October 5, 2011

September 17th, Occupy Wall Street, Levels of the Movement


Although I haven’t been writing impressions of Occupy Wall Street and its affiliated Occupations across the land, that’s not because I haven’t been following it and thinking about it. Rather, it’s because like I said in my first post about this, whatever happens here is just the earliest of its beginning. Almost everything that’s been written so far, even the best of it, has suffered from trying to analyze the game before it’s been played. I think the best writing on this is provisional, forward-looking, speculative in the good sense of the word. I hope this and any subsequent posts of mine will meet that standard, which is the best we can do for now.
To start, the Assembly has far exceeded expectations both negatively in hanging on in the face of police assaults, and affirmatively in forcing its existence on the public consciousness. It has done these primarily by constituting itself as a participatory democratic assembly. It has refused the relentless attempts by the MSM and by system “activists” to co-opt it and to force agendas and modes of behavior upon it. (If anything, this assault has been even more incessant than that of the cops, if not as physically violent.)
The more the people get the sense that movement-building and protest are what we must be doing (as opposed to mere “voting” and lame petition-begging), the more we’ll do it, and the more skilled and confodent we’ll become at it.
(Meanwhile the enemy has lowered the mask a bit more. JPM responded to the Assembly by bribing the NYPD with $4.6 million. In an unusually brazen display of quid pro quo, the NYPD responded that same day by arresting hundreds of marchers after luring them onto a bridge. We can say that JPM directly purchased these arrests, while the NYPD openly revealed itself to be the gang of gutter rent-a-cops we always knew they were.)
From here it’ll be a war of attrition. Whether it be in the form of long physical occupations or in times of regrouping after dispersal, the democracy may have to settle in for a long vigil. This assembly hasn’t achieved the comprehensiveness of Tahrir Square to the point that they must provide their own food, water, shelter, sanitation, security. (Although on the broadest level we the people will have to provide these for ourselves or else go without.) But they just as all of us already face the challenge of generating our own morale, spirit, interest, the sense and reality of constructive, forward-surging activity.
The General Assembly itself can be the ground for much of this. Historically in revolutionary situations vast numbers of people threw themselves into political participation with great abandon, enthusiasm, exuberance. This surge is the revolution sowing its oats. In America and other “representative” pseudo-democracies, on the other hand, the people have a long service in phony “participation”, voting in phony elections and considering that to be doing politics. In our time we’ll have the real test of whether the system succeeded in politically castrating the “citizenry”, or whether the true democratic spirit shall rise from what was merely a long slumber, as we discover ourselves anew as true citizens.
Meanwhile what the Assembly’s trying to do is what we must try to do everywhere – form participatory councils. In our time the phony government is everywhere openly abdicating even its pretenses to legitimacy, gutting all services while imposing ever more new impositions, extractions, coercions, taxation. This shows the way where democratic councils, working on the ground, in the community, taking over responsibilities the government has abdicated, can actually become the legitimate government, gradually or in an acute surge. The work on the ground is the decisive deed, but can also happen in tandem with the open political protest like these Occupations, and shall probably require a final and permanent occupation at some point.
All this requires, as the essence of the true movement, taking the responsibility, exercising it meritoriously, evolving the consciousness that “we the people are the government”, being acclaimed as such by as critical mass of the citizenry, assuming responsibility as such, defending this rightful act of sovereignty against revanchism on the part of those who abdicated.
So today we have this visible political manifestation of a movement for the ages. Like any early political efflorescence, it’s bound to be naive (using that only in its denotation, not the pejorative connotation) and be prone to take refuge in reformist moods. So we’ve seen so far. The movement itself is the longer, vaster, deeper arc of the soil.
