From the artists to the anarchists, in general the reaction to the occupation has been, “Well of course it’s totally stupid, but it’s too big to ignore.” There is the typical political complaining about the ideas expressed by people in the occupation, whether in the general assemblies or on posters and banners. ‘They are not this,’ ‘they are not that,’ ‘they are not talking about capitalism,’ ‘they are talking about America,’ ‘they believe in freedom,’ ‘they talk about non-violence.’ The other general complaint, from average people and the media, is that the people there are incoherent or don’t know what they want. This may be the main truth of the whole situation, its total incoherence.
On the one hand, pacifist and liberal rhetoric should be no big surprise given how concerted an effort has been made since the 60s to instill this language into everyone’s brain. On the other hand, this is really not the point. We do not believe in ideas! The reality is that what is said in a general assembly or on a piece of cardboard has little if any connection to what is done an hour later. It’s like Martin Glaberman wrote about consciousness. In the 1940s, like most of the workers movement, the UAW voted 2-1 to affirm a no-strike pledge in support of the Allied war effort, but there was a problem:
“It was rather reasonable to draw the conclusion that the consciousness of auto workers was that they placed patriotism before class interest; that in a major war workers should not strike; no matter what the provocation, war production had to continue.
There was, however, a slight problem. Before the vote, during the vote, and after the vote, the majority of auto workers wildcatted. What then, was the consciousness of the auto workers? Were they for or against the no-strike pledge? There is a further problem. As in most votes, most people did not vote. The majority which voted for the pledge was not a majority of the members of the UAW. But the strikers did include a majority of the UAW. Experience in a factory can give you insight into how these things work. Some guy sitting in his own living room listening to the casualties and the war reports, votes to reaffirm the no-strike pledge. The next day, going in to work, the foreman cusses him out, and he says, ‘To hell with you,’ and out he goes [on strike]. And you say, ‘I thought you were for the no-strike pledge.’ And he says, ‘Yeah, sure, but look at that son of a bitch.'”
With each step the situation over the last week has totally proven this. Carrying banners and placards saying the stupidest things you could imagine —‘Banks got bailed out, we got sold out’, ‘Wall street is our street’, ‘Corporate Greed’, ‘Tax Wall Street’, ‘Corporate Zombies’, ‘End the Federal Reserve,’ ‘Tax the Rich’, ‘Wall Street Stole from Us’— on Saturday October 1, the demonstration and march spontaneously moved onto the Brooklyn Bridge, skirmished with the cops and blocked traffic across the bridge for five hours. An older blue collar looking man stealing the hat off a police chief while he tried to arrest some kids and throwing it into the air while the people cheered is one of everyone’s favorite memories of this day. The same thing happened on Wednesday October 5: after the massive student walkout and march (thousands of students and teachers) the giant lumbering union and organization march, was continued by some of the occupiers with a runaway march down to Wall Street. Obviously one of the worst locations imaginable, yet for hours kids played games with each other and the cops, repeatedly finding ways to break the police blockade separating us and moving into the street. These were not anarchists, they were the Zuccotti park freaks and hundreds of their friends.
So in each instance the situation has grown and moved forward, finding new limits however small, and moving easily beyond them. Typically this level of confrontation would not appear in such a sustained manner.
Why this seems different (see above)
What we’ve seen over the last decade in New York City: primarily anti-globalization and anti-war mobilizations, lasting between one and 3 days. Violence in these cases was a black bloc. Student occupations composed of a high ratio of “active partisans.” Anarchist street parties which at best look like a violent reclaim the streets. Police killings with subdued and highly controlled responses by Al Sharpton types and community organizations. What we can say then is that what’s happening now looks nothing like those things. This is not to make any claims beyond that. Right now we have no idea what will happen. However it is very obvious that with each day over the last week and a half the situation has been growing and expanding at a level and rate expected by no one, including us.
The occupation at Zuccotti park, many so proudly remind each other, is not a real occupation – it is in a private park and permitted by the police. Thus it is not a real occupation because it isn’t blocking anything or taking over a space, it is not illegal, etc. But once again, like the preoccupation with violence (for or against) and consciousness (reactionary or revolutionary) already mentioned, this perspective about the occupation misses the point. Normally in New York nothing lasts. If we make an occupation, we’re lucky if it lasts more than a day. If we make a long dinner, we’re lucky to spend that amount of time together with friends. Between the police and the pace, nothing ever lasts. Equally in the political milieus, “friendship” means individuals who’ve known each other for a few months, or a year. The turnover time in the milieus is just this rapid, allowing everything to start over again from square zero every year or two and snitching that much easier.
So contrary to popular opinion, something is being blocked in Zuccotti park – it’s just that it’s the space-time continuum. And it’s allowed the occupiers to stay together and just be together for over 20 days now. What they have now is simply a space where who-the-fuck-ever can show up and be pissed about the shitty shit in their lives together. A lot of freaks and rejects who showed up alone say they don’t want to leave because they’ve made such good friends. At night the park is covered with sleeping bodies pressed next to each other, 4, 5, 6 at a time in their sleeping bags like weird little hot dogs. Their new slogan is not ‘occupy everything’ but ‘occupy together.’ And in the demonstrations they are testing this strength a little more each time.
There is a sense that since the occupation of the Brooklyn Bridge on the whole focus on “Wall Street” that was initially at the forefront has really fallen to the wayside, sort of just another crazy idea amidst the billions of totally crazy ideas flying out of peoples’ mouths. The only unifying slogan left is “We are the 99%,” which is completely populist, empty and universal, thus preventing the appearance of any of the typical political frameworks from reappearing. With this development, the situation threatens to have absolutely no single stable referent at all.
It’s been the case for a long time that American kids have no faith whatsoever in any politics or anything else. So what’s it going to look like when out of nowhere a bunch of them get together and try to make a movement? Motherfucking insane. So in conclusion, the movement of freaks is kind of sweet. Definitely weird.
One thing to note is that we see the activists reappearing like it’s a family reunion, the dregs of the city we haven’t seen in years, not since the last mobilization. More and more everyone is running around frantically, as if finally a reason to live. We just think that, instead of freaking out and getting wrapped up in the psychological mind-fucks of each leftist organizer or running around town all day chasing the moment like it’s an anti-glob day of action, it’s important to recognize the situation for what it is –that it may or may not be explosive, that it may be something like a beginning, the making of a space — and to act accordingly.
Right now what’s crucial is spreading the idea of the economy and the city as a system of flows, as opposed to the current idea of the economy run by banks and Wall St. Along with this then spreading the idea of interrupting those flows. This is already catching on in a big way. Strikes, blockades of traffic and other occupations are on everyone’s mind in the last week. This last Saturday we had thousands of people filling Washington Square, many of whom were materially prepared to stay. Although this was on everyone’s minds, including all the news articles, due to miscommunication and some bad planning, however, the opportunity to occupy a second and more major park was lost.
The next week will be important in terms of maintaining momentum and spreading the movement concretely to other areas. The students are getting organized, and will have an all-city student assembly including all universities as well as high schools this Saturday. This assembly, which could include thousands, coincides with the second Occupy Wall St mass demonstration.
Most important above all is to create more spaces like Zuccotti park.