An open letter to 1 per cent: you cannot evict an idea whose time has come
To the 1 per cent (you know who you are),
I write to you, as a lowly ninety-nine percenter, to offer both my congratulations and my condolences.
First, my congratulations on sending in the NYPD to clear out Zuccotti Park in the wee hours of the morning today. Congratulations for demonstrating, with this cynically timed manoeuvre, that when push comes to shove the police exist to serve and protect your vested interests. Congratulations on teaching a new generation this painful but necessary lesson about the true function of the police in a capitalist society. You deserve thanks for proving that when consent falters you’ll resort to force to maintain your hegemony — liberal democracy, when it is by and for the 1 per cent, must have its limits.
Congratulations are also in order for the seamless way you have deployed your media and your legal system against the Occupy encampments around North America. From Oakland up to Vancouver, all the way over to Halifax and many places in between, injunctions and smear campaigns have paved the way for evictions. Congrats all around on the super job you’ve done reminding us of the ultimate purpose of our society’s superstructure.
I also write, however, to offer my condolences. Because, for you, the sad truth is that you can evict an encampment, but you cannot evict ideas whose time has come.
As it was with Cairo’s Tahrir Square, I know that we, the 99 per cent, will be back in New York’s Liberty (Zuccotti) Park. And even if that takes some time, I’m still sorry for you and your tiny minority, because you cannot evict these ideas: they are simply too important, too long overdue, and too big to fail.
You cannot evict the idea — at long last expressed in no uncertain terms — that you, the 1 per cent super-rich, have been getting away with crimes against the people for far too long.
You cannot evict the idea that the rich and the powerful are responsible for the social and economic crisis we face.
You cannot evict the idea that money must cease to dominate and corrupt politics.
You cannot evict the idea that everybody, all 100 per cent of us, deserves a home, a permanent, safe and comfortable roof over their heads; this is an idea that you cannot evict no matter in how many places you try to evict the homeless who have joined our encampments. You cannot evict from sight and from mind the social problems that your 1 per cent centric system has created and perpetuated.
You cannot evict the idea that the environmental crisis is driven by the insatiable and irrational system of capital accumulation that you sit atop.
You cannot evict the idea that the war machine is paid for with the blood and treasure of the 99 per cent, and yet serves only your 1 per cent interests.
You cannot evict the bonds of international solidarity that have already been forged, with actions like the Egyptians’ sharing lessons of struggle in New York or the Boston Occupation of the Israeli consulate in solidarity with the Freedom Waves flotilla to Gaza.
You cannot evict this rebellion because it has become global, beginning in Tunisia and spreading from there and picking up People Power and indignation along the way.
You cannot evict the joy we have all felt in joining a movement that has finally spoken to class injustice, and to the exclusion of the 99 per cent from power at all levels.
You can clear out a park in the middle of the night, but you cannot evict Occupy Wall Street, and you cannot evict this political moment and these movements that have emerged.
My condolences, again, to you the 1 per cent. Now that we’ve finally got these ideas in our hearts and in our minds, you can never again evict the 99 per cent from political life and from the struggle to create a better society and a better world.
A police raid suffused with symbolism
November 15, 2011
Following similar raids in St. Louis and Oakland, hordes of NYPD officers this morning forcibly cleared Zuccotti Park in Manhattan of all protesters; New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg took “credit” for this decision. That led to this description of today’s events from an Occupy Wall Street media spokesman, as reported by Salon‘s Justin Elliott:
A military style raid on peaceful protesters camped out in the shadow of Wall Street, ordered by a cold ruthless billionaire who bought his way into the mayor’s office.
If you think about it, that short sentence is a perfect description of both the essence of America’s political culture and the fuel that gave rise to the #OWS movement in the first place.
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Jesse LaGreca, who justifiably received substantial attention as an insightful and articulate spokesperson for OWS’s grievances, here condemns what he describes as the “1-party bankster owned oligarchy” (for more on what he means, see here). Meanwhile, here’s a photo of the police earlier this week clearing out Occupy Chapel Hill in North Carolina; the Baghdad-like scene is but a small taste of how para-militarized America’s domestic police forces have become and what we’re likely to see much more of if (more accurately: when) protests, disruptions and other forms of unrest continue to emerge in the face of a disappearing middle class and exploding inequality:
UPDATE: A New York state judge this morning temporarily enjoined the city from keeping the protesters out of Zuccotti Park, but Mayor Bloomberg is simply ignoring the Order and deliberately breaking the law by refusing to allow them back in. Put another way, Bloomberg this morning has broken more laws than the hundreds of protesters who were arrested. But as we know, the law does not apply to the Michael Bloombergs of the nation; the law, instead, has simply been exploited into a weapon used by the politically and financially powerful to prevent challenges to their standing.
