"We develop new principles for the world out of the world’s own principles. We do not say to the world: Cease your struggles, they are foolish; we will give you the true slogan of struggle. We merely show the world what it is really fighting for, and consciousness is something that it has to acquire, even if it does not want to."
Soliciting donations to something that doesn’t exist
Nycga.net, and now Occupywallstreet.net, host a button to an account that is obsolete. It is to a general OccupyWallStreet fund that is directly controlled by the Accounting Working Group, and whose funds are supposed to be under the control of the New York City General Assembly. There is not New York City General Assembly. Therefore, the button must be erased. There need not be any decision made in any body that doesn’t exist. The button must simply be deleted. If the General Assembly returns, the button can return, but without a body to make decisions over the fund, without the body even existing that the fund is a donation to, the fund itself must cease to exist.
There is no argument to keep it. You can’t suggest “We need to get consensus” in a body that doesn’t exist. Period. So shutter the button and stop receiving donations.
Does this mean fundraising should stop? No. But all fundraising from henceforth should be intentional and directed. The idea that the NYCGA would have a general fund was foolish to begin with, and laid us open to graft, a resource war, and what everyone should agree was the deevolution of the General Assembly, which slid into becoming a chaotic foundation offering grants. That is the very type of institutional bureaucracy people like me are completely uninterested in participating in, and there are plenty of foundations to promote in that way without creating a new one. A new one with far worse issues of accountability.
It also became a massive security issue. It opened OccupyWallStreet up to investigation and the entrance of a legion of vultures and leeches who sought to swindle and scam money out of this massive budget. And those swindlers helped kill the energy and imagination that we had been creating.
How to Keep Fundraising
Instead, we should receive donations to very specific funds which are controlled by specific working groups or collectives. For example, the Tech-Ops Working Group should have its own fund. The NLG and a bail fund make absolute sense. Outreach, the Street Medics, Livestreamers, Arts & Culture (or individual artists), and perhaps specific political projects like Liberation Summer, F the Banks, and the Summer Disobedience School could have their own buttons, using wepay, indiegogo, or kickstarter.
But there should be no general fund, especially without a body which it allegedly funds. Delete the button and stop taking donations into that account.
The big day is done and the energy spent. How do we look back on a single day that was the culmination of hundreds of other days of collective efforts to promote, build and create an experience that can move us forward? Here are the three ways that I think it is useful to honestly review New York City’s May Day, from an Occupy Wall Street perspective.
Looking at May Day from a perspective of the massive expectations is not going to be pretty. Promotional materials overwhelmingly declared a General Strike, and the actual participation in the strike could hardly expected to have been a single percentage point of the workforce, shoppers and students. It was not a general strike, though it was billed as such.Strikes are not personal choices that individual workers or students make- they are conscious decisions by a workplace or by the working class and its allies as a whole.
Many declared that tens of thousands of people would be in the streets, and the numbers did not cumulatively build up to over twenty thousand, according to someone who does headcounts. It was suggested the city would see its largest shut down ever, but it paled in comparison to some surrounding the Iraq War and the Republican National Convention, not to mention the blackout, the transit strike, and other events. The 99 Pickets largely did not happen, in what instead became a roving and merging series of marches that visited multiple sites. The tunnels and bridges functioned normally, and there was no insurrection on Houston. The expectations were set as high as the greatest mountains, and they were not nearly met. There’s a clear lesson for next time. Don’t bluff, or expect your language to simply create the conditions for the realization of your goals.
The Day in itself
The day in itself was arguably pretty great. Bryant Park probably topped off at two or three thousand people, who broke into large picket lines of between eighty and 674 at nearby labor disputes and corporate headquarters. A march of 1,471 people followed the Guitarmy down to Union Square. There was a weak emphasis, however, on promoting next steps or creating space for new participants and attendees to plug in and feel a sense of commitment.
Union Square Park in particular needs to be understood in the context of New York City’s previous May Days. On the one hand, it was the united mass that had failed to materialize when two separate May Days happened at Union and Foley Squares in previous years, and that is a particularly exciting development.
