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Thank You Anarchists
Nathan Schneider, The Nation
… Many people—myself included‚ though I was there to observe as a reporter—first arrived [at Occupy Wall Street in NYC] with some preconceived agenda about what needed to be done given the current political situation and how the occupation should do it: abolish corporate personhood, or enact a Tobin tax, or (as crasser signs would say) “Eat the Rich.” They complained that the anarchists‚ along with assorted autonomists, libertarian socialists and so forth‚ were hijacking the movement’s progress by bogging it down in process. But, after a while, after enough long meetings, they started to come around.
For some who were experiencing it for the first time, the General Assembly became a cathartic opportunity to unload long-pent-up polemics. Perhaps never having really had their political voices heard off the Internet, newcomers would interrupt the agenda and turn the people’s mic into a soapbox. With practice, though, that would change. They’d find that hewing to the process was better than making off-topic speeches. They heard stories about the assemblies in occupied squares in Egypt, Greece and Spain firsthand from people who had been there. Helping shape the daily decisions of the Occupation started to seem actually more empowering than trying to tell Obama what to do.
The anarchists’ way of operating was changing our very idea of what politics could be in the first place. This was exhilarating. Some occupiers told me they wanted to take it home with them, to organize assemblies in their own communities. It’s no accident, therefore, that when occupations spread around the country, the horizontal assemblies spread too.
At its core, anarchism isn’t simply a negative political philosophy, or an excuse for window-breaking, as most people tend to assume it is. Even while calling for an end to the rule of coercive states backed by military bases, prison industries and subjugation, anarchists and other autonomists try to build a culture in which people can take care of themselves and each other through healthy, sustainable communities. Many are resolutely nonviolent. Drawing on modes of organizing as radical as they are ancient, they insist on using forms of participatory direct democracy that naturally resist corruption by money, status and privilege. Everyone’s basic needs should take precedence over anyone’s greed.
Through the Occupy movement, these assemblies have helped open tremendous space in American political discourse. They’ve started new conversations about what people really want for their communities, conversations that amazingly still haven’t been hijacked, as they might otherwise might be, by charismatic celebrities or special interests.
… traditional organizations that have found new momentum in the Occupy movement don’t need to sit around and wait for the assemblies to come up with demands or certain types of actions. They can act “autonomously” as the anarchists would say, doing what they do best with the good of the whole movement in mind: pressuring lawmakers, mobilizing their memberships and pushing for change in the short term while the getting is good. They can build coalitions on common ground with the Tea Party. The occupier assemblies won’t do these things for them, and it would be a mistake to wish they would.
The radicals who lent this movement so much of its character have offered American political life a gift, should we choose to accept it. They’ve reminded us that we don’t have to rely on Republicans or Democrats, or Clintons, Bushes or Sarah Palin, to do our politics for us. With the assemblies, they’ve bestowed a refreshing form of grassroots organizing that, if it lasts, might help keep the rest of the system a bit more honest.
(19 December 2011)
Occupy the North (North England)
Tim Gee, New Internationalist
The shock of budget cuts has inspired folk across Britain to take to the streets. Tim Gee meets some of them.
When I was a child, Wigan Pier was a museum with clog dancing, a mock Victorian schoolroom and a boat down the canal to a cotton mill. Last week I visited again. But this time it was empty. The one sign of life was a pub, appropriately called The Orwell. ‘What’s happened?’ I ask the bartender. ‘Oh, you know,’ came the reply, ‘budget cuts.’ In The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell is an outsider looking in to The North. I am not. Going north is going home. But it now looks different. And it isn’t just me that has changed.
My visit to Wigan followed a series of talks and workshops in Salford, Stockport, Manchester, Leeds, Huddersfield, Bradford, Durham, Newcastle and Liverpool. In conversation after conversation, two words were to be heard again and again. Why is the Churchtown museum in Southport shut? Budget cuts. Why is the youth service in Leeds being delivered through a mobile van? Budget cuts. The only silver lining is that the shocks are inspiring people to take to the streets together to campaign for a better world.
This has manifested itself in various ways, but by far the most visual are the Occupy camps: liberated spaces that physically and psychologically defy clone town corporate high streets and sanitized financial districts. There were rarely more than 20 people at the four that I visited, but I left with no doubt that within them are the seeds of something new.
At some sites I facilitated workshops which began by asking people to name one campaign they have been involved in before. The replies were striking. There were a few experienced activists there, but for the vast majority, Occupy was the first political thing they had ever done.
My questions as to what motivated people to get involved were answered at length. One person told me he had applied for more than 80 jobs and not got one of them.
