Saturday, March 31, 2012

Lessons of Impunity and Internalization of Perspectives

Last week, a report regarding police conduct at the November 9, 2011, rallies at the University of California at Berkeley was issued. It was the first of what will no doubt be a blizzard of studies about police conduct during their efforts to prevent or remove protest encampments on University grounds last fall.

The video above shows some of the actions of both police and protesters on the Sproul Plaza lawn that day; though I can't be sure of timing, the video description says that this particular confrontation occurred after the tents that had been briefly erected on the lawn were seized and removed by police, thus after the initial charge by police against protesters. It was apparently during the confrontation shown above that most of the injuries were sustained by protesters that day.

The report was prepared by
Jeff Young, Assistant Chief of Police UCLA Police Department

and so is an institutional-serving document that reflects both the culture of impunity with which the UCPD is imbued and the astonishment within the institution of the UCPD that civilians would question the behavior of the police or -- even worse -- not know the policies that they were properly implementing and enforcing.

If people were assaulted, arrested, or injured during the police actions November 9: too bad for them.

As I read the report, I was thinking back -- as I admit I often do! -- to the Free Speech Movement in late 1964 and early 1965 and how it was dealt with, and how there was nothing approaching this level of violence by the police, even though thousands of students actually occupied Sproul Hall (the UC Berkeley administration building) repeatedly during the FSM protests, and hundreds and hundreds of protesters were arrested. So far as I can recall, no one was beaten or sustained more than minor injuries (mostly from being dragged) during those police actions.

To refresh my memory, I watched "Berkeley in the Sixties," Mark Kitchell's 1990 documentary of those and other events in and near the Bay Area of California during the decade. (The link goes to part one of an eight part Spanish subtitled version on YouTube.) Indeed, so far as that documentary shows, there was no overt police violence during the FSM period though there were plenty of arbitrary impositions of police authority (most especially, the seizure of Mario Savio by police at the Greek Theatre while he tried to address the administration on behalf of the students). In fact, according to Jo Freeman's accounts, the Berkeley administration was directed by the Governor's Office to defuse the protest without violence.

My how times change.

As I watched the documentary -- the first time I've seen it in its entirety in many years -- I was somewhat startled to see so many things I remember or was part of during the era, even more startling to me was how much I have internalized the ideas and ideals of the era, and further, how much those ideas and ideals seem to be informing my perspectives about the current uprisings and rebellions under the Occupy rubric.

My. My. My.

I hadn't forgotten, I had internalized. And I got to thinking that something similar has happened to the police and their institutional culture in the intervening 40 or 50 years. I take for granted my point of view about rebellion, ideas and ideals, and of course I believe I'm "right" -- just as they do.

In 1964 and 65, the police didn't behave violently toward student protesters on campus. In fact, they were ordered not to. By 1966 and 67, police violence against protests would become commonplace in California, and in 1968 in Chicago, it became what was deemed a police riot. The term can only be properly understood in the context of the uprising and riots that were going on all over the United States and the world that year. 1968 was a transformative year on many levels. Nothing would be the same afterwards.

But back to the report and the impunity for police actions expressed therein.

From the outset, the thrust of the report is clear:
The specific purpose of this operational review is to determine if the
UC Berkeley Police Department followed its policies and procedures and generally accepted police and safety practices in dealing with the protests that occurred on the UC Berkeley campus on November 9, 2011. Other purposes that naturally flow this charge include determining:

  • 1. lf the actions of the UC Berkeley Police Department provided an appropriate level of preparation and pre-event planning for the protest.

  • 2. lf UC Berkeley Police Department command staff, including the Chief of Police,provided adequate leadership and command/control of the protest event.

  • 3. If UC Berkeley campus administration provided adequate direction, guidance and the appropriate support of the indicated direction and guidance that they provided.

  • 4. What actions of the protestors and crowd conditions contributed to the eventual outcomes of the event?

  • 5. What recommendations for future consideration can be made?

  • According to institutional culture, events transpire in a vacuum, independent of all other events. Assessments are only made regarding the specifics of the moment according to established rules and policies as they are interpreted and enforced against perceived or real threats. Context, to the extent it is considered at all, is an abstraction. That UC Berkeley's history of protest is too widely known to be ignored, but that history does not directly inform today's realities and considerations. Instead, the events of 9/11 and the more recent Oakland actions -- including the police violence on October 25 and the vandalism by Oakland activists on November 2 -- will loom large.

    From the outset, it is clear that the only issues under consideration will be whether the police responded properly according to their mission and policy as they understand it and as it was communicated to them by the campus administration. The implication is that to the extent they face accusations of wrongdoing, they are ultimately victims of policy choices they are not responsible for.

    In other words, by the standards of this study, there is no way for the police to be in the wrong regarding their conduct so long as policies were followed.

    And, of course, they were. Consequently, everyone can just sit down and shut up. The police were only following orders and doing their jobs. No one has any right to criticize them for their performance.

    What was their all-important mission? What "job" was so important that they had to beat the crap out of and injure students to accomplish?

    Interestingly, the report sidesteps that question and instead puts forth the following "Message" from the Chancellor:

    In advance of the event, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau issued a "Message to Campus Community". In this message Chancellor Birgeneau warned students that camping would not be tolerated. Birgeneau's statement reminded "community members of some of the basic expectations for our campus." He specifically mentioned, "encampments or occupations of buildings are not allowed on our campus. This means that members of our community are free to meet, discuss, debate, and protest, but will not be allowed to set up tents or encampment structures." The chancellor stressed support for "our campus community in leading the collegiate movement in a way that is productive, dignified and consequential." Birgeneau also noted that "in these challenging times, we simply cannot afford to spend our precious resources and, in particular, student tuition on costly and avoidable expenses associated with violence or vandalism."

    This statement is strikingly obtuse, in that it seems to be focusing everywhere except the interests of the students engaged in protest on campus, and it is remarkably similar to statements issued from the administration with regard to the People's Park in 1969. In other words, Birgeneau seems to be saying, "You can have your silly little protest if you must, but only on our terms, not on yours."

    Note the matter of "costly and avoidable expenses associated with violence or vandalism" that are paid from student tuition. Nice touch.

    While not explicitly stated, the all-important mission, indeed the obsession of the police on November 9, was preventing an encampment on the campus. When they were thwarted and tents were erected on the lawn in front of Sproul Hall, they became enraged and commenced their brutal actions against the protesters. For their part, protesters resisted for a time and then retreated.

    The encampment was destroyed, a number of protesters were injured and arrested, and "order" was restored to the campus.

    The police conduct was quickly intercast around the world and was met with widespread outrage and disgust. Captain Margo Bennett, UCB police spokesperson, and Chancellor Birgeneau both tried to justify the violence of the police toward the protesters by asserting that the protesters' behavior was "not nonviolence," which doesn't make any rational sense at all. At no time did any protester address the police violence with violence of their own. It simply did not happen.

    In the report, however, the issue is not directly addressed. The statements about "not nonviolence" are not given. Instead, the report quotes definitional terms as understood by the police regarding matters of "resistance", to wit:

    A word about terms such as "Passive Resistance" and "Non-Violent" "Passive Resistance" and Non-Violent" are controversial terms that mean different things to many different groups. The UC Berkeley Police Department "Crowd Management Policy" provides definitions for three
    categories of demonstrator response to police orders:

    1. Compliant - behavior consistent with submitting to lawful police orders without resistance.

    2. Non-Compliant - non-violent opposition to the lawful directions of law enforcement during an arrest situation (sometimes referred to as "passive resistance").

    3. Active Resistance - intentionally & unlawfully opposing the lawful order of a peace officer in a physical manner (i.e. tensed muscles, interlock arms/legs, pushing, kicking, etc.).

    Viewed under these definitions, the actions of the crowd on November 9, 2011 were "active resistance."

    Note, "passive resistance" is not defined further than "non-violent opposition" whereas "active resistance" is defined as essentially what the protesters did as a consequence of the violence of the police.

    Also, not clearly mentioned in the report is that the police policy toward "active resistance" is to use force. Once the protesters engaged in any behavior the police regarded as "active resistance" then use of force was guaranteed. "Active resistance" in police parlance includes any action they so deem. Thus, for example, it is often noted that witnesses to aggressive arrests often hear police shouting "Stop resisting!" to fully controlled and compliant suspects. This is so that later when they are sued, the police can claim that the suspect was engaged in "active resistance" thus justifying the use of force against them.

    It is acknowledged in the report that some of the protesters did not recognize that their behavior was considered "active resistance" by the police.

