"Occupy Wall Street": Why the struggle must go beyond occupation

99%er

A friendly critique of the "Occupy" movements which urges the protesters to question their assumptions.

First of all, let me say I stand in full solidarity with the protesters; your actions have inspired us all and been the cause of some much-needed debate. It takes boldness and initiative to take these first steps, and you should be applauded for doing so. I believe all of you want a better world, a desire that I share with you.

There has been much talk lately of the “goals” of the protest, and much criticism when a clear 10-point program did not emerge. I must disagree with those commentators who complain of the lack of easily-definable “goals”; such a program is more appropriate to a political party than to a grassroots movement. All of you have had different experiences under capitalism, and therefore all of you emphasize different changes which are needed. A list of demands cannot contain the true spirit of the protests, which are quite simply an expression of rage and frustration with the world as it is.

This rage and frustration is the first step. Rage has been brewing in the working class for years now as the trappings of the “American Dream” are stripped away before our eyes and our rulers openly mock the democratic principles which supposedly bound and restrain their power. In the face of this sorry situation you have come together to voice the rage which is latent in even the most conservative of “the rest of us”. This is the first step and you deserve praise for having the courage to make the leap of faith necessary in voicing this rage. You all have seen that our “democracy” is a lie, that the government serves only the rich, no matter which party is in power. You have watched as the poor are ignored and social programs slashed while the bankers and corporations are showered with tax money; tax money which the richest among them do not even contribute to. This situation has lead many of you to see yourselves as attempting to restore “democracy” and the “middle class”.

Here I think you must re-examine your thinking. One cannot restore that which never existed. This democratic golden age you want us to return to only existed in propaganda and wishful thinking. The government has never served the people; it has always served the rulers and the rich. The postwar years of “middle class” abundance were years of abundance only for privileged sectors of the “99%”. This state of affairs was built on the backs of black, Chicano, and Asian workers, as well as underpaid female laborers and poor whites. The creation of a “middle class” was a compromise between the ruling class and a privileged section of the workers, at the expense of others. During World War Two working people never stopped struggling for better conditions of life. 1946 saw the greatest number of strikes of any year in American history. This working class movement was only quelled with the compromises of the G.I. Bill and other social measures by the state. By offering a few privileges to some workers, the rulers prevented deeper, more fundamental change. Now that these privileges have been snatched back and we are now approaching the same levels of inequality that we experienced in the 1920s, people are agitated and angry again.

This is a great thing, and I welcome manifestations of it such as Occupy Wall Street and the other occupation movements that are cropping up across the country. But we cannot simply fight to return to some half-imagined age of middle class abundance and true democracy. If we do, the same mistakes will repeat themselves. The working class, or the “99%” will be divided against itself. The rulers will try to buy some of us off. Those with the most to lose and the least to gain will be inclined to accept this kind of blood money. I speak, of course, of white workers like me, especially those of us who are “middle class”. We have been tricked for hundreds of years into identifying with our oppressors over our class brothers and sisters because of the system of white privilege. White privilege offers us a few incentives to side with the system, but these are nothing compared to the world we could gain through uncompromising struggle. Ultimately we cannot really fight until we are united. If we fight to restore America to the way it was in the 1950s or 1970s we will simply be fighting for a new House of Mirrors. The system has destroyed some of our illusions; let us not reconstitute them.

Let me be clear; electoral reforms, such as preventing money from being considered speech, will not solve our problems. Politicians manipulated and tricked us just fine during the era of campaign donation limits. The abolition of Glass-Steagle did not lead to this crisis. The crisis is an inherent aspect of capitalism, suppressed for decades by the ruling class and now flaring up again. It is rooted in the falling rate of profit and the fact that there are barely any areas left which are untouched by capitalism and can provide growing markets and unlimited raw materials. We are rapidly reaching the social, political, economic, and ecological limits of capitalism. Campaigning narrowly for tax reform, public works projects, and more jobs is like calling for repairs on a burning house.