One pressure point has been the One Simple Demand as slogan, meme, and contested substance. Even before the action began participants rejected early attempts (by organizers) to force this to take the form of a reformist particle rather than a movement-building wave. Since then the assembled have superbly floated One Simple Demand as its own substance and its own Rohrschach. It’s clear that the Assembly is merely a physical manifestation of the vaster, one could say Platonic Form of the people’s will toward liberation and positive freedom. This is something vast beyond the capacity of the moment to easily quantify and phrase. One Simple Demand is a wave which can only momentarily (and subjectively) be collapsed to a single demand. I have One Simple Demand. This whole blog expresses it. Democracy is one word for it. Humanity is another.
It’s true that attempts to square the circle and give a list of Simple Demands, each being just one form of the Platonic One, have tended toward reformism. This is understandable especially since, in one of the encouraging signs, it seems that many of the demonstrators are completely new to activism. I’ve long forecast that the real movement activists will be disproportionately people who were never attracted to system politics, including its approved “dissent” brands. Such people will be less corrupted and corruptible. The real energy and willingness to conceive great ideas and fight for them comes mostly from those who are relatively new to political engagement, perhaps who were roused by the events of 2008, or who had their one and only bad experience voting for Obama and will never fall for such lies again. By contrast, pre-existing “progressives” are washed up. Even the Bailout, the austerity onslaught, and Obama’s absolute betrayal of them on every issue (not to mention his open contempt for them) haven’t shaken their faith in liberal elitism itself. We see how beholden they remain to the ideas and tactics which have already failed.
It’ll become clear to the new wave of activists, soon enough, that to render the ideal Form real, our real Demand (of ourselves, not as a craven “petition”) must be to sweep away all terminally criminal structures and build truly democratic ones.
This is already clear as intuition in the Assembly’s so far clean sweep of compromised tropes and rhetoric. No more clutter, we face a stark demarcation: It’s 99% vs. 1%. We’re the 99ers against a handful of criminals. That’s it, that’s all. I don’t think we even need conventional class war terms and rhetoric anymore. What’s the point of it, when by now we’re all the 99? ( That’s part of what I was getting at with my We’re All Lumpenproles Now and Corporate Tribalism ideas. I’ll be writing more about those, incorporating new insights from David Graeber’s book.)
The democratic reclamation shall be ongoing and serve as a catalyst for a permanent democratic renaissance. In America the system’s abdication is clear, but people’s minds remain in shadow. But there’s a great evolution proceeding, as all across the land we’re spontaneously taking on democratic responsibilities for ourselves, for our families, for our communities. We’re once again growing our own food, learning to craft our own manufactures, and to organize these actions among ourselves. This is the relocalization movement. So far there’s not as much of an explicit political consciousness suffusing it. Then we have the first sprouts of direct political challenge in the form of Occupy Wall Street and allied Occupations. (I say these are the first because they reject system co-optation. No doubt this shall remain the real qualification for some time yet, until we finally sweep away all corporate liberal treachery.) We face the challenge of how to unify such political reclamations with the underlying and overarching democratic movement.
Imagine if this form of the movement could become a going concern, even force some system retrenchment. That would open up more space for the structural democratic/relocalization movement in general. So, for example, how to bring food freedom issues front and center in this/any General Assembly? That leads to another question I’ve only written down but not researched and thought out, how to coordinate the food movement with general strikes? There must already exist precedents, but I haven’t yet researched how they did it in, e.g., 1905 Petersburg or 1919 Seattle, and then how to deduce from there what we can do today. So far the Wall Street Occupation is, I assume, buying abundant food with cash. But obviously we have to plan for actions without cash and/or pre-abundant food.
So there I’m closing with questions, which is mostly what we have so far. We’ll mostly be answering them in real time, through actions.
In my earlier post I wrote:

