Revolution #251, November 27, 2011
Two-Month Anniversary of Occupy Wall Street
Resistance Up Against Nationwide Attacks
Two days before the two-month anniversary of the start of Occupy Wall Street, in the dead of night, Mayor Bloomberg cleared OWS from Zuccotti Park, in what mainstream media called a military operation with secret training and massive force. Encampments in Oakland, California; Portland, Oregon; University of California Berkeley; University of California Davis; Columbia, South Carolina; San Diego, California; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Albany, New York; Salt Lake City, Utah; St. Louis, Missouri; and Denver, Colorado were assaulted and demolished in what has become increasingly clear were coordinated raids and an emerging ruling class consensus to stop the movement by shutting down its very essence—occupying public space in the face of the symbols of government, finance, and authority, spaces where people have left their “normal lives” behind and are putting their lives on the line every day to oppose and expose the brutal inequities of 21st century USA and in so doing enabling people to imagine, to think, and dream of new possibility.
On the November 17th two month anniversary, tens of thousands protested in cities around the country and the world. They were inspired by the defiant stand of the Occupy movement against the deep suffering the economic crisis has wrought, the enormous inequalities in the U.S., and a broad feeling that the political system works against the people’s interest. They were propelled as well by outrage at the massive police attacks that evicted Occupy Wall Street from Zuccotti Park as well as several other occupations nationally. The day ended in New York City with many thousands jubilantly marching over the Brooklyn Bridge.
We sat packed around a table in a famous pizza parlor under the Brooklyn Bridge late Thursday night, November 17, Wall Street Occupiers and revolutionaries—hungry and cold, really half frozen. Looking around the table there was a sense of accomplishment mixed with a battle-hardened determination reflected in our faces. We had just been through a day of struggle declaring that OWS was not over, defiant in the face of the police clearing of Zuccotti Park, joyous in learning about the protests around the country and the world. We spoke about the long day, the young Occupiers telling of having turned a corner in their lives and not wanting to go back. Sixteen hours ago, as dawn broke, these new comrades in struggle were part of surrounding the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE)—facing an army of cops, the young woman with us had been hit hard in the chest by a pig billy club and was still short of breath, one of the guys had been grabbed by the neck and a third beaten several times by rabid police who beat so often and freely that it was clearly the orders of the day. Somehow no one in this group got arrested in this morning.
As they told of the day, recounting the miles they marched, their tales wove with stories of their lives: a midwestern tale of watching a mother die of cancer because the family had no money or insurance; of a young Black man working without any prospects of a meaningful future in Cleveland; and a Black veteran from Brooklyn telling of walking into stores and watching shoppers clutch their bags tight while security kept an eye as if he were a criminal or alien. People spoke of lives of not being treated like a thinking human being and then in two short months being part of changing the world, standing up against all that is wrong—from getting arrested twice for doing nonviolent civil disobedience to STOP “Stop and Frisk,” to living outdoors in the shadow of Wall Street, claiming a patch of land for humanity and thereby exposing the venality and the huge injustices of this system.
The stories of their lives are echoed as you travel through the Occupy movement—by those living in the encampments and the tens of thousands more who visit and support. Students crushed by debt with no job prospects. From the long-term homeless to the recently foreclosed, from a young woman in the media tent in San Francisco volunteering while dying of cancer because she couldn’t get insurance, to young doctors outraged and frustrated with how the system prevents them from really providing care for their patients, the Occupations have become magnets and poles of people saying Enough! This must change.
On the evening of November 17, as we marched across the Brooklyn Bridge, there was a giant projection on the Verizon Building that flashed messages of the 99% that were marching in 30 other cities. In New York the attempt to shut down the NYSE met an army of cops who effectively turned Wall Street into a totally locked down militarized zone with barricades, checkpoints, helicopters, and special vehicles. Police wantonly beat protesters with fists and billy clubs—with 170 arrested in the morning, and another 70+ throughout the day.
By mid-afternoon, thousands of college and high school students had walked out of school. Led by a banner that said “Revolution Generation,” students marching past the New School [university] looked up to see more banners hanging from upper floor windows saying, “Occupied.” This has begun spreading to campuses around the country from Ivy League to community colleges. University of California Berkeley became a flash point as a YouTube of police beating protesting students went viral. Students walked out at Harvard University and a tent city sprang up. Video can be seen online of police viciously pepper-spraying students directly in the face who are sitting in at UC Davis, as hundreds of others watch in shock.
Swelling the ranks of the thousands who gathered at dusk to march over the Brooklyn Bridge were several unions, with a couple of City Council members and the local Service Employees International Union (SEIU) leaders getting arrested in a nonviolent civil disobedience at the beginning of the march.
The massive turnouts and determined protests in many other cities underscored that the Occupy movement has captured the imagination and aspirations for change of large numbers of people.
