Saturday, February 4, 2012
On Letting Go
There have been a number of Occupy evictions lately as part of what looks like another coordinated crack down series to "welcome" Occupy on its putative awakening after winter hibernation. It's not clear yet whether there has been a metamorphosis. Maybe it was just a molt.
I say that because of today's eviction -- well, sort of -- of Occupy DC from McPherson Square. I say "sort of" because what I saw on the UStream wasn't quite what it appeared to be. There was both deception in motive and purpose and acts of extraordinary arbitrariness.
Some tents were "cleared," for example, to the outcry of the Occupy DC crowd, and in response, apparently, the National Park Police (McPherson is a federal site) left the rest of them alone. There was nevertheless a skiploader hard at work "clearing" who knows what? "Beep-beep-beep" all the time, "beep-beep-beep". The crowd was told this was an "inspection," not an "eviction," yet they were kept back from the tents by ever-shifting lines of (rather decorative, I must say) barricades and horse police who were pooping and peeing everywhere. Nobody was on hand to clean it up, as all those who might have done were dolled up in bright yellow-orange HazMat suits poking gingerly here and there in the rubble of the encampment while the skip loaders beeped around them and the Park Police looked on impassively and unprotected, OMG!, from the ick of the Occupy.
It was simply a bizarre scene.
As it was, eventually, the park was "cleared" -- of people. There were a number of arrests, some pretty violent. Someone was apparently tasered, but I didn't see it, and someone else was apparently pulled over a (decorative) barricade to be arrested, but I didn't see that either. I did not stay glued to my monitor all day, after all. Things to do, dontuknow.
Some people were apparently allowed to stay in the park to protect the library. From what I witnessed, the whole "library episode" was quite as bizarre as everything else that went on at McPherson Park if not more so.
The whole point of the "inspection" was to ensure that there was no contraband on site, such as pillows and sleeping bags and mattresses and such due to the fact that Darrell Issa (Idiot-CA) was on the warpath in Congress over his claim that Obama had ordered the Park Police to stand down and not "enforce the anti-camping laws of This Great Nation" -- or something. I really don't know what Issa is on about at any given time. I never do. He's a jerk, everyone knows he's a jerk, and he likes being a jerk. It's an identity thing.
At any rate, the "inspection" was proceeding throughout the park, closing in on the library tent where about a dozen or so Occupy DC activists decided to Make A Stand (and bless their hearts, too.) It had started raining a slushy rain -- looked awful, I wouldn't want to be out in it -- and the multitude was in their rain ponchos sitting on the ground, refusing to move unless the library was left alone. In DC, the police do speak to the demonstrators as opposed to New York where they don't, at least not when they are engaged in an aktion, and the demonstrators were assured that there would be no attempt to harm or dismantle the Library Tent (if it passed "inspection" of course.)
Naturally, the crowd did not believe the assurances because the police had repeatedly lied to them all day, so no one was about to take their word now about the safety of what is the symbolic heart of most Occupations, The People's Library.
In New York, as we know, the People's Library appeared to have been deliberately targeted for very ostentatious destruction during the eviction from Liberty Square last November. It was really outrageous -- and very shocking -- when it happened. Symbolically, it was horrendous, and IIRC, the City of New York ultimately promised to replace the volumes that had been destroyed in the aktion. Whether they ever did so, I don't know, but the memory of the Destruction of the People's Library at Zucotti Park will live in the growing Hall of Infamy of the events surrounding the attempts to suppress the Occupy Movement.
In DC, I watched this afternoon (on the UStream) as a very kindly and very polite park policeman asked the librarian if he could "inspect" the tent. The librarian (I believe his name was Eric) was very courteous and polite himself, and he cooperated by taking down plastic tarps that had been hung to protect the books -- looked like there were perhaps a thousand or more, very neatly arranged in crates and on shelves and tables -- and as he went from one section to another exposing the books and explaining what else there was in the tent, the policeman "inspected" and eventually declared himself satisfied, the People's Library had passed "inspection."
This was supposed to be the signal for the sitting demonstrators to leave now, but they were disinclined to do so until they were informed that two of the Occupy DC number, including Eric, could stay behind to protect the Library. Only then, would the demonstrators agree to leave. They were apparently given assurances that once the "inspection" was complete, the park would be re-opened to the public, but as soon as they were out, the barricades went up and no one was allowed into the park.
All the Occupy DC people had been pushed out into the slushy rain and the street. I believe it was K Street, too. Heh.
