I was assigned to write a piece on the Occupy movement, to mark the six month anniversary of Occupy. I find myself conflicted here, because – like any global movement – there are so many mixed feelings, and conflicting opinions. On one hand, I’m super inspired by the history of the movement, and the fact that so many apathetic or apolitical folks are waking up to the ills of global capitalism. On the other hand, there are a lot of aspects of the movement which are totally fucked up and need to be commented on. I don’t want to appear to be bashing an entire movement, and yet I don’t want to gloss over some of the fucked up attitudes and alliances. These things need to be dissected. But first, for the uninitiated – some history.
In late summer of 2011, the leftist “culture jamming” magazine Adbusters put out a call for activists to occupy Wall Street on September 17th. Inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings which took hold over much of the Middle East earlier that year, the goal was to get people from all walks of life who had been affected by predatory capitalism to name and shame those responsible. While the initial protest was centered on New York as the center of American capitalism, it was quite clear that the social ills of the capitalist system existed everywhere in the country… not to mention in virtually every other first world capitalist nation. As the OWS encampment in Zuccotti Park grew in size and attracted more and more repression from New York’s finest, the mainstream media and representatives of the “left” half of the national corporate party (er, the Democrats) started paying attention. On one hand, the majority of the press condemned and mocked the movement (with a couple of notable exceptions), while the Democrats and their opportunist hacks attempted to co-opt the movement.
Mickey Z was involved with OWS from almost the very beginning. “My first trip to Liberty Square/Zuccotti Park was about one week after the camp started and to be honest, it was partly motivated by skepticism. I’ve been around long enough to have witnessed many American “revolutions” that didn’t exactly live up to the name and the mass left-wing exodus to the Obama camp in 2008 was a particularly painful blow. So yeah, I was skeptical. Once I was there (and immediately got interviewed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvzrTtloV4w), however, I felt something different…something I had never felt before: The occupants were in the process of creating an alternative form of human culture. I knew right away that something amazing was happening.”
On October 15th, solidarity camps and marches sprung up all over America, Canada, Europe, etc. Here in Calgary, a small but dedicated group of veteran and fresh activists started work on getting an Occupy Calgary march and occupation started. Jason Devine is a local anti-fascist and anti-capitalist who was involved with Occupy Calgary from the start. “The minute I found out about Occupy Wall Street I knew it was going to spread beyond NYC. I decided I wanted to be at the forefront of helping to build up Occupy here in Calgary. Thus I attended and helped to organise the earliest meetings for Occupy Calgary, with other local activists. I also headed up the first media working group. I had a number of expectations. First, I thought that it would be a great opportunity to expose capitalism here in Calgary, Alberta. Second, I felt it would be a great chance to introduce to a whole layer of people ideas of anti-capitalism and also to make new connection with other radicals and activists here in Calgary. At the same time I had no illusions about political backwardness here and expected that to make our work harder.”
As time went on, it became clear that the Occupy movement was making an impact. I’ve always noticed that in any popular struggle against state power, you can tell how effective it is by how much of a backlash there is against the movement. Whether it is Cointelpro tactics of the 60s and 70s, the Pinkerton thugs of the 1890s, the tear gas of the anti-globalization movement, the execution of the Haymarket martyrs – the more repression and propaganda against the movement, the more of a threat to the status quo it is. By that standard, Occupy became a grave threat to the system in a very short amount of time. In the first week or so, nobody except for the activists themselves and a few leftist journals paid much attention. But slowly and surely, it grew. By the time Occupy went national, everyone was paying attention. From daily attacks by the Faux News, News Corp and Quebecor Media (super right-wing media gang in Canada) stooges to the blatantly militaristic police tactics against groups all over the global Occupy network, the repression set in. When heat like this becomes too intense, there are a couple of directions where things can go. The movements can either unify and fight back even stronger, adopting some amazing new tactics (like the amazing Occupy Oakland and their shutdown of one of the busiest commercial ports in America). On the other hand, groups can splinter and divide amongst themselves over party lines, attitudes, ideology, among other reasons. This is especially true of the less political folks, or the single-issue folks who cannot see how many issues are connected. I’ll get to this a little later.
As I mentioned earlier on, I do find Occupy to be quite inspiring in the fact that it has helped people of all different backgrounds to unite and have their say against the filthy rich 1% who profit at the expense of everyone else. At the very least, Occupy has opened more eyes and helped more people see how the system really works. One of my wishes, though, is that there was more of a focus on radical politics, and tying up the loose ends between different issues. It’s a safe bet that on a whole, most of the huge issues facing us individually are all tied to the capitalist system which has forced itself into our daily lives. From white supremacy to rape culture. From planetary destruction to annihilation of non-human species. From war to genocide. You get the picture. While I recognize the importance of keeping the message relatively short and palatable in order to attract those who wouldn’t normally be interested in anti-capitalist revolution, it is still of vital importance for everybody to instill these notions into the debate as much as possible.