However this attempt works out, it’s already within the motion of a wave rather than a particle which can be isolated and defeated. The basic call to regroup and reassemble after every dispersal applies not just on the physical Wall Street starting on Saturday, but to the entire movement, worldwide over great vistas of place and time. They can club us here, they can disperse us there, but we’ll continue to regather in ever greater numbers over ever greater ranges and actions.

While there’s currently a more notorious September milestone, it’s possible that tomorrow will be the beginning of a new September with a new, positive day of democracy to obliterate the cult of the exploited dead. Wall Street has occupied America long enough.

I said that the day before 9/17. I still think it’s a good idea. From here on let’s make September 17th one of our Democracy Days.
It’s time to broadcast the message that the people must rise and take their freedom, prosperity, and democracy in their own hands. We are going to, here’s why we’re going to, we have no choice but to do so anyway, so let’s figure out how to do it in the course of doing it.
A prophecy isn’t supposed to be just passively “correct”. It’s supposed to be active toward fulfillment, as much as possible self-fulfilling. Occupy Wall Street continues from a prophecy and adds its own tones to the jam. This is living prophecy, already partially coming true, and soon to become truth itself.


  1. The Occupy movement is spreading to Canada as well, there’s an Occupy Bay Street happening on the 15th. I’ll probably hang out for a few days if TPS doesn’t immediately round everyone up and throw them in cages like G20. The NYPD are extraordinarily slick fascists, and TPS seems to be taking some pointers from them. In any case, I think this question:

    That leads to another question I’ve only written down but not researched and thought out, how to coordinate the food movement with general strikes?

    is a great one, and my feeling is that the Occupy movement has sort of prefigured the infrastructure needed to make it long-term viable by a couple of years. In doing so, they’ve made it incredibly obvious to me what needs to be done. I see these guys with gasoline generators and supermarket-bought food, supported by cash donations, and I know that if they had people producing their food, swapping in some deep cycle batteries charged with out-of-town turbines, and setting up a time bank (or similar), they’d be set to continue indefinitely. So from my perspective, it seems obvious that the relocalisation/food movement can and should materially subsidize these movements, and can and should forge links with these groups, swapping personnel, ideas, etc between the protest sites and farms (tired of sleeping on concrete? want to help the movement and learn to farm? come spend a couple months on the farm and we’ll send someone to keep your bed warm).

    Comment by paper mac — October 5, 2011 @ 2:13 pm

    • I think that’s the basic outlines of what can be done. I notice we’re shifting back to the issue of integrating countryside and town, whereas more recently you were more skeptical about that than you used to be.

      I do think that at least as a transitional project such integration will be necessary. That’s especially true to the extent that urban uprisings like this (maybe “uprising” is too strong a term for now, but it captures the gist of what would be necessary for an acute event which could be anything like February 1917) can be part of and supported by a general democratic landbase movement.

      Comment by Russ — October 6, 2011 @ 6:18 am

      • I remain skeptical that major urban agglomerations will be viable in the long term, and I also continue to see them as bastions of state and corporate power. The more I think about urbanisation as a process, the more clear it is to me that it is fundamentally state-driven and exists to facilitate appropriation and capitalist hyper-specialisation. My reading of James C Scott has brought me much closer to the anarcho-primitivist/deep green analysis in this respect. On the other hand, I recognise that remains a minority and even “fringe” view (although I believe it’s supported both by a biophysical economic as well as historical analysis), and that the center of gravity for the kinds of dissent we want to support will remain urban for the foreseeable future. I think this is a function of population density as well as the urban orientation of Western anarchist movements. So although I intend to decamp for a rural area, I believe that ongoing engagement with and support for urban movements of this sort is both a moral necessity as well as a sound tactical decision.

        I think there’s probably a case to be made that covert material and moral support for these movements might convince the state to expend its dwindling resources policing urban areas, taking their eye off the ball and letting the real action in undermining corporate/state power happen in the rural areas. These kinds of linkages will have significant benefits for urban groups as well. The areas they’re occupying are symbolically important, but productively barren, so they’ll benefit from importing some material resources. They’ll also benefit from being able to infiltrate/exfiltrate activists to a variety of isolated rural locations as necessary. I think that may lay the groundwork for a de-urbanisation of the broader movement generally, reducing its dependence on the corporate cash economy.

        Comment by paper mac — October 6, 2011 @ 1:31 pm

      • Those are excellent prognostications and strategic guidelines, and I think things are likely to play out in a way similar to that if we help bring it about.

        I’d only clarify that we’re not trying to cause the heat to come down somewhere different and in greater intensity than it would on its own. Rather, given the fact that the system will have to exert ever greater force to keep the cities repressed, it’ll be a movement task to support urban protest. This is both a moral and practical necessity like you say. If the cities are successfully locked down, the rage and hunger within will then be directed against everyone outside, the way Fanon described.

        This is all great food for thought (and thought for food in a literal sense).

