The occupation movement: on greed, unity & violence

A letter to the #Occupy movement, from participants in Oakland, attempting to clarify and explain some of the questions around corporatism VS capitalism, pacifism and what the so-called 99% actually is.

Submitted by Juan Conatz on October 24, 2011

Being “greedy” is what good corporations and businesses are supposed to do in capitalism. In this system, individuals can only get ahead by acting greedy, in their own self-interest. So while many recent city occupations in the USA have built themselves against “corporate greed”, “big business,” and “financiers on Wall Street”, we cannot forget that the most greedy corporations also donate the most to charity, that small business is just as much part of the system as big business, that productive industry cannot exist without finance. We must challenge the entire system. If we are really against “corporate greed” then we are against capitalism itself.

The 99%?

Yes, the 1% have been screwing us, for a long ass time. The 99% are reduced to working, serving and maintaining a system that makes us miserable and prevents us from realizing our potential. A growing number of us have been completely expelled from ‘society’ altogether—through homelessness, joblessness, an inability to get adequate healthcare, lack of access to education and other miserable conditions.

But the idea that there is something called society that we should all work together to defend is an illusion. Society is rife with divisions, conflicts and wars. Some of these wars are manufactured and waged by the 1%. Other wars, such as the wars conducted by indigenous peoples and people of color against racist colonization and the war conducted by women and trans people against patriarchal gender violence, are hidden and suppressed in the false name of society. Every year for these last decades, the casualties of society have piled up as the revolutionaries have been killed or jailed.

In recent years, many of the 99% have appeared to follow the rules. Many of us have been caught in the cycle of working and borrowing in order to continue working and borrowing, we have been terrified of speaking out against daily injustices and humiliations for fear of losing the tiny foothold we hope to protect, or for fear of getting jailed or beaten by the cops, or getting ostracized and criminalized by the obeyers (even though they know the rules are unjust). Many people who have recently lost their social standing are figuring out that the promises capitalism holds out to them are hollow. What the 99% faces, at best, is a life of debt, chained to shitty jobs and to shitty commodities.

The Occupy Movement is awakening to the fact that if we continue to follow their rules, they, the 1%, will win. The Occupy movement is a wake-up call to disobey their rules and to create new ways of living together.

But the call for unity of the 99% is empty. There is no unity between those who seek to uphold the system of domination and those of us who seek to destroy it as we create a new world. What section of the 99% will join us, and what part will seek to defend the powers that exist, playing on fear of chaos or disruption? What part of that 99% will work with us to expropriate, destroy and transform what the 1% controls? Most immediately: the cops may well be part of that 99%, but they are directly in opposition to us as long as they continue to do their job as cops. (The Tea Party minions, the rapists, racists, gay bashers and sexual abusers are all part of the 99%, but they are definitely not with us).

Violence is not something we can choose or not choose

The Occupy Movement quickly comes up against the pepper spray and baton blows of the cops. What is violence? Ask the friends and family of all those who have been killed or sexually assaulted by cops or shot in the back for not paying a transit fare. Ask the prisoners who are on hunger strike across California, the homeless who try to find a place to sleep or a place to pee, the thousands who have gotten beaten up for protesting injustices, the young people of color who are constantly harassed and attacked by anti-gang task forces, the sex workers abused and exploited by the cops.

Destroying and expropriating the property of the 1% is not violence. Violence is the shooting of Oscar Grant, of Charles Hill, of Kenneth Harding, and countless others. Violence is more than 1/3 of women who suffer sexual assault. In fact, violence is a normal, constant condition of capitalism. For the occupation movement, the first clear violence will come from the cops and resistance to these agents of repression is absolutely necessary. As someone said in Tahrir Square, “when the cops come to take your shit, you have to try to stop them.”

The square occupations in North Africa unleashed revolutions that toppled dictators and those in Europe brought global stock markets to the brink of collapse. The difference here is obviously in the numbers; 50,000+ in Tahrir Square, 20,000 in Syntagma. Yet there was also something more.The strength of these occupations lied in their refusal to be removed, their commitment to physically resist any attempts to evict them from their liberated spaces. Remember the barricades around Tahrir? Non-violence made no sense during those long nights of fighting to protect the revolution. Here in the usa, we will also need to resist, in our own ways. By limiting the scope of that resistance right from the start, we undermine our potential strength and we let the state decide when we will be removed, when this explosion of resistance has gone too far and needs to be extinguished.

We need tens of thousands to take to the streets and build this movement into something greater. But if the past weeks have taught us anything it is that clashes with the state do not scare people away. In fact it is the opposite. The numbers on Wall Street have clearly grown after each round of escalation and scuffles with police.

The potential of this movement. What do we really want?

We don’t want shitty jobs. We don’t want to vote for politicians who promise to change things. We don’t want to waste our energies trying to change the constitution. We don’t want a few new rules for Wall Street. We don’t believe we can “affect the system” by just “being together.”

The 1% controls the wealth of the society. We need to take it back, and remake it in the process. But what comes after occupying the city squares? City Hall? Foreclosed homes? Supermarkets? And then—Liberating public transit? Free health clinics? Free education? Collective food production?

Everything is possible.

Postscript: Occupy Oakland

As we write this, we have no way of knowing whether the city-controlled Frank Ogawa Plaza will become occupied Oscar Grant Plaza, with all of the possibilities that entails. But we do know that if this occupation is to last and continue to grow beyond the first night, and if this movement is to bring any fundamental change in the quality of our lives, it must be drastically different than any of the other Occupations around the country.

Oakland is currently under occupation by the police. The form of this occupation varies; the situation is much different in Temescal than in deep East Oakland. We live in a militarized space. Whether it’s police executions of Black youth, police harassment of sex workers along International Boulevard, or the city council’s racist legislation in the form of anti-loitering laws, gang injunctions or the suggested youth curfew, this paramilitary occupation is a project of local government to pacify and contain the city so capitalism can go about it’s business uninterrupted.

But Oakland doesn’t just have a violent, repressive contemporary situation; we have a vibrant history of struggle and resistance. From the 1946 General Strike to the formation of the Black Panther party in 1966 to the anti-police rebellion following the execution of Oscar Grant in 2009, Oakland has long been a city full of people that refuse to sit down and shut up. Despite every attempt by the state to kill that spirit, it lives on and will be out in full force over the coming days.

Originally posted: October 10, 2011 at Bay of Rage