Occupy Wall Street (OWS) has been going on for over a month now, and against all predictions, it continues to grow in its own particular, weird way. What follows is a brief account of recent events and some thoughts on the situation in progress. This letter is for our friends here, in the occupations in other states, and those wanting to understand what’s happening from far away.
Events over the Last Weeks
After the city’s announcement that they would be “cleaning” the park out on the morning of Friday October 14, OWS issued a call for defense and support that brought out over 4,000 people to Zuccotti Park at 4am. The park was full of people, many of whom were there for the first time, and a huge general assembly was held where there was some discussion about the situation. Sometime around 7am, it was announced that the city had backed down and canceled the eviction. Everyone was elated; though people were unsure what would happen next since so many had anticipated a huge conflict.
Within the hour, several different contingents left the park, two went south down Broadway towards Wall Street and another marched north on Broadway to City Hall. The second march that went south was slow going and disorganized at first, but eventually 300 people took the street, evading police attempts to stop them. The crowd then ran against traffic down Beaver street and met with another march of 500 or so more who’d gone down Wall Street. While this nearly 90 minute rampage through downtown Manhattan was taking place, another march had gone up the other direction, toward City Hall. We still have no idea what that one was like though we know there were some arrests.
After several weeks of back and forth in the streets, back and forth with violence, Friday’s marches went wild. Anyone who says this experience isn’t changing people is delusional: Friday’s marches were a collective intelligence that moved through the streets for over 90 minutes, using lessons learned over the last week and inventing new ones. Push the cameras and cameramen in front. Surround the cops with peace signs then attack them, or attack first then peace signs. Stay together and run together. For this reason, at no point during that morning were the cops prepared –all last week, they lost control. Cops ran over a legal observer and punched a lot of people in the marches. One guy who got punched has HIV, and told the newspapers that the cop had better get tested he said because there was blood everywhere. In these cases the complete contradiction between ideas and action continues to reign: SEIU union bureaucrats running wild in the street, pushes followed by peace signs, fuck the police chants followed by police are the 99% chants, “peaceful” protestors spreading chaos while black bloc’d anarchists are just marching, and perhaps most hilariously kids who get arrested for trying to unarrest their friends who then think they can just “explain” the situation to the officers. However for the first time since September 17 the cops began giving out serious charges. Many people arrested during Saturday’s marches were charged with various felonies, but mostly assaulting an officer.
Saturday October 15 was a sad follow-up to the victorious Friday. A massive party-protest was planned for Times Square and ex-anti-globe protestors called for civil disobedience at banks. Times Square became a standard New York protest because it was hyper-controlled. The NYPD had cut the area into four parts with barricades and people were literally trapped in depressingly slow motion movement to nowhere –if the NYPD is good at anything, it’s producing a sense of death. There were some confrontations that occurred with the police and ended in a few dozen arrests. In the end, many didn’t feel too bad about Time Square because they were impressed by the incredibly large turnout, possible over 25,000 people. The better plans for the day were secret plans to try and expand the occupation to a park in Midtown Manhattan and at Washington Square Park. One of these was concocted by the OWS direct action committee and another by an autonomous faction; unfortunately neither succeeded. The Midtown park was preemptively blocked off by private security and the police, and while Washington Square Park had thousands of people, the park’s immense size and heavy police presence made it impossible to hold. Various breakaway marches went around the city, some led by anarchists , others by no one. The All-City Student Assembly was another highlight of the day, primarily because it attracted over 500 students to Washington Square Park at noon (a normally unheard of number). The meeting was filled with sectarian Left organizations and standard identity politics, but the general atmosphere was one ready for action.
Banners/slogans from the successful defense against eviction:
We Are Legion
For Now We Just Want Your Money
My Night With Ashton
Too Good to Let Go – Let’s Roll NY!
