Asad Haider and Salar Mohandesi analyze the Occupy movement and the conditions that created it.
“Everybody talks about the weather. We don’t.” This 1968 poster was a response by the German Socialist Student Union to an ad campaign for weatherproof trains. The students were suggesting that like the figures pictured above, they had more important concerns than everyday things like the weather. The next year, journalist and future Red Army Faction terrorist Ulrike Meinhof would use the slogan to argue that radicals should talk about everyday life, since “the personal is political.”
For us, it just means that we should talk about the weather. It’s going to start snowing on the occupations, and the authorities want to use the weather as a weapon. They’re hoping that winter will kill the movement off, and it’s hard to deny that camping out in the middle of January would be a poor tactic.
But the weather represents a much bigger question: what will it take to make this movement last? There is great potential in what has been achieved, but there are also significant obstacles, which present themselves both inside and outside the movement. With an eye towards advancing this struggle, let’s start by trying to understand what’s happening: who is protesting, and what does it mean?
In a reflection on the riots in London this past summer, “The Prince and the Pauper,” we argued that the composition of the rioters reflected the blurred boundaries between a precarious and hyperexploited “lumpenproletariat” and the mainstream working class. What was important above all was that the spontaneous violence of the riots took place at the same time as a strike by Verizon workers across the pond, within the very industry that provided the rioters with means of communication. And though struggles were communicating with each other across the world, these two political compositions – one reflecting a disorganized population usually subjected to the worst state repression, the other reflecting the classical mode of trade-union politics – did not encounter one another.
The Occupy Wall Street crowd seems to be an in-between element, both technically and politically. Much of the energy behind it comes from the activist milieu that characterized the Seattle “anti-globalization” protests, but it also clearly draws from a wide base of working people who are now seeing the disintegration of classical forms of work alongside the social fabric that once supported them. So the Occupy movement is simultaneously the space where encounters can take place, as well as a form of struggle with the implicit objective of creating conditions in which these encounters can take hold. But who exactly is in this space?
The best information we have now is about Occupy Wall Street; though other occupations may have unique elements, this serves as a useful starting point. The composition of Occupy Wall Street is unsurprisingly heterogeneous. Age, wealth, and experience vary widely; some participants are veterans from former struggles, others are joining in for the first time; there’s a large concentration of youth, but more than 28% are over 40. You’ll find the homeless, doctoral students, and professionals of various stripes all camping out together. Despite these sharp differences, however, some common characteristics stand out. First, the vast majority is highly educated: a study by CUNY sociologist Hector R. Cordéro-Guzmán observed that over 90% reported “some college, a college degree, or a graduate degree.” Second, the great majority does not support either of the political parties. Third, and perhaps most important, the movement as a whole is overwhelmingly composed of the unemployed, underemployed, or precariously employed.
In many important ways, it’s no coincidence that this particular technical composition would choose the Occupy movement as its form of struggle. By firing workers, putting them on furlough, demanding that they work part-time, or simply forcing them to accept an early retirement, the capitalists gave them all free time. Instead of sitting at home, these workers are using this imposed free time against those capitalists who forced it upon them in the first place. The Occupy movement demonstrates how workers can creatively turn their situation against their bosses, how they can transform an imposed form of production into a weapon. It’s not so much a kind of prolonged march as it is a transformed strike, work stoppage, or collective slowdown. It’s a form of struggle that has emerged directly from the particular economic situation that capital has led us into. But not only is it a form of struggle, it’s a bridge between a multiplicity of forms, where already existing movements can cross-pollinate and new ones can be tested for the first time.
This bridging is international in character. Inspired by the Arab Spring, the struggles in Greece, and the Spanish indignados, Occupy Wall Street first emerged as yet another moment in this broader cycle of struggle. It’s significant, however, that after becoming a real movement by spreading itself across America, this form of struggle then found its way back into the hands of those who had inspired it in the first place. There is no greater illustration of the circulation of struggles today: from Puerta del Sol square in May, to the occupation of Zuccotti Park, and back to Madrid in October. But it’s not as though the same coin has passed through thousands of new hands just to return to its owner unchanged. The circulation of this struggle has added something; it returns with more experiences, a sharper perspective, a more radical edge.