So I urge all of you who are involved in these protests to question the limits you have imposed on yourself and the assumptions you have made. Question the assumption that “the cops are on our side”; as long as they wear their uniforms and carry their badges they will serve their masters. The brutality that you have experienced at the hands of the NYPD is not an aberration and it is not “shocking”. It is a taste of what happens in ghettos all across America, of what people of color and the very poor face on a daily basis. Question the assumption that the system can be reformed, that a few legislative maneuvers and a few new faces or even new political parties can fundamentally change this system. Question the idea of the “99%”, which implies that the problem is just a few extremely wealthy banks, corporations and individuals on the top. The problem is the system. Abolish the banks and watch as new institutions arise to take their place. Throw the “1%” out on its ass and watch as a new “1%” is recruited and installed.

The occupations are a crucial first step. People have been inspired and have, for the first time in years, begun to seriously question the conditions of their lives. But the struggle must go beyond occupations. It must begin to actively challenge the relationships and social structures that form the sinews of the system. We must carry the struggle into our everyday lives, and fight not solely in the symbolic and political domain of protest. We must carry the struggle into economic territory by uniting with our fellow workers and fighting against the parasitical bosses and landlords who control our lives, as well as the money-hungry banks foreclosing on houses we worked our whole lives to afford. We must struggle in the social territory of our families and relationships to challenge racism, sexism, and homophobia as they divide us and keep us stepping on each other like crabs in a barrel. We must look at the world and question the lies we are sold, lies perpetuated in school, in the media, and in churches. We must begin to think and fight for ourselves as a class without “demanding” anything.

from the Self Negation blog.

Posted By

tastybrain
Oct 7 2011 00:50

Share

Attached files

Comments

whitman
Oct 7 2011 08:50

You suggest that these occupations do not go far enough, that:

"We must carry the struggle into our everyday lives, and fight not solely in the symbolic and political domain of protest. We must carry the struggle into economic territory by uniting with our fellow workers and fighting against the parasitical bosses and landlords who control our lives"

I do not disagree with this, but this is very vague advice for those people out there on the streets protesting. And if the protest did spread and expand - and as a result some major changes to policy were made, surely that would be a good thing. That could be considered a stepping stone until much more dramatic revolutionary changes could be made. It would also prove to people that they do have power. I find the idea that we shouldn't try and reform the present situation to improve our conditions, because that is not what we ultimately want to achieve to be misguided.

This article makes this point very well:

http://new-compass.net/articles/neoliberalism-austerity-and-participatory-democracy

tastybrain
Oct 7 2011 13:57

I know it's vague advice...the article wasn't meant to provide all the answers, just get people thinking. I don't think there is necessarily anything wrong with reforms but we should be aiming higher. Even if reforms are what is wanted the occupiers are going to have to start taking a much more militant approach if that is to be achieved. Point taken though.

whitman
Oct 7 2011 16:27

Not sure what you would consider militant? I would agree that the protests need to become more disruptive, however, this will also be when the police become a lot more forceful. As another article here states - the protesters are virtually contained, with police surrounding, and the protests aren't actually disrupting work within the financial sector. If they do start to disrupt, I imagine that will be when the police become far more heavy-handed and will use that as an opportunity to clear-out the protest, citing it's disruptive and "criminal" behaviour.

As we have found here in the UK with recent political protests, particularly the student demonstrations: the police do not need a lot of reason to become violent, and also to contain and shut down protests using kettling.

tastybrain
Oct 7 2011 18:15

I guess militant in the following ways: a) broadening the understanding of the problems. As a libertarian communist I would like to see the protesters taking an explicit stance against capitalism, the state, wage labor, etc. I recognize this is not likely to happen on a mass scale anytime soon, and that even if it does it does not guarantee revolutionary activity, but I do think there is a space now to challenge the entire system rather than just try to patch it up and this consciousness is a good first step. b) Yes, actually occupying and disrupting certain institutions rather than simply hoping the government will grant their demands without any serious disruption on their part. Wall St. itself might be impossible but the occupiers could occupy and disrupt various institutions one by one and win concrete gains that way, such as getting Bank of America to rescind the card fees they just instated, etc. c) broadening the movement so that it connects with the everyday struggles of the participants. So far the protesters are expressing problems mostly rooted in everyday life such as being deeply in debt, being unemployed, wage theft, high rent, losing one's home to foreclosure, etc etc. I think it would be possible now that the movement has grown for the protesters to address at least some of these demands directly. For example, with thousands of people involved it would be simple for 20 or so to occupy a home and disrupt the foreclosure process. The protests could support workers in labor disputes by beefing up picket lines and perhaps through occupation. They could occupy unemployment offices to campaign for the extension of benefits. They could help support rent strikes of their members by preventing eviction en masse. This is the kind of direct action I would like to see.

