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.


  1. I haven't read Gene Sharp, so I really don't know what it means to follow his ideas. Could you elaborate on them, and discuss why it would be good or bad for OWS to follow him, ignore him, etc. etc.?

  2. I've been resisting doing it -- re: elaborating on Sharp. But I was asked to do a workshop/teach-in on "From Dictatorship to Democracy" the other day, and it is always coming up in strategy discussions, so maybe I should write more about his recipe for revolution!

    After all, it seemed to work... until it didn't.

  3. Looking forward to your sketching things out.

    Something that always comes to mind for me, whenever I hear of the struggles leftists have within their own communities (and it's waaay beyond frustrating):

    Herding cats. Internally and between fellow leftists. Spinning out. Forever spinning out.

    The right starts out with a supreme advantage over the left . . . because it believes passionately in hierarchy, worships it, defends it, fights for it, sacrifices for it. The right is at its core pro-authoritarian, pro-hierarchy, pro-leader, and that gives it a tremendous edge when it comes to implementing its agenda. I have not started Corey Robin's book yet, but his website gives us a taste of his premise, etc. Gives us a brilliant wrap of the real agenda for the right:

    To destroy any movement that seeks to emancipate the "lower orders." Gender, race, class, whatever. No emancipation, unless you happen to be the aristocracy. And to destroy egalitarian movements, nothing is more effective than authoritarian, hierarchical movements that decide quickly -- without hesitation or regret -- to martial all means to achieve their goal.

    So, if the folks in those OWS meetings are endlessly haggling over process and procedure, they do so while the right laughs. While it continues to conquer and take no prisoners. The right continues its inexorable march to impose its reprehensible conceptions of religious orthodoxy, merged with faith-based economics and environmental nihilism. Again, without regrets. Without hesitation.

    If I understand you correctly, the OWS movement seems bogged down in meetings about meetings -- ironically echoing the worst corporate bureaucracies -- trying so hard not to make mistakes that inertia takes over.

    (Unlike corporations, trying to "be fair, be nice" . . . etc.)

    The real conundrum for this movement is how to act to create a far more egalitarian world, without spinning out into total inertia via fear of someone actually making a decision.

    . . . .

    The above, of course, is all too reductive. But, to save space and time . . . .

    IOW, we don't have a second to waste. Sometimes, you have to put the peddle to the metal, etc. etc.

  4. that would be "pedal", of course.

    I peddled a cliche, and look what happened!

    . . . .

    Basically, I'm starting to worry that the OWS movement will lose its verve as it kills its youthful spontaneity -- which is its power.

    If I had the ability to influence the brave souls of OWS, it would simply be to choose, take sides, make choices, be decisive and realize that we are literally at war. We are literally at war with the right -- and that label includes both our major parties, corporate America, capitalism itself and the majority of organized Christianity.

    We are at war, for the very survival of this planet, in fact. And that is not hyperbole.

    If OWS does not see this, then they, while supremely courageous, are not quite what we have been waiting for. They are, instead, the foundation, the genesis for something greater, more profound and aggressive.

  5. Last comment for the night.

    Of course, it's not their fault, really. Who woulda thunk that the police would come down on them like a ton of bricks -- in 2011 and 2012!!

    Who woulda thunk we'd see a return of Nixonian tactics, times 10?

    Who woulda thunk that after the worse recession since the Great Depression, calls for an end to inequality and rapacious capitalism would be met with mass smears, SWAT teams, and all too much apathy from Americans?

    IOW, it's more than understandable that the folks in OWS are hesitant, indecisive, perhaps even confused?

    That's the whole point of the police-state onslaught. Breed despair, fear, second-guessing, hesitation. Hell, it's even impacting all-in supporters like me -- when I'm not remembering why this is all happening.

    . . . .

    But that's really all the more reason not to "negotiate" away one's position of strength even before one meets the enemy.

    All of us, inside, outside, wherever . . . if we're egalitarians and small d democrats . . . simply do not have the luxury of dancing with meta this and meta that. We need to decide!!!

    Hope all is well . . .

  6. I won't deny what you're saying!

    Much of the process and other debate, however, is going on in a kind of bubble -- at least I think so. Or let's say on another plane. These debates engage a cohort of individuals who seem to crave or perhaps naturally gravitate toward this sort of thing. (Which helps me understand -- or rationalize -- why I engage in it. It's what I know.) The point was made at yesterday's aborted conference, for example, that nearly everyone there was... somewhat long in the tooth, and socialized to a certain way of doing things that they didn't want to break free of. All true. And yet many of them saw what we were doing as a way to 'help' the young folks who are out in the streets actually doing the Revolution, while us old folks sit around and yak about it and hold meetings....

    The right is laughing about the inner turmoil of the Movement (which nobody is trying to hide... well, some may be) but there are a whole lot of moving parts to this thing. Oh my are there ever. And that's the saving grace.

    From my limited perspective, I would say the Movement is not bogged down at all; in fact, the energy of action seems much higher now than it was last fall. The meetings and the endless meetings about meetings are almost a sideshow. No, I'd go farther: they are a sideshow.

    But nothing is certain.


    I was writing this while you were posting your additional thoughts. I'd only add to this comment my sense that the young folks in the streets are very much aware of the pitfalls you're describing and how easily the whole thing might slip away. They are not afraid -- from what I can tell, not at all. And they are incredibly flexible and creative.

    They have endured and faced down the police state, and while they haven't won against it, they have been strengthened in their resolve. What they haven't faced yet, but us Old Folks know they will face, is being bought off. If anything will unplug this movement, I believe it's that.

    And even that might not work.