But we’re not dealing with the same struggle. There’s a plurality of almost bewilderingly diverse forms of contestation. Before Occupy Wall Street, there were literally thousands of distinct struggles from Greece to the Middle East to China. What the Occupy movement has done is strategically subsume many of these preexisting struggles into a shared discursive space – providing them with a common language. In China, demonstrators have held up banners reading: “Resolutely support the American people’s mighty Wall Street Revolution!”
On October 15, protests erupted in 900 cities across the globe. Though many had already witnessed their fair share of disturbances over the past few years, it was the bold synchronicity of it all that was so unprecedented. This could have only been accomplished through a recoding of each particular struggle into a more general vernacular. Of course, all of these struggles were already implicitly – and in some cases explicitly – in touch with one another. But now, they speak the same language. Slogans reappear, symbols are shared, and practices are recycled on different continents. Struggles all over the world are beginning to recode themselves in this idiom.
The dilemma is that while unions have expressed their support, organizations like Occupy the Hood are attempting to prioritize the sectors of the working class that are racially marginalized, and international struggles are taking up occupations as their banners, no concrete and institutional connection has been made. It could very well be that the durability and radicalization of this movement will rely on its potential as a mediating element between the the various segments of the class, their particular interests, and their traditional forms of struggle. Achieving this means going beyond a spontaneous reflection of changes in our working lives. It has to start by understanding the system underlying them.
We Are the Wage Relation
We all know how the protest represents itself. “We are the 99%,” said Occupy Wall Street, and this single slogan has spread like a prairie fire.
Only a philistine would dismiss the movement based on objections to this slogan. A quick glance at the now-famous website wearethe99percent.tumblr.com shows what it has achieved. In a society that is supposed to be hopelessly atomized, made up of alienated zombies staring at individual TV screens, ordinary people are showing solidarity with each other. The problems people describe on this website might once have been thought of as personal issues, of no concern to anyone but your spouse and your landlord. Occupy Wall Street has given us the language to understand our personal problems as a collective political struggle against the 1% who got rich from our misfortune.
At the same time, the slogan advances no analysis about how things got this way. Social inequality is shameful, to be sure, and it’s been growing steadily. But does this happen because there are bad eggs at the top? Because the good guys in government aren’t strong enough? Or is it because there’s an underlying relationship in our society that produces this inequality and ensures that it constantly increases?
It would be no improvement to quibble about percentages. (“We are the 87.3%! Down with the 5.2% and their 7.5% running dogs!”) The figures which actually demonstrate the fundamental changes in our economy leading to today’s discontentment are shown in the following graph, covering the period from 1947 to 2010, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
The top line represents worker productivity, measured by output per hour. The line lagging behind is their hourly compensation, which means wages plus benefits, adjusted for inflation. The growing “wage gap” between the two lines essentially measures the change in the rate of exploitation, and it shows that exploitation has been steadily increasing. This doesn’t mean there wasn’t exploitation before the 1970s, it just means that social inequality wasn’t growing; now bigger and bigger portions of wealth are being transferred from labor to capital.
In 1865, Karl Marx engaged in a debate in the First International Working Men’s Association against a utopian socialist named John Weston. Weston argued that the wave of strikes across Europe demanding higher wages was dangerous, since if wages were increased, capitalists would simply raise commodity prices to compensate and make life more expensive for workers. Marx argued in his speeches, later published as Value, Price and Profit, that this position was based on a totally incorrect understanding of the wage. Capitalists pay a wage that ensures the worker will show up to work the next day, equivalent to the socially average collection of necessities (food, housing, entertainment) required to reproduce labor-power, or the ability to work. They don’t pay for each individual commodity the worker produces, because the central fact of capitalism is that workers produce more than the value of their daily necessities. The difference between their wages and the value of the commodities they produce is the “surplus value” that belongs to the capitalist. No other input of the production process generates more value than it costs; the exploitation of labor is the source of profit.