        Comment by Russ — October 6, 2011 @ 1:51 pm

      • Yeah, I didn’t mean that I want to bring heat down on the urban activists (that’s going to happen regardless) but rather to enable them to effectively resist that heat. As long as the state has to expend massive resources doing something utterly futile like suppressing the speech of a massive underclass or repeatedly detaining and releasing activists who aren’t going to be suppressed because they have the material and moral support necessary to continue, that’s less resources the state can spend on excursions to the countryside to assert effective control over what will be a burgeoning relocalisation movement there. That seems like something that could develop into a virtuous cycle for all concerned (except the state/corporate apparatus).

        Comment by paper mac — October 6, 2011 @ 2:31 pm

      • You might find this interesting.


        The trailer doesn’t indicate how political it is, and in fact it sounds intent on implying that the urban food movement can go alongside continued “growth”. But who knows, for now maybe that can be a useful part of the rhetorical mix, as part of building as broad a coalition as possible.

        Also this:


        Comment by Russ — October 7, 2011 @ 3:11 am

  2. A Marxist analysis of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations:

    Reflections on the Occupy Wall Street Phenomenon: What it Represents, Its Prospects, Its Deficiencies



    Comment by Ross Wolfe — October 5, 2011 @ 9:48 pm

    • I agree that a main thing which separates this particular action from mere “demonstration” is its staying power, and its evident sense that staying in the field is itself a value.

      You seem to have a taste-based aversion to the carnival aspects of public assembly, but I’m not sure what’s the real objection. These people are occupying public space* as a core aspect of the direct action. It’s hard to see what more they can physically do at the moment. So the occupation is an act of defiance.

      My own position on resistance (like on the “negative” in general) is that it’s necessary but not sufficient. That it has to be done even if it’s temporarily the only thing which can be done in some context. But that it has no value in itself, morally or practically, but rather has to be a step toward an affirmative transformation. Negative liberty is worthwhile only as a tool and/or building material toward positive freedom, positive democracy.

      Although I reject any contention that hierarchical Leadership is necessary or desirable, I agree that the movement needs and has goals. I’ve spent this blog articulating them. Occupy Wall Street is, in a nutshell, a blossoming of good will and the will to defy and fight, but it’s still inchoate and therefore “up for grabs”. It can find itself (with perhaps some advisory help, but not through accepting Leadership, especially from outside, especially from the establishment “left”) as part of the broader movement, or let itself be co-opted or misdirected, or let itself fizzle out and sink back into the corporate sludge.

      Like I said in the post, to the extent the protestors are articulating demands they’re drearily reformist. I didn’t mention Peak Oil, but these demands, like all reformism, are evidently unaware of what it means. The liberal welfare state was a manifestation of a unique historical moment, the Oil Age, which is now ending, never to be repeated. It was therefore ahistorical, and continuing attempts to reinstate it or simply to zombify the idea of it can now only be reactionary. No idea or action can be worthwhile other than by going with the grain of history, and history will soon be resuming its normal level of energy consumption. The democratic movement can adapt to this fact or doom itself to extinction. We have all the knowledge we need to adapt and thrive. The agronomic knowledge we’ve accrued is a prime example. What’s unclear is whether we have, to use a buzz term, the emotional intelligence.

      *I’m aware that Zuccotti park is technically “private”, but that doesn’t change the essentially public nature of this demonstration. In the eyes of the people, this is taking back space which corporatism prefers sanitized. The most eloquent testimony to this has come from the disgruntled liberal establishment, who remain utterly flustered on what position to articulate, and as a result can articulate only their contempt and incomprehension.

      Comment by Russ — October 6, 2011 @ 6:19 am

  3. Not that I think I have any Warren cultists among my readership, but if someone you love is afflicted, and you were looking for something to show them, check this out. Warren’s corporate establishment view of OWS:


    Now that’s the real Warren Progressivism.

    Comment by Russ — October 6, 2011 @ 6:20 am

    • Aww… but I thought Elizabeth Warren was going to reform the system and save us all.

      Did you catch what Matt Stoller said in the comments on Ian Welsh’s blog: “…..She might have simply been a bit incoherent on answering a question….”

      Yeah, right.

      Looks like the Warren cultists will have to find themselves a new hero.