It has forced the enormous inequity and brutal injustice of life for millions, from the bottom of society that reaches up deep into the crushed middle class, into the consciousness of and discussion throughout society broadly. Every night for weeks now, local and national news has reported on economic and political inequality; in the actions of OWS, the defenders as well as those who would reform capitalism have argued their cases in op-eds while in the streets and the encampments, protesters were debating and imagining many different ways the world could be.
Revolution, once far from people’s lips and minds, is now being discussed. Communist revolutionaries have been in the swirl—a Revolution Working Group was formed at OWS, hundreds of copies of Bob Avakian’s BAsics and dozens of Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) have been sold, and revolutionary communists have spoken at large mic-check gatherings and in small groups. On Thursday morning, very close to the New York Stock Exchange, a banner was hoisted on the side of a building that said: “For a Future Without Wall Streets—We Are Building a Movement for Revolution—revcom.us” in defiance of police orders and to the cheers of the crowd.
All of this has been forced into the air because people put their lives on hold, occupied space in the eye of the empire, and set about each day to work together in new ways while taking to the streets to expose and fight against what this capitalist system is doing to humanity and the planet.
Zuccotti Park is one city block of inhospitable corporate marble, yet for two months it came alive with hundreds and thousands debating and acting for something new every day—the library, the collective empowerment of mic check, the communal kitchen, the continual dialogue, the hard yet exhilarating work of discussing the course of action for the day, the tents, and the beat of the drums with all of their rogue spirit and all the controversy, with efforts by the City Council to restrict their constant rhythm that served as yet another way to attempt to stifle this movement.
All of this has captured the imagination of millions. It has stood in defiance and opposition to the dog-eat-dog of so-called normalcy of life in this most parasitically perverse of cities and cultures. Tour buses came to OWS from around the world. Teachers brought their classes, and one of the young revolutionaries told of how he always made a conscious effort to ask the kids what they thought of OWS.
Occupy Wall Street in its actual and its larger metaphorical occupation of this space, at this time, began to exert a beginning alternative authority that was felt around the world. This is what the capitalist class and their whole state apparatus cannot tolerate. OWS and the occupations around the world enabled people to peel the crust from their eyes that was skewing their vision so they believed that the world could never change, to think, to dream of a better world, to stand up and assert our humanity, defying the status quo, carving open the possibility that things don’t have to be this way. All this now hangs in the balance.
All this political initiative needs to be pushed forward, opening up broader and deeper resistance and critical questioning. And this too will continue to have impact and import on the movement we are building for the revolution that is needed to put an end to all forms of oppression and exploitation. In Bob Avakian’s statement, “A Reflection on the ‘Occupy’ Movement: An Inspiring Beginning... And the Need to Go Further”—which really needs to be circulated widely, Avakian says:
“The main—and, up to this point at least, the overwhelming—aspect of these ‘Occupy’ protests has been their very positive thrust: in mobilizing people to stand up against injustice and inequality and the domination of economic, social and political life, and international relations, by a super-rich elite class whose interests are in opposition to those of the great majority of people; and in contributing in significant ways to an atmosphere in which people are raising and wrangling with big questions about the state of society and the world and whether and how something much better can be brought into being. It will be a very good thing if these protests continue to spread and further develop, with this basic thrust and this positive impact. And these ‘Occupy’ protests can be a significant positive factor in contributing to the revolution that is needed—IF this is approached, by those with the necessary scientific communist understanding, in accordance with that understanding and the strategic orientation and approach that flows from it... [and]... masses of people involved in them are won to, become firmly convinced of, the need to develop the struggle further, into a movement for revolution, with the necessary understanding and organization—yes, including the necessary structure and leadership—that is required to finally sweep away this system and bring into being a radically new system with the aim of ultimately abolishing all exploitation and oppression.” (See full statement.)
The question of whether and how Occupy Wall Street will continue is sharply posed. People continue to gather at Zuccotti Park, but tents, sleeping bags, even guitars and bicycles were not allowed the day after the mass protest. And NYPD detectives prowled NYC churches that are housing some of the Occupiers, counting and observing. All this must be opposed with great determination and creativity. Will the outpouring of broad support in the streets on November 17 be marshalled to re-establish an occupation, or will it be dissipated, marginalized, or channeled into forms of protest that no longer put the ruling class on the defensive, that no longer galvanize people into active opposition to the injustices of the system, that no longer throw up big questions about the direction of society?
There are real stakes in standing up to the attacks and continuing to occupy space. Think about the effect if the movement is able to advance through the current challenges, forcing the ruling class to pay a political price, wrenching more space from which to oppose all that this system does to the people here and around the world. Think about how fighting forward through this can further undermine the legitimacy of an illegitimate, oppressive system. On the other hand, if these recent assaults result in squelching the Occupations one way or another, this will serve to shove the aspirations and anger of so many back under the rug.
