Wednesday, March 28, 2012
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.