As for your point about police repression; yes, the movement will inevitably face more repression and mass arrests if they take more militant action. But this won't necessarily quell the protests. The previous brutality and harassment has not stopped the massive expansion of the marches. If the cops beat, pepper-spray, and arrest a ton of people I think this will only strengthen their resolve and radicalize them further. Like the wobs in Washington, I think these occupiers might just keep coming and "fill the jails".

tastybrain
Oct 7 2011 18:18

Thanks for the feedback though, I might write up another piece which deals more with the direction the movement needs to be taking.

By the way, can a moderator either change the link so that it actually leads to my blog or delete it? Can there not be links to outside sites Library articles?

redsdisease
Oct 7 2011 18:30
whitman wrote:
As we have found here in the UK with recent political protests, particularly the student demonstrations: the police do not need a lot of reason to become violent, and also to contain and shut down protests using kettling.

From what I understand, the police in the UK have been keen on kettling protests regardless of whether they were violent. Similarly, the New York police have been acting violent, mass arresting people and kettling the Occupy Wall St. protests already without any evidence of particularly disruptive behavior. Maybe it's a little too late to try to avoid heavy handedness.

Since you brought up the recent student protests, do you think they would have been more effective, more dynamic or more interesting if they hadn't been disruptive, if Millibank had not happened, if they'd done all they could to avoid "provoking" the police? Do you think they would've left the control of the NUS? Any struggle worth it's snuff will have to risk escalating the tension between them and the state. That's when lines get drawn and people become radicalized. Again, going back the the recent student protests, confrontation with the police didn't cause the movement to falter or dwindle, if anything it helped it expand and last longer than it otherwise would've.

CRUD
Oct 7 2011 22:10

KEY POINT:

"Let me be clear; electoral reforms, such as preventing money from being considered speech, will not solve our problems. Politicians manipulated and tricked us just fine during the era of campaign donation limits. The abolition of Glass-Steagle did not lead to this crisis. The crisis is an inherent aspect of capitalism, suppressed for decades by the ruling class and now flaring up again. It is rooted in the falling rate of profit and the fact that there are barely any areas left which are untouched by capitalism and can provide growing markets and unlimited raw materials. We are rapidly reaching the social, political, economic, and ecological limits of capitalism. Campaigning narrowly for tax reform, public works projects, and more jobs is like calling for repairs on a burning house."

Spassmaschine
Oct 8 2011 01:56
tastybrain wrote:
By the way, can a moderator either change the link so that it actually leads to my blog or delete it? Can there not be links to outside sites Library articles?

Link fixed. You need to put the http:// in front of it, otherwise it thinks its an internal link.

whitman
Oct 8 2011 13:30

@tastybrain - yes, I agree with that it would be good if they could start expanding their protests in ways that you suggest: directly into areas that are being affected.

In the long run, I think it is essential to set up truly democratic local institutions that can start to press for significant change - socially and economically. Without this, as I think the article suggests these sorts of protests will prove ineffectual and incoherent.

@redsdisease - I wasn't suggesting that the protesters should not escalate or diversify in ways tastybrain has suggested, but that, if that happens they need to be prepared for increasing heavy-handedness of the police, so should be prepared for that. And, also that it is likely to be used as an excuse to try and shut-down the protests. If that radicalises, and brings more people out onto the streets and increases political awareness then I think that is a good thing!

Personally, I think the non-violent stance that the protest has taken is a good thing. If police become increasingly violent, I would suggest protesters defend themselves using reasonable force - as the police here are instructed. With, regards to Millbank and other similar protests I support the occupation of these buildings but not silly kids throwing fire-extinguishers off them.