Could #OWS have scripted a more apt antagonist than this living, breathing personification of oligarchy: a Wall Street billionaire who so brazenly purchased his political office, engineered the overturning of a term-limits referendum and then spent more than $100 million of his personal fortune to stay in power, and now resides well above the law?
UPDATE II: To justify his raid, Mayor Bloomberg said: ”We must never be afraid to insist on compliance with our laws.” Leaving aside the fact that torturers, illegal eavesdroppers, wagers of aggressive war, Wall Streets defrauders, and mortgage thieves are some of his best friends who thrive and profit rather than sit in a jail cell, this is the same Mayor Bloomberg who, now beyond all dispute, is knowingly and deliberately breaking the law by violating a Court Order of which he is well aware. He’d be arrested for that if he weren’t a billionaire Mayor (and indeed, having seen that bevvy of political and financial elites break the law in the most egregious ways with total impunity over the last decade, why would Bloomberg be afraid of simply ignoring the law?). Today really is the most vivid expression seen in quite some time of the two-tiered justice system I wrote my new book to highlight; the real criminals are not only shielded from the law’s mandates, but affirmatively use it as an instrument to entrench themselves in power and protect their ill-gotten gains.
Stephanie Luce: One of the amazing things about OWS in New York has been the degree to which organized labor has come on in support, and been able to intersect some of its own organizing with that of OWS. There is a long way to go, but this level of interaction seems remarkable to me in this city where unions have been known to be insular and not good at working with others. Unions have already contributed support in a variety of ways: offering money, food, medical training, supplies, meeting space, storage space, and publicity.
And OWS has participated in ongoing labor activities, from the campaign to get a contract at Verizon, to supporting locked-out Teamsters at Sothebys. Public sector unions have been fighting to extend the millionaire’s tax in New York, and on October 11, 2011, the 99 percent and unions joined together for a march against the millionaires and billionaires.
The general assembly, consensus model has drawbacks. It can be used poorly in ways that allow a small minority to block consensus, and control decisions. With large groups of people, it can be possible for small cliques to develop and function in non-transparent ways. But the same can be said for our other models of functioning—notably, traditional union structures.
Despite its weaknesses, the Occupy model can provide tremendous inspiration for rank-and-file unionists. It has worked so far to allow “ordinary people” to feel they are participating in democratic decision-making for the first time in their lives. They have seen how it’s possible to develop an idea and run with it, working to organize with others to make their vision a reality. The horizontalist model is new for many union members, and will take some work to learn and develop, but is a tool that can strengthen movements.
OWS provides another important lesson for unions, which I think expands on the UE fight at Republic Windows and Doors, and the fight back in Wisconsin. The lesson is that we should not be afraid of “the public.” Unions have been spending millions of dollars on consultants, polls and focus groups to craft a careful message that will play with the public. But the messages that come out of these tend to be ones that people have been hearing in the media and from politicians. They tend to be conservative, backward looking messages, and not ones that push people to new ideas and greater possibilities.
No focus group would have come up with the “message” of a plant takeover in Chicago. And no poll would have predicted that a mass teacher walkout and citizen take-over of the Capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin was a wise public relations strategy.
Instead, the labor movement has been trying to frame itself as “reasonable.” Top union leaders in Wisconsin stated emphatically that they were “only asking for the right to collective bargaining.” The same is true with the Verizon strike in August, where union leaders said they were on strike “for the right to bargain.” Unions and labor coalitions declare that they are just trying to save the middle class, or reclaim the American Dream: nothing radical, nothing confrontational.
OWS turns that idea on its head, and within a few weeks, with no consultants and no polling, asserts a very bold and expansive “message”: we are the 99 percent, we are in a class war against the 1 percent, we demand public space, we demand the right to protest, we want another world. OWS uses images that link its fight with the Arab Spring, suggesting that our fight is a fundamental struggle for democracy and basic human rights. These are bold, visionary demands, and ones that ignite the public imagination.
— Farooque Chowdhury and Michael D. Yates, “The Occupy Wall Street Uprising and the U.S. Labor Movement: An Interview with Steve Early, Jon Flanders, Stephanie Luce, and Jim Straub”
Thanks to Louis Proyect and Marxmail for keeping the flame and the heads-up.