    However, it was clear to me during my interviews of several protestors and witnesses said that they did not see protestors interlocking their arms and pushing back against the line of police officers as anything other than "passive resistance." This is a misconception held by many. In most cases, the police have a very different definition of passive resistance. Any action other than a protestor passively sitting or standing and going limp is usually considered more than passive resistance. For example, the UCLA Police Department Policy 300, "Use of Force" provides specific detailed definitions of active and passive resistance:

    Actively Resisting - Evasive physical movements to defeat an officer's attempt at control, including bracing, tensing, pushing, linking arms or verbally signaling an intention to avoid or prevent being taken into or retained in custody.

    Passive Resistance - Actions that do not prevent the officer's attempt to control a subject. For example, a subject who remains in a sitting, standing, limp or prone position with no physical contact (e.g., locked arms) with other individuals. A subject in handcuffs meets the definition of passive resistance if: (a) the subject is in a sitting, standing or prone position as directed by the officer and is not engaged in any motion reasonably likely to injure, resist or remove the handcuffs; or (b) the subject is walking accompanied by and following the directions of an officer.

    A subject who, while sitting or standing, has locked arms with another subject is not engaged in passive resistance but is engaged in active resistance to obstruct. A subject who has previously engaged in passive resistance but who subsequently engages in behavior such as flailing, kicking, elbowing, head butting, biting, shoving, jerking, pulling away, twisting or other action that an officer interprets as a threat or actual act of active resistance is no longer considered to be engaging in passive resistance.

    It should be easy to see that by these definitions, any action by a protester, suspect or arrestee that can be interpreted by an officer as a "threat" to act -- which means anything at all including complete compliance -- can be used as justification for police violence.

    Anyone who has studied the issue of police brutality knows that's exactly what happens, too, with sometimes -- all too often -- deadly consequences. In almost every case, however, police brutality is considered "justified" because the officer perceived a "threat" of some sort. It's a matter of force protection that applies to the military as well. The perception of a potential "threat" is all it takes for the use of force against civilians, force which can be and too often is deadly.

    That's essentially the definition of impunity. While the police conception of their impunity is based on their perception of a "threat" -- which means in practice that anything at all can be cited as justification for police brutality and murder and be accepted by Authority -- the culture of impunity goes far beyond the police and infuses the culture of power and authority at every level.

    This has been made starkly clear to Americans and many people around the world during the ongoing -- and seemingly endless -- financial crisis, during which those who made the crisis and keep it going are not held to account in any way but are instead showered with ever more rewards while millions of Americans are forced out of their homes and into poverty year after year.

    In the case of the University, the stark realization of the impunity of power and authority is slightly different in that students and their families are being assessed higher and higher fees and tuition, while their opportunities to complete their educations are becoming more and more restricted (as access to classes is further and further limited) while extensive construction projects and higher and higher salaries for top administrators and sports coaches are instituted. Students and their families are forced deeper and deeper into debt to pay for degrees that take longer and longer to get, and for which -- surprise! -- there is often no market after graduation.

    What a scam.

    (I honestly did not realize until recently just how dire this situation has become for many students and their families who really feel they've been taken advantage of by a system that is out of control and run by people who believe they deserve impunity for their actions.)

    We will find this culture of impunity permeates the power and authority centers of our society. The police are typically the public face of that impunity, just as they are in the report under consideration here.

    When critics of the Occupy movement say that confronting the police is somehow a distraction from what's really important, I often wonder what they must be thinking. The police are at the base of the culture of impunity; their impunity is emblematic of the whole structure of impunity. Confronting the police is a means of confronting the structure they are part of and serve. Duh.

    To wrap this up (because today and tomorrow are travel days) I'll just add that those with power and in authority in American society have largely internalized their belief in their own impunity of action. They take it for granted that the way things are is the way they are supposed to be, and that they deserve to be granted this impunity because of who they are.

    At one time, their positions of authority and power were matters of responsibility and service. No longer.

    At the same time, as I was reminded of what used to be (while watching "Berkeley in the Sixties") I recognized how many of the beliefs and attitudes of that era I have internalized and take for granted now.

    Thursday, March 29, 2012

    Talking Strategy For A Little Bit -- And What Occupy Is Not

    As a rule, I prefer to use what's on hand in order to develop strategic thinking and planning rather than try to impose a strategic template from another source.

    Occupy has been up and running for more than six months now, and it has its own templates for taking action. Not all of it is strategic, to be sure, but it is surprisingly effective on its own terms.

    It was really tough for me, coming from a relatively organized and hierarchical background, to deal with the way Occupy was and is operating. If it was tough for me I can only imagine how tough it was for many others who were far more rigidly programmed than I was.

    I know Socialists who were freaked out about Occupy from the beginning and are still nay-sayers despite the overall success and durability of the movement to date. I'm aware of plenty of political interests and operatives of all kinds who insist that "you have to have" certain kinds of structures and strategies in place in order to have any effect at all on The Powers That Be. Parts of the nonviolence community have been having a field day denouncing the movement for its lack of strict discipline and Gandhi-esque purity.

    I think that those who insist that Revolution has to be done in a certain way following a certain template of strategy and action may be missing the point. Much of that argument has been made and heard long since, and some of it has been adopted. But much of has been rejected.

    Occupy is not a Sharp-style color revolution. It doesn't come from the same space, and it doesn't appear to be going in the direction of a Sharp-style revolution. From my perspective, Occupy is not ultimately about overthrow or seizing power or any of the standard revolutionary motifs that are central to Revolutionary Theory and Practice As Done By Past Revolutionary Masters.

    I linked to David Graeber's "Revolution in Reverse" in an earlier post because I think it is much closer to the ideological and strategic framework that OWS and Occupy in general have "adopted" -- without any formal consensing on it -- as a working model for accomplishing the deeper revolutionary objectives of the Movement.

    For the record:

    It's not the be-all/end-all guidebook of this revolution by any means; I see it more as a theoretical starting point for the imagination process that's been going on throughout the Occupy movement since before there was a movement.

    The key word is "imagination."

    After all, another world really is possible. Making it so is not so much a matter of forcing it as allowing it, making the space for it, nurturing it, and letting it grow. That's up to us to do, not something we ask of government or corporate power. We don't need their permission, and we don't need their power to create another world. We just do it.

    Starting with imagining it, which is what hundreds of groups (both formally organized and highly informal) have been doing, some of them for decades. In other words, Occupy is not starting from square one, and we're by no means operating in a vacuum. Much of the ground work for "another world" has long been in place, and many of the physical aspects of the Occupy movement have been ways of highlighting what to do and how to get there.

    You take the square.

    You clothe the naked, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless. You speak out against injustice, treat one another with dignity, you form communities, you foster and enable peace.

    You face down oppression.

    And you allow the alternatives to happen.

    Pie in the sky? Sure. Magical thinking? Absolutely. Impossible? Maybe not. I don't know.

    Right now I'm working on an analysis that compares and contrasts the Sharp-style revolution with what Occupy is doing. There are many parallels and many divergences. What is very clear, however, is that the premise of Occupy is essentially 180° opposite the Sharp premise of power and purpose.

    "Revolution in Reverse."

    Wednesday, March 28, 2012

    Daniel Murphy

    From a distance and the relative comfort of our own easy chairs and daily lives, it can sometimes be difficult to grasp just what is being done in the name of Authority to suppress domestic dissent and to terrify us into submission.

    On March 24 in New York City, there was a march against police brutality during which the police engaged in arbitrary arrest and... police brutality. One of the victims was Mesiah Hameed whose arrest and... disposal is documented in a previous post.

    Another was that of Daniel Murphy. From reports, he was seized while standing on the sidewalk. He was then subjected to very public and prolonged torture via too-tight flexi-cuffs. From the beginning of the suppression of Occupy activities, there have been numerous instances of police tightening flexi-cuffs to the point of intense pain, prolonged restriction of circulation, nerve damage and worse. It is a form of torture.

    I saw a briefer video clip of Murphy's arrest previously, but the one above is far more graphic and disturbing. In it, a number of seemingly completely arbitrary arrests are documented, starting with people who appear to be randomly picked out of the crowd. This tactic has been employed by the NYPD extensively, and it is also used by other police departments (notably, Portland, Oregon) and it is thought to be a form of psy-ops intended to intimidate others from joining the protest. In almost every case, charges against those arbitrarily detained are never filed.

    Shortly before scenes of Mesiah Hameed's arrest in this video, we see a young man carrying a yellow "Occupy" flag be arrested. As this young man is grabbed and taken away, the crowd chants: "This is what we are protesting!" He will be seen later in the paddy wagon that comes to pick up Murphy.

