Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Great Un-Making

It has been quite the interesting week in news. There were numerous, breathless headlines about a supposed DNA link between a chain taken from a subway station where there had been a protest (the announcement for which included mention of participants who had also been involved with Occupy Wall Street, hence making the protest automatically an OWS protest) and a murder that took place in 2004. Unfortunately for all of those outlets cheering this discovery, and salivating over the impending ability to start calling anyone involved with Occupy a murderer, as well as a rapist, it turns out that there was no DNA link. The reason that the same DNA showed up on the chain and the piece of evidence in the 2004 murder is that the medical examiners office contaminated the evidence. The DNA belonged to someone who actually worked in the medical examiners office. Not only is there no link to Occupy Wall Street, as "anonymous police sources" were so quick to leak, but now, should there be any case brought against a suspect in the murder of Sarah Fox, the prosecution is going to have one hell of a time proving that any DNA evidence isn't corrupted. Don't worry though, the NYPD has a clairvoyant on the case. Seriously.

Anyone who keeps even a casual eye on the news knows that although OWS was a big story last year, it certainly wasn't the only one. The Jerry Sandusky pedophilia case also broke last year. Early in the time following the allegations against Sandusky being made public, college football icon Joe Paterno was unceremoniously suspended for what, at the time, seemed to be his lack of any persistent attempts to see Sandusky brought to justice. The loss of their beloved coach apparently provoked the student body of the esteemed university to riot.

Following Sandusky's conviction, on 45 criminal charges related to the sexual assault of ten boys, a report commissioned by Penn State was released detailing exactly what errors were committed and where. The Freeh Report removes any doubt that there was a culture of cover up and corruption at Penn State, specifically in relation to the football program and it puts Joe Paterno in a new light. The kind of light, that were he still alive, usually involves some degree of interrogation, followed by criminal charges. A whole new spotlight for JoePa, indeed. Alumni and the administration shouldn't worry too much though, donations during the Sandusky scandal have been at an all time high.

All of this is now coming to it's conclusion, at least in the public sense. For the victims of Sandusky's abuse and the Penn State/Paterno ethical and moral catastrophe that protected Sandusky, this may not be over. It may not be over for them for a long time. Hopefully, at some point, they will be freed from a constant negative impact on their lives related to this entire mess. The actual incidences of abuse are horrific enough, but unfortunately for many survivors, it doesn't end there, and they are imprisoned by that experience for years, sometimes decades. Sometimes, for the rest of their lives, they are never really able to develop an emotionally and physically intimate relationship with another human being. They are, in many ways, prisoners to that experience, for a long time after.

Now though, in the public sense, it's all coming to a close. Penn State is probably extremely relieved to have it end, even if it does end with damage to the universities reputation. It will all fade away, into the background of the next news cycle. At some point in the next few years, it will all be looked at as "a hard time for the university." It will be "something we worked hard to overcome and did everything we had to to restore faith and confidence in the university and it's reputation."

Interestingly, even as the Freeh Report details a university which was more concerned about the continuation of and success of it's football program than it was about children being systematically victimized by a pedophile, there hasn't been any action against the school itself. They're now worried about what opportunities for civil suits by the victims will result from the report, with good reason, but the school's administration hasn't been the recipient of any form of sanction. In an incredibly absurd twist, the students, whom one might expect would be quite disturbed to find out their school had been harboring a dangerous pedophile, if for no other reason that how it reflects on the possible attitude of the school administration for their students safety, haven't responded at all.

A man implicated in the protection of a pedophile inspires a night of unabashed rioting and property destruction. An entire group of people protecting a pedophile in order to protect a perceived level of status (and all that comes with it) inspires mute recognition and continued obedience.

Contrast that with the reaction to Occupy Wall Street, in total. The writing was on the wall when 700 were arrested during a march across the Brooklyn Bridge. Charges against all of them were dropped, due to the police giving conflicting orders to the protesters, and without sufficient amplification for the protesters to even become fully conflicted about their directions. There were dozens of Occupy protests before any property was damaged. Police brutality in response to OWS was nearly immediate, and it was brutal. Taking only the now famous Anthony Bologna, the Scott Olsen incident, and the UC Davis pepper spray incident (a judge has just ruled the students have the right to sue the school for this bizarre outburst), it's fair to say that OWS and it's various supporting off shoots garnered a response that was wholly different than rioting, destructive students on a prestigious college campus. Police brutality, reports and images of it were the norm while OWS was at it's height. Here in Richmond, it wasn't very different. Occupy Richmond's largest action followed their eviction from Kanawha Plaza, drawing roughly three hundred people. The police response for that protest included two planes, a helicopter, K-9 units and more than a hundred police. Here's some video of the line of State Police cars headed to meet them. That doesn't include the Richmond City police or the units brought in from neighboring precincts. There were no reported acts of property destruction attributed to Occupy Richmond. Roughly 180 police were deployed to meet under 300 protesters who hadn't demonstrated any willingness or desire to destroy property or to violently clash with police.

When the fullness of this picture is considered, it isn't hyperbole to say that the movement as a whole demonstrated a rather serious level of discipline. A boiling pot of frustrated citizenry was being further frustrated through systematic, brutal oppression of what most Western nations consider a human right. Property destruction didn't occur until Occupy Oakland organized a march to shut down the port. Of the thousands in attendance, reports suggest some few dozen participated in window breaking. Then, in January, following the Scott Olsen incident, following what had then been more than a month of focused brutality suffered on their part, Occupy Oakland engaged in organized self defense by using home made shields to prevent themselves from being shot with rubber bullets, tear gas pellets and tear gas canisters. All of those measures had already become normal in the effort to subdue OWS protests. The pursuit that followed resulted in over 400 arrests. That was January. OWS began it's encampment in Liberty Square in September. Hundreds of marches had been staged, nationwide, with a total participation numbering in the tens of thousands. New York and Oakland alone had staged protests that reached numbers of more than two thousand.

At this point, following Occupy Oakland's attempts to organize some form of defense from projectiles, and the clash that came after, the world of liberal punditry went positively apoplectic. The most well known, is of course Chris Hedges piece, extolling the virtues of non-violence and calling on Occupiers not to use the tools of the state. More troubling than that though, was his rather blind description of the anarchist devotees in the movement and his correlating them with "black bloc"which is neither a movement or an ideology, but a tactic. Hedges certainly wasn't alone, and in retrospect, certainly wasn't the most hyperbolic. Because of his previous vocal and whole hearted support of the movement though, the backlash against his essay was immediate and severe. It was received more like a betrayal than a critique. After all, criticism had begun on day one and had been poorly informed and formulated from day one. This was the point that the liberal punditry found it's American Jesus, and returned to the power establishment with it's tail between it's legs.
 
On the whole, the nation responded to a brutal suppression of citizens rights with a sigh. Not even an exasperated sigh, but a sigh of resignation. There were some very vocal and public supporters and detractors of the same ilk. Some average Americans responded with cautious optimism, others with cynical glibness, and still others with outright rage. The majority though, responded with what can best be described as slightly annoyed exasperation. OWS was inconvenient.

