SYNDICATED COLUMN: Cut-and-Paste Revolution, Part I

Winter Looms. Occupy Movement Wiggles Fingers. What Next?

“Let’s recreate Tahrir Square.” The email blast that began it all in June, a call for opponents of America’s wars and bank bailouts and rising income inequality and a host of other iniquities to occupy a public plaza two blocks from the White House, drew its inspiration from the Arab Spring.

The call worked. For the first time since the unrest of the 1960s, Americans joined spontaneous acts of protest and sustained civil disobedience in vast numbers. Why? Perhaps Americans, smugly dismissing the Muslim world as inherently inhospitable to democracy, were embarrassed to watch themselves shown up by people willing to face down bullets in Bahrain and Yemen and Libya. What’s a little pepper spray considering the thousands killed in Syria? Maybe Tahrir appealed because it worked. Or seemed to work. (Note to revolutionaries of the future: never trust the old regime’s military when they say it’s OK to leave them in power.)

The Arab Spring begat an American Fall. An aging Canadian magazine publisher cut-and-pasted the Freedom Plaza occupation (which still goes by the name of October 2011 Stop the Machine). Then he preempted STM, scheduling it to begin a few weeks earlier. He moved it to New York. Finally, he branded his cut-and-paste occupation with a better name: Occupy Wall Street.

Occupy Wall Street, not-so-new but much improved by its proximity to the national media based in Manhattan, began with aimless milling about the closed streets of the Manhattan’s financial district. It was ignored. A week later the collision of a thuggish NYPD officer, a dollop of pepper spray and four stylish young women made the news. “The cops spraying a bunch of white girls, well, our donations have tripled,” victim Chelsea Elliott told The Village Voice. Within a month, OWS was the beneficiary of an unreserved endorsement by The New York Times editorial board. On Sunday, no less–the most widely read edition.

More than a thousand cities now have their own occupations, cut-and-pasted from their format of their Washington and New York granddaddies. The Occupations trend white and young. They claim to be leaderless. Most of them cut-and-paste their tactics from OWS. They first take over public parks in downtown areas. Then they either apply for police permits to use a public park (as in Washington), obtain approval from private owners (as in New York), or take over spaces sufficiently unobtrusive so that the authorities grant their tacit consent (as in Los Angeles, where the encampment is in the city’s mostly disused downtown).

With a few exceptions like Denver, where police forcibly cleared out and arrested Occupy Denver members and confiscated their tents and other property, most local and federal law enforcement agencies have assumed a “soft pillow” approach to the Occupy phenomenon.

This missive to Occupy L.A. participants gives a sense of the modus vivendi: “The event organizers say they have talked to the police and the police say they are welcome. There are certain rules planned to be in place, such as moving tents off the grass onto the sidewalk at night. Please follow the directions of the police or any officials. The lawn has an automatic sprinkler system that someone who went and watched says turns on at 8 pm – 9 pm. The park area closes at 10 pm, but sleeping on the public sidewalks adjacent to the street is allowed from 9 pm to 6 am. That is the sidewalk surrounding the park area, not the sidewalk within the park area. Also, keep in mind you can be charged for clean-up and repairs, so wherever you go, be sure you do not create any need for clean-up or repairs. Please be very mindful of this.”

Aware of the fact that the movement has grown in response to official pushback–in New York after the pepper-spraying of the four women as well as after a threatened “clean up” operation similar to what went down in Denver–police are reluctant to create a spectacle of violent official repression. Protesters, meanwhile, are understandably reluctant to become victims of violent official repression. There have been hundreds of arrests, but no violent showdowns as we’ve seen in Athens. Leftist professor Cornel West seems to get booked every other day yet looks none the worse for wear.

In the absence of serious confrontation the occupations have become campsites. After police threatened to sweep up Freedom Plaza in Washington hundreds of supporters poured in to face down the police. The U.S. Parks Police blinked; now Stop the Machine has an official four-month permit. The same thing happened when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg scheduled a police-led “clean up” of Zuccotti Park. A night’s worth of phone calls by panicky city politicians made him back down.

