UMF #3: We’ve Found Love in a Hopeless Place (December 2011)

Somewhere someone said, “I’m sick of this life” -an unspeakable phrase since the early 2000s that was relegated to the minor purview of school and workplace shooters, freaks, and the angry. Today, however there has been an utterly decisive, monstrous shift; “We’re sick of this life” is the new consensus. But elsewhere someone also said, “I’m normally anti-social, and this is the first time I’ve wanted to really join something.” This isn’t negation anymore; now there’s a life more worth living. Politicians, police, and citizens alike would like to see us return us to our isolation, to politics as usual. They denounce us in the media, attack us in the streets, or slander our name because it’s clear to all of them that it’s the breaking of isolation and not simply an organization, but rather organization itself –the sharing of life and the collective will to fight— that gives us our power.

In the early morning hours of November 15th when the police evicted Zuccotti Park through quarantine, they took aim at the material base of an event that has resonated across the United States and the entire world. We’ve seen encampments in cities large and small, the takeover of the Brooklyn Bridge, the port blockade and general strike in Oakland, and the shutting down of major thoroughfares and banks in Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. Politicians and the media keep calling this a protest or an organization, and even some of the OWS leaders think the same, but as usual they are completely wrong. OWS isn’t simply a park, a group, a protest or a process: it’s an event.

An event is an irruptive force that breaks with normality, and changes our way of being in the world. We are caught up in it, brought together, and carried by it. It breaks our modes, shattering the individual bonds of loneliness that are typical of life today and gives birth instead to solidarity. In these days, people talk together much more easily, just as easily as they de-arrest their friends and strangers from the hands of the police to run once more through the streets and sidewalks of the city.

An event takes hold of us and changes us; it ’s not something that we can let slip away like everything else in this world where letting life go by is the norm and everything can be forgotten by morning. Against this is the one who devotes herself to the highest intensity she has encountered like a truth. The one who does not oppose herself to the shock, to the motion of experience, through the hesitations of bad faith, skepticism and comfort. She becomes a force in her turn. With a little discipline, this force –the force that attaches one to this intensity— will successfully organize the maelstrom of attractions that composes all of us and imprint upon them a unique direction. What spectators stupidly call “will” is instead an unreserved abandon to the event.

It is sufficient to distinguish between the mediocre existence that simply floats through what is possible, and the determined existence that is attached to a truth and works and makes headway from it. It isn’t surprising that the word “destiny,” destin, is derived from the Latin verb destinare, which means “to attach.” He who becomes devoted, attached to a truth, must become less and less an individual, and more and more a presence. Less and less “human,” but more and more communal, simpler. With good cause, the subject of such an attachment is treated as “irreducible,” because it is no longer reducible to itself.

There is nothing more threatening to the power of this world than the possibility that so many would come together like this, get organized, and refuse to let it go.

OWS is not a social movement. This is because it is about life as a whole rather than issues or demands, and thus does not carry within it its own predetermined end. Within the words ‘we are the 99%’ people speak about conditions, about life; solidarity is formed, a we rather than the I. Yet what the 99% makes possible is the formation of these solidarities not in accordance with the customary subjective positions that once claimed this ground (worker, artist, student, etc.) but instead across, against, and with no regard for them: the mutation. This is what happened during the wild days of Zuccotti, we saw it in the emergence of so many little war machines at 90 5th, and it resurfaces every time a tamed march turns toward the streets. Everywhere that individuals become a little less themselves.

