This is remarkable story and one that gives me hope:
San Diego is a great place. As a college student, I had a lot of fun there. But it’s an inescapable, lamentable fact that the whole county is basically just one big military base with a few recreational areas scattered here and there, everyone from Lockheed-Martin to the Marines having decided to set up shop in Southern California. Walk down Pacific Beach’s Garnet Avenue at 2am on a Saturday morning — hypothetically, of course — and the soldier-to-frat-boy ratio is usually 1:1; private contractors prefer the Gaslamp District. That’s why it’s encouraging that students at Mission Beach High School were able to successfully drive the military and their JROTC recruiting program off their campus: if they can do it there, it shows its possible to do it anywhere.
But if their victory is to be replicated elsewhere, it’s important to keep in mind the tactics that were employed, most of all that the students didn’t win by appealing to authority, but by subverting it. Knowing that the school board and principal who lobbied to bring the military to their school — along with an on-campus shooting range — would never turn around and kick them off, the students appealed to their fellow students, speaking directly to the people the Pentagon was trying to recruit. As the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft notes in a writeup about the victory, the “most important factor in the success … was the students themselves, who persevered even when their principal and others tried to silence and intimidate them.”
Outside activists helped spread the word about the students’ struggle within the school by handing out leaflets outside, the committee notes, but the “most significant work was done over a long period inside. Through peer education, the students were able to reverse the ‘coolness’ equation so that rejecting the lure of JROTC became more legitimate than joining it. Once that happened, a de facto boycott of the program ensued that made it impossible to sustain JROTC.”
Ultimately, the JROTC program ended at Mission Beach HS not because the principal caved to the pressure of a letter-writing campaign or online petition, but because the students convinced their peers that they should simply refuse to be recruited, handing out buttons declaring they were “Students Not Soldiers” and “Yo No Soy El Army”. Only because the number of students enrolled for the 2011-2012 school year was less than half the 100 required by law to keep it open and justify the expense of employing two full-time instructors was the recruiting program canceled.
Occupy came along at a time which was ripe, and the strategy I thought was brilliant. If I had been asked I wouldn’t have advised it. I never thought it was going to work. Fortunately I was wrong. It worked very well. Two major developments took place I think, and if it can be sustained and expanded it’ll be extremely important. One was just changing the discourse, putting things on the public agenda that were simmering in the background but were never articulated in a focused fashion — like inequality or financial corruption and the shredding of the democratic system, the collapse of a productive economy. These things just became common coin. That’s very important.
The other thing that happened, which is hard to measure, is the creation of communities. The Occupy communities were extremely valuable. These were communities that just kind of spontaneously developed out of mutual support, public interchange and the kinds of things that are very much lacking in an atomized society like ours’, where people are kind of alone. The social unit that the business world strives for is a dyad, a pair. You and your television or you and your computer screen. That was broken by the Occupy movement in a very significant way. Just the possibilities of cooperation, solidarity, mutual support, public discussion, democratic participation is a model which should inspire people. A lot of people did participate, at least peripherally.
If these two developments could be sustained and expanded there could be a long-term impact. It’s not going to be easy and there are major challenges. Tactics will have to be readjusted as always, but it was a real breakthrough. If you think about what’s happened in just a few months it’s quite startling.
Among the slogans resonating around the May Day calls is the pithy reminder that “strike is a verb, not a noun.” - Natasha Lennard
[The] Occupy movement’s ability to defy expectations and undo assumptions should not be underestimated. This includes the subversion and reclaiming of terminology. After all, the very word “occupy” has come to signify a plethora of actions, interactions, groupings and sentiments, many of which are divorced from any traditional notion of a political occupation. Likewise, a brazen call for a nationwide general strike forces organizing groups and individuals to think about what striking could mean for them come May 1. The idea of a general strike, traditionally considered, assumes an outdated economy where essential industries can coordinate and bring a city or country’s economy to halt; it needs refiguring for the current context.
