Monday, July 9, 2012

The Alexander Cockburn Thing -- "Occupy Is Dead -- or Something"

Occupy Is Dead. Long Live Occupy. Poster announcing Occupy Oakland Anti-Repression Committee benefit to be held on July 19, 2012.

Yes, well.

As I was yakking with friends and buying some art yesterday, the topic of the Occupy came up, specifically Occupy Oakland, as the artist involved lives in Oakland, and the main comment was that Occupy Oakland "just went away."  It was so active for a while, and then all of a sudden, it seemed to vanish. At least to all appearances.

I thought, no, this isn't right. Occupy Oakland and the Oakland Commune are still strident and still going strong... aren't they? They were, at any rate, the last time I checked a month or so ago. Oh. Has it been that long? Jeeze.

So I opened up the OO website, and sure enough it is still there, still appears to be going great guns, just took its first harvest from the Gill Tract, who could ask for anything more? Ah, but there have been fewer -- far fewer -- clashes with the police lately, and there has been much less bloodshed and tear gas and stun grenades than once was the case. Furthermore, the Tent Phase of the Occupy is pretty much over with (there are exceptions, of course.)

I got to wondering what it all means, this notion that "Occupy Is Dead" when I did a virtual tour around the Occupy sites I keep track of and found almost all of them at least minimally active, and some quite creative and effervescent despite the summer heat.

The Alexander Cockburn piece, "Epitaph to a Dead Movement" was sort of thrust in my face as I was checking out the Occupy haps. The Philadelphia National Gathering had just concluded, and I had just made it back to my now temporary California home. I had some issues with the Occupy Caravan. But that was not the National Gathering, and I thought that from what I saw, mostly on Nate's stream, the National Gathering was terrific. The key to it was the Visioning. But I'll get to that in a bit. I still have several more installments of "The Peril of Fascism" to post. (It takes me a while because I'm transcribing...)

Cockburn's piece struck me rather like Chris Hedges' ill-advised and ill-informed denunciation of Black Bloc participation in Occupy. This is someone from the "old-guard left" who literally doesn't know what he is talking/writing about and is so gutless and full of himself, he has no wish to find out. I run into these kinds of people all the time; they know not, they don't know they don't know, and they have no interest in knowing. They simply blow hard. And claim they are right because they say so. When they are shown to be wrong, not just factually but fundamentally, they blow it off. Because they are who they are, they have to be right. It's that simple.

Hedges declares the immanent demise of the Occupy, unless the "Black Bloc Anarchists" -- whatever they are, and he, obviously, doesn't know or care -- are purged forthwith. Cockburn declares the Occupy Movement "dead" not because of the Black Bloc -- which has only been actively present at a few Occupy events (for a long time, it was only the one, in Oakland on General Strike Day last November) -- but because it hasn't turned out like Cockburn, in his reverie of Teh Revolution, imagined Occupy was saying it would.

Again, ignorance and arrogance go hand in hand.

There's a strong class element in this ignorance and arrogance as well. Occupy was never really amenable to take charge experts, highly educated fools, business school hucksters and the like. In fact, I would say most if not all Occupys rejected the leadership of the well-connected and well-to-do, the would be High and the Mighty. Even Occupy New Haven seemed to reject the Yalie overlay of "expertise," and focused much more on the needs and issues of New Haven's growing underclass. This wasn't the well-off directing the activities of the underclass, it was the underclass itself taking charge of its own interests and affairs.

Once the underclass took charge within Occupy, I would argue, the layers of experts and and "directors" withdrew. Part of that process, of course, had to do with the increasing intensity of police suppression of the Occupy nationwide. When the police truncheons and the gas and the grenades and the mass arrests intensified, the middle class and the bourgeoisie and their offspring in their strollers departed. After all, they can't afford a day or a week in jail, and how would they explain the lump on their noggin at the club? Won't somebody think of the children? (This was, of course, Hedges' supposed point: the children in their strollers made Occupy a mass movement, and the Black Bloc ruined it. But it never was a mass movement, Chris. Real revolution never is.)

