David Graeber writes: The idea of the “99 percent” managed to do something that no one has done in the United States since the Great Depression: revive the concept of social class as a political issue. What made this possible was a subtle change in the very nature of class power in this country, which, I have come to realize, has everything to do with debt.
As a member of the team that came up with the slogan “We Are the 99 Percent,” I can attest that we weren’t thinking of inequality or even simply class but specifically of class power. It’s now clear that the 1 percent are the creditors: those who are able to turn their wealth into political influence and their political influence back into wealth again. The overriding imperative of government policy is to do whatever it takes, using all available tools—fiscal, monetary, political, even military—to keep stock prices from falling. The most powerful empire on earth seems to exist first and foremost to guarantee the stream of wealth flowing into the hands of that tiny proportion of its population who hold financial assets. This allows an ever-increasing amount of wealth to flow back into the system of legalized bribery that American politics has effectively become.
When we were organizing the Wall Street occupation in August of 2011, we really didn’t have any clear idea who, if anyone, would actually show up. But almost immediately we noticed a pattern. The overwhelming majority of Occupiers were, in one way or another, refugees of the American debt system. At first, that meant student debt: the typical complaint was “I worked hard and played by the rules, and now I can’t find a job to pay my student loans—while the financial criminals who trashed the economy got themselves bailed out.”
What was remarkable wasn’t so much the fact that the camp began to fill with so many debt refugees, but how much their plea resonated across the political spectrum. In the 1960s or early ’80s, the plight of a college graduate juggling loans wasn’t the sort of thing most likely to wring the hearts of transit or sanitation workers. But Occupy received warmth and solidarity from organized labor. Something clearly had changed. We had come to see ourselves as members of the same indebted class. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: The first systematic look at the New York police department’s response to Occupy Wall Street protests paints a damning picture of an out-of-control and aggressive organization that routinely acted beyond its powers.
In a report that followed an eight-month study (pdf), researchers at the law schools of NYU and Fordham accuse the NYPD of deploying unnecessarily aggressive force, obstructing press freedoms and making arbitrary and baseless arrests.
The study, published on Wednesday, found evidence that police made violent late-night raids on peaceful encampments, obstructed independent legal monitors and was opaque about its policies.
The NYPD report is the first of a series to look at how police authorities in five US cities, including Oakland and Boston, have treated the Occupy movement since it began in September 2011. The research concludes that there now is a systematic effort by authorities to suppress protests, even when these are lawful and pose no threat to the public.
Sarah Knuckey, a professor of law at NYU, said: “All the case studies we collected show the police are violating basic rights consistently, and the level of impunity is shocking”.
To be launched over the coming months, the reports are being done under the Protest and Assembly Rights Project, a national consortium of law school clinics addressing America’s response to Occupy Wall Street.
The NYPD appears to be the worst offender, in large part because it has made little attempt – unlike Oakland, for example – to reassess its practices or open itself up to dialogue or review. [Continue reading…]
Mark Binelli writes: In early February, Marisa Holmes, a 25-year-old anarchist who had been one of the core organizers of Occupy Wall Street, was contacted by an assistant of Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield – yes, that Ben and Jerry – looking to set up a conference call. Over the course of Occupy’s long winter hibernation, when friends and foes alike wondered if the movement, not even six months old, had already lost its way, Ben and Jerry decided OWS needed a professional fundraising arm. The pair calculated that it would be possible, with help from fellow liberal activists like former Nirvana manager Danny Goldberg, to infuse nearly $2 million into the movement, in the form of grants to various Occupy projects around the country and a permanent headquarters for OWS in New York.
But Ben and Jerry heard that Holmes and other members of Occupy had been expressing concerns. Holmes grew up in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, in a liberal, upper-middle-class family not so different, sensibility-wise, from the world of the ice cream moguls. Her father is an attorney; when Holmes was 14, she helped work on his campaign for city council. But since then, she’d become far more radical than her parents. For a while, she lived in a communal house in Detroit; last May, enthralled by the Arab Spring, she decided to travel to Egypt by herself, mere months after the uprising in Tahrir Square, to shoot a documentary, though she didn’t speak a word of Arabic. In September, she bedded down in Zuccotti Park from the very first night of the Occupation, invited down by her friend David Graeber, the brilliant anarchist academic who has been credited with coming up with the slogan “We are the 99 percent.”