What Marx pointed out is that if there is an increase in the productivity of labor, but wages stay the same, struggles for higher wages have to be understood as “reactions of labour against the previous action of capital.” If capital can’t pay workers less, or work them longer hours, it has to increase the productivity of labor by disciplining workers and introducing technological innovations. This has two dramatic effects. First of all, it reduces the demand for labor, which means unemployment. Second, it means capitalists are investing more in expensive machinery than in their source of profit.
If productivity has dramatically increased, and industries across the board produce many more commodities, they need people to buy them – but that’s difficult to pull off when wages have been so low for so long. The result of rising social inequality is that capitalists are sitting on vast amounts of money, or channeling it into a luxury economy, and banks are running out of profitable investment opportunities. Workers, on the other hand, need money just to live. The solution to these problems is well known. The widespread reliance on consumer credit – a risky investment for the banks and potentially lifelong debt for the consumer – increases purchasing power beyond the wage.
Alongside the use of home equity loans and credit cards to shore up consumption is the massive student loan industry, which lends future workers the resources to develop their productive powers. In theory, these debts would be paid off by future income, assuming some kind of imminent recovery. The problem is that people graduating with enormous and unreasonable loans are not getting jobs, and as we’ve already noted, capitalism is tending towards unemployment. With the classical system of exploitation by the wage undermining itself, capital is forced to find ways to use debts to extract wealth. Ever paid an overdraft fee?
There’s also a dramatic political effect of debt: it prevents people from deserting the sinking ship of the wage system. In spite of the fact that nobody expects a job to become a lifelong career anymore, which used to be work’s way of justifying itself, they’re still forced to accept precarious work – rushing between multiple part-time jobs unrelated to their education, if they have jobs at all, and cutting every possible expense to pay off their loans.
This is just an extension of the brutal strategy of expropriation already imposed on the poorest sectors of the working class, the predatory lending that specifically targeted black and Latino women. Just as student debt established a supplementary form of exploitation, by compelling people to pay for the rest of their lives to acquire a competence they may be unable to cash in on the job, subprime mortgages practiced exploitation at the site of reproduction. Low-income workers who needed an address, a place to maintain their abilities to work and to institutionalize their social existence, found themselves struggling to pay an unmanageable debt until the bank simply took the house back to sell it again, pocketing the already-extracted payments.
It should be clear that these very visible actions by finance can’t be reduced to the greed of individual criminals. They are the violent and reckless attempts by capitalists to defend and radicalize the exploitation that took place in the wage system, in spite of the growing contradictions of that system. So we have to decouple our rhetoric from notions of corporate power and lawless bankers. It’s a relationship we’re fighting, not a bunch of guys in expensive suits.
What the 99% slogan moves us towards is a concept of class. It’s the ladder that we’re using to climb up to a class analysis. But to really develop that analysis, we’ll have to leave the ladder behind. “We are the wage relation” is not a very good slogan. It’s a shift in perspective that indicates the need for new slogans.
The 99% is a coalition built upon many different tendencies, interests, and projects. While it helps us unify our separate struggles, discover the social in the personal, and forge our different demands into a common discourse, it ultimately conceals more than it reveals. The danger is most apparent when we consider that some of the tendencies within the Occupy Movement hope to use the momentum of the struggle to enter into a profitable alliance with finance. The “professional-managerial sector,” or what has been commonly though erroneously labeled “the middle class,” is certainly part of this 99%. But it’s a peculiar part of this percentage: although it is exploited by capital like everyone else, it nevertheless occasionally profits from its own exploitation. As that layer which embodies the interests of both labor and capital, the “middle class” stands as a variable and potentially dangerous element within the movement as a whole.
The “middle class” is, in its own way, tormented by wage labor – we think of what Riccardo Bellofiore and Massimiliano Tomba describe as “the lack of social life, the endless cigarettes, the psychic disturbances and the hemorrhoids of our ultra-modern knowledge workers.” But this layer also has a tendency to look for a way out – not by abolishing exploitation in general, but by taking a cut of the exploitation of lower-income workers. The professional-managerial liberals want to make finance work for them; their gamble is to co-opt the more exploited sectors of the proletariat, to claim to speak for the whole working class, to use reform as a means of stabilizing the wage relation rather than putting it into question.
