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(en) Britain, Anarchist Federation, Organise! #79 - Occupy! At the Crossroads - A look at the Occupy! Phenomenon

Date Sun, 09 Dec 2012 11:14:41 +0200


The Occupy movement was a phenomenon that spread rapidly throughout the United States and was echoed on a much smaller scale in Great Britain. It was inspired by events around the Arab Spring, in particular the occupation of Tahrir Square in Cairo and by the movement in Spain, the Indignados (Indignants). ---- In the United States it was initiated by the group around Adbusters who engaged in a critique of and action against advertising who issued a call to Occupy Wall Street and was quickly taken up by many others. The Occupy phenomenon in the United States which touched many towns and cities was echoed throughout the world, and appeared on every continent apart from Antarctica! --- From Armenia to Colombia, from Holland to Nigeria, from Hong Kong to Australia, a movement developed in the months after the first appearance in the United States.

As in the USA it was often
met with by police violence, har-
assment and repression. Outside
of the USA the Occupy! Move-
ment was a disparate thing and in
many cases was only fleeting. In
Nigeria it was used as a means to
mobilise against a cut in fuel sub-
sidies, forcing President Jonathan
to announce a return to a partial
subsidy.

It is quite clear that the move-
ment in the United States repre-
sents something different from
the other Occupy! movements
throughout the world, whilst
sharing some of their character-
istics. Let’s look at what these
movements all seem to have in
common.

They all involved the occupation
of public space, be that town
squares or parks, implicitly ques-
tioning the nature and use of this
public space. People once met in
public spaces where they could
discuss ideas. This use of public
space has been under consistent
attack with greater and greater
policing, the use of CCTV, piped
muzak and colonisation by adver-
tising. More and more activities
have been made illegal in public
spaces by the authorities, and the
Occupy actions were a challenge
to this attack on public space.
“It makes no sense to overly
fetishize the tactic of occupa-
tions, no more than it does to
limiting resistance exclusively to
blockades or clandestine attacks.
Yet the widespread emergence of
public occupations qualitatively
changed what it means to resist.
For contemporary American social
movements, it is something new
to liberate space that is normally
policed to keep the city function-
ing smoothly as a wealth generat-
ing machine and transform it into
a node of struggle and rebellion.
To do this day after day, rooted
in the the city where you live and
strengthening connections with
neighbors and comrades, is a first
taste of what it truly means to
have a life worth living. For those
few months in the fall, American
cities took on new geographies of
the movement’s making and re-
bels began to sketch out maps of
coming insurrections and revolts.”
From http://www.bayofrage.com/
featured-articles/occupy-oakland-
is-dead/

They involved the applying of
direct action, rather than indirect
action through parliament and
legislature.

They all involved the develop-
ment of systems of horizontal
organisation, with mass decision
making, direct democracy and
meetings taking place at the Oc-
cupy camps on a daily and indeed
twice-daily basis.

They all to a lesser or greater
extent (greater perhaps in the
USA) involved a break with
complacency, and the idea of the
status quo, and of Things As They
Are and of There Is No Alterna-
tive. As such they interplayed
with other movements in conflict
with austerity packages and cuts
programmes.

They all involved a critique of
some aspects of capitalism,
above all an attack on corpora-
tions and banks. Whilst some in
these movements, above all in
the USA, had a critique of capi-
talism as a whole for others this
anti-corporatism was not about
capitalism on a general level, but
important features of it in this
particular period. This overriding
anti-corporate drive meant that
some had not thought through to
an overall rejection of capitalism
as a whole, whilst others did and
do believe that capitalism can be
reformed, if what they perceive
as its most malicious and harm-
ful aspects can be reformed or
restrained. They argue against the
dominance of corporations and
against it pose the development
of cooperatives and small busi-
ness against big business. They
contrast what they see as the
decentralisation of this system of
operating against the centralisa-
tion of big business. Intertwined
with this is the group that talks
about the 1%, an oligarchy of the
super-rich and super-powerful.
This does not mean the end
of capitalism but some sort of
reform taking power and riches
away from this 1% and supplying
justice to the “99%”. Other cur-
rents involved are those of radi-
cal religious groups, Christian and
Buddhist, which talk about social
justice with no clear critique of
capitalism as well as conspiracy
theorists who believe in a plot by
a small secret and occult group to
control the world’s power struc-
tures and finance institutions.
All of these tendencies together
have drawn notice to the whole
system of exploitation that capi-
talism represents and have thus
raised the issue of class society.
Which of these tendencies will
win a battle of ideas within the
Occupy movement is still up for
grabs and will be determined over
the next year.

