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John Heilemann, New York Magazine
In 2008, Barack Obama lit a fire among young activists. Next year, Occupy Wall Street could consume him.
… When histories of Occupy Wall Street are written, those days in November will no doubt be seen as a watershed. In just two months of existence, OWS had scored plenty of victories: spreading from New York to more than 900 cities worldwide; introducing to the vernacular a potent catchphrase, “We are the 99 percent”; injecting into the national conversation the topic of income inequality. But OWS had also suffered setbacks. The less savory aspects of the occupations had provided the right with fuel for feral slander (Drudge: “Death, Disease Plague ‘Occupy’ Protests”) and casual caricature. Even among some protesters, there was a sense that stagnation had set in. Then came the Zuccotti clampdown—and the popular perception that it meant the end of OWS.
It’s perfectly possible that this perception will be borne out, that the raucous events of November 17 were the last gasps of a rigor-mortizing rebellion. But no one seriously involved in OWS buys a word of it. What they believe instead is that, after a brief period of retrenchment, the protests will be back even bigger and with a vengeance in the spring—when, with the unfurling of the presidential election, the whole world will be watching. Among Occupy’s organizers, there is fervid talk about occupying both the Democratic and Republican conventions. About occupying the National Mall in Washington, D.C. About, in effect, transforming 2012 into 1968 redux.
The people plotting these maneuvers are the leaders of OWS. Now, you may have heard that Occupy is a leaderless uprising. Its participants, and even the leaders themselves, are at pains to make this claim. But having spent the past month immersed in their world, I can report that a cadre of prime movers—strategists, tacticians, and logisticians; media gurus, technologists, and grand theorists—has emerged as essential to guiding OWS. For some, Occupy is an extension of years of activism; for others, their first insurrectionist rodeo. But they are now united by a single purpose: turning OWS from a brief shining moment into a bona fide movement.
That none of these people has yet become the face of OWS—its Tom Hayden or Mark Rudd, its Stokely Carmichael or H. Rap Brown—owes something to its newness. But it is also due to the way that Occupy operates.
(27 November 2011)
Good article. -BA
Organizing Principles for 99 Percent Clubs
Mark Naison and Ira Shore, With a Brooklyn Accent
99 Percent Clubs can be organized at your school, at your workplace, in your home, at your neighborhood community or senior center or in your church, synagogue or mosque, Here are four simple organizing principles for these clubs
1. To disseminate accurate information about the Occupy movements in the US and around the world.
2. To provide material support ( which may in the form of food and clothing, legal assistance, or pressure on elected officials) to the Occcupy movement in your own city and town
3. To organize around economic inequality issues and threats to freedom of expression where you live and/or where you work.
4. To create networks among people who support the Occupy movement that enable them to mobilze support for demonstrations organized by that movement.
The strength of these clubs is that they allow people a wide variety of situations , including those who are homebound or disabled, to participate in the Occupy movement.
(30 November 2011)
Arundhati Roy: ‘The people who created the crisis will not be the ones that come up with a solution’
Arun Gupta, Guardian
The prize-winning author of The God of Small Things talks about why she is drawn to the Occupy movement and the need to reclaim language and meaning
Arundhati Roy: … the first time I went [to Occupy Wall Street], because all those tents were up, it seemed more like a squat than a protest to me, but it began to reveal itself in a while. Some people were holding the ground and it was the hub for other people to organise, to think through things. As I said when I spoke at the People’s University, it seems to me to be introducing a new political language into the United States, a language that would be considered blasphemous only a while ago.
AG: Do you think that the Occupy movement should be defined by occupying one particular space or by occupying spaces?
AR: I don’t think the whole protest is only about occupying physical territory, but about reigniting a new political imagination. I don’t think the state will allow people to occupy a particular space unless it feels that allowing that will end up in a kind of complacency, and the effectiveness and urgency of the protest will be lost. The fact that in New York and other places where people are being beaten and evicted suggests nervousness and confusion in the ruling establishment. I think the movement will, or at least should, become a protean movement of ideas, as well as action, where the element of surprise remains with the protesters. We need to preserve the element of an intellectual ambush and a physical manifestation that takes the government and the police by surprise. It has to keep re-imagining itself, because holding territory may not be something the movement will be allowed to do in a state as powerful and violent as the United States.
AG: At the same, occupying public spaces did capture the public imagination. Why do you think that is?
AR: I think you had a whole subcutaneous discontent that these movements suddenly began to epitomise. The Occupy movement found places where people who were feeling that anger could come and share it – and that is, as we all know, extremely important in any political movement. The Occupy sites became a way you could gauge the levels of anger and discontent.