In many ways, it’s an old strategy that goes at least as far back as the French Revolution. The Third Estate united its heterogeneous components by reconstituting itself as the nation. Everyone else – the upper clergy and the nobility – was regarded as a mere parasite idly leeching off the labors of the overwhelming majority. The dominant figures of the Third Estate – the businessmen, lawyers, and aspiring politicians – at first hoped to use the strength of the movement to advance their own distinct interests rather than those of the masses. Even some aristocrats threw in their lot with the masses in the hopes that they too could domesticate it. This was all in 1789.
But now we’re in the twenty-first century – we don’t need another French Revolution. So we have to question the strange resurgence of the language of parasitism. It’s a convenient way to reduce the objectives of the movement to nothing other than casting off the parasites in order to preserve the body. And the rhetoric of the 99% helps dissemble the very real contradictions slowly tearing apart that purportedly coherent body. The danger is all the more severe when we remember that this body is not so much American as it is international.
Beyond the divisions within the American “99%” there are global divisions. Inequality of wealth extends to the inequality between nations and suggests that the situation of the working class varies with national boundaries. In many nations workers are caught between the increasing impoverishment of agriculture and an unstable slum life structured around contingent or informal work. Farmer suicides in India are echoed by iPhone factory worker suicides in China.
The American inflection of the slogans now circulating globally is significant. It signals the decisive reentry of the United States into this international cycle of struggle; the dominant pole of capitalist accumulation can no longer distance itself from the struggles rending the rest of the world. But there is a danger that the growing significance of the American struggle will begin to blind us to the distinct character of other struggles and the specific historical form of the wage relation in which they have found themselves. The Israelis began with a housing crisis, the Chileans attacked education, the Greeks aimed at austerity, and the Filipinos united against American imperialism. Movements in the countries of the “Third World” will have to take on a distinct set of interests and strategies precisely because their composition is already so different. So while the Occupy movement has allowed these dialects to translate, it will have to avoid the risk of obliterating its particularities. The contradiction is not between a homogeneous international majority against an equally homogeneous international minority, but between the different poles of a global wage relation that necessarily assumes different forms in different places.
Enemy of the State?
The media like to suggest that the Occupy movement is the Tea Party of the left. And maybe there are some similarities: both are socially hetereogenous, both have brought together individuals from across the country, and both have several decentralized grievances, some of which may even be the same. Where they differ most strongly, however, is their relationship to the state. While the Tea Party has strategically insinuated itself with the Republican Party in the hopes of reorienting the state itself, the Occupy movement has consistently refused to do the same with the Democratic Party. The Democrats are too politically impotent to effectively co-opt the movement, and even the unofficial demands of the occupation are well beyond anything the Democrats will ever be willing to get behind. Most significantly, the movement rejects the entire party system. The Cordéro-Guzmán survey discovered that the vast majority of those involved in Occupy Wall Street – some 70% of the respondents – identify as politically independent.
This signals a major shift in the political culture. While just a few years ago the Democrats were able to rebrand themselves as a party of opposition, change, and new hopes, they’re now widely regarded as opportunists with nothing to offer. This legitimation crisis forced open a wide vacuum on the left of the political spectrum that has been filled by the Occupy movement. But while the movement has clearly abandoned the Democratic Party, it has not yet definitively abandoned the state.
There are two tendencies that fetishize the state. The first is the typical liberal call for financial regulation – if it was the unregulated avarice of the corporations that got us into this mess, then we can resolve it by pressuring the state into regulating them more tightly. The second, paradoxically, is the opposite end of the spectrum, the “End the Fed” Ron Paul fanatics who believe that fiat currency is the root of all evil. The shared ideological assumption of both these tendencies is that the state and the market are somehow totally distinct actors with contrary interests.
