A Few Observations on OWS on Its One-Year Anniversary
By Dennis Loo (9/18/12)
According to many in the mainstream media, OWS (Occupy Wall Street) is moribund: they’re not bringing the kind of numbers to their actions that they were at their peak in the fall of 2011, they’re riddled by internal strife, and they can’t agree on what they want anyway, so they can’t be anything but amorphous.
Andrew Sorkin of The New York Times, for example, in an article entitled: “Occupy Wall Street: A Frenzy That Fizzled,” declared that OWS was a “fad” and that “It will be an asterisk in the history books, if it gets a mention at all.” He can’t bring himself to acknowledge the factual nature of OWS’s complaint – that Wall Street and corporate America are behind the troubles of Main Street and the average American, putting it this way instead: OWS “sought to blame Wall Street and corporate America for many of the nation’s ills.” “Sought to blame” as opposed to identified that Wall Street and corporate America are to blame. Huh, and all this time I thought that the $13 Trillion bailout (not just $787 Billion) was because corporate America and Wall Street took us to the brink.
Leaving aside the arrogantly dismissive Mr. Sorkin and others, there is a kernel of truth in their observations about the internal strife, but the media are putting it in an entirely wrong context and manner.
What you have to start with in any sensible and fair look at OWS is the police raids that were coordinated by the federal government that deprived the Occupy movement of its physical base – the encampments. Despite some in the movement who thought then and still think that the police raids were an “unintentional gift” to the movement – relieving the encampments of the responsibility they had that was increasingly heavy, of coping with the needs of the homeless population that joined with Occupy and of putting a lot of energy into maintaining the camps as viable entities, the raids were without question a devastating blow to the movement. The encampments provided a place of community and community building, of ongoing and continuous outreach and education and a visible repudiation of the neoliberal nightmare that America is circa 2012. The encampments gave a visible and graphic lie every day in cities and towns throughout the country of the declarations that this is the best of all possible worlds and that this is the only way that corporate America and the ruling political parties never tire of telling us it is. I mean really, don't you want to watch Kim Kardashian more than you want to have a job? Don't you think that having a big fancy car is better than addressing the devastation of the planet by global warming? Don't you want to pay and pay and pay for your student loans while jobs dry up? Aren't you happy that your country and your president can kill and is killing people with drones and occupying nations that don't want us there?
I was at a presentation at the Left Forum in NYC in the spring of 2012 in which some anarchist members of Occupy said that we should not “fetishize” the encampments, by which they meant, we should not think that the movement requires the encampments and we should not overstate the encampments’ importance.
I don’t think we should fetishize anything, except that if you understand that the adversary that Occupy faces DOES hold STATE POWER, and with that power was able to evict Occupy and has been wielding that power continuously to ensure that Occupy cannot regain their base in any encampments, with the police, especially around Zuccotti Park and Union Square and Wall Street acting like vipers ready to pounce at any inkling of a resurgence of OWS, and arresting people constantly for the most minor of things (such as being present near where the police are controlling the streets), then you have to see that the enemy DOES FETISHIZE ITS holding of state power and doesn’t hesitate to use it all of the time. And that is a fetish that is extremely potent. It works, damn it.
The first anniversary actions yesterday in NYC involved approximately 1,000 people, of whom about 150 were arrested by the police. If Occupy were moribund, then the state wouldn’t be coming down with such a heavy hand still. When the unnamed NYPD officer declared to the media yesterday that they could take “No More Pictures! That’s over!” he was also demonstrating how the state is now exercising its power: you can’t take pictures of the repression we’re engaged in. The police are now dictating to the Fourth Estate what it can and cannot do. Media being able to do its job of covering breaking events and the news – “that’s over!”
One of Occupy’s strengths has been and was its open door policy – it allowed and allows anyone into its ranks that agrees that things on the global level (I’m speaking both in the geographic sense and in the metaphorical sense) are unfair, unjust and ruinous. But this is also part of its inherent weakness. It is vulnerable to infiltrators and disruptors who are behind the reported demise of the General Assemblies (GA) in NY. I don’t know if the GA’s have actually gone away, but if this report is true, then it’s not a surprise given the way that infiltrators and people who maybe weren’t actually getting paid to disrupt but who are disruptive for free were functioning when I was last in NYC. I do know that the Working Groups are where much if not all of the actual work of the movement was going on, and that this has been true for some time.
The challenge that Occupy faces is how to respond to the violent disruption of their movement by the state and those who are in its secret pay, and not be permanently injured by it.
Addressing that must involve coming to grips with the fact that state power is real and has been and is being used against Occupy. It has to involve coming to realize that acting as if state power doesn’t exist and that in the more general sense it is possible to act as if leadership doesn’t exist, or isn’t necessary, or is an obstacle to the movement rather than something extremely important, are holding Occupy back from moving forward. Roving demonstrations are great as an occasional tactic, but Occupy needs to be visible in an ongoing way.
This movement galvanized the world and this country. It can do so again. But it has to address these questions in order to resolve them on a favorable basis. That isn’t going to be easy; it’s going to be extremely hard, but it’s vital.