The Unsuitablog

Exposing Ethical Hypocrites Everywhere!

Occupy Wall Street: The Futility and the Opportunity

Posted by keith on October 18th, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Placard - The Guardian

There are a couple of quotations which I would like to share with you. Read them carefully; they will possibly make you angry, or perhaps you will be nodding furiously in agreement with one if not both of them. They are important quotations. This is the first:

One will find hundreds, sometimes thousands, assembled in an orderly fashion, listening to selected speakers calling for an end to this or that aspect of lethal state activity, carrying signs “demanding” the same thing…and – typically – the whole thing is quietly disbanded with exhortations to the assembled to “keep working” on the matter and to please sign a petition.

Throughout the whole charade it will be noticed that the state is represented by a uniformed police presence keeping a discreet distance and not interfering with the activities. And why should they? The organizers will have gone through “proper channels” to obtain permits. Surrounding the larger mass of demonstrators can be seen others…their function is to ensure the demonstrators remain “responsible,” not deviating from the state-sanctioned plan of protest.

(Ward Churchill, “Pacifism as Pathology”)

This quotation is important because it reflects very strongly on how the Occupy (Wall Street) Movement is functioning. It clearly expresses the nature of non-violent protest and occupation, which in the Westernised, symbolic mindset has been reduced to the smoking ruin of “doing what the authorities permit”. Only in Italy has the Occupy protest become significantly more than a symbolic talking shop and, of course, any semblance of violence, whether that “violence” is aimed at a shop window or an armed police guard, is absolutely, unequivocally condemned by the true representatives of the Occupy Movement.

While the vast majority of those who turned up that day remained peaceful — indeed, hostile to those battling the police — only the most violent reached the march’s planned destination. They seem to have dashed there to pre-empt the rest of the march, engaging the police in about two hours of fighting in front of the basilica. The rest, blocked by the fighting, quickly dissipated, their banners crestfallen; many detoured to the enormous field that marks the remains of the ancient Circus Maximus.

The idea that a “protester” against the capitalist system of financial elitist might could be actively hostile to someone who is battling the very forces who represent the system they are apparently protesting against is mind-boggling, not to mention illogical. But it perfectly bears out Ward Churchill’s observations of the nature of organised protest in the industrial West. Looking at the Occupy Wall Street web site reveals an article entitled “From Tahrir Square to Times Square: Protests Erupt in Over 1,500 Cities Worldwide” which focuses almost entirely on New York and conveniently skips any mention of Rome – yet the headline used the word “erupt”. Clearly any eruption has to be properly sanctioned by those calling the shots. The comments below the article are replete with complaints about the media coverage of the protests, as if coverage is what matters rather than actually achieving anything concrete (“Hey guys, we got in The Times. High fives!”). One comment is particularly revealing:

We’re pulling together world-wide. 40,000 people on the street in Germany this weekend – not enough, but a first step in the right direction. Don’t believe the news coverage about Rome (Italy): there were just under 100 troublemakers, but 200,000 peaceful protesters!!!

This speaks the language of symbolic environmental “leaders” like Bill McKibben, who count success in terms of numbers rather than results. According to the logic of the mainstream activist groups what matters is not that one person managed to disrupt a corrupt system, but that thousands of people marched in support of that one person.

I suspect that the same groups and “leaders” would be horrified if someone were to slice through the primary fibre optic cables connecting CNN or Fox News to the outside world if it interrupted coverage of the same protest; even if it meant the cessation of a constant barrage of state and corporate controlled news into the homes of the civilized millions.

That the Occupy protests provide a potential useful crucible for real action that may help remove the very systems the movement rails against (though not too much of it, please, because how would those “jobs” we all desire (are made to desire) be created?) is not in dispute; though from my experience, such gatherings are no more crucibles of real change than any other gathering of people who have an opportunity to talk. In fact, the very act of occupying without disrupting is likely to plant the idea into the heads of very many people that occupation without disruption is sufficient.

It is not. Here is the second quotation:

Revolutionary movements do not spread by contamination but by resonance. Something that is constituted here resonates with the shock wave emitted by something constituted over there. A body that resonates does so according to its own mode. An insurrection is not like a plague or a forest fire – a linear process which spreads from place to place after an initial spark. It rather takes the shape of a music, whose focal points, though dispersed in time and space, succeed in imposing the rhythm of their own vibrations, always taking on more density. To the point that any return to normal is no longer desirable or even imaginable.

When we speak of Empire we name the mechanisms of power that preventively and surgically stifle any revolutionary becoming in a situation. In this sense, Empire is not an enemy that confronts us head-on. It is a rhythm that imposes itself, a way of dispensing and dispersing reality. Less an order of the world than its sad, heavy and militaristic liquidation.

