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

Time for the Occupy Movement to Come In From the Cold

The Occupy movement is an attempt to replicate Tahrir Square in the United States. But you can’t just cut-and-paste a model that (sort of) worked in Egypt to the United States.

Especially when you don’t understand Tahrir.

American media mischaracterized the Tahrir Square political uprising as an ongoing occupation cum encampment. True, poor people from outside Cairo who couldn’t afford hotel rooms slept in the Square throughout the rebellion against soon-to-be ex-president Hosni Mubarak. However, most of the tens and hundreds of thousands of demonstrators whose nonviolent protest led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak came and went throughout the day, often shuttling between their jobs and homes and the square. Unlike the U.S. Occupations, which devote most of their General Assemblies to logistical issues—are the cops coming? will the drummers limit themselves to two hours a day?—Tahrir was a laboratory of democracy where people from different cities, religious and political persuasions met to debate and discuss issues and problems. “Debates rage over the timing of elections, the power of Islamists, the weakness of civilian rulers and the lack of accountability of their military counterparts,” The New York Times reported on July 12th.

Other things are different. For example, Chicago is a lot colder than Cairo.

From a communiqué issued by Occupy Los Angeles: “Also, there is a movement going asking people to dress nicely—they are calling it ‘khakis and a polo.’ By day, that makes sense, but dress warmly for night time! Hypothermia is dangerous.”

Hypothermia? Not a huge concern under the palm trees of southern California. At this writing the daytime high is 20 degrees Centigrade and the nighttime low is 14. But the weather is a serious issue for much of the country. The mercury is dropping throughout the northern United States. Winter is on the way.

What will happen to OccupyMN in Minneapolis? OccupyMNers marched to local banks and the regional branch of the Federal Reserve to demand a moratorium on housing foreclosures in particular and lower income inequality in general. They’re living in tents near the local Government Center. Freezing temperatures will arrive in a week or two. Snowfalls of two and three feet are not uncommon. How long will the Occupiers of cold-weather cities like New York, Boston and Seattle last in their tents and sleeping bags?

Interestingly, the U.S. Parks Police-issued four-month permit for Stop the Machine (the Washington occupation on which the Occupations were originally modeled) expires in February.

The authorities are playing this like Russia when it was invaded by France and Germany: Retreat now, let the winter freeze the bastards out.

If the northern Occupations (which are the heart of the movement) are to survive the winter, they must move indoors. This will ratchet up the tension with the authorities. Which is the obvious next step anyway.

Occupy has to come inside. To avoid frostbite. And to avoid stagnation.

Movements move.

Occupy Albany is thinking about moving into New York’s state capitol building. There are countless options. Government offices, bank offices and branches, mortgage companies, colleges and universities with unsavory relationships to the top 1% who are screwing over most Americans—all are obvious candidates for occupations. Not to mention the millions of homes all over the country that have been vacated by illegal and immoral bank foreclosures.

The Nation notes that New York has many privately owned public spaces, including the atriums of buildings owned by Donald Trump, IBM and Citigroup. “These locations may not be altogether practical for the occupiers, and in fact protesters would likely face strong resistance from the properties’ owners if they were to try to hold any of these plazas and atriums,” writes Francis Reynolds. “But the fact that most of these privately owned public spaces are in the lobbies of banks and corporations is a powerful metonym for the way money is shaping our cities and our society. If Zuccotti falls, where will the occupation move next?”

So far, this question has been raised—only to be abandoned in favor of less pressing tangents at the major general assemblies. Occupy Wall Street can’t get it together long enough to set a drum circle schedule.

OWS must remain dynamic in order to survive. So a change of address would probably for the best. They need to stay warm. More importantly, they need to make a militant political statement. That hasn’t happened yet.

In repressive Arab states like Bahrain and Egypt, the mere act of appropriating a centrally-located public space to express discontent over a prolonged period was seen by the regime and their subjects alike as provocative and confrontational. Not so much in the U.S.

Wiggly fingers at general assemblies and arrest-by-the-numbers at non-threatening (in)actions aren’t going to cut it in this second phase.

Many of the young hipsters have gone home. Now OWS is substantially populated by the habitually homeless. Filth and smelly bodies abound.

It made sense to invite the most dispossessed Americans to join a movement dedicated to eradicating economic injustice. But openness has caused problems. “Now, protesters from Portland to Los Angeles to Atlanta are trying to distinguish between homeless people who are joining their movement and those who are there for the amenities,” reports the Associated Press. “When night falls in Portland, for instance, protesters have been dealing with fights, drunken arguments and the display of the occasional knife. One man recently created a stir when he registered with police as a sex offender living in the park. A man with mental health problems threatened to spread AIDS via a syringe. At night, the park echoes with screaming matches and scuffles over space, blankets, tents or nothing at all.”

