"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

Nov 6, 2011

Gate, Kept

It's healthy, I think, to resist the urge to prescribe for the various "Occupy" groups a formal or universal method in dealing with their circumstances, especially when done from a distance, or remove.

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.
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.
(emphasis original)

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...

24 comments:

Will Shetterly said...

There are things I like and dislike about Michael Moore, but when it comes to violence, he's right. Why else do the police use provocateurs who try to change protests into riots? Because it's convenient for the ruling class to turn the debate from economic injustice to hooliganism. They want to control the narrative. Only nonviolence keeps the message pure.

Now, should cops or soldiers attack, of course people have a right to defend themselves. And the ruling class should fear that.

Anonymous said...

You Americans,
it's in your DNA!

Mark S said...

Arthur Silber reports he has been reading, and thinking, and rethinking, particularly on Thoreau's remarks on John Brown. He finds this all much more complex than one might guess from the remarks of, say, a Michael Moore or a Will Shetterly (remarks which were given a preemptive nod in paragraph six above). Me, I'm interested in seeing what Silber has to say here.

elissar said...

You're right that people do "identify" with the general idea of Occupy even if they aren't overtly supportive. I'm in a smallish college town in the South and our Occupation has, at best, 30-40 active members.

The ratio of supporters to hecklers around our camp (which is highly accessible to the public at large) and when we hand out information or just talk with people is roughly 1 to 1.

But I think it can be done in small cities, it just ends up, usually, being quite different than major metropolitan areas. Thus far we've had two arrests-were-about-to-go-down incidents with the local PDs. The first one ended with us backing down, but we managed to reorganize and forced serious concessions in the second major encounter.

Violence is a whole other matter--it'd be all but impossible for our occupation to be "more radical", since there is no anonymity here and local public opinion would turn almost totally against us.

As for whether this (or any) American movement to overthrow the heaving machine desperately feeding on an endless supply of human flesh that is our State could succeed without violence--that is a tricky question. Given history, I'm inclined to say "no". And the ruling class will invariably increase their violence towards all protesters and dissidents, disruptive or peaceful, as they feel pressure on their positions of wealth and power.
---

@Mark: I too am waiting for Silber's more detailed analysis of this, I've really been hoping his voice would reappear soon as this movement has grown.

Will Shetterly said...

Mark S, a preemptive nod does not make an objection magically disappear. Perhaps I can make this simpler: Cops love black bloc tactics. It gives them an excuse to repress protest and present that repression as protecting people and property from violent thugs who are more interested in violence than revolution. People who use black bloc tactics are the enemies of the people, regardless of whether they sincerely believe they're helping or they're on the police payroll. Why help the ruling class? Gandhi and King were right to keep the message of their protest simple.

Note that I'm not arguing for absolute pacifism. I'm with Malcolm X, who said, "Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery." Malcolm never called for people to go out and riot. What black bloc fans fail to realize and provocateurs know: A riot is not a rebellion; it's only an expression of rage and an invitation for state suppression.

Jack Crow said...

Will,

I'm wary of the argument from preservation and purity. Tactically, I understand any number of circumstances to recommend against violence.

But, as a posture, non-violence is problematic. This is not the Raj, and nothing the woman-hating fakir in a loincloth accomplished survived the moment of independence. Bharat, today, is a militarized nuclear power, ridden with caste and castoffs.

This is also not 1961. We are not in post-war boom years, with a behind-the-post Southern economy incapable of handling sustained mass Black unrest.

The state and the ruling class we have are quite comfortable with reformism. They already control all of the agencies through which "reform" and will be managed.

They will accordingly tolerate peaceable unrest right up until the first bomb falls over Isfahan. Then, with "the left" divided yet again between the "anti-war" types and the other identity factions, the liberal institutionalists will quietly re-assert their control.

Despite what good sir Ioz has recently had to say, if we'd like to prevent those bombs, and shift our weight with any real effect, the PTB need to lose sleep.

And they're not scared of puppets and placards.

Non-violence has its moments. Ours is not one of them.

Mark, Elissar -

I too look forward to Arthur's promised revaluation.

Will Shetterly said...

Okay, rather than object at this point, I'll ask for clarification: what violence do you advocate? What form of violence do you think could succeed in today's climate?