Holmes herself is tiny, sleepy-eyed and temperamentally uncompromising. The latter trait can be tedious, like when she facilitates Occupy meetings and has people go around the room and state their names and gender-pronoun preferences, but also awesome, like the time Russell Simmons stopped by Zuccotti Park and wanted to be bumped up on the speakers’ list and Holmes told him, “Are you crazy? You’re number 12. Get used to it!” The conference call, suffice it to say, did not go well. Ben and Jerry seemed confused by her objections. “They said, ‘What’s the problem? Don’t you want our money and support?’ ” Holmes recalls. Occupy had been founded on anarchist principles of “horizontalism” – leaderless direct democracy, most poetically embodied in the People’s Microphone. “They didn’t get that it was a problem to create a hierarchical nonprofit institution and pick out leaders,” Holmes went on. “I was nice to them at first, but finally I said, ‘I know that’s how you’ve done things in the past, but that’s not how we’re doing it.'”
Holmes was especially wary of the offer because money had already proved so divisive within Occupy. The group had been flooded with donations in the wake of the police actions of the fall, but soon found itself consumed with squabbles over how to spend it. And petty bickering over things like subway MetroCards had highlighted not only tactical questions about what Occupy’s next move should be, but a more existential crisis. Having so suddenly and unexpectedly captured the world’s attention, now the question arose: What, exactly, would Occupy become? [Continue reading…]
Arun Gupta reports: With the high-profile arrest of activists on terrorism charges in Cleveland on May Day and in Chicago during the NATO summit there, evidence is mounting that the FBI is unleashing the same methods of entrapment against the Occupy Wall Street movement that it has used against left movements and Muslim-Americans for the last decade.
In Cleveland the FBI announced on May 1 that “five self-proclaimed anarchists conspired to develop multiple terror plots designed to negatively impact the greater Cleveland metropolitan area.” The FBI claimed the five were nabbed as they attempted to blow up a bridge the night before using “inoperable” explosives supplied to them by an undercover FBI employee.
Then on May 19, the day before thousands marched peacefully in Chicago to protest NATO-led wars, the Illinois State Attorney hit three men with charges of terrorism for allegedly plotting to use “destructive devices” against targets ranging from Chicago police stations to the home of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Defense attorneys for the Chicago activists claim their clients, like the Cleveland activists, were provided with supplies for making Molotov cocktails by undercover agents in an operation that included the participation of the FBI and Secret Service. This was followed up on May 20 by the arrest of two other men on terrorism charges in Chicago for statements they made, which critics say amount to thought crimes. The Chicago cases are also reportedly the first time the state of Illinois is charging individuals under its post-September 11 terrorism law.
To hear FBI officials describe it, “Law enforcement took swift, collaborative action…to eliminate the risk of violence and protect the public.” To many observers, however, the government itself is the overarching threat, systematically repressing peaceful dissent.
Will Potter, who analyzes FBI entrapment plots in his book Green is the New Red, says the two incidents are “a reflection of an ongoing pattern of behavior from the FBI of singling out political activists and having a direct influence in creating so-called terrorist plots for the purpose of proclaiming a victory in the war on terrorism.” Potter claims, “There have been many other cases like these in which the FBI had a role in manufacturing the plot itself. We’ve seen this time and again with animal rights activists, environmental activists and the anarchist movement.”