… The sense of distrust in the words of those who claim to be in authority came across strongly in every conversation. To my mind, the joy of Occupy is that it is a space for seeing beyond the doublethink that prevails in politicians’ words and the mainstream media. It is a rejection of the doublethink that cutting jobs and services will create employment. It is a rejection of the doublethink that the way to stop climate change is to consume more. And it is a rejection of the doublethink that the only way to address injustices in society is to join a political party whose policies perpetuate injustice in society. Everywhere I asked campers what they would like me to include in the article I was writing. The answer to this question was almost always the same: ‘This is a space to discuss and to come up with our own solutions to the problems we face.’
In the 1960s the Brazilian educationalist Paulo Freire advocated for education and consciousness-raising to be based on discussion and co-learning. What might now be called ‘Freirian’ methods can be seen as far back as the 1790s, when workers and artisans met to debate with one another whether they should have a say in the running of their country through electoral democracy. Now, in our struggle for economic democracy, people all over the country, and all over the world, are doing so again.
Tim Gee is the author of Counterpower: Making Change Happen, New Internationalist, 2011
(14 December 2011)
Where Do They Go Now?
Eli Sanders, The Stranger
With the Occupy Seattle Encampment Closed, Local Protesters Enter a New Phase of (Sometimes Violent) Direct Action
Occupy Seattle may have withdrawn from its bedraggled encampment at Seattle Central Community College under threat of eviction, but the movement showed in the December 12 West Coast port shutdown that it can still marshal hundreds of supporters, cause attention-getting disruptions to commerce, and make a point.
“I’m down here because I see this as a pivotal moment as we transition from stage one to stage two of the movement,” said Dan Mahle, 26, standing outside Terminal 18 on the chilly afternoon. He described that transition as going “from occupying space to more strategic objectives.”
… The broader Occupy movement, for its part, said the action signaled “a new phase.” Port protesters, Seattle occupiers said in a statement, “showed up to this action having learned from the experiences we’ve had in the short months since we began assembling together. Having previous engagements with the police, we knew to protect ourselves.” This seasoned toughness, the statement continued, produced a “wildly successful” action that “stopped all evening work at Terminals 18 and 5, causing millions in profit loss to major corporations Stevedoring Services of America, American President Line[s], and Eagle Marine Services.”
The question is: What next?
A number of the protest signs at the port shutdown effort decried budget cuts in Olympia, a reminder that both the special legislative session and the Occupy Olympia effort are still under way. In addition, another major direct-action prong seems to be Occupy Our Homes, which is encouraging protests in and around homes facing bank foreclosure—and recently reported it had forced a big lender into loan modification discussions with a Seattle-area couple facing eviction.
But the real answer to the “what next?” question is probably the same as it’s been since the Occupy movement began in late summer: You’ll know when it happens
(13 December 2011)
Occupy Highlights Authoritarian Behavior by Police
Allison Kilkenny, The Nation
A funny thing happens when one uses the term “police state” to describe behavior by authorities in response to the Occupy protests. Very Serious Company turns pale and insists that the United States is not turning into a police state—at least not yet. America isn’t North Korea or East Germany or Russia, for goodness sake, Very Serious Company continues. Police don’t physically snatch journalists off the streets and murder them in back alleys, so no one has the right to label the United States a “police state.”
Yet what the Occupy Wall Street protests have helped reveal is that it is this hesitancy to acknowledge the authoritarian behavior of police that gives them cover when they—along with city officials—blatantly violate the rights of citizens.
Back in October, I wrote about how Occupy helped to highlight the problem of disappearing public space. Many Occupy camps (Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston and Zuccotti Park in New York City, for example) were built in parks owned by a mixture of public and private interests, and it was this private half of the partnership that gave authorities cover when they moved in to destroy the camps.
After all, private property is private property. When presented with this aphorism, people tend to imagine dirty hippies wrestling their own beloved possessions from their arms when, in fact, private companies often receive a far sweeter deal with the state than average citizens.
… Since the beginning of Occupy, more than 5,600 people have been arrested and all major Occupy camps have been raided and shut down. The cases of abuse suffered by protesters at the hands of police are literally too numerous to name, but readers surely have images of an officer casually pepper-spraying UC Davis Protesters, and of a pepper-sprayed 84-year-old woman, burned into their minds.
The simple truth that “things could be worse,” can’t distract us from the reality that things are quite bad right now. It’s virtually impossible for protesters to exercise their First Amendment rights, and now it’s increasingly difficult for press (even credentialed press) to report this abuse.
Americans are taught in school that moments of great social change always come when the public demands them, but what happens when the state no longer permits the public to make such demands?
(18 December 2011)