The Good and Bad of Occupy

by Henry on December 12, 2012

Not a proper post – just a very strong recommendation that you read Quinn Norton’s extraordinary article on Occupy.

{ 93 comments }

1

Sus. 12.12.12 at 4:23 pm

Thanks for posting this. With the craziness of US elections behind us, I’ve been thinking about Occupy lately and wondering about its legacy. I’d be interested to hear what others who were closer to the movement have to say about this (the one in Atlanta was small and sporadic, so my in-person exposure mostly came from visiting to the camps in DC).

2

Stella 12.12.12 at 5:23 pm

That made me cry. Especially these bits:

The policing of protest in America makes it clear that protest has become mere ritual, a farce, and that, by definition, it becomes illegal if it threatens to change anything or inconvenience anyone. In time, all the police announcements came to say the same thing to me. “You may go through your constitutional ritual,” they intoned, “but it must stop before anything of consequence happens.” We must, above all, preserve everything as it is.

No one walked away from Occupy the same person. The occupiers will always say “we learned so much,” and the simplicity of the words belie how deep the change runs. We all learned so much in the season of Occupy. We learned there is a hostile army threaded through our nation. We learned that children can be casually brutalized, just to keep traffic from being inconvenienced.

We learned that Americans can come together and care for one another. We learned there is a great and terrible spirit in this land, the sleeping giant of our spirits summed together.

3

PGD 12.12.12 at 5:37 pm

Wow. Not sure what more to say than that. Thanks for posting this. A great, wrenching essay.

4

EB 12.12.12 at 5:55 pm

Occupy seems to be half of a movement. It knows what it doesn’t like, but it totally fails to commuicate what change it wants, because it has no process for coming to agreement on principles. I’m very much in sympathy with its values in general, and realize that a format that depends on the mobilizing and strategizing abilities of teens and twenty somethings will look pretty strange to adults; but Occupy didn’t seem interested in broadening its appeal by allying with groups that share the values but depend on structure and internal consensus to do what needs to be done.

Occupy failed to learn from earlier movements that succeeded. Maybe they’re using the winter to learn those lessons.

5

Loyal Achates 12.12.12 at 6:04 pm

Natch, if voting could change things it would be illegal – and protest has become an entirely symbolic act, like putting up a poster or flashing a peace sign. Unless millions of Americans are willing to walk off the job, nothing is going to happen – and how many people feel secure enough to do that?

6

Russell Arben Fox 12.12.12 at 6:31 pm

Brilliant, powerful, haunting, and wise: a great essay. Thanks very much for linking to it, Henry. Still, I have to say this:

The idea of the [General Assembly]–its process, its form, inclusiveness–failed. It had all the best chances to evolve, imprinted on the consciousness of thousands of occupiers like a second language. No idea gets a better chance than that, and it still failed. Fuck the GA. Bury it at a crossroads, staked through the heart, and pray it never rises again.

I hope not–and I sincerely doubt it. It will rise again, just like workers councils and farmers alliances and cordones and räte and soviets keep arising again and again, because people want to govern themselves. All this article proves, insofar as the idea of collective, participatory, and democratic decisionmaking is concerned, is that before any community of people can do any of that you need a “people,” a demos, with its imaginary boundaries and civil parameters and basic solidarity in place. Without that, without that unifying acceptance of or performance of some kind of common identity, then how can you ever make sense of the people about and for whom decisions were going to be made? The GA was a beautiful idea and alternative for getting harms expressed; as a form of government, though, which is what “occupying” requires,” its tragic flaw was not, I think, its process, but rather the very randomness and separateness and norm-lessness of the people who made use of it.

7

na 12.12.12 at 7:02 pm

People aren’t hurting enough for anyone to imagine or demand anything different in a coherent way… So many people just look and observe. The occupier people were/are the political vanguard of the left in the sense that they were the most maligned by our political/economic system. Those who weren’t hurting materially were hurting psychologically with having to mentally process the bullshit status quo. These past two presidential elections were straight up joke fests as were Bush’s two term presidency.

8

Rich Puchalsky 12.12.12 at 7:11 pm

I’d like to comment on this, but it’s pretty much impossible to in a place where “teens and twenty somethings will look pretty strange to adults” is unremarkable, and the commonplace reaction to that would draw a threat of a ban. I wrote a series from my own experience with Occupy, which is here if anyone is interested. Quinn Norton is right that the GA failed.

9

Phil 12.12.12 at 9:17 pm

I cried. What an amazing, dreadful, wonderful, killingly exhausting experience.

The part about the GA interested me, too, because it’s an organisational form going back to May ’68 (and beyond, as Russell says). I think it’s at least arguable that something like the GA can work well and positively, helping to articulate a new social subject in the course of formation – and that the problem with Occupy was precisely that its collective subject was undefined. To put it simplistically, occupy a factory or a university and you’re both self-identifying and demanding that things be done differently. Occupy open space and both the self-identification and the demands have much, much fuzzier edges.

On the other hand, the Situationists’ account of the GA they contributed to ends after about three days, when they declared that it wasn’t working and decamped to do their own thing – and subsequent experiments did suggest that working as “a small group in a process of horizontal multiplication and recomposition” (to quote A/traverso in 1975) could be more effective than constantly trying to build a base/delegate relationship.

Something else I was reminded of, perhaps less obviously, was Cohen’s “camping trip” metaphor. Just having to get things done and sort stuff out – where ‘stuff’ includes ‘relations with difficult people who are still going to be here tomorrow’ – took the occupiers onto a different plane of collective action than most of us can ever work on. I don’t think it’s going way over the top to say that forms of communism (with a small c) seems to be an emergent solution in that kind of situation, very much as Cohen’s analogy suggests.

But what a sad, sad trip.

10

scarmig 12.12.12 at 9:28 pm

Beautiful article.

It seems to me that between voice and exit, exit has long since stopped being an option. And voice is increasingly being removed. What does that leave? Submission? Or should we just be hunting for new tactics of exit?

11

Anderson 12.12.12 at 10:10 pm

“It seems to me that between voice and exit, exit has long since stopped being an option. And voice is increasingly being removed.”

I dunno. Look at gay rights – that didn’t just happen.

12

GiT 12.12.12 at 10:13 pm

The pleasant sounding name for it is “loyalty.”

13

The Raven 12.12.12 at 10:31 pm

A heartbreaking and beautiful account. Thank you for the link.

14

js. 12.12.12 at 10:46 pm

Amazing piece. And I wouldn’t ever have ended up at Wired by myself. Thanks.

15

ezra abrams 12.12.12 at 11:49 pm

agree with #4 (and @8, see below)
when i first heard about occupy, googled looking for website
*there was no website*
I guess they did twitter or facebook or something (@8 – this is 4 you) ; but no interest in putting forth an agenda and communicating with people; by coincidence, I’ve been looking at lasch’s agony american left today

went down to zucotti with my parents, old nam activists; our joint conclusion, clueless 20 somthings, no plan, will be gone with the snow. Not only that, zucotti is a horrible place to hold a demo: surrounded by noisy airconditing giant buildings; no cheap cafes open in the weekend, …there is the federal hall/monument that has an open bathroom not far off…

In Rochester NY heard a couple of occupy Rochester kids speak later on; the confused young lady talked about the 1% and how they want inflation (had to bite my tongue, the policy of the 1% is to avoid inflation, duh uh)

maybe I’m old and cranky; occupy was worse then useless cause it dissapated a lot of energy and made people even more cynical

tell me one concrete thing that came out of occupy, other then a lot of self congratulation about how wonderful we were for suffering in the rain in our tent

go on: one concrete thing; one piece of law; one change in tax code; one person elected (don’t count liz warren – i think she would have been same without occupy); one regular or semiregular news letter

6 months ago, some liberal site, saw that a 1year ann march zucotti planned in a week; i had heard nothing (and i regularly look at say commondreams counterpunch etc [@8 r u listening ????]) I mean, you have an anniversary march and no one knows about it [I can name all 9 SCOTUS judges, so if i havn’t heard about, by def , pr is bad]

and where is the occupy website, http://www.notonedime.net, telling people, organize around the fiscal cliff “negotiations” not one dime in soc sec /medicare cuts is acceptable…

back in ‘nam there were a lot of silly people; and there were a lot of people who worked *hard* day in and dayout, to try and effect change. Occupy seems like something you do if you can’t afford a semester in Europe.