Simply put, the Cleveland and Chicago cases appear to be instances of the federal government foiling its own terror plots. Two days before the Cleveland plot was supposedly thwarted, David Shipler, author of Rights at Risk: The Limits of Liberty in Modern America, presciently described in the New York Times the mechanics of the FBI trap about to be sprung. Shipler wrote that FBI terror stings typically begin by targeting “suspects for pure speech” such as comments, emails and “angry postings” on the Internet. The suspects are then “woo[ed] into relationships with informers, who are often convicted felons working in exchange for leniency, or with FBI agents” working undercover. Some suspects are “incompetent and adrift, like hapless wannabes looking for a cause that the informer or undercover agent skillfully helps them find.” Noting that the FBI is “cultivating potential terrorists,” Shipler asked, “would the culprits commit violence on their own?” [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: Tens of thousands of “indignado” protesters have taken part in overnight rallies across Spain, with police evicting a few hundred hardcore demonstrators from city squares during the largely peaceful protests.
At least 100,000 people took to the streets across dozens of towns and cities to mark the first anniversary of the Occupy Madrid’s movement.
“They don’t represent us!” was the most common chant directed at the country’s politicians as a carnival atmosphere reigned in cities such as Puerta del Sol. Protesters there included parents with young children on their shoulders and a group of pensioners called The Indignant Grandparents.
A new conservative government led by Mariano Rajoy has banned camps this year. Its attempts to impose time limits on the protests failed, however, with thousands of chanting people still occupying Puerta Sol’s city square at midnight, despite being told to leave at 10pm.
Police acted calmly and moved into squares between 2am and 5am on Sunday morning, when indignado numbers had reduced.
Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting: Occupy Wall Street is rightly credited with helping to shift the economic debate in America from a fixation on deficits to issues of income inequality, corporate greed and the centralization of wealth among the richest 1 percent. The movement has chalked up other victories as well, from altering New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s tax plan (New York Times, 12/5/11) to re-energizing activists and unions, but bringing some discussion of class into the mainstream dialogue has been one of its crowning achievements.
As Occupy slowed down for the winter, though, would corporate media continue to talk about our increasingly stratified society without a vibrant protest movement forcing their hand? The answer, unsurprisingly, is no.
As mentions of “Occupy Wall Street” or “Occupy movement” waned in early 2012, so too have mentions of “income inequality” and, to an even greater extent, “corporate greed.” The trend is true for four leading papers (New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, L.A. Times), news programs on the major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC), cable (MSNBC, CNN, Fox News) and NPR, according to searches of the Nexis news media database. Google Trends data also indicates that from January to March, the phrases “income inequality” and “corporate greed” declined in volume of both news stories and searches.
From June 2011 through March 2012, mentions of the phrase “income inequality” in the four papers first increased dramatically, then decreased slightly more slowly. The number of mentions per month ranged from 8 to 15 between June and September. Then in October, when OWS coverage peaked, “income inequality” mentions increased nearly fourfold to 44, and reached 52 mentions in November. January had a total of 64 mentions, though 13 of those stories focused on President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.
By March, there were only 16 mentions of “income inequality,” half from the New York Times — which also far outpaced the other papers in coverage of OWS that month, at 45 mentions to the L.A. Times’ 12, the Post’s 10 and USA Today’s three, due in part to the scores arrested in New York City on the movement’s six-month anniversary on March 17.
Chris Hedges writes: Retired Episcopal Bishop George Packard was arrested in Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza in New York City on Tuesday night as he participated in the May 1 Occupy demonstrations. He and 15 other military veterans were taken into custody after they linked arms to hold the plaza against a police attempt to clear it. There were protesters behind them who, perhaps because of confusion, perhaps because of miscommunication or perhaps they were unwilling to risk arrest, melted into the urban landscape. But those in the thin line from Veterans for Peace, of which the bishop is a member, stood their ground. They were handcuffed, herded into a paddy wagon and taken to jail.
It was Packard’s second arrest as part of the Occupy protests. Last Dec. 17 he was arrested when he leapt over a fence in his flowing bishop’s robe to spearhead an attempt to occupy a vacant lot owned by Trinity Church in lower Manhattan. The December action by the Occupy movement was a response to the New York City Police Department’s storming and eradication of the encampment in Zuccotti Park. Packard will appear in court in June to face the trespassing charge that resulted. Now, because of this second arrest, he faces the possibility of three months in jail.