One problem related to this
conflict of ideas within the Oc-
cupy movement was the attempt
by some within it to label it as
“non-violent” and in so doing
raise the old chestnut of the
division between “non-violent”
and “violent” actions. In Boston,
for example, a diversity of tactics
statement was agreed upon, sup-
porting different forms of resist-
ance. However the subject was
raised again at a general assembly
weeks later with a call for a ban-
ning of all violent acts against “all
beings”.

Other problems were the ques-
tion of safer spaces (echoed at
the Saint Imier gathering where
the same problem arose). Be-
cause of sexual harassment,
homophobia and transphobia,
and many felt unable to par-
ticipate or to continue to in the
Occupy camps (this situation was
reflected in the Occupy camps in
Britain). Similarly many black, Na-
tive American and Latino people
sensed supremacist attitudes
among white activists and began
to stay away. There were some
honourable attempts to openly
deal with the problems in the
camps but this is an ongoing
problem that has to be drastically
dealt with if we are attempting to
construct a mass movement that
is inclusive for the future.

Other interesting aspects of the
Occupy movement involved the
setting up of free libraries, in
some instances with a dominance
of anarchist literature, the provi-
sion of free or cheap meals, free
clothes and healthcare, and free
crèches.

In the Occupy Oakland movement
in northern California, links were
built with workers with a call for a
General Strike on November 2nd
2012 which resulted in a shut-
down of the port. There was a
call out for a shutdown of all the
ports on the West Coast on De-
cember 12th and whilst this was
not successful, the call out itself
was a positive move. Similarly
the call by Occupy Wall Street to
delay the opening of the stock
exchange on November 17th
was also a positive move, even if
foiled by aggressive police action.
Occupy Oakland was probably the
most radical of the Occupy ac-
tions in the USA. This was down
to a number of factors. Following
the shooting to death by the po-
lice of Oscar Grant in 2009, there
had been a series of riots against
the police there. There had been
a series of student occupations
against austerity measures, the
protest camp by Native Ameri-
cans at Glen Cove in 2011, and a
number of other actions. As an
article at http://www.bayofrage.
com/featured-articles/occupy-
oakland-is-dead/ noted :

“If we had chosen to follow the
specific trajectory prescribed by
Adbusters and the Zucotti-based
organizers of Occupy Wall Street,
we would have staked out our
local Occupy camp somewhere in
the heart of the capitol of West
Coast capital, as a beachhead in
the enemy territory of San Fran-
cisco’s financial district. Some
did this early on, following in the
footsteps of the growing list of
other encampments scattered
across the country like a color-
ful but confused archipelago of
anti-financial indignation. Accord-
ing to this logic, it would make
no sense for the epicenter of the
movement to emerge in a medi-
um sized, proletarian city on the
other side of the bay.

We intentionally chose a different
path based on a longer trajec-
tory and rooted in a set of shared
experiences that emerged directly
from recent struggles. Vague
populist slogans about the 99%,
savvy use of social networking,
shady figures running around in
Guy Fawkes masks, none of this
played any kind of significant role
in bringing us to the forefront of
the Occupy movement. In the
rebel town of Oakland, we built
a camp that was not so much the
emergence of a new social move-
ment, but the unprecedented
convergence of preexisting local
movements and antagonistic
tendencies all looking for a fight
with capital and the state while
learning to take care of each
other and our city in the most
radical ways possible.

This is what we began to call The
Oakland Commune; that dense
network of new found affinity
and rebelliousness that sliced
through seemingly impenetrable
social barriers like never before.
Our “war machine and our care
machine” as one comrade put
it. No cops, no politicians, plenty
of “autonomous actions”; the
Commune materialized for one
month in liberated Oscar Grant
Plaza at the corner of 14th &
Broadway. Here we fed each
other, lived together and began to
learn how to actually care for one
another while launching unmedi-
ated assaults on our enemies:
local government, the downtown
business elite and transnational
capital. These attacks culminated
with the General Strike of Novem-
ber 2 and subsequent West Coast
Port Blockade.”

