Dissent to Power: Occupy Says "You Have No Power"

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 both jarring, invigorating and inspiring to see people as unafraid as they are. It's something that hasn't been a part of American society now 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. 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, 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 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 with dignity, integrity, ethically and morally, 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 made 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 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 their ideas of common law are 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 #OWS held to symbolize 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 they are breaking and the structures of power they are representing are inhumane. 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 at best, misdemeanors, it calls into question the reason for that laws existence and the methods used to enforce it.

They haven't come to where they are, to act as they have out of some simple minded desire for more than they have. 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. They 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.


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