Packard’s moral and intellectual courage stands in stark contrast with the timidity of nearly all clergy and congregants in all of our major religious institutions. Religious leaders, in churches, synagogues and mosques, at best voice pious and empty platitudes about justice or carry out nominal acts of charity aimed at those bearing the weight of resistance in the streets. And Packard’s arrests serve as a reminder of the price that we—especially those who claim to be informed by the message of the Christian Gospel—must be willing to pay to defy the destruction visited on us all by the corporate state. He is one of the few clergy members who dare to bear a genuine Christian witness in an age that cries out in anguish for moral guidance.
“Arrests are not arrests anymore,” Packard said as we talked Friday in a restaurant overlooking Zuccotti Park in New York. “They are badges of honor. They are, as you are taken away with your comrades, exhilarating. The spirit is calling us now into the streets, calling us to reject the old institutional orders. There is no going back. You can’t sit anymore in churches listening to stodgy liturgies. They put you to sleep. Most of these churches are museums with floorshows. They are a caricature of what Jesus intended. Jesus would be turning over the money-changing tables in their vestibules. Those in the church may be good-hearted and even well-meaning, but they are ignoring the urgent, beckoning call to engage with the world. It is only outside the church that you will find the spirit of God and Christ. And with the rise of the Occupy movement it has become clear that the institutional church has failed. It mouths hollow statements. It publishes pale Lenten study tracts. It observes from a distance without getting its hands dirty. It makes itself feel good by doing marginal charitable works, like making cocoa for Occupy protesters or providing bathrooms from 9 to 5 at Trinity Church’s Charlotte’s Place. We don’t need these little acts of charity. We need the church to have a real presence on the Jericho Road. We need people in the church to leave their comfort zones, to turn away from the hierarchy, and this is still terrifying to a lot of people in the church and especially the church leadership.” [Continue reading…]
Michael Corcoran and Stephen Maher write: This May Day brought the explosive global resurgence of Occupy, one of the most significant social movement in decades. In New York City, the heart of global capitalism and center of the movement, the New York Civil Liberties Union estimated that 30,000 demonstrators took part in a massive rally and march down Broadway, led by a score of city taxicabs. As has become alarmingly common for a country that constantly proclaims its zealous devotion to democracy, the day ended with brutal police violence and arrests.
The visible success of Occupy in creating a space for the voice of the people impelled uncontrolled thousands to pour onto the streets of New York City, Oakland, and elsewhere around the country and across the world on May Day, in the start of what US organizers have called an “American Spring.” Touting its message of class solidarity–“we are the 99 percent” – Occupy has revealed the profoundly undemocratic nature of a democratic consensus expressed by corporate-sponsored political representatives, demanding direct popular involvement in areas of social and political life normally dominated by ruling class power.
The powerful rejuvenation of the Occupy movement, however, was used by the US media – owned by the very same interests that Occupy directly threatens – as an opportunity to finally kill the Occupy movement and marginalize the voices of its participants. Since September, the mainstream press in the US has systematically ignored and demonized the Occupy movement. The nakedness of the class bias in this case, however, was especially jarring: the size and significance of the protests were downplayed, reports of police brutality were largely ignored, and the movement was portrayed as violent and dangerous. Many of the most prominent US news outlets, such as The New York Times, practically ignored the protests altogether. These shameful distortions by the corporate press display the function of the media as an organ of the rule of “the 1 percent,” and reveal how threatened elites are by organized, direct action and democratic participation.
Joel Bleifuss writes: Last July, Adbusters sent out this invitation addressed to those “ready for a Tahrir moment”: “On Sept. 17, flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street.” And thus, the Vancouver-based nonprofit magazine published by self-described “culture jammers and creatives working to change the way information flows, the way corporations wield power and the way meaning is produced in our society” sparked a movement.
Estonian-born documentary filmmaker Kalle Lasn co-founded Adbusters in 1989. Lasn, 70-years-young (“old,” as in “old Left,” is an adjective he eschews), draws his inspiration from the Situationists, avant-garde European revolutionaries who believed corporate capitalism perverted the human spirit. The Situationists reached their zenith in 1968 Paris and disbanded in 1972, but their efforts to affirm what it means to be free live on in Adbusters.