In addition, there was a strong
anarchist presence in both the
actions mentioned above and the
Oakland occupation, which led on
to the insistence, not taken up in
other Occupy actions, that there
be no police presence within the
Oakland camp.

The cold winter and generalised
police violence against the Oc-
cupy camps have been a factor
in stalling the movement, both in
the USA and elsewhere. Occupy
hoped to relaunch with this year’s
May Day mobilisations, following
the wave of police violence and
extreme weather that had had a
demobilising effect. Many camps,
including the initial one of Zu-
cotti Park in New York, had been
violently cleared by the police.
Certainly thousands turned out
for the event. The media had
initially covered the Occupy ac-
tions and they chose to operate a
more or less complete blackout.
Where it did report the media
declared that the movement
was over. If the re-occupation of
public space was looked for, it
was foiled by the massive show of
police strength, large numbers of
riot police, armoured personnel
carriers and SWAT teams armed
with assault rifles showed that
the American State was taking
the Occupy movement as a seri-
ous threat. However what was

Organise!


interesting about these May Day
mobilisations was that the Oc-
cupy movement was looking for
links with other groups and dem-
onstrated with industrial workers
and immigrant rights groups on
the day. Of course, there was
the customary police violence,
as well as fifty arrests across the
USA. There was fierce resist-
ance on the day too, with street
fighting in Oakland that lasted all
day, a shield bloc in Los Angeles,
an attempt at a wildcat march
in New York, an anti-capitalist
march in New Orleans and trash-
ing of banks in Seattle.

Is it true as the mainstream me-
dia claims that the Occupy move-
ment is over in the USA? Certainly
the winter and police violence
had put an end to the occupa-
tion of public spaces. However
there now seem to be moves to
occupy buildings and to resist
evictions by banks. Whether this
remains the Occupy movement
or is a morphing into other move-
ment can be seen as a question
of semantics. The reclamation
of buildings was initiated in
the most radical of the camps,
Oakland, and has spread to San
Francisco, Chapel Hill, Washing-
ton DC and Seattle. Other initia-
tives have been the occupation of
farmland. One instance was Oc-
cupy The Farm on land owned by
the University of California, which
was later cleared by the police.

In Minneapolis, an Occupy the
Homes campaign was set up.

“What is unusual, in fact utterly
unprecedented, is the level of ag-
gression and defiance of the law
by these activists. Over the past
week ... the city has tossed out
protesters and boarded up the
house, only to see the demonstra-
tors peel back the boards and use
chains, concrete-filled barrels and
other obstacles to make it more
difficult to carry them away,” a
spokesperson for Freddie Mac, a
company that trades in mortgag-
es told a local paper. Occupy Our
Homes has issued demands that
banks adjust or write off loans so
that people can stay in their own
houses.

A similar campaign has emerged
with Occupy Our Colleges with
the demands that university
administrations stop their axing
of budgets to protect educa-
tion. Other initiatives have been
a flowering of attempts to apply
the horizontal structures of the
Occupy camps with their general
assemblies to the neighbourhood.
Occupy the Hood movements
have emerged in many US cities
with Occupy El Barrio specifically
looking at Lationo/Latina com-
munities. Similarly there appear
to be moves towards rural oc-
cupations. Whether these initia-
tives will bear fruit remains to
be seen. The radicalisation of
this movement or its continuity
is not a given. Nevertheless the
atmosphere of apathy has been
shattered, with many new people
drawn into activity, and many
experiencing horizontal organisa-
tion and decision making for the
first time.

Postscript: Britain

The eviction of the St Paul’s Oc-
cupy camp, and the clearing of
the School of Ideas building and
its subsequent demolition and
of the nearby camp at Finsbury
Square dealt a severe blow to
Occupy London. As a writer in Oc-
port for the massive and growing
numbers of homeless people in
London and in Britain as a whole.
Having a home is a fundamental
human need and right. Only with
adequate housing can people
successfully contribute to their
community in a meaningful way.

