Revolution #247, October 9, 2011
Report from Occupy Wall Street
“We Only Want the World”
Mid-afternoon, the rain seemed to be holding off as a couple thousand of us filled the sidewalks. The mood was celebratory as the marches surrounding the Occupy Wall Street movement have kept growing. Hand made signs filled the space capturing a range of sentiments: “How cool is this?!” read one, “We are the 99%” was common, a couple people held up their newly received Revolution newspaper to declare—Revolution.
We marched past City Hall in lower Manhattan and then calmly but with great enthusiasm—and without any objection from the police—we were on the Brooklyn Bridge. At first taking up one lane of traffic and then spilling over with the number of people into both lanes. “Whose bridge? Our bridge!” As you'll learn by talking with those who are part of this movement, there are a million different views and levels of understanding, but there is very broadly a sense that the world as it is has to change, and that the masses of people—here and around the world—have right on our side, and are fed the fuck up!
This fueled the excitement of stopping business as usual in New York... and we marched with an array of chants, even briefly getting one going: “What's the problem? Capitalism. What's the solution? Revolution!” There were also shouts and whoops of sheer joy and exhilaration. Smiles from ear to ear.
Almost halfway across the bridge, we were stopped by a wall of police and wrapped in the now infamous orange mesh netting the NYPD uses to entrap large crowds. Hundreds of us were squeezed tighter and tighter. I was in the middle of this and couldn't see on either side but we could see the faces of those above us on the walkway, chanting “let them go” and one woman screaming at the brutality she was witnessing, “stop brutalizing him!”
There is in this midst a lot of confusion about the nature of the state, and related confusion about the role of the police with many people viewing them as just another section of the workers, people who are also getting screwed because their pensions are being cut, people who should be on the side of the protesters. And there is a lot of ignorance about the way the police actually treat the masses of oppressed people, stop and frisk, police murders... This takes expression in people attempting to reason with the police, or people talking about how the police are part of the 99%. I started agitating in response, “the police are part of the 1, the police are part of the 1.” One guy smushed up next to me asked what I meant by that, he was concerned that what I was saying was too antagonistic. I pointed out the irony here—hundreds of us who were fighting for justice and the need for a better world were being penned in by brutal enforcers of a brutal state and detained through force, now who was being antagonistic?
The police are a social force of repression that maintain and enforce the relations of exploitation and domination of the system of capitalism/imperialism. They strip themselves of their humanity when they willingly fill the role of attack dog, and yes, pig for this system. And that inhumanity is laid bare in the ways they attack the most oppressed masses of people day in and day out, and in the ways they go seek to crush those who step into political resistance against this system. Bob Avakian puts this powerfully in BAsics #1:24: “The role of the police is not to serve and protect the people. It is to serve and protect the system that rules over the people. To enforce the relations of exploitation and oppression, the conditions of poverty, misery and degradation into which the system has cast people and is determined to keep people in. The law and order the police are about, with all of their brutality and murder, is the law and the order that enforces all this oppression and madness.”
We were arrested one by one—“we only want the world” was a chant that picked up with bounce and rhythms despite being taken away in often too tight cuffs.
We were packed onto MTA buses commandeered for this purpose and driven around for over an hour until it was clear the protesters were being taken to a number of different local precincts instead of central booking. The bus of about 50 of us was full of laughter and discussion—What's your favorite place for a burger? Is Star Wars an anarchist influenced series? Can capitalism be reformed and mixed in with socialism? Aren't communist societies doomed to failure? What's really the role of the police? Why “don't talk” (meaning don't talk to the police or state authorities beyond telling them that what they need to know is on your ID) is an essential point of principle for a resistance movement? What kind of revolution was I talking about, and was it really possible?
And what drew people to the protest? A young couple from Iowa flew in that morning. They felt the need to be part of “our revolution.” They work with the Green Party and have been deeply fed up since “the betrayal of 2008.” They are surrounded by foreclosures and friends losing their jobs, and they're afraid if we don't stand up and stop this now, things will never change. They were curious about the movement for revolution I was describing, and said they'd look up more about Bob Avakian. A young New Yorker said he came out last Saturday and got arrested then too. He said he'd been reading the articles on Wall Street corruption in Rolling Stone magazine and feels like someone has to stand up against the greed of the bankers. When I asked him if he felt like this was a bigger problem, he said yes, it's capitalism but we may not see that change for another 100 years... we have to set things in motion now. A crew had come up from Philly with different levels of experience in protests (for one young woman, this was her first). They were part of working with Iraq Veterans Against the War and when I talked about the hunger strikers in prisons in California and the conditions in the SHU's, she described the situation in Quantico where soldiers are kept who apply for conscientious objector status—very similar. She said how upsetting it was that the military is “even willing to do it to their own.” When I responded that when the soldiers refuse to be party to the U.S. crimes, they have put themselves on the side of the people of the world—in opposition to the U.S. army which enforces imperialism... she readily agreed and drew the parallel to the discussion we'd just had about the role of the police being to serve and protect this system, not the people.
