Wednesday, October 5, 2011


WE... ARE the 99 percent and so are
YOU... ARE the 99 percent and so are
WE... ARE the 99 percent and so are
YOU... ARE the 99 percent...

My adaptation of the 99% chant goes round and round in my head this morning. The earworms out of this movement are legion. That's one reason it's working so well... so far.

Who knows what will happen tomorrow? But let's not fret about it, shall we?

Tomorrow begins the local Occupation occupation Downtown at the city's central plaza; I haven't checked in with the Occupation Central Committee(!) yet -- No, that's not what they call themselves, I'm having a bit of fun at the expense of Teh Revolution, so just settle down -- so I'm not altogether sure how far along the preparations are, but they were doing quite well as of some time last night.

Organized chaos, as it were.

Of course October 6 is also the kick off of the October2011 occupation action in Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC, a somewhat bigger and more comprehensive sit-in that's been in the planning stages for months and looks fair to eclipse -- at least for a while -- the #occupywallstreet actions in New York and all over the country and more and more around the world. The DC effort is looking far glitzier and less spontaneous. God knows how the media loves that! Which is not meant as a put down of the October2011 efforts. It's all good. One of the organizers of the October2011 action (Lisa Simone) posts comments periodically over at Ian Welsh's place, and she has provided some valuable insight during these initial phases of the US Days of Rage.

Oh, the US Days of Rage were something else. And on that note, I'd just point out that like the global uprisings in 1968, the #occupywallstreet movement and its many offshoots, as well as the October2011 action in DC, are not by any means sui generis. They are all part of a global spirit of rebellion-becoming-revolution and a continuation of rebellions and revolutions that have been going on all year and which physically began last year. The necessity for something like this has long been recognized, and anyone who's been following this blog and my posts knows I've been hammering Teh Revolution theme almost from the very beginning of :Ché (What You Call Your) Pasa: on the interwebs.

These occupations have not arisen out of a vacuum, in other words. In a sense, they are the inevitable result of years and years of official indifference to and oppression of the masses while cleaving ever more tightly to the (shrinking) 1%.

Frau Merkel, I'm looking at you. Among others.

Well, yes. There is that Herbert Hoover clone in the White House as an example of official indifference. Another theme I've been hammering for a loooonnnng time...

Well, enough about me. Let's talk about tomorrow.

The local occupation will begin at Cesar Chavez Plaza, which has been the city's central square since it was founded and laid out in 1848. It was for many decades called "Plaza Park," which is kind of redundant, but that's how it goes. It was renamed in honor of Cesar Chavez, noted farmworker organizer, in... I'm not sure what year, but I think it must have been 1994 or 1996, not too long after he died.

The plaza is very much the city's central square. On the north side is the Old City Hall -- still used as part of the City Hall complex, while right behind it is the New City Hall. The south side hosts a "boutique" hotel that is located in what was the first local skyscraper (14 stories, wow!) built in the 1920's as offices. On that side are also a string of deteriorating buildings from various eras that are intended for some kind of civic rehab eventually, but, given the economy and all, it's not likely to be soon. On the west side is the USBank Building (how nice!), as well as the Central Library. The east side hosts a large parking structure and some Deco era office buildings.

Events occur in the plaza all the time; it hosts all sorts of local festivals and fiestas as well as arts and cultural activities, there's a restaurant in the plaza, there is a weekly farmer's market, weekly concerts in the summer time, and on and on. Hosting an occupation as well may cause some civic tension, I don't know, nor does anybody else right now. We are not yet liasoning with the police, though there has been some limited contact between the SPD and people doing the planning for the occupation.

We are told that no permit is required for protesting and demonstrations, though there are "rules" to be followed. But camping in the city is not allowed. This is actually a matter for litigation, and there have been ongoing issues around the topic because of the homeless situation and the local lack of anything close to sufficient safe housing or camping ground for people without homes. There was a long and quite wrenching article in the March issue of Harper's (pdf link to blurb) that detailed what's been going on from the ground level, and it's not a pretty picture. That said, debate has been ongoing throughout the #occupytheirass movement about how to approach the "rules," and whether or not to engage in civil disobedience by... camping anyway.

There are plans to camp in the plaza, but whether they will be realized I can't say. Civil disobedience is a froughtful issue around here. This is the capital city of California, and those who still have jobs (ha! unemployment is appallingly high in the area) are mindful of how close they are to the edge and how anything might hurl them over. Civil disobedience is done, of course, but generally it's rather ritualized, done only briefly and on behalf of a specific set of demands.

Then we look at where we are going to be and who is honored there and what he and UFW did back in the day. Is it honoring him to conduct this occupation action? I think it is, but others may not. It is something to be worked out, it seems to me, in General Assembly.

If civil disobedience by camping in the plaza is actually done, then what? If there is rousting by the police and arrests, then what? Being the Capital, the place is full of lawyers, and both the ACLU and NLG have pledged support on behalf of those arrested, if there are arrests, but right now, it's not even certain anyone will attempt to camp in the plaza.

What is looking more and more certain is that there will be a large demonstration in the plaza tomorrow. 700 or more are signed up on the Facebook page, and that's only part of the activist community that's involved. There has been quite a lot of television news coverage (surprisingly, really) here that has set the stage for the demonstration tomorrow. Far more people know something about it than we might realize. Given the breadth of anger and frustration among the general public, the demonstration could turn into quite a large and vibrant event.