    At first, it is not really clear what is happening with Murphy's arrest, and from appearances, the police are trying to block its documentation. Murphy is seen on the sidewalk on his stomach, an officer with a knee in his back, but he is only glimpsed briefly between the legs of the numerous officers who are protecting the arrest from view by the public. (NYPD has been repeatedly warned and reprimanded about their practice of blocking the view of their arrests.) Also note is made of the fact that TARU videographers for the NYPD do not record this arrest -- unusual, since they are clearly present, and their job in part is to document arrests.

    Finally, when he is sufficiently trussed up, two white shirts hoist him and half-carry him into the street where other officers join in by carrying his legs. He is asked his name by someone in the crowd. He says it is Daniel Murphy.

    The police put him face down in the street. Police then harass NYT photographer Robert Stolarik -- who has been repeatedly set upon by NYPD officers during various OWS actions. From appearances, he has been specifically targeted by NYPD, against all their stated regulations about interfering with the press and media.

    On the ground, Murphy starts pleading that his handcuffs are too tight. He gets louder and louder, "Please remove my handcuffs, I cannot feel my hands!" He says, "Let me go because I was complying. I don't want any problems." Soon after a couple of cops try to pick him up, he says, "I'm asking you to please take off my handcuffs. I cannot feel my hands. I'm in excruciating pain! I'm begging you, please take my handcuffs off! My hands are turning purple!"

    The video evidence shows it is true.

    Murphy continues to call out in agony for the next however many minutes -- there's approximately 11 minutes more of the video recording, but at least 5 minutes have been cut out. The crowd becomes extraordinarily concerned (though not quite as intensely as the witnesses to Cecily McMillan's situation), but the police stand around with bovine indifference, more concerned with keeping people on the sidewalk than with a young man in pain not more than a few feet away.

    Murphy explains that he has nerve damage from the last time he was cuffed so tightly -- so this is not his first arrest, which may have something to do with why he is being arrested in this case -- and that he had asked that his cuffs not be put on so tight this time. From appearances, however, they were put on even tighter, which is simply an act of sadistic torture.

    It's clear, even at the distance of the camera, that his fingers are turning blue.

    He gets to his feet and is assisted to a safety curb on the opposite side of the street where he sits very uncomfortably asking repeatedly that his handcuffs be removed while officers stand around indifferently or attempt to herd the crowd. Murphy lies down on the curb.

    Members of the crowd are quite aware that what is happening is quite conscious and deliberate on the part of the NYPD; after the Cecily McMillan inciden on M17, it cannot be a surprise to anyone that it is apparently the policy of the NYPD to cause as much public suffering by those they detain as possible.

    (The scene at the typewriter is after my own heart!)

    Members of the crowd are calling out "loosen the handcuffs!" but of course the police pay no attention. Someone says, "Call 911!" which apparently someone does. In New York, when police are the cause of someone's suffering or medical trauma, apparently the only way to get emergency assistance is to call 911 yourself.

    The crowd is clearly very distressed by what they are witnessing (and I would argue that is the psychological point of being so public about these things.)

    In the distance, New Yorkers are seen casually going about their business. Ah, the city!

    Eventually the paddy wagon comes, and the officer who I assume is the driver opens up the back. We see the young man who was grabbed earlier sitting inside.

    Some of the officers on the scene are black, and members of the crowd make remarks about firehoses and dogs and Birmingham and Martin Luther King and "just following orders" that actually seem to resonate with some of the officers. It's impossible to tell what the effect is, if any, but some seem to be at least thinking about what they are doing -- or not doing. And perhaps they are wondering...

    Two officers pick up Murphy, and he starts screaming. A member of the crowd says, "I've got EMS on the line and they say not to move him!" A member of the crowd is saying, "His leg is broken! His leg is broken!" while officers use their feet to try to force Murphy's feet to the ground. He is not standing, he is being held up by two officers, one on each arm.

    The man I assume is the driver of the wagon is obviously concerned and tries to talk to Murphy, but he continues to cry and scream, saying "No, no, no, no, no!" His hands are clearly seen and clearly blue.

    A white shirt approaches Murphy and say something to him that I can't make out, but it appears that he is trying to get Murphy to stand on his own. Murphy says, "I can't feel my fucking hands!"

    Murphy is placed bodily face down in the wagon by four or five officers while the young man who was arrested earlier looks on in a kind of horror. Murphy is heard screaming louder and louder inside the wagon while the crowd erupts in outrage.

    The young man inside the wagon can be seen talking to the driver -- and the driver actually seems to be the only officer on the scene who is concerned about Murphy's condition.

    The driver talks to other officers; I can't make out what he is saying, but he is obviously quite agitated. The young man inside the wagon slides down to the door and starts talking to the officers as well. The driver tells him to get back.

    The driver then leaves the rear of the wagon and I assume goes to the front. A woman in the crowd is asking the police "Why are you arresting him?" The police don't respond, but another member of the crowd says, "He was standing on the sidewalk." The driver returns to the back of the wagon with a new set of flexi-cuffs and enters the rear with another officer.

    Murphy can be heard moaning inside the wagon, and the woman in the crowd asks, "Why is he moaning?" A man in the crowd says, "Because of police brutality. Thank you for proving our point today." Some of the officers seem to show just a trace of shame. The woman in the crowd says, "Why are you still hurting him? Stop! Someone's crying in there. Someone's in pain in there. Is there a paramedic in there?"

    Officers who had just moments before shown a smidgen of what might have been shame start laughing with one another; one checks his watch. The officers come out of the back of the wagon. The driver locks it up. The woman in the crowd says, "Is there a paramedic in there? He's in pain. Someone's crying in there." And the camera pans to the dozen or so impassive and indifferent NYPD officers lining the street to make sure the crowd stays on the sidewalk.

    It is a horrifying scene that those of us of a certain age can easily relate to another era of official indifference to suffering that officials themselves have caused.

    It is a horrifying scene and it is meant to horrify those who witness it, for any sane person watching is going to say, "That could be me." And any sane person will tremble at the thought.

    Below is a video of Murphy shot on March 22, as he has words with the police at Union Square after his arrest during which he suffered nerve damage to his hands.

    Is this why he was singled out and tortured so publicly on the 24th?

    The impunity with which officers behave, and the protection they afford one another for this lawless impunity, and the absolution granted by courts and elected officials for police misconduct -- or in this case very public torture -- is one of the main reasons that so many people are so disgusted with the police. It was the reason for this march.

    But in the larger context, the lawless and torturous behavior of the police toward Daniel Murphy is emblematic of the lawlessness and impunity with which the vaunted 1% and the public officials they own and control behave toward all of us.

    We are all Daniel Murphy.

    The Revolution Will Be Surveilled and Disrupted

    There's a long and rich tradition of intense private and government surveillance and attempted disruption of People's movements for equality, dignity, peace and justice in this country. There has hardly been a time in the entire history of the nation that such surveillance and attempted disruption hasn't been happening.

    It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the recent release of documents from DHS regarding surveillance and other Federal law enforcement coordination activities with regard to the Occupy movement shows much greater levels of surveillance of Occupy and coordination of Occupy-related activities between Federal and local agencies that had been previously acknowledged.

    It's typical, and it was expected from the outset of the Occupy Movement. Even when there wasn't documentary evidence, the surveillance was obvious as was the coordination of efforts to suppress the Movement. This is the United States of America. This is what goes on here.

    When Governments and powerful private interests -- now almost indistinguishable -- sense that there might be a threat from the People, the alarms are sounded and action is taken. Generally speaking, it doesn't amount to much more than keeping an eye on the miscreants and perhaps casual infiltration of their operations. This is routine. Sometimes informants will be hired for ongoing reports. Now and then provocateurs are dispatched to see if it is possible to stir up "illegal acts" in order to perform arrests and conduct intense questioning of suspects (this has become so routine with Muslim organizations and individuals -- and is so obvious -- that it should be embarrassing).

    With Occupy, no one had any illusions that the Movement would escape scrutiny from On High. It was assumed that the original OWS action and the Movement it spawned would be intensely surveilled and that efforts to disrupt it would be ongoing. This assumption led to a kind of paranoia among some of those involved. Playing "Who is the Government Plant?" has been frequent and often futile. Not that there aren't "government plants" -- of course there are -- but identifying them (assuming they don't come forth on their own) is difficult at best and the attempts to find and expose them often look more like witch hunts than anything else. Too often they result in the condemnation of the wrong people.