At Occupy Wall Street discussions have been replaced by vacuous sloganeering in the form of politics (“end the fed,” “we are the 99%,” etc.)—nothing close to the energy of the ideological incubator of Tahrir Square. “What specifically are you protesting?” sympathetic New York Times columnist Charles Blow asked an OWS participant “I don’t know. It’s just cool,” she answered.

On a recent visit I found about 150 full-time OWSers, another 100 or so floating supporters, and at least 300 or 400 tourists running around snapping photos of signs and assorted freaks. And lots of foreign journalists. Everyone thought it was cool.

Cool is cool. But it ain’t revolution yet. Revolution is dangerous. No danger; no change.

OWS has become comfortable. The authorities have become comfortable with OWS. But that’s about to change.

If and when Occupiers move into indoor space, they may have to abandon their current strict adherence to nonviolent tactics. Unless they offer resistance, the state—guardian of corporate interests—will simply drag them out of The Donald’s atrium and off to jail.

OWS and its progeny will certainly go down in history as the first salvo of a nascent American revolution. Whether the Occupy movement survives to participate in what comes next (as opposed to serving as an interesting historical antecedent whose mistakes will be studied by future, more successful efforts), or whether anything will come next, will depend on whether they are willing to disrupt governmental and corporate activity—and assume greater risks.

Which doesn’t necessarily mean engaging in violent acts. But it does require courting a violent reaction from the authorities.

David Galland of the Casey Research blog sneers: “Like the ‘Free Speech Zones’ now mandatory for anyone caring to express an opposing opinion as presidential motorcades rush by, the Occupy Wall Street folks have allowed themselves to be corralled within the boundaries of a designated protest area, approved by the powers-that-be as suitable for the malcontents. Exposing the extent of the farce, the New York Police force has a portable, extendible watchtower that looms over the park, keeping a Sauron-like eye on the goings-on. That thing would have lasted about ten minutes back in the good old brick-throwing days. If I learned nothing back in the Sixties, it is that (once you decide on an objective) you need to assemble in the spot that most forcibly gets your point across—by disrupting business as usual—until the government has no choice but to arrest you, after which you return to same scene and repeat until someone gives. You win if the other guy blinks. Were I trying to discomfit Wall Street, I’d be blocking the doors of the major financial houses.”

In other words, no more four-month permits.

Right-wing radio talk personality Glenn Beck warns the establishment: “Capitalists, if you think that you can play footsies with these people, you’re wrong. They will come for you and drag you into the streets and kill you…they’re Marxist radicals…these guys are worse than Robespierre from the French Revolution…they’ll kill everybody.”

Maybe.

Beck may be able to see further down the road than the OWSers—some of whom are sucking up to the cops who abuse them by saying they’re part of the 99% too—can see themselves. Wayyy down the road.

The Occupiers need a warm place to sleep before they begin feeding banksters to the guillotine.

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

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

12 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Cut-and-Paste Revolution, Part II

  1. @someone Well stated.

    As a local aside to the Occupy Movement, here in Providence RI, the local public safety officials have given the protestors a 72 hour notice of eviction. This notice was delivered yesterday afternoon. When does the 72 hour notice come due?

    During the mid-afternoon Sunday news desert, especially when the Steroid Lords of Foxboro are on television.

    A well-timed play by Providence’s Public Safety Commissioner Pare. No one will be watching if you dare send the stormtroopers in to evict the Occupiers. If they do show, I hope the Occupiers have to be carried out and sent to jail for a court appearance on Monday.

    Demand separate trials and clog the courts for months. Figure out as many frivolous motions as you can to slow the system to a crawl.

  2. @nom du Jour: “Leaders are human and carry baggage with them like the rest of us. (I have a U-Haul that I use). To expect anything more is folly and has the potential for building someone up just to knock them down.”

    Absolutely I agree entirely. Paul Krugman once said something to the effect of (paraphrased) “if you ever believe anyone to be a perfect genius or perfect saint you will eventually be disappointed.” I am not trying to throw muck on MLK or Gandhi, I have nothing less then the highest respect for both of them. My only point was their assassination brought them a deification wherein their human frailties and faults are not only omitted from any and all discussion of them but outright forgotten in the popular mind entirely. Again I was simply talking about the benefits to ones permanent and final reputation of being assassinated. I am not slinging mud on people whom I hold in very high regard and perhaps even idolize.

