Friday, March 16, 2012


As for Occupy affairs...

I've been involved in something called "Occupy Strategy National Dialogue" through InterOccupy for over a month now -- practically a whole era in Occupy Time -- that started as a national Occupy dialogue on the issue of "nonviolence vs diversity of tactics" that was triggered by Chris Hedges infamous polemic: "Black Bloc: The Cancer on Occupy."

I'm not going to rehash all that, partly because it is deeply hurtful to many people who have dedicated much more than I have to the Movement/Revolution, but also because it's an irresolvable and basically false issue. Nonviolence IS part of the diversity of tactics that are used throughout Occupy, so the notion that there is any "versus" at all is stupid. The question, to the extent there is one, is whether a nonviolent strategy a la Gandhi and King (or my man, Cesar Chavez) is the right one for Occupy. That question is still open. Many Occupy activists are certain that it is not just the right one, it is the only one that has a chance of success. I -- and many others -- are not so sure. In fact, the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that the Gandhi/King nonviolent strategy is bound to fail, and those who advocate it as the "only way" forward are wittingly or unwittingly trying to ensure that failure is the only option.

I categorize most of them as the same people or the same sorts of people who from the outset have been trying to corral Occupy into a standard format of some kind, preferably a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a 501(c)(4) political wing. This is what people are used to and comfortable with; I'm used to it and comfortable with it, having worked in that environment on one side of it or the other all my adult life. It is the means by which and through which "the people" in groups -- that is to say the organizational boards and staffs -- interact with government agencies and officials.

It's an OK model if the system is working, but the system isn't working in our country at this time, nor has the system functioned on behalf of the People more than haltingly and occasionally for many years. I argue that we are well past the point where we can replicate the efforts of the past and expect reasonably similar results. It's not going to work. Our Rulers are way, way ahead of us on that plane.

If they can easily thwart and subvert the NPO/advocacy group model -- and they can and do -- they can easily do the same to the nonviolent resistance strategies of Gandhi and King (and Chavez), which they have been doing for many a long year, though it doesn't dawn on many people that the reason why their NPOs and advocacy groups don't seem to be getting any where but have bogged down in permanent wheel spinning mode is because the Overclass has been strategizing the thwartage and subversion of these efforts for decades. They know how to do it.

Gandhian/King-like nonviolent efforts don't work any more. I realize that I've been flogging the UC Berkeley/Davis issue for quite a while, and if it's become boring, oh well! But the thing is that UC and other students have been using the Gandhi/King nonviolent resistance tactics for decades, and here we are. Those tactics have not "worked" for positive change at the University since about 1969, and the People's Park imbroglio. Nevertheless, they keep getting done, as was the case at Cal on November 9, and at Davis on November 18 last year.

And in both cases, the students and their faculty allies wound up on the losing end of the stick -- at Berkeley, the literal end of the nightstick, at Davis, the figurative "stick" of pepper spray, though they won the moral high ground.

But there's more to it than that. The students and their faculty allies at both Cal and Davis (and elsewhere in the system, these are the two closest UC campuses to me, but there have been tiny revolutions throughout the entire higher education system in California for years and years) gave up their moral advantage almost as soon as they had won the high ground. I witnessed this happening at Davis especially and my jaw dropped to the ground.

Almost immediately after the Chancellor's Walk of Shame at Davis, she called a "town hall" with students and administrators to discuss the matter. There was a subsequent one between her administration and the Davis faculty. At both of them, the moral victors in the struggle gave up their advantage almost too willingly, and wound up expressing their gratitude toward and trust in the administrators who had been fucking them over and fucking them up for years. Initially, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It was a brilliant move on the part of the oppressors. I'm not sure the oppressed understand what happened to this day -- as we await release of the sanitized and long-delayed report on the pepper spray incident.

This is not how you do nonviolent resistance, people! Not if you want to... win. But then it occurred to me, maybe that's not what they want... I'll get to that anon.

The way these things used to be done, once you gain a moral victory, you consolidate it immediately and press your demands/interests even harder; you do not back down. But that's what happened at the UC get-togethers. [Added thought: The victors backed away from their victory.] And I've seen it happen in other Occupy contexts as well.