16

fd2 12.13.12 at 12:17 am

“tell me one concrete thing that came out of occupy”

http://interoccupy.net/occupysandy/

http://rollingjubilee.org/

17

Anarcissie 12.13.12 at 12:48 am

I think that’s the best thing I’ve seen about the Occupies. The word ‘eulogy’ in the headline doesn’t seem appropriate, however. The tale is tragic enough, but the hero didn’t die, and will be heard from again.

In the realm of scoring, so important to mainstreamers, Occupy Wall Street could be said to have shut down the talk about gutting Social Security and Medicare for awhile, and to have drawn thousands of non-radicals into the streets about the issue, even though it was probably not high on the lists of the organizers and agitators. Proggies could have made some use of this development by organizing actions of their own according to whatever they thought was effective, but instead they mostly spent their energies fantasizing, writing articles about ‘what Occupy must do’, or trying to subvert it into the Democratic Party. Too bad.

But, anyway, it — they — we — will be back.

18

nick s 12.13.12 at 12:59 am

maybe I’m old and cranky

Yeah, maybe.

Quinn’s a friend, so I’ll declare my interest here, but her reporting for WIRED on the concurrent beats of Anonymous and Occupy (and Wikileaks) has been exceptional, and she’s done a great job of teasing out common strands of the generational kicking-off-everywhere.

Occupy open space and both the self-identification and the demands have much, much fuzzier edges.

Yes, but still: Tahrir Square. And I think the message that the Egyptian protesters sent to Occupy was actually a better articulation of the ideology than came out of Occupy itself, albeit one soused in the spirit of ’68:

We are not protesting. Who is there to protest to? What could we ask them for that they could grant? We are occupying. We are reclaiming those same spaces of public practice that have been commodified, privatised and locked into the hands of faceless bureaucracy, real estate portfolios and police “protection”. Hold on to these spaces, nurture them and let the boundaries of your occupations grow. After all, who built these parks, these plazas, these buildings? Whose labour made them real and livable?

19

rf 12.13.12 at 1:24 am

“tell me one concrete thing that came out of occupy”

Helped turn inequality into a political concern? I recently saw a speech with Andy Haldane from the BOE where he said it’s become a more important issue in policy making circles since Occupy, although I wasn’t really buying it..

“Yes, but still: Tahrir Square”

Tahrir seems to reinforce that point though doesn’t it? An example of protests putting on enough pressure to bring down a regime (when elements within it are willing to allow it)but losing out post revolution (if you can call it post revolution) to better organised groups who have spent decades building constituencies, drawing up political programs etc like the MB .

20

Andrew F. 12.13.12 at 1:43 am

The portions of the article that consist of her actual observations – from the homeless man in Oakland to the dysfunction of the GA – are excellent. The portions telling of her own states of mind are excellent. But those portions contrast jarringly with what can only be described as her aspirations for the movement, and with her efforts to delve into the interior of non protesters such as the police. A police officer is less able to refuse to obey orders than a soldier, she claims at one point, presumably in an attempt to impress upon the reader the immense pressure to conform; but the claim is so implausible that it simply distracts from her narrative. Other examples of lines that stretched my effort to interpret charitably: police departments are always on the edge of disaster; OWS was a mission of mercy from the future (though the objective of that mission is no clearer by the end of the article than it was at the beginning); the armies of Bloomberg have only guns to fight against time. The article is worth reading, but her analysis needs some work – I wonder if she wrote it too soon, or if the editors had too light a hand.

As to OWS… imho, to the extent it was concerned about inequality, it was hardly ahead of its time; to the extent it was concerned about accomplishing political change, it failed to learn from those who came before.

21

Liberty60 12.13.12 at 1:52 am

My experiences with Occupy here in So Cal closely match Quinn’s. Specifically that what started out as an eclectic mixture of political veterans and aveage apolitical middle class types, eventually evaporated leaving only a rump of anarchists, homeless, and drug addicts.

I don’t pine with nostalgia; I am still angry that the self-appointed spokesmen were too vain to acknowledge other voices, spurned offers of alliances with fellow travelers, and ended up destroying their own movement.

If there is one thing that I truly hope dies for good, it is the romantic equating of political inexperience and naivete with authenticity.

22

Mark English 12.13.12 at 3:22 am

All the supposed truths and hard facts and realism incorporated into the article don’t prevent it from being wildly (and not wisely) partisan, quite ridiculously subjective; essentially an attempt to justify and mythologize a movement that can (as a couple of previous comments confirm) be plausibly interpreted in considerably less favorable terms.

23

nick s 12.13.12 at 4:42 am

Tahrir seems to reinforce that point though doesn’t it?

Well, it reinforces a different point from the one I was addressing. If the self-identification in Tahrir were that fuzzy, you wouldn’t be able to make such a clear differentiation it from the constituencies cultivated by the MB, no?

24

UserGoogol 12.13.12 at 7:11 am

Saying Occupy caused inequality to a part of the political discussion seems entirely backwards. Protest movements are a symptom of something being a part of the political discussion, not a cause. Shit like the Tea Party or Occupy didn’t change anything, it was just a lot of emotional nothingness.

25

The Raven 12.13.12 at 7:49 am

But it did change something: after Occupy, it became possible to criticize the 1%, and for that criticism to be heard.

That’s a good start.

26

Phil 12.13.12 at 8:11 am

nick s @18: a better articulation of the ideology than came out of Occupy itself, albeit one soused in the spirit of ’68

Great quote. That in itself – the fact that Egyptian protesters articulated what Occupy was about better than Occupy did – is a bit troubling, though.

I’ll give them a pass on the spirit of ’68 – it seems like a genuine return, not trainspotter-ish quotation. And let’s not forget the spirit of ’36:

you must not forget that we can also build. It is we who built these palaces and cities, here in Spain and America and everywhere. We, the workers. We can build others to take their place. And better ones. We are not in the least afraid of ruins. We are going to inherit the earth

Contrary to some of the points made here, I think the great strength of Occupy was that it wasn’t a protest and didn’t have demands: as I wrote here, I think the brute physical presence of people joining together to say no to business as usual is where the most hopeful and the most radical political movements start. But Occupy did have weaknesses, and perhaps the lack of definition associated with occupying an open space was one of them.

One other thing: the battered and elegiac tone of Norton’s piece (did she mean ‘eulogy’?) is completely understandable, I think the conclusions it tends to lead to should be resisted: I don’t think she’s shown that Occupy was doomed from the start or that its own failings destroyed it or that the innovations of Occupy will be useless for future oppositional movements, although you could take all of those things away from her piece. Occupy had very powerful enemies who wanted to shut it down from day one, and eventually they succeeded. This isn’t to say that we should whitewash the faults of Occupy, just that we can afford to take a cooler approach to them – not so much “we got it all wrong, again!”, more “what should we do better another time?”

27

Phil 12.13.12 at 8:13 am

er, while the battered and elegiac, et cetera. As you were.

28

SusanC 12.13.12 at 8:24 am

“Anarchists, homeless and drug addicts” is as valid a constituency as any (well, maybe not the anarchists…) The homeless, in particular, have a more serious political grievance than most of us, sometimes coupled with a greater willingness to take really drastic action. Ther government probably ought to be fearing this group more than (e.g.) leftist University lecturers with blogs.

29

rf 12.13.12 at 11:12 am

“If the self-identification in Tahrir were that fuzzy, you wouldn’t be able to make such a clear differentiation it from the constituencies cultivated by the MB, no?”