So the comparison with the Tea Party should lead us to an unexpectedly important question: why is the only anti-government rhetoric to be found on the right? The paranoid notion that “big government” seeks to take away the private property of individuals is a mystified understanding of the reality that wealth really has been transferred away from middle-income Americans, and it accurately intuits that this process has been overseen by the state. We don’t have to spend a lot of time emphasizing the fact that the state not only represents the interests of the wealthy, it’s actually composed of them. Everybody knows this.
Add to this that all these processes of financialization have been administrated by the state. The bail-out was no aberration; it just confirmed who the state is here to support. Consider the telling example of student loans. Since 1965 the government has underwritten private lenders who facilitate an increasingly expensive college education, as part of the Federal Family Education Loan Program. What this means is that the ability of universities, including for-profit colleges, to radically increase tuition, and of private lenders to prey on more students, has been enabled by the government. The policy was ended in 2010, but not before making it absolutely clear in 2005 that the government was not interested in extending any support to the borrowers: student loans have become nondischargeable, leaving a generation of unemployed graduates without the option of declaring bankruptcy. The only winners are the financial corporations, which have been packaging student loans into lucrative financial products called student loan asset-backed securities. Even the most recent measures announced by the White House only make it easier for people to get into debt; they do nothing to counteract the 8.3% increase in tuition at public colleges.
In spite of the government’s visible defense of the capitalist class, the tendency on the left is to imagine that we can somehow just negotiate with the state. It’s not the first time this has been attempted. A militant labor movement confronted capital on the shop-floor during the 1920s and 1930s. Capital and the state were forced to find a way to subsume and control this threat; that strategy was called the New Deal. Under the pressure of World War II, the Communist Party entered into an alliance with the Democrats and threw in its lot with the New Deal, suppressing rank-and-file activity in the name of the “no-strike pledge.” The situation established had serious consequences after the war. The labor bureaucracy set the stage for its coming decline; they strengthened capital and paved the way not only for the Smith and Taft-Hartley Acts, the legal foundations for the purging of communists from the unions, but also for the devastating separation of the working class from the labor movement.
Recognizing that the state is an adversary, however, doesn’t mean moralistically ignoring it. It won’t wither away if we just refuse to engage with it out of principle. The lesson from our labor history is not only that alliance with political parties is treacherous, but also that meaningful reforms were won by the labor movement as a result of militant and antagonistic strategies, extending from the 1919 Seattle general strike to the 1934 San Francisco general strike. It would be the worst sectarianism to reject reforms; they alleviate suffering and advance the position of the working class. But the question is whether meaningful reforms can be achieved within the political limits of capitalism. If the political apparatus is controlled by the capitalist class, this means that those limits are not external limits that can be overcome by a stronger program. Instead, they are internal to the strategy of reform. The only way to force the capitalist class to concede reforms is to confront it with an antagonistic agent, a unified working class. Let’s not delude ourselves into thinking we can convince them with our better ideas.
Today the immediate tactical questions of the movement also pose the question of the state. In a telling international exchange between the various occupations across the world, a New Yorker questioned occupiers in Frankfurt about their decision to request a permit from the police. Noting that Liberty Plaza was occupied without a permit, she asked why the Germans had asked for one, wondering if such collaboration with class enemies could have been the result of a “cultural difference.” But why not be flexible, on the lookout for openings that can be strategically exploited? Some compromises may advance the class position, allowing a movement to confront the state on a different plane. If the state is willing to give us a permit, let them make that decision and live to regret it.
The question of police permits touches more generally on the police force itself. Are they, as some protesters have chanted, part of the 99%? From the start there has been a clear tension with the police. They have made arrests, have begun infiltrating the various occupations, and will certainly be called in, as they have been in Berlin and Oakland, to violently crush the movement.
But the challenge of the police is that they genuinely are workers, and their work is to repress proletarian antagonism. This paradox is not to be taken lightly. Neither blindly defending them as fellow workers nor blindly attacking them as hated pigs will help us now. Any failure to understand their specific function is either a reformist danger or an adventurist error.