Also, as The Nation reports, the NYPD wasn’t certain they had legal grounds for evicting the Occupiers from Zuccotti Park, which is public but privately-owned: “Jerold Kayden, a professor of urban planning and design at Harvard’s Kennedy School, says that these spaces ‘occupy a somewhat murky terrain in terms of what activities and conduct of public users within the space should be acceptable and what goes beyond the pale.’ That is, the protesters have been able to set up camp in Zuccotti not because of any regulation that protects their presence there, but precisely because of a real lack of any defined regulations at all.”

With free food, legal services, a press table and bilingual information booths–plus the passage of time–Occupy Wall Street looks increasingly permanent.

Occupy movement outposts utilize an anarchist-inspired “general assembly” structure to make decisions ranging from the profound (resolved, that we should jail Obama) to the mundane (what time shall we hold the next general assembly). Everyone gets to speak. A “mic check” of repeated lines pass everything said to the outer ring of listeners. Attendees indicate approval by holding their fingers up and wiggling them. Downward wiggling indicates disapproval; sideways wiggling reflects uncertainty. Forming a triangle with one’s fingers is a demand for a point of process.

Why this approach? No one asks. That’s how it goes with cut-and-paste.

Crossed arms are a “block.” Anyone may block any motion. A 999-to-1 vote means no passage. Blocks, we are told by non-leader facilitators, are a nuclear option. “You might block something once or twice in your lifetime,” Starhawk, a genre novelist introduced as an experienced facilitator at one of the D.C. occupations. But a lot of nukes went flying around. Occupy Miami took weeks to get off the ground because rival factions (liberals vs. radicals) blocked one another at every turn.

Cut-and-paste at every turn: the local occupations use similar interfaces, even typefaces, for their websites and Facebook pages.

The movement has grown nicely. But, just as Mao found it necessary to adapt industrial-proletarian-based Marxism to China’s agrarian economy with “Marxism with Chinese characteristics,” activists are about to face the negative consequences of trying to replicate Tahrir Square in the United States. The U.S. isn’t Egypt. It isn’t even European. Americans need Tahrir Square with American characteristics.

Conditions on the ground necessitate a reset.

Namely: the weather.

IN MY NEXT COLUMN: Winter is coming. What will happen to the northern Occupations when the snow starts falling?

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

21 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Cut-and-Paste Revolution, Part I

  1. I don’t think we can speculate on the motives of the OWS protesters, since this seems to be a big tent phenomenon. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of seeing them as kids who don’t have anything better to do, who are having fun camping out. I think Ted pointed out that it is becoming about homelessness and unemployment. Maybe if the movement turned into a movement to pass an anti-corporate personhood constitutional amendment–that would deal with the corruption that arises from campaign financing?

  2. Below is the Declaration of Occupation of New York City.

    I offer it as a glimpse into the reality of the “Occupy” phenomenon, as imperfect as it might be, that is getting as distorted and derisive a description in posts here as it is getting from the American fascist media.

    Viva la comment-section revolution!!!
    —————————————————-

    Declaration of the Occupation of New York City

    This document was accepted by the NYC General Assembly on September 29, 2011

    (http://www.nycga.net/resources/declaration/)

    As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.

    As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.

    They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.
    They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.
    They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
    They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
    They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.
    They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
    They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.
    They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.
    They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.
    They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
    They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
    They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press.
    They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.
    They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
    They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.
    They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.
    They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives or provide relief in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantial profit.
    They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
    They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.
    They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.
    They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.
    They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
    They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts.*
    To the people of the world,

    We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.

    Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.

    To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.

    Join us and make your voices heard!

    *These grievances are not all-inclusive.

  3. @alex said: “But the OWSers insist on the rightness of processing, and exploring feelings, and being non-confrontational, and meditating. When they fade away, the next group will start looking to what mistakes were made by OWS in order to avoid making the same mistakes.”

    Ain’t it the truth. I mean, to see Michael Moore on TV saying “We’re non-violent and we’re going to achieve change with non-violence”, it makes me laugh – and then it makes me sick. Nice job Millionaire Mike. Let ’em know we’re just going to sit around, smoke, chat, make hand gestures, and then …… then …… uh ……

    The OWS crowd needs to be put in perspective. The last thing the OWS people want is freedom from the current oligarchy. If they knew what that entailed, they’d be on their way home right now.

