Occupy defies attacks

From the new January-February 2012 issue of News & Letters:

Editorial

Occupy defies attacks

As 2012 opened, governments from federal to local grabbed more powers of repression, reflecting the failure of their attempts to crush the Occupy Movement with brute force, despite their success in clearing many occupations. The National Defense Authorization Act, signed on New Year’s Eve by President Obama, allows indefinite military detention of citizens and non-citizens without trial. The epitome of local moves is Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed ordinance to make it much easier for police to harass, fine and jail demonstrators.

Police have repeatedly raided occupations across the U.S. 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.

POLICE ATTACK OCCUPY MOVEMENTS

Their rage, their unprovoked attacks on nonviolent protesters from coast to coast, their casual pepper-spraying of seated students and octogenarians, recalled the attack that left Oakland occupier Scott Olsen, an Iraq War veteran, in critical condition.

The enforcers’ rampant lawlessness made clear how seriously the rulers take the threat posed by the Occupy movement to the status quo, however much their media ridicule it. They are fully aware that 2012 promises to continue 2011’s year of revolution–a year when the Arab Spring’s mass revolts and occupations overthrew three dictators, when revolts and occupations erupted across Europe, when discontent in the U.S. 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 coast-to-coast pattern of brutality against peaceful occupiers, supporters and observers left no room for illusions that the police, as part of “the 99%,” will disobey the rulers’ orders to smash the movement. The ongoing attacks on the movement are the visible edge of counter-revolution.

NATIONALLY COORDINATED STATE TERROR

Local authorities did not act alone. Reporters uncovered evidence of national coordination of the attacks on occupations. 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, women, transgendered people, homeless people, and other groups.

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. Student strikes took place in nearly 100 campuses nationwide. Labor unions converged with Occupy protesters to take bridges in several cities.

Protests, general assemblies and many occupations are still ongoing. Major actions include the Dec. 12 West Coast port shutdown called by Occupy Oakland. (See p. 3.) In December Occupiers in 25 cities helped occupy homes to block evictions and reclaim vacant houses for the homeless.

WHAT NEXT FOR THE OCCUPY MOVEMENT?

Many liberals and leftists advised the Occupy movement to give up occupations altogether and settle into the timeworn patterns of political organizing. The form of organization worked out in city after city–drawing inspiration from Arab Spring and the Spanish M15 or indignados movement–cannot be dismissed as “camping.” 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, into 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.

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