People were part of this from all across the country... two young guys traveled up from Houston, one had hitchhiked from Burning Man* to come. And they were all proud and ready to stand up for their convictions... uncomfortable and some in pain, but coming to each others’ aid... and with a bus full of people in handcuffs, teamwork is required. To scratch each other’s noses, get things out of pockets, pick up dropped bags and wallets.
Taken off the bus... booked in the precinct... some of us were put in cells (some with no water)... some remained in handcuffs for up to seven hours. In the women’s cells, we could hear the men drumming in rhythm, at one point breaking out in a loud rendition of “New York, New York” to which a cop barked roughly, “enough.” Spirits remained high, but there was also some ongoing debate and discussion.
Some of the debate centered around the need for the protesters to understand the importance of not giving information to the state which is set up to harass, surveil and crush resistance movements. Everything you say in their custody will be used against you—whether it be personal details, general information gathering or even a sense of who is who, and what further charges can be brought against you and others arrested with you. The attempt of the cops to be “buddy, buddy” with the people they are keeping locked behind bars through the threat of violence and force needs to be seen for what it is—dangerous bullshit! The NYPD—and police departments nationally—work very closely with the FBI and CIA, in particular in regards to political surveillance. Their sole aim in relation to political movements is to surveil, disorient and crush them—and they have been proven to use an array of tactics to serve this end including drowning movements in blood. One need only look at the history of police departments and the FBI in relation to the Black Panther Party where they committed straight up assassinations, imprisonment, vicious harassment and torture. And in the most recent period, we should learn from the uprisings in Egypt, where the army they were told to trust several months ago has beaten and arrested hundreds of protesters since.
We began trickling out of the precinct at 1:30 am... and as we walked out we were greeted by cheers of the people doing jail support, we were offered water and something to eat. It turns out this crew of a half dozen people had been there since 10 pm waiting for us to come out. But they also were helped by random strangers and people in the neighborhood who knew what was happening at Wall Street and wanted to help. In the building we were in front of, a woman came out and offered her apartment if people coming out wanted to get warm or use the bathroom. Another woman, who'd just been walking down the street, went home and came back out with a pile of clothes to loan those of us coming out to stay warm. One guy who lives on that block came running up with a case of water, a box of graham crackers, and a whole stack of shirts—a picture of Obama with a circle and slash through it. It turns out he designed the same shirt about Bush which became really popular, and he is angry Obama is committing the same crimes. He was giving them free to people coming out of jail (though to give a sense of the contradictoriness of all this—some people didn't agree with that statement and still hold out some hope for Obama).
After we got out, I continued a discussion with a woman who had shared my cell, she came by herself to the protest and said the turning point for her was what happened to Troy Davis. She felt she just had to raise her voice. She'd been part of the several-month occupation of the University in Puerto Rico a couple years back and talked about how she thinks a lot of people in America don't understand the power and righteousness of meaningful protest. She was very interested to be provoked to think about revolution, “I've always thought of the need to change this or that particular, but now that you mention it, we do need to think on that level.”
This protest is still in its initial phases, it has spread nationally and there's a powerful determination for it to continue and grow. We've seen what difference it makes when people are able to withstand and advance through political repression—the inspiration and determination it provides for others. We're also seeing the contradictions this means for the rulers—at this point, these protests have gained a lot of legitimacy and if they continue their attempts to crush it, it may backfire... calling further into question the legitimacy of this whole system. And yet, if they let it continue, it may grow and be part of calling into question the legitimacy of this whole system.
Everyone getting out of jail said they'd see each other back at Zuccotti Park—either going back that night to continue the encampment or returning over the next day or two. And everyone felt even more powerful and undeterred. It's situations like this where big questions begin opening up for a whole new generation—what kind of world really is possible and what's it going to take to get there?
I'm eager to go back today and be part of this discussion—bringing out the answers to these questions that Bob Avakian has brought forward—a new synthesis of communism and a strategic approach to revolution, letting people know there is a viable vision for a radically different world and the leadership to get there... debating the content of all that and connecting people up with the movement for revolution. And uniting with the joyful determination of this growing occupation!
* Burning Man is an annual celebration of art and community that brings participants from all over the world to an unpopulated ancient lakebed in northern Nevada. [back]
If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.