    Let’s examine what OWS really wants: debt relief. Now let’s put that in “revolution perspective”. They want debt relief (and jobs) so they can go back to being good little consumers. They want that 56″ flat screen TV, they want that cool new VW, they want that McMansion like their friends already have. Oh, and that trip to Paris. In short, they want to perpetuate capitalism. Some revolution. Thanks, but no thanks.

  4. Susan Stark,

    First. Thank you for a thoughtful response. I see your point, and I had to chew it over for a while. Perhaps coming to Ted’s site is pointless. I don’t think it is though.

    The OWSers have a good idea: demand economic justice. But they simply do not understand why they are going about their effort incorrectly. They are tactically naive and their system of decision making has no counterbalance against deliberate obstruction from moles of the other side. They suffer from a delusional belief that non-violence accomplishes things without causing the other side to confront a choice. Sitting in a park? The mayor probably thanks God every 20 minutes that he has polite protesters who have put themselves in a corner somewhere. He can push this around until Hell freezes over.

    There are at least a dozen ways for a small, devoted (and I don’t mean devoted in an “I’m not coming home” way) group to severely inconvenience many, many people, repeatedly, day after day. If the protesters went out and engaged in those tactics, always concluding by saying, “When the first 10 bankers are indicted, we will stop” you would have your perp walk of 10 Wall Street bankers in orange jumpsuits mighty quick.

    But the OWSers insist on the rightness of processing, and exploring feelings, and being non-confrontational, and meditating. When they fade away, the next group will start looking to what mistakes were made by OWS in order to avoid making the same mistakes. That’s why I post, to provide the next group with points to consider.

  5. @Susan Stark

    I don’t think coming here yet calling OWS a waste of time are in direct conflict. Ted is unique in this movement in that he fully understands the reality of our system and what it would take to truly change things. Hell, he just wrote a book on it!

    I think Ted is being way more open to the possibilities of OWS and so I want to hear his opinions and updates. I’m a little more cynical than Ted, I admit that. Nonetheless, I’m interested in where this goes.

  6. @exkiodexian

    “That’s why Bloomberg has backed off his “clearing the park” initiatives.”

    Bloomberg has absolutely no stomach for direct confrontation. His preferred method is using his money to buy off certain sectors in order to prevent a unified front against him and his constituents (i.e. the rich). He’s done this with organizations like ACORN and whatnot.

    Winter is coming, and the powers-that-be hope that will make everyone “go home”. I predict that those who are too physically weak to stand the cold (the elderly and the chronically sick), will definitely not be able to stay. But not necessarily the rest of them.

  7. @Alex

    “Me going down there will be a waste of my time.”

    With respect, if going down there is a waste of your time, then so is coming to Ted’s website and posting here. I suggest that even if you think it won’t do any good, that you show up anyway, because if merely posting your thoughts on the internet made a difference, then things would be quite different by now.

  8. “The situation must become radicalized. That will happen because the authorities won’t be able to help themselves. They have to crush OWS.”

    Yes, but authorities have lots of experience in making sure they don’t light a match. That’s why Bloomberg has backed off his “clearing the park” initiatives. He’s smart. He doesn’t want to be the one to ignite something he can’t control. He knows winter is coming. A few more weeks of DFHs is roaming around asking for debt relief is tolerable given his alternative.

    So, anyone waiting around for the authorities to dump fuel on this thing is going to be disappointed. Not only that, if OWS is waiting for such an event it demonstrates they’re not serious about change anyway. When AIG was bailed out those execs should have been forcibly dragged from their offices and dealt with in the most severe terms. Same goes from K street. Those lobbyists should be forcibly extracted. The media will cry about the lobbyists “free speech rights”. Will OWS have the strength to shut out the propaganda and act as they need to? No. Liberals don’t have the stomach for these kinds of actions. Michael Moore is on TV talking about how we are “non-violent”. He keeps repeated that over and over. Nice job Mike. Way to make sure the shadow government knows there’s no real threat at all. Just a bunch of whiny hippies.