    The answer to this surveillance and efforts at disruption has been "transparency" -- doing everything in the open. The presumption is that with nothing to hide, the Occupy Movement can sidestep some of the negative aspects of intense state surveillance -- particularly the internal dissension that is often generated by the interaction between surveillance and paranoia within groups. From my own perspective, I don't think that's quite worked.

    First of all, no Movement this large and diverse, with so many moving parts and so much autonomy among its participants and groups can possibly be as transparent as ideally imagined. There will always be things going on that not everyone knows about or can easily find out about. Surprises are inevitable.

    Secondly, transparency, or efforts at transparency, can also lead to second guessing of motives and intent. Second guessing can lead to unintentional disruption which may be misidentified as the acts of provocateurs, when in fact, it is more likely due to the nature of the beast.

    Worries about disruption, infiltration and co-optation of Occupy have been constant, but I've noticed that sometimes the focus of attention is not on actual efforts at infiltration and co-optation that are very real, but on peripheral issues often having to do with egos and personality clashes.

    Many individuals and organizations (some connected with the Government, surprisingly enough) have wanted to use Occupy and the energy of Occupy for their own purposes and to further their own programs and agendas. This has been starkly obvious from the beginning of the Movement, and it is still a factor in Occupy affairs. I've pointed out a number of them during the time I've been involved, such as the Ron Paul campaigners and the Zeitgeisters. Some of these efforts are still going on, though they've become somewhat more subdued and subtle. In my estimation, a good deal of the initial turn out for Occupy and Occupy events was from various interest groups -- including unions -- who saw the Movement as a potential resource for their own purposes. When it didn't work out quite the way they thought it might, they fell away from the Movement.

    That's to be expected.

    From my point of view, Occupy has its own vision, interests and ways, even though they may not always be defined. And there are always individuals and interest groups that want to feel they can control the Movement.

    For example, some members of the "nonviolence" community feel it is their bounden duty to advise Occupy on issues of Behaviour and Deportment, Dress and Demeanour and the like. They have engaged in constant hectoring of Occupy for its lack of "purity." It is not disciplined enough, it is not nonviolent enough, it does not have room for enough voices, it is not clearly focused enough, and so on. Endlessly.

    After a while, this hectoring becomes obnoxious, and to my mind it reveals just how rigidly authoritarian and self-righteous some of those who profess to be progressives tend to be, and how deeply resentful and ultimately violent some of them truly are.

    Unfortunately, there may be something deeper going on with some of those who are the loudest advocates of "nonviolence" with regard to Occupy.

    The Occupy Movement is the first genuine populist movement in decades that has actually gained widespread appeal, and which continues to develop and evolve organically from the ground up rather than from the top down. It has the potential to cause a paradigm shift away from the current exploitative and extractive social, political and economic systems. In other words, it has the potential to reverse the polarities of rule and submission. (Whereas, for example, the Tea Party sought to advance the current systems toward ever further enhancement of corporate control.)

    That potential is very threatening not simply to the Powers That Be, but to many, many established subsidiary interests. Including portions of the "nonviolence" community. If the Occupy Movement is successful on its own terms, rather than those set by some other interest, what does that say about those other interests?

    Consequently, while government and private/corporate interest surveillance and attempts at disrupting the Occupy Movement are of considerable interest and should be taken into account, there are other interests that we might ordinarily think of as aligned with the Occupy Movement -- including some unions, parts of the "nonviolence" community, and a range of political interests and parties -- that could well be seeking to control the Movement for their own purposes or even to destroy the Occupy Movement as an existential threat to their own positions either within the Establishment or as recognized "opposition."

    If the Occupy Movement is truly as Revolutionary as many of its participants believe it to be or potentially to be, the unease and discomfort many otherwise "progressive" interests feel, and which the Government and its owners and sponsors are reacting to in establishing such extensive surveillance and in many cases such brutal repression is a rational response.

    It may not be the right thing to do, but it is... rational.

    Tuesday, March 27, 2012

    Revolution in Reverse -- and Why Symbolic Acts Matter

    "Revolution in Reverse" by David Graeber

    “All power to the imagination.” “Be realistic, demand the impossible…” Anyone involved in radical politics has heard these expressions a thousand times. Usually they charm and excite the first time one encounters them, then eventually become so familiar as to seem hackneyed, or just disappear into the ambient background noise of radical life. Rarely if ever are they the object of serious theoretical reflection.

    During the Bush Era, I often wrote about the fact that the Busheviks were engaged in Revolution while the Liberals and Progressives were -- at best -- conducting a rear-guard holding action when they weren't actively enabling the Bushevik Revolutionaries.

    This idea upended the conventional wisdom of the time, of course, and the cognitive dissonance was sometimes un-pretty. But from my perspective, there had been a judicial coup in December of 2000; the government was handed over to the Busheviks -- "without objection" as they say (never mind the people in the streets and the Congressional Black Caucus) -- and the revolutionary remaking of the United States Government into an Imperial Autocracy commenced in earnest. The pace of it accelerated after 9/11.

    That revolutionary remaking is being consolidated today. In other words, the Government -- and its owners and sponsors -- are not looking back.

    We don't live in the same country that existed up to December 2000.

    The holding action by Liberals and Progressives in Government didn't just fail, it was a disaster.

    I keep running into those who believe sincerely that the current era represents the End of the American Empire, and I shake my head. No, we're at the tail end of the Republic -- something we're never going to get back, BTW, it's gone -- and we're well past the beginning of a New American Empire. We're marginally in a transition phase between one and the other, but the press of events is trending toward the continual expansion and consolidation of the NAE (New American Empire), not its retreat.

    In order to fund it, the People of the United States and peoples all around the world are being plundered and looted in a kind of free-for-all of pillage that has never been seen on this scale in world history, and the pillagers are not even momentarily pausing for breath.

    This Empire is not going away anytime soon. The NAE is too useful to too many interests for it to be sacrificed at this point. Popular opposition to it is still haphazard and weak. For all intents and purposes, there is no opposition in Government. Not even in the person of Ron Paul, Republican and useful foil to the Imperial aggrandizers.

    So what is the rational course of action when that's the case? Is there even a point in opposition, let alone Revolution?

    I'd argue that opposition -- and even Revolution -- under the circumstances is natural; what was distinctly odd was the absence of serious opposition during the Bush Era. There wasn't just an absence of active opposition, there was suppression of the very idea of "opposition" (especially after 9/11) on the premise that to seriously oppose the Bushevik Revolution that was taking place was to engage in a form of terrorism or treason.

    People were cowed and effectively silenced for years.

    Millions could take to the streets in a kind of pro-forma opposition to the War Industry's desire to whack Iraq only to be ignored and mocked. Protests were encaged -- literally -- and placed in Zones where no official need pay the least attention to them. Billions of dollars in bricks of $100 bills were transported to Iraq and... disappeared. The pillage of government and private financial resources by Enron and the like seemed almost quaint given what was to come.

    It was as if Americans were in a trance, even those who might otherwise have been outspoken in opposition.

    Elections did not change things. The Imperial Juggernaut continued unperturbed. Even the election of 2008, that was supposed to be about Change You Can Believe In, led to the further consolidation and institutionalization of the Imperial Autocracy and the permanent elevation of oligarchs and plutocrats who own and control it.

    Millions of Americans are being forced into poverty every year to pay for it. Hunger and homelessness stalk the land. The Powers That Be seem to like it like that.

    The Police State that is a necessary adjunct to any Autocracy is enjoying all the practice it is getting in suppressing dissent and rebellion.

    If we accept that the Republic is gone and we're not getting it back, that our national Government is becoming by stages an institutional Autocracy and that it is owned and controlled by a faction of oligarchs and plutocrats who primarily see the Government as a means to enforce their will on everyone, we might gain some idea about whether and how to proceed with opposition. But if we continue to pretend that we still have a Republic or that we can wrest control of it from the oligarchs and plutocrats somehow, or that elections actually matter, any opposition that arises will be futile; it will be fighting phantoms on behalf of an impossible goal -- which of course serves the interests of the Overclass.

    If we accept that the Republic is gone and we're not getting it back, think of the possibilities.

    To quote Graeber:

  • Our customary conception of revolution is insurrectionary: the idea is to brush aside existing realities of violence by overthrowing the state, then, to unleash the powers of popular imagination and creativity to overcome the structures that create alienation. Over the twentieth century it eventually became apparent that the real problem was how to institutionalize such creativity without creating new, often even more violent and alienating structures. As a result, the insurrectionary model no longer seems completely viable, but it’s not clear what will replace it.