But isn’t that like saying if self identification at Occupy were that fuzzy you wouldn’t be able to make such a clear differentiation from the constituencies cultivated by the Republicans? I’m not sure what the self identifcation at Tahrir was? It appears to have been a mix of groups of differing demographics, identities, interests etc coming together in oppossition to the regime, which was always going to fracture when the politics began after?

30

Sam Dodsworth 12.13.12 at 11:30 am

When they came, marching in their neat black coats up the steps among dead and dying men and women, they found on the high, grey, polished wall of the great foyer a word written at the height of a man’s eyes, in broad smears of blood: DOWN
They shot the dead man who lay nearest the word, and later on when the Directorate was restored to order the word was washed off the wall with water, soap, and rags but it remained; it had been spoken; it had meaning.

– Ursula LeGuin, “The Disposessed”

Perhaps too dramatic for Occupy, where hardly anyone got shot, but it’s as good an answer as any to “what good is inchoate protest?”

31

Yarrow 12.13.12 at 1:38 pm

Phil @ 26: not so much “we got it all wrong, again!”, more “what should we do better another time?”

Yes. And if another time happens soon enough, there will be lots of folks who went into Occupy with no experience at all who will be able to seed the next one with ideas of how to do better. Many will now be anarchists; some will have made their way out of homelessness or drug addiction in the context of Occupy.

May another wave come soon.

32

Trader Joe 12.13.12 at 2:01 pm

Excellent.

Occupy was the beta test for mass protest in the 21st century – new media, organizing methods, governance etc….as the article describes well, it didn’t all work, but it was all given a chance and some kernels of learning and/or goodness were taken away.

Protest and change is an iterative process. Some future “Occupy”maybe 2.0, 4.0 or 8.0 will “get it right” and combined with the right and possibly random set of circumstances will achieve something for the ages…..until some Occupy long after that wants yet another round….

Thanks for sharing

33

rootless (@root_e) 12.13.12 at 3:00 pm

“But it did change something: after Occupy, it became possible to criticize the 1%, and for that criticism to be heard”

“He would spend more money on tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% than all of the new spending that he proposes for education, health care, prescription drugs and national defense, all combined. Under my proposal, for every dollar that I propose in spending, I will put another dollar into middle class tax cuts”

Al Gore, 2000 election debate.

34

AcadeemicLurker 12.13.12 at 3:02 pm

and for that criticism to be heard… is the key point here.

35

rootless (@root_e) 12.13.12 at 3:06 pm

#8 – The platform “99% unite to fight for Glass-Steagal” strikes me as absurd.

What was interesting about OWS is that there were no concrete demands for anything of immediate value. At least OWS could have demanded lower transit fares

http://krebscycle.tumblr.com/post/12854512404/the-self-crippling-of-ows

36

Phil 12.13.12 at 3:27 pm

The trouble is, adopting concrete, achievable demands would have killed Occupy. What happens when a demand is granted?

37

rootless (@root_e) 12.13.12 at 3:34 pm

When a demand is granted, the people are empowered. They have made a practical demonstration of the value of solidarity and struggle. When nothing is achieved, the people are disempowered. They have experienced a practical demonstration of the vast powers of the state and weakness of the little people.

38

AcademicLurker 12.13.12 at 4:08 pm

All the pundits from Yglesias to David Brooks were tut tut-ing Occupy for not formulating demands.

Ergo, refusing to formulate demands was the correct thing to do.

QED

39

Chris Williams 12.13.12 at 4:13 pm

Andrew F @20 Re the police “A police officer is less able to refuse to obey orders than a soldier, she claims at one point, presumably in an attempt to impress upon the reader the immense pressure to conform; but the claim is so implausible that it simply distracts from her narrative. “

I disagree. I’ve been studying the history of police discipline for a living for a few years, and I was nodding along at that point. In public order policing you have a huge amount of socialisation working alongside military discipline, and (in the UK context at least) less overt emphasis on rules of engagement than do soldiers, precisely because you’re (theoretically) not using lethal force. So you don’t step out of line.

I also did a little bit of hanging out with Occupy in a couple of cities in the UK. The very interesting contrast here was that (largely) they got far softer treatment from the cops than the US movement did. Nevertheless, the same pressures were present. I’ve learned a few lessons (most of which are about 12v electrics), and discovered a few more tendencies which I will stamp on hard whenever I see them.

Overall, I think that in the UK it managed quite nicely to shift the focus of debate back on to the financial sector, away from teh evil state and teh corrupt MPs. So, it was worth all my spare camping gear. It wasn’t 1936, but neither are we about to be rounded up and shot, so that’s not entirely a disadvantage.

40

Liberty60 12.13.12 at 4:17 pm

@ Susan:
The homeless can’t be an effective political group because there just aren’t enough of them by themselves to seize political power, so like most marginalized minorities they need to make alliance with a larger group, say, the middle class.
But the motivations and grievances of the middle class aren’t about helping the homeless- if they were only aggrieved by the mistreatment of the homeless, that would mean that the middle class themselves were satisfied. the only way to help the homeless is to help the middle class.

This is what angered me about my local Occupy- they scorned the middle class organizations such as labor unions, the Democrats, MoveOn and so forth. They prized their own ignorance and inexperience of how to organize effective political movements and shunned heterodox thought and inclusiveness as “co-option”.
In the end, instead of representing the 99%, Occupy alienated 99% of the American electorate,

41

Trader Joe 12.13.12 at 4:18 pm

Formulating demands would have been the Colonial Army lining up across the field from the Redcoats….a slaughter waiting to happen.

Small powers don’t overcome great ones by fighting them directly on a field of their choosing.

When there is no way to keep score, there is no defeat or victory…

Someone asked for tangible outcomes the President’s 300+ electoral votes with the crap economy, budget, and congress he has overseen is example #1.

42

js. 12.13.12 at 4:30 pm

they scorned the middle class organizations such as labor unions, the Democrats, MoveOn

It might be true that your local Occupy scorned labor unions, but more generally, this doesn’t seem all that true. To call the Democrats a “middle class organization” seems odd—we are after all talking about one of the two major political parties, and there might be all sorts of good reasons to—at least initially—organize independently of the existing structures of electoral politics. If, e.g., Occupy had too quickly assimilated itself to the Democratic party, it almost certainly could not have helped bring about the change in political focus that most people, including me, think it managed to.

Look, I don’t want to deny that Occupy could have been better at gaining/retaining allies, etc.; at the same time, worries about co-optation were real and well-founded.

43

rootless (@root_e) 12.13.12 at 4:43 pm


Ergo, refusing to formulate demands was the correct thing to do.

QED “

It was a repudiation of everything argued by John L. Lewis to Alinsky to MLK, but …

44

Henry 12.13.12 at 4:44 pm

Sam – I had the same thought as you when reading the piece. Although there is nearly as much Estraven as Shevek in there – one of the animating thoughts is the value of small scale personal kindness and brotherliness/sisterliness in conditions of privation.

Full disclosure – Quinn’s a friend of mine too. And I strongly suspect that the “eulogy” title was not her’s but an editor’s. Last time I saw her was some weeks ago in San Francisco – she told me over coffee about some of the incidents and themes that went into the essay, and then went off on her bike to pick up gasmask and head out to efforts to revive protest in Oakland. It’s not over for her.

45

rootless (@root_e) 12.13.12 at 4:46 pm

“When there is no way to keep score, there is no defeat or victory…”

That’s Zizek’s point no?
http://krebscycle.tumblr.com/post/14171228736/slavoj-zizek-for-the-win

Everyone is happy. Wall Street continues to rule. The poor are still poor. The activists have not been defeated or had to compromise their beautiful souls.