    We need a cleansing of the corporate state. That would be a bloody affair so gruesome it would make the Civil War look tame. Americans just aren’t up to it.

  9. Note to “No”:

    The ruling class isn’t laughing. They’re breathing a small sigh of relief. The whole drum lunacy has shown the 1% exactly how little effort is needed to completely derail OWS. One person can literally stop anything and everything from happening. The 1% will now continue picking everyone’s pockets.

  10. I’m dismayed that the OWS people are unable to deal with the conflicts the drummers are causing there!
    The ruling classes must be laughing with satisfaction.

  11. Susan,

    If I went down to OWS to tell them how I feel, it wouldn’t matter one way or the other. Be fair about that, Susan. Me going down there will be a waste of my time. I can’t be the ONLY person who sees that the Movement has to mobilize action in order to have a chance of success. Not symbolic protests. Not walking 25 people into a branch of Citibank so that they can be arrested. Not lining up so the police (who are “only following orders”) can more easily drag you away. Not having debates that go viral with news heads. Not having Michael Moore show up and do an interview (by the way, has Moore EVER done an interview where he doesn’t plug one of his books or movies or something he’s making or selling).

    I disagree with the Movement’s non-tactics. It’s that simple.

    Ted, yes, the system’s beginning to break down. But when it breaks, the hyperwealthy aren’t going to try fleeing the country with suitcases stuffed with cash. They’ll abandon all their toys–good luck eating a Rolls-Royce touring sedan–jump into their private jets, and transfer all their funds via their iPhones en route to some place where they will never be found, let alone extradited from. And at that point, it will be in their interest to make sure as much destruction as possible happens. It will benefit them to put the plane into a nosedive as they jump out the back with the only remaining parachute. That’s what upsets me about the OWSers. They are wasting what little time remains to prevent that. I want these business criminals to pay for ruining so many lives. And that won’t happen with a drum circle.

    Falco,

    Take your meds, sweetie.

    • @Alex, Drum circles accomplish nothing except increasing aspirin sales. On that we can agree.

      If I led a revolution, my first act would to declare attempts to export or transfer capital punishable by death, since capital flight has undermined previous revolutions.

  12. Sadly, I can see no solution that works well for the 99%. Eventually, what will happen is that some police officer (intentionally or not) will end up discharging a gun into someone’s face or back. At that moment, a fixed point occurs: the resistance either must militarize (either non-violently or violently) or the resistance will be put down. That’s not being a downer, that’s just being realistic. Go back to high school in your memory. Did any bully you ever encountered beat up just one person? “Golly, gee, I should take out my thuggish, animalistic anger in some other way!”

    I never saw that happen. I saw the bullies beat up people, laugh about it, and the teachers simply let it happen. The cops who are macing women aren’t going to stop because someone is condemning them with catchy chants. If anything, each passive acceptance increases the chances that these goons will up the stakes. “Heck, I maced them last time. Let’s see if I dislocate an arm this time.”

    And, to be even more of a downer, the idea of the OWS people militarizing is horribly, horribly hilarious, in the worst sense. They have no tactical skills, no capacity to plan, no capacity to organize for a conflict situation, no methods for compelling the passive middle onto their side, nothing.

    Someone once said that the middle class liked safe risks. You know, water skiing with a life vest on. Camping in an RV.

    These protesters are not capable of entertaining, even as a concept, that this whole thing might escalate to a post-performance-art level. It reminds me of how popular rap music is with young white teenagers. Because they know, at the end of it all, they can get a new a wardrobe, throw away their song files, and slip right back into safe, anonymous middle-white-classdom.

    And the thing none of us seems willing to consider is this: They (the 1%) will never allow a protest like this to spring up again, at least not until it’s too late for the next one to make a difference. In another 10 years, the bankers will own everything that isn’t nailed down, and the protest will be pointless.

    • @Alex, basically right, but you’re leaving out the fact that a substantial minority of Occupiers are radicals or revolutionists, and others are radicalizable. Even if OWS fizzles, this militant base will move to stage two. The system is dying. You can smell it. We all can.