The more I talked to people about it and paid attention to what was going, the more I realized that many people actually do think that's how a nonviolent resistance campaign is supposed to go. If you "win" in a confrontation such as that at Cal and at Davis, you're supposed to "yield," or at least re-evaluate, and not press your advantage -- because apparently they believe that's what King and Gandhi would have done so as to show good will toward the oppressors. But good will is a separate issue. Ideally, it's something you are showing all the time -- while simultaneously pressing your advantage. But they didn't do that. They gave up.

That was an example (to me at any rate) of how very easy it is for the Overclass to subvert and thwart old-fashioned kinds of nonviolent resistance; they have been strategizing how to do this for decades, and they've go it down. The People are almost powerless against it.

Now in the strategy sessions I've been attending through InterOccupy, the Gene Sharp strategy of nonviolent revolutionary "change" is being heavily promoted as the right one for Occupy to adopt, and I question it.

The Gene Sharp strategy is found in "From Dictatorship to Democracy" which is an exploration of how to do a nonviolent revolution such as we saw in Eastern Europe, the Philippines, China, and parts of Latin America in the 80's and 90's. That model has been adapted and adopted in Arab states and Iran, with varying -- in many cases, tragic -- results.

Having had some time to evaluate the results of the Arab Spring and the ongoing revolts against various entrenched powers in the Arab world and Iran, we'd do well to understand the Gene Sharp model doesn't work any more, either.

The Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions -- which were patterned on Gene Sharp's revolutionary model -- were so exciting, but the let down after "victory" has been severe; the result is nothing like what the People had in mind, and in Egypt, especially, there is a feeling that they may have to do it all over again.

The results in Bahrain, the Yemen, Libya and Syria are simply appalling. Gawd Awful horrors that just don't stop. In Iran, the Green Revolution was rather quickly subverted and shut down -- with relatively little bloodshed but with much repression. Gene Sharp's model was adopted in those places as well, and the result was monstrous destruction and bloodshed, civil war, and/or worse repression. Wait. That's not how this model is supposed to work. Only that's how it works now because the Arab and Iranian Overclasses have learned how to thwart the masses when they rise. It's messy but they manage somehow to do it.

Meanwhile, in the United States the nonviolent course that Sharp lays out has never been tried, but the idea that it would work here or in Europe or in any more-or-less "civil democracy" society (no matter how managed the "democracy" might be) has no evidence to support it. It doesn't mean that it can't, it means there's no evidence to show that it does -- primarily, I would say, because in a "civil democracy," it is always theoretically possible to achieve significant social and political change through legal channels and elections. It may not be practically possible, but in theory it is.

So using the Sharp template in "civil democracies" doesn't strike me as particularly useful, and the horrifying results in parts of the Arab world and Iran should be a caution. The fact that it isn't being used as a template in Europe or much of anywhere else should be recognized as well.

Occupy provides its own strategic template, as balky and faulty as it is, an from my way of looking at it, this is the one the Movement needs to stick with. It's not going to be easy, in part because there are so many efforts to undermine and subvert it from every direction, internally and externally.

Occupations are themselves (sometimes) strategic. The actions of Occupy have a surprisingly strategic resonance -- they are mostly intended to shake the foundations of a rotting "civil democracy" system. As I've put it in other posts, the overall strategy is to accomplish fundamental systemic change by de-legitimizing the authority of current establishments, and by demonstrating alternatives to current establishments and institutions and showing how they can and do work.

Some of those involved with Occupy are getting into a long-term frame of mind, on the premise that this struggle will have to go on for many years, and once again they are pressing to institutionalize Occupy and standardize and regularize it.

Back in October of last year, Malcolm Harris had some tactical/strategic advice for Occupy Wall Street, some of which might have been heard in the interim, I don't know. But he was looking at the encampment at Liberty/Zuccotti Park from the perspective of effectiveness, and he, I think, got that part wrong. No, the encampment wasn't accomplishing what he thought it should, but then what does? It's hard to say. These were his parting thoughts, though, and we're still hearing echoes...

- The GA/consensus model doesn’t exactly encourage creativity and is particularly susceptible to police co-optation. In one of the most heavily policed places in the world, where the NYPD is bragging about its ability to shoot down planes, we should assume they have a Che t-shirt and a Chrome messenger bag in a prop room somewhere. If anyone can lead the group, that means anyone can lead the group. A switch to a model based on smaller bands of people (5-10) who know and trust each other and have found common ground and operate in (naturally) overlapping ways would have the dual benefits of enabling creative rather than agreeable actions and reducing the risk of police infiltration, without forfeiting the benefits of a large group. The technical term for these crews is “affinity groups,” but I prefer “friends.”

