Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Infiltration and Surveillance of Peace-Groups

During the weekend march and rally to end police violence in Albuquerque, even from my distance out in the country, I could feel a palpable sense of paranoia that the march and the movement were being infiltrated by police and perhaps others who wished it ill, and there was little or nothing that could be done about it.

David Correia shot and posted several photos of "undercover" police (who were, as is so often the case, very obvious) and KRQE ran a curious story about infiltration and surveillance of the rally and march by a police intelligence "sergeant" who shot a drug-suspect in 2012. No one, so far, has been able to find this person in any of the hundreds and thousands of pictures and video taken of the march and rally, however, so the question is whether he was actually at the march and rally or was the announcement he was there meant as a provocation?

That question is much like the question of the untagged car that plowed into the march just as it was starting off from the park. No one was hurt, so there's that, and David Correia stood in front of it, preventing its passage, until most of the marchers left the park, but the presence of this car with no license plate at the very beginning of the march was curious given the police promise to "control traffic."

Who was the driver? Why was he there at that time? How did he get through the supposed cordon?

I imagine he was a resident from nearby, but there is no way to know for sure.

That lack of certainty of knowing who is who in movements has always been a difficulty, one that can sometimes be debilitating. We know from many years of experience and from the testimonies of our elders going back long before our own experience that movements "on the left" are always and persistently thought of as threats to the established order, and they are always surveilled and they often disrupted by the police and various nefarious other interests. Always. There has perhaps never been a peace-group or movement for social-political change on the left that hasn't had its activities closely scrutinized by the authorities, and that hasn't been subject to infiltration, disruption, and disturbance by agents of The Powers That Be.

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep.
It starts when you're always afraid.
Step out of line, the man come and take you away.

Truer words were never spoken, though those who have never felt the cold breath of surveillance  and infiltration at their backs may not be able to comprehend or empathize much with those whose actions and activism are always being scrutinized -- and they know it.

That anthem of the restive 1960s has never really stopped being relevant, even though its reference was never all that clear -- it's not about anti-Vietnam-War demonstrations, for example. Just the same, when you know you're being watched and followed and reported on -- or you suspect you are -- because of your activism, are you really paranoid?

And why, pray tell, are the authorities still so interested in infiltration and surveillance of peace-activists and leftist non-violent groups?

They like to claim it's "for the safety of the demonstrators and that of the public" but of course that's horseshit.

The only "safety," comfort and convenience they wish to ensure is that of themselves and their sponsors.

Not that of the People.

Far from it.

It's a tough situation when you can't be sure that everyone in a movement is on the same page, you can't always know who all the infiltrators and subversives are, and you can't -- ever -- be free of surveillance and infiltration and the potential for disruption.

It's little wonder that so many movements fail or are destroyed.

Todd Gitlin had a column in the Guardian the other day (h/t wd) in which he tried to explain "what happened to Occupy."

It was a somewhat baroque exercise in futility, it seemed to me. Gitlin is a Movement Elder -- though not always an honored one -- for his New Left activism and his leadership of the SDS, Students for Democratic Society, in the 1960s, and for his extensive anti-war and divestment activism and voluminous writing since then. So far as I know, he was not an active participant in Occupy Wall Street or any of its hundreds of offshoots, but he was an observer and commentator on Occupy events and was active in the controversy over "violence" in Occupy. To my mind, he saw his role as that of adviser and scold to these upstart revolutionaries camping out hither and thither and making much hoo-hah over the "99%!" ("We are!")

In his Guardian article about "what happened to Occupy" Gitlin makes much of the fact that thanks to the pervasiveness of social media, it's easier now than it has ever been to organize social and political movements, and it is also quite easy for them to dissipate or be dispersed.

He relates Occupy to the uprisings in the squares of Europe and the Middle East, rebellions and occupations that either achieved their objectives of overthrowing corrupt and violent regimes, or as in Europe, set in motion the social and political mechanisms that will in due time replace the corrupt and decadent "democracies" that have failed the People.

But I would argue that Occupy never had the objective of "overthrow." And its approach to political matters was wildly aggravating to those who saw the movement as a means to reform the system.  Occupy Wall Street and its many offshoots was something else again. And it was because it was something else again, far more subtle in its intentions and activities, that it was seen as such a threat by The Powers That Be.

Occupy is still, in some sense, a threat. The potential is always there for it to re-emerge into the public eye. Whether it will remains to be seen, but the point Gitlin seems to miss completely is that Occupy never went away. The encampments have largely been replaced with much deeper-rooted community organizing and activism. The encampments can return at any time but the encampments are not the keys or the necessities for activism.

Strange that Gitlin doesn't seem to understand that, but I think in fact he does. Strange that he doesn't seem to know what those using the Occupy brand are doing in his own fair city of New York as well as elsewhere around the country and the world.

He's never heard of "Occupy Sandy?" He doesn't know about "Occupy the SEC?" What about "Strike Debt?" Have these endeavors penetrated his shields? Of course they have, they're just not mentioned by name in his article. There are many more than the ones listed. The fact that there are extensive Occupy newsletters and strategic planning endeavors, that there is an annual Occupy National Gathering (this year in Sacramento, July 31-August 3), and that Occupy-inspired community activism is widespread throughout the country, including involvement in the movement to end police violence in Albuquerque, seems to have escaped his radar. His old pal-or-nemisis, Mark Rudd -- who lives in Albuquerque -- might have let him know, but Ol' Mark, former radical and revolutionary, seems much more content these days with his involvement in traditional politics rather than whatever Occupy might be up to.

"Not knowing" -- or not mentioning or acknowledging by name -- what's going on is itself a factor in the surveillance and infiltration of leftist groups. I don't know whether that's Gitlin's role these days (I don't think it is) but by not clarifying that "Occupy" as such is not gone, not by a long shot, Gitlin serves the interests of the State. By implying that the State was successful in dispersing and destroying Occupy, and even by being oblivious to Cecily McMillan's much deeper involvement with prisoner-rights while she's in jail for "assaulting" a police officer in Zuccotti Park on St. Patrick's Day, 2012, he reinforces, even if inadvertantly (though I don't think it's that), the standard narrative of the "failure" and "end" of Occupy.

There are, of course, hundreds if not thousands of community organizations and activist endeavors that have come about as a direct result of Occupy and its dispersal into communities, something that was well under way even before the encampments were violently destroyed by the authorities. Much of the energy of Occupy came out of extant community organizations, and many of the Occupy participants and volunteers have remained activists since the encampment phase of the movement was suppressed. The belief that "another world is possible" is, in my view, stronger now than it was at the outset of Occupy Wall Street.

Yet the movement and all its many offshoots has never been free of surveillance and infiltration, and there will probably never be a time when it or any subsequent "leftist" endeavor is entirely free of the scrutiny and disruptive tactics of the State toward those it sees as threats.

Occupy is integrated into communities all over the country, and in a sense, that means communities are themselves regarded as "threats" by authority. The People in general, in other words, have come to represent a threat to Power. Dignity, Justice, Community and Peace are now seen as dangers to the order imposed from on high. 

Infiltration and surveillance are facts of life. Paranoia is a consequence, but it is not the only consequence. History shows that in time, deeply integrated movements can co-opt and overcome the machinations of the infiltrators and surveillance apparat. Those who would destroy the movement join it.

Well... almost...

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