It is perhaps as vital to avoid treating the various Occupations as if they were related expressions of a coherent, organized, national movement.
In Oakland, the people associated with the "Occupy" name have coordinated with local longshoremen to call for and attempt to organize strikes, port shutdowns, obstructions of shipping and work stoppages. Others in the Oakland group have helped a homeless assistance organization in occupying vacant tenements, as well as come to the aid of a local homeless squat which was under police assault.
In New York, where it all started, but where there is also an extraordinary concentration of wealth, media influence and attention, they have drumming circles and visits from famous people alongside efforts to hold Zuccotti park, resist pressure from the city and police, and avoid co-option.
Occupy is, significantly, an urban phenomenon, and its various groups respond differently to their local circumstances, and to constraints of official austerity and economic contraction. In New York, where the national news organizations are headquartered, Occupy Wall Street's participants' methods reflect both the scrutiny of that media, and the response to its ubiquity. New York City is a metropolis in the camera's eye. And for all that is the center of the media and banking universe, the original Occupy group's main function is largely to symbolize a refusal to adhere to the financial order which has impoverished not only North America, but the world. New York's Occupiers are reduced, if you will, to making their case to hostile cameras, and the cold concrete and steel curtain of Manhattan's financial district. Tucked in an obscure park, largely unknown to the world until early autumn of 2011, Occupy Wall Street's basic mode of resistance is persistence.
Any plan to organize for or attempt sabotage, violent resistance or spontaneous strikes, there at the beating poisoned heart of the world's financial leviathan, would condemn the New York Occupiers to summary judgment, and along with them, most of the others around the country associated in name. It would, from a tactical perspective, give New York City's police and government, the State of New York and the Obama Justice Department the pretext for treating with Occupy as if it were the New Black Panthers.
But, these same conditions do not automatically obtain for the Occupants in Oakland, Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago or the smaller cities which have manifested visible resistance to austerity, financial abuses and state policy. And they certainly do not apply to those regions where Occupy groups can not take hold, especially in small communities and rural environments dominated by strong county and municipal structures, lower population concentration and police who are generally unsullied by the taint of abuse common to larger urban police forces.
There are, for example, only about three hundred police officers in my own home city of Manchester, NH. But they have a more effective control of the local population (about 100k) than the many thousands of police in New York City have over the five boroughs. There are no unions to speak of in Manchester (one of the largest having been effectively broken by Verizon early in the last decade), and the small growing immigrant community is without any heft of note. The city is business friendly, NH is a "right to work" state, and law enforcement enjoys respect, traditional welcome and even acclaim. The few ongoing attempts to "Occupy Manchester" have met with ridicule, scorn and a large and immediate police presence. Few people have the leisure or spare change to engage in any Occupy efforts, and those with the time and money (especially in the surrounding and far more affluent bedroom communities of Bedford, Hooksett, Amherst, New Boston, Goffstown, Londonderry, Derry and Litchfield) more often than not identify with NH's flavor of bourgeois libertarianism, or a stricter party adherence to the business and banking favorable GOP.
Occupy is a metropolitan reaction to urban conditions, and to the media and corporate environments which provide metropoles with culture, identity, wealth and cohesion.
It will not take root, in this form, in those social and material environments which lack the clustering of wealth, power, mediation and leisure common to cities.
That doesn't mean the Occupy name, or its general message of dissatisfaction with banks and state policy, is lost on those who live in smaller or rural polities.
As a heading, as a means of expressing discontent, as a way of relating individual resistances to a larger, visible and communicable trend, Occupy is perhaps the most noteworthy and compelling development in conscious and unconscious anti-capitalism since the 1960s. People identify with Occupy.
And while it's not a coordinated and deliberately anti-capitalist movement, Occupy is versatile enough to encompass the direct action, labor and housing oriented agitation in Oakland and the original and perhaps less coherent or results oriented Occupy Wall Street. And we should do well to remember that it has spread to other countries, including but not limited to England, New Zealand and Australia.
Which is why there have been repeated efforts to bundle up the fervor, discontent and unrest associated with the various manifestations of Occupy and channel it toward electoral politics or reformism. This might also explain the efforts of conservative gatekeepers, notably Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin and Rush Limbaugh, to regale their listening audience of dissatisfied working conservatives with stories of perversion, filth, venality, criminality and the specter of Bolshevism, all conveniently associated with not only the Occupy groups, but with Barack Obama as their class warrior figurehead.
As importantly, Occupy's broad appeal has motivated powerful liberals to attempt to constrict its scope as part of their broader bid to hijack the label towards Democratic Party "optics," "framing" and ends.
Chief among these turnpike guards are Michael Moore - a famous and fabulously wealthy 1%er himself, but one prone to use the word "we" to describe OWS - and Rachel Maddow, as best illustrated by the following exchange (reported lovingly and approvingly by Crooks and Liars):
MADDOW: Aside from the common issues, the common complaints that you are describing, that our systems ought to work for somebody other than just the richest Americans; both our political system and our economic system. Aside from that issue, it seems like there are some tactical things that are in common here, even if there isn't a big top down organizing movement. There's people using, the people's microphone when they have a large crowd.
There's people doing... making decisions and meeting by general assembly, which is a basically consensus based discussion where everybody gets together and comes to a decision that everybody can live with. I wonder if you're seeing that, a) if you're seeing those tactics everywhere and b) if there are splits emerging?
I mean as you know in Oakland yesterday there was a very successful general strike, a very successful all day long basically peaceful until after midnight when there was basically rioting and the Occupy Oakland people essentially disavowing the people who were rioting. Are you seeing difficult discussions about non-violence and about potential splits and differences and tactics?