Many homeless people have be-
come part of Occupy London and
through this have found a sense
of community and increased
optimism. Many occupiers have
unintentionally become homeless
during their involvement in Oc-
cupy London. In essence, a part of
the homeless has become Occupy
London, and a part of Occupy
London has become the home-
less. Together we call for social
and economic justice.
Occupy London intends to high-
light the issue of homelessness
and of eviction of homeless
persons from refuges such as St.
Paul’s Churchyard. We abhor the
violence and intimidation that
occupiers and homeless people,
around the world, have been
subjected to.

Occupy London has been provid-
ing tented accommodation for
between 30 and 70 homeless peo-
ple staying at the St Paul’s Occupy
site. These people will be affected
by eviction of OLSX. We believe
that the City of London has a duty
of care towards them and that
they should be offered accommo-
dation that ensures their safety,
dignity and freedom – that is, in
homes, not hostels.”

However this was not without its
problems. As one activist noted
(Occupied Times, July 2012) : “If
the government or police wanted
to know how to derail activists
combating their agenda, they
need look no further than Fins-
bury Square. David Cameron’s
crackpot ‘Big Society’ idea was
designed to relieve the state of
its responsibility towards vulner-
able people, tasking the people
with providing welfare instead.
This alone should be opposed,
but at Finsbury Square we saw
another side-effect of such a plan
which further enables the status-
quo.

Activists tend to be compassion-
ate people. For most of us, our
motivation to organise or agitate
comes from wanting more for
those worst off in society. When
FS started to become more of
a refugee camp than a politi-
cal occupation, some of us were
made to feel that we should drop
all political activism to care for
the homeless. I was told I had no
compassion, despite the fact that
I already volunteer in a recog-
nised homeless centre, where
they have the expertise and re-
sources to genuinely help.
By falling into the trap of pro-
viding quasi-help for people at
FS, rather than highlighting and
combating the source of problems
like homelessness (which Occupy
started off doing), people played
right into the government’s
hands. On one hand the protest
was quelled, and on the other,
people did the state’s work for it.”
This view was echoed by other
activists in the same article.

Some activists within Occupy in
London attempted to forge an
alliance with the Sparks electri-
cians who were putting on mass
pickets at building sites nearby
and the Sparks and their support-
ers marched up to St Paul’s and
addressed the camp from the
stairs of St Paul’s. However, these
activists were a minority within
the camp and there was little
enthusiasm for such an alliance in
other quarters.

The liberal element now seems to
have control of the brand name
of Occupy London. Occupied
Times continues to appear on a
regular basis and contains some
interesting articles. It attempts to
reflect the broad range of opin-
ions inside or close to the Occupy
movement. So, it can contain
articles reflecting revolutionary
points of view, as for example, the
views of an activist in the London
anarchist group Alarm.

However on the other hand they
print the thoughts of right-wing
“libertarian” and advocate of the
free market Tibor Machan (Occu-
pied Times, July 2012) apparently
just because he was “staunchly
opposed to government sub-
sidies for banks and corpora-
tions. It similarly gives space in
the September issue to Jeremy
Rifkin an advocate of reformist
and cosmetic measures for the
economy and government, whilst
in the same issue we are treated
to a plea for Occupy in Britain to
become the catalyst for a Real.

Democracy movement with a
range of ReaL Democracy institu-
tions, parties and think-tanks”.

The Occupy movement in Britain
shows few signs of being able to
develop as it is too much a victim
of the contradictions between the
various currents. Perhaps certain
useful initiatives may emerge and
we should continue to hope for
any such developments. What
we should do as revolutionary
anarchists is attempt to establish
debate and dialogue with the
radical elements within it looking
for a way forward.

Pedlars of Reformism and the Occupy Movement

Among the ideologists peddling
the idea that capitalism can be
reformed into a nice kind capital-
ism (rather like trying to persuade
piranhas to be vegetarian) both
inside and outside the Occupy
movement perhaps three names
stand out.

David Korten.

Korten is the author of Agenda
for a New Economy, The Great Turn-
ing: From Empire to Earth Com-
munity, and When Corporations
Rule the World. He is co-chair
of the New Economy Working
Group, and a founding board
member of the Business Alliance
for Local Living Economies. He
adopts a fierce rhetoric against
large corporations, talking about
: “the quiet—but powerful—pro-
test of the millions of Americans
who are putting their shoulders
to the wheel of change by build-
ing the new community-rooted,
market-based, life-serving Main
Street economies we need for a
21st century America that pro-
vides secure, adequate dignified,
and meaningful livelihoods for
all in a balanced relationship to
nature.