  3. @someone

    “(For instance, no one talks about any of this stuff anymore: http://www.somethinkblue.com/article_detail.php?article_id=426 and yes I know Mother Teresa was not assassinated, I am talking about the other entries on that list.)”

    Leaders are human and carry baggage with them like the rest of us. (I have a U-Haul that I use). To expect anything more is folly and has the potential for building someone up just to knock them down.

    @alex_the_third

    Hindsight is 20-20. History is recorded by the victors and generally by the higher-ups that were involved. One can read the diaries and notes from the Revolutionary War but they will skew towards the higher-ups. The 99% or the time did not leave much about their motives and feelings.

    And if you look at the ultimate goals of what the founding fathers attained, I bet a lot of the rabble of the time would not have supported them. Land owners paying taxes was probably not high on the rabble’s priority list. The Declaration of Independence ignored women, the Constitution ignored the Indians and counted slaves as only 3/5 of a person.

    And beyond the fact that women could not vote until the 1920’s, in many states you had to be a land holder to get to vote regardless of race, creed, etc. Talk about taxation without representation.

    So, today, nobody knows where the Occupy Movement is going; whether it will fall apart as the temperatures drop, there will be violent conflict, the higher-ups of today will see the error of their ways and bring equity, peace and harmony to the country, it will change course and find its true meaning and someone to lead the way.

    Or not.

  4. @ Susan Stark: making the assumption that a leader is essential (it may or may not be, I simply don’t know one way or the other) assassination is not really a big deal so long as there is an understanding that it is possible among the crowd, and another leader can be elected post haste with little to no division among the crowd about the succession. Assassination just garners sympathy for a movement, radicalizes the deceased’s followers (MLK preached nothing but non-violence, but his death sure inspired some serious violent rioting), raises awareness, lends legitimacy, and virtually deifies the deceased (For instance, no one talks about any of this stuff anymore: http://www.somethinkblue.com/article_detail.php?article_id=426 and yes I know Mother Teresa was not assassinated, I am talking about the other entries on that list.)

    For exactly these reasons assassination is now more of a last resort tool of the powers that be unless they can sufficiently turn public opinion against the potential target preemptively. In older times Julian Assange would have had a bullet through the head by now, but until rape scandals and anything else can be made to stick he only has to worry about character assassination.

    @Alex_the_tired: here I disagree with you. Great leaders often take lost and confused rabble and turn them into something purposeful and useful. A group that is already focused and effective on its own doesn’t necessarily need a leader. Rather the group would be self leading and a great leader’s talents would be wasted on such a group. We retroactively glorify the average soon-to-be-Americans who fought under Washington’s command. however, I bet before Washington and others administration and shaping a lot of them probably had no idea what was going on, what they should or could do about it anyway, or necessarily even cared that much about full fledged revolution at all (many of them were probably initially willing to accept some small concessions instead, much as this discussion has decided the OWS rabble would).

  5. The problem is as follows: I present it via the story of George Washington addressing the troops…

    Washington: I want everyone ready this evening. I have a plan for the Hessians.
    Crowd: Wait, wait. We need to all wiggle our fingers on this. Why this evening?
    Washington: Look, there could be spies, I can’t go into details on this.
    Crowd: Wait, wait, someone in the back has his arms crossed. We have to respect that. Everyone, let’s sing song 12 about respect.
    Washington: Jesus Christ! Will you people fucking grow up? This isn’t a game in the playground! Some guy in Oakland almost had his head blown open like a cantaloupe the other day because a cop fired a tear gas grenade at his head! He’s under sedation right now while the neurosurgeons decide whether to drill into his skull!
    Crowd: We’ve been targeting outreach to the police. Facilitators…
    Washington: FUCK your facilitators. Tell them to take their crayons and their conflict resolution and go the hell home. This conflict resolves two ways: We win or They win. The cops have been attacking protesters since the 1960s. And when they go into crowds they deliberately target the weakest members. And, mother of God!, did you bring your kids to this? Are you high? Hell man, I grow hemp, and even I know to leave the kids at home. Holy Hell. Seriously? And you wonder why no leader’s stepping forward? You people aren’t worth risking my life and liberty on.
    Crowd: Hey, man. We’re committed to camping out in this park …
    Washington: You. Can the crap. Camp out in this park until Kingdom Come. It won’t change anything. Can none of you use that old fart Franklin’s library system? The hippies in the ’60s smoked a hell of a lot more dope than you did, and they’d be the first ones to tell you that playing nice doesn’t get it done. You! So help me, if you don’t put that fucking iPhone away–and what slave camp was that assembled at, Mr. I want a job that pays a living wage?–I will ram it up your fucking ass. Everyone, shut your goddamned toys off. Why not just hand the police the names and phone numbers of all the people you’re in communication with. Has not one single person here ever read a book about protest tactics? How about “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress”? Anyone? You people don’t deserve saving. I’m going back to Virginia.