46

Steven Tran-Creque 12.13.12 at 5:34 pm

I never met Quinn Norton and I was only ever involved with OWS in NYC, so I can only comment so far, but her account of the GAs doesn’t really fit with my own. As a structure, the GA definitely became progressively more unworkable over time, and I’ve definitely seen it fail dramatically (eg one night in Washington Square Park, we discussed racism and privilege and Israel/Palestine for two hours while hundreds of police surrounded the park to evict us), but the idea that it became a space of pervasive racism, sexism, and violence seriously strikes me as weird. Most people I know got sick of the GA because it became a place of agonizingly slow arguments—with, yes, far too much of an open door to crazy people, but more often that was the guy in the alien hat/bike helmet who claimed to be from another planet, talking about how we could fix everything by growing hemp.

Which isn’t to say uglier things didn’t happen or that the GA wasn’t a failure (as a functioning decision making body, it kind of was)—and I am not a woman and never could get a sense of where the sexual violence rumors stopped being fictional right wing propaganda and became real (there are people whose accounts of this I trust and other people I really really do not). But what I do think is worth emphasizing is that the image of the encampment as a place of violence and systematic disenfranchisement doesn’t really fit with any of my experiences, and the images of failure that do come to mind, especially late october and post eviction, are much more dominated by despair and alienation as OWS receded and left us back in the old world.

It’s also worth noting that with OWS actions post eviction and especially since the 1 year anniversary (where a huge three day convergence protest was held with near zero media coverage), the GA has largely taken a kind of ceremonial role with decision making done in spokescouncils and federated working groups instead.

Anyway, it’s still an excellent piece, even if her account of a few things didn’t feel right to me. I really did appreciate the weird inclusion of Zizek’s signs from the future at the end. The larger sense of popular support for the protests erupting in a need for something to matter feels very true to me. That that’s faded or been beaten into submission or killed—and how political imagination was put back in its place of permanent cynical alienation—is still something I’m grappling with.

47

Trader Joe 12.13.12 at 6:12 pm

@45
He uses a lot bigger words than I do, but I suppose the essence is the same from a theoretical standpoint. Occupy didn’t really think like that though, they were into survival and perpetuation…they were about being pollen, not being an oak to be felled. Its hard to stop pollen, its easy to kill oaks.

A point I’d add is I’m not sure Occupy is how a guy called “Trader Joe” or one of the multi-dozen tenured academics and accomplished writers we have floating around here would have run a rebellion…but that is actually the point.

We, folks like us who debate this stuff, is the exact kind of “bull$hit” Occupy opposed….if the chant is “$shit’s not working” and we’re working…what does that make us.

48

rootless (@root_e) 12.13.12 at 6:22 pm

I think Occupy tapped a lot of popular discontent, but the “activist” culture is dysfunctional and transformed it into an ineffectual symbolic gesture of the sort they found more acceptable than a movement that had a constituency to serve. A 10% reduction in transit fares for regular riders would have been not unreachable and something to build on.

49

Doctor Memory 12.13.12 at 7:35 pm

“Something must be done. This is something. Ergo, we must do this.”

That said, tut-tutting and chin-stroking about organizational structures, plans and tactics became moot the instant the Oakland/NYC police were let off the leash by their masters and allowed to play a months-long game of “smash the hippie.” At that point, solidarity trumps smaller concerns.

In the end, what did Occupy achieve last year? They demonstrated for really the first time since 1968 to a lot of well-meaning middle class white liberals with rad tendencies just who it is that the police actually work for, and what the stakes are for actual dissenters. (Yes, obviously, a fact that the nonwhite and the poor have never forgotten.) What will that have achieved in 20 years? Ask me in 20 years.

50

Steven Tran-Creque 12.13.12 at 7:42 pm

Trader Joe: Simon Critchley actually wrote an entire chapter of his last book, Faith of the Faithless, in response to that review. It’s pretty devastating and well worth reading, and I think the debate turns on a very different issue from the oak/pollen metaphor: namely, violence.

There’s an early version of it here:
http://www.nakedpunch.com/articles/39

I’d like to turn back to Zizek and to the criticisms he makes of my position in his essay in the London Review of Books, entitled ‘Resistance is Surrender’. Really, the title says it all: all forms of political resistance are simply surrender unless they seize hold of the state. Now, oddly enough, and for quite unrelated reasons, when a friend of mine sent me the link to Zizek’s critique of Infinitely Demanding, a copy of Lenin’s State and Revolution was sitting on my desk at home in Brooklyn. One of the striking features of Lenin’s text is the fact that his critique of liberals, social democrats and the bourgeoisie pails in comparison to the venom reserved for the true enemy: the anarchists. Everything turns here on the interpretation of the Paris Commune in 1871. The question is: to whom does the memory and legacy of the Commune belong? Does it belong to the anarchists, and the commune might very easily be understood in Bakunin’s terms, or is it a foreshadowing of Lenin’s Bolshevism? The key to State and Revolution is Marx and Engels’ phrase, ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ and the issue is whether the legacy of the Commune and the possibility of communism requires a centralist, statist dictatorship of the kind that Lenin envisages, or the decentralized non-state federalism of the anarchists.

As Carl Schmitt reminds us – and we should not forget that the fascist jurist was a great admirer of Lenin, which is only exceeded by the praise lavished on Mao – there are two main traditions on the non-parliamentary, non-liberal left: authoritarianism and anarchism. If Zizek attacks my position with characteristic Leninist violence for belonging to the latter, then it is crystal clear which party he supports. Zizek begins his piece by listing various alternatives on the left for dealing with the seeming indestructibility of capitalism. This listing seems initially plausible – indeed some of it seems to be lifted unacknowledged from the conclusion to Infinitely Demanding – until one realizes what it is that Zizek is defending, namely dictatorship and a centralized state defended with military power.

And while I was at Zizek’s talk at OWS in October (and really liked it, actually), he has also written rather ridiculous stuff celebrating (eg) Obama’s victory as a victory for the left, the healthcare bill as a victorious blow against neoliberalism, etc. His attack on Critchley is not one of his stronger moments, I think.

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rootless (@root_e) 12.13.12 at 7:43 pm

“became moot the instant the Oakland/NYC police were let off the leash by their masters and allowed to play a months-long game of “smash the hippie.” At that point, solidarity trumps smaller concerns.”

And if the issue had been something more relevant and concrete to the public than right to camp out, there might have been more concrete expressions of solidarity – maybe.

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Phil 12.13.12 at 7:53 pm

When a demand is granted, the people are empowered.

The people are empowered for the next time round. When a demand is granted to occupiers, the occupiers have to either pack up or face division and loss of credibility (we’ve already given you what you asked for!). The only way occupiers will be empowered by having demands granted will be if those demands related to the occupation itself, which is very much not what you were talking about.

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rootless (@root_e) 12.13.12 at 7:57 pm

@52

Depends on your goal. If your goal is to keep people in a park, then you are right. If you think that there is no shortage of next venues and issues and you want to build a movement, then …

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Steven Tran-Creque 12.13.12 at 8:05 pm

There were plenty of expressions of solidarity. You think thousands of people showed up to stop Bloomberg’s first eviction attempt just by accident? Or that people massively inconvenienced by marches, sitting in cars in traffic we’d blocked, would still cheer us on because… what, they were having fun?

There is a kind of pathetically reductive liberal reasoning that floats to the top of OWS discontent from time to time: that if only we’d settled on concrete goals, then we could have had concrete accomplishments, and then people would have joined us and we would not have been defeated.

As David Graeber’s pointed out elsewhere, in the history of bad advice, this has to rank somewhere near the top of the list. It’s not hard to come up with a list of protests in the last ten (or whatever) years that had concrete demands, but it is hard to think of the off the top of your head because none of them spawned particularly memorable movements or historical moments. This isn’t to say that OWS shouldn’t have focused on concrete goals—or even that it hasn’t, because that’s exactly what Occupy Sandy and Strike Debt have done recently. But the assumption that protest can only be meaningful and successful if it fits into a liberal framework of pragmatism is as historically indefensible as it is obviously ideological.

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nick s 12.13.12 at 8:21 pm

Shit like the Tea Party or Occupy didn’t change anything, it was just a lot of emotional nothingness.

