‘You can’t evict an idea whose time has come!’
The Occupy movement defies police state attacks
City governments have carried out police raids on occupations across the U.S. in a vain attempt to crush the movement with brute force. A new level of violence was achieved in mid-November, as raids from Portland, Oregon, and Salt Lake City to Oakland and Eureka, California, culminated in the Nov. 15 rampage of New York City police in and around the camp at Liberty Plaza.
Trying to hide their shameful deeds, police blocked access to journalists, even declaring a no-fly zone for news helicopters. Ten reporters were arrested while another was put in a choke hold. Police harassment of the press has been rife in other cities as well.
Uniformed thugs destroyed the People’s Library at Liberty Plaza, trashing thousands of books and thereby plagiarizing the script of outright fascism. Their rage, their unprovoked attacks on nonviolent protesters from coast to coast, their casual pepper-spraying of seated students and octogenarians, was clear in numerous videos and photos of the events, recalling the attack that left Oakland occupier Scott Olsen, an Iraq War veteran, in critical condition.
The enforcers’ resort to the class- and race-biased legal system, and at the same time their rampant, brutal lawlessness, make clear how seriously the rulers take the threat that the Occupy movement poses to the status quo, however much their media ridicule it. They are fully aware that this is a year of revolution–a year when the Arab Spring’s mass revolts and occupations have already overthrown three dictators, when revolt and occupations have been erupting across Europe, when discontent in the U.S. has moved from the Georgia prisoners’ strike through the partly Tahrir Square-inspired Wisconsin actions and the California prisoners’ hunger strikes to the fully national and international Occupy movement. After the successful Nov. 2 general strike in Oakland and its shutdown of one of the country’s biggest ports, the threat to the rulers loomed even larger. The attacks we have seen in the past two months are the visible edge of a counter-revolution that is prepared to take violence and militarization to the next level.
Whose health and safety?
The whole world could see through the phony pretext of “public health and safety” spouted by New York’s lying Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the 12th-richest person in the U.S. As the Nov. 17 leaflet issued by New York members of News and Letters Committees pointed out,
“Concern for public health and safety” is the weapon of choice of mayors all over the country, including Oakland, Portland and Detroit. Residents of poor and minority neighborhoods in any of these cities know first-hand that this concern is rarely applied to their daily conditions of life….In New York, Zuccotti Park sits in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city. Residents whined to the Mayor about inconvenience and noise, giving him the excuse to act. Meanwhile, for years NYC parents fought to make the public schools safer for their children, with little result. The city’s public housing, hospitals, child protective services, homeless shelters, jails and neighborhood parks have all been cited for gross flagrant violations and scandalous abuses in recent months. Where is the concern for public health and safety here?
Nationally coordinated state terror
The New York City police force so eager to evict and beat the occupiers, so determined to block out the press, is the same force that turned out en masse in October to applaud their 16 fellow officers indicted for crimes including protecting drug dealers and helping a man get away with assault. They roughed up reporters who tried to film the indicted. There is no room left for illusions that the police, as part of “the 99%,” will disobey the rulers’ orders to smash the movement.
Local authorities did not act alone. Reporters have uncovered evidence of national coordination of the attacks on occupations. By no coincidence, there is a clear pattern of brutality by the police viciously attacking peaceful occupiers, supporters and observers from Seattle to Denver, Oakland to New York.
The state’s onslaught reminded the movement that, like the political system, the economic system, and the mass media, the legal system functions to perpetuate the dominance of what is rhetorically called the 1% over the 99%–that is, the rule of the capitalist class over all society and the subjection of the working class, employed or unemployed. This is unseparated from its disproportionate impact on people of color, transgendered people, homeless people, and other groups.
You can’t kill the idea of freedom
Far from killing the movement, these attacks fueled the already planned international Nov. 17 Day of Action marking the two-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. Over 10,000 rallied in New York City alone, with thousands more in dozens of cities across the country and around the world. Several hundred students walked out of classes to join the protests in New York City, while student strikes took place in nearly 100 campuses nationwide. Occupy the Subway actions used the people’s mic and flyers to broadcast the OWS message on subways, and recruited new protesters along the way. Labor unions converged with Occupy protesters to take bridges in several cities, including 1,000 people each in Chicago and Detroit and 800 in Seattle. In many cases they shut down the bridges, leading to hundreds of arrests.
In the days since the Nov. 17 Day of Action, protests and general assemblies have continued, and many occupations are still ongoing. Occupy Oakland has called for a total West Coast port shutdown on Dec. 12.
Amidst all this intense activity, occupiers made sure to express solidarity with Egyptians battling to reoccupy Tahrir Square. Egypt’s military and police burned tents in the square, fired tear gas, drove into crowds, and shot protesters, killing over 30 from Nov. 19-21, but today the occupation continues, protests and clashes have spread to many cities, and calls of “Down with the military!” have amplified.
What next for the Occupy movement?
Many liberals and leftists are condescendingly advising the Occupy movement to give up occupations altogether and settle into the timeworn patterns of political organizing, which have worked so well in the past that we are suffering a deranged political system, a global economic crisis, and worsening climate chaos. They dismiss the form of organization worked out in city after city–drawing inspiration from Arab Spring and the Spanish M15 or indignados movement–as “camping in public spaces.” Even worse, elitists dismiss it as a “fetish” that puts “politics in command.” As the Lead article in the November-December 2011 News & Letters put it, “While the movement is in part about reclaiming public space, it is also–in an even deeper sense–about reclaiming history.” Even the apparently simple act of occupying public space involves a challenge to the way the state of the “1%” controls “public” spaces and “public” resources, and, as Karl Marx pointed out, is willing to share only one thing with the “99%”: the public debt. The general assemblies that are part of the occupations are a move toward direct democracy, as against capitalism’s fake democracy with its corporate-financed campaigns, corporate media, national security state, burgeoning prisons, and disenfranchisement of so many people of color. This kind of self-organization is a necessary part of the process of masses transforming themselves and transforming society from the bottom up, without which no social revolution can succeed.
The form of organization is not a be-all and end-all, but without listening to the movement from practice it would be impossible to grasp the meaning of the occupations. Other forms may be worked out–or occupations may proliferate even more, as they are already spreading into “liberation of unoccupied buildings for the 99%” and there is talk of occupying neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces. This is no time to cut short the self-development of this vital movement. It is rather a time to deepen its reach in both thought and activity. As the New York News and Letters leaflet concluded:
The strengths of OWS–its diversity, participatory direct democracy, connection to other social justice movements, and the support of hundreds of thousands outside the camp in marches, teach-ins, donations, and discussions–will not allow the movement to knuckle under to the class interests represented by the “1%.” We should entertain no illusions that the capitalist system will give up easily. Despite its power, we, too have power: numbers, experience, principles and ideas about what kind of world we want to create. Understanding that “corporate greed” arises from capitalism’s logic of transforming human relations into relations among things and to drive for more and more profit will focus our energy. Let the discussions continue!
–The Resident Editorial Board of News and Letters Committees, Nov. 21, 2011