Perhaps 15,000 people were in Union Square, and more than 11,000 were in the march down toward Wall Street, which should be seated in the reality that in the last few years’ May Days, I personally counted between eight and ten thousand marchers. The sad reality is that the unions, and I am a radical who is still pro-union, could have brought out numbers that brought the day up to forty to seventy thousand, or far more, but they chose not to exert their energy. The numbers themselves belie the significance of Occupy Wall Street. OWS was never strong based on numbers, and likely has never seen over twenty or thirty thousand in the streets of New York, numbers dwarfed by the many hundreds of thousands in the streets against the war in Iraq and Bush in 2003 and 2004. But OWS hit nerves and created space for mass participation. Don’t count the heads or feet, count the hearts and minds. Leave counting the bodies to me.
Students did walk out, inspired by OWS. Some businesses were indeed closed, hundreds joined together across the Brooklyn Bridge, the marches felt positive, and the assemblies on Water St gave a space for speech. A united mass march, the united action of Brooklyn-based occupy assemblies, and the coalitions that kept the day together are of particular note.
Militants engaged in a Wildcat March, one of many unpermitted marches, that did not steepen repression for the rest of the day’s participants, and hardly gave the press anything to divert attention away from the political significance of the day. Several other alleged militant marches failed to materialize. Far fewer were arrested than expected, though the over ninety arrests throughout the day did measure up to the worst arrest toll since November, and few if any will need bail.
The day was also notable as a day which was not at all strong on direct action. In point of fact, I’m not sure I can point to any at all outside of the few work stoppages or student walk-outs. But it was still a great day, and most responses I heard on the ground were positive and filled with hope. The day was not groundbreaking, but people felt an energy that comes from numbers, standing together in coalition, and variety of creative actions. Those left in the streets at the end had to deal with some police repression and a sense of confusion at the next steps, but most people left feeling that they were not alone in their indignation and desire to act against structural inequalities, termed capitalism or corporate greed or austerity.
Today for Tomorrow
The final, and perhaps most important, evaluation comes not from the yesterday or the today, but from the tomorrow. Were next steps actions well promoted? Did demonstrators see the significance of returning to the streets, the workshop spaces, the assemblies or actions of the ensuing days, weeks, or months? And did people leave with heightened energy that will propel us forward.
It’s hard to tell, but I think on these levels it may prove lacking. The May 10-15th days of action (#anotherNYC) were hardly discussed. Liberation Summer and the Summer Disobedience School did not become the watch phrases. Plans for further engagement at Sothebys, Capital Grille, and other local labor struggles may not have immediately panned out. Many people who had not felt a leg into OWS in months definitely came out, and some of them will be people mobilized as actors, not simply bodies in the streets.
Nothing was occupied or maintained in the way that we saw on March 17th and again over the next five weeks, where hubs and excitement over spontaneous shifts were seen at Union Square, Wall Street and Nassau, or the Federal Hall steps. Coming out of March 17th in particular, Occupy Wall Street found a reinvigorated sense of street and plaza presence and a dynamic capacity to adapt to changing conditions in those streets. It remains to be seen if May Day inspired a similar effect.
None of this is to take a one sided perspective of May Day, or to shit on people’s incredibly hard work. But we should tell no lies and claim no easy victories in the words of Amilcar Cabral. Our honest capacity for self-criticism and assessment helps us see what works and what doesn’t, and in a rapid and constant beast like OWS, allows us to look at where we are at in any given phase or period. May Day was a beautiful day in itself, a day that simply could not reach its massive expectations, and its effect on the immediate days, month or months afterward remains to be seen. New York City is a great city capable of some spectacular forms of resistance and creative experimentation with direct democracy, just as other cities have very distinct strengths in those fields. Occupy Wall Street is not going away, and our persistent work toward the campaigns and struggles that we plan or spontaneously move toward will take us forward. Just so long as we take pauses to assess that work and where we find ourselves.
I had a conversation late in September at Liberty Plaza that both pointedly stung me and represented a big part of the problem we have with building coalitions. I, a Marxist, and Eve, a progressive (RE: liberal), were having a conversation. Initially, it was my intention to have us place our distinct ideologies on the table, and our distinct analyses and visions, and then find those junctures at which we would meet along the way. To me, this is the best and most honest way to for liberals and revolutionary socialists (Marxist, anarchist or otherwise) to figure out how to function together where there are shared interests, and to respectfully and temporarily part at those moments where we disagree.