One quibble: Gandhi's tactics for rebellion never failed. His failure was in not setting up an organization to lead after the rebellion won. So many rebellions initially succeed and ultimately fail for that reason.

But ignore the quibble, 'cause it's just a quibble. What's your proposal for useful violence?

Jack Crow said...

Will,

I'm not recommending violence. In fact, any violence which might right now serve the purpose of weakening the ruling class' control of the continent would by its constitution be both anonymous and disguised as something else.

What I'm arguing against is dogmatic non-violence and the social-compact, majoritarian, sacramental worldview that informs it.

More specifically, I'm attempting to show Moore and his ilk for what they are: gatekeepers.

Moore's insistence on claiming ownership of OWS is part and parcel of his stated purpose of directing towards reform and ultimate co-option. But, like a good snake oil salesman, he makes sure to warn his crowd about all the other unctuous barkers who have, on their carts, erstatz goods which could obviously in no way compare to the Real Cure he's hawking.

Mark S said...

Will,

I almost suggested to you that you ask for exactly that clarification; I'm glad you did.

The idea of "the feint" comes up frequently around here. I've never been in a bar fight, but the closest I've come is when a guy in a bar made a feint to see if I'd flinch or swing first. This all has me thinking of the way that even the implicit possibility of such feints can be ruled out by the movement, to its detriment -- like showing one card of a poker hand "as a show of good faith" or the like. It's not how the game is played.

I don't that's the entirety of what's being discussed; I do think "keeping all options in play," certainly as a negotiating tactic, shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.

I wonder too what that old desert anarchist Ed Abbey would have made of Occupy. The violence depicted in The Monkey Wrench Gang was not so much anonymous or disguised as something else, but it did make an imaginative play for popular support. I think at any rate he'd have approved of "anonymous and disguised as something else."

Jack Crow said...

It's not 1920's depression America, or England during the heyday of Enclosure, but Dillinger and mythical Rob Hood were not without allure to the mass of ordinary people.

I'm not suggesting that thievery, on its own, ought be done.

But, these were violent men doing violent, even murderous things, and they were not exactly disdained by the trod upon.

JM said...

I was going to ask if you disagreed with Richard Estes on whether the burning of barricades was "unnecessary":
http://amleft.blogspot.com/2011_11_01_archive.html#3225482633310024638

And as for Moore, I think it's important to have a peruse at Richard Seymour's thoughts in comments here:
http://leninology.blogspot.com/2011/10/angela-davis-at-occupy-philly.html#disqus_thread

Will Shetterly said...

JM, thanks for the link to Seymour's comments. He's quite right. I think what people miss about Moore is he's trying to be pragmatic, to make things better where he can, given the circumstances on the ground. Anyone who reads much about Marx will realize Marx approved of that--we have to work in the real world, not the ideologically pure one.

Will Shetterly said...

Pertinent, imho:

http://www.salon.com/2011/11/07/agitators_attack_fellow_occupy_protesters/singleton/

Rocky Rococo said...

I don't trust this word "pragmatic". I've learned that when it comes oozing out of the mouths of so-called "liberals", what it really means is let torturers walk away scotfree in the name of political "pragmatism" (perceived partisan opportunism), while denouncing someone that puts a brick through the window of a BoA is a felon of the first order that deserves the most ferocious penalty of law applied to them. When a "pragmatic Dem" like a Shetterly lectures us to be pragmatic" it means, for example, that when it comes to health care we don't get single payer, or even the fricking "public option", but instead the individual mandate to pay private for-profit insurance corporations on penalty of law if we do not do so. Of course those full penalties of lawdon't apply to people who engage in the ultimate war crime of initiating a war of aggression, do they Mr. Shetterly? So lecture me some more about how only "non-violence" is acceptable in this society when great "pragmatists" are perfect;ly happy to see torturers and war criminals walk scotfree, in the name of political "pragmatism" of course.

Of course, what political "pragmatism" means to every Dem is this: you8 little people STFU, go home, vote Democratic, and SEND MONEY NOW! while we servic3e the every whim of the ruling class. Who knows, if you're lucky, we might throw you a crumb. But don't hold your breath on that part.