In These Times spoke with Lasn in March to see what “the man behind the curtain” had to say for himself and the movement he helped ignite.
What challenges does the Occupy movement face?
It is a replay of what happened in 1968 when an insurrection in the Latin Quarter of Paris exploded onto campuses and cities around the world. For a few brief moments it looked like the first global revolution. Occupy is round two of 1968. Young people around the world have this sinking feeling that the next 30, 40 or 50 years of their lives will be one big black hole of ecological and political and financial and personal crisis. And if you are facing that sort of prospect you realize that unless you stand up and fight for a different kind of future, you don’t have a future. Unlike 1968, it is going to have legs.
We on the Left have become an ineffective, whiny, complaining, finger-pointing kind of movement that hasn’t had a new out-of-the-box idea for a couple of generations. Everything we’ve tried, including the Battle of Seattle and all sorts of anti-globalization movements, has fizzled out.
A power struggle is going on in the movement, between the old vertical type of a Left and a new young Left that has social media at its finger tips and isn’t so enamored with the old wolf pack mentality but is ready to do things in a much more horizontal way without leaders – sometimes even without demands. The question is: In this tussle between the old Left and the new Left, who will win? And if temporarily the old Left triumphs then we’re in for a hard year this year and possibly even next, but bit by bit this movement does herald a new Left. This movement has made the Left cool again. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: On Monday, the New York Police Department sent its warrant squads after an unusual set of suspects: people who had old warrants for the lowliest of violations, misconduct too minor, usually, to draw the attention of those squads.
But those who were questioned by the warrant squads said the officers had an ulterior motive: gathering intelligence for the Occupy Wall Street protests scheduled for May 1, or May Day. One person said he was interviewed about his plans for May Day. A second person said the police examined political fliers in his apartment, and then arrested him on a warrant for a 2007 open-container-of-alcohol violation.
Officials have yet to respond to questions about the tactics, but one police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters about police policy, said the strategy appeared to be an extension of a policy used at events where crowd control could be an issue. Before certain parades that have been marred by shootings, for example, the warrant squads have tracked down gang members who live nearby to execute outstanding warrants, no matter how minor, the official said.
But the department’s use of this tactic as part of its strategy for policing the Occupy Wall Street movement raises new questions about the surveillance efforts by the Police Department, which faces restrictions in monitoring political groups.
Zachary Dempster, 31, said he was wakened at 6:15 a.m. Monday by plainclothes police officers who entered his apartment on Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn and herded him and two roommates into the living room. There, Mr. Dempster said, the police announced they were there that morning to serve an open-container warrant on one of the roommates, Joseph Ryan, a musician who goes by the name Joe Crow Ryan. But then one of the officers led Mr. Dempster back to his room for questioning.
“The officer said, ‘What are you doing tomorrow?’ ” Mr. Dempster recalled. “Do you have plans for May Day?”
“I said, ‘I’m not going to talk to you without my lawyer present,’ ” Mr. Dempster said, adding, “It didn’t seem right.” [Continue reading…]
Moira Herbst writes: The May Day tradition dates back hundreds of years to pagan celebrations of spring and the renewal of life it promises. Celts, Teutons and Romans marked the day with dancing, tree-decorating, processions and rituals involving fairies, goddesses, wreaths and flowers.
Since the late 19th century, some of the wreaths and adornments have given way to banners and flags, as 1 May has become International Workers’ Day. Workers throughout the world hold marches and parties to celebrate solidarity and the common goal of achieving better working conditions and better lives.
But American workers, for the most part, have been left out of the festivities. At the height of the cold war, May Day was considered too radical, too “Soviet” perhaps, and the American Federation of Labor itself wanted distance from it. In 1958, President Dwight Eisenhower went so far as to declare 1 May “National Loyalty Day”. Loyalty to one concept of America, that is – not worker solidarity.