  • One response has been the revival of the tradition of direct action. In practice, mass actions reverse the ordinary insurrectionary sequence. Rather than a dramatic confrontation with state power leading first to an outpouring of popular festivity, the creation of new democratic institutions, and eventually the reinvention of everyday life, in organizing mass mobilizations, activists drawn principally from subcultural groups create new, directly democratic institutions to organize “festivals of resistance” that ultimately lead to confrontations with the state. This is just one aspect of a more general movement of reformulation that seems to me to be inspired in part by the influence of anarchism, but in even larger part, by feminism—a movement that ultimately aims recreate the effects of those insurrectionary moments on an ongoing basis.
  • In essence, Graeber is describing the form of Revolution adopted by the Occupy Movement. It does not look like Revolutions of the more distant past because it isn't like them. Instead, it is more like the feminist movement, the Zapatistas, and the anti-globalist movement.

    Insurrection may seem to be everywhere, but it is in the form of "festivals of resistance," which is what the initial occupations were and what the current Occupy actions typically tend to be. Rather than having the insurrection first, then the "festival" of alternatives, the alternatives are built first, then comes the insurrection, which is in this movement in the form of nonviolent resistance to the imposition of arbitrary authority -- not in the form of armed insurgency.

    Thus the state is flummoxed. No matter what they do, it ultimately turns out wrong. Bit by bit, the authority of the state over these "festivals of resistance" diminishes and in due time vanishes except, perhaps, as an empty shell. The appearance of authority without the capability of its imposition.

    This situation was made quite explicit during one of the nightly "Eviction Theater" episodes at Union Square in New York last week. The Occupy presence there is festive -- as it was at Zuccotti/Liberty Plaza near Wall Street. There are fewer elements of an alternative system in place at Union Square, but there are some (for example, the library, direct democracy, feeding stations and so on); there is also constant discussion and debate of serious matters and enjoyment of frivolous ones, often by hundreds or even thousands of people at a time.

    The police presence at Union Square has sometimes been enormous, in some cases far outnumbering the public. And of course their sole mission is to protect the park from the public by closing access to it promptly at midnight. So one day last week, this performance got underway, and a chant I'd never heard before went up: "You have no authority!" Over and over.

    In the context of pushing and shoving the public out of the park, of course, the police are exercising arbitrary authority -- which is the point of the exercise. They want to show that they can do whatever they want and the public is powerless to prevent it. But most of us already know that, we're already well aware that police habitually behave arbitrarily and all too frequently lawlessly. The display in Union Square serves to highlight how ridiculous the show tends to be. Arbitrary authority is not legitimate authority at all. Consequently, the chant of "You have no authority!" points out the obvious.

    As more and more of these arbitrary impositions are demonstrated and pointed out, the authority of the police is diminished.

    In a discussion about Occupy versus the police yesterday, I pointed out that in many ways the behavior of the police resemble the behavior of the big-bellied Southern sheriffs and their treatment of civil rights demonstrators. They would use arbitrary imposition of grossly disproportionate power against the protesters on their certain knowledge that doing so would be shown on the nightly news, and that it would discourage and dissuade others from joining or supporting the civil rights movement. This is the standard strategy for disrupting and ultimately destroying movements.

    It didn't work in the case of the civil rights movement, in fact, it backfired badly, though initially that wasn't clear at all.

    For the brutality unleashed against the civil rights activists seemed to work just fine in keeping turn out for demonstrations in the South relatively small, and in keeping some people too frightened of what might happen to join or support the movement.

    The more the brutality of the Southern law enforcement officers was seen, however, even people who were not particularly inclined to favor integration were convinced that what the police were doing was simply wrong. It didn't just look bad, it was bad. And the more the Southern sheriffs behaved so brutally, the more their authority diminished until it was essentially gone.

    Much the same pattern is being repeated with Occupy -- as it has been with many previous movements -- and while it may not be immediately apparent that Occupy is "winning," every instance of police brutality and outrageous conduct diminishes the authority of the police. Ultimately it will be gone.

    It doesn't even have to be outrageous, just... arbitrary. Especially when force is used against symbolic actions.

    For example, the Wall Street Bull was desecrated liberated the night of March 21, in a very symbolic but spontaneous action described in a previous post. The activists tore down the barricades and mounted the bull in a highly festive, almost ritualized manner. When the police arrived, the crowd melted away, but not before one of the miscreants who had got on top of the statue was briefly held and then escaped from the clutches of the police. For their part, the police were far more concerned with re-erecting the barricades around the Bull, which seemed a bit anti-climactic and futile under the circumstances. What were they protecting the Bull from? Wall Street was empty except for the police frantically trying to re-assemble and re-erect their barricades.

    Returning to Zuccotti/Liberty Plaza on March 17 was a symbolic act; the police wildly overreacted. In doing so, they diminished their authority. The illuminated tents on poles that appear in New York are brilliant symbols of the endurance and creativity of Occupy in the face of repression, as are the innumerable projections on buildings promoting the Occupy idea.

    These symbolic acts have a cumulative effect, as do the overreactions of the police.

    And the Festival of Resistance continues.

    Monday, March 26, 2012

    Desecrating Liberating the Wall Street Bull

    This is a much longer video that explores the action on March 21 when perhaps a couple of hundred marchers in the Million Hoodie March split off to go to Wall Street.

    What it shows is that the action was completely spontaneous: after completing the regular march they wanted to do more, so they went to Wall Street -- quite a distance from wherever they started from, whether Washington Square or Union Square or somewhere else, I couldn't tell from the video.

    Apparently, there was only one cop that accompanied them. He could not stop them from doing what they wanted, of course. And what they wanted was to tear down the barricades, which they did, quickly and efficiently, tossing them into the street and throwing them chaotically about.

    This appeared to be completely spontaneous, not a tactical part of a strategy at all. And that was part of its brilliance. The symbolic power of ripping down the police barricades is enormous.

    But even more powerful was the mounting of the Bull by a number of demonstrators, one of whom appeared to ride it for a time. Others stood with raised fists and posed for pictures. The Bull and its protectors were powerless.

    More police began to arrive, and after surrounding the Bull -- to protect it, of course -- and ordering the miscreants on top of it down (one of whom they targeted for arrest, but he was rescued by his comrades and escaped the police clutches) the crowd hurled insults. When more police arrived, the crowd began to disperse. As they did, the police were more concerned about re-erecting their precious barricades than anything else, and the crowd simply vanished. The sight of the police frantically trying to re-erect their barricade around the now-desecrated Bull was pathetic.

    Later scenes show police behaving badly and assembling in huge numbers at Union Square -- mostly behind their barricades -- while, so far as the video shows, there are no demonstrators around (of course they are there just out of camera range.) The last scene of the police filing through parking area for their vehicles while in the distance the illuminated tents of the Occupy protesters head toward the park is priceless.

    On Gene Sharp and The Revolution This Time

    The Revolution This Time: Oakland General Strike and Port Shut Down, November 2, 2011. Photo by Nathan Jongewaard via Flickr

    Gene Sharp, author of "From Dictatorship to Democracy" and many other works on Revolutionary theory, has been both hailed and denounced as the godfather of the Color Revolutions that swept much of the world, as well as being a central thinker relied on by the revolutionaries of the Arab Spring and its current descendants. His works are considered by many to constitute the Rulebook for Modern Revolution.

    I'm not much of a theoretician; I'm more inclined to study practice and results, and when Gene Sharp's name is raised in connection with the Occupy Movement, I tend to encourage people to really think about what kind of results have come from Gene Sharp-inspired revolutions and ask themselves whether that's really what they want from this revolution.

    The first "color" revolution that I can recall was the People Power revolution in the Philippines against Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. It's color was yellow, and its symbol was a hand sign: index finger raised with thumb at a 90 degree angle in the form of the letter "L" (for "Laban.")

    It was an astonishing event, and it helped trigger a cascade of revolutions against dictatorship throughout the rest of the 1980's and continuing to this day. These revolutions eventually led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the stark hegemony of the United States and vulture capitalism.

    In other words, things today are the way they are, socially, politically, and most especially economically, largely as a consequence of the numerous revolutions against dictatorship that have taken place under "colors" (all but red and black allowed, apparently!) and the theories of (sometimes the direct consultation with) Gene Sharp and his disciples.

    But wait. Aren't we conducting something of a revolution against the way things are?


    From the Sharp-ian point of view, then, isn't the Occupy Movement really a counter revolution?

    This is where things can get very muddled indeed.