There are going to be a lot of lazy compare/contrasts with the Tea Party, but I think it’s fairly well-documented that having Tea Party types (especially ones with weapons) show up at congressional town-halls in the summer of 2009 was not without consequence; that suggests something about how the power to intimidate has different thresholds depending upon who’s doing the intimidating.

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Sam Dodsworth 12.13.12 at 8:22 pm

Henry@44 – Shevek and Estrevan both have the kindness, and both books contain the same point about small kindnesses and shared pain. I need a quote about that to balance the one I chose and make a LeGuin-style union of opposites, but I don’t have a good one right now.

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js. 12.13.12 at 8:23 pm

But the assumption that protest can only be meaningful and successful if it fits into a liberal framework of pragmatism is as historically indefensible as it is obviously ideological.

You can say this a thousand times—and it needs to be said a thousand times—but it’ll never get through certain heads. (Also, the Critchley piece looks great; thanks.)

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Henry 12.13.12 at 8:41 pm

I need a quote about that to balance the one I chose and make a LeGuin-style union of opposites, but I don’t have a good one right now.

The one from her introduction to a later edition (if I remember right; maybe it’s in The Language of the Night or somewhere), where she talks about where the book came from – the solitary image of two people pulling a sled through a world of snow – might be a good one.

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bianca steele 12.13.12 at 9:01 pm

There does seem to be some parallel between parts of the OWS ethos and the form of socialism practiced in The Cassini Division. (Pre-Occupy, the association would probably have been different, but I’m guessing.)

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rootless (@root_e) 12.13.12 at 9:09 pm

@50

The most successful Anarchist political movement of the 20th century, the CNT/FAI followed, during its most successful years, an explicit strategy of winning a sequence of smaller goals. In fact, Zizek’s critique has zero to do with state power and is only concerned with effectiveness even though Zizek is nostalgic for Lenin in other works. In the end, the protests against the Iraq war, which I participated in, did nothing positive. Nobody was saved. No movement was created. Nothing was done except to make some people feel better about themselves. For some of us, the impotence of “the left” re Iraq and Katrina was a point of departure, at long last. The moral position that being ineffectual is ok if one’s heart is in the right place wears thin.

That’s great to be able to return to the Moon or one’s comfortable study in Brooklyn and leaf through State and Revolution or the Odonian dialogue or Corey Robin’s memoirs. But still a lot of people were killed or hurt in Bush’s Iraq war. That can’t be talked away.

@54
” There were plenty of expressions of solidarity. You think thousands of people showed up to stop Bloomberg’s first eviction attempt just by accident? Or that people massively inconvenienced by marches, sitting in cars in traffic we’d blocked, would still cheer us on because… what, they were having fun?”

I do not think that at all. But months later it had turned into something else. As is well documented.

FWIW, Ray Williams.
http://krebscycle.tumblr.com/post/29051516425/the-dispossessed-in-late-middle-age

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Phil 12.13.12 at 9:17 pm

FWIW, most people didn’t call him Ray.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.13.12 at 9:20 pm

Against my better judgement, I’ll comment. The people who are rehashing the tired ideas about how there should have been demands, and how the “activist” culture is dysfunctional etc. etc. have to confront the real history of what happened that year. Everything was tried. You want organized, top-down attempts to build a movement? People tried that. You want a list of demands, and a series of protests focussed on them? People tried that too. You want more experienced organizers? They existed in droves.

Occupy emerged as it did for particular reasons. However you might have wanted to replay a playbook from another decade, that playbook didn’t work. OWS may or may not have succeeded at anything in some world-historical sense, but it certainly worked better than anything else tried that year. The people going on about how they knew better, and they’ll never get through certain heads, aren’t demonstrating their practicality and knowledge. Rather the reverse.

Occupy failed for particular reasons too. I’d be interested in talking to other people who were in Occupy groups about that. For people who weren’t, well, I don’t think that you know very much about it.

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Steven Tran-Creque 12.13.12 at 10:33 pm

rootless: I don’t actually disagree with you/Zizek about the Iraq protests, and I think he was right to point out the disturbingly easy way the protests were incorporated into the logic of neocon imperialism. (Notably, there were attempts to do similar things with OWS in the first few days with Bloomberg, then with democrat/liberal cooptation, and maybe more recently with Occupy Sandy.)

What I don’t agree with is the argument that follows: that this happened simply because there were no concrete, incremental demands, and had those demands been made, we could have been victorious. This narrative assumes that solidarity evacuated following the eviction with the implicit assumption that this was because of the failure to achieve anything concrete. I don’t find this very convincing, especially considering how deliberately mainstream media avoided covering any of the violence that followed. Note, for contrast: Strike Debt and Occupy Sandy have both achieved quite a lot of concrete stuff, even gotten quite a lot of favorable press—and still no riots and encampments in the streets. Indeed, no response at all from the mainstream political system.

Clearly, we’re dealing with a more complex social phenomenon than can be address with the reductive utopian-revolution/piecemeal-reform dyad, but somehow this argument stubbornly survives. There is an interesting (and worthwhile) discussion to have about how and why OWS failed, but this doesn’t cut it.

I think Rich is very right, but I’d take the argument further: OWS was the most successful protest of the neoliberal era, and the only other one that comes close is Seattle in 1999—and yet we keep hearing that we need vertical organizing, incremental demands, etc.

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john c. halasz 12.13.12 at 10:40 pm

There’s a certain paradox of protest. Either the PTB are rat-ass bastards and will not heed your demands, but will go ahead with what they’ve already planned and ruthlessly suppress any dissent in the process, (or otherwise contain and disable it). Or they will attend to your demands and grievances and attempt to remedy them or at least bargain a compromise, in which case they aren’t such rat-ass bastards to begin with. The way to resolving this quasi-paradox is to realize that the protest,- (and such protests are most always on the part of the weaker, much less tightly organized portion),- is directed not just at the power-structure, but just as much at the third party, the various public at large, and is aimed at undermining the legitimation of prevailing power and exposing it in its raw, stark and brutal nakedness. How effective that might be depends on to just what degree (one thinks) power depends on legitimation to work its will, ranging from the quasi-positivist account of Weber, as the mere consent or acquiescence of the governed, to much more robust forms of the active assent of the govern, along the lines of Arendt and other republican thinkers. (The limit is Luhmann’s purely functionalist, which is to say, abysmally cynical, theory of self-legitimating political elites). But if there is any such requirement at all, then the introduction of an element of incalculable disorganization and disrupted coordination in the power elites is already the beginnings of fundamental directional change. Hence the non-strategy of negative demand, as opposed to the demand for demands, for strategic “goals”, put forth so pompously by soi-disant “players” within the all too constricted options of the status quo. I’m not saying that protest is the only form of “action”, nor that it is self-sufficient, nor that more organized and structured forms of oppositional activity aren’t necessary. (I am saying, though, that “direct action” is really indirect action). But keeping score and toting up points is hardly the relevant criterion of “success”, when the whole point is to change the rules and nature of the game.

Occupy Wall St. arose belatedly in response to a massive financial and economic crisis, which was also felt acutely, if diffusely, across wide swathes of the population to be a crisis of legitimacy in the whole “system”. And what was being occupied wasn’t just a physical space with embodied presence; what was being occupied and reclaimed was the public square, in opposition to the privatization of everything, which has been the neo-liberal agenda for 30+ years and which the crisis and bailouts only re-enforced. If various members of a marginalized public came out of their cubicles, niches or crannies and re-assembled themselves in a first encounter, which seemed inchoate and confused, that really was only to be expected, since it had been so long and finding common ground, when so much ground had already been pulled out from under them, would be an arduous task, requiring people to move off of and re-examine their priors and prejudices. And the call, (not demand), to the broader public was that they too move off of and re-examine their priors and prejudices and begin to articulate and clarify and cross-weave a vast array of hitherto ignored and repressed grievances as an act of public disclosure, in contrast to the dumb-show of corporate-dominated politics and media and the carefully scripted lies and illusions of business-as-usual. It may well be that Occupy “failed” and is passe’. But the attempt to form an oppositional public sphere that it initiated, however tardily, is by no means defunct, even if the “brand name” fades. These struggles will “necessarily” continue amidst the spreading misery of the Long Stagnation that awaits us, (unless the Eurozone blows, in which case it will be the Greater Depression). And exactly what forms of organization and what tactics and strategies it will require remains an open, experimental question. But it is no longer a matter, at least, of playing along with the neo-liberal game, which if not dead yet, has clearly reached its limits as a “regime of accumulation”.