The real problem was posed in 1968 by Pier Paolo Pasolini, after the Battle of Valle Giulia, in which police and student radicals clashed violently. Pasolini, the communist filmmaker, would later write a poem declaring solidarity with the police:
At Valle Giulia, yesterday, there was a fragment
of class struggle: you, my friends, (although
in the right) were the rich,
and the policemen (although in the wrong)
were the poor…
The important point in Pasolini’s poem is not his romanticization of the police’s purported proletarian identity, but instead the question of the composition of the revolutionaries. The problem this poses is that the repressive state apparatus has greater contact with many more layers of the proletariat than the political movement. In many spectacular street confrontations the police have seemed to be the only representatives of the “traditional” working class, including people of color, allowing the reactionary media to represent the protesters as entitled college students. And there can be no doubt that the police force recruits from the underclass; it offers one of the last careers available. Though in the abstract it is possible to bring the police over to our side – the protesters in Wisconsin successfully won the support of the police – this strategy can’t be assumed as some kind of utopian reflex. The Oakland Police Department gave us a crucial reminder of the instability of Pasolini’s perspective, when the vicious and obscene violence used for years against the black community was brought down upon Occupy Oakland. The real goal of the movement should be to move past the fetishization of the police, and to forge deeper connections with excluded segments of the proletariat, surrounding the police with their neighbors alongside college students.
Whatever the composition of the police, they remain an index of the state’s experience of protest. Remember the wise words of William S. Burroughs: “a functioning police state needs no police.” The Wall Street occupation was taken far more seriously when the pepper spray came out; even more when 700 were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge. The acts of violence perpetrated by police have served as indication that the protest is a threat to the state’s functioning. Determining the next steps will require careful consideration, and leadership by people of color, who have the most experience dealing with police violence.
The Roof is on Fire
Some squeamish left-liberals complain that the Occupy movement lacks organization. This is obviously ridiculous. How can the simple occupation of a park spontaneously ignite similar occupations in well over 50 American cities, incite a global protest in nearly 900 cities across the globe, and successfully link together a series of heterogeneous struggles without any form of organization? The Occupy movement is perhaps one of the most organized movements in history.
An accompanying complaint is that the occupations have not put forth demands. But it’s not at all clear that demands are a sufficient condition for social transformation. To a certain extent, as we wrote about the London riots, the refusal to make demands is a protest against the idea that the existing order could make our lives better, a refusal to speak in capital’s language. At the same time, the absence of “official,” institutional demands coexists with an incredible multiplicity of demands made by individual protesters, as the list of grievances in the first official statement indicates.
The important question is whether this organization is durable, and whether the movement’s demands put the social structure into question. No spontaneous collectivity could come together without at least an abstract set of common demands, and it would be unable reproduce itself without some kind of organizational form. But can these forms radicalize the demands so that they are oriented towards the transformation of the social reality outside of them?
The meaning and political effect of demands will depend ultimately on the organizational structure that makes them. It’s possible, for example, that even a highly desirable demand, like free healthcare, could be posed by a faction of the protestors who will make it possible to dissolve the movement into the Democratic Party. But this dynamic could just as easily work in the other direction. Take, for example, this poster produced by the Italian revolutionary group Potere Operaio (Workers’ Power).
The text reads, “Reforms don’t protect wages from rising prices, from the robbery of deductions. Comrades, let’s take the offensive for our objectives. Transportation, rent, school, meals – free. No taxes.” The police figure wields the scale like a baton, showing how the deductions outweigh the wage. The base of the figure is labelled: “parties – bosses – unions.”
The analysis offered by these demands is clear. Like debt today, the prices of daily necessities is a deduction from the wage, a wage which already represents exploitation. But the American reader will find two things very strange about this poster. The first is the idea of communist parties and bosses in alliance with unions; while Italy in the 1960s and 1970s had large and powerful bureaucratic unions and a reformist communist party, we have no influential left parties and our unions have barely any social power. Where it says “parties – bosses – unions,” we should write “liberals.”