    "The Politics of Nonviolent Action" (1973) was Gene Sharp's seminal nonviolent uprising study that became something of a manual for the People Power uprising against Marcos in 1986. Many of the forms of nonviolent resistance that Sharp advocates were codified in the Philippines: a distinctive color, a charismatic leader, mass rallies and marches, refusal to comply with the orders of the state, varied forms of nonviolent resistance and so on. Key to the Sharp version of nonviolent revolution is the Demand. The Demand was part of the initial call to Occupy Wall Street from AdBusters in the summer of 2011 when the poster announcing Occupy Wall Street carried the heading: "What is our one demand?"

    That's straight out of the Gene Sharp recipe. The Revolution must have a demand or a series of demands.

    The Revolution must have a leadership as well.

    The Revolution must appeal to the masses.

    The Revolution must have a Grand Strategy.

    And in some of his works, Gene Sharp seems to be saying, "The Revolution must follow my recipe exactly -- or it will fail."

    To date, there has been no set of demands from Occupy as a unit -- in part because it is not a unit -- nor has an identifiable leadership for the Movement emerged. There is no Ninoy or Cory Aquino. The Occupy Movement has a strong resonance with the People, but it is not, by any means, a mass movement, nor does it look much like it will become one. There is no identifiable Grand Strategy beyond slogans and ideals. "UnFuck the World" is about as close to a Grand Strategy as the Movement has come, and that came very early, and it's not really a strategy. It's also about as close to a unifying demand as Occupy seems able to get. And there are those who would dispute it's value because of "language."

    Photo by Nathan Jongewaard via Flickr

    To my way of looking at these things, that's quite all right, but it is deeply dissatisfying in the Sharp vision of Revolution.

    Very little -- at times, nothing -- that Occupy is doing fits the Sharp model, and thus to many of Sharp's disciples and devotees, the Occupy Movement hasn't really started yet. It isn't a "movement." And it's not "revolutionary."

    The Sharp recipe for revolution is very exact and exacting. Certain things must be done, or it is not a revolution. They must be done in a certain way, under certain authorities, or they will not succeed. The movement must develop in stages, generally over a long period of time, building into a mass movement, or it will fail.

    The many failures of Sharp-style revolutions of late (as examples see: Syria, Jordan, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, Greece, Spain, Portugal, etc.) are typically blamed on the revolutionaries for not following the recipe Sharp lays out with enough exactitude, and not having established the proper groundwork before rising up.

    On the other hand, many of those who now live under regimes where the Sharp-style revolutions succeeded -- in the Philippines, throughout Eastern Europe and much of the former Soviet Union, as well as more recently Tunisia and Egypt -- are saying, "Wait just a minute here, this isn't quite what we bargained for at all..."

    Yes, well. That's part of what I see as the chief problem with the Sharp recipe for revolution: it's not really a revolutionary recipe at all. It is a recipe for a marketing campaign that has certain aspects of a revolution. New bosses, but a similar -- and in some cases arguably a worse -- system.

    It's a political and economic marketing campaign that aims to gain popular support to replace the present ("dictatorship") with a new product (an ersatz "democracy") that serves the interests of the oligarchs and plutocrats while giving the People the semblance of "liberty" which they are -- somehow, oh how can it be? -- unable to utilize successfully on their own behalf.

    The thrill of revolutionary victory often leads to serious reassessment of what actually took place. It was not what many people thought it was or should be.

    I would argue that the Sharp recipe for revolution works poorly against dictatorships these days, and it doesn't work at all against what I call "civil democracies," which is to say the kinds of governments that are now the norm. They are not real democracies, but they have the appearance of civil democratic procedures.

    Which is not to say that there is no value in studying Sharp; there is value, plenty of it. He's thought long and hard and has written extensively about how the People (or more precisely, an activist faction thereof) can effectively change the conditions under which they live, and change the governments by which they are ruled, through a multipronged program of strategic nonviolent resistance.

    That's why I say that those who wish to follow the Sharp model really should give it a go. Try it. I have never seen it successfully deployed in a civil democracy, but there is no reason it couldn't be. Or is there? Others have pointed out that the Sharp model of revolution can only be employed overseas. It could never be done in the United States, and it's not meant to be utilized here. After all, the Neo-Libs and Neo-Cons are already in power and they are the ones we are struggling against...

    (h/t to Cuchulain in comments for spurring me to actually write something about this topic...)

    Sunday, March 25, 2012

    This Isn't A Joke. Srsly.

    This sign has been showing up at the Nightly Union Square Eviction Theatre in New York, though the pic above dates from last October. I believe it was Dallas on the OWSHDTV livestream who dubbed the nightly show at Union Square "Eviction Theatre" -- and it's a good point. The whole effort, on both "sides" is now a Show. It's not entirely meaningless, but we know how each episode will end.

    The closure of public access to any part of Union Square promptly at midnight each night for the past week is definitely fucked up and bullshit; last night, even the sidewalks around Union Square were forbidden, as police marched hither and thither inside the park while other units ostentatiously emplaced barricades and kept moving them to herd the crowd from place to place. It was a rainy night, so it wasn't a very large crowd, but it was boisterous as crowds tend to be in New York, and the police (at least some of them) appeared to be enjoying the Barricade Game while shoving the crowd this way and that and ultimately completely off the sidewalk and into the street. Haw. Haw. Suckers!

    In New York, it has been almost unheard of for members of the OWS crowds to thwart the barricades. They are almost ritual lines -- like rope lines at a presidential appearance -- that you do not cross or mess with in any way. But last night, somewhat surprisingly, one section of barricade was overturned by members of the crowd, only to be re-emplaced by dutiful police. Members of the crowd also made and brought their own papier-mâché barricade to pose with and carry around. It was quite authentic looking.

    There has been more and more clown policing at OWS events and at the nightly rituals of the Eviction Theatre. The crowds, mostly, love it, and it's clear that some of the police enjoy the spectacle of being mocked as well. They know (some of them) that what they're doing is fucked up and bullshit as well, so why not mock? Laugh while you can, monkey boy!
    I was at an Occupy strategy conference yesterday, and it bothered me more than I realized at the time. It almost didn't occur at all. Even though it had been planned and scheduled since January, the host site organization decided to schedule something else at the same time, and the site was not available. They made an alternate site available, but then they didn't provide access to it for quite a while, so the effort got under way an hour and a half late. Then, we were informed just before the lunch break, that neither site would be available after lunch, and we would have to arrange for another time and place to continue. There was no time at all to discuss strategy or anything like it.

    Fucked up and bullshit. But as someone said, only half-jokingly, "Why don't we just occupy this space?"


    There are said to be 55,000 vacant buildings in the county. Any of them would probably do... Were it not raining, we might have continued our business outside. Maybe even in the street.

    I think part of what bothered me about the collapsed conference yesterday is that I saw it as something "outside" the Occupy framework, put together by people who have long been involved with Occupy but who really want a different kind of activist organization. It's not so much hijacking as it is trying to push the movement (at least locally) onto another path -- something that's been going on from the beginning. I don't know that it can be, or even should be, avoided. Part of the Let It Be philosophy. If the Occupy framework is weak, it will yield. If it is strong, it won't.

    If I had a little more information, I could probably point to what went wrong pretty easily and offer suggestions of how to correct it. But then, maybe the whole thing was ill-advised to begin with.

    Occupy is its own template, something that is still resisted by many who have long been involved in Occupy affairs. One of the curiosities of the National Strategy Discussion I'm involved in is that there are so many others involved in it who are really trying to create another movement altogether, and some are making believe that this, the Occupy Movement, hasn't actually "started" yet.

    One of the quirks that I've mentioned about the blogosphere is the notion that everything is just "starting," that there is no history of pretty much anything, it's all brand new, or it's still only a potential, not even real yet -- even if whatever it is (like Occupy) has been ongoing for months or years. And it is sort of how some people see Occupy as well; it's "just starting."

    It's true in a sense -- in that Occupy is barely 6 months old -- but let's get real here. Tunisia and Egypt went through their Revolts/Revolutions in a matter of weeks. How long is this Occupy Revolution supposed to take, and when will it no longer be "just starting?" When it becomes like Mexico's PRI?

    "Strategy" is proving to be a real bear for Occupy in some respects. There really isn't consensus on definition of terms on the one hand, nor is there really a consensus that there is a need for a more comprehensive and coherent strategy than is already in place. Nor is there even necessarily a broad based recognition that there IS a strategy (or strategies) in place.

    One of the notions I'm wrestling with is the idea that the Occupy Movement doesn't have any sort of Grand Strategy and it needs to start over and adopt the Gene Sharp recipe for Revolution. Furthermore, the only way to become a successful Revolutionary undertaking is to study and adopt the Revolutionary philosophy and methods of past masters of the Art of Revolution, according to those who "know" these things.