If smug, conformist centrist-liberals fail to understand that in their delusions of mastery, then they are even more out of touch with “reality” than the vagabonds of Wall St.

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rootless (@root_e) 12.13.12 at 11:04 pm

Steven Tran-Creque:
You bring a lot of people out, and if all you can offer them is a losing fight with the cops, you have reduced your constituency down to people who like to fight cops and lose. Concrete immediate political demands may not be the correct approach and certainly are not the only approach, but there has to be something that can produce wins – or at least that’s how it seems to me. I think Strike Debt and Occupy Sandy are smart and interesting – but both involve getting incremental small wins, no? My thought at the start of occupy was that there was a lot of frustrated organizational energy that could also be put into the development of coop firms of some sort. There is a huge range of possibility outside of camp out, meet, and refuse to be coopted (by people who don’t particularly want to coopt you).

And in the end, what Trotsky said about war is also true about political power. You may not be interested in it, but it is interested in you. One does not have to believe in the virtues of vertical organizing to acknowledge that reality. As noted above, Tahir Square that produces a Theocracy is not really all that wonderful. Someone is going to organize the state.

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rf 12.14.12 at 12:14 am

” As noted above, Tahir Square that produces a Theocracy is not really all that wonderful”

An opposition that puts pressure on those with autocratic inclinations to open up the political system is (if not wonderful) a force for good. Lets see how it plays out. As you’re only to fond of saying, these things take time, and effort

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Lawrence Stuart 12.14.12 at 1:56 am

@ 41 “Formulating demands would have been the Colonial Army lining up across the field from the Redcoats….a slaughter waiting to happen.”

Ghandi. The salt march. Tie the concrete demands to a greater vision. Make the attainment of the demands an education.

Tell me, anyone, what was Occupy’s vision?

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Mario 12.14.12 at 2:19 am

I’m a day late, and find that while I am repeatedly distressed by some of the comments, I am hearted that Steven T-C and js and the wonderful Anarcissie ad others are holding it down. Liberalism isn’t the be-all, end-all; and the bizarre Taylorist view of protest that perpetually dismisses the *actual work of protest* (which is often fucking tedious) in favor of managerialism really needs to be re-examined in light of its classist assumptions of value.

But I’m really writing a comment because Russell Arben Fox @6 deserves recognition. Well said, Russell. And beautiful. Thanks for that.

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Trader Joe 12.14.12 at 1:01 pm

@50
Thanks for the link…I’ll check it in more detail, but at first blush some interesting themes some which were evident at the time, some which seem to suffer a bit of revisionist bias (IMO). I’m not keen on conflating Occupy which exists in a fully formed democracy (of some flavor) with the various protests that exist in non-democracies…the needs are quite different and while there are generalizations to all protests, the levers I think, matter.

@rootless
I hear what you’re saying about ‘goals’…I’d just interject as I did in my initial comment very little of Occupy was about “winning” or “doing”…it was about existing and letting the establishment know that they didn’t have an unfettered free hand to continue with business as usual.

Its easy to say that mission failed but the fact that we are still talking about it is proof that it was more than a footnote. In my view, the legacy depends on the next iteration…if its more of the same, another goal-less gathering/sleep-in, your point will be proved.

If, just if, the next iteration goes a little farther, does a little more, I think the experiment can be said to have made a difference, despite its lack of ‘wins’

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Cranky Observer 12.14.12 at 1:36 pm

= = = Rich Puchalsky 12.13.12 at 9:20 pm

Against my better judgement, I’ll comment. The people who are rehashing the tired ideas about how there should have been demands, and how the “activist” culture is dysfunctional etc. etc. have to confront the real history of what happened that year. Everything was tried. You want organized, top-down attempts to build a movement? People tried that. You want a list of demands, and a series of protests focussed on them? People tried that too. You want more experienced organizers? They existed in droves. = = =

Prior to the initiation of Occupy Wall Street, the discussion amongst the Very Serious People of DC and New York was along the lines of how deeply to chop Social Security and Medicare, how many more hundreds of billions fire out of the free money bazooka at the huge financial institutions, how right they were to take all criminal prosecution of financiers off the table, how the populace would just have to suffer through a good cold douche of 12% unemployment, etc. And that was just the Democrats and core members of the Obama Administration; the Republicans were of course pumping even more hard Radical Right Austarianism. After OWS really got rolling the “conversation” [a word I despise] changed, at least on the public face of the Administration, and the idea that 100% financialization of the economy and 15% unemployment as far as the eye could see was not, perhaps, in the best interest of the nation started to be whispered aloud. Whether or not that led to Obama’s decision to run a somewhat more aggressive campaign in 2012, and actually speak a few liberal phrases, I can’t say, but I have to think it contributed.

That was a significant change in the outlook of the VSP, one that would not have occurred if lists of “concrete demands” had been presented.

Cranky

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AcademicLurker 12.14.12 at 2:34 pm

@70

Totally agree with this. The people saying that OWS “accomplished nothing” have forgotten how massively the public discourse changed from the period immediately prior to the protests.

As Cranky Observer notes, no one outside of left blogs was talking about the hugely increased concentration of wealth at the top, instead it was all about how much pain needed to be inflicted on the little people in order to get the country moving again.

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rootless (@root_e) 12.14.12 at 3:54 pm

As Cranky Observer notes, no one outside of left blogs was talking about the hugely increased concentration of wealth at the top, instead it was all about how much pain needed to be inflicted on the little people in order to get the country moving again.

That’s just not a factually correct statement.

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bianca steele 12.14.12 at 4:04 pm

It is a factual statement, actually, unless you consider Paul Krugman’s biweekly op-ed in the New York Times to fall within the category “left blog.”

The disconnect between people who do seem to think so, and as a result discount things like Krugman’s column as not really representing something that can be talked about, and as a result say there’s ZERO room for even slight dissent . . . and people who think because Krugman can say it, there’s really no problem . . . is part of the problem that makes Occupy problematic. Because just as the latter group dismisses things like Krugman’s column, the latter group tends to feel, I think, that any number of defeats is irrelevant. And that’s not Occupy’s problem, but it’s part of what shaped the reasons it’s the way it is, and what’s going to shape what results from it.

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bianca steele 12.14.12 at 4:05 pm

“just as the former group dismisses things like Krugman’s column” . . . sorry

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bianca steele 12.14.12 at 4:15 pm

and “unless” -> “if”. argh

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Trader Joe 12.14.12 at 4:22 pm

@67 – Tell me, anyone, what was Occupy’s vision?

If you’ve paid any attention – there wasn’t one. That was the point. Your tone says you know that but it also says you don’t get why that’s important.

What does it mean to say “$hit’s f-d up!”

You and I and the next 13 posters undoubtedly have different views about what “$hit” and how “f-d up”….but we might agree with the basic statement – “$hit’s f-d up!”

Picking this or picking that and making it a cause or a vision dilutes the message by whatever proportion doesn’t buy the selection…we have politicians and thousands of cause specific activists groups to advocate your choice, my choice or the next 13 choices…go talk to them if you want a vision.

Until Occupy – there wasn’t anyone saying hey, “$hit’s f-d up!” Doing the same old thing ain’t getting anywhere….despite the fact so many know this to be true.

You want a vision? It was being verbal, visual, viral and sometimes violent.

Spirit doesn’t have a name.