I think the conversation was going well, until a camera and some young impressionable activists encircled us. Then my conversant partner opportunistically shifted the direction away from coalition building, and toward division, speechifying for those present rather than responding to me. It was demagogic. And once our conversation had derailed toward disagreement, she put up her main defense, which is sometimes common among liberals. She would refuse to define terms like capitalism and violence, thereby preempting any real discourse on why I believed capitalism is a system to be opposed and why she thought a nebulus understanding of violence was something to always be opposed. The conversation had lived out its usefulness, so I moved on.
In the seventh week of OccupyWallStreet, I noted a sign that read “Not anti-capitalist, just anti-corporatist.” In a liberal’s hand, the sign would have been a personal declaration, but sitting in Broadway sidewalk, it seemed to claim to be an official position. So I dutifully said to my friends “Not in Liberty Plaza, Just in the Garbage,” and trashed the sign.
Because I think clear definitions are required for discourse, allow me to attempt a simple distinction between the two groups. By radicals, I generally mean anti-capitalists, both socialist (Marxist or anarchist or autonomist or Leninist) and more nihilistic radicals. By liberals I mean the self-professed progressives and moderates who believe that reforms to the United States political system are ends in themselves rather than means, and/or that capitalism is not a fundamentally exploitative system. To some extent, a great number of left wing nationalists, so-called socialists, social democrats, queer activists and others can be grouped in one of these two tents. An imperfect binary isn’t necessarily an inaccurate one.
So I will attempt to elaborate a methodology of coalition between (real) radical socialists and liberals, two groups that are fundamentally opposed in analysis of the world today and vision of the world they’d like to build for tomorrow.
It seems simple to me. First, we don’t waste time trying to convert each other. Some people will change their positions. They will switch from one to the other. We will have healthy conversations where we debate our points of contention. That’s good. It can be fun. And healthy. But as a general rule, I don’t think it should be our respective ambitions to win a stalwart over to one or the other side. Radicalization usually comes from more than just conversation, and people who become moderate will do so for their own reasons, not because a liberal puts them on the defensive.
What is healthy, on the other hand, is for us to be clear where we are each coming from. Let’s be willing to state it outright. If you’re a liberal, say so. “Communists disdain to conceal their views.” I’ve rarely met an anarchist who doesn’t jump to put it into the conversation. If we are discussing our analysis of Wall Street, or labor unions, or the eventual goals of OccupyWallStreet, it helps the conversation immensely if we know where each other is at. That can help us avoid the roadblocks of a healthy dialogue.
Once we begin to put our cards on the table, we should give our respective analyses of the particular question at hand- say, how to deal with permits, or the Community Board, or the police, or property destruction by an OWS participant, or what kinds of organizing we should be doing outside of Lower Manhattan. Again, we don’t discuss the particulars in order to persuade each other, but simply to know where each person is at.
Then we look at our goals, short term and long term. From there we begin to discern shared elements of our goals.
And here we come to the two practical questions. In which tactics do we advance our respective or shared goals. At one point do we have to work separately for our goals. And how to we operate so our respective tactics and language don’t put us into conflict, foment division or the image of division, or engage in work that disrupts the other’s work.
As an example, say we are interested in working on protesting a bank. The liberal wants to promote ethical business practices and government regulations. The radical doesn’t believe in ethical business practices, does support government regulations as a short term goal, but is more interested in taking down the power of the banks and promoting total opposition to the financial system that the banks are integral to. The two people agree to rally outside a meeting which the bank CEO is keynoting. They perhaps are both interested in disrupting the meeting. Rhetorically, they agree to message on questions of the bank’s crimes and the need for government regulation. Tactically they agree to get into the meeting and then disrupt it. The radical, perhaps, wishes to spray paint anti-bank stencils at all of the bank branches in a two block radius. The liberal thinks that is going too far, and wants to promote people buying shares in the bank to gain a seat at a shareholder meeting. They agree to engage in these latter tactics in geographically separate locations and not trash each other to other activists, on social media, or the news media. They also agree not to promote the entire movement as based on their particular ideology, but only to promote the general agreements of the movement, and their respective ambitions as their personal opinions.