Considering the difference between the actions of the OWS movement, the months long repression it faced from police and the fact that it's participants were involved in political speech, the petitioning of their government for redress of grievances, versus the Penn State riots to support a man that has now been proven to have been involved in covering up a pedophilia scandal, and the fact that they resorted to unrepentant and random property destruction immediately, one would think the response from police would be similar. Unfortunately for all of us, it wasn't. The Penn State riot went on for a number of hours before police began to challenge the crowds movements. Property destruction had been done long before. In the case of the Penn State riots, the crowds had overturned a news van, effectively attacking the journalistic establishment. In the case of OWS, police had been systematically targeting journalists of every stripe, amateur, citizen and professional, from the beginning. It was all replayed, yet again, this past week, as the remaining strands of the thread that was Occupy Wall Street gathered in Liberty Square to celebrate the coming birthday of Woody Guthrie. They were summarily harassed and arrested by police, even as there had been no unlawful conduct. There were no permanent or semi-permanent structure erected, no one laying down, no food stations set up, nothing that broke the new rules and law set into place after they'd taken up occupation of the park in September. No unlawful acts were committed, and yet, they were still summarily "evicted." In L.A., sidewalk chalk was magically transformed into a violently dangerous weapon of revolution.

Now, as OWS has essentially waned and has lost national attention, the LIBOR scandal is breaking. Exactly the kind of financial malfeasance Occupy Wall Street was attempting to see addressed and corrected is again going to threaten the global economy. That's not even taking the disaster the Euro zone currently faces into consideration (the result of continuing the exact kinds of failed economic policy that brought about the economic crash in 2008 are again threatening it's stability). The global economy hasn't even begun to show signs of anything resembling a real recovery, and it stands on the precipice of another collapse.

At the same time, it seems each day brings new revelations about the scope of the con being perpetrated on the American people. From drones being deployed overhead to NSA whistle blowers exposing widespread eavesdropping on all citizens communications,  to the corrupt nature of the electoral system, the many different issues that characterized the Occupy Wall Street movement as it continued don't seem to either be going away or coming to any sensible resolution. There is plenty to be read and heard about the horse race of a presidential election that is beginning to hit full stride, though only the smallest fraction of a percent of those millions of word are actually about anything substantial.

With all of that being said, and ecological calamity becoming more and more certain, there's still time for self congratulatory, self convinced, arm chair quarter backs to lob insults and diatribes at what is left of Occupy Wall Street and it's participants.

There have been more than enough words written about the hyper partisanship on display in American politics. Lamentations about the lack of bipartisanship have been written by what passes for both left and right. Weepy calls have been made to "put the country first," by just about everyone, including myself. There have been many different pieces written from every possible angle about the failures of the left, the failures of the right, the failures of the system, the failures of the establishment, the failure of just about everything, including Occupy Wall Street. Many of those ideas and accusations have a backbone of truth, many of them don't.

It doesn't matter either way.

The real truth is all of the old politics are dead. All of them. There are still millions of people wandering around with the zombified corpses of dead politics gorging themselves on their spirits and their minds, including, but certainly not limited to Alex Cockburn's most recent piece of self aggrandizing horse shit. Counterpunch can be a valuable outlet sometimes, but the reality is that it's as dead as any of the rest of it. It's dead, and it's old world "revolutionary" outlook are dead as well.

Some of the old politics died because their inherently impossible. Some of them died because they take no account of actual human beings and the strange, paradoxical decisions they make. But all in all, the over riding reason that the old politics died is that they failed. Utterly. Completely. They just failed. Humanity is marginally better off today than it was one hundred or two hundred years ago, but the reality is that it has failed to solve even the most basic and fundamental problems. It treats and become obsessed with symptoms. The old politics that are currently blaring from televisions and radios worldwide, that are being expounded upon in various forms across the internet are all about addressing symptoms.

The majority of people espousing "revolutionary politics" have the lucky and safe position to have never been in a position of serious responsibility. They've never had to wield actual power. They assure they never will have to wield any actual power through their stupendous hubris and patronizingly elitist approach to anyone and anything that isn't sufficiently "revolutionary." People like Alex Cockburn get to experience the safety of the sidelines and the comfort of having chosen to be outcast. They can sit back, safe in the knowledge that they are both sufficiently revolutionary enough to never again have to actually wrestle with the ideas of anyone who isn't already of like mind, and that there is no way in hell they will ever have to actually put their grand ideas to use because they're just to comfortable with their lack of anything resembling some level of decent human compassion for another human being to ever trust them with that power. While younger people were out there attempting to do the hard work of beginning to develop an entirely new politics, the kind of politics that doesn't dismiss the humanity of the human that has to deal with the results of those politics, Alex Cockburn was sitting at a keyboard, smugly commenting on his own surety of their failure. The NYPD has a clairvoyant too. Maybe the two of them can get together and work it out for the rest of us. He is relying on, using and being useful to the exact same system and establishment he claims to have such a disagreement with, and casting insults at others for the same. Without the establishment that he rails against to rail against, he'll be lost and useless. Without being able to recognize the suffering and the sacrifice of human beings today, whether they are sufficiently excellent or not, one is only human in biology, not in mind or spirit. Spitting on the brokenness of a few thousand young people's hope is a deeply inhuman act.

To answer the question that he asks in his piece, "Biggest Financial Scandal in Britains History, Yet Not a Single Occupy Sign; What Happened?" What happened was that Alex Cockburn is essentially no different than the millions of Americans who sat around in front of their televisions and sighed with slight annoyance that these young people were being irritating and gumming up the works. There is a very simple answer for all of the Monday morning, arm chair quarterbacking that's been going on, "If you really know so much better, where the fuck were you when we needed you?"

Men like this can sit back, from the safety of their smugness and see events like those that took place when OWS was fully engaged, see the police response to those events, and see the Penn State fiasco and the lack of police response to it and ask questions like this for one reason: they're as blind as any died in the wool Republican or blue dog Democrat. They've just dug out their eyes with a different instrument.

What happened? Some of those Occupiers have gone on to other endeavors, they're still fighting and still trying. Some are trying to figure out exactly what to do now. Some have gone back to the lives they had before, knowing they at least attempted to do something, however flawed it may have been, they sacrificed something, and sometimes that has to be enough. Others are sitting back, with smug grins, laughing at the absurdity of all of it, safe in the knowledge that the dedication to dead politics is going to be the end of all of us.




Thursday, February 16, 2012

Diversity of Distractions/More Important Discussions

The recent in-burst of in-rage within the Occupy movement has been making the rounds. The internet outlets of choice for any Occupiers have been inundated with long winded rants concerning "diversity of tactics" whether they be pro or con, the possible ramifications and moral implications of property damage, self defense and non-violent civil disobedience. Chris Hedges may have know or may not have know what kind of reaction he was going to stir up with his piece "The Cancer In Occupy," but considering how long he's been excelling at provoking a reaction of some kind from various groups and institutions, the best bet is that he had some idea of what he was about to do when he set out to write the piece. All of this is a useless distraction, and the movement has much more pressing business to attend to.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The New Terror: An Occupier Divided By Zero

I'm living two lives right now. I spend the majority of my time split between two environments that are almost as diametrically opposed as is possible in the spectrum of human interactions.