The reality is that global capitalism today is harder to disrupt. As UCLA’s Kelley put it:
“When transit workers or postal workers or taxi drivers or sanitation workers go out on strike, it can cause havoc. In the old days, when the U.S. was a manufacturing economy, shutting down plants could also cause havoc, but now we have an economy rooted strongly in service sector and financialization. If services are non-essential, it is hard to cause that kind of havoc. If the idea is to get as many people into the streets by walking off their jobs, that could be effective, but it just isn’t possible to effectively shut down or slow the economy, unless they can succeed in both mobilizing a huge minority if not a majority of people, and can succeed in building cross-border, international solidarity to stop production in countries where so-called U.S. firms have fled.”
What it might be for an unemployed person or precarious worker to strike on May 1 is up for grabs. Plans for the marches, rallies, disruption and general insubordination are still in their early stages. Arguments about march routes, permits, interaction with police, tactics and aims promise to push occupiers to their wits’ end. There is, however, a shared desire underpinning this ambitious call to action – even among those who resist the language of general strike – to disrupt business as usual and for May Day 2012 to escalate a fiercer wave of dissent against our current socio-politico-economic context.
Tim Pool is a marked man. He knew it when he arrived to Washington Square Sunday night. Before the evening was through, the 25-year-old known for documenting Occupy Wall Streetbecame a story himself.
Following a raucous march through lower Manhattan, hundreds of Occupy demonstrators made their way to an abandoned community centre. Pool was live-streaming the procession when a masked man took it upon himself to stop him. Pool was struck in the arm and a scuffle ensued. The melee of screaming people and thrashing bodies looked like your standard police-on-protester skirmish, except in this case the participants were seemingly all activists, ostensibly drawn to the demonstration for the same basic reasons.
The incident has opened discussions on a growing divide within the Occupy movement. The controversy is bigger than one live-streamer and raises questions of how the protesters are grappling issues of secrecy and non-violence.
This is unfortunate, but I suppose there are bound to be divisions over tactics as the OWS movement grows (echoes of SDS and the Weathermen come to mind).
In the course of the seventies and eighties, as he was harassed, arrested and ultimately imprisoned for his activities, Havel was to become a supremely political figure. But his “message” remained resolutely un-political. The point, he insisted, was not to argue with those in power. it was not even primarily to tell the truth, though in a regime based on lies this was important. The only thing that made sense in the circumstances of the time, he wrote, was to “live in truth”, all else was compromise - “The very act of forming a political grouping forces one to start playing a power game, instead of giving truth priority.”
The objective, as Havel explained in a 1984 essay reflecting on the goals and tactics of Czechoslovakia’s fragile intellectual opposition, should be to act with autonomy, whatever the regime tries to impose on you; to live as if one were truly free. This was hardly a prescription for most people, as Havel well understood: “These are perhaps impractical methods in today’s world and very difficult to apply in daily life. Nevertheless, I know no better alternative.”
THE reason anarchists like direct action is because it means refusing to recognise the legitimacy of structures of power. Or even the necessity of them. Nothing annoys forces of authority more than trying to bow out of the disciplinary game entirely and saying that we could just do things on our own. Direct action is a matter of acting as if you were already free.
The classic example is the well. There’s a town where water is monopolised and the mayor is in bed with the company that monopolises the water. If you were to protest in front of the mayor’s house, that’s protest, and if you were to blockade the mayor’s house, it’s civil disobedience, but it’s still not direct action. Direct action is when you just go and dig your own well, because that’s what people would normally do if they didn’t have water. In this respect the Malagasy people are totally engaging in direct action. They’re the ultimate direct actionists, but they’re also in a situation where it’s much easier to get away with it.
Police arrested at least 16 people, including journalist Chris Hedges and performance artist Reverend Billy Talen, during a rally Thursday outside the headquarters of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in lower Manhattan.