The left half of the Corporate Party (sorry, the Democrats), in their effort to dilute and coopt the Occupy movement, have attempted to spin the message to be about their base – middle class families falling on hard times. This, of course is only a very small chunk of the bigger picture. Where is the mainstream discussion of the police profiling poor youth of color? When will the Dems be discussing (or better yet – actually DOING something about) the continuous theft of land from indigenous people by energy interests? Why is nothing being done about ridiculous drug laws that do nothing more than maintain the prison industrial complex? Why is nobody running Mitt Romney out of town on a rail for his “corporations are people too” bullshit? And for that matter, when will the Dems get off the fucking fence and declare themselves to be the party of the 99% – and actually mean it? Don’t hold your breath.
Sadly, whenever you get a large number of people together – even under a basic unifying cause – there will be divisions, infighting, and some truly fucked up attitudes and behaviors. I’ll use Calgary as an example: “The problems were varied: first and foremost was the low political level. The vast majority involved had little to no previous experience organising. Further, the majority had no theoretical outlook, so people had difficulty expressing their problems and would treat political, social issues in a personalised and individualistic manner. This had taken the form of whispering campaigns against people. There was also sexism and racism, two issues that were never adequately dealt with – the latter is still a major problem for Occupy Calgary. Occupy Calgary falls short by its ignorance. First and foremost, its ignorance of the history of anti-capitalism and the working-class movement here in North America. The initial tactic of camping out in a public space isn’t new whatsoever – everything that Occupy has raised as an issue isn’t new. If more participants bothered to study their history, they wouldn’t spend so much time re-inventing the wheel and would be better equipped to handle obstacles and make some dents in local capitalism. The current group of Occupy Calgary can be characterised as political cult and now an irrelevant sect. It has no coherent platform, programme, or world outlook. The focus is on feeling good about oneself and assuaging their guilt as First Worlders, not reaching out to the average worker. Many of its members admit it is a mostly white organisation, which is even more problematic as they deny white privilege exists and promote the idea that whites can suffer from reverse racism. People who criticise the group are slandered and attacked.” – Jason Devine (Jason wrote a scathing piece on his blog calling out the Occupy Calgary group on their cult-like leanings, their refusal to acknowledge their race and class privilege, their refusal to remove manarchists who harassed and assaulted women, etc. You can read it here: https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150462904188176 )
Along with that, even in the early days of the solidarity camps around North America, the usual fringe groups started cropping up. From the Zeitgeisters to the blatantly anti-Semitic Lyndon Larouche fetishists, and all stripes in between. In some cases – Occupy Kansas City, for example – there were even serious discussions about the validity of the infamous anti-Semitic hoax The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, with some of the self-appointed leaders of the group claiming that this piece of long-ago discredited filth is a legitimate article. Admittedly, those are extreme examples, but they do exist. Obviously, despite the desire to be completely inclusive, all of the Occupy groups need to come to a consensus of what is and what is not acceptable. Blatant racist and anti-Semitic shit should be shut down and tossed out immediately.
I will wind this down by offering some suggestions of unifying points for the Occupy movement to stand behind:
-Occupy will offer workshops on straight, white, male, cis privilege and how it affects everyone in the community. These workshops will be non-hierarchal, and will especially focus on how to recognize one’s own privilege and how to unlearn oppressive behaviors.
-Occupy will always stand by the concept of acceptance of a diversity of tactics. Under no circumstances will any occupier rat out another to the police, nor physically harm them for not conforming to “socially acceptable” protest tactics. On the flipside, if you’re engaging in non-pacifist redecorating on the streets… don’t be a fucking idiot about it.
-Sexual assault is never acceptable. Don’t even fucking try and argue with that.
Yes, Occupy has done wonders for getting more people involved in true, direct democracy. Where do we go from here? Getting involved and educated is the easy part. Now we have to take this energy and build upon it. Build bridges between disadvantaged communities, unlearn our own oppressive behaviours and attitudes. Become a truly united force against the fucking system that oppresses us. They have the wealth, the power, and the resources to crush this movement… but only if we let them.
I’ll let Mickey Z close this off: “As for this coming spring, the combination of some time having passed, warmer weather in most parts of the country, and the growing presidential election nonsense just may provide for a perfect storm of radical activism. The gift Obama gave the planet is this: He proved once and for all that the two-party system is a farce.”