Being Peaceful ≠ Passive (Or: The Occupy Wall Street Post)

October 10, 2011

We still owe you a follow-up to our post on strategies for effective vegan activism beyond the boycott. Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten and we’ll be getting it to you soon. That said, there’s no way we can sleep on the Occupy Wall Street story which, owing to the pleasantly surprising tenacity of its participants, has clawed its way from blowing up Facebook feeds to achieving “no longer ignorable” status with the mainstream media outlets.

Occupy Wall Street is a phenomenon that is at once incredibly complicated and incredibly clear cut. While its persistence has forced the aforementioned major news networks (owned one and all by “One Percenters”) to finally begin covering it, you will notice a common dismissive tone in their stories. “These demonstrators,” they assure you, “have no clear idea of what they want or why they are here.” Of course, this is completely inaccurate. It would be more accurate to state that the participants in Occupy Wall Street (and the hundreds of solidarity occupations and protests around the country) are refusing to reduce their diverse grievances with capitalism to a single, one-size-fits-all message.

A Middle Class Occupation?

The significant presence of middle class participants in Occupy Wall Street entices both media coverage and media derision for, of all things, privilege on the part of the participants. (One wonders where these network experts on oppression and identity politics were when Troy Davis was murdered.) It is important to recognize the middle class influence on Occupy Wall Street without doing the corporate journalists’ work for them and undermining solidarity.

If a significant portion of the United States’ middle class is beginning to realize that capitalism is not a stable system of human organization, then that is a very good thing. It is also relevant to point out that the involvement of many people has been spurred by the fact that capitalism has finally begun to imperil their privilege. Some of us are surprised that they’re surprised. After all, the far majority of the world’s human population has been living in abject poverty for generations as a direct result of these very same policies that shore up the One Percent.

The past 500 years of history display an ever-accelerating rate of resource extraction and wealth centralization. First the colonial empires pillaged the new world, then the dueling capitalist and communist power blocs robbed free trades zones and annexed bloc territories, then the corporatist middle and upper classes plundered the working class de-industrialized zones, and finally the top one percent is poised to take the very last drop from what remains of the middle class. So are we justifiably a little frustrated with someone only showing up last month to a five hundred year fight for the survival of all life on Earth? Sure. But I’m still glad to see them.

Maximizing Potential: From Protest to Resistance

At this stage, Occupy Wall Street is two things: a symbolic protest and a public conversation on systemic inequality. It continues to gain momentum by drawing disparate groups together who recognize the indignity of living under capitalism. By refusing to issue demands or craft political platforms, the participants have in effect created a “big tent” under which any party aggrieved by the economic order can share space, ideas and resources. Basic solidarity and mutual aid on this level have long been in short supply in the United States. We can hope that these become most enduring legacies of Occupy Wall Street.

What Occupy Wall Street is not, however, is an occupation. Allow me to repeat that. Occupy Wall Street is not an occupation unless by that you are referring to its part in the ongoing occupation of Lenape tribal lands. The participants have set up a permitted encampment that is surrounded on all sides uniformed cops and heavily infiltrated by undercover cops. They are subject to selective enforcement of noise and assembly ordinances as well as arbitrary and violent arrests. As Malcolm Harris pointed out in his sympathetic critique of the demonstration, “this is what’s behind every picture you’ve seen of Zucotti Park.”

It was a momentous step for tens thousands of us to get out from in front of our TVs and computers and into the streets, and for us to force this conversation into the mainstream. However, let no one delude themselves into believing that being surrounded by heavily armed riot cops is negotiating from a position of power. It is a dangerous misconception that following directions from police (who are apparently not the enemy, they just accept money to protect the enemy from accountability) will keep us safe from harm. It is a dangerous misconception to believe that we can effect lasting systemic change by simply speaking truth to power. Those in power–be it corporate, government, military or police–are very aware of the economic conditions that allow them disproportionate control over politics and daily life. They will not concede their positions voluntarily, most especially not because someone convinces them that it’s unfair.

Every major social justice movement in the history of this country, from labor organizing to the women’s suffrage to the Civil Rights movement, depended on direct action to achieve lasting gains. This is the process of moving beyond a petition for the redress of grievances and moving toward a community oriented address of grievances without the consent of the politicians, CEOs, generals or cops. Being peaceful is not the same thing as being passive.