It isn’t always easy. But it’s been done time and again. And playing up a theme that OccupyWallStreet is monolithic is dishonest and hinders our capacity to have tactical and strategic conversations. We have differences. We will engage in different overall political projects. But we have come together at Liberty Plaza. Let’s try to keep that going as functionally and creatively as we can.
Once upon a time, I was a young man who felt societal pressures to open an account at a financial institution in order to save my money. We were all taught to do so, whether by the Berenstain Bears or fiscal responsibility exercises in third grade. I had the opportunity to join a Credit Union. Bingo!
But I had to move away, far from my credit union. And in this new land, I found not a single credit union that was open to the general public. So I chose a local bank. “At least I’m not feeding one of the big, bad wolves,” I told my still teenaged self.
A few years later, this bank was consumed in a tidal wave that washed ashore a vampire squid, whose skin was emblazoned with a calmingly blue pseudo-swastika. This vampire squid had chased me down and won the battle. Suddenly, all of the local bank’s branches had makeshift banners over theirs masts: proclaiming CHASE!
I then decided to escape once again. This time I was taken in by advertising. Another large safety house ran commercials with a bankers’ pin, gleefully satirizing the capitalist class. They also promised no fees. I opened an account with them, and for a year began to think I’d escaped.
But in the corporate sea, my new raft was once again set upon by the JP Morgan vampire squid, seized and overturned for all assets to enter within its sharp beak. Could I have no respite?
For a time, I was resigned to my fate. Every time I set out, I felt the long, slender tentacles and the sharp suckers of JP Morgan around my waste. Only with the advent of #OccupyWallStreet (hashtagged as a force of habit) did I finally deign to join family and friends in the protection of the country’s only labor union-owned bank. Amalgamated Bank, located in Las Vegas, Pasadena, Washington DC, New Jersey, and most of all across New York City. Wholly owned by Workers United, a sub-union of Service Employees International Union, one of our largest labor unions (of which I am a former shop steward).
I went into my Chase, and took to the customer service representative, who immediately pushed me with some condescension to have faith in those too big to fail. I responded it had claimed to nearly just topple, until pumped with hundreds of billions of dollars in baby blood by the very Congress we send to regulate it. When she became resigned to my triumph, she candidly agreed with my analysis. I left my last Chase personal banker with a grin on her lips. And from there, I joined Amalgamated Bank.
Today, just before Bank Transfer Day, while reading about the alleged 600,000 who left corporate banks for credit unions last month, a comrade decided she’d had enough of the tightening grasp of Bank of America. I accompanied her inside, she quickly closed her account, and walked just three blocks south of Liberty Plaza to the nearest Amalgamated. And that was that.
Let’s be clear. The most valuable political acts you can make are with your body and mind. Not with your dollar. Nor with your vote.
I’ve had the debate many times with people on both sides of me (to the left and the right). A little consumer activism can help alleviate suffering (as in the case of vegetarianism or boycotting Israeli businesses) or divest from criminal enterprises (like Coca Cola’s killing of Colombian trade unionists). But capitalism, as with any devil fish, is a flexible mollusk plenty capable of pulling through minor blocks and obstacles. It is the economic system, and finds ways to survive nips from eels and the evasion of its prey.
Make no illusions that we are upending the ship and sending the vampire squids to their doom with this small act. But they will be weaker. It requires a grand variety of tactics to take down any predator. So divest from the corporate banks. Join a credit union or Amalgamated. Buy unionmade, support workers coops, join consumer coops, shop farmers markets, but it’ll take more than that to end a system bent on sucking us dry.
You used to be able to demonstrate in Manhattan without cattle chutes. They are a morale killer, a form of state control that becomes hegemonic, and a public safety hazard. Police on horses are too. And police-assigned march routes. The more dissident groups cowered to state authorities, the narrower was the space for cattle chutes, the more police lined up, creating a second literal wall between ‘activists’ and ‘normals’, and the less inviting were our little jailed rallies.