  13. @exkiodexian: actually I disagree. I’ll agree it has yet to accomplish much in terms of reform, but the Occupy movement has gotten attention of the people it intends to. Ted has reported on a few such stories as such, as well as:

    Some uber-bank ceo called up Andrew Ross Sorkin at the Times to go investigate Occupy Wall St. to see if it was becoming a threat to himself and other bankers, see: http://politics.salon.com/2011/10/04/andrew_ross_sorkins_assignment_editor/singleton/

    Republicans have definitely taken note [quote]:
    US Congressman Peter King had this to say about the #OccupyWallSt
    Movement, “[W]e have to be careful not to allow this to get any
    legitimacy,” he warned. “I’m taking this seriously in that I’m old
    enough to remember what happened in the 1960s when the left-wing took
    to the streets and somehow the media glorified them and it ended up
    shaping policy,” he said. “We can’t allow that to happen.”

    Even Eric Cantor is giving a speech on income inequality: http://www.onepennysheet.com/2011/10/cantor-to-give-speech-on-income-inequality-and-how-we-make-sure-the-people-at-the-top-stay-there/

    Sure Mr. Cantor’s speech is likely about republican talking points that focus on “were rich because we diverse it and you are poor because you suck, now bend over just right so I can take your wallet while I rape you from behind”, but Eric wouldn’t be giving an income inequality speech at all if he didn’t feel the need to try and passify the concerns of the occupy crowd and its gaining solidarity and resonance of its (ill-defined) goals among the masses.

    Peaceful protest and non-violent resistance take a very very long time to make noticeable changes to any system. Given how non-violent the Occupy movement has been, these are actually very significant effects for how relatively short a time they have been around. My personal opinion is that they are actually way ahead of schedule relative to where I thought they would be at this point. Heck, I actually didn’t expect them to last this long either so they are beating two of my expectations/forecasts already.

    I think the only legitimate concern at this point is the one of endurance that Ted raises. It is showing signs that it is working, but for them to accomplish anything truly meaningful and lasting they are going to have to keep this up MUCH LONGER and couple it with extremely proactive political action in the months and years to come. Yet, will they even be able to make it through this winter, starting right now?

  14. I know it feels good to think something’s happening, but it’s not. Yes, it’s me – your regular downer here with a daily dose of reality. I’ve already noted that since OWS started the 1% has continued to put the boot down on the 99%’s head, which is ironic considering the OWS folks think things are starting to change, that they’re being paid attention to. They’re not and they’re not. They won’t and they won’t.

    This goes beyond “what do we want”. Even if OWS doesn’t know what it wants, it must know that it’s significant enough that the 1% aren’t going to be the least bit interested even if it’s just for one simple reason: THEY run things, not you. You don’t tell them, THEY tell you.

    For those that thought this was a democracy, OWS is going to teach you once and for all that it is not. We live in an authoritarian corporate-run state, and OWS doesn’t have a seat at that table. If OWS thinks it can have a seat at that table it is sadly mistaken. What OWS needs to realize is that it must destroy that table. Cut it up and burn it.

    Soon OWS will come to realize that this is not about demands. It’s about authority. Who has it, who doesn’t. Who makes decisions, who takes orders. If that structure is to change there’s only one path, one I’ve already talked about. Has anyone ever given up their authority willingly in history, ever? No, of course not. You take it from them.

    Winter is coming, OWS soon to show that it is a temporary “cool thing to do”. Like everything in America now, it’s a product. A fad. A fashion. The thing to do, for now anyway. “Hey you going to OWS today?” “Nah. That’s so 2011”.

    • ” We live in an authoritarian corporate-run state, and OWS doesn’t have a seat at that table. If OWS thinks it can have a seat at that table it is sadly mistaken. What OWS needs to realize is that it must destroy that table. Cut it up and burn it.”

      Correct.

      They are political novices. Soon they will see that anarchist-led consensus-based general assemblies lead to ossification. Soon the authorities will crack down; clarity will ensue.

      The situation must become radicalized. That will happen because the authorities won’t be able to help themselves. They have to crush OWS.

Leave a Reply