Sunday, May 18, 2014

Successful De-legitimization of Authority -- But Then Losing the Plot

De-legitimizing authority is one of the principal agents of civil change known in political circles. It's used all the time. It's the foundation of the many "Color Revolutions" that led to the break up of the Soviet Union, and it was used many times by Occupy demonstrators, most particularly in Oakland, during the time before Occupy transitioned to its current iteration of public service.

De-legitimization of authority is one of the key aspects of the current efforts by a coalition of community and victim groups in Albuquerque to... tame shall we say... an out of control and bloodthirsty police department.

It was also very much an aspect of the J28 (2012) actions in Oakland (along with many other actions before and after that). In Oakland, unfortunately, the J28 activists did not press their advantage once they had successfully de-legitimized the authority of the police and the civic bodies. In fact, they almost immediately threw it away.

The danger is that activists in Albuquerque may follow in the same path, even though they seem to be much more aware of the pitfalls than Occupy Oakland activists were back in the day.

What's going on in Ukraine, to the extent we in far distant lands can puzzle it out, seems to follow the pattern of de-legitimization of authority and pressing the advantage that is the hallmark of successful revolutions. True enough, the so-called revolution in Kiev is not on behalf of the People, it's on behalf of a select group of oligarchs and their western European and American co-conspirators. We understand that. The ideological motor for this revolution is Fascist right out of the '30s and '40s of the previous century, and one of its most powerful and effective elements is Nazi, in the form of the Right Sektor thugs who seem to be allowed to patrol and kill at will.

Oh yes, they are most definitely pressing their advantage, what with the ongoing "anti-terrorist" operations in the restive and rebellious Eastern Regions of Ukraine.

I keep thinking that if Yanukovych had done anything like this, there would have been an immediate NATO bombing campaign on the lines of what was done to Serbia.

But he didn't. Instead, he kept trying to negotiate with the rebels aligned against him, and he kept yielding to their demands, until it was apparent he and his government had ceded all their authority to the rebels and it dawned on the Kremlin that it was time for him to go.

On the other hand, when the Yatsenyuk "government" was installed in place of the Yanukovych debacle, he and they immediately set out to consolidate their power (which initially was only in Kiev, practically only in the Maidan) and to press their advantage through some of the most over-the-top belligerence and anti-Russian propaganda since the hey-day of Fascism and Nazi-ism in Europe. It looked to be right out of the Nazi playbook. For those of us who have some knowledge of what that was like and for those who lived through it, the implications are ugly and chilling.

Ugly, yes. But effective in that it was and is relentless. There has been no let up of belligerence and propaganda since the installation of the coup-regime in Kiev. In fact, doubling down is a way of life for this crew, even when something like the Odessa Massacre might have blown the whole thing to smithereens. They don't care. They are intent on securing their power no matter what.

Their scheme is grand -- once they find their footing and crush the rebellion in the East -- and they have the backing of every Western government and their plutocrat sponsors. This is an extraordinary advantage, and despite many missteps and that unpleasantness in Odessa (reflected if not matched by arbitrary civilian deaths and injuries elsewhere), they are making the most of it every day.

(Side note: Busheviks did this, too, once they were able to seize the operations of government after the 2000 "election" in the United States. They were relentless and, despite the disaster of their reign, they were successful in changing governance. So successful, their principles of rule are now standard and institutionalized in DC. It's really quite remarkable.)

The J28 activists in Oakland set out to liberate the long vacant Oakland Auditorium/Kaiser Convention Center for use by the community for educational and organizational purposes. From my perspective, it looked like they wanted to set up an alternative civic headquarters, one that would host the kind of civic services and deliberative bodies the citizens of Oakland could not find and did not have at City Hall.

It was a Big Idea. One that perhaps wasn't entirely worked out in advance, though there had been many precursors in Oakland itself and throughout Northern California. What they wanted to do, move into a vacant space and set up a viable social service and justice alternative to the rigid and essentially captive and useless city government, looked to be a direct outgrowth of the intentional community framework of the Oakland Commune -- which had long existed -- and Occupy Oakland which was tied in with OWS and the Oakland Commune.