    I strongly disagree. While Occupy is "Teh Revolution" -- the one many of us have been waiting for -- it isn't like, and it definitely doesn't look like Revolutions of the past, and to me, it's important that it not be like them, that it not look like them, and that it never "institutionalize." As an organic, evolutionary non-violent resistance campaign, it can go on living and growing and developing as long as necessary, but as an institution, it becomes a fossil, an artefact.

    If Occupy adopts the Gene Sharp recipe -- which there is no sign the organic whole will ever do -- I think the effort will be over, but I wonder what would happen if some of the local Occupys set out on a Sharp-path.

    There is room, in other words, for almost anything... even, from time to time, shit that's fucked up and bullshit like yesterday's aborted strategy session... srsly.

    Saturday, March 24, 2012

    Today In New York

    Video streaming by Ustream

    That was Tim Pool's video of the arrest of this 16 year old:

    whose name is Messiah, according to posts I've read about her. She's been an activist with OWS for some time, and I saw her interviewed on one of the livestreams from Union Square last night.

    You see in the picture that some of her comrades are trying to "de-arrest" her, but they are not successful. In the video, though we don't see the arrest itself, and we only see part of the aftermath, we can pretty much figure how it went down. When the crowd started going back into the street, police targeted this young woman for arrest, and they made a very ostentatious show of seizing her, throwing her to the ground, trussing her up and then hauling her bodily down the middle of the street to an awaiting vehicle.

    It was a very deliberate show.

    Meant to intimidate. And for the most part, it worked. Despite the catcalling and insults from the crowd, they returned to the sidewalks and they didn't persist in trying to de-arrest her. That was sufficient for the NYPD to declare "victory" -- at least in their own eyes.

    The march was called "Let Freedom Spring" against police brutality and calling for the immediate resignation of NY Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

    This is a picture of her that was posted by Timothy Krause at dKos:

    Here is another video of her being carried down the middle of the street:

    From The Local East Village Vimeo Channel. Here's their story of the events:

    Videographer Paul Davis, who witnessed the arrest of Mesiah Hameed on Mott Street below Prince Street around 2:50 p.m., said the teenager was obstructing police movement before she was detained. “She was blocking the scooters from going,” he said. “Civil disobedience. Somebody grabbed her, one of the deputy inspectors.”

    IMG_9935Jared Malsin

    Mr. Davis said Ms. Hameed, who has participated in multiple demonstrations and was present at the clearing of Zuccotti Park, was ordered to disperse and was arrested five to ten seconds later.

    As The Local’s cameras rolled, four officers, one wearing a riot helmet, carried the young woman to a waiting police van as protesters yelled, “She’s just 16!” Her hands were cuffed behind her back and her shirt was pulled up to reveal her bra, causing one demonstrator to yell, “You are a child molester!” Others shouted, “Let her go!”

    FURTHERMORE: I found the following statement by Mesiah Hameed in a post by Eve Ensler at HuffPo that is dated 10/20/11 (the post includes stories from many OWS participants, and approaching what's going on at that early date through story rather than "message" strikes me as just right.)


    I have read newspapers and watched videos on this revolution. Many of them share false and fabricated information regarding our purpose. What the media does not know is that the purpose is much to big to be titled. i have met everyone from in debt students to homeless grandmas. We all fight together. Personally i am here to represent the youth. It is an issue when you are not born knowing about the corruption of our systems worldwide. it should not take several years to come to reality that we are being cheated of our freedom! I was raised in such a way that even if it does not affect me i am aware and do all i can because it could very well affect me anytime or moment. I am very passionate about this movement. I wake up at Zucotti Park with such drive, an open heart, and wide ears to listen to all. I know that my passion for this sparks passion within others! This is so important for the world. We must get our youth to the protest and tell them what is happening. ALL AGES NEED TO BE APART OF THIS. we need to stop having authority over the young and let them find their own understanding of life. That is why i am here. I will stay until we see change.


    Other video of Mesiah showing her blocking a ScooterCop -- referred to in some of the news reports but not shown in Tim Pool's video above.

    The question has been raised whether she was "targeted" for arrest or not. I believe she was arrested during the M17 raid and fracas at Zuccotti/Liberty, though I could be wrong about the date.

    Knowing how NYPD does target what they think of as movement "leaders" for arrest -- quite arbitrarily in most cases -- it wouldn't be at all surprising.

    Her actions in briefly blocking the progress of the ScooterCop might or might not subject her to arrest; but if she was targeted, arrest would be certain, and more than likely she would know it before she engaged in disobedience.

    Friday, March 23, 2012

    Cecily McMillan With Amy Goodman

    Sounds like she really can't remember much of anything about that night.

    "Why Can't They Be Like We Were, Perfect In Every Way...

    Oh, what's the matter with kids to-day?

    Let Geraldo explain it all for you:

    You know you're old (in spirit, no matter your age) when you reflexively blame the victim for their own suffering or in this case demise.

    It's time-honored human nature.

    As is imagining that there was ever a time when young people weren't somehow outraging their elders with their ridiculous dress or behavior.

    "The hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin's death as George Zimmerman was... you cannot rehabilitate the hoodie!"

    (Go back to your room abuelito. Go back to your room before you hurt yourself. [Note to self: have to work on that snarky bidness, buster; want to be accused of being ageist and racist? Cripes!])

    And it just gets worse. Geraldo on KABC radio as reported by Erik Wemple.

    As a counter to that nonsense, here's a beautiful video from Occupy Romania -- in which many of those on camera are wearing hoodies. Of course, they're white. So that makes it OK. Right Geraldo?

    Wrestling With Demons

    While watching OWSHDTV Livestream from Union Square last night, I came face to face with some of my own demons of the movement, and I thought I'd spend a little time today discussing it.

    After all, I've had no problem discussing some of the demons other people have been confronting in their interactions with the Occupy Movement. It can be tough to wrestle with and deal with what we really don't want to see or hear or have to face. We're used to objectifying and abstracting so much of our outer experience, it is easier than it should be to demonize that which we don't like or don't understand in others. I do it, though I try not to, or rather, I think I'm trying not to. But I know I fail.

    So what I saw last night brought me up short. I began watching the livestream shortly after 9:00pm Pacific Time, midnight in New York, when "the park is closed" and the barricades go up around Union Square. (How quickly we become used to new procedures!) Apparently the livestreamer had recently been in an altercation of some kind with a police officer; from what I understood from the exchange going on between them, the officer had pushed the livestreamer out of the way in order to emplace the all-important barricades at the bottom of the first set of steps; the officer was apparently kicking items left by people on the steps down to the lower pavement.

    The livestreamer was taunting and insulting the police officer, and he was challenging him to justify his behavior. Ordinarily, this type of citizen behavior toward Authority wouldn't bother me, but it did last night, because the livestreamer went from taunts and insults to threats against the officer and his family. The officer didn't become violent or abusive toward the livestreamer, but he did respond verbally. I couldn't catch much of what he said, but I did hear him say "my family" and "my house." It seemed at one point that he issued a challenge to the livestreamer, but I couldn't hear the exchange well enough to be sure. After some back and forth, a supervising White Shirt came over and whispered to the officer; shortly thereafter, the officer refused to engage the livestreamer and ostentatiously pretended not to hear his additional taunts, insults, and challenges.

    What bothered me about this episode were the implicit or explicit threats against the officer and his safety by a livestreamer. There have been instances of people getting in officers' faces and physically struggling with them when they are abusive (which in New York seems to be a daily occurrence now that Occupy has re-emerged.) But this was different. From what I heard, at any rate, apparently the officer had simply disrespected the livestreamer by pushing him out of the way as he went about his task of setting barricades. The task itself is idiotic as far as I'm concerned, and the very idiocy of "protecting" a public park from access by the public night after night with hundreds of police officers in attendance ought to be embarrassing enough to the NYPD officers who participate in it. As it seems more and more to be.

    But this time, a livestreamer took it on himself to challenge this particular officer to justify his behavior (which I have no problem with), and appeared to threaten him (which I do have a problem with.)

    The officer, for his part, stayed cool but he appeared to be rattled, and if the White Shirt hadn't intervened, it might have turned ugly in ways I don't think we want to see, at least not under these circumstances. Either the officer might have physically attacked the livestreamer. Or it might have gone a different way had the livestreamer kept bullying him. That's what he was doing. He was bullying. The officer might have had a breakdown -- which can be very dangerous. The man is armed, after all, and if he is goaded and bullied enough, there's no telling what he would do. At any rate, he was clearly upset enough to be thinking...