That decision to rob Americans of a day of recognition of workers’ struggles worldwide was a mistake. Now, it’s time to take it back. [Continue reading…]
Slavoj Žižek writes: What to do in the aftermath of the Occupy Wall Street movement, when the protests that started far away – in the Middle East, Greece, Spain, UK – reached the centre, and are now reinforced and rolling out all around the world?
In a San Francisco echo of the OWS movement on 16 October 2011, a guy addressed the crowd with an invitation to participate in it as if it were a happening in the hippy style of the 1960s:
“They are asking us what is our program. We have no program. We are here to have a good time.”
Such statements display one of the great dangers the protesters are facing: the danger that they will fall in love with themselves, with the nice time they are having in the “occupied” places. Carnivals come cheap – the true test of their worth is what remains the day after, how our normal daily life will be changed. The protesters should fall in love with hard and patient work – they are the beginning, not the end. Their basic message is: the taboo is broken, we do not live in the best possible world; we are allowed, obliged even, to think about alternatives.
In a kind of Hegelian triad, the western left has come full circle: after abandoning the so-called “class struggle essentialism” for the plurality of anti-racist, feminist etc struggles, “capitalism” is now clearly re-emerging as the name of the problem.
The first two things one should prohibit are therefore the critique of corruption and the critique of financial capitalism. First, let us not blame people and their attitudes: the problem is not corruption or greed, the problem is the system that pushes you to be corrupt. The solution is neither Main Street nor Wall Street, but to change the system where Main Street cannot function without Wall Street. Public figures from the pope downward bombard us with injunctions to fight the culture of excessive greed and consummation – this disgusting spectacle of cheap moralization is an ideological operation, if there ever was one: the compulsion (to expand) inscribed into the system itself is translated into personal sin, into a private psychological propensity, or, as one of the theologians close to the pope put it:
“The present crisis is not crisis of capitalism but the crisis of morality.”
Let us recall the famous joke from Ernst Lubitch’s Ninotchka: the hero visits a cafeteria and orders coffee without cream; the waiter replies:
“Sorry, but we have run out of cream, we only have milk. Can I bring you coffee without milk?”
Was not a similar trick at work in the dissolution of the eastern european Communist regimes in 1990? The people who protested wanted freedom and democracy without corruption and exploitation, and what they got was freedom and democracy without solidarity and justice. Likewise, the Catholic theologian close to pope is carefully emphasizing that the protesters should target moral injustice, greed, consumerism etc, without capitalism. The self-propelling circulation of Capital remains more than ever the ultimate Real of our lives, a beast that by definition cannot be controlled. [Continue reading…]
Jodi Dean writes: The movement opened up by Occupy Wall Street is the most exciting event on the US political left since 1968—it’s like, my god, finally we can breathe, finally there is an opening, a possibility of organized mass political action. As in 1968, the current movement extends globally, encompasses multiple grievances, and is being met by violent police responses. From Egypt to New York, Spain to Oakland, hundreds of thousands of people have responded to capitalist dispossession by taking space, occupying sites that, ostensibly open and public, the process of occupation reveals to be closed to the many and belonging to the few. Also as in 1968, an economic wrong, the wrong of capitalism, is at the core of the political rupture. Recall that in May ‘68, a general strike shut down the French economy. Students occupied the Sorbonne and workers occupied factories. In September 2011, protesters in New York occupied Wall Street. They were inspired by revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the February occupation of the Wisconsin State Capitol, and the 15 May movement of the squares in Spain (as well as by the occupation movements that in recent years have accompanied protests over cutbacks in education and increases in university tuition in California, New York, and the UK).
That Wall Street was actually the nearby privately owned Zuccotti Park didn’t really matter. What mattered, and what opened up a new space of political possibility in the US, was that people were finally waking up to the ultimate incompatibility between capitalism and the people—after forty years of neoliberalism’s assault on the working and middle class and after a decade of rapacious class warfare in which the top one percent saw an income increase of 275% (their share of the national income more than doubling) while most of the rest of the country saw an income increase of roughly 1% a year. Instead of continuing in the fantasy that “what’s good for Wall Street, is good for Main Street,” the occupation claimed the division between Wall Street and Main Street and named this division as a fundamental wrong, the wrong of inequality, exploitation, and theft.