The ruling class finds it an intolerable anathema to have the brutal reality of their system exposed through people stepping out of politics as usual and exerting even an embryonic alternate authority. Mayor Bloomberg, as arrogant and condescending as ever, tried to trivialize OWS while planning to crush it, opining: “It’s fun and it’s cathartic... it’s entertaining to go and blame people”—meaning himself and his Wall Street cronies. Even when paying his obligatory, absurd lip service to First Amendment rights to protest while ordering massive and brutal police repression, Bloomberg could not conceal his disdain for the message and people of OWS. The New York Post and New York Daily News were filled for weeks with lurid and vile depictions of OWS. Long Island Congressman Peter King, echoing the Nazis’ descriptions of Jews as vermin, or the KKK speaking of Black people, said: “These are people who were living in dirt, these were people who were involved with drugs, there was violence, there was rape ... they’re angry people who are losers who are on the outside and screaming...”
It must be said that the evictions of the Occupy movement had absolutely nothing to do with public safety, concern for victims of sexual assault, prevention of crime, rules against tents, cleanliness or sanitation. Want to see vermin and filth—check out how well the New York Housing Authority does at keeping public housing fit for human beings. OWS mobilized people to form security, sanitation, and recycling committees that worked to deal with acute social problems in ways which actually serve and respect the humanity of those involved—with an approach precisely the opposite of what the NYPD and city agencies are able to do within the confines of a system where maximizing profit determines what will be done, and where the labor of people is viewed as a commodity to be exploited or discarded.
All of the vitriol about filth and crime was marshalled to develop pretext and garner support for forcefully bringing the full force of state power to wipe out OWS. When you see clubs swinging into the bellies of students at University of California, Berkeley, or rupturing the spleen of a veteran from the war in Iraq in Oakland, the pepper-spraying in the mouth and face of a young woman in Portland and of an 84-year-old woman in Seattle, the use of sonic cannon developed for war zones deployed to evict OWS from Zuccotti Park, and police with assault rifles and paramilitary uniforms in several cities, you witness the brutal strong arm of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, the capitalist class and their state apparatus. Lessons must be learned.
The “1%,” to use that term as evocative of the capitalist class, has a monopoly on the legitimate use of armed force and they will wield it any and every time they feel their interests and rule fundamentally threatened. The police are not part of the 99% but exist only to serve and protect the interests of Capital against all those they exploit and oppress. Thus far, their repression of OWS has been met by more and broader resistance, from the general strike in Oakland to the November 17 protests. Now, with several of the key Occupations temporarily evicted, others under daily assault, the movement needs to steadfastly rise to meet new challenges.
There are those who look at this movement and see opportunity to advance narrow agendas of seeking some reform to benefit a few—striving to bring the movement up under the wing of a section of the ruling class. Others look at the power of the state and seek an easier path.
These views reflect and even emanate from those in power. Oakland liberal Mayor Jean Quan who ordered the brutal evacuation of Occupy Oakland after revealing that she was part of a 18-city conference call to develop strategy for the evictions, said: “...what I think you’re starting to see is that the Occupy movement is looking for more stability. I spent a lot of last week talking to peaceful demonstrators, ones who wanted to separate themselves in my city away from the anarchist groups who had been looking for a confrontation with the police.”
The protests on November 17 across the country targeted bridges as symbolic of the crumbling infrastructure of the U.S. A potent symbol, yet also one that dovetails neatly with the Democratic Party’s efforts to corral the Occupy movement to serve its objectives. “The McClatchy Report,” the website of a large newspaper chain in the U.S., wrote:
“The protests Thursday in many cities included bridges as a backdrop—mirroring President Barack Obama’s call for Congress to boost the economy by spending money on public projects. Indeed, the Washington protesters appeared at the same bridge where Obama appeared earlier this month to press Congress to pass his $447 billion jobs package, which calls for spending billions on road and bridge repair.”
Outpourings of protest where the goal increasingly becomes putting pressure on Congress or City Hall, and where tents become symbolic protest signs can ultimately only serve to channel the initiative away from what’s urgently needed. Within the Occupy movement this can take the form of moving on from the encampments to working in communities for the illusion of tangible reforms. This is expressed in the pull to find some space to establish an encampment off to the side in a safe space—a micro protest that devolves into an ignorable part of protest ecology while imperialist plunder grinds on.
Bob Avakian writes in “A Reflection on the ‘Occupy’ Movement: An Inspiring Beginning... And The Need to Go Further:”
“As is demonstrated in the “Occupy” movement, there is a basis for a broad unity among these different sections of the people—in opposition to many of the manifestations of the oppressive and truly murderous nature of this system, and in a basic searching for a better way that human beings could relate to each other—but that unity cannot eliminate nor cancel out the reality and the effects of the profound inequalities that are so deeply rooted in this system and will continue to have force and effect so long as this system remains in power and its relations and dynamics set the fundamental and ultimate terms for things. This is yet another expression of the fact that nothing short of revolution, with a leadership grounded in a communist understanding and orientation, can fully penetrate to the depths of, let alone uproot, the relations that oppress and divide masses of people.”
The national Occupy movement, with a concentrated expression at Occupy Wall Street in NYC, is at a crossroads that will require determination and creative strategies to build on and broaden while deepening the movement’s stand against the whole way that capitalism is destroying people and the planet.
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