MOORE: Well, yes and no. Everyone I've spoken to is committed 100 percent to non-violence, that this is the only way that this is going to work. In fact we don't need violence because we're not in the minority here. This is the majority. This is a majority movement. If this country is of, by and for the people if it's to run by the will of the majority, there's no need for violence, because the majority have already said, “We're sick and tired of this and we expect some changes.”
I think in Oakland there's a very specific, in terms of the violence there, Oakland has a long history of police abuse, of how the black community has been treated... they just have one of the worst... I mean, literally, it's almost in the DNA of how Oakland is structured in their City Hall and their police and it doesn't seem to matter who the mayor is, they just can't deal with its basic problems. I think that has a lot to do with it.(emphasis original)
But you're also going to have groups who come in wanting to co-opt this movement, whether it's slick politicians that want the endorsement of what they think is a liberal “tea party”, or anarchists or others who don't like the non-violence approach and want some form or violence. But my experience, and I've been around since the anti-Vietnam War days, is that generally... and I told the crowd this over at Denver here just an hour ago... if you see someone trying to incite violence, start with the assumption that that person is an undercover Homeland Security or cop or whatever, because this is the history of America where those in charge have tried to ignite people, incite them to commit acts of violence; and I tell them, don't be incited. Just assume right away that person is not part of the Occupied movement if that's what they're calling on people to do.
What Moore is doing is neither particularly clever, nor original. It is in fact the bluntness of his appeal to pacifism, reform, and toothlessness which deserves our attention. He is admirably assisted by Maddow in this effort, as she frames her question as an either/or which can only allow for one acceptable response. For Maddow, those who have attempted actions which are not wholly symbolic have "split" away from the right and true message. It should not surprise us that Moore sticks to the script, obliging her in his reply by characterizing violence, active resistance, direct action and deeds which are not wholly symbolic as untrustworthy examples of police provocation.* Moore doesn't just assert this, he states it plainly: any act which is not "non-violent" has been undertaken by the police to embarrass the real Occupy Wall Street, which conveniently mirrors the meliorism of rich, comfortable men like Moore. Moore, who's as slick a political operator as Bill Clinton, warns Maddow and her listeners against the twin bete noirs of the modern liberal, anarchists and slick politicians.
Yes, that Michael Moore. The one who campaigned for warmongering Wesley Clark and the Lord of Sky Death Robots himself, Barack Obama. The man who is still in Obama's camp. A cheer leader for Obama and the Democrats. Michael Moore, the guy who wants to co-opt the Occupy message towards regulatory tinkering ("some change"), electoralism and ultimately the same captive institutional liberalism which has already been bought up, lock stock and barrel, by the bankers and capitalists Moore purports to oppose only as long as he's making movies which have earned him millions of dollars in capital and a capitalist's lifestyle.
Moore declares that violence itself violates the so-called will of the majority, a will he asserts but conveniently fails to demonstrate. This is to be expected from a social-compacter. He treats with riots as events which must be disavowed, and he waggles his finger at the very notion that those who are not toothlessly pacific could ever represent a valid approach to the depredations of the powerful. For Moore, Maddow and other progressive gatekeepers, the majority exist to give their consent to the social contract. For liberals like Moore, "the people" and "the majority" serve a sacramental function. They give their holy, collective blessing to the state of society. When the rich and powerful become "corrupted," the people exist to signal to their leaders that a period of renewal and purification should be observed until the body politic has been restored to its true and blessed estate, reforms have been discussed and occasionally implemented, and a sacred balance has been struck between the consent vesting majority and those who have been given the holy duty of leading and shepherding them.
That is why, for liberals like Moore and Maddow (and especially those who serve as gatekeepers), the only appropriate action for the people, the only unfolding of events to which they ascribe any merit, is that which is symbolic. For Moore, standing at the gate with his hand on the handle, violence threatens that sacramental relationship between shepherd and sheep.
Violence on its own right is neither moral nor immoral, just or unjust. Nor is every instance of violence identical to every other. Violence is not fungible. It is not always aggression. It's not even always clearly defined as such.
When a man strikes a woman across the face, he's done violence to her. When she stabs him in the chest, she has returned violence. When a parent refuses to feed a child - even if he never strikes her - he has done violence to her. When she breaks a window to escape, she has responded with violence.
It serves our earthly rulers to differentiate between "violence," which they criminalize, and all the other acts of violence which are their ordinary methods of accumulating wealth and power, and enforcing it. That they call these violent deeds by such names as policing, policy, law enforcement, education, politics, business practice, rent, insurance or treatment is no small matter. It serves their purposes to have us believe that our violence is criminal, but theirs is the natural and inexorable order of the world.
And it serves the purposes of a man like Michael Moore to internalize that ruling class false dichotomy and demand that those who are discontented with the system abide by its rules and jurisdictions as well. Because, frankly, Michael Moore is the ruling class, as much so as Barack Obama or Georgie Boy Bush.
So much so, perhaps, that when you hear a man tell you that active resistance, sabotage, rioting, violence and actions which break with the sacramental canon of empty gestures and impotent symbolism are inherently wrong, you can assume he's working the gate and he isn't looking to let you get free.
h/t Red Queen (for the inspiration)
h/t Singularity ("a valid assumption")
h/t American Leftist (for the squat info)
* - as the history of COINTELPRO and the police infiltration of the SDS, the Black Panthers and more recently the Seattle Anti-WTO groups can attest, the police obviously do provoke. That alone is no reason to immediately eschew violence. Violence is not always tactically applicable. But, as the span of history's record reveals, the ruling class doesn't give ground unless frightened. They should therefore never, ever have a moment's respite. Unless it's to lull them into false confidence and passivity...