see also here and here and here.)
Here is a video documenting eviction night.
See here, for what what might happen to you if you film Oakland PD “protecting” the community.
And of course, can’t fail to include this image:
As Stephen Colbert put it, “Look at these vicious students attacking these billy clubs with their soft jabbable bellies!“
For more, see here.
The pepper spraying incident was followed by this “Powerfully Silent Protest” against the University Chancellor who defended the campus police’s vile behavior.
CHAPEL HILL, NC
One of the reasons the Peoples’ Mic is an effective tool for overcoming institutional censorship is that it relies on no technology whatsoever — nothing that requires electricity and nothing that can set off a metal detector. All it requires is a group of people committed to communicating a message.
Also, its horizontalidad confuses repressive authorities, who — because they think hierarchically — look for a leader to arrest. But arresting or evicting any given wielder of the microphone proves futile, since the people’s voice then merely shifts to another body and the message continues.
See peoples’ mic at work elsewhere:
From Yes Lab:
I wondered whether I, neophyte matador, could bring down this behemoth, world-famous for charging towards profit while trampling underfoot the average worker,” said the OWS activist/torero whose first fight this was. “Come what may, I knew I must try.
The horizontalidad of the Occupation Movement has confused hierarchical systems of propaganda, which is only capable of registering PR-crafted soundbites.
Confusing the complicated harmonies of mass popular protest for an incoherent cacophony, the corporate media multiplex has ridiculed the Occupy Movement for lacking clear “demands”.
But as Dahlia Lithwick writes at Slate, “It takes a walloping amount of willful cluelessness to look at a mass of people holding up signs and claim that they have no message…. [just as] it takes a tremendous mental effort to refuse to see that the rich are getting richer in America while the rest of us are struggling.”
I generally agree with Lithwick’s conclusion that, “[b]y refusing to take a ragtag, complicated, and leaderless movement seriously, the mainstream media has succeeded only in ensuring its own irrelevance.”
Still, while it is true that the OWS General Assembly consensed on a list of grievances (subsequently endorsed by the GA in L.A. and other cites), one can’t deny that the Occupy Movement as a whole has yet to issue a tight list of demands or statements of purpose or plans of action.
But this lack of clear direction is precisely what should be expected from a spontaneous uprising that seeks to unite “the 99%” by means of non-heirarchical consensus-based deliberative mechanisms. Firstly, such mechanisms can take a great deal of time, as anyone who as participated in a General Assembly can attest. Secondly, the problems with the current political order are deep and complicated and pervasive, so jumping to conclusions on how to address them would be irresponsible.
Writing for VersoBooks, Mc Kenzie Wark argues that the lack of quickly formulated demands is actually a strength of the Occupy Wall St. movement, in part because it shows that the movement is actually focusing on process.
Still, the demand for demands is not limited to the Corporatist media. It is also pervasive in the Occupation camps themselves, if I can extrapolate from my experiences at Occupy Los Angeles.
OLA’s “Obejectives and Demands Committee”, in which I am a regular participant, was originally called the “Demands Committee” and over the course of the last 5 weeks has spent many hours debating question of demands:
Doesn’t the concept of “demands” reinforce the power of those from whom we demand things? Aren’t we rather seeking to “alter or abolish” those institutions of state power? Wouldn’t it be better, rather, to formulate “objectives” for the movement? And given the diversity of the Occupiers in terms of class, ethnicity, gender, ideology, etc., what is the proper way to organize and prioritize and reach consensus on language that seeks to express the highest aspirations of the collective movement?
These questions are difficult and deep, and I am glad that the L.A. Occupation has been taking these questions and responsibilities seriously by allowing the horizontal processes to play out, as imperfect as these processes can be sometimes.
But as philosopher Slavoj Zizek has warned in the Guradian, we should not forget the endgame:
While it is thrilling to enjoy the pleasures of the “horizontal organisation” of protesting crowds with egalitarian solidarity and open-ended free debates, we should also bear in mind what GK Chesterton wrote: “Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” This holds also for politics in times of uncertainty: the open-ended debates will have to coalesce not only in some new master-signifiers, but also in concrete answers to the old Leninist question, “What is to be done?“
With this warning in mind, however, Zizek argues that the greatest threat to the movement is not its lack of a clear program but rather those “false friends” who in effect seek to “dilute the protest” by funneling movement energy into prepackaged and establishment-friendly soundbites. He cites Bill Clinton as an example, who chides the movement for not being “for something specific” and who suggests that it “get behind President Obama’s jobs plan”.
While such a move would suddenly make the movement intelligible to the corporate media complex — by forcing it back into a democrat / republican, liberal / conservative, etc., mold — it would at the same time drain it of its revolutionary potential. Zizek concludes:
What one should resist at this stage is precisely such a quick translation of the energy of the protest into a set of concrete pragmatic demands. Yes, the protests did create a vacuum – a vacuum in the field of hegemonic ideology, and time is needed to fill this vacuum in a proper way, as it is a pregnant vacuum, an opening for the truly new.
The movement’s lack of clear program can be seen as an important strength, in other words. Not only does it thereby cast a wide net over the frustrations of “the 99%”, the very under-articulacy of the growing movement can be ominous and properly threatening.
This sentiment is nicely captured in a tweet from Malcom Harris, after Bank of America dropped its proposed monthly $5 debit card fee:
It’s great how we won that demand about debit card fees. Wait, we didn’t demand anything? But then how did they know what to give us?
It is beginning to be possible to detect other “victories” of the Occupy Movement as political institutions respond to its challenge, even in the absence of a particular plan of action: Unions are embracing bolder tactics, according to the NYT, and FDL is crediting the movement with changing the “dominant conversation” from “deficits and debt” to “inequality and economic justice.”
Its mere continued existence, in other words, can be seen itself a clear articulation.
By focusing on processes for reaching consensus on fundamental questions, objectives and strategies, the Occupy Movement frustrates familiar narratives and trajectories as it gathers strength.