Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Problems of Occupy: a critique. Introduction.


We, of the old world, building the New,
Ours is the will and the power to do;
Then let us sing, hail to the Spring—
Hail to the Day we can strike to be free!
-May Day Song by Ralph Chaplin from Songs of the workers(15th edition)  (1919) 


I dedicate this piece to the spirit of resistance. Long may it live and prosper.

`Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number--
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you--
Ye are many -- they are few.'
The Mask of Anarchy By Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Like Marx this piece was written in hard times.


The Occupy movement was an international protest movement seeking social change mainly using the  tactic of public urban occupation by reclamation of public spaces. The movement drew inspiration from  direct democracy movements like UK Uncut,  the Arab Spring,  protests in Portugal,  the Indignados movement in Spain and similar movements in Athens Greece.

The Occupy movement was spurred into action by a poster in the  anti-consumerist magazine  adbusters with the hash tag #occupywallstreet.


Each Occupy camp was autonomous and free to articulate (or not) their own demands and statement of principles.

The first Occupy camp to again attention was Occupy Wall Street (OWS)  in New York City's Zuccotti Park which began on 17 September 2011. By October the 9th, Occupy protest camps were begun or on-going in over 951 cities across 82 countries, and over 600 communities in the United States. By  October 2012 there were camps from  Africa, North America , South America, in Europe, across Asia to Oceanic countries like Australia and New Zealand.

Some of the more famous camps well known in the West  include  Occupy Wall Street (OWS), Occupy  Athens ,Occupy Dublin, Occupy Madrid,  Occupy London Stock Exchange(LSX) , Occupy Baltimore, Occupy Oakland and  Occupy the Farm (  Gill Tract in Albany, California) to list but a  few.  The Highest profile camps were evicted by February 2012.

Some of the lesser known camps  include  Occupy Brighton, Occupy Edinburgh,  Occupy Glasgow,
Occupy Leeds, Occupy at University of Warwick , Occupy Sydney, Occupy Melbourne, Occupy Auckland, Occupy Zurich, Occupy Rome, Occupy Berlin, Occupy Paris, Occupy Helsinki, Occupy Brussels, Occupy Tokyo, Occupy Seoul, Occupy Rio De Jainero, Occupy Ottawa, Occupy Cape Town... The list is pretty long.
By about November  2011, authorities began violently evicting camps. Most of the major camps had been evicted or had dissolved by the end of 2011.According to Occupy, There have been at least  7,765  documented occupy protesters arrested in 122 U.S. cities as of September 17, 2013.

State repression of Occupy was large-scale. From FBI plots to sniper members of Occupy Houston, to agent provocateurs , to spies within the ranks, to FBI monitoring of what became known as the Occupy movement since at least August 2011, evidence showing MI5 listening Occupiers as 'domestic terrorists' to evidence showing that US state and private security forces collaborated over large regions to  collect and share information about, and to share plans to target and to arrest Occupy protesters.

The Occupy movement has not died, but since dissolved into countless other movements which have varying degrees of success. Movements like Occupy homes, Occupy Foreclosures, The Occupy Money Cooperative, Strike Debt and  more.

 The Occupy movement changed public discourse in an unprecedented way. It politicized people in a way no other movement of recent times has. Before 2011 such a  thing was unimaginable. Now it has happened, History has been made. Next time, maybe we will have a  revolution. We can only hope...

I am well aware that  what I write will be controversial and possibly make me unpopular. This writing represents me at my most militant ,my most critical. Yet I think anarchists and revolutionaries should engage with Occupy and what it was.

Let my preface my critique by saying I think there were and are many positives to take from the occupy movement: It's direct action, it's desire to be leaderless and it's direct democracy. It broke with existing structures more than many previous movements have. At the risk of overstepping my mark I would call the Occupy movement  'Embryonic anarchism' , an 'almost anarchist' movement in some cases. In it's most militant and revolutionary expression, Occupy Oakland or The Oakland Commune as it was called, it was pretty much anarchist or at least 'anarchistic'. Yet more moderate Occupy camps condemned it. That says more about them, than Occupy Oakland.

The most valuable thing about Occupy and similar occurrences like the Spanish Revolution(1936 - 1939 ), Hungarian Uprising (1956), Paris May 1968 uprisings and  others is the lessons we can draw from them and the little glimpses, the little flickers of something better we experience through them which points towards another society, which shows another world IS possible.

I am hostile to criticism of the Occupy movement which is merely dismissive. For example those who say they were just middle class folk sitting in a  square, which while often true, is the alpha  and Omega of their argument. Just dismissing Occupy does not help us learn from it's positives or it's mistakes.  The political parties(particularly the Leninist parties) have been quick to condemn the whole movement as without any positive redeeming qualities whatsoever. I mean how could it have? they weren't in control... How pretentious and authoritarian of those parties. They live in Ivory towers with the ghosts of the past for company, spiders catching the masses in reformist webs and vanguardist rats nibbling on  autonomous action.

With that in mind I would like to proceed with caution in my arguments, careful to note nuance and to dance with the dialectical.
 The populist character of the Occupy movement was one of it's greatest  strengths attracting  thousands ,yet was one of it's greatest weaknesses. In the next chapter I will examine this problem.


Just selection of what's out there

Adbusters sparks Wall Street protest,


Rise Like Lions   - Documentary on Occupy Wall Street,

Occupation Nation "An Occupy Wall Street Documentary"

List of Occupy movement protest locations ,


Why Did FBI Monitor Occupy Houston, and Then Hide Sniper Plot Against Protest Leaders?,

 Occupy Oakland protesters awarded $1m over police violence during arrests

Government Surveillance of Occupy Movement
    Special Report by Center for Media and Democracy and DBA Press,
Revealed: how the FBI coordinated the crackdown on Occupy
Just Because You Are Paranoid Doesn’t Mean the FBI Wasn’t Monitoring You: Occupy Wall Street

The Oakland Commune
 A Marine Soldier Confronts NYPD about Police Brutality Against

Occupy London Stock Exchange LSX - Sunday 16th October

US marine defends OWS protesters against police brutality

The Battle of Oakland

Further Reading:-

It would be impossible to read everything written bout Occupy but these books re some of the best accounts I've read of what happened to people living in the camps .

We Are Many Reflections on Movement Strategy from Occupation to Liberation  Kate Khatib (Editor); Margaret Killjoy (Editor); Mike McGuire (Editor) Published by AK Press.

Dreaming in Public Building the Occupy Movement edited by Amy Schrager Lang and Daniel Lang/Levitsky.


No comments:

Post a Comment