      Comment by Frank Lavarre — October 6, 2011 @ 1:53 pm

      • That comment thread is really idiotic. (Welsh himself starts backpedaling almost immediately.)

        This is exactly what I mean about the radical chic liberals who proclaim how they’ve rejected the notion of Better Democrats but remain desperate and drooling for Better Elites (and in the end really want to crawl back to the Democrats).

        Thus no matter how many people find the right way to view Obama (based on, you know, the evidence, his actions, reality), the vast majority will just glom onto another Leader savior and regress completely to Obamacult status, but being the cultist for the new Fuhrer. So the exact same person who went through every step of Hope-Faith-Apologetics-Denial-Bargaining-Fear-Acceptance of the Evidence and therefore the Truth with Obama will turn around and go through the exact same process with Warren and then god knows who else. They seem utterly incapable of learning from experience and just starting with assessment of the evidence in the first place.

        So it looks like they have a long way to go with her yet.

        (Then there’s the likes of Krugman who for most of them remains permanently exempt from reality-based assessment.)

        I don’t have any personal experience of personality cults and Leadership-lusting, so I can’t imagine what it’s like from the inside. I’ve always judged all public figures by their actions. If anything, I may go a little to excess in the opposite direction, and fail to cut people slack for momentary lapses which really are mistakes, even though we all have them.

        But that’s not the case here. If Warren’s even one tenth as intelligent and perspicacious (and great under interrogation, as her shills always trumpet) as she’s cracked up to be, then she knew she’d have to answer this question and carefully premeditated her answer. Each word was carefully weighed. She said exactly what she intended to say, nothing more, nothing less. There can be no mistake or fumble here whatsoever.

        (That’s another characteristic of personality cultists, at least among “progressives” (conservatives are more likely to remain defiant and say my-guy-right-or-wrong). Where convenient they regale you with tales of how brilliant and precise and deliberative the object of their cult is. But the moment that’s not convenient, like here, they flip in a schizoid manner and suddenly try to rationalize how stupid, klutzy, mistake-prone their idol is.)

        Comment by Russ — October 6, 2011 @ 2:15 pm

      • Yeah, it’s that kind of thinking that makes our era so oppressive.

        Kind of like having a blog that explicitly claims to be a critique of the very system that its own advertisements are massively promoting. Without mentioning any names of course. 🙂

        At least the Occupy Wall Street movement is a good start and perhaps it will inspire others to start thinking in terms of resistance, instead of always thinking in terms of lesser evilism and collaboration, etc

        Comment by Frank Lavarre — October 6, 2011 @ 2:46 pm

  4. Hasn’t Warren always espoused a kinder, gentler form of Capitalsim (an impossibility)?

    What if the 99% could channel their/our message to assault debt money itself? Perhaps a simple two pronged attack on the central banks’ monopoly control of money and the unsustainable house of cards that is interest bearing debt. Most of the placards could just have simple math on them. (P < P + I). Of course, most don't quite understand this yet otherwise there would already be lots of rubble on the streets.

    Comment by Pete — October 6, 2011 @ 9:49 am

    • Yes, that’s a good example of a specific target which is probably beyond the protestors’ ken for now. In a way, the sense of the protest is still that same delusion of a kinder, gentler capitalism, albeit not at the same level of criminality as Warren clearly supports*.

      It’s odd, that in our small way here, setting up our time bank, we meet with recognition and agreement whenever we say “alternative to cash”, yet it still rarely occurs to anyone that abolishing command money is a coherent, necessary, and doable political goal. That it’s debt money which is the bizarre anomaly in history, not community exchange. The latter is the norm, and is normative. But people are so brainwashed into the Status Quo Lie that even those who hate the SQ are still prone to accept most elements of it as laws of history and even of nature, when that’s false in every case.

      It seems like there’s a long way to go. But then sometimes consciousness takes non-linear jumps.

      *Stiglitz went down there the other day to say: “Your beef isn’t with capitalism. Wall Street isn’t capitalism. So don’t blame capitalism itself, but just a few crooks within it, a few bad apples.”

      That’s paraphrasing, except for “this isn’t capitalism.” That’s a real quote.