Occupy Wall Street’s staging of the incompatibility between capitalism and the people was visible, material, and practical. Visibly, urban camping brought to the heart of New York’s financial district the reality of dispossession. It forced Wall Street to look homelessness in the face, both the homelessness of the New Yorkers that the city had been trying to repress, hide, and disperse and that of those across the country who had been evicted in the foreclosure crisis and left to dwell in make shift tent cities reminiscent of shanty towns and Hoovervilles of the Depression. Materially, the presence of people crowded into places where capitalism has determined they don’t belong was manifest in the array of physical needs impressing and expressing themselves in Zuccotti park—the absence of public toilets and showers, the impermissibility of gas-run generators, open flames for cooking, and the illegality of tents resulted in a series of issues encapsulated in the media under the headings public health, filth, and disease. Practically, Occupy Wall Street—and the police reaction to it—led to the proliferation of police barriers all over downtown Manhattan. Even more important, the daily activities of occupiers strove to bring into being new practices of sociality, new ways of living together, ways no longer coordinated by the capital but by discussion, mutuality, and consensus. Not surprisingly, in the course of these practical engagements, new incompatibilities emerged and were only beginning to be addressed when Zuccotti Park was evicted.
The movement’s early slogan, “We are the 99 Percent,” quickly went viral. It spread in part because of the Tumblr collection of images and testimonials to the hardships of debt, foreclosure, and unemployment, a “coming out” of the closet imposed by the conceit that everyone is middle class, everyone is successful. Conservative politicians bristled with indignation at what they depicted as the unfairness of the many who were now refusing to accept the one percent’s seizure of an outrageously unfair portion of the common product. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney scolded what he called the “politics of envy.” These privileged carriers of the 99 versus the 1 percent meme couldn’t quite grasp the change in the situation, the shift in the status quo whereby people no longer believed the myths that “greed is good” and “inequality benefits everyone.” They attempted to turn the issue around, making themselves into victims of exclusion and invective, as if the 99% were the criminals, as if our primary condition had been mutually compatible until some malcontents started to cause trouble, as if class war were a new rather than constitutive incompatibility between those who need to work to live and those who have enough capital not to. A fortunate effect of this tactic was the continued accentuation of class division—as a recent poll from the Pew Foundation found, 66% of Americans think that divisions between rich and poor are strong or very strong, an increase of 19% since 2009. Not only is this view held in every demographic category but more people think that class division is the principle social division than they do any other division.
The slogan “We are the 99%” highlights the division between the wealth of the top 1% and the rest of us. Mobilizing the gap between the 1% with nearly half the country’s wealth and the other 99% with the rest of it, the slogan asserts a collectivity. It does not unify this collectivity under a substantial identity—race, ethnicity, religion, nationality. Nor does it proceed as if there were some kind of generic and unified public. It rejects the fantasy of a unified, non-antagonistic public to assert the “we” of a divided people, the people divided between expropriators and expropriated. In the setting of an occupied Wall Street, this “we” is a class, one of two opposed and hostile classes, those who have and control wealth, and those who do not.