The other puzzle is the final demand: “no taxes.” Isn’t this the core platform of the right, of free-market extremists? It is, of course, but this demand is a platform of the right because it is embedded in class, in the organized structure of the ruling class. No taxes for whom? The capitalist class tries to escape from taxes, to continue to redistribute wealth towards the top, and to give the state an excuse to dismantle the social gains made by labor. But if the capitalist class was subjected to a tax that even began to approach the percentage it expropriates from workers, this would render taxes on workers obsolete.
Since the tax is experienced by workers as yet another deduction from the wage, while the public programs that benefit them are on the chopping block, it seems unnecessary to allow the right to monopolize the attack on taxes. If an anti-tax platform is put forward by workers as a class, it represents a program of eliminating one deduction from the wage while charging capitalists for the maintenance of the state. The demand to tax the rich is, of course, accepted by many left-liberals. While it’s definitely a good idea to charge the capitalists, taxing the rich as the maximum program sets us up for social development by the state. The occupation movement gives us the potential to independently develop the class.
Other demands may be more appropriate for our situation. But they will have to be put forward by an organizational structure that represents a unitary class power. And the construction of such a form of organization will have to emerge from strategies of action that produce class solidarity.
A concrete example of this kind of strategy took place in La Puente, California. Rose Gudiel, who was about to be evicted from her foreclosed home, discussed her situation at Occupy LA. Her seemingly personal story turned out to be a social one; others there had suffered a similar fate. Many of the occupiers followed her back to her home in support. A few days later over two hundred joined her as she protested in front of the mansion of OneWest’s CEO; the next day they staged a sit-in at the Pasadena branch of Fannie Mae. Faced with such widespread opposition the bank gave in and decided to modify her loan.
This was a strategy, however spontaneous, that united participants in the movement who were hit by foreclosures. It provided a conceptual language in which individuals began to recognize that their own problems are closely related to other seemingly distinct problems. Not everyone who supported Gudiel was facing eviction; they joined her in part because they recognized that their own difficulties – unemployment, debt, rising cost of living – were connected to hers. The woman who loses her home is not so different from the neighbor that lost his job. The power of this strategy emerged from a unique kind of solidarity. For the banks to fight Guidel, they had to fight the whole movement.
A foreclosed home is an interesting site for an occupation. Among the many differences between a house and Zuccotti Park is the fact that a house has a roof. And this brings us back to the weather. Everybody’s talking about it; everybody knows that winter will force the movement to rethink its tactics. This is the politics of weather: it’s not some neutral phenomenon, but a weapon like any other. We will have to use it to our advantage before capital enlists it to crush our movement.
This won’t be the first time weather has figured prominently in a struggle. A reform banquet was scheduled by the moderate opposition to take place in Paris on February 22, 1848. Fearing an escalation of the already existing conflict, hoping to break the solidarity of the opposition, and knowing full well that the district where the meeting was to be held was a real hotbed of revolutionary activity, the forces of order cancelled the banquet the night before, undoubtedly hoping that the week’s horrible weather would work to keep the demonstrators away.
But despite the heavy clouds, cold wind, and biting rain, the protesters took to the streets anyway, enraged by this provocation, and quickly set about building barricades, looting gun shops, and throwing stones at the National Guard. While order was restored in some of the more public places, the demonstrators strategically regrouped in their labyrinthine neighborhoods. Already a challenge for the army, the winding streets, tortuous alleyways, and bewildering terrain became even more dangerous to outsiders now that it was pouring rain. So the forces of order hoped to use the weather to dissuade protesters from coming out; the protesters ended up strategically using the weather to bolster their primary points of resistance and escalate the struggle. So began the revolution of 1848 in France.
We can also use the weather to our advantage. The forces of order are hoping that winter will kill off the movement by forcing us to retreat back to our homes. We should do just that. We should strategically regroup by reoccupying foreclosed homes, squatting abandoned apartments, occupying various other buildings, transforming each and every one of these into the cells of an escalating movement. From the occupation of a public park we can shift towards reoccupying those spaces from which we have been forcibly ejected by mounting debt, unemployment, austerity measures, and cuts to social services. We can take back the public libraries, schools, lost homes, community centers, and more. The point is to constantly think of creative ways to use the weapons of our enemies against them. Let’s start with the barometers.