Wednesday, October 26, 2011

On the Global “Occupy”

This blog has long been concerned with information and issues around occupation. The movement of squatted social centers has been about providing social, political and cultural space in cities where the processes of hyper-capitalism have foreclosed or constrained such possibilities. These occupations have been for the most part tiny islands in the immense oceans of normative life, captained by ultra-left pirate bands. Only now has a global movement bloomed which demands that same kind of space, which occupies it, and resolutely, slowly, determinedly discusses what to do about the systemic failure of the capitalist system to provide for the social welfare.
Visiting in New York before the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests began, I biked by the site in the morning and was amazed at the extraordinary police presence for what I assumed would be a small demonstration. Now I see the cops were right. Like small boys whose defensiveness is in proportion to their guilt, they knew what was up. The encampment developed beautifully, roiled by traditional protest marches which set off chanting slogans – but even these worked in well as the marchers returning were greeted with cries of “Welcome home!” The form of OWS developed like the encampments of the 15 May movement (15M) I'd seen in the Puerta del Sol in Madrid – with designated areas to handle all the various necessities, as in a social center. The massive general assemblies of the 15M ran smoothly. All this I assumed was the outcome of decades of experience with big-building occupations by many activists in 15M.
What precisely the 15M owes to the squatting movement is a question which will be addressed by Miguel Martínez at the early December meeting of the SQEK in Amsterdam. But the question of what the Occupy movement owes to squatters is only one of many as the U.S. movement is historicized. The Smithsonian and New-York Historical Society are already scrambling together collections of OWS artifacts. Are other cities' historical societies doing the same? On my travels I saw Occupy encampments in the downtowns of Chicago and Minneapolis this fall, and some time spent on the web can turn up the online evidence of the dozens more around the USA. These are all significant local events in a movement writers for “Dissent” have compared to the populist risings of the 1930s.
Since my return to Madrid, I've been following the U.S. on the web, just as I did with the Tahrir Square uprising in Egypt. That was easily the most exciting webcast of 2011. The international character of the Occupy movement, like the anti-WTO organizing of the '90s and '00s, follows the dust storms of international capital. While the entire scope of this global revolutionary period is too much to wrap one's head around, a September collection of “journalisms” on the 16 Beaver Group website begins to try, comparing U.S., Greece, and Egypt protests and their processes. The U.S. correspondent writes that, like me, “I have to follow from home via this Twitter feed:!/OccupyWallStNYC.” The Twitter feed is tactical, but it also turns up all sorts of great stuff that's been written about the movement, like the Lowndes and Warren text cited above. S/he also watches the OWS live on, and recommends the live feed of the assembly process.
As web television, the national OWS so far has been a bit of a bore, or to be fair, widely dispersed in eventless streams and various shorts. There is no CNN for this revolution. Still, I liked the Ed David short film “Where Do We Go from Here?”, posted at for the one-month anniversary of the NYC occupation. In it, a young woman explains in rejoinder to the mainstream pundits' complaint that OWS has no program, “I have no idea – and that's what's really exciting, not knowing what's going to happen.”
So far as analysis goes, Marxists are weighing in heavily on this movement. After a visit to Occupy London, “Lenin” (Richard Seymour, in the blog “Lenin's Tomb”) points out the “political indeterminacy of the movement thus far,” but concludes that, given their so-far enunciated principles, that “it's a reformism radicalising in the direction of an anti-systemic stance.” For him, “This isn't a revolutionary situation, but merely a punctuating moment in the temporal flow of class struggle.” The identification with Egypt, which Seymour says has been mocked in the English press, emphasizes the internationalism of the movement, and, like OWS, “it identifies the political class rule of the 1% as the key problem; the colonization of the representative state by big capital.”
Brian Holmes writes from Chicago where, true to form, the police are brutalizing the demonstrators (10/17), “Some kid from nowhere who hadn’t made it, a young drunk who wasn’t proud, he told us not to repeat with the people’s mic because he wasn’t clever. But he knew exactly what he wanted to say. It was `dead end, no chance, doors closed, please try somewhere else': what happens when there’s no place for you in the system. It’s strange to feel myself, over fifty years old, with accomplishments and self-discipline and a name that others recognize, reverberated in the speech of this honest kid. What it means to me: dead end for practical idealism, no chance for real cooperation, doors closed to care and solidarity, try somewhere else for your humanity. There’s no place for people like me in this system, that’s how I feel, stripped bare by the crisis like all the rest. It’s because the 1% have blocked all vision of anything beyond what they can grab, and that’s practically everything, the whole cookie.”
While he is leading a seminar at Mess Hall on “Three Crises: 30s–70s–Today,” this egghead captures the populist affect of the movement of encampment on the streets. His story poignantly reminded me of experiences I had as a hitchhiker on the road in the 1970s, another “public space” systematically foreclosed by police (and fear-mongering Hollywood movies) during those years. Holmes' ever-useful blog also reposts the Occupy TVNY video interview of war correspondent Chris Hedges in Times Square, comparing peoples' revolutions in East Germany, former Yugoslavia, Egypt, etc. to what is now happening in the USA. Hedges ends the interview in tears of gratitude...
Slavoj Zizek, in his recent visit to OWS, neatly sideswiped the red-baiting U.S. Media. He said through the “human microphone” – “We are not Communists if Communism means a system which collapsed in 1990. Remember that today those Communists are the most efficient, ruthless Capitalists. In China today, we have Capitalism which is even more dynamic than your American Capitalism, but doesn’t need democracy. Which means when you criticize Capitalism, don’t allow yourself to be blackmailed that you are against democracy. The marriage between democracy and Capitalism is over.”
On this, Marxists and anarchists are agreed. Crimethinc, in their recent letter to the occupiers, write that “Capitalism is not a static way of life but a dynamic process that consumes everything, transforming the world into profit and wreckage. Now that everything has been fed into the fire, the system is collapsing, leaving even its former beneficiaries out in the cold.” And Mike Davis, nothing if not Marxist, embraces direct action strategy in his 10/21 article, writing of the necessity of bodies in space: “Activist self-organization — the crystallization of political will from free discussion — still thrives best in actual urban fora.” Online social media still only preach to the choir – (here I disagree; Facebook also makes converts, and the computer is by far the best revolutionary TV). His prescriptions for evading co-option by normative politics (i.e., the Democratic party) include the following: “continue to democratize and productively occupy public space (i.e. reclaim the Commons). The veteran Bronx activist-historian Mark Naison has proposed a bold plan for converting the derelict and abandoned spaces of New York into survival resources (gardens, campsites, playgrounds) for the unsheltered and unemployed. The Occupy protestors across the country now know what it’s like to be homeless and banned from sleeping in parks or under a tent. All the more reason to break the locks and scale the fences that separate unused space from urgent human needs.” This has always seemed like common sense to me, and it is sweet to read the Great Pessimist advocate for it.
Adam Trowbridge on the Basekamp list comments on Seymour's text, that “The demand to be allowed to exist, together, in space, in real time, all day and night, is incredibly radical and this is perhaps why the media, especially the talking heads, cannot understand what is happening. No one has to explain to the existing homeless that there is something political happening in their lives every day and night. Occupy sites have gone beyond the idea of demanding of power that they be 'allowed', they have simply chosen to begin existing in real space and time, together. I think this goes beyond 'civil disobedience,' although that becomes a necessary part when existing outside a rented or purchased space has been mainly outlawed. We are left with a choice to continue as a customer of a series of private spaces or occupy a site illegally.” Exactly.