Mutation is occurring not only in the occupations, but also in the actions they’ve launched. Take the recent Oakland general strike. This general strike was the first of its kind in history because, instead of organized labor and unions (the traditional organizers of such strikes), it was called for by the Occupy Oakland general assembly, a rag tag band of the employed and unemployed, students, friends, families, rank and file, occupiers, tech, clerical and service workers. During that day, the flying pickets which shut down businesses, such as the cafes and grocery stores that had threatened to fire workers who went on strike, as well as the massive port blockade of some 20,000, were both largely composed of an equally heterogeneous mix. Although the actions of course included rank-and-file workers as well as individual labor organizers, they were primarily planned and carried out by massive crowds that so little resembled traditional political actions that participants have described the port shutdown as looking more like an all-day music festival! Thus it is interesting to ask whether the rumors of organized labor’s refusal of the call put out by Occupy Oakland for a December 12 West Coast port shutdown is not merely strategic disassociation, but moreover a response to the threat posed by the emerging power of these mutant associations to block and disrupt the means of production, outside of and most likely against union control.

OWS has spread with some success to the student sector in New York, starting with an all-city student assembly that has involved hundreds of students from various universities and which built up to a student strike on November 17, within which a citywide student occupation was planned at a New School building at 90 5th. After much wrangling in assemblies with some citizen-students, both plans were pushed through only a week before. Regardless, people were prepared, and several universities saw dozens of professors cancel their classes in solidarity with the strike or in some cases the professors came with their students to the demonstration at Union Square, the rallying point for all of the striking schools. By 4pm that day, roughly 4,000 students and faculty gathered on the north side of Union Square, in a situation without protest marshals and only a poorly organized police presence.

As the march left Union Square the intensity was amazing; police couldn’t control people as they flooded into the streets and dashed around the police away from the square and towards 5th Ave. Down 5th Ave the police tried to push people off the street but gave up, and before they knew it, the doors were flung open to the entranceway of 90 5th Ave and scores of people flooded in the front. Much of the march left, led on by official student organizers and some OWS officials, but another contingent of the march went around the block, and flooded into the building from the freight entrance, reinforcing the occupation and guarding the door from the police. When 90 5th Ave was opened, its existence was in no way ensured, but occupiers had strategized in advance to take advantage of a pliable New School administration that had very unwisely voiced their support for OWS. The presumption was that they would avoid calling the police early on, and that in fact people could flood the building. Oddly enough, the plan worked perfectly, in the beginning at least.

Strangely at 90 5th it seemed difficult for many to imagine what they wanted to actually do with the space. Many seemed to wait, paralyzed, and in the end it was easier for many to make the decision to end the occupation entirely than to plan a collective meal, or to make a decision about the bathrooms. In the coming days, we must know how to be in the spaces we occupy rather than to simply manage them. Instead of turning inward and obsessively micro-managing its survival, use the occupied space as a base of operations like Zuccotti. For many students, the main struggle was to define the political content of the space through meetings and debates, luckily others realized that it was necessary to transform the space itself through acts as well as words. Thus instead of endless meetings, the space must be inhabited, made literally a commune, literally a place for launching attacks outwards, literally autonomous. Don’t reduce it to a decision about providing better customer service to make people comfortable, as one nitwit said. Never let it stagnate, never let it become the object of anyone’s control. Always in motion. It should be a question of increasing our power, and of getting organized.

The student strike and student occupation helped heighten tensions around opposition to tuition hikes in the CUNY system, which resulted in clashes with police on November 21. Ultimately a narrative of moral outrage was constructed by some of the more civic-minded CUNY students, and the initial rage was buried beneath a lot of whining over very little police violence. As a result the follow up demonstration on November 28 was heavily police by the city, student organizers, and faculty, in an odd turnaround of the student strike day. Unsurprisingly tuition was raised, and it remains to be seen what will or can happen next. Unlike the OWS event, the CUNY fight already carries its own end within it, thus it is unclear whether old-style politics will win out or something new will be created.

But the mutation must spread further. This could look like the creation of a territory, the mobilization of new sectors, the continual occurrence of both low and high intensity ways to connect. Although some are trying to claim leadership over the event and dictate what should and should not be done and what OWS is and is not, everyone knows that OWS cannot be led or defined; it would only die. So for all of us who have shared this event together so far, we need to remember that we have the ability to determine the course of this movement, to expand it through new initiatives, new ideas, new places.