At any rate, they milled around for a while then held a General Assembly that was mostly Open Forum where people discussed the events of the day, what went well, what didn't, and how the situation could be improved. There were many offers of housing for the night, though some were going over to Freedom Plaza encampment -- which was still operating.
During the "inspection" food was served by volunteers, and apparently the City made some accommodations available for the homeless. The whole thing was kind of surreal and bizarre. It seems very late in the game to be conducting evictions, the point of which has never been clear in any case. The stated premise -- to "clean" -- is patent;y and obviously false.The use of HazMat suits is clearly about theater, not "safety." As the crowd was being held behind barricades they did a series of mic check testimonies about Why They Occupy, some of which included concern for public worker livelihoods and pensions -- which are under perpetual threat by the likes of Darrell Issa -- and plenty of Democrats, too, let it be said.
Despite the arrests and the occasional police brutality -- seemingly quite casual and even unintentional (I said it seemed bizarre) -- there was none of the incredible level of outrage and violent attacks on demonstrators that characterized evictions in New York, LA, Oakland, Seattle, etc. It's a different atmosphere in DC. As I've said many times DC's culture is that of the Palace, and the denizens there are socialized to a very ritualized courtly behavior that can certainly get nasty and injurious to person or reputation, but which is nevertheless bound by rules and conventions as strict as any at Versailles.
In the end, the crowd disappeared from the scene, much of their stuff still behind the barricades in the Park. The UStreamer I was watching most, Nate of OccupiedAir, gave a wrapup description of the day's events and before he signed off with a view of the park from across K Street, someone offered him a place to stay for the night (he'd already received three packs of cigarettes, which he of course distributed to those in need of nicotine). And that was that.
I watched all this unfold (at least as much of it as I did watch, maybe an aggregate of three hours -- the aktion went on for at least twelve, but as is the case with Revolution in real life, there was a lot of just standing around... ) with a kind of tired despair.
There has been no actual public need to evict any of the Occupations, nor has there been any public need to prevent them from Occupying in the first place (prevention being the objective of authorities where I am). As many observers have recognized, the public interest would have been better served by simply leaving the Occupations alone (as happened in Davis recently when a building was temporarily occupied by activists) rather than conducting these repeated raids and assaults and violent -- or not so violent as the case may be -- evictions.
Every Occupation has been organized as an intentional community specifically designed to serve unmet public needs, whether feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, or sheltering the homeless, among other things like providing educational opportunities, entertainment, and space for the development of a democratic alternative to our clearly broken political system. The alternatives to the way-things-are that were being developed in New York were astonishing in scope, from bicycle powered generators to alternative systems of finance and banking. The creativity and the social innovation shown by the Occupy System -- if you want to call it that -- has an extraordinary public value, and every time an Occupation is destroyed, literally vandalized and bulldozed into oblivion in yet another example of Eviction Theater, all that public interest energy of development is (at least temporarily) lost.
In those cities where Occupations have been left alone or even been supported by civic authorities, they have proved invaluable assets to the public good.
But instead, Authority believes it MUST harass and eventually crack down and destroy. The symbolism is heavy with the negative memories of dictatorships and totalitarian systems that we all thought had been vanquished a generation ago -- but apparently not. Maybe they weren't vanquished at all.
Today's eviction was surreal to my eye in part because of its seeming arbitrary conduct, but also because it was pure ritual; there was no ultimate point to it, except to assert the Authority of the Park Police at the behest of one of the jerkiest elected representatives in the country. Just as none of these evictions (or preventions for that matter) has never really been necessary or been in the public interest, today's wasn't either.
Ultimately, civic and national authorities who conduct these aktions will be as discredited as Oakland's police and officials are after their repeated violent assaults on and failed attempts at suppression of Occupy Oakland.
What we see is a rotting system is the process of collapse. There is a Revolution going on, everywhere around the world simultaneously, and I think the operators of this system know it, and they know they can't win through suppression and violence, nor can they win through ever-more bizarre exercises like the one I witnessed today in Washington DC. (All well-deserved kudos, by the way, to the livestreamers.)
The game may not be quite over, yet, but we can see the finish line. The oppressors are to the point now that they aren't even trying. They're just going through the motions; at least that's what I saw in DC. This was not only Theater, it was Theater of the Increasingly Absurd.
The answer, of course, is "Letting Go." Surrender in the Buddhist sense.
Many of the Occupiers already know how to do that and they know what a positive spirit results. At some point, we can't say exactly when, but I wouldn't be surprised if it as soon as this summer, our civic and national leaders will need to get right with themselves and the public and do likewise.