The assertion of a numerical difference as a political difference, that is to say, the politicization of a statistic, expresses capitalism’s reliance on fundamental inequality—“we” can never all be counted as the top 1%. Thus, the announcement that “We are the 99%” names an appropriation, a wrong. In so doing, it voices as well a collective desire for equality and justice, for a change in the conditions through which one percent seizes the bulk of collective wealth for themselves, leaving 99% with the remainder.0
“We are the 99%” also effaces the multiplicity of individuated, partial, and divided interests that fragment and weaken the people as the rest of us. The count dis-individualizes interest and desire, reconfiguring both into a common form. Against capital’s constant attempts to pulverize and decompose the collective people, the claim of the 99% responds with the force of a belonging that not only cannot be erased but that capital’s own methods of accounting produce: as capital demolishes all previous social ties, the counting on which it depends provides a new figure of belonging. Capital has to measure itself, count its profits, its rate of profit, its share of profit, its capacity to leverage its profit, its confidence or anxiety in its capacity for future profit. Capital counts and analyzes who has what, representing to itself the measures of its success. These very numbers can be, and in the slogan “We are the 99%” they are, put to use. They aren’t resignified—they are claimed as the subjectivation of the gap separating the top one percent from the rest of us. With this claim, the gap becomes a vehicle for the expression of communist desire, that is, for a politics that asserts the people as a divisive force in the interest of over-turning present society and making a new one anchored in collectivity and the common.0
Admittedly, the occupiers of Wall Street, and the thousand other cities around the world with occupations of their own, have not reached a consensus around communism (as if communism could even name a consensus). The movement brings together a variety of groups and tendencies—not all of them compatible. Many in the movement see that as Occupy’s strength. They see Occupy as an umbrella movement capable of including a multiplicity of interests and tendencies. For them, “occupy” serves as a kind of political or even post-political open source brand that anyone can use. Because occupation is a tactic that galvanizes enthusiasm, they suggest, it can affectively connect a range of incompatible political positions, basically working around fundamental gaps, divisions, and differences. The mistake here is not only in the effort to ignore multiple incompatibilities; it is also, and more importantly in the evasion of the real antagonism that matters, the one that connects the movement to its setting—class struggle. “Tactics as brand” neglects the way occupation is a form that organizes the incompatibility of capitalism with the people and emphasizes instead a flexibility and adaptability already fully compatible with capitalism. [Continue reading…]
Allison Kilkenny writes: Much to the surprise of many observing Occupy Wall Street’s newest tactic, “sleepful protests,” in which activists camp on sidewalks by Wall Street, the NYPD allowed protesters to sleep in the area around the financial district for a fourth straight night yesterday.
“SleepOWS” now has a Twitter account (so you know it’s official), @sleeponwallst, that posted this morning: “81 indignant sleeping across Wall St, Nassau, Broad. Happy Friday!”
If this latest count is accurate, it means the movement is gradually growing (seventy-five people slept around Wall Street on Tuesday), and New York magazine hypothesized those numbers could swell further as the weather continues to warm and sleeping outside is no longer such an arduous task. (photo by @johnknefel)
“Finally here we are, in the belly of the beast,” said one overnighter.
For those of us who have covered the NYPD’s oftentimes brutal treatment of OWS protesters, this new friendly approach to the movement borders on the surreal.
“I just saw a rank and file NYPD officer flash a quick peace sign at Occupiers bedding down by the stock exchange,” Guardian journalist Ryan Devereaux tweeted last night.
Of course, the NYPD’s new approach to Occupy may have less to do with a collective change of heart and more to do with a mix of bad PR and recognition of legal boundaries.
Natasha Lennard writes: “The 99 Percent Spring” certainly appears like an Occupy Wall Street campaign. The effort — to give nonviolent direct action training and teach-ins on income inequality and Wall Street malfeasance to 100,000 people across the country between April 9 and 12 –- sounds born of a general assembly, from the emphasis on putting “bodies on the line” to the calls to “rise up” in the face of corporate hegemony.
It’s unsurprising then that some media reports described it as Occupy’s new tactic; and although numerous individuals involved in Occupy are taking part in the spring trainings, an Occupy Wall Street initiative this is not. The 99 Percent Spring is spearheaded by MoveOn.org and supported by around 60 progressive nonprofits and major unions, including the AFL-CIO, the Teamsters, Greenpeace, the Working Families Party and Van Jones’ Rebuild the Dream organization.
Inside Occupy’s (now-figurative) camps, cries of “co-optation!” abound. The fear, expressed by numerous Occupy participants I spoke to in different cities, is that the 99 Percent Spring trainings will steer energy away from Occupy spring actions and toward support for the Democrats this coming general election. Many still believe that MoveOn, as a recent CounterPunch article put it, is a “front for the Democratic Party.”