    People, the movement will get a leader when the movement deserves a leader.

  6. @Susan Stark

    “Both Gandhi and King were assassinated, and Hoffman killed himself. That’s the problem with having an obvious leader.”

    Yes, but movements need leaders who are willing to sacrifice to get their message across. Death being the ultimate sacrifice, but even willing to be tossed in jail for the cause.

    The problem with the Occupy movement is Balkanization. Not only the fact that they are in different cities with a myriad of messages but they are not utilizing the social media and the like of the Internet effectively. It is too scattered to bring home the message. Here is where a leader speaking for the many through a unified, but alternative media would be great for the movement. Somewhere and someplace where you can follow what is going on on a macro scale with the ability to get down to the grass roots micro level. A big task, but doable.

    The enemy has to be combated. Who is the enemy?

    The main stream media, especially Fox News. As it stands now, they are as clueless about what is going on as anyone, but they are one Frank Luntz marketing campaign away from destroying any momentum the Occupy Movement has garnered.

    The Occupy Movement needs a leader who cannot be “swift-boated” and will take the cause to another level.

  7. Gandhi had less than is portrayed (for PC reasons) to do with the liberation of South Asia. Presidents Wilson and FDR felt that the European empires seriously hindered US development. US industry went through regular downturns, while South Asia and the Antipodes had massive demand the US could satisfy much more cheaply than the UK, but trade barriers said the UK colonies could only buy finished products from the UK.

    The European empires covered much of Asia and Africa, and the US was desperate, especially during its frequent Depressions, for access to those markets.

    Then Britain lost WWII, and Truman insisted that Britain must divest itself of all its colonies, and the Brits were forced to relinquish all their South Asian colonies in the late ’40s.

    Had it not been for the US (and WWII, so the South Asians must also thank Adolph Schickelgrüber), neither violent nor non-violent protests in South Asia would have resulted in liberation (the Brits knew how to crush both violent and non-violent protests in the Raj).

    But STM and OSW don’t have anything like the US to support them the way the European colonies had US support against their colonial occupiers.

  8. “Sooooo, your wish for a revolution might happen. But I suggest that if the “1% people” want to keep their heads attached to their torsos, they had better provide the jobs and the debt relief both. At the very least.”

    Which is why I hope they don’t. A few scraps from the table just perpetuates things. Personally, I hate capitalism and I’m not ashamed to say it. Beck says I hate capitalism, I hold my head high and say “you bet I do!”.

  9. @nom du jour

    “The movement needs a Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, or even Abbie Hoffman to be a bell weather for the movement.”

    Both Gandhi and King were assassinated, and Hoffman killed himself. That’s the problem with having an obvious leader.

  10. @exkiodexian

    “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.”

    Bingo. But the thing is, the powers-that-be aren’t willing to grant the protesters even THAT much. As Ted recently posted, Obama isn’t even willing to properly pay a cartoonist to promote his woefully inadequate jobs bill. The Powers have stated openly that they don’t want the economy to be dependent on the American consumer. Which is why they aren’t giving jobs or debt relief.

    Sooooo, your wish for a revolution might happen. But I suggest that if the “1% people” want to keep their heads attached to their torsos, they had better provide the jobs and the debt relief both. At the very least.

  11. If only Beck were right. I’d give anything to see Beck be right. Not because I want the OWS folks to be wiped out, but because it would indicate that the threat was real. It’s not, though. Not even close. The NYTimes reporter asking the girl what it’s about verifies what I said in previous posts. It’s just a cool thing for hipsters to do while they’re unemployed. Heck, they may even get a little debt relief out of it. Then, it’s off to Au Bon Pain for some noms. There they can discuss last week’s episode of “Boardwalk Empire” and whether or not it was over the top.

    The protesters are not protesters, they’re aggrieved consumers. The only thing they’re protesting about is the right to become more obedient consumers. In a lot of ways OWS is a sad revealing of the hopelessness of Americans. We’re stuck with this shadow government – a corporate-run state – because that’s what we want. Seeing these OWS protesters makes me realize we’ll always be under their thumb. It’s depressing, really.

  12. Tahrir Square had focus.

    The Occupy movement has to rally behind behind some tangible message, be willing to fight for that message, and have some articulate leaders bring that message out. As it stands now, the majority of the media look at the Occupy movement as a bunch of “hippies” that pound on drums and are clueless.

    The movement needs a Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, or even Abbie Hoffman to be a bell weather for the movement.

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