Miguel Martínez' website

minutes of the Squatting Europe Kollective meetings are at:

"The Smithsonian and New-York Historical Society Race to Preserve Occupy Wall Street's Art and Artifacts"

“Occupy Wall Street: A Twenty-First Century Populist Movement?” by Joe Lowndes and Dorian Warren

“Journalisms -- The Occupation of Wall Street -- Fragments On, From, Inside, Before, Through” (9/11)

Lenin (aka Richard Seymour), “Visiting Occupy London” (10/17)
from –
reposted to Basekamp discussion list, from whence Adam Trowbridge's comment

Brian Holmes, “Meanwhile, Back in Chicago”

transcript of Slavoj Zizek on Wall Street

Dear Occupiers: A Letter from Anarchists (10/7)

Mike Davis, "No More Bubble-Gum"

Basekamp – “Occupy Everything” (only the one event posted here with links)

image: “Fight The Vampire Squid” by Molly Crabapple (scientists inform us that these creatures are unfairly maligned; still a cool image!)

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Alan. Don't know if you've stopped by my blog lately, but I've been offering a bunch of videos from the Occupy movement (from Oakland to Islamabad!) as well as first-hand accounts of my participation in the OWS demos (e.g., the march to Union Sq., the Brooklyn Bridge march, the union solidarity march, the under-reported healthcare march). Also, here are some other links that have a bunch of stuff on "Occupy...":

    Not Dead Yet NYC (very much into this movement):

    Kasama (seem to be RCP-leaning Maoists, but very interesting articles here and supportive):

    Notes from Underground (not that much stuff here, actually, but it includes a nice flyer on the movement from the Internationalist Perspective, which I'm sure was influenced by a couple of neighbors from Stapleton, Staten Island):

    Occupy Everything for Everyone (no further explanation needed):

    Capitalism Is Over! (almost completely a blog on "Occupy" now):

    Bob from Brockley (a bit negative-leaning where this movement is concerned and also too focused on perceived antisemitisms (IMHO), but Bob certainly does his homework):

    The Charnel-House (very negative-leaning, from the Platypus perspective, but Ross makes some good points, and also, I've written a lot of comment there that he never answered :) ):

    Big Chief Tablets (this guy, who I once considered a sort of council/left communist, seems to have fallen head over heels for Occupy, consensus process, etc.):

    I have more if your curious, but I think if you get into the list above, that will occupy enough of your time for now...