Forgive me for using an old saying that is more often used against the oppressed. You give them an inch, and they’ll take a mile. The them is cops and municipal governments. And those inches are our rights.
But in order to set up rights as our principal by which we don’t require permits, we have to know what we mean by rights. I’m a big fan of definitions. They help us make sense and come to a sharp conclusion. In this case, I’m going to speak to the two groups I prefer to speak to. For the liberals/progressives (of which I am not), rights can mean many things, but there is a sense that there are at least two legal documents that enshrine people’s rights within structures: the United States Constitution and the UN Declaration of Human Rights. And for radicals (Marxists, anarchists, whomever else), we tend to believe that with exploitation and repression we have a fundamental right to resist as sentient beings held in a cage are want to do, just as the state or system has a right to defend itself. Many radicals will shy away from the word ‘right’, but indulge me for now.
If you are a liberal, then, you shouldn’t ever need a permit. Just keep your First Amendment on you at all times. “The government shall not make any law….abridging the freedom of speech or the right of the people to peaceably assemble…” If you don’t think you’ll ever be radicalized, but love standing in the street “speaking truth to power,” get that amendment tattooed on. Just show it to the cops, the judge, or any pol that tries to stand in your way.
A police state under a system of exploitation is antithetical to democracy. That means, if you believe in this country, you have to press the contradiction, regaining and expanding your most famous constitutional right.
As a radical, I have a very different conclusion, even though I am happy to point out the irony of the first amendment in a police state to any officer who unconstitutionally demands my submission. I have a certain degree of respect for state violence. It’s constant. It’s visible if you open your eyes. It’s simply one of the chief methods a system of exploitation uses to defend itself. That’s fine. There should be no shock at the level of violence a class of wealthy thieves wields against those who attempt to take the commons to decry them. They will send their cops, and their goons, and their feds. That’s fine. It’s a major factor in how the system has survived this far. Domination is the big stick to hegemony’s carrot.
But just as the system is justified in attempting to preserve itself, like any organism, no matter how parisitic, the host whose blood is sucked does not have to stand still while the leech attaches its proboscis to our skin. Setting aside the question of violence and non-violence, it means that we must disobey a system in whose hegemony we no longer consent. If I don’t believe in God, why give my tithe to the church? If I don’t acknowledge the state or the capitalists as my natural masters, why allow them to tell me where I can stand and how long I am allowed to stand there?
Our willful subjugation to police violence and coercion is our endorsement of their increasing suppression of our basic liberties. It is true, in Egypt the military regime killed six hundred people to combat a similar democratic movement. But in our country, with the highest prison population in the world, whose ascent began during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements (and was partly populated with political prisoners), we are at grave risk every time we acquiesce. The sacrifices we take today will provide a more bountiful tomorrow. And every time we cower, a tornado of state violence spirals into existence.
Roseanne Barr. Lupe Fiasco. Russell Simmons. Mark Ruffalo. Susan Sarandon. Tim Robbins. Immortal Technique. Kanye West. Mike Meyers. Alec Baldwin. John Cusack. Oliver Stone. Tom Morello. Margaret Atwood. Radiohead. John Carlos. Yoko Ono. Deepak Chopra. Sponge Bob Squarepants. Your name has officially been dropped. Now if that’s all you were here for, you’re welcome.*
In the first week of Occupy Wall Street, I was suggesting we produce some Map of the Stars fliers and pass them out at Times Square to all of the tourists. The map would have one destination. Liberty Plaza. The only reason I didn’t do it is because these days I’m not resourceful enough for even that kind of basic infrastructure.
But the celebs kept coming. And commenting. And tweeting.
And two questions present themselves. One I’ll rhetorically present as a set: Are they coming as celebrities? Or are they coming as human beings? Are they coming for cameras and flash and to be seen? Or are they coming to twinkle their fingers in general assemblies, donate sleeping bags and push brooms for the sanitation working group?
Then, once we get over that question, we have to ask, what can they do for this project? We are engaging in an uprising that has occupied space to create direct democracy. What can these celebrities offer us?
Some have donated cash or material needs. More need to. Some were early and thus helped us get coverage.