      Now, Wall Street and corporatism in general aren’t textbook capitalism. They are, as Stiglitz knows perfectly well, typical of the way capitalism has always been in practice and will always be. As he knows, the textbook version he’s pretending is real is actually the most utopian fantasy of all. But his job, Warren’s job, etc. is to astroturf continued belief in that fantasy, continued “hope” for it.

      Comment by Russ — October 6, 2011 @ 10:33 am

      • If this thing grows, and it looks like it already is, it may be one big happy accident that occurs as a collective awakening. The longer they squat in place (assuming they aren’t beaten away by night sticks and mace), the more they will be forced to rely almost completely on each other to shelter, feed, entertain, educate, etc…. It’s possible they could become aware that they are not dependent on the rentier/usurious class and their currency. An organic circle of “gifting” economies could sprout and grow.

        That being said, it would be helpful to have a team of people down there at the money epicenter of the universe spreading pamphlets on the currently collapsing pyramid scheme of usury, and how we can transform the story of money as a social arrangement. Most people would adore hearing that money is merely an agreed upon social arrangement, not some law of and above nature, out of the void. Perhaps a simple visual diagram that shows the inverse corollary of money hoarding at the top with debt peonage at the bottom.

        Comment by Pete — October 6, 2011 @ 11:29 am

      • Graeber is there, AFAIK, so I think they’ve got the debt-money thing covered for the time being, although it would probably help to leave a couple thousand copies of his book lying around.

        Comment by paper mac — October 6, 2011 @ 12:46 pm

      • Pamphlets laying out in a few bullet points the facts and prescription, along with a recommendation of the book, could be useful.

        Comment by Russ — October 6, 2011 @ 1:40 pm

      • That’s a good idea, I may go ahead and do that for the Toronto thing.

        Comment by paper mac — October 6, 2011 @ 2:41 pm

      • I can’t strum the geeetar but I’m thinking of a folk song about debt money. Lyrics to follow…Anyone seen Phil Ochs?

        I haven’t read Graeber’s book yet but I could certainly pull a couple of easy to understand snippets from Eisenstein’s book and hit the Chicago crowd with some materials.

        Comment by Pete — October 6, 2011 @ 3:43 pm

  5. Say it loud!
    We’re the 99%
    And we’re Proud

    Say it loud!
    We’re the 99%
    And we’re Proud

    Say it loud
    We wipe your asses!
    And we’re Proud

    Say it loud
    We’ll eat your asses
    And we’re Proud!

    Comment by tawal — October 6, 2011 @ 8:11 pm

    • I don’t know about the asses, but I like the 99 part. That, perhaps, is the affirmative term I’ve been looking for (to transcend the negative “non-rich”) – 99ers.

      Comment by Russ — October 7, 2011 @ 9:32 am

  6. This is a wonderful post. I found this passage particularly powerful:

    “One pressure point has been the One Simple Demand as slogan, meme, and contested substance. Even before the action began participants rejected early attempts (by organizers) to force this to take the form of a reformist particle rather than a movement-building wave. Since then the assembled have superbly floated One Simple Demand as its own substance and its own Rohrschach. It’s clear that the Assembly is merely a physical manifestation of the vaster, one could say Platonic Form of the people’s will toward liberation and positive freedom. This is something vast beyond the capacity of the moment to easily quantify and phrase. One Simple Demand is a wave which can only momentarily (and subjectively) be collapsed to a single demand. I have One Simple Demand. This whole blog expresses it. Democracy is one word for it. Humanity is another.”

    What resonates for me is the richness of diversity that can and should thrive within this idea of One as articulated by you, Russ. It’s a theme my thoughts keep returning to, the One in the Many and the Many in the One.

    And whatever practices and infrastructure arise from this beginning, clear awareness of the trajectory and origin of this surge outwards into action and forwards toward direct democracy and health is there, and visibly so. That alone is an enormous success.

    Comment by Toby — October 7, 2011 @ 7:02 am

    • Thanks Toby. Although we don’t know where this is going yet, there’s at least a consensus that this is about expanding possibilities.

      Comment by Russ — October 7, 2011 @ 9:29 am

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