In one, Occupy Richmond, I spend the majority of my time in consultation with other people. It may be five to ten people in a work group or seventy to eighty in a General Assembly. I am, at all times, a fully empowered participant. The degree of my empowerment is limited only to the restrictions on my ability to participate. There's nothing arbitrary about it. My voice carries as much weight as the next person. The amount of information I have to inform that voice is limited only to the amount of time I can dedicate to following the thread of events taking place during any period of time and the understanding of the topic and those things tangentially related to it that I bring to the table. General Assembly's can consist of short discussions where consensus is reached relatively quickly on things as crucial as finance or where exactly this stage of the Occupation is going to occur. It can also be long, heated discussions related to some form of inner group discrimination, sometimes getting down to details like the use of pronouns. It always hinges on the press for the empowerment of the human being to satisfy their needs and to treat them with dignity. It's an environment that rewards the proactive service of the community, which satisfies my personal needs in a way that is extremely rare. I get nothing out of it except community, satisfaction in the understanding of the depth of my own efforts and camaraderie with others who are doing and experiencing the same. What all of this will produce is anyone's guess. I know that in considering this in terms of my own personal well being in congruence with a larger group or organization, nothing has ever been this good. It is the fruition of a lifelong dream to be able to take part in social movement dedicated to human dignity and a profound social and political change. I'm being consistently challenged, resulting in being often frustrated, but having more fun in the actual work of what Occupy Richmond is than I've ever had before. It's certainly not perfection, but it's a better vision of human interaction than I've found elsewhere.

In the other environment, work and school, I'm expected to essentially be a passive observer, servile. Last week, I had an interaction with an individual that ended up with him somehow bringing the topic of conversation around to people's sexual preference. It really came out of nowhere. It had no relation to the discussion at hand, which had revolved around a business transaction. Suddenly, for some unknown reason, he made some off hand comment about "the gays." It was then immediately followed by jokes. "Well, ya know, the only good gay is a dead gay. AMIRITE? AMIRITe?" Unfortunately, I wasn't so much shocked as disturbed, angered and disgusted. Having gotten nothing in return but a blank stare, he continued, "I hear they're starting to bury gay people fifteen feet down, because you know... deep down they're all good people." The sarcastic disdain with which he finished his comic presentation was a miasma in the room. At that point, with the implications of what he was saying starting to set in, I was surprised. It must have registered on my face somehow, because he went on to make some comment about how he had family members "who were like that," and that he "just doesn't understand it." My surprise wasn't that he was a homophobe, unfortunately. Being male with no outward indication of my sexuality in contemporary society apparently suggests you're probably a homophobe too, because homophobe's certainly seem to expect that you are. Racists and misogynists are like this as well. They just expect that you are part of the club. The difference being that in any other environment, it would be perfectly acceptable for me to participate in that conversation and say, "Wow. You just implicitly suggested that you believe that what you don't understand should be destroyed, and depending on someone's opinion of you as a human being, it could also be argued you suggested that killing gay people, for being gay, is perfectly acceptable... so long as you bury them deep enough. Oh, genocide, you so crazy."

In this environment, I'm essentially expected not to participate in my community in the way I honestly believe is the responsible manner. Of course, it's never explicitly stated, but if I were to start making customers uncomfortable about the racist, homophobic and hyper misogynist comments they make, calling attention to the fact that not everyone is in the club, and therefore questioning the possibility that theirs is the dominant set of values, the business I work for would start losing customers, and probably a lot of them. I'd be out of a job relatively quickly in that case because this is far from the first time something like this has happened. Let's also be clear that in the hyper political environment we're living in now, even if I were to leave the sarcasm and disdain out, and simply be clear that this kind of proclamation makes me deeply uncomfortable and that as someone who has helped this individual to find ways to make his business more profitable, I should at least deserve enough respect and human understanding to not be subjected to it now that I've told him, it would still only take one call for my job to be on the line. It's becoming ever clearer that profit isn't at the top of the list of priorities... obedience is, because it is required in order to have profit.

I know there are people who will say, "Why would you possibly work there?" My answer is simple. It's good to eat, and in case you've not noticed, jobs are hard to come by. Right now, the schedule this one affords gives me time to go to school and tend to the other important things in my life with some modicum of success. Essentially, I can make money with the least amount of intrusion on the things that are actually important to me and my future (which, incidentally, isn't just about me because it effects the woman I love, and my ability to contribute more efficiently and effectively to things like Occupy etc.)

In school, it's essentially no different. I spend a significant amount of time attempting to meet arbitrary requirements that have no actual benefit to me, as a member of the student community or seemingly to any other members of the student community at this point. I spend entire semesters in the service of those requirements, in full knowledge they are truly arbitrary in relation to the degree I'm seeking. I know that most employers at this point feel the new graduates they're hiring are unprepared, often in their fields and for professional life. I also know that these arbitrary requirements were put in place either to attempt to make students more attractive as employees or they are the remnants of the classical education model, kept in place to suggest colleges are still attempting to produce well educated, well rounded citizens. It essentially doesn't matter whether I graduate with a C or with honors. The degree is the thing, not the education. At this point, it's not even about creating attractive employees anymore, because the majority of employers believe new graduates are less well prepared when hired than at any point in the history of recording that information. This is not a problem that is specific to the U.S. either.  If you're someone who has developed an appetite for self education, this is not shocking. Having been in the working world and witnessed the economic decline on an up close and personal basis, I'm more than a little alarmed at what's going on in education. Through all of it, I'm not an active participant in those decisions. By every standard of measurement we have, with a few exceptions in the extremely technical or deeply specialized sciences, our educational institutions are failing. The marriage of actual education with degree seeking isn't producing good results right now, and the people that most effects, students, have spent their academic lives being taught obedience before all else, not active participation or critical analysis about the efficacy of the model that's being used to teach them. Long held beliefs are being proven untrue by science. People do not learn in different ways, "learning disabilities" (many of which may have been invented to explain away the inefficacy of the educational system more than they explain any actual disability with the students in question) not withstanding. Interest and engagement are better indicators of success than anything else, and the obedience paradigm demands students somehow magically develop interest and engage through the limited methods available to them, whether they are successful or not is framed as a failure of moral character.

 Consultation, dialog, and understanding aren't part of the equation. At work, the closest thing to a real dialog tends to be with my co-workers, but that is the largely theoretic and ideological conversation that has no desire to see itself made into a verifiable set of actions. It's a stark contrast, a group of individuals attempting to reach some level of consensus related to an action or set of actions they can take that will help to either make very real their beliefs and values or at the least to symbolize the degree to which they have been ignored or unmet by the society and economic structure they exist in. One of these environments creates and supports an open structure for all participants to take part in creating a consensus to take actions that make their values, beliefs and needs real and met while the other demands compliance... above all else. In both school and work, the focus isn't on anything other than obedience. At work, in some ways, I'm relatively lucky. I get along with both of the people I work with on an everyday basis and I actually like them. They're intelligent and genuinely good human beings. We disagree on matters of politics and society in many ways, but they are at least people who haven't come to their conclusions through some specious media outlet leading them by the nose, and they do genuinely care about other people and society. We just disagree about what possible solutions are best to handle the issues that face the individual and society. I've been in employment situations where that was not the case. I'm also the low man on the totem poll in this triumvirate, which adds other layers to the equation.