But few have taken their special abilities and positions to contribute to our movement. Lupe Fiasco donated, but he also wrote down some rhymes fit for print. Chris Hedges helped get other big names connected to the Occupied Wall Street Journal. Naomi Wolf got herself arrested. Tom Morello followed lesser known musicians, from Red Baarat to Kofre to Majesty to Koba Sounds to Jen Waller to Remi, in playing acoustic sets.
We have seen enough actors and directors stop by to fill a major studio blockbuster and two indulgent Sundance films. Some have worked with indignados/occupiers to stay true to the messages and horizontalism of the uprising, while others have come on their own initiative and through our media savvy contacts to put their own foot forward. Hopefully, some have also met some of the small time artists who have been on the scene with a sense of struggle and solidarity that has not carried any desire to be known or be seen. Others have done little but drop by the curiosity with a red carpet-winning smile.
Please, come by. Learn. Listen. Join. Donate. Open doors. And best of all, use your contacts and your special talents and roles to create art or media or messaging that is true to what we have been sleeping on this plaza for. Produce an album. Publish artwork or interviews. Film a funny video clip. Promote our media alongside your own. Our posters, our TV shows (like Democracy Now!), our video, our music, our witticisms, our dreams, our visions, our pain, and credit us, without stealing our ideas to make your name sound like it has more integrity or grit or sincerity. But I’m not sure what being seen like its a necessary upper West Side cocktail fundraiser does for us. Be conscientious giants in an uprising that may very well quake the media system that has given you the stature you ride on.
Oh, and by the way, any of y’all need an assistant? Because I need a damn job. At least pay my gas bill, that shit is too damn high.
*(Omitted are activist and journalist celebs like Michael Moore and Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky and throngs of others, who are not actually in the same category.)
Neo-Nazis in Denver and Indianapolis have endorsed the local Occupy Wall Street struggles in their respective cities. The Lyndon LaRouche cult was at Bowling Green on day one. And we simply can’t shake the large number of Ron Paul supporters that are a very real wing of this uprising. The progressive (RE: liberal), who does not review the world in ideological terms, may not understand either the reasoning behind or the danger endemic in each of these far right interventions upon our struggle.
How could nazis come to something that is filled with Blacks and Latinos and Muslims, that is checkered with ethnic Jews and orthodox Jews and large Jewish religious services? How could Ron Paul people expect to get a strong voice in a movement that is largely made of people who are insisting upon more regulations and social services, rather than their absolute elimination?
Much has been made about one of the principal qualities of Occupy Wall Street that was done superbly well. At (yet another) time when public opinion had no love for the barons of finance capitalism, the initiators of the General Assemblies that had intermittently met this Summer had picked the correct target. Wall Street. To socialists and anti-capitalists (Leninist, Anarchist or otherwise) this meant finance capital. To progressives this meant finance corporations.
But what it represents in the public consciousness regardless of ideology remains the same for all but its most blind apologists. Wealth and greed derived from a system of lawful theft on a scale that has continued to ascend to the highest in world history. Twenty million people died last year of starvation in a world that does indeed have enough food. Mr. Moneybags on Wall Street kept the luxury industry afloat. Workers were laid off by corporations that paid zero taxes to a government that claimed to trust them with creating jobs. A political system that has (always) been bought and sold and then consistently placed men from the business sector in public seats of power that they happily mismanaged. It’s what I call the John Bolton Rule, named after a man who had encouraged the abolition of the United Nations and was promptly placed as the United States representative in that body. It might as well be the Robert Simon Rule, a man who opposed public health care and then was named Cook County Board of Health Services Interim Chief, presiding over negligence and massive cuts.
Finance capital. Most indignados, or occupiers, or whatever we are calling ourselves, don’t see any distinction between it and the other corporations that have ground us down, laid us off, and laughed all the way to the diamond jeweler in what we imagine are coattails and top hats. But the far right does.
So when we moved against finance capital, the Ron Paul supporters saw a splendid opportunity. They wanted us to blame the Federal Reserve, upon which our system of capitalism places a considerable burden for its survival. The Ron Paul people are always opportunists. To the Christian right they mention their idol’s opposition to abortion and gay rights. To the left they began with their opposition to war. To the Tea Party they pushed their opposition to taxes and regulations. To us they come with sign in hand that the real culprit is government-corporate connections through the Federal Reserve. They argue we should go back to the gold standard. We should end paper money. Their solution would not preserve capitalism, though they think it would. But it would also lead to wider scale poverty, more crass exploitation as basic labor and safety and environmental laws would be uprooted, and greater pain for those around the world who already know too much of it.