Will Shetterly said...

Rocky, I share your distrust of pragmatic Dems. When liberals talk of pragmatism or compromise, they're usually talking about surrender.

But when you call me a pragmatic Dem, you just show you haven't a clue who I am. I ran as the Grassroots Party candidate for Governor of Minnesota in '94; my issues included drug legalization and single-payer health care, and I came in third in a field of six, well ahead of the Libertarian. I haven't wavered on those issues since then, and I sure as hell haven't suggested that anyone else waver.

One reason I respect OWS is they're pragmatic. The US has a damn-near unbreakable two-party system, so OWS is not calling for a third party immediately; they're building momentum and waiting to see what happens in the next election. If that fails--which is almost certainly likely, given Obama's long-established neolib instincts--OWS plans to do the hard work of creating a third party, something that hasn't succeeded since the Republicans were created and needed a crisis as large as the divide over slavery and the threat of secession to succeed. Whether the public is ready to see economic injustice as being comparable, I dunno, but I hope to God they are. If we can't end the Biparty's power, the rich will continue to win the class war.

Now, if you're a black bloc supporter, please point to a single example of those tactics winning. In every example I can think of, they were counter-productive or irrelevant.

JM said...

Huh, I'll be damned, Will. You and me finally agree on somethin.

fish said...

Moore is one of those that has been deeply disappointing to me over time. Movies like Roger and Me were pretty powerful tools for redefining the discussion (although forces in the other direction were, as usual too strong to break), but moves like endorsing Clark prove the exact point you make Jack, he is in the long run, more harmful than the crazy Republicans because he gets the lost lambs back into the fence.

Richard said...

To supplement what Jack has written here, the question of violence in relation to Occupy Together is complex, and heavily dependent upon time and place as emphasized in the post.

For example, I was able to get out of the house and go to the Occupy Oakland general assembly on Sunday evening. There was a nearly unanimous rejection of the property destruction and battle with the police on November 2nd and 3rd, not because of the pompous perspective of Moore, but, rather, because of their relationship to their community. Many of them have been involved in the hothouse environment of Oakland activism for years, and feel a strong, almost nativistic bond with a city that is subject to racist vitriol in much of the rest of the country. They know the people who run the businesses near the camp, like the Tully's coffee shop that got vandalized, and have gotten a lot of support from them. They considered the street violence during the last hours of the 2nd and the early morning hours of the 3rd as an attack upon their city by both the police and the young people in the street. Admittedly, after this issue had played out in the camp for several days afterwards, the Black Bloc was nowhere to be seen to give their perspective, but it was clear that they had failed to understand to strong attachment that people from Oakland and the East Bay feel for it.

Last night, I watched the assembly livestream, and there was a proposal for a march to support local indigenous and undocumented people in their struggle for acceptance and essential services. One of the clarifying questions was whether the march would be violent, and the woman gave this sort of 'oh, God, no' response, emphasizing that there would be families with children and undocumented people participating and the last thing they want is the prospect of a police assault and arrest.

I think that this aspect of the movement frequently gets forgotten, the fact that it is attracting vulnerable, marginalized people, and the worst thing you can do is place them in situations in which they have to deal with police violence.

Jack Crow said...

Well, damn.

Good comments. Think I'll drum up a new post by way of reply. Core of it already posted as a comment elsewhere.

Jack Crow said...

Also, hello multiple readers from the NH.gov site. Thanks for stopping by.

Mr. W. Kasper said...

Just to troll (heh):

http://prolecenter.wordpress.com/2011/11/08/tom-tomorrow-empathy-is-hypocrisy/

Verification: 'Curem'

Jack Crow said...

For what it's worth, Wayne, I don't really care about Moore the Millionaire. I care about Moore, the upper class interloper who just tried to take leadership of Occupy Denver.

Mr. W. Kasper said...

Well, the claims for 'leadership' are becoming something of a problem it seems. I don't care about rich people or 'celebs' showing up to offer support to these things. It's when they act like they have the right to lead it due to their 'profile'. Then walk away complaining of 'formlessness' or 'lack of direction' when they don't get the show of hands they expected.

Jack Crow said...

Wayne,

The details:

one dog to rule them all