But it is an occupation as well as a demonstration. Demonstrations happen all the time around here, then everyone goes home. It's a form of political ritual. The occupation format, however, is a much rarer occurrence and when occupations have occurred, they have tended to focus on one individual and that individual's supporters. (The late Cesar Chavez comes to mind.) What's coming up tomorrow, though, is something else again. Not quite what Cesar did. Yet in some ways sharing his spirit.

As I ponder it, I think about what happened to the farmworker's movement, how successful they were in some ways, and how conditions for many farmworkers in California today aren't any better, and in some cases are worse, than they were when the UFW began. More than once, this anomaly has been raised in public discussion, and one of the insights about it is that every generation has to make their own claim on the Future. The abuelos did what they could, and they were very successful in doing it.

Now it's your turn, they say to the jóvenes.

Ain't it the truth, though.


  1. The Richard Wolff speech was great, though the recording cut off early. I was getting revved up listening to it!

    A lot of young people haven't been exposed to that sort of thing, growing up as they have under the Thatcher/Reagan/Neoliberal paradigm. They haven't heard of Marxian theory, except as a bogeyman, etc. etc.

    Hell, I'd venture to say most people have forgotten the idea(l) of real participatory democracy and the possibility of the economy being included in all of that as well. Whenever I mention the fact that a tiny fraction decides what is made, how it's made, what goes on our shelves, what we get to buy, etc. . . and that they set prices, wages and "value" for all of us, etc. etc. . . . I either get a dumb silence or anger or lashing out from others.

    "It's the free market!!!"

    Blah blah blah. No nation has ever been more brainwashed into thinking against itself and its own best interests.

    We need more Richard Wolffs.

    . . . .

    On another note: Not sure I like the "99%" theme. The real pain in this country isn't being felt by even the top 10% of earners. It's more like the bottom 50%. Obviously, the folks making the decisions are in the top 1% to 00.01% . . . but they're taking pretty good care of the top 5% at least.

    I don't want to sound like Ezra Klein . . . missing the forest for the tree stats. But I sometimes think that Americans just can't wrap their heads around the real poverty that exists here, and it's not helping if we think of people as "struggling" when they're "only" making 150K.

    Of course, then there's the issue of "divide and conquer" from above (as always), so we do need all hands on deck. Perhaps that's the real meaning of the percentage. It's "inclusive" without being divisive. Though reality checks might want to see that percentage drop down a bit for emphasis.


    Anyway, I'm actually feeling a bit of hope these days. These occupations and the gathering tomorrow . . . As you (and Buffalo Springfield) said, "Something's happening here" . . .

  2. Re: the 99% theme

    Stephanie Van Hook put this question over at Waging Nonviolence:

    Can we be the 100 percent?

    A question I expected to see sooner. She isn't quite to the point of "can't we all just get along," but I think I understand the spirit of unity and conquest of anger behind her query.

    I'm not sure she's aware of what's actually going on down at Liberty Plaza/Square/Park, because a lot of what she seems to think needs to happen is happening. In a relatively unstructured way, of course.

    They're modeling a different way of handling the complexities of civilized living. We don't have to rely on the 1% to show us the way; we can show them the way. That's a big part of what they are trying to do. They're doing it literally "outside" -- outdoors, but outside the structures and institutions that the 1% have captured and rule, and outside the parameters of expectation.

    And I think it is where the 99% image becomes useful.

    It's not an income distribution chart -- as Ezra seems to think (I wanted to strangle him today, but I conquered my anger ;[) It's an image of who/what is really in charge.

    In thinking about the comparisons between 1968 and now, I can easily see that there is the same ruling class indifference to the masses now as there was then; in fact, it's worse now. LBJ -- in facing the consequences of his own indifference to the cry of outrage at his escalation of the Indochina Wars said he wouldn't run for office again. He responded in other words. Nixon responded to the uproar his actions caused after he was elected. Governments fell all over the world when the outcry at their indifference to the masses could not be suppressed.

    That's not happening now. Governments and their 1% owners these days really do not know or care what the masses are fussing about, they don't care that they are suffering (even if it's objectively "not that bad.") They are indifferent to outcries from the masses, and they insist against all rational evidence, that taking the wrong path will get us to the right destination.

    In a way, they're crazy.

    The rehabilitation of Marx is really quite wonderful to witness. "You mean he was right all along?" Yeah.

    Wolff was great -- toward the end of his talk before the feed deteriorated, I'm not sure they got it on hard copy -- in explaining how he thought the Soviet Union got it wrong and ultimately imploded, but even so, the Soviets didn't get everything wrong. He was greatly encouraged by what he saw happening among the Occupation participants, because it looked like they were figuring it out and going forth bravely and resolutely *my interpolation.*

    Stiglitz was there the previous day, and he was not nearly as ...clear. Damned economists!



    Can't find it now, but I saw a list of some 75 colleges and universities that will be holding solidarity rallies tomorrow.


  3. Oops. Too many things on my plate. College solidarity today, October 5.

  4. Russian proverb, “Everything the Communists said about Communism was a lie, but everything they said about capitalism turned out to be the truth.”

    I think it's a little hard on Communism, but then I'm not Russian :-)