The rally was held after a mock trial at the nearby Occupy Wall Street encampment, in which Goldman’s alleged misdeeds were weighed in a “people’s hearing.” The event, led by author and activist Cornell West, was broadcast live on a radio station and drew hundreds of protesters and spectators, many of whom then marched down Trinity Place towards Goldman’s skyscraper.
“The banking system has been shot through with greed,” said West, a professor at Princeton University. He marched arm in arm with several protesters, whom he referred to as his “brothers and sisters.” Some protesters held signs that read “Out of Your Ivory Tower” and “Don’t Feed the Bull.”
Reverend Billy, dressed in his signature white suit, called the Occupy movement “real, physical, actual hope,” and he blamed President Barack Obama for “drain[ing] all meaning from the word ‘hope.’” Talen added: “He’s no less corrupt than George Bush. He’s been unable to regulate these people,” referring to financial institutions.
At the entrance to Goldman’s headquarters on West Street, protesters read their verdict aloud: “Guilty of felony fraud, violating security laws, perjury before a Senate commission and the theft of $78 billion in taxpayer money.”
Several people then sat down in front with the building with their arms linked. As police handcuffed each person one at a time, some used nonviolent resistance tactics such curling up on the ground. The final protester to be arrested made her body limp and was carried away by several police officers.
Mountains of literature has been produced in an effort to define horizontal organization, but perhaps the most important place to start is with a question: Why choose a horizontal approach to organizing–why does a group like OWS choose this approach at all?
To answer this question, we need to pick up the term “authoritarianism” and the related concept “hierarchy” or “top down” structure.
OWS, in other words, is not just opposed to a system that produces and benefits from criminally unjust disparities in wealth–a system OWS names “Wall Street”–but at a deeper level are opposed to the coercive, destructive, hierarchical authoritarianism inherent in such a system. Even if reforms are put in practice, if the authoritarianism of the system is left in place, the suppression of freedom that lies at the heart of economic injustice will, ultimately, reproduce itself anew.
Thus, rather than begin by presenting a list of demands to the authoritarian system responsible for producing and defending global economic injustice, OWS chose instead to start anew as if they were already free of that system.
For OWS, acting as if one were already free of an unjust system took the form of a direct action to occupy or seize central urban spaces and use them as launching grounds for permanent places for indicting government and the financial sector. This initial act by OWS is summed up perfectly by David Graeber in Direct Action: An Ethnography (pp. 202-203)
In its essence direct action is the insistence, when faced with structures of unjust authority, on acting as if one is already free.
If direct action is the “insistence…on acting as if one is already free,” one cannot plan that action using the same top-down organizing structures hardwired into the authoritarian system of injustice.
In 2011, we live in a different world. The corporations still have way too much power and influence. But activists have undermined the institutions by which they sought to increase that power and the facts about their unholy penetration into policymaking have become a lot clearer and more widely known. That is at least a good foundation which sets us up to get to work on the big fight between profit and humanity (in part via revolts against corporate personhood — the endowing of corporations with citizens’ rights — across the country).
I don’t love the old anti-globalization movement slogan “another world is possible,” simply because that world has always been here — in acts of altruism, generosity, and democracy; in organizations, movements, and communities that embody the best of what humanity has to offer; in what’s still so valuable in older ways of being that are not yet lost; in the methods and the lives of groups ranging from small farmers to indigenous hunters and gatherers. We just need to be better at seeing what is already magnificent and heroic, nearby and far away, and know that alternatives are already here waiting, like so many invitations, to be taken up.
That’s certainly a foundation that hope can build on, but don’t think that’s hope. Hope lies in the future. Look at what’s already here. If 61 native nations oppose a tar-sands pipeline, it’s because they’ve survived the last 519 years of Euro-invasive attempts to eliminate their rights, their identities, and sometimes their lives. They’re still here. So are the Immokalee workers. And the feminists. And the climate-change activists. And Nelson Mandela. So are you. Do something hopeful about it, just for the hell of it. There’s no reason not to.