Cockburn misses the mark because he didn't do even a minimal autopsy on the "corpse" of Occupy before he launched his Epitaph.

Occupy has evolved into something quite different than the marketing campaign it started as. Yes, it was a marketing campaign initially. It isn't that any more. And that's one reason why it doesn't have quite the public or media presence it once did. It's much deeper rooted now, more dispersed, far more integrated into communities than when it began. Occupy is much more closely aligned to the growing underclass in the United States and around the world, and it is much less overt in its calls for Revolutionary Change -- in part because of the need for building the structure of such change before actually undertaking it or attempting to.

The Mic Check and the General Assembly process have become integrated into a whole range of activities going on all the time whether or not under the Occupy banner. The notion of "democracy" is undergoing a remarkable transformation among the People, while at the same time, it is being institutionally disempowered by the Ruling Class. While the institutions of democracy crumble all around us, the People themselves are taking up the cause and preserving and reactivating the essence of democracy.

The fight against foreclosures, economic extraction, police misconduct, public education privatization and so much more have established a kind of baseline that even the dumbest of Our Rulers seem loathe to cross. We'll see whether it holds.

At any rate, I would remind Cockburn that the Occupy never was the Left, and it isn't the Left today. It transcended political categories from the outset. From an Occupy perspective, the constant tug of war between the "Left" and the "Right" that characterized our political institutions is bizarre. What are they constantly fighting over? They're on the same side!
Back to "The Peril of Fascism." Another excerpt later today if all goes well.


  1. I always looked at Occupy as working class desperation rather than Leftist politics.

    I'm reminded of a story of an Irish miner who was thrown in jail for using dynamite in a labor struggle and ending up with one of Emma Goldman's associates as a cell mate. You'd think they would have been in sympathy, but the miner recoiled from his cellmates politics despite being quite as radical in his actions.

    Heh, I wish Occupy was full of hard core Commies, but then I also wish America was ruled by a Kenyan Socialist.

  2. ...but then I also wish America was ruled by a Kenyan Socialist. If only!

    Occupy doesn't even fit traditional class categories, though one thing is obvious: the upper middle class and the high and the mighty class stay well away from it unless they show up to lustily denounce it. It is way too icky for them, even though nowadays those nasty tents are mostly only symbolic.

    But working class involvement, in the sense of unions anyway, is inconsistent and not always a comfortable fit. In my view, it's largely because union leadership doesn't like the competition. But that's just me.

    Most of those who stick with Occupy are young and those who realize like the young do that their future has been stolen from them. And they know who did it, too.

    So maybe it is a class war just the same, but on a somewhat different basis.

  3. I see Occupy as starting out as a reactive movement. The Tsar's soldiers come through your town on a pogrom, and you try to figure out what to do. Or, more specifically, the government and the business interests it serves, starts treating parts of America that had previously been exempt as colonial holdings, to be ruthlessly exploited. (Almost everything that happened in the housing expropriation, the tricky stuff with municipal finance and the push toward privatization.)

    Occupy did some great work in identifying the enemy, everyone knows who they are now except for the willfully blind. A small group of families who absorb most American wealth, and the toadies and thugs that allow them to do this.

    Then comes the question, "What is to be done?" and that's where the answer gets tricky.

  4. "What is to be done?" Indeed. I think people know what HAS to be done, and they don't want to do it.

    In the '30's the situation was different enough in this country that bone throwing now and then was sufficient to calm the masses, at least enough of them to keep the lid on the incipient uprising. And then of course there was WWII which changed everything.

    Now, bone throwing hardly exists as an exercise by Our Rulers, and the pressure just builds and builds.

    Occupy -- whatever else it is -- is by definition a nonviolent resistance campaign, in the Great Tradition, etc, etc. Whether that will be enough, I don't know. It may be.

    But then again, darker forces are gathering too...