(30 November 2011)
Camps Are Cleared, but ‘99 Percent’ Still Occupies the Lexicon
Brian Stelter, New York Times
Most of the biggest Occupy Wall Street camps are gone. But their slogan still stands
Whatever the long-term effects of the Occupy movement, protesters have succeeded in implanting “We are the 99 percent,” referring to the vast majority of Americans (and its implied opposite, “You are the one percent” referring to the tiny proportion of Americans with a vastly disproportionate share of wealth), into the cultural and political lexicon.
… But attempts to mock or subvert the slogan seem not to have stuck; as Ms. Jardin put it, “How do you make fun of numbers?” A Tumblr blog that was set up to compete with “We Are the 99 Percent,” called “We Are the 53%,” (referring to the estimated percentage of Americans who pay federal income taxes) has not been updated for two weeks.
Ms. Stein at CUNY believes that the 99 percent rallying cry will have limited effect in the future. “I don’t think a good slogan is enough to revivify a movement or our politics,” she said.
But Mr. Meyer said the catchphrase is a useful one in that it gives continuity and coherence to a movement that is losing some of its camps in major cities across the country. “Occupy takes its name from the occupation,” he said. “If Occupy continues without occupations, what provides continuity with those people in Zuccotti Park? The slogan.”
The slogan was chanted again early on Wednesday morning in Los Angeles and Philadelphia as police there cleared out the Occupy campsites in each city. As they lost physical ground for their local movements, protesters told each other online, “You can’t evict an idea.”
(30 November 2011)
Why Naomi Wolf got it wrong
Corey Robin, Al Jazeera
In the US, political repression – such as the crackdown on Occupy protests – doesn’t require top-down coordination.
On Friday, Naomi Wolf made the attention-grabbing accusation in the Guardian that federal officials were involved in, indeed ordered, the violent crackdowns against Occupy Wall Street protesters that we’ve been seeing across the country these past few weeks.
Congressional overseers, with the blessing of the White House, told the DHS [Department of Homeland Security] to authorise mayors to order their police forces – pumped up with millions of dollars of hardware and training from the DHS – to make war on peaceful citizens.
The next day, Joshua Holland debunked Wolf’s claims on Alternet.
I don’t have much to add to Holland’s critique. Wolf gets many of her facts wrong, and Holland shows it.
The problem, though, is bigger than that: The reason Wolf gets her facts wrong is that she’s got her theory wrong. And while many were quick to jump off her conspiracy bandwagon once Holland pointed out its flaws, I suspect that one of the reasons they were so quick to jump on it in the first place is that they subscribe to her theory.
In-depth coverage of the global movement
We still don’t have nearly all the who-what-when-where-why-and-how of the crackdowns – and there’s certainly nothing wrong with raising questions, pursuing leads, and investigating claims regarding the involvement of the feds – but the quickness and ease with which Wolf reached for the top-down conspiratorial national government story, well in advance of the facts we know, provides us with a teachable moment of how many tend to think about political repression in the United States, and how we might think about it instead.
Like many critics of state coercion in the United States, Wolf seems to assume that political repression requires or entails national coordination and centralised direction from the feds. This fits with a larger tradition in the United States that sees centralised and national power as the handmaiden of tyranny, and local power as its antidote. Throughout much of the twentieth century, that was the argument of conservatives, who opposed federal involvement in such “local” matters as Jim Crow. But since the 1980s, that position has steadily migrated to the left as well.
Whatever its political provenance, however, the problem with that position – as I argued in this piece in the Boston Review in 2005, and in a much longer piece in the Missouri Law Review [pdf] – is that it’s wrong.
From the battles over abolition to the labor wars at the turn of the last century; from the Red Squads of the twentieth-century police departments to the struggles over Jim Crow; state repression in the US has often been decentralised, displaying that very same can-do spirit of local initiative that has been celebrated by everyone from Alexis de Tocqueville to Robert Putnam. Though Tocqueville and Putnam were talking, of course, about things like creating churches and buildings roads, the fact is: If the locals can build a church or a road on their own, they can also get rid of dissenters on their own, too, no?
Even where there has been coordination and involvement from above, as in the epic cases of the Red Scare, McCarthyism, COINTELPRO, or now the War on Terror, what’s been most striking is how local police and officials have managed to manipulate that federal involvement to their own ends.
(29 November 2011)
Suggested by EB co-editor Simone.
Both Naomi Wolf and this author underestimate the uncertainty around the repression. Both spin plausible theories, but there is little evidence as to how much the repression was coordinated. For me the big story is that we don’t know, and the media is not investigating.