Societal change is hard to measure in 1 year time lines. I’m not defending that they accomplished something we can write in a sentance and pin on the wall or build a statue for….I’m suggesting that, depending what happens next, we might look back and say that’s where it started.

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rootless (@root_e) 12.14.12 at 4:34 pm

I don’t really understand your point, but as to factual record, it’s very simple to find references to wealth inequality in speeches from the Obama administration throughout the first term and certainly from other prominent Democrats over that time. Larry Summers, even, said wealth inequality was the fundamental problem of US society as far back as 2000. This is not a radical position that only brave truth tellers were able to utter in the face of horrid repression that extended even to snide remarks.

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Yarrow 12.14.12 at 4:40 pm

FWIW, a lot of Occupy Richmond folks were involved in the protests against the transvaginal ultrasound bill in Virginia. My guess is that the sit-down arrests at the state capitol wouldn’t have happened without Occupy.

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Steven Tran-Creque 12.14.12 at 6:32 pm

I don’t think Occupy can make a credible claim to having changed the discourse among the in-government policy elite. When Larry Summers says wealth inequality is a problem, he means something very different from what any of us are talking about now. I do think Occupy radically altered the intellectual-media climate, however.

In any case, I don’t think this is actually a good practical metric of success, but it tends to be the first one radicals reach for when liberals wade in and demand to see practical results. For some reason, they don’t go for Occupy Sandy, perhaps because it’s too parochial; and they don’t go for Strike Debt, perhaps because it’s too new.

But, even if comes from a place of legitimate frustration, I really do think the demand for pragmatic achievements needs to be seen as ideological. To me, maybe the greatest achievement of OWS was to reopen radical political imagination—and I think David Graeber got it right when he pointed out that neoliberalism isn’t an economic system at all. After all, David Harvey, after all, pointed out the radical disconnect between neoliberal orthodoxy and actual practiced policy a while ago. Neoliberalism hasn’t delivered mass prosperity, but that sells its failures short: it hasn’t really delivered technological progress, either, nor has it really even provided actual productivity.

Yes, it has accomplished mass wealth transfers into the hands of capital, but I think Graeber’s right to point out that at least just as significantly, it is an ideological project designed to destroy the imagination, to render unthinkable any other possible ways of organizing life—thus the Zizek-Jameson quote that the end of the world is easier to imagine than the end of capitalism. Faced with that sort of ideological edifice, I certainly can’t seriously imagine any scenarion in which an intelligent person could reasonably expect to present a list of concrete demands and win anything lasting. As john halasz put it, the object is not to win; the objective is to change the game.

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rootless (@root_e) 12.14.12 at 8:08 pm

In any case, I don’t think this is actually a good practical metric of success, but it tends to be the first one radicals reach for when liberals wade in and demand to see practical results. For some reason, they don’t go for Occupy Sandy, perhaps because it’s too parochial; and they don’t go for Strike Debt, perhaps because it’s too new.

You begin by assuming that your position is the “radical” one and that skeptics must be “liberals” who essentially buy into capitalism as it exists modulo some cosmetic changes. This is a methodological error. Perhaps that reason that people like me don’t critique OccupySandy or StrikeDept in the same way we critiqued an ongoing middle management meeting in a park is that we see the first two as possibly effective and the last as more of the vanguardist posing that has crippled the US left since the 1970s.

“To me, maybe the greatest achievement of OWS was to reopen radical political imagination”

I don’t see this achievement? Where is it?

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Steven Tran-Creque 12.14.12 at 8:52 pm

The liberal/radical comment there was maybe too broad of a brush, but you’re not at all the only person I have in mind with that critique. I also do not think that people who argue this way buy into capitalism. Probably the nastiest version of this fight that comes to mind was with Marxists (Doug Henwood, Jodi Dean, and some of the Jacobin crew) on one side and anarchists (rather poorly represented) on the other at Blue Stockings last year. Make of that what you will.

Regardless, a few points (don’t have time for more right now; too many typos in the last post already):

1. I’m not saying you (specifically, plural, whatever) should criticize Occupy Sandy or Strike Debt too. My point is that those are concrete things that absolutely would never have happened without OWS because all of the people in them are basically the best core people who came out of OWS. Occupy Sandy was a massive relief operation built over listservs in the space of like two days. Strike Debt is a longer term project made up of half of the same people which has so far

2. There’s really nothing vanguardist at all about what happened in Zuccotti. Other disagreements aside, it’s a charge that genuinely doesn’t make sense to me and runs pretty contrary to every principle of anarchist organizing.

3. Liberal may not have been the best word to describe your position, but I do see it as an essentially conservative one in one sense: to the extent that left-right means anything to me, I follow Graeber’s argument that it turns on one’s political attitude towards imagination. I’m a member of Strike Debt, and it’s a problem we ran up against in the leadup to the Rolling Jubilee: our harshest critics were ostensible leftists and allies who nevertheless focused exclusively on not only what could go wrong with the project (often erroneously and always without talking to us first, but that’s another matter).

The project was half intended as direct action mutual aid, but obviously direct action has an imaginative-political component as well or it wouldn’t be meaningful political action: the point of the Rolling Jubilee was also to open up the conversation on what debts are, what makes them real, why debt is moralized, how wealth and poverty created and distributed, how all of this could be changed, who stands in the way of that, etc. At this, we were actually astonishingly successful—except with people like Doug Henwood and Yves Smith and Seth Ackerman. Putting aside the truth value of their technical critiques (there are legal problems with saying more than that; it’s complicated), they had zero appreciation for the importance of sparking people’s imaginations.

4. We’re still talking about OWS a year after middle class parents and union workers and students and marxists all suddenly started using anarchist hand signals and attempted to organize a just society in the most inhospitable, ruthlessly policed spit of granite in the heart of neoliberalism. We’re still talking about the issues OWS raised, shitty movies were made about OWS, and OWS demonstrated that even here, solidarity could not be stamped out by a system designed to produce mass alienation. From this perspective, I think the right question to ask probably isn’t why we weren’t able to overthrow three months the vast systems of violence arrayed against us. The surprising thing is that we were as successful as we were.

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Lawrence Stuart 12.15.12 at 2:06 am

@276 “You want a vision? It was being verbal, visual, viral and sometimes violent. “

That’s not vision. It’s a reaction. Which begets utterly predictable counter reactions.

And so on.

Everybody knows ‘shit’s fucked up.’ Even the Tea Party agree with that. And yeah, it’s good to vent, to stand up and do the whole ‘I’m mad as hell …’ routine. But I can’t see Occupy as anything much more politically significant than that: showing you are as mad as hell. In a park. For a long time.

Which is not to take away from the personal significance for those involved. There is much to be said for attaining a sense of personal liberation, however fleeting, through action. But the distrust of politics, the fear of being corrupted or co-opted, pretty much preempts any possibility for public engagement outside the camp. What you are then left with is a group therapy session in the public view: sometimes fascinating, sometimes grotesque, to watch. Politics as theatre on an essentially closed stage, the mimesis of action.

Verbal, visual, viral and sometimes violent, to be sure.

But political? Tangentially, yes. You express your anger. You say your ‘hell no we won’t go,’ and eventually the cops come and bust heads and tear shit up. You annoy Leviathan, it swats you. Everybody knows … . It’s entirely predictable — the proverbial train wreck.

Vision is what allows the cadres to connect with the peasants, the Ashram with the village, the Civil Rights worker with the townies, and maybe even the Camp with the middle class. It is theatre of reaching out: not mimesis, but the performative politics of action.

And also — yes, I am a liberal. Actually, I am a card carrying Canadian Liberal. But I am not here to ‘demand practical results.’ (@79) I thought that the Occupy people did something quite remarkable. I am grateful to them for trying. But if you simply circle the wagons and start shooting critical voices from outside the camp, well, that’s just repeating the same mistake. Again.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.15.12 at 2:34 am

80 and 81 are perfect. The radical and the liberal, coming together as one to agree that they know better. “Vanguardist posing” and “group therapy session” merely being two slightly different ways of saying the same thing.