A progressive can’t usually see the forest for the trees. They see the single issues that a opportunistic right winger lays before them but don’t stand back to see their overall agenda. It is easy to red-bait or worry about left wing or labor cooptation of a movement, because we wear our ideologies on our sleeves. But it is difficult to disentangle the rhetoric around the FrED RESERVE. It is difficult to argue with a 9/11 Truthers who doesn’t present an argument but only questions and false claims. It is difficult to see the big picture when anyone is congested by conspiracy theories, nitpicked issues, convoluted solutions. And United States political discourse is constantly clouded by these smogs. (It helps that much of the socialist/anarchist left doesn’t present any analyses that is any stronger and less weighted down than that of a Michael Moore or Naomi Klein progressive.)
And the Ron Paul line of thinking actually does lead us to the neo-nazis. Blame the Federal Reserve. Blame finance corporations. To those who oppose the Federal Reserve and insist 9/11 was an inside, the Fed represents a structure through which the Trilateral Commission (*Conspiracy Theory Buzz Word*) controls economies and our liberties. Some elite cabal meet at the Bilderberg Group (*Conspiracy Theory Buzz Word*) and centralize power into evil bankers. Bankers. Bankers. Banking is evil. Bankers are the bad guys. But suddenly, through the magic of a convoluted mind, bankers are Rothschilds are Jews. Bankers become a stand-in for Jews.
Neo-nazism was a racialist, brutal repression of anti-capitalism and pro-capitalist liberalism. But they are lunatics, though, and consider themselves a third position aside from capitalism and Marxism. Read Hitler, he sounds about as rational as Glenn Beck. Or vice versa. But Hitler and Mussolini came to power by sending disaffected veterans against socialist peasants and communist workers. They redbaited and racialized until the petit bourgeois and patriotic workers no longer valued liberty in a fight to stamp out Jewish Banker Bolshevism. Geez, it’s almost fun coming up with this disgusting trite.
So when we at Liberty Plaza, and now across the globe, said we were heading to Wall Street to blame the bankers for their theft of our planet and its inhabitants, the neo-nazis were happy to conflate bankers with Jews. They supported the Tea Party because of its hate. Then they supported our opposition to bankers because they identified bankers with one of the groups they hate the most. The irony is lost on them. Neo-nazis are anti-corporate, and have attempted to infiltrate the left wing and anti-racist counter globalization in Europe. They forget how many corporations we battle today profited off of the nazi persecution of those regimes’ enemies and scapegoats.
As a Marxist and an indignado, I am happy with who we chose to blame. But it is in that narrow gap between a class analysis and our inclusive and beautiful 99% rhetoric that we inadvertently opened space for all these misbegotten philosophies of the far right. If we say bankers and corporations outside of the context of an analysis of the capitalist class, we open ourselves to those who hold bankers and corporations as some mythical entities that can be conflated with those they hate.
The solution isn’t to reject the rhetoric of the 99% as an incredibly inclusive protagonist and the Wall Street barons as antagonists. We are the 99% because we have people from all classes, races, nationalities, identities in our ranks. And to remain inclusive means to sometimes take on the pain and struggle of our different elements. Just as some progressives naively beg the police that their pensions are a part of our struggle, we have to make a greater emphasis on prisons, police brutality, deportations, the undocumented underclass, gentrification. We have to be an anti-racist movement. The POC Working Group opposed a Black man who held an anti-Jewish sign. Likewise, we have to shift our politics and our analyses, as divergent from each other as they are, to necessitate anti-racist and feminist politics.
That doesn’t mean kicking out people who are ignorant. That means challenging those who desire to remain ignorant. A friend told me about some apolitical veterans at Occupy DC who were so open because of this shift that they began to internalize critiques of the gender binary that they were respectfully offered. I have watched Hasidic Jews hang with feminists, Muslims in hijabs sit with topless comrades. They didn’t let their conservatism repel them.