All of that being true doesn't change the fact that obedience goes before all else, and in some ways that makes it worse. Because I genuinely like the people I work with, because I genuinely care about their well being, I don't want to put them in positions which are going to draw the ire of their supervisors and bosses. I not only want to stay employed, I also don't want to put my boss in the position to be forced to fire me. All the while, I am not privy to or even able to access the information that is directly informing decisions that have a direct effect on me, my coworkers, and my continued employment. It's been a very bad few months in our business. There's been a press on to produce results, using methods specifically dictated, based on information none of us have access to, even when the possibility of a long term slump like this will have a direct effect on our daily lives, and for me, as the low man on the totem pole, my actual employment. If lay-offs begin, I'm in the first line, and that's not a theoretical concern in our current economic environment. Another bizarre twist of casino capitalism is that lay-offs will keep a stock price up, but they contribute to depressing the economy further because those newly unemployed aren't going to have any disposable income, which drives an economy based on services and consumption. Let me be clear here as well, this is definitely not the worst job I've ever had either. My direct supervisors, and their supervisors have so far been adept at walking the line between recognizing me as a human being, with a life beyond the hours of business operations, and being an employee and I appreciate that. I also realize they're just as trapped in this system as anyone else is. At the same time, participating in Occupy has made more stark the reality that I'm a passive observer, subservient to other interests that are not necessarily in any way interested in my well being, as are the people in my direct sphere of interactions.

A life dedicated to the constant toll of the bell for ever more intrusive obedience necessarily produces obedient citizens. Critical analysis doesn't come from nowhere, and like anything else, it develops with practice, and we've become trained by circumstance to use that critical analysis in ways that strengthen systems that don't serve us well, if they attempt to serve us at all. This, as much as the butt sniffing, sniveling, black hole of amorality the mainstream media passes off as "objectivity" have served to create a population that values obedience before critical thinking or valid criticism of the systems they're obedient to. At best, we value the spectacle of argument, more than the actual effort of consensus or the dedication necessary to actually be informed in an environment where information is all pervasive, but rarely reliable, which is a irreplaceable component of critical analysis and effective critique. Critical analysis, questioning and criticism are immediately taken as disrespect or disruption. In an environment like a classroom or school in general, nothing could be further from the truth. If a school or class is wasting the students time by forcing them through a curriculum that neither serves to prepare them for employment or educates them to be better, more active and informed citizens, then that school and the curriculum are wasting the students time, which should be paramount. The institution's time shouldn't be a consideration. We seem to be at a crossroads that asks us to make a decision about which is the aim of these institutions, education or career advancement and training. Do we want to require an education or do we want to require a degree?

At work, that obedience requirement takes another form as well. It involves education because at this point, the one thing I don't have to advance further is education. It's a ceiling that is punitive on more than one level. On the first, it's the blatant fact that ability and effort have no meaning. No matter what your level of ability or your work ethic, there is no advancing beyond a certain point because of the requirement. Also, without being able to meet the requirement, the costs of education can be extremely prohibitive. There's also the very real fear that taking on the debt for that education may not be the most intelligent thing to do as jobs are scarce, and I personally know a number of people who have college educations and have been among the long term unemployed in the last few years. Interestingly, one of the skills most lamented as lacking in today's graduates is the ability to communicate well in writing. That's not a skill I lack, and it's a skill I could probably even teach. Without the degree though, there isn't an opportunity to prove that. I'm required to submit to one system just about everyone agrees is broken in order to then submit to another system which is increasingly proving itself to be unsustainable and disastrously flawed, with no ability to address any of that. In a nutshell, this is why I have completely rejected the "change the system from the inside" mantra and chosen to be involved with Occupy. Once you're inside "the system" it prevents you from having any genuine ability to effect change, much less even present a critical analysis in the hope of creating dialogue, unless of course, you can provide the necessary documentation and accreditation. The process of acquiring that documentation and accreditation then makes you dependent on the continued existence of that exact system. At best, you can tinker around the edges without putting all of the things you have worked for in jeopardy or making them completely irrelevant.

At Occupy, none of this is true. My ability to participate is limited only by the time and effort I have to expend in doing so. Is there a complete lack of any respect for education and experience... absolutely not. If someone is in a particular field or has a degree that gives them the ability to be more effective, it naturally follows that anyone involved, specifically in the working groups, are going to be happy to have them and are going to value that experience and expertise. But not having those things doesn't preclude anyone's involvement in anything either. It's also harder work than I've ever done in my life because of the degree of compromise involved, and because I'm forced to take other people's ideas and perspectives into account in a way that isn't natural to someone who has finally gotten adjusted to the kind of system of unthinking obedience I'm confronting in the other arenas in my life. The truth is that I like to work hard, and enjoy it. My real request is that I'm able to do so in the employ of something I think is worth that time and effort since I only have one life to do it with. Unfortunately, there's a large choir of voices who while calling for each of us to find our place, doing that which we are passionate about, willing to work hard for and love, who also find it impossible to believe that someone can of their own volition, in possession of their conscience, find that making a better world possible is that thing they feel that way about.

In this context, the Occupy movement makes sense. Many of the problems we face as a people are the result of unthinking, unquestioning obedience to various entities. Political institutions, media, academic institutions and certainly corporations have all been allowed to demand obedience from the population they were actually created to serve, and as a result, we've ended up serving them with little to no thought about our actual well being because we've been so busy trying to understand how to make our lives and ourselves fit around that demand for obedience. From this perspective, Occupy Wall Street, and the movement it has inspired are deeply conservative. It's a primal outburst in recognition that we have been denied the responsibility of creating our own destinies because we've been required to submit so thoroughly to these institutions that don't serve us, and a demand that not only do they start serving us, but that it's time we start taking the responsibility of making the decisions about exactly what we have to be obedient to and why. Civil disobedience on this scale isn't the result of some kind of outlying fringe group, it's the logical result of the incivility we've been subject to from the institutions we've obedient to for far too long.

Occupy hasn't brought these things to my attention either, they're things I've known they existed for most of my life. What it has done is give me some hope that all of this isn't irredeemably lost, that maybe, just maybe, since I now know I'm not alone in feeling and seeing all of this as I interface with employment and academics, it doesn't always have to be this way. Maybe, just maybe, we can develop a more human approach to the way we see each other and not demand that the people around us become automatons, dedicated solely to the continued existence of the institution we're dealing with or a part of and can instead start to look at our communities, institutions, neighbors, co-workers, friends and ultimately ourselves in more human terms.

I believe that to the political and financial institutions who have so thoroughly abused the trust and power society has afforded them, that possibility is the new terror.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Merry Pranks, and Police State Politics

On November 9th Occupy Richmond produced an act of political theater impressive in its' creativity and scope for a group of this size. They succeeded in causing Richmond city police, directed by Richmond city government, to betray the lengths to which they are willing to go see "law and order" protected at the expense of the free speech of peaceful citizens seeking to petition their city, state, federal governments and the monied interests that control them for a redress of grievances. At the same time, they betrayed the lengths they're not willing to go to in order to find a group of violent criminals, who've now victimized seven people in downtown Richmond.