I’ll repeat again: you aren’t pragmatic, and you aren’t knowledgeable. I heard plenty of lectures from radicals opposed to Occupy. Not one of those people could get anyone to carry out their schemes. Which meant that their theory was perfect, of course. And I heard plenty of liberals admire our energy but chide us for our “distrust of politics”. This was because the political system was working, and if we just engaged in it a little more … it would all be different, this time.

You people sat out this movement. Please be good enough to sit out the aftermath too.

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rf 12.15.12 at 3:27 am

“80 and 81 are perfect. The radical and the liberal, coming together as one to agree that they know better. “

Yep, same old same old, explaining how it’s done but not putting anything in themselves. Everyone has waxed lyrical on how ‘an opposition’ should behave, but ironically no one has spelled out specifics. So tell us, how would you have done it? (Voting Obama is not an answer)
Personally it’s not my thing, to many anarchists and too much of the usual leftist opposition to immigrants,( they’re stealing our jobs etc etc).
But each to their own….

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rootless (@root_e) 12.15.12 at 4:09 am

“You people sat out this movement. Please be good enough to sit out the aftermath too”

And you speak for Occupy? How nice for you.

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rf 12.15.12 at 4:22 am

He speaks as someone who put some effort in. Read Rich’s blog..you don’t have to like the man to recognise the effort

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rf 12.15.12 at 4:29 am

By the way, Occupy were every bit as ‘pro immigration’ as this

http://crookedtimber.org/2012/08/22/open-borders-wages-and-economists/

The usual soundbites and bluster..same old same old..solidarity at the end ofthe street..

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rf 12.15.12 at 4:42 am

Very last thing, I meant the comments not the main post

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Lawrence Stuart 12.15.12 at 4:53 am

@83 “You people sat out this movement. Please be good enough to sit out the aftermath too.”

‘If you ain’t with us, you’re against us’ is a poisoned chalice, no matter what the content.

I’m not suggesting you join the DNC, or put on a suit and go into political consulting. But how you believe you can be political without engaging in politics escapes me. Or maybe I should say that the politics of withdrawing from politics is politically defeatist.

@83 You know, there were moments here in my town when the Occupy thing did engage the community, and it was largely engagement through Carnival and laughter. But these were mostly at the beginning. Over time the whole thing got so damn serious: it was a plague of authenticity.

To hell with authenticity. That would be a start.

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rootless (@root_e) 12.15.12 at 3:51 pm

Funny how Occupy had no leaders, but plenty of political commissars.

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EqualToJake 12.15.12 at 4:28 pm

Society needs an a left wing alternative. It needs it so that there is something to frighten the powerful into caring about how well society functions, rather than just enriching themselves. It needs it so that the people who fight to give us all an equal share have something to cling to and inspire them, as they go about their thankless and unrewarding work, and it needs it so that everyone of us understands that if the current way isn’t working we don’t have to just accept it.
It isn’t that the alternative has to actually be achievable or realistic. It just needs to be plausable. It isn’t suppossed to be something that ever has to happen, it just needs to be there for our society to function.
Currently we don’t have this, communism is no longer plausable, the world Karl Marx described is no longer recognisable, and his insights are no longer insightfull. Nobody believes it.
Society has a need and Occupy is the first step towards filling it. And everybody feels it, thats why there was such much popular support for initially, even from people who have no great love for left wing politics.
Hopefully occupy will have the same relationship to the next left wing movement as the Paris commune had to the last one, the source, the fountainhead, year zero.
The important thing about it is that it is very left wing, and it is a break with all that came before, a new foundation stone.

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Tangurenaa 12.15.12 at 9:13 pm

The policing of protest in America makes it clear that protest has become mere ritual, a farce, and that, by definition, it becomes illegal if it threatens to change anything or inconvenience anyone. In time, all the police announcements came to say the same thing to me. “You may go through your constitutional ritual,” they intoned, “but it must stop before anything of consequence happens.” We must, above all, preserve everything as it is.

This is so sad but true. It is how America has decayed into irrelevance. Our country started by protests, but we’ve succumed to so much Stockholm Syndrome that the future for America is the same way that Russia has gone. And that our protesters are not that much different from Russian protesters.

I’m an older person, working on another bachelors degree, and when some of the Occupy people were commiserating with me on campus (here in Denver), I pointed out that their very appearance threatened the people they wanted to try to reach. All of them were dressed like homeless, or druggies, or whatever passes for fashionable among the late teens to early 20s crowd. We have always been a visual people, and that when they appear on the news dressed like that, the typical viewer is going to want the police to protect them from the protesters, and the typical viewer was going to cheer the cops beating and macing the protesters. If they wanted sympathy or even acknowledgment of their grievances, they should have dressed like they were going to work. Because then the TV viewers would have thought “wow, that could be me!” when the cops were hassling the protesters, instead of “good job, beat them some more for me – those bums need to get a job!” They argued with me and complained that I sounded like their parents (I am old enough to be the parent of almost everyone in my courses, and only some of the teachers are my age). They also did not like it when I reminded them that the people they were trying to reach were “my age.”

Not everyone here is old enough to remember the Oliver North hearings during Iran Contra. People who heard the testimony on radio, or read it in the newspapers wanted Ollie hung from the nearest streetlight. People who saw the testimony on TV were overcome by how he appeared (including wearing a uniform he was not entitled to wear) so that everyone who saw him on TV felt that he was being unduly harassed by Congress, and that the congresscritters should be hanging from the nearest streetlights. That is how much our mental facilities are overwhelmed by appearances and images. That’s why Triumph Of The Will is such a pivotal film, and why most political conventions use the same sort of layout and structure. Because that is how our brains work, and anyone who wants to control how we think about something will use that to their advantage.

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john c. halasz 12.16.12 at 3:24 am

So “Rootless E” wants some demands. Well, how about this one, for starters. Nationalize the banks. Raise the unvarnished capital ratios to 15-20%,- (actually the Swiss have apparently raised theirs to 19%, though I’d guess that is still “risk weighted”),- and if they can’t raise that readily from “private markets”, the government steps in and takes its ownership share. Then fire the top management and board and replace them, convert the bond-holders to equity, take all the bad or incalculable assets of their books and put them in a “bad bank” to run them off, to be owned by the former bond-holders, investigate the criminal fraud that had run rampant, commit to an orderly write-down of unsustainable debts, break up and tightly re-regulate the banks, while downsizing the financial sector as a whole. And whadyano, this is theoretically the economically rational approach, with much higher up-front nominal fiscal costs and much lower long-run costs. Does anyone actually think such a “rational” demand would really be met? So demands are easy. I could think of dozens of them, whole swathes of policy proposals. But getting them enacted would be well nigh impossible, not because they violate the laws of physics, but because they violate and expose prevailing power relations.

So “Rootless” just sneers at any inchoate left opposition. The anti-war protesters were merely indulging the moral vanity and making themselves feel good. Actually, over 1 million people in the U.S. and 12 million abroad protested that day in Feb. 2003, but Dubbya’s response was that he didn’t pay any attention to “focus groups”. I fear its our armchair pundit friend who’s engaging in projection there, since it’s most of all liberals who conflate morality and politics within the “art of the possible”, while genuine leftists are all too well aware of the realities of power. And then he commends the “Rolling Jubilee” when that is actually very small bore, (though I did find out that they have focused on medical debt, which is good), with most of that debt being sold of in batches for pennies on the $ being uncollectible or even fraudulent. At most, it’s a symbolic gesture and helps to expose the seemy underbelly of debt collection practices and vulture capitalism, rather than effectively addressing the much broader issues of debt (and credit). And it took a long time for Occupy to get around to even that, (whereas I was advocating last spring in my group that most of our various issues could be wrapped around the issue of debt without to much forcing, though unwrapped differently and variously). But our fearless friend in his narrow-mindedness thinks that that’s the sort of thing that counts as “effective”.

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