I wonder whether Occupy might not think of something of that sort. If you are not allowed to have backpacks in Zuccotti Park, okay. Go down there without backpacks. Do they have a dress code there that says you can’t wear a certain kind of t-shirt? Are they going to do something like that? So suddenly if, I don’t know, every Thursday at 5:00 a few hundred people appear wearing t-shirts of some kind wander into the park and just walk around. It could be a silent kind of protest. What kind of world would we be in if people just wearing a t-shirt couldn’t do this? You press the legitimacy — this is the point about the legitimacy of authority. You press authority to behave in such a way that it loses its legitimacy entirely. The legitimacy of government in this country is at a pretty low point already. I think some tactics like that would be interesting. It seems to me that there are intermediate things between camping overnight and occupying a space for a long time.
The Peter G. Peterson Institute is located at 1750 Massachusetts Ave, just steps from Dupont Circle. It’s a modern, glass building that is named, as you might have guessed, for its principal donor, Peter G. Peterson, the billionaire investor who co-founded Blackrock, served as secretary of commerce under President Richard Nixon, and is one of Washington’s most influential deficit hawks. And on Tuesday, it got occupied.
But there were no mic checks. There was no chanting. Fact is, the Peterson Institute invited the occupiers in. They hosted “a luncheon meeting to publicize the release of ‘The Occupy Handbook.’” And over steak roulade and fruit tarts, members of Washington’s most elite policy shop allied themselves, in name and economic analysis if not in living situations, with the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Ezra Klein, in the Washington Post
What the fuck? You want to know why people got upset and started occupying parks all over the country? It’s because the economic decisions that affect their lives are made by elites in fancy Washington, DC think tanks funded by billionaire investment bankers. And the Peter G. Peterson Institute is one of the prime culprits at pushing for “bipartisan” and ”centrist” neoliberal solutions to our problems, the primary one, naturally, being our federal budget deficit caused by “out-of-control entitlement spending.”
And Ezra Klein is the sort of bright, young, liberal journalist to impress with talk about how we could make some tax changes, reverse some of the financial deregulation of the Bush years, and we’ll be able to carry on just as before. I mean, I guess it’s something. The working classes don’t normally get that much of bone thrown our way unless somebody gets genuinely worried. But, for fuck’s sake, nobody camped out in an inhospitable downtown plaza under a purposely intimidating level of police surveillance so that the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics could host a luncheon and maybe put out some white papers about how to keep income inequality down to a manageable level.
It’s been a while since the “should Occupy Wall Street makes demands” debate has reared its head. I suppose it’s a sign that there’s still life left in the movement that the New York Review of Books rehashes it. And Ta-Nehisi Coates of the Atlantic has a blog piece up about their article in which he comments on the comparison between OWS and the Civil Rights movement:
To my mind, Occupy’s greatest contribution was placing the wealth gap on the radar. But the Civil Rights movement didn’t merely seek to put segregation “on the radar.” It sought to end it. To merely highlight the problem, and then to refuse to engage would have been everything the Civil Rights movement wasn’t. It would have been cynical.
The position he takes on this bugs me.
So long as the police—and more importanly, the politicians who control them—can define the limits of permissible protest and lie to the public with impunity, they are free to take whatever repressive measures they wish, all the while blaming everything on the actions of the protesters. The legitimacy of the police is a cause of police violence, and therefore the only way to ultimately reign in the cops is to tear away their veil of public support. It’s worth remembering that when the tide turned in the Egyptian revolution, it wasn’t because the cops stood down in the face of mass protests; it was because they were literally chased off the streets.
, on the fact that the only way to avoid “provoking the police” is complete and total subservience, and probably just to call the whole protest off ahead of time for good measure. They use brutality and lies to get what they want and to avoid the blame, and anything that the rest of us do to accept that situation helps them.
[C]onservatism adapts and adopts, often unconsciously, the language of democratic reform to the cause of hierarchy.
Corey Robin, The Reactionary Mind. The other night, I went to a talk about anarchism and its relation with the Occupy movement by Cindy Milstein, author of Anarchism and its Aspirations. Then, all day yesterday while I was at work, I was thinking about some of the things she was saying about how people who hadn’t been familiar with such things quickly came to understand and fight for the power of the consensus process at Occupy general assemblies, and how it relates to the point Corey Robin was making in the above quote. I’d like to expand on this later, but, briefly, I think it’s a real strength of Occupy that such a core part of it starts from an explicitly non-hierarchical basis. When you start from a core belief in fighting hierarchy wherever it may be lurking in your process, I think it’s much more resistant to being corrupted by counter-revolutionaries.
Obviously we failed to spark a social revolution. But one reason we never got to the point of inspiring hundreds of thousands of people to rise up was, again, that we achieved our other goals so quickly. Take the question of organization. While the anti-war coalitions still operate, as anti-war coalitions always do, as top-down popular front groups, almost every small-scale radical group that isn’t dominated by Marxist sectarians of some sort or another—and this includes anything from organizations of Syrian immigrants in Montreal or community gardens in Detroit—now operate on largely anarchist principles. They might not know it. But contaminationism worked. Alternately, take the domain of ideas. The Washington consensus lies in ruins. So much so it’s hard no to remember what public discourse in this country was even like before Seattle.
David Graeber in “The Shock of Victory” the first essay in his new collection Revolutions in Reverse, which I posted yesterday (complete with the whole thing in Scribd, so you can read it all yourself), in which he proposes the provocative thesis that “the biggest problem facing direct action movements is that we don’t know how to handle victory.” If you’re interested in trying to figure out how we’re ever going to get around to overthrowing global capitalism, this is a must-read. It’s from 2008, I believe, so it’s interesting to see how things are playing out these days with our current protest movement. Certainly, these issues are going to become important in the future when we evaluate whether Occupy Wall Street succeeded or not.
This passage seems especially relevant as the Occupy movement matures and gets some successes to its credit:
Still, some implications are pretty obvious. The next time we plan a major action campaign, I think we would do well to at least take into account the possibility that we might obtain our mid-range strategic goals very quickly, and that when that happens, many of our allies will fall away. We have to recognize strategic debates for what they are, even when they seem to be about something else. Take one famous example: arguments about property destruction after Seattle. Most of these, I think, were really arguments about capitalism. Those who decried window-breaking did so mainly because they wished to appeal to middle-class consumers to move towards global-exchange style green consumerism, to ally with labor bureaucracies and social democrats abroad. This was not a path designed to create a direct confrontation with capitalism, and most of those who urged us to take this route were at least skeptical about the possibility that capitalism could ever really be defeated at all. Those who did break windows didn’t care if they were offending suburban homeowners, because they didn’t see them as a potential element in a revolutionary anti-capitalist coalition. They were trying, in effect, to hijack the media to send a message that the system was vulnerable—hoping to inspire similar insurrectionary acts on the part of those who might considering entering a genuinely revolutionary alliance; alienated teenagers, oppressed people of color, rank-and-file laborers impatient with union bureaucrats, the homeless, the criminalized, the radically discontent. If a militant anti-capitalist movement was to begin, in America, it would have to start with people like these: people who don’t need to be convinced that the system is rotten, only, that there’s something they can do about it.
I’m sitting alone at home on a Friday night, but after reading this I’ve at least got some big dreams. Seriously, though, read it.