Tag Archives: Adbusters

Adbusters Sells Out Occupy Wall Street

UPDATED: Turns out the email from “Adbusters” below was actually from another group. See my follow-up blog post for details.

So I got this email from Adbusters Magazine this morning:

What made this crass attempt to commercialize the crashed-and-burned OWS movement even ickier was that it recently followed this:

When I asked how much writers would be paid for their 50-300 word intimate confessions of their deepest, darkest psychic and psychological secrets, the answer came back: “nothing.”

Really.

Let’s sum up: Adbusters wants us to pay them money. While they pay workers — and writers are workers, especially when they’re working for a magazine that retails for $12 — nothing.

Please explain: What, exactly, is the difference between the Koch Brothers and Adbusters? Answer: The Koch Brothers don’t expect workers to work for free.

If the publishers and editors of Adbusters didn’t pay themselves anything, I might not bring this up. But that’s not the case. Which means they’re exploiting writers — emotionally fragile writers to boot! — for their own gain. There were divisions within the movement, but everyone would agree that this is NOT what Occupy Wall Street was/is about.

WTF?

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

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Stop Demanding Demands

Connecting the Revolutionary Dots in Occupied Washington

“Our demand is that you stop demanding that we come up with demands!”

I thought about that line a lot this past week. (It’s from a recent cartoon by Matt Bors.) I was at Freedom Plaza in Washington, a block from the White House, at the protest that began the whole Occupy movement that has swept the nation: the October 2011 Stop the Machine demonstration.

It has been one of the most exciting weeks of my life.

Stop the Machine, timed to begin on the October 6th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan ten years ago, was based on a simple, powerful premise. A coalition of seasoned protesters including Veterans for Peace, CodePink, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Progressive Democrats of America and Peace Action would take over a public space, then refuse to leave until our demand–withdrawal from Afghanistan–was met.

Adbusters magazine preempted our demonstration, which had been widely publicized, with Occupy Wall Street.

It’s the sort of thing an unscrupulous businessman might do.

But it’s all good. The sooner the revolution, the better. And the Occupy folks did choose a better name.

Like other old-timers (I’m 48), I criticized Occupy Wall Street for its wanky PR and street theater shenanigans. Yoga, pillow fights and face painting for the masses, but do the masses give a damn? Critiquing with love, I joined others in the media for demanding specific demands. That, after all, is how agitators used to do things. Hijack a plane and ask for money. Take over a prison until the warden agrees to improved conditions. Strike until you get a raise.

That’s one of the things that changed on 9/11. No one ever claimed responsibility for the attacks. No group issued any demands.

The Stop the Machiners in Freedom Plaza are mostly Gen Xers in their 40s and Baby Boomers in their 50s and 60s-. There are hundreds, sometimes thousands, of them, many spending the night in tents. Eight blocks away in McPherson Square is Occupy DC, the decidedly younger and whiter (mostly Gen Yers in their 20s) Washington spin-off of Occupy Wall Street. As you’d expect, Occupy is wilder and more energetic. As you’d also expect, Stop the Machine is calmer and more organized.

Stop the Machine has Portapotties.

It even has a station where you can wash your hands after you use the Portapotties.

“What are your demands?” my friends back home emailed me. Trust me: No one is more aware of the need to issue demands than the protesters of the Occupy and Stop the Machine movements (who obviously ought to merge).

Coming up with demands is job one. But job one is slow going. This is not merely a non-hierarchical but an anti-hierarchical movement. Everyone gets an equal say. Influenced by the Occupy movement (and other progressive protests, such as the anti-globalization struggle), Stop the Machine has embraced a system in which all decisions are arrived at by unanimous consensus. Anyone, regardless of their social status or education, can block a decision agreed upon by hundreds of other people.

Before last week I thought this decision-making process was madness. No leaders means inefficiency, right? Well, right. Meetings drag on for hours. Often nothing, or very little, gets done. Discussions go off on tangents. Poorly informed and even mentally disabled people get to talk. And everyone–even those of us with years of political experience and education–have to sit there and listen.

It sucks. And it’s great. It’s great because it gets out from behind our keyboards and out into the streets and in direct contact with our fellow human beings.

I’m as snotty as they come. Out on the Plaza, however, snark is a liability. A scary homeless guy heckled me while I gave a speech calling for revolution over reform of the system; he went on so long and so intensely that a D.C. cop tried to take him away. I couldn’t just click away. I was forced to engage with him. To discuss. To agree to disagree.

Revolution is a messy, slow process. We are just beginning to claw away at the velvet ropes of alienation that simultaneously comfort and confine us. We’re beginning to see that the things we hold so dear–our place in the class structure, our educational credentials, our shrinking but oh-so-clever circles of friends–are means of oppression.