Occupy Together as Radicals

There is always more to say and even more to do. For whatever it’s worth, we support Occupy Wall Street completely. We also know that it will be dead in the water by New Year’s unless it continues to evolve. Radicals can seize this moment and be a driving force in that evolution. We can do this by continuing to take part in honest discussions with others and, more importantly, demonstrating the effectiveness of our tactics. This doesn’t have to involve the participation of everyone at an “occupation” and, in fact, it probably shouldn’t. A series of coordinated, well-planned affinity group actions specifically designed to avoid a violent police crackdown (inasmuch as this is possible and acknowledging also that police are responsible for police violence) would be a tremendous boon to Occupy Wall Street.

Here are just a few examples of things people could try:

•Using radio scanners to monitor police communications and liveblogging that information.

•Researching specific One Percenters, making public their nefarious deeds, and then organizing SHAC-style demonstrations at their homes and offices.

•Offering trainings on elementary street tactics (which could have potentially helped hundreds evade arrest last week on the Brooklyn bridge).

•Staging real occupations, lockdowns and disruptions of corporate offices.

•Organizing bank runs.

•And many more that we cannot legally advocate!

In Short…

Occupy Wall Street could be the start of real revolutionary change or it could just be the death throes of the middle class. Which one depends entirely on how disciplined we can be in the pursuit of a post-capitalist society. We do not need a share in their plundered wealth. We do not need to be another complacent generation, standing by as the world burns and knowing that things will be worse for our children. It is time to stop asking. It is time to start making and taking.

Advertisements

The Red Scare: Once More, With Feeling

June 5, 2011

Last night, I had the pleasure to go see a talk by Will Potter of Green is the New Red at a local vegan coffee shop. Potter is an investigative journalist who has made a name for himself by tirelessly exposing the post-9/11 erosion of civil liberties in this country. After the talk, we schmoozed for a little bit and I picked up a copy of his excellent new book in which he tells the stories of non-violent animal liberationists and environmentalists whom the FBI has aggressively targeted as “the number one domestic terrorist threat.” Using legislation quite literally written by pharmaceutical and agribusiness corporations, the federal government has applied “terrorism enhancements” to the prosecution of activists who are pushing the envelope of the green movement.

If you know much about the history of the FBI, you are already aware that they have existed more or less as a social movement busting organization since their inception as the General Intelligence Division in 1919. At that time, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer handed over half a million dollars to a young J. Edgar Hoover and told him to “fight radicalism.” We all know where that went. Historically, the U.S. government has debuted repressive techniques first on easy to marginalize minorities before casting a wider net. The Palmer Raids occurred in an era when hardworking Americans, many of them immigrants, were attempting to reorganize society in a way that they felt was more just and equitable. While we should avoid making direct equivalencies, there is a clear parallel between that historical moment and this one.

As Will Potter will tell you, the issue here is not whether you agree with the politics of vegan abolitionism or earth liberation. In the past few years, we have seen the slow emergence of a national conversation on what it means to be a sustainable society. The world is overwhelmed by war, violence, ecological degradation, alienation and indignity. Things cannot continue as they are if the human race is going to make it out of the 21st century. We need real systemic change, not the rebranding of the same ignominious policies that have impoverished the world.

As this consciousness shift coalesces into action, we find ourselves running up against the inflexibility of a system where the pursuit of profit has killed the drive for innovation. It’s species-wide maladaptivity and we’re borrowing to pay for the privilege. As humanity struggles to evolve in a rapidly changing landscape, entrenched corporate and political interests push back against us with everything they have. Why? Because if we grow into something greater than mere consumers, then the primitively accumulated wealth and privilege of the upper class will wither into irrelevance.

It’s great to argue over visions of a peaceful new world sprouting from the ashes of the empire. These are discussions that need to happen and I find it incredibly encouraging how much they abound these days, even in completely mainstream locales. But there’s something we need to push out of the way before any of us can begin laying cornerstones. If we approach this monumental task through the framework of consumerism, then we have already lost. We can’t afford to let a vested interest in stagnation sell our ideas back to us, de-fanged and castrated. Don’t let them tell you that spending a few more dollars a pound for “humane meat” is the answer to that sinking feeling in your gut when you first saw raw footage of a steer bleeding out on the kill floor of an Iowa abbatoir. You can’t buy revolution at the supermarket. You can’t vote it into office. You won’t read about it in articles from the vanguard party’s newspaper. There will be no hyperlinks to it on this blog. Revolution starts with taking responsibility for changing yourself from the inside out, not giving it up to someone else in the hopes that they’ll change the world to suit you. Real change isn’t safe but you’re not the only one who wants it. Look around. Talk to people. Find something you can lock arms over. And if you’re the last one out of the era of corporatist militarism, please make sure you turn out the lights. After all, we’re going green.