A new experiment that needs to be tried in New York is spreading th event to work sectors: service workers, municipal workers and sites of production and distribution. The point would be to both heighten specific conflicts but more importantly spread the virus of general insubordination. We need a service workers assembly, an officer workers assembly, a transit workers assembly. We need an explosion of neighborhood assemblies: North Brooklyn, Downtown Brooklyn, Chelsea, East New York, Harlem, Queens, the Bronx, State Island.

To get organized where we live, where we work, where we are.
And not in a void – but to keep going.

Right now we’re seeing a bifurcation between those who want the event and those who would like to return everything to normality. These sides are not necessarily arranged according to political lines or perspectives as some would like to suggest. It is thus not a question of simply bourgeois vs. proletariat, liberal vs. radical, but rather of citizens, of politics and not politics, control and no control.

The left’s final decline is being witnessed in OWS. Their former domain, calling mass mobilizations, flyering, creating and running infrastructure, remains undone. They’ve become totally useless, and so all the leftist tasks required to create the basic elements of a movement –within which we can then act— are left for others. Unlike their forebears, however, leftists today are completely incapable of harnessing the energy for anything because they are incredibly weak and even more inept. The only thing they are capable of now is smothering the movement, denying the event right alongside political factions and the police.

The collapse of politics is further announced by all of the corpses rolled out by radical political groups alongside the left’s zombie march. From the point of view of many of them, OWS lacks something because of what it says: it isn’t anti-capitalist, it isn’t anti-cop, and so on. In reality we have never seen such a high degree of diffused anti-police action in the street, nor have we seen so many attacks on the economy: the blockading of the Port of Oakland alongside a call for a general strike, attempts to shut down the NYSE and an occupation of the Brooklyn Bridge. Alongside these attacks, we have the widespread sharing of food, clothing, shelter, and everything else necessary for life –all of which is provided without a price tag. What’s being performed in the operation of measuring everyone and everything by what is spoken is an imposition of calcified identities where they don’t exist. This isn’t a war of positions, the majority involved have no position at all.

From the event, politics seeks to eviscerate the spirit, administrate life, and autonomize war. Whether it’s the bureaucrat, the militant, the leftist, the activist, or the anarchist, it’s all the same. Decision making is reified in a legislative and deliberative body, fracturing thought and practice, and decision and act. Everything is open to governance, to the point that no one feels like they have the ability to so much as setup a kitchen, clean the floor, or wipe their own ass without permission or a decision. And being is fundamentally reduced to participation in an assembly, which oddly enough looks just like a group of individuals with nothing between them but idle words and a collection of identities. Gone is the complexity of existence, and instead there are bodies inhabiting a dead world. Or in the debates between violence and non-violence, war becomes militancy, a characteristic held in lesser or greater amounts by certain individuals, or worse, war becomes military, an obsession with conflict and violence either as greatest evil or highest good. At all times politics is a removal or deadening of the situation. For us, in contrast, it’s a matter of being-in-the-situation, or nothing at all. It’s a matter of actively denying the abstraction from the world that politics has always reinforced, the separation between what we are and what we do. In response to the old politics, we say bring the magic back, conjure worlds.

OWS has been strong because it is very much in the world and binds together everything necessary to build power: the inseparable elements of life, spirit, and war.

We’re always told that we’re supposed to face the world alone, each person with their own problems, their own career, their own happiness, their own rock bottom. That’s life on a regular day…but fuck a regular day. In the occupations we’ve found strength because we’ve shared everything: sleeping in the street, staying warm, and learning how to fight –getting organized. It’s only when we get together like this that we see our power. The bonds we’re developing are transforming us and everything around us. If it’s our sharing that makes us powerful, why return to normal? This life is more worth living than the one we left behind.

One thought on “UMF #3: We’ve Found Love in a Hopeless Place (December 2011)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s