But it does mean kicking out unrepentant racists and misogynists. It does mean taking up as a whole the prison and deportation industrial complexes just as much we do the commodification of seeds, the privatization of water, and the profiteering of debt. It means making spaces inclusive for those who don’t wish to exclude. Challenging ourselves and those around us to all grow in this incredible outbreak of direct democracy and action. It means ingraining a sense of inclusivity and anti-racist in everything we do within this uprising.
As for the Ron Paul fanatics, there is one possible obvious solution. A staunch majority of us, in Liberty Plaza, across the country and around the world, prefer stiffer regulations and expanded social services. We believe in taxing the rich. If those are our demands, or at least more specifically discussed within our messaging, we are drawing a clear line between what we are fighting for and the ravings of two consitent(ly reactionary) pols, Ron and Rand Paul. Perhaps we don’t show them the door in the same way we do neo-fascists, but they will have to come to the contradiction of their involvement in a movement that does not have their ideology coursing through its veins.
Let’s take a firm stance against those who would play upon our frustrations as an opportunity to spread hate. Let’s be inclusive by removing those who exclude. And let’s stop dismissing people who deal with particular intersections of oppression as some special interest group.
There are flashpoints in our lives. Some of us see them, feel them more than others. We gravitate to them. Our entire lives are conflict, so we rush towards the sparks where those conflicts are most pronounced. Those moments where we might actually have a chance of winning.
I get mocked by my friends and comrades because I use we a lot. Because I am part of a family, a class, a international struggle, a movement, a network, an ethnic identity, and queer masculinity. And when I say we I don’t think I’m speaking for myself. But I am particular, just like anyone else.
In my lifetime I have seen many such flashpoints. Uprisings in Miami and Quebec against neo-liberal free trade, a double euphemism for stage what we might properly call neo-colonialism, itself a stage within capitalism. Uprisings in DC against that very same system that uses corruption, war and debt to grind underdeveloped former colonies into neo-colonial bondage. I have seen a United States military occupation, general strikes by immigrant workers, and ongoing democratic revolutions in Latin America. I have seen a massive anti-war movement, workers living months on the strike picket lines, and Hondurans living under dictatorship like each day might be their last. I saw people from New Orleans try to reconstruct their lives, and soldiers return from wars with a commitment against Empire. I was in Madrid for the Acampada Sol, and it reminded me of the convergence spaces before the counter globalization movement began to ebb.
And from afar, I watched uprisings in Seattle, Athens, Madison, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Puerto Rico, Bolivia, Palestine, Nepal, Iceland, Iran, Bangkok, Sidi Bouzid, Cairo, Buenos Aires, United States prisons. I was fortunate enough to often have friends who were there. Sometimes the people won, and sometimes they took victories imbued with defeat or a longer fight.
And I was bright enough to show up to Bowling Green on September 17th, twenty minutes late, before an uninspiring and smaller than expected crowd attempted to march on Wall Street from behind capital’s most legendary golden calf. I had friends there. We stuck it out through the weekend. Dropped back and forth that first week as if it was duty to support an uninspiring attempt at non-violent revolt against the corporations that present the great face of this modern stage of capitalism.
I sometimes sniped from the sidelines, while entering to support and volunteer and offer usually friendly criticism. I am a leftist after all, and I am used to defeat and swerve dangerously close to the guard rails that protect us from jaded cynicism. But the past month at Liberty Plaza, a spatial uprising that has inspired a truly global uprising in all of the continents, from North Pole to South Pole, has built itself up into a tide that offers us something. We have the opportunity to move on building our own direct democracy, devoid of their sense of order and etiquette, and seize the reins of our own fate through direct democracy.
I have seen Earth First disable logging roads, Anti-Racist Action end neo-nazi formations, Copwatch catch cops, the homeless seize vacant lots, workers seize factories (including once in this country), communities seize private colleges, immigrants descend upon violent ICE raids, militants defend homes from eviction, and the dens of the Boss Class shut down for business. That is direct action. It is a great part of what keeps me going.
When reporters asked us how we hope this ends, we told them we don’t believe it will.