For nearly a week, Occupy Richmond had been publicizing the screening of a documentary at Gallery 5, one of Richmond's many small community based art galleries. The screening was to be directly followed by a march to Monroe Park where they would begin Occupation. After the Halloween morning raid, Occupy Richmond had established what has lovingly been referred to as the "Bug Out Working Group." This working group was charged with insuring the safety of personnel and material in the case of another police action committed against Occupy Richmond. The Bug Out group began to establish contingency plans for the proposed march to Monroe Park immediately following the GA's decision to occupy there. Given the fact that there had been an Occupation of Monroe Park to protest the cities treatment of the homeless and the proposed "remodeling" of the park that had ended in arrests earlier this year, and the prominent location in the center of VCU campus, Occupy Richmond knew the chances of police action were extremely high. VCU has become one of Richmond city's major power players due to the number of properties they've been buying and the supposed economic benefits the school brings. In truth, the University has brought an influx of students from the rest of Virginia, and from other states who often do have enough disposable income to support the service industry businesses that now surround the campus. Ten years ago, there would never have been a Chipotlé or Panera in downtown Richmond, but now there are. Bringing in minimum wage jobs in fast food and convenience stores isn't generally considered a boon for the poor, middle class or the rest of the 99%. The other side of that coin is that VCU's expansion has lead to continuously rising tuition costs, and a faculty which is now more than fifty percent part-time, adjunct professors, many of whom are highly educated, but are receiving low wages, no benefits and no job security from semester to semester. There's no benefit for VCU in visiting parents seeing a park at it's center dotted with the homeless (a population that's only growing in these economic conditions) or in this case, the tents and signs of Occupy Richmond. The degree to which Occupy Richmond's members are aware that gentrification of Richmond at the hands of VCU is contributing to the increase in homelessness in the city is also something that could be particularly uncomfortable for the University and the city. Monroe Park has been a politically charged subject in Richmond for a number of years, and Occupy Richmond effectively shined an even brighter light on it that night.

Getting word from bike scouts and various other supporters that Monroe Park was lined with RPD patrol cars, State Police cars, mounted units and motorcycle police, Occupy Richmond's Bug Out Group put their contingency plans to work. Following the screening of three excellent documentaries about the Occupy movement and Occupy Richmond specifically, they gathered on the sidewalk in front of Gallery 5, split into three groups of roughly one hundred people, soaked bandana's and medical masks in apple vinegar (to help combat the effects of a possible tear gas attack), and set out on three different routes. The three groups effectively walked almost every part of Richmond's downtown area, chanting and singing, while a battalion of police waited for them to arrive at Monroe Park. The arrival of three hundred protesters in a park lined with police in riot gear never ends peacefully. Occupations across the country have been witness to the lengths their city governments will go in order to "enforce the law", at the expense of the health, safety, and rights of Occupiers.

Two of Occupy Richmond's number were arrested on the sidewalk around Monroe Park as the group their group passed it. They were charged with a class 6 felony because they had bandana's covering their faces. Both have been long time activists in Richmond, are tied through association to or membership in Richmond's Wingnut collective, are involved with the local Cop Watch and had participated in the previous occupation of Monroe Park. It's not lost on Occupy Richmond that the Wingnuts have been a fount of organizational and information guidance, in things ranging from weather preparation to individual rights and conduct in case of police contact. They are not always in complete agreement with Occupy Richmond's decisions and methods, but the overall cooperation and relationship between the Wingnuts and Occupy Richmond seems to have bread a mutual respect that wouldn't have been possible without the direct actions both groups have collaborated on. Some of the Wingnuts may consider themselves Occupiers, and some of the Occupiers may consider themselves Wingnuts. In addition, contact with an anarchist collective that is completely different than those portrayed in the media seems to be softening many of Occupy Richmond's members who would previously have been averse to such a group. Members of Occupy Richmond were and are outraged at these arrests, especially considering that these two individuals were pulled out of a crowd of roughly a hundred people, at least half of whom were wearing bandana's or medical masks.

With a police surveillance plane and helicopter deployed to keep track of their movements, the three groups wound their way around the city, often circling around and covering ground they'd already covered, sometimes changing course entirely. Finally, the two groups that hadn't passed Monroe Park converged... in Festival Park, a park not covered under the city's "sunset provision" that makes it illegal to be in a city park after sunset. The third group arrived fifteen minutes later, with Occupiers rejoicing loudly, hugs all around, and a general sense enjoyment. Let's not forget, there were still a little more than a hundred police, waiting at Monroe Park. Overtime is apparently only an issue when catching actual criminals is the agenda. With the plane still circling overhead, it didn't take all that long for RPD to figure out where the Occupiers had gotten to. The police line in the accompanying video doesn't include the State Police cars, the motorcycles and a number of the unmarked cars that ended up ringing Festival Park, with a line of police standing across the street, joking with each other and staring at a group of people following the laborious process of GA to try and figure out what they were going to do next, with police dogs barking wildly from the rear of a few cruisers all the while.

It didn't take long for the police to make contact and establish that Festival Park is open until 3 am, and anyone in the park after would be arrested. I'd like to take a second and commend both of the people who have worked as police liaisons for Occupy Richmond, Katie and Bill. They've been instrumental in keeping group communication up to date and preventing chaos from erupting when there has been contact between Occupiers and police. It's also a relatively thankless job, as there is at least one paranoid hanger on (the kind of person who has a lot of demands, a lot of self righteous grandeur, and a lot of time to attempt to get in front of any available camera, but apparently no time to pitch in with the actual everyday work it takes to keep the group cohesive and communicating while not in actual occupation, much less moving forward) that insists on accusing anyone who doesn't completely submit to his worldview is an undercover police informant or military intelligence (OWS and possibly Oakland could rate that kind of attention depending on your perspective, but seriously, this is Richmond). A consistent demand from all Occupiers for police information that isn't always forthcoming from the police also puts them under some pressure. Both have conducted themselves admirably under chaotic, purposefully disorganized conditions and deserve that recognition from all of Occupy Richmond. The legal team also deserves to be thanked, as they have scarce personnel and were instrumental in securing the release of the four previously held Occupiers. I've no doubt they're working now to get back our people who were arrested last night.

As GA went on, the police were rolling by, using the loudspeakers on their patrol cars to remind the Occupiers that after three a.m. they would be arrested. It was a long GA, running just over two hours, in an attempt to come to a decision about what to do next. It was a meandering discussion, flowing through a number of topics that might not quite have seemed directly related to "what do we do now," but were at least tangentially related. GA's often go that way, and as frustrating this can be, the process of actual democracy is as important and probably as much the point of protest as the marching and occupying. Finally, the consensus was reached to head to the Canal Walk because it was discovered that it's a privately owned park, open 24 hours a day. This means the owners of the park would have to lodge a complaint with police directly because it's not a "city owned" park. And after a few minutes, waiting for the bike scouts to return, and laying out their route to march, the Occupiers moved on to their current place of Occupation.

There has been no violence on the part of anyone affiliated with or participating in any of the actions of Occupy Richmond. There has been no destruction of public or private property. Occupy Richmond has sought to peacefully assemble, petition the various governments supposedly elected to serve the people, and to participate in their own self governance. Nothing more, nothing less.

In the five days prior to Occupy Richmond's parade through Richmond city, there had been seven violent robberies, all in the same general area of the city, within the same three hour period. Should the Richmond city government and police actually be interested in stopping violent crime instead of free speech, this might be something worth devoting some of those same resources to. A police helicopter might be useful for this or possibly, a battalion of police officers on the streets during the period these vicious thugs have been striking. After day two, it might have seemed like a good idea.

