Sunday, November 20, 2011

Some Thoughts On Occupy Wall Street, and Finally a Plea

I'm trying to keep up the writing! Yet I have begun to come down with a cold so I apologize for the often rambling nature of this short piece.

It was a little reported development a few days ago when the Occupy Wall Street folks moved into a rented office space in NYC. This is an indication of planning for the future and entering into a new phase of ongoing political agitation, one that is frankly overdue for the Occupy camp. Let's all be honest: who really expected the movement to be approaching winter and still going strong in cities that haven't forcefully ejected protesters? It is the strongest statement of American progressivism since the seventies and has brought rhetoric of our staggeringly unequal society, and corrupt corporatist policies into everyday people's lives.

The strength of Occupy Wall Street is unfortunately its chief weakness. The movement is purposefully leaderless, as it seeks to model a new society of radical democracy and equality, rejecting the oligarchical leanings of our political and economic systems. This is great. However, it has also had its issues: how Zuccotti Park almost collapsed from an inability to leverage an end to the drum circles comes to mind (though it was resolved by the established process) but otherwise it has been a well-functioning, self-governing organization. However, this is where it ends.

There isn't a sense of organization between the different cities, outside of sympathy and base camaraderie, and this hampers further directions for political agitation.

They need to buckle down and organize. They need to take their power to the unions (not the dreaded SEIU, who has drank the partisan Kool-Aid and is now seeking to make OWS a voting drive for the Democrats), the women's groups, the LGBT groups, the race groups, the immigration and anti-war groups, farmer's associations, and religious institutions with the message that all of their struggles are connected. This isn't just about financial malfeasance anymore: this is now about a broken system, a hydra of corruption encompassing politics, the media, and big business.

It is a broken system that creates a Meta-Narrative (yes, engaging critical theory) that supercedes everything. The problem isn't an institutional failure to combat Wall Street corruption, it's the dreaded Iranians; we shouldn't concern ourselves with ending the war, because look at these awesome toys the Pentagon is blowing billions on; don't question the obvious con of the two-party system, because partisan sparring is just so entertaining. No need to discuss patriarchy, or the war machine, or racism. It doesn't suit those in charge for those challenges to be made. This is where OWS can step in, build coalitions, and agitate for a new American Left.

This is what it will take. You can only occupy for so long until you build a long-lasting structure that can organize and sustain a viral presence in the American consciousness. There needs not to be control, but direction. You do not have to sacrifice the spirit of the movement's rejection of hierarchy in order to do this. Read up on Parecon and other alternative methods of sustaining large organizations in egalitarian forms. There can be a national body of coordinated action and ideas, and we can create a truly grassroots swell of popular support. We need to organize and do outreach, educate, and empower people to truly act in their own interests.

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Now, an open letter:

OWS: Don't forget that you represent the cops, even if they mace you. Police brutality and violence are structural problems born out of power, conflict, and the adaptation to roles (see: Stanford Prison Experiments). It will only benefit Wall Street/K Street/Congress/big Media to create an adversarial relationship with law enforcement by carving up your constituency. Do not play into this, as I fear you are, and make this about taking down the police. Acknowledge the role of institutional power and privilege, and how ultimately the rule of law is directed by those above and beyond the police.

The very nature of law enforcement, and our justice system in general, is based around three concepts.
  • One, heavily penalization of crimes committed most proportionally by poor people, which in turn leads to suspicion, deception, and occasionally violence by some impoverished communities against police officers, who react in kind with everything from ignoring crime in poor neighborhoods to treating all people of a certain stripe as potential criminals.
  • Two, a thriving and powerful prison lobby, who donates heavily to politicians that support long and strict incarceration policies. Here the incentive is to incarcerate even perpetrators of minor crimes, most often leading to high recidivism rates (usually for worse crimes!) among those released.
  • Three, a war on drugs founded on misconceptions and falsehoods that perpetuate a black market for narcotics, which leads to endemic violence and tangential criminality. Most violent crime is drug-related, and our nation's drug trade strongly influences social unrest in a variety of Latin American country's (Mexico and Colombia, to name two).
None of these problems are caused by police officers, yet they have to abide by these influences and operate within a system that heavily sanctions poorer people and in some ways encourage criminality. These create a strongly unequal society, and gives the police undue power over citizens. The incentive for an aloof and stern police force is high, and there is little to gain in reacting with acceptance of even support for disobedience of any sort, especially if it directly challenges those in power. When entities like J.P. Morgan can finance the NYPD at the drop of a hat, and the mayor of your city is a billionaire media tycoon with a flagrant disregard for the law (and does not-at-all-undemocratic-things like pushing through legislation to eliminate term limits) who has the ability to fire the police commissioner for whatever reason, police seem a lot less powerful.

Class war is a brutal thing because the power of those with capital and political connection to turn those beneath them against each other. Do not let this movement be a casualty of those manipulations.

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