The corporate media are obsessed
with the question: “What do the
Occupy Wall Street protesters
want? What is their demand?”
It should be obvious. They want
their economy, their government,
and their country back from the
alien occupiers.

As our forebears liberated Ameri-
ca from rule by a distant king and
the British East India Company,
the time has come to liberate
America from Wall Street and
reclaim the power Wall Street has
usurped. It is time to establish
democracy in America and build
a national system of Main Street
economies owned and account-
able to people who have an inher-
ent interest in building healthy
communities with thriving local
economies and healthy natural
environments for themselves and
their children. By the calendar it’s
autumn, but for many it is the be-
ginning of the American Spring”.

Chuck Collins

Chuck Collins is co-founder of
Wealth for the Common Good,
“a network of business and civic
leaders, wealth individuals and
partners promoting fair and ad-
equate taxation to support public
investment in a healthy economy”
(Huffington Post).He is author of
99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality is
Wrecking the World and What We
Can Do About It. He is co-author,
with Bill Gates Sr., of Wealth
and Our Commonwealth: Why
America Should Tax Accumulated
Fortunes and has co-authored
several other books including:
Economic Apartheid in America:
A Primer on Economic Inequal-
ity and Insecurity and The Moral
Measure of the Economy where
he advocates a “Christian ethical”
perspective on the economy.

He advocates a higher minimum
wage, limiting of CEO pay, fair
trade policies, the end to corpo-
rate tax dodging, a higher mini-
mum wage , universal healthcare
and fair trade policies, etc.

He calls for an end to “excessive
concentrations of wealth and
corporate power” ( the key word
being excessive and not the aboli-
tion of wealth and power them-
selves). He still believes that CEOs
should be allowed to make 20
times more than ordinary work-
ers.

Jeremy Rifkin

The most “left” sounding and
acting, Rifkin became active in
the anti-war movement in 1966.
He organised a mass rally against
petrol increases in 1973. As the
Wikipedia entry on Rifkin notes:

“In 1977, with Ted Howard, he
founded the Foundation on Eco-
nomic Trends which is active in
both national and international
public policy issues related to the
environment, the economy, and
climate change. ...Rifkin is the
principal architect of the Third
Industrial Revolution long-term
economic sustainability plan to
address the triple challenge of
the global economic crisis, energy
security, and climate change.

The Third Industrial Revolution
was formally endorsed by the
European Parliament in 2007
and is now being implemented
by various agencies within the
European Commission. Rifkin has
lectured before many Fortune
500 companies, and hundreds of
governments, civil society or-
ganizations, and universities over
the past thirty five years.Rifkin is
the founder and chairperson of
the Third Industrial Revolution
Global CEO Business Roundtable,
comprising more than 100 of the
world's leading renewable energy
companies, construction com-
panies, architectural firms, real
estate companies, IT companies,
power and utility companies, and
transport and logistics compa-
nies. Rifkin's global economic de-
velopment team is working with
cities, regions, and national gov-
ernments to develop master plans
to transition their economies
into post- carbon Third Industrial
Revolution infrastructures.”

Rifkin believes that technological
advances have brought about a
widespread democratisation both
in the economy and in govern-
ance. He writes “The youth have
shown that they know how to
use lateral power via Facebook,
Twitter, Google, and other social
networks to bring millions of
people to the streets to protest
the inequities and abuses of the
current economic and political
system. Now, the looming ques-
tion is whether they can harness
the same lateral power to create
a sustainable economy, generate
millions of new jobs, transform
the political process and restore
the earth for future generations.”
Nothing here about the funda-
mental nature of capitalism itself
leading to ecological crisis and
exploitation.

All three of these ideologues
somehow believe that capitalism
can be transformed into some-
thing kind and caring. Whilst
the police are used to tame the
developing social movements, Ko-
rten , Rifkin and Collins represent
another wing of this attack, seek-
ing to create a diversion towards
a vanilla reformism.
_________________________________________
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