The problem is, the city government, like the state and federal governments, is less interested in serving it's citizenry than it is in protecting it's power. It's somewhat ironic that Occupy Richmond, and the rest of the Occupy movement have been addressing their grievances to the governments and other power structures for exactly this reason, and in this particular case, the Richmond city government's efforts to prevent them from doing so have only further proven the degree to which their arguments and grievances are fundamentally sound. Richmond city government would rather see it's citizens violently robbed than it would see them stand up and exercise their rights to ask the city exactly why this is true.

Across the country, Occupiers have been met with the deafening silence of their governments in regards to their grievances, and the tear gas, batons and hand cuffs of the police departments commanded by those governments. They are waging a desperate fight to renew the citizens ability to have some say in their destiny, the government and their economy. On the same night that Occupy Richmond was being chased around Richmond by the agents of a city government intent on preventing them doing any of that, Penn State students were rioting, turning over vehicles, knocking down light posts, and destroying property everywhere they moved. They saw absolutely none of the vicious response from police that Occupiers have. The difference being that Occupiers have a goal that threatens the status quo by forcefully revealing the absolute hypocrisy of those in power in this country. Penn State students were rioting in protest of a man being fired after he didn't take every conceivable action to stop a pedophile and child rapist from continuing those activities, essentially protecting that same system of hypocrisy.

So, what's the cost hear? The cost can be calculated in the amount of overtime for a battalion of RPD officers, State Police, police from surrounding counties, keeping a plane and helicopter in the sky, horses and dogs and so on. It can also be calculated in the degree it has a chilling effect on free speech. Occupy Richmond may still be willing to play this game with the RPD and Richmond city government, but who out there is seeing this reaction to a relatively small group of people peacefully gathered to attempt to petition their government and to be able to discuss the issues they face, and is feeling like they probably shouldn't exercise their rights because the police will be there in riot gear, atop horses, with dogs, tear gas and rubber bullets?

These shouldn't be the things anyone is considering in regards to the Occupy movement or Occupy Richmond. They should be considering what will happen if Occupy Richmond and the Occupy movement fails. The result will be a dual generational demoralization of the people. The further result of that demoralization will be the privatization of public assets on a scale most Americans think of as only happening in third world countries and under authoritarian regimes. There is already an income gap matching that of Somalia. The Occupy movement is the first wave of resistance to the problems that have plagued other countries for decades. The reality of the cycle in many of those countries has been that when the first wave of peaceful, non-violent protests is pacified and demoralized, the second wave that comes later doesn't see itself as the next cycle, a continuation of the same movement. It sees itself as something else altogether, discrediting the first wave because of it's failure, including but not limited to, discrediting the first waves peaceful, non-violent tactics. Because of the speed of the Occupy movements ascendance, it's capture of attention and the optimism it is breeding, very few people seem to be either considering or mentioning this.

It's possible this isn't being mentioned because it could be construed as a call for violence or a threat. This is the furthest possible thing from the truth. In truth, the Occupy movement has been nowhere near the degree of radicalism it has been portrayed as being an example of. For all that they are calling to see changed, they are fundamentally less radical than they are conservative in he dictionary sense of the word "conserve." They are trying to conserve Constitutional and human rights and are using previously socially approved methods to do so. Should they fail, the next wave will do no such thing. The city, state and federal governments would do well to consider this before they have the kind of problem on their hands that will make the Occupiers look positively quaint.

Make no mistake, there is something terribly wrong with this country.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Person To Person

I had the opportunity to spend a decent amount of time in Kanawha Plaza, participating in Occupy Richmond, before the raid. Because of both work and school, it was usually in the afternoons during the week. On the weekends, I spent almost all of my free time there. It's hard to explain what being in the middle of a functioning Occupation is like. People were wandering everywhere, most of them engaged in some task or other related to the everyday needs of the people staying in the park. Others who were standing around in small groups talking about dilemma's their work groups were facing at the moment, and trying to grind their ideas down into working solutions. Some would be having impassioned conversations about "the movement," in philosophical, political, economic and spiritual terms. Others would be conversing in the way people familiar with each other do no matter where they are, laughing, joking, just enjoying the company of friends.

Those are all worthy interactions. All of them have some variety of sustenance for the humanity of a person. But there was another kind of interaction, that struck me, no matter how many times I experienced it in quick succession. I would inevitably be wandering around the camp for some reason or other, having ventured out of the media tent either for water, a warm drink, to smoke a cigarette or just to stretch my legs after sitting on a hard wooden park bench for a number of hours, staring at a laptop screen, trying to decipher what might next come out of the ether and benefit (or harm) Occupy Richmond. I'd find myself in conversation with someone I hadn't seen around the camp before and find out they were either someone donating something or someone who'd come directly to the park to ask what the most pressing need of the Occupiers was. Inevitably, the conversation would turn to the latest events of the movement, and we'd talk about that, whether it was positive, negative, inspiring or outrageous, most often though, it was a combination of all of those things.

At some point I'd say, "Thank you so much for coming down to donate. We all really appreciate it." It wasn't something I said out of the pure societal expectation either. It was something I meant. I may not have been sleeping in the park every night, but the amount of time I spent there made it very clear how much our Occupation was relying on the support of people who against everything our society has been telling all of us for the majority of our lives, were giving to other people, in order to sustain them. They were feeding, clothing, and keeping warm a group of people they didn't know with absolutely no discernible suggestion that they would get anything in return. I don't think anyone did or does take for granted that the Occupy movement will necessarily succeed. There is no sense of predestination among the overwhelming majority of Occupiers, at least in Richmond. They know there is a hard road ahead. There is no guarantee that any of it will create anything other than a mass movement that has passed into the history books, as so many other movements have. But these people were providing what they could to other people, understanding all of that. It's a touching thing, to see people who are able to do something like this, based on nothing more than a common hope that this could help lead to a better future for all of us. It flies in the face of the most intermingled and poisonous forms of cynicism we are inundated with on a daily basis.

And that brings me to the two things I've been hearing most often, both from Occupiers and from the people who have been supporting the Occupy movement both materially and emotionally. It's come to the point that when I meet someone new, I know to wait for it, because it's going to be said at some point, and not in that crappy way the people use language to solidify their own feeling of belonging in a group or movement, but out of genuine emotion. The first is, "This has given me hope." I've been hearing that over and over again. It's a strange thing to hear coming out of the mouth's of people who are citizens of what has always been referred to as the most optimistic nation in the world. How long have all of these people been without the hope that there might be solutions to the problems we face? How long have they been without the hope that their future's may be filled with something better than their present? In that context, is it any surprise that something like the Occupy movement has sprung up? The thing that is undeniable is that the people who are Occupying, and the people who are supporting them are passing that hope around amongst each other. It's not pinned to anything other than their shared involvement and their shared sense that this has to happen.

There's also something really strange about that moment, when people say, "Thank you, this gives me hope." I know how much the Occupations rely on people coming and donating. I know how grateful the Occupiers are for all of it. And it's in that moment, where you're being thanked by someone who is doing something to help you be sustained, and being told that what you're doing is giving them hope, that you realize that every time someone comes to donate, they give you hope. "We might be able to do this. We might actually be able to stay here long enough to do something real." and that thought gives you hope. It's a cycle of something much better and much more substantive than the cycle of vicious competition and cynicism that has seemed to be a cultural focus for too long. It is the exact opposite of the kind of "everyone's in this for themselves" narrative we've been fed, and it presents a direct contradiction to the question of whether or not community can still exist in a digital world. It suggests the possibility of a new kind of community, based on something different than what we have, and that too gives people hope. I'd be willing to go so far as to say it's one of the most important reasons the movement has continued to grow, people are passing out hope to each other, and then taking it to the next person and giving it to them.