- If the population of the park can grow past its boundaries and start threatening the normal functioning of Wall Street, then it could open up space for smaller groups to operate without too much police attention and change the balance of power in the park. I heard unconfirmed reports that Radiohead is planning a concert at the occupation this week, which if true could make it uncontrollable and attract more folks to a relatively uninhabited part of the city. I’m disinclined to believe the rumors, but you never know, and it’s not like they can’t afford to bail themselves out of jail. Maybe they could be cajoled over Twitter to show up and play a few acoustic songs. Either way, it doesn’t make sense to me to try and protect the occupation from this kind of influx of people, even if that would make it untenable in its current form.

- This is a marathon, not a sprint or a hamster wheel. The next year is going to be explosive: the two Parties will spend a billion each reminding Americans how terrible everything is, and hoping they can get away with blaming each other for a permanent unemployment crisis. The social ills that brought people out aren’t getting better any time soon. Occupy Wall Street is part of a sequence, not the sequence itself, and we should be thinking about its role in a revolutionary campaign of a longer but bound duration.

- If corporations are people, what would it mean to wrap our hands around one’s neck and choke it to death?

These are admittedly preliminary thoughts, and I want to discuss what to do with other folks, but I don’t want to address an assembly, and not just for security reasons. When I’ve found people and groups of people at the occupation who are ready to move beyond its current bounds, it’s on the edges of the large circles. Maybe it’s time the whole thing got edgier. That is, sharper.


FURTHERMORE: (I see I inadvertently truncated the post because I was futilely trying to multitask.)

The problem with trying to overthink and overstrategize the Occupy Movement, or with trying to apply a pre-existing template to it at this point, is that Occupy is itself its own strategy and provides its own template. Activists instinctively respond to or recoil from it. Those who want it to be something different, more like Gene Sharp's recipe for nonviolent revolution, for example, actually want a different movement than this one. The way I look at it, that's OK, but Occupy isn't the vehicle for that kind of movement. Occupy is doing something else, pioneering in many ways, and if it's not your preferred form of activism, then Occupy is probably not where you should be.

The fact that there is no Gene Sharp style revolutionary movement (not even Occupy) in the United States is telling us something. The fact that Occupy is doing as well as it is, despite more and more violent repression, is also telling us something.

Harris's criticisms came very early, and we're still hearing the same ones as well as many others that were voiced even before there was an Occupy Wall Street. From a serious strategic and tactical standpoint, Occupy shouldn't be working at all. But strangely it does. Its very looseness and ad hoc-ness, its seemingly incomprehensible (or in some cases, nonexistent!) strategic planning, even its stark failures and its odd obsessions with process, as well as the constant carping and complaining about it(!), all seem to have some sort of value to the Movement.

I have no idea how this works -- except that it is organic and evolutionary and it is working.

Let it be.


  1. Che:

    "As I've put it in other posts, the overall strategy is to accomplish fundamental systemic change by de-legitimizing the authority of current establishments, and by demonstrating alternatives to current establishments and institutions and showing how they can and do work."

    I think that the very act of "demonstrating alternatives" that work delegitimizes existing authority. We need to turn our backs on the current order and just disconnect from them. They are poison and death.

  2. If you haven't read Graeber's Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, do so post haste.

  3. "De-legitimizing" is actually a direct strategy, but it only works, IMHO, in concert with an active demonstration of alternatives. There are lots and lots of alternatives available, but few have been linked to the strategy of "de-legitimizing" -- at least not in this country. Now that some are, and it's working, it's can be very scary...

    Thanks for the link. I haven't read Graeber's "Fragments". But I've got it on my desktop now, so I'll get to it!

    Sorry it took so long to release your comments from detention; I've been bouncing around on various projects like a kid on a trampoline today...'-)

    I'm still not sure why your comments go to detention at all. It's Blogger's doing, and if I knew a way to prevent it, I would.

  4. Alcuin:

    I read Graeber's "Fragments" -- and it is really a delight. Thanks for the link. Recommended!