Tax That Ass / Ass That Tax
Subjectivities in the Situation
In the daily progress of this movement, one observes the (re-)emergence of several subjective positions, but especially the militant anarchist. The militants so far are those whose identity is staked on being the extreme left of the left. The ones who insist on showing up in all black on a weekday morning for a march that’s most joyful because, for once, nobody knows who’s who. The Friday morning march was ten times better than a black bloc, because, with the exception of a few people, no one wore a uniform and no one specialized in “militancy”– everyone was complicit regardless. And this is shown in how it moved, with a collective intelligence that we never see in New York, nor in the US very often. “Use the sidewalks, go around!” was the chant, allowing the march to repeatedly cut around the cops and keep moving back into the streets. “Not in there, it’s a trap,” and “Run!” On the cover of the newspapers the next day were photos of kids jumping over barricades, running, sliding – although it looked like this was a chase, it wasn’t; it was just us fucking running the streets together.
The militant operation is twofold: 1) it is an extraction from the situation and reassertion of a subjective position, and 2) it is an attempt to distill and capture the situation as abstract elements through a formal logic of “direct action.” Language such as “hard” and “soft” is used to qualify occupations, leading to convoluted questions about whether or not Zuccotti Park is a “real” occupation. What’s interesting to militants is not what is happening, but rather how what happens conforms to specific foreordained anarchist principles. From their perspective, then, Zuccotti Park is a domesticated camp-out permitted by the city and police – it is not, as they continually repeat, a real occupation. Their strategy, which unfolds on the basis of this critique, is then to escalate the situation: 100% illegal occupations, militant street actions, etc. The problem is not these things, but the reading of the situation, the idea of escalation being more illegal or more militant. Another way this is manifested is in the continual questioning of individuals’ commitments by the simple question: did they “take” the streets or not? Walking in the streets without police consent is militant and therefore good, while not taking the streets is liberal reformism. In addition to leaving out any tactical considerations, what is important for the anarchist militants is not what is happening between people but rather that a “direct action” has been committed. What’s lost in these interpretations is any ability to give oneself over to the situation, to the real transformations that are taking place in terms of the blending of experiences, development of collective intelligence, and the sharing of life. Ultimately the militant’s obsession is born of a weakness that measures itself against the most pitiful of legal strictures and which over and over asserts the police as the main enemy.
For us, what’s so interesting about this movement is that it’s brought a number of people together by removing them from their normal subjective bounds. If there’s any consistency developing it is one of doing things together –no one’s having political conversations or reading groups. Rather, they’re being in a situation together, developing attachments on the basis of a shared disposition, a shared attunement to the moment. This way of relating brings people together across and with zero regard for normal social and political boundaries, changing everyone in the situation and jacking up their subjective worlds. That’s why some people are calling Zuccotti Park a laboratory for mutant subjectivity. This mutation is happening outside the park as well, but to continue it needs spaces and time. So in the first letter we said something about the most important thing being the blocking of the flows; to this we add, opening up new mutant becomings.
Spread the mutation!
It’s also worth pointing out that OWS is unique because, through the empty framework of the 99%, it begins from peoples’ conditions and the sharing of them for perhaps the first time. This places it outside the bounds of politics and all the forms politics has taken in the recent decades—anti-globalization, anarchism, activism. Right now, from so many different angles, democrats, anarchists and citizens alike are trying to capture the situation and return it to a normal framework of politics –“there are just so many issues being raised at Zuccotti Park!” But despite the continuing prevalence of these political frameworks, in every case, when it comes to reality, these attempts are failing. The freaks could give a fuck. So here’s a prediction: what we’re seeing now, all this massive incoherence, all this sweetness, all these freaks and all this anger—this just the beginning. We said it before and we’ll say it again: Politics failed a long time ago in America, and subjectivity, a key component of politics, is failing too. Attempts to politicize situations from now on will continue to fail pathetically (we hope!). And so when something happens here, it’s going to be far more terrifying and incomprehensible than anyone can imagine.
So another way of relating to the situation, beyond those of politics: building the party -for those who’ve been changed, for those who’ve come into this situation and found something worth holding onto. Because the reality is that this movement will end and, while on the one hand we can be pushing it beyond its limits with all of our strength, we can also be preparing the spaces that will allow what is growing here to continue on when the movement dies. This means that we should not despair everyday at the signs of its possible decline, or our inability to do the “one thing” that might make it last.