There's a direct correlation between "This has given me hope," and the other thing I've been hearing so often, "I've been waiting my whole life for this." Most often, it's coming out of the mouths of people in their mid-thirties or younger, who aren't old enough to have participated or actually seen social movements of the sixties and seventies. To consider what that actually means is a stunning comment on the state of our society. Many of the people making this statement are college educated, and they're from a relatively wide variety of backgrounds in an experiential sense. They are people from upper middle class families, families with activist backgrounds, working class families, poor families, families full of academics and intellectuals, and so on. Across that spectrum of people, they are all making the admission that since they were old enough to grasp the concepts involved, they've hoped to see a major social movement attempting to effect some significant change on the way that society functions. It's possibly conjecture, but I also think they're saying they have been waiting for a movement which focuses on average people making that change. That's also significant because it speaks to the fact that they have felt this way for so long, they at some point lost all hope that there would be any kind of pertinent and fundamental change driven by the societal institutions that have been relied on to produce or drive that change.

The idea that this many of a nations citizens have been waiting their whole lives for a functional and empowered social movement should be a wake up call, not just to government, corporate titans and finance industry luminaries, but to all of the ordinary people who have been taking aim at the Occupy movement. There's also something that should be disturbing to all of us when we consider just how many of the Occupiers and their supporters are educated, be it thoroughly self educated or traditionally educated. It begins to paint a picture suggesting that a significant portion of the nation's intelligent, capable, organized, motivated and educated population believe themselves to be deeply at odds with the way society is structured. That is the shape of real revolution. It paints a picture of something very different than "class warfare."

It's also a sign that the kinds of barriers that have existed between classes in the United States, since it's inception, have at best begun to come down, and at worse, have started to become extremely porous. For the politicians and propaganda agencies of the corporate state, that should be a troubling development.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Who's Waging Class War?

Oakland. New York repeatedly. San Francisco. Now, San Diego.

These are cities whose citizens have been exercising their rights to freedom of speech and assembly, in order to express their desires for self sustainability, self governance and self reliance, only to be met by brutal force at the hands of their city and state police forces. This reaction to peaceful citizen congregation is puzzling. Rousting, harassing, beating, tear gassing, macing, and tossing flashbang grenades at unarmed citizens who have destroyed no property and haven't threatened the physical safety of any of their fellow citizens has brought more attention to the movement begun by Occupy Wall Street in September than anything else, and for good reason.

It wasn't long ago that many Americans were glued to their televisions, watching with hope, joy and pride as the people of Egypt rose up and threw off the clenched fist of a dictator who had abused and exploited them for thirty years. American media and politicians went on long, angry tirades when forces under the control of Hosni Mubarak used devastating and brutal force against the citizens of his own country who sought nothing more than the freedom to express themselves without fear of government reprisals, to assemble in order to discuss the problems their society faced and the right to self governance. President Obama issued stern, clear language in support of the people seeking to exercise those rights.

Now, President Obama, and mayors across the country are faced with a population of people seeking exactly the same thing, but this time there are many less strenuous appeals to the civility, humanity, decency and patience being voiced from the people in power in our media and governments, because this time, they represent the structures of power being questioned. Now, our president says nothing about the brutality being leveled at the citizens of the country he is supposed to be leading. The majority of other politicians have either remained silent, attempted to appease the Occupiers with the familiar empty rhetoric or have insulted the Occupy movement as lazy beggars, drug addicts and so on. Some in our media, who believe themselves "journalists" have gone so far as to attempt to smear a Marine who returned home safely following two tours in Iraq, only to suffer a brain injury as the result of having his skull cracked by a tear gas canister while participating in a protest in Oakland. Scott Olsen is a member of the Veterans for Peace, and as he lies in a hospital, unable to speak because the swelling from his injury is effecting the speech center in his brain, members of the so-called "right-wing" of America's imagined "political spectrum" are saying he hates the Marines, and that he's an anti-Semite. Marines across the country, active or not, have voiced anger about what has been done to one of their brothers.

Others are decrying the movement as class warriors, hell bent on stealing from the rich, dividing Americans for their own gain, and trying to get what they do not and never did deserve. These attacks on a diverse and widely spread population have continued even as it's become clear exactly who is waging some variety of war. Peaceful protesters, gathering together in public spaces to voice their grievances, discuss those grievances and possible solutions are being assaulted as if they attempting to throwing Moltov Cocktails through daycare windows. The majority of these protesters are poor, working class or middle class people from all walks of life, and elected officials whose campaigns can not exist, let alone succeed, without funding from corporate pimps are ordering that these people be removed, silenced and definitely not allowed to gather together for a long enough period of time to be able to develop common sense solutions to the problems created by the same conglomerates that are buying those same politicians. Police are dispatched in riot gear with tear gas, pepper spray, flashbangs, rubber bullets, bean bag bullets and though it has yet to be used, LRAD sonic weapons. So, I ask you, exactly who is it engaged in class warfare?

This is in no way to suggest that the police aren't in a terrible position. They are. It's very easy to decide to turn on the police in situations like this. But they too are caught in the tangled web resulting in the kind of government for auction we now have. They must unfortunately follow the orders they are given or face the same job market the rest of the 99% are facing. It's a position no one would want to be in. Face crowds of people who are becoming increasingly suspicious and unpredictable because of the kind of violence they are seeing all over the country, and repress rights many of the individual officers know protesters are guaranteed or risk the loss of a steady job, health care benefits and relative security in the midst of the worst economic situation in seventy years?  Few people could answer that question honestly without actually being faced with a remarkably similar situation. There are certainly some police who are taking to these duties with a bit more zeal than is acceptable, but the majority of them are people who needed a job, and police officer was their best option. The problem is, how exactly does a society weed out the good from the bad, when the orders that all are given are the will of the corrupt and immoral? This is the argument the Occupy movement should be making to police forces and citizens across the country. The police are not the enemy. They are the unfortunate proof of that age old adage that you can always hire half of the poor to kill the other half. They may not be killing Occupiers, but there is no doubt that many of the locations across the country have been experiencing violence and intimidation of a severe enough nature that if it does continue, there will at some point be a casualty. If it weren't for these "freeloading hippie" protesters (who had a flashbang grenade thrown at them in their initial attempts to help him) Scott Olsen might very well have been that first casualty.

Ask yourself this; Why is dissent and the right to self governance something to be celebrated and praised everywhere in the world, except in your own country? There's something seriously wrong here, and that is why the Occupy movement is growing. Each new police action, each new instance of brutality and unnecessary force makes that fact clearer. They are calling attention to a cataclysmic breakage in our system of government and our society as a whole, and the people who have profited from that breakage, that wound, have been sucking the life's blood out of us for decades. Those people, who've profited from starvation, sickness, poverty, ignorance and death, believe that the Occupiers and the American people can be intimidated into stepping out of the way to let them back to the business of profiting through the creation of misfortunes for us to survive.

I believe those days are finally over.