The goal of any insurrection is to become irreversible. It becomes irreversible when you’ve defeated both authority and the need for authority, property and the taste for appropriation, hegemony and the desire for hegemony. That is why the insurrectionary process carries within itself the form of its victory, or that of its defeat. Destruction has never been enough to make things irreversible. What matters is how it’s done.

(The Invisible Committee, “The Coming Insurrection”)

This quotation is important because it is. Read it again, then go and make your own occupation – in whatever form it may take – count.

3 Responses to “Occupy Wall Street: The Futility and the Opportunity”

  1. Jenny Says:

    That’s the thing though: a lot of the people supporting and being active in the occupation are part of the 99%, they aren’t freewheeling anarchists/ primativists like you are. I’m sorry they can’t live up to your ideal standards, but that’s how it is.

  2. keith Says:

    Hi Jenny, I can’t argue that they are part of the “99%” but then nor did I say that I am any better than any of the protestors – they have just been badly misled in the nature of and reason for protest. On a side issue, I’m not that impressed with the use of the 99% idea by OWS, suggesting that the vast majority of people are angry enough to want change; the truth is, they don’t want change, they want things to be the same – consumerist, dog-eat-dog, fattening, eye-goggling, vacationing: the civilized dream.

    The people who, at the moment, will create change are in a tiny minority. This poem by an anymous author from a while ago sums it up very well:

    1 Percenters

    They are the activists.
    The difficult sods.
    The awkward ones.

    Those who don’t toe the corporate line.
    Those who ask questions.
    Why? How come? Says who?

    Those who don’t take things at face value.
    Who don’t bend in front of popular opinion.
    Who put their body on the line for their beliefs.
    Who see the big picture when we see
    only tomorrow.

    Society struggles to accept them.
    Governments try to ignore them.
    Big business would like to silence them.
    But they cannot be silenced, lobbied
    or bought off.

    They are driven to protect this planet of ours.
    Belief is all they have. And all they need.
    And they fight on all our behalfs.

    Yet we will not say a thank you.
    There will be no monuments built in their name.
    They will never be asked for their autograph.
    We will not even know their names.

    But without them who will speak for the trees?
    Who will speak for the rivers, the seas,
    the wild places?
    Who will speak for the air we all breathe?
    Indeed, who’ll speak on behalf of this planet
    of ours.

    Not you or I.

    We have the right to remain silent.
    What is worrying is our desire to do so.

  3. Jenny Says:

    There’s a big discussion here:

    I like Seymour’s quote personally:
    Your critique of the ‘jobs for all’ slogan misses some fairly significant points: 1) it’s a slogan that addresses an urgent material *need* on the part of the working class and as such is one that most workers, especially the most militant, class conscious workers, can rally around; 2) the ‘demand’ isn’t simply an abstract ‘jobs for all’ programme, but calls for an extensive public works programme sustained out of taxes on the rich to create full employment. This is an intelligent way to counteract the propaganda favouring a ‘smaller state’ (which means a more punitive state), and more generally attack the dominant (neoliberal) ideological precepts that underpin barbaric state budget cuts. 3) The ‘left side of the Democratic Party’ (which means the social democratic elements) are not the enemy, and being aligned with them on a particular demand isn’t the end of the world. That’s probably where most of the US working class is situated politically. The Democratic leadership is not going to break with neoliberalism or with those sections of the ruling class it concentrates within its senior ranks. Raising demands that they could theoretically be expected to support (in the tradition of FDR etc) but which we know they won’t, is an excellent way for workers to learn through their own experience that they need to organise independently of the Democratic Party. 4) There’s absolutely nothing wrong with tasking the utterly corrupt state (ie, the capitalist state) to implement popular demands. There are certain demands, viz. universal healthcare, that could *only* be realised in the short run through said state. The worry about ‘relying’ on the state is at any rate disingenuous, since we all know that the point of raising the slogan is that one *can’t* rely on the state to deliver on it, and that it requires a popular movement to force the state to concede such demands; 5) the thrust of your objection, plus your own proposed slogans, appears to be based on the idea that OWS and its mimics should aspire to be nothing more than a chain of small direct action groups. But the whole point of OWS has been its ability to galvanise the support of much wider social forces, including the unions. This has been very important for both sides, energising the base of the labour movement and expanding its ranks, while also adding social weight to the occupation which it previously lacked. The fusion of the most radical, politicised students youths with organised labour is a necessary precondition for a mass movement, for which these alloyed elements would provide the core. To stick with direct actions involving small numbers of people addressing some of the localised effects of the system in crisis shows a remarkable paucity of ambition; as if, to avoid being coopted, it is necessary to keep out the masses.

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