Tuesday, July 3, 2012
The Philadelphia Scene
I've been following what I can of the #Occupy National Gathering events in Philadelphia on Nate's livestream -- and catching up with his archives. Some of what's been going on has been surprisingly moving, some of it not so much. But that's how these things go.
What was striking yesterday was the huge turnout for a march through downtown Philadelphia in support of labor and human rights in the face of implacable indifference. What I saw reminded me not of marches from "my day" (anti-Vietnam War era) but of solidarity marches of long before that. This was a good thing.
I was briefly involved in some of the planning discussions for the National Gathering through InterOccupy this spring, and it is gratifying to see how it has come together. It's largely amorphous and informal seeming -- at least from the narrow view I get through Nate's lens -- and yet it seems to be very well organized and attended.
There was a funny incident last night -- well, sort of -- at Independence Mall when a woman from Brooklyn got up to mic check and announce a global peace treaty or truce project through the United Nations; as she was beginning to explain how it would work, another woman mic checked the crowd some distance away saying that she wanted everybody to "sit down." The first woman said nothing, but the crowd was perplexed to say the least. Finally, one spoke up and said, "Who are you to be ordering us around?"
Shortly, someone else mic checked the crowd saying "the Veterans" requested that people leave the enclosed area of the park and assemble outside the barricades where "the Veterans" requested that people sit down on the sidewalk in solidarity with the Veterans (whose tent in the park was under threat by the police due to an expired or conflicting permit, though that wasn't explained by the mic-checkers). After people said, "Oh, I get it," the mic checking continued with several updates and details of what was wanted by "the Veterans" and why. What seemed odd to me was that so far as I could tell, "the Veterans" (meaning Veterans for Peace, who had had a tent and information tables onsite since the beginning of the Gathering) never spoke for themselves about what they wanted or needed from the crowd or about what was going on.
What I gathered from Nate's commentary and his interviews with some of the participants, including veterans, was that the police were assembling in riot gear to evict the Veterans for Peace because their permit expired at 9:00pm. A crowd assembled with the intention of thwarting any such eviction and there was a tense standoff for a few minutes as police and park rangers, with shields and helmets, formed a skirmish line facing the crowd, some of whom were quite rude about the whole thing. Others were not so rude. In fact, some were expressing their love for the police and their understanding of how difficult their job was, etc. etc. For their part, the police seemed either indifferent or embarrassed about what was going on, and Nate reported on one he saw leaving the skirmish line who he overheard saying "I have ethics."
Ultimately, there was negotiation between legal observers, possibly members of Veterans for Peace (though they didn't appear on camera) and the atmosphere of tension changed: the police skirmish line seemed to evaporate, shields and helmets disappeared, most of the police officers and park rangers left, and the report was that the Veterans for Peace tent would be allowed to stay until 9:00am this morning (about 4 hours from now) when "another permit holder" would be given access to the park and the Veterans would be allowed to assemble at another park nearby. Who this "other permit holder" was was never clarified, but I recall other reports that indicated the Tea Partiers were having a gathering at Independence Mall, on or about the Fourth of July, and I wondered... could it be? Well, maybe.
The crowd largely dispersed, but there were rumors that the police would raid the park anyway, despite their assurances that they wouldn't, at 12 midnight, and though Nate shut down his stream, he said he would be available to cover any developments and he had a network of people who would alert him if anything "happened."
I haven't checked yet this morning to see if there have been any developments since last night, but I thought the whole sequence was interesting.
While police mindlessly continue their essentially futile effort to suppress Occupy, the point of doing so has been largely lost. The violent evictions and suppression of Occupy since last fall demonstrated clearly that the nonviolent nature of the Occupy Movement is not any sort of physical threat to the Powers That Be, and that despite an abundance of Revolutionary rhetoric and frequent episodes of marching in the streets without a permit, Occupy does not represent the kind of armed insurrection or civil disturbance that would call for the kinds of militarized violence and intimidation that we have seen used against encampments and demonstrations again and again. Consequently, though the police still assemble en masse and continually threaten violence against Occupy -- and as in Philadelphia the night before last, they continue to make impressive numbers of arrests of demonstrators -- they are fighting an image of their own creation. Occupy is something else again. The more the police mindlessly overreact -- as they continue to do -- to the presence of Occupy, the more they delegitimize themselves and their owners and sponsors.
In Philadelphia, there seems to be the glimmerings of comprehension that the continued efforts at suppression are ridiculous. Especially around the Fourth of July. Consequently, while there are periodic shows of force and intimidation as well as arrests, there is no clear police strategy involved. Anti-Occupy efforts appear to be ad hoc, uncoordinated, chaotic and frequently futile.
From my perspective, this is an important development that will be largely ignored within the Occupy firmament. Delegitimizing authority is a fundamental part of any uprising. When it is successful, however, those engaged in uprisings (such as the Oakland Commune and Occupy Movement) seem to be unable to accept the victory and to consolidate their gains. I saw Oakland's Occupy and commune almost immediately dissipate its clear victory at delegitimizing OPD on Move In Day (Jan 28), just as students and faculty at UC Berkeley and Davis almost immediately gave back their victory against UC Police and administration oppression last November.
This phenomenon has happened more or less routinely, and I attribute it to the fact that no one engaged in Uprising or Revolution at this point knows what to do should they achieve "victory" over the forces of darkness and oppression. That other world that's possible is not ready to go into operation.
That's fairly normal, but it becomes problematic -- severely so -- when some other enterprising uprising and/or Revolutionary movement recognizes (indeed, enhances) the systemic instabilities of the situation and takes advantage of it for their own purposes.
If there is a fly in the Occupy ointment, that's it in a nutshell. While all sorts of Visioning and experimentation is going on to create Another World of the Possible, there are other forces at work taking advantage of the destabilization and delegitimazation that is occurring.
Will anyone pay attention before it is too late?
Meanwhile, I'll go check Nate's stream for any updates.