Dissent To Power: Occupy Says, "You Have No Power"

*originally published 10/27/11

I've been thinking recently about the role that fear has played in the lives of Americans for so long. It's one of those thoughts that lingers in the back of my mind, just coming and going, inserting itself occasionally. I have the definite feeling that the nations response to 9/11 is as much a part of what created the Occupy movement as the economic situation, though it seems to be something so deeply set in the Occupiers that they take it for granted, and don't consciously think about it. It's probably been on my mind because, realistically, the Occupiers that I have been interacting with in person at Occupy Richmond and online from a number of the other Occupations are some of the most boldly courageous people I've ever met.

It's jarring, invigorating and inspiring to see people as unafraid as they are. It's something that hasn't been a part of American society for a long time. It seems almost as if these are people who have reached a point where they just can't live with the fear anymore. This isn't to say they don't feel the very natural and normal fear of getting their skulls cracked by police or some other form of violence, but they're willing to accept that possibility so that the rest of their lives and the rest of the time they spend amongst each other and in public space isn't constantly spent in a state of fear. It is as if the combination of 9/11's reality, the politicization of fear, the fear for their economic future and the fear about the future of the nation and the world have pushed them to a point that requires a choice. They are either going to surrender and submit, accept that they are going to spend the rest of their lives being afraid and terrified by more possibilities and circumstances than could possibly be listed or they are going to stand up and start being proactive as a way to combat that fear.

What we're seeing in the Occupy movement and particularly in those cities who have been under assault by the police, is a refusal to fear the government and state. I also think that the "lack of a coherent message" has to do with that same refusal to continue to be afraid. Fear itself isn't something solid and measurable. It's amorphous and vague, so the reaction to it is somewhat amorphous and vague as well. Because Occupy hasn't tied it's wagon to any particular political party or ideology that the media and the political elite can easily quantify and qualify, they think there is no direction, there is no demand, there is no central idea. It's quite possible that the central idea in the Occupy movement is that "You (meaning the power structure that has made decisions that effect their lives) don't get to scare the crap out of us anymore. If we stand, fall, fail or succeed, it will be of our own volition and the result of our own decisions. We're better off together than we are relying on you." And that is a BIG idea when you consider the depth and spread of the ramifications it holds. From the marches themselves, decrying corporate corruption of government and a number of other issues popular in the movement (end the Fed), to the occupations of the actual parks and the refusal to accept state eviction, what it seems the media and city officials don't understand is that Occupiers are saying, "We're better off together than relying on you," puts into question any number of things these structures of power take for granted as part and parcel of having power. This is a group of people, a sizable majority of whom have a serious, fundamental lack of trust in what American society has come to understand are "authorities." The degree to which many of them feel the Citizens United Supreme Court decision is more than unlawful, but morally reprehensible and ethically untenable, and beyond a matter of law, strikes at the core of what it actually is to be a human being in civil society, suggests they have reached a point at which they are no longer willing to accept that what government decrees is law, is not necessarily law. In many ways, they seem to be saying (and of course, I can't speak for the "Movement") that if the government can not act ethically and morally, with dignity and integrity, then it is illegitimate and therefore, it has no authority to uphold laws the people do not recognize as legitimate.

For all their bluster and pageantry, the Tea Party were often claiming the illegitimacy of government (though for very different reasons), but they never acted as if they believed that. They made vague, somewhat disquieting statements and proclamations related to revolutions, succession and so forth, but they fundamentally acted as if the government, economic system, media and political establishment are authorities. Occupy has taken their own grievances, and acted directly on them. They have made them operational. The comparison that's being made so often now between Occupy and the Tea Party misses something fundamentally important. The Tea Party strove to be a media event engaged in public education. The Occupy movement is, so far, a social protest movement engaged in creating a new kind of public discussion altogether. One assumes the validity of using or manipulating the current systems of authority and communication, where the other disregards them almost entirely. The other fundamental difference between Occupy and the Tea Party, is that the Tea Party either didn't recognize or refused to recognize the role corporations have played in creating these conditions. They were either ideologically opposed to the idea or (as I believe) their ideology made them incapable of recognizing that fact because it presented too many uncomfortable questions about the foundations of that ideology, and in the black and white logic of the kind of media debate they were involved in, questions like that present the appearance of a complete lack of credibility.

The Occupy movement isn't acting like a bunch of "destruction thirsty anarchists" (which is the favorite characterization of anarchists in the media) either. They are instead acting as if common law is the actual law of the land, and the modified consensus model they are using develops enough respect between individuals and dignity as a community that individuals then choose to follow the decisions of their General Assemblies. Given the ferocity of the violence they've faced in a number of different cities, their adherence to this idea of common law is kind of astounding. I haven't yet heard of an Occupation that didn't adopt non-violence in the General Assembly, and in the face of what has sometimes been shocking and terrible violence, they've followed that decision through. The closest thing to a violent act that I've seen documented was a group of protestors taking the orange plastic netting the NYPD have been using to kettle them, and then throwing it in the trash. It was again, an outward demonstration that "you don't get to make decisions for us," in this case a decision about where they can and can't go. When they had successfully taken the netting, they went on their way.

During last nights March for Solidarity that Occupy Wall Street held to show their solidarity with Occupy Oakland, they even managed to pull a number of their fellow protestors away from the police. They are again saying, "You don't have our consent to do that. We don't allow it." That's a new development, and an outgrowth of the violence the police have brought to Occupations across the country. They aren't breaking their own rules and taking violent action in return. Instead, they're further removing recognition of illegitimate law, which is the very basis of non-violent protest in the first place. Non-violence as a philosophy for social change isn't about getting your head beaten in and not responding. It's about refusing to acknowledge and act in accordance with illegitimate laws and structures of power and inequality. In essence, it follows the logic that the ultimate form protest isn't angry destruction, but completely lack of acknowledge meant, that hate isn't the opposite of love, the refusal to even acknowledge somethings existence is. In this way, the Occupiers are turning on the political establishment, media, and economic structure the very same kind of disrespect they've been shown. What has come from this, is the recognition of millions of Americans that the laws Occupiers are breaking and the structures of power these laws represent are inhumane and often illegal. Non-violence is a call to the humane within every human being by forcing a spotlight on the inhumanity of laws and power structures. Every time a video or picture surfaces showing the brutal methods used to enforce simple local ordinances that are misdemeanors at most, it calls into question the reason for each law/ordiances existence and the methods used to enforce them.

Occupiers haven't come to where they are, to act as they have out of some simple minded desire for more than they have materially. They've come here because the power structures of their society have essentially been acting as if they only exist in terms of commerce and consumption, that they aren't human beings, that they don't have basic, fundamental rights, and essentially that it doesn't matter who or what "holds these truths to be self evident." Occupiers are challenging that. They are challenging the idea that power is as power does and that power is created out of power. They are saying, "No. Your power comes from an agreement we've all accepted. You've broken that agreement, and we no longer recognize your power. WE, after all, are the one's who allow you to have power and WE'RE seriously considering taking it away from you." And that is the basis of the reaction from police and city governments, the frantic scrambling by the individuals who have power. They will do things horrific and degenerative to civilized society, just to hold power.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has waged the most sound, logical and honest challenge of power that the political, financial, media and other elites have seen since the Civil Rights movement. Occupiers are essentially the continuation of and push to see the fruition of the process that movement began. Consider the fact that Martin Luther King Jr. wasn't killed until he started standing up for the economic rights of sanitation workers, and all of this makes a good deal more sense.