My understanding is that the activists involved in the J28 Oakland action were divided from the outset, and many were not kindly disposed to taking over the Kaiser Center -- when, that is,  they found out that was the goal on the day of the action. Apparently, the destination was kept secret from all but a few of the activists until the moment they set out to liberate the Center. And when they faced the barricades, police lines, tear gas and more, some of those involved were... dismayed.

They were prevented by police from taking possession of the Center, and so about a thousand of the activists re-assembled nearby on Oak Street in front of the Oakland Museum, where the infamous -- and important -- Battle of Oak Street took place.

This battle was the moment when the authority of the police and Oakland civic bodies started to collapse.

When the activists were repulsed again, they shortly reassembled, and these incidents would go on all over the city until well into the night, when several hundred activists were kettled outside the YMCA building and were placed under arrest.

Meanwhile, there had been some minor vandalism at City Hall.

Oh. Dear.

Nothing could be more emblematic of the successful de-legitimization of authority that day than the sight of the Mayor fretting over the overturned model of her fief.

Hundreds were arrested in Oakland the night of January 28, 2012, but nearly all were the victims of an out of control and chaotic police force and a civic administration that had, for all intents and purposes, collapsed.

Had the makers of the day's -- and night's -- events understood what had happened, they might have taken advantage of their success. But apparently, they saw it as a failure, because they didn't achieve their objective of liberating the Kaiser Center, and so many hundreds were arrested. More pointedly in the aftermath, the media focused on the burning of the flag at City Hall and the minor vandalism that took place there, rather than on the day's repeated acts of violence and chaos by the police.

The sense of failure was thereby multiplied in the minds of many of the activists to the point where, during subsequent post-mortems, the recriminations were unremitting. Ultimately, rather than press their advantage, the Oakland activist community fell on one another and then fell apart.

Power and authority were given back to the police and civic administration, although in the years since, there have been a number of important developments and upheavals, including the abrupt resignations and replacements of city administrators and police chiefs and fundamental reforms of the police department ordered -- if not implemented -- by federal courts and monitors.

Nevertheless, the city of Oakland appears to be mired in a permanent condition of missed opportunity, malaise, poorly considered priorities and continuing police brutality and misconduct. Nothing the established powers that be in Oakland do seems to be able to change that. It doesn't have to be that way, but it is that way -- in part because it's "always" been that way, and no one has yet come up with an effective means and mechanism to change things. Instead, there is continued deterioration and despair on the one hand, and lower key activism for social justice on the other. The status quo has been maintained and reinforced.

Albuquerque's situation is not unlike that of Oakland, in that it's a gritty and largely working class town in which a handful of very wealthy and powerful individuals hold sway over a large and more and more impoverished and desperate underclass, an underclass which is beset by all the domestic horrors of poverty and family disintegration one can imagine, and also by an out of control and bloodthirsty police force.

For decades, these problems have festered, and efforts at reform seem to get nowhere. It's not as if nothing is done, it is that nothing that is done seems to change things for the better. Police seem to kill people at an ever greater clip, impoverishment expands, and the domestic situation for so many Buquenos deteriorates.

Nothing seems to correct what's wrong. From a statistical point of view, conditions may not be getting worse overall, but they're not getting better, either.

So what do you do? Activists in Albuquerque have been demonstrating, protesting, proposing reforms, and trying to move things in a better direction for decades, and they've had some successes, there's no denying that. The problem is that a success in one aspect doesn't solve the overall problem, and declarations of victory often dissipate the necessary energy for change. And worse, the rate of killing by police continues unabated.

Something more is needed if that bloody record is to change.

I've seen that the mayor's office and the city council, even the police department itself, have once again been goaded into action by some of the agitation of the people and the DoJ's devastating report -- even if the action is only talk at this point. There are task forces, commissions, councils and community meetings all the time now. But the killing continues. There are disruptions and protests all the time now. But the killing continues. There are many proposals and suggestions from the public and the power structure, but the killing continues.

Something more is needed if this bloody record is to change.

Authority is de-legitimized in Albuquerque in ways that are potentially even more profound than other examples given, but so far it is not clear that full advantage can or will be take of this interlude.

For whatever reason, these days the advantage is almost always seized by proto- and actual Fascists.

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