    An argument can be made that the officer was only getting some of his own medicine, but in this case, I think it went well beyond that. The livestreamer did not try to do anything to the officer physically; he was using psych tactics to goad him and get his goat by threatening him and his family with "internet exposure" and "anonymous attacks." I'm sure NYPD discusses what can happen to officers who are targeted by Anonymous (Officer Bologna anyone? Sounds like Officer Lombardo is in the cross-hairs as well) or by other groups -- CopWatch was mentioned during the exchange described here -- who make it a point to expose and publicize wrong-doing by Authority. And the implication was that physical consequences were possible.

    I don't see any strategic value in that sort of implied or actual threat against police officers or any other authority figure. I admit, however, that this is my personal belief; others may see it differently, and in the case I was witnessing, it's more than likely that the livestreamer was running his mouth rather than making any kind of conscious threat at all. It did not appear as if he understood how his words might be taken.

    At any rate, the livestreamer moved on and for a time he joined a mic check soapbox group who were speaking out against the police and offering their testimony about police brutality and other issues. There was one apparently drunk young man who returned over and over to say that he had been "beat down" by the police, he was fed up, and all he had to say to the police was "suck my dick!" And anybody else could suck his dick if they didn't like it.

    Over and over and over again. Other people were also speaking out against the violence and thuggery of the police, but most were trying to find alternatives to the way things were and had been, and some spoke of how indirect confrontation could work better than direct confrontation in dealing with police violence. One said, "The thing they hate most is for you to smile at them (paraphrase)." Every time somebody made a positive suggestion, the apparently drunk young man got up on the soapbox (a plastic milk crate) and went into his "suck my dick" routine.

    I found it offensive and disturbing. The police don't care, not in any fundamental way, if someone mouths off like that. The people who might care were those around him who were hearing this over and over. One said, "I like dick sucking." Others said, "Sucking dick is a good thing" as a way to deflect his rage, while one suggested playing games with the police as a way to undermine their authority.

    The drunk fellow was having none of it. I think everyone could understand his anger and frustration with the police; but even the livestreamer was offended by his approach, as was I. Eventually, the livestreamer moved on saying there were many other people in the park and he didn't have to listen to this guy going on and on about his favorite obsession.

    I got to thinking about these incidents in the context of the offense many expressed against Occupy for the kinds of actions some people engaged in (the "Black Bloc anarchists" as Chris Hedges put it) that they found inappropriate or over the line. I got to thinking how absurdist some of that argument became ("wearing bandanas is 'violence' if people think it is or could be a symbol of violent behavior") . I got to wondering where to draw the line, or if there really is a "line" between what is and is not acceptable behavior in this nonviolent resistance campaign.

    I was personally offended when I saw these two incidents last night; that does not in any way absolve the police or Authority in the abstract for their many acts of suppression and violence against Occupy demonstrators nor does it absolve them from their gross indifference and negligence toward people's suffering. They are responsible for that -- as a group, not simply as individuals. But when I see offensive actions by my comrades in this struggle, it can be bewildering and disorienting. Having witnessed this last night (albeit vicariously through a computer connection and a camera lens) I think I gained a little more sympathy toward those who are so wrapped up in their own sense of being offended because somebody broke a window or threw a bottle when time was.

    Of course my recommendation is always to "let it go." There's nothing we can do about something that has already happened, nor is there anything we can do about virtual actions we witness on the livestream.

    We can affect our own behavior -- and to some extent our own reactions -- going forward, that's all. If we can be aware of how we are reacting -- rather than focus so much on how other people are acting -- we might gain insight into how to find that "space between" that I mentioned in an earlier post. That almost unexplored territory that lies between polarities of beliefs and actions.

    How can we wrestle with demons without becoming demons ourselves? How can we foster our better angels?

    Thursday, March 22, 2012

    On the Incidents in New York and at Union Square Yesterday

    I've been dealing with other things most of the day, so I haven't checked on the continuing Crisis of Authority in New York since fairly early this morning. Some of what I post now may therefore be out of date.


    There was a huge rally at Union Square in New York City yesterday called "The Million Hoodie March" in honor of Trayvon Martin who was killed last week in Sanford, Florida -- for walking while black.

    Unfortunately, this is still (partially) the United States of America where such demonstrations are necessary. I say "partially", because we've come a long way from where we were when I was his age, but progress on race issues has come at a tremendous cost. That cost has been the criminalization of entire cohorts of young men of color, and the assumption by public guardians -- whether they be the man who shot Trayvon Martin or established police forces -- that if a male is black or brown and within a certain age group he is likely a criminal, and that shooting or imprisoning him is of little or no social consequence.

    What is the meaning of "equality" in such a context?

    At any rate, there were thousands gathered at Union Square to honor the memory of Trayvon and hear from his mother, and to consider how widespread the condition of oppression is in this country. And how vulnerable young black men, especially, but not just them, are to arbitrary impositions of authority than can and do turn deadly too often.

    After the rally, the people took to the streets, marching in solidarity to a destination that wasn't entirely clear... well, that's how these things go. From what I saw, there was a spontaneous decision to march to Washington Square and then return to Union Square. From what I can recall of my times in New York, that seemed quite reasonable given that the locations aren't that far from one another. Their symbolic nature is what seemed most important at the time and now.

    So, off they went, accompanied by police who were flummoxed by the size of the crowd, its energy, its determination, and its spontaneity. Their attempts to control the march and confine the marchers to the sidewalks failed. And that, in case anyone was wondering, is the essence of the Crisis of Authority in New York.

    It is not that no one pays any attention to the NYPD -- they are, after all, a violent group of gangsters and thugs -- but their authority is being eroded every day in almost too many ways to count. What happened yesterday was instructive.

    Mass media -- and even New Media (talkin' 'bout you, Tim Pool) -- was at pains to diminish the size of the crowd that assembled and marched. From what I could see of Tim's coverage -- which was mostly very good, though the 4G service he uses for livestreaming was spotty at best -- the crowd filled the open space in Union Square completely and was spilling out onto the streets round about. My estimate of the crowd size, based on what I could see of it from Tim's video vantage point on what appeared to be a light post, was around ten thousand. Tim was saying... "hundreds." Sometimes "thousands." Sometimes "huge crowd." He seemed to settle on "about 2,000" after talking to numerous other people who estimated crowd size.

    This is the open space in Union Square as imaged by Google:

    It is quite large. It was packed solid:

    And that's only about half the crowd, from Union Square E to just west of the statue of George Washington. The crowd continued at that density all the way to Broadway, and as you can see from the picture above, they spilled onto and actually were standing across 14th Street. It was a huge crowd, that was reported in some cases as "dozens". I kid you not.

    When the march began, they headed west on 14th Street, decided eventually to go to Washington Square and then return to Union Square, a circuit of a little over two miles I would guess. The crowd, however, was so large, it split into three and thus the marches didn't seem quite so spectacular. All along the route, the police were futilely trying to wrangle and manage the marchers, who insisted on taking to the streets no matter how many times they were told to get back on the sidewalks or were herded by scooter cops.

    When they returned to Union Square, the crowd had diminished in size somewhat, but it was still impressive. The failure of the police to wrangle them successfully was symbolized by the fact that barricades set up by the police were overturned:

    As more and more police assembled, the crowd defied them with chants of "Whose streets? Our streets!"

    Finally, around midnight, hundreds and hundreds of NYPD officers -- estimates were up to 500, the most on one operation since the eviction from Zuccotti/Liberty Park on November 15 -- were assembled at Union Square to control what by that time was no more than a couple of hundred demonstrators, and the sight was absurd. Which, by this time, even the police seemed to recognize. The smallish crowd did some spontaneous actions, including marching around the park -- accompanied by police who couldn't keep up when they ran, and then dispersed.

    The police were left there, all dolled up with nothing to do.

    This was a nearly textbook example of how authority is delegitimized. One of the things that demonstrators in New York especially, but throughout the Occupy Movement internationally as well, have made clear is that they are not afraid of the police. The demonstrators will comply when it suits them, they will defy when it suits them. They are setting the ground rules of confrontations, and that is partly what is causing discomfort among more traditionally oriented activists. The rules, as they understand them, are set by authority, not the other way around.

    The practice of delegitimazation doesn't always work, and the methods are not always comprehended by those involved, but as the "American Spring" gets fully underway, we're likely to see more and more of these tactics employed.

    FURTHERMORE: I didn't know they'd gone to Wall Street and desecrated the Bull: (Oh. My! Not only that, they de-arrested one of their comrades who had mounted the Bull. Things fall apart...)