There were 15 committees formed to come up with demands about various topics, which would eventually be presented to the General Assembly for discussion and, with luck, approval by consensus.

I joined the Economics and Finance committee.

“I don’t understand the word ‘neoliberal’,” a woman who looked to be about 30 said.

“It means conservative,” a guy answered.

No it doesn’t.

I shut up. In consensus meetings, you quickly learn to choose your battles. Those battles can run late into the night.

I urged our committee to decide whether we were revolutionaries or reformists.

“Why does it matter?” asked our “facilitator” (the leader-who-is-not-a-leader).

We went on to waste the next several months debating the distinctions between revolutionaries who seek to overthrow the system, reformists who accept its basic structure but seek to improve upon it, and revolutionists-posing-as-reformers who issue what I call “unreasonable reasonable” demands–demands that are popular with the population but that the system can’t concede without undermining the essential nature of their relationship to the people, the idea being to expose the government as the uncaring, unresponsive monsters, thus radicalizing the moderates and fence-sitters.

OK, it was about an hour. It only seemed like months.

We only came up with two demands for the general assembly to consider. But that doesn’t matter.

The process of discussion educates everyone involved in it. Obviously, the better informed share information with the less informed. But the knowledge flow goes both ways. The better informed learn what is not known, what must be transmitted to the public at large. And of course the less informed about one topic are usually better informed about another.

Demands will surface. But there’s no rush. Let the intellectual cross-fertilization run its course.

Besides, it’s fun to watch the ruling-class-owned media squirm as they wait.

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

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Occupy Main Street

For America’s New Radicals, a Coming-Out Party—and Brutal Cops

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” —Gandhi

Gandhi lost, but never mind.

#OccupyWallStreet, in its second week as of this writing, is and was important. It is the first major street protest inspired by the economic collapse that began in 2008. It is also the first notable public repudiation of Obama by the American Left. Inspired by the Arab Spring, the Canadian “culture jammer” magazine Adbusters asked people to converge on lower Manhattan’s financial district in order to protest corporate greed in general and—in a reflection of the influence of social networking culture—to develop one specific major demand after they gathered.

Several thousand people arrived 10 days ago but were turned away from Wall Street by a phalanx of NYPD officers manning metal barricades. A few hundred demonstrators, dominated by the scruffy white twentysomething college grads known as “hipsters,” wound up at Zuccotti Park, whose private owners granted them permission to camp there.

There they remain, noshing on donated pizza, talking, hanging out, hoping to replicate the magic of Cairo’s Tahrir Square while remaining committed to “absolute nonviolence in the Gandhian tradition,” as Adbusters commanded.

Occupy Wall Street now seems to be fizzling out.

For me and other older, jaded veterans of leftist struggle, failure was a foregone conclusion. From the opening words of the magazine’s updates to the participants, which it referred to as “dreamers, jammers, rabble-rousers and revolutionaries,” it was evident that yet another opportunity to agitate for real change was being wasted by well-meant wankers.

Michael Moore complained about insufficient media coverage, but this non-movement movement was doomed before it began by its refusal to coalesce around a powerful message, its failure to organize and involve the actual victims of Wall Street’s perfidy (people of color, the poor, the evicted, the unemployed, those sick from pollution, etc.), and its refusal to argue and appeal on behalf of a beleaguered working class against an arrogant, violent and unaccountable ruling elite—in other words, to settle for nothing less than the eradication of capitalism.

Don’t just occupy Wall Street.

Occupy Main Street. Get ordinary people interested and involved. After all, college kid, it’s not just your struggle.

While a lack of political education should not preclude a person from participating in politics, organizers of a movement seeking radical change should make sure they don’t waste the whole time strumming a guitar and flirting. Zuccotti Park should have offered daily classes and study groups to reduce the odds that an attendee will sound like a moron when she gets questioned by a journalist.

“I’m not for interference [with wealthy people],” The New York Times quoted protester Anna Sluka. “I hope this all gets people who have a lot to think: I’m not going to go to Barcelona for three weeks. I’m going to sponsor a small town in need.” Earth to Anna: Rich people know poor people are suffering. They don’t care.

Also, lose the clown clothes. It’s not the early 1960s; you don’t have to wear a suit like the civil rights marchers did. But how about showing up on national TV looking decent, like it’s Casual Friday?

Revolutionaries should not expect fair coverage by media outlets owned by the transnational corporations they hope to overthrow. They also shouldn’t make themselves so easy to mock. Press accounts reveled in photos of topless women and the dudes on stilts who always show up at these things. So much bad hair, so many colors that don’t occur in nature.

A protest is a stage. All over New York City and around the country, people are watching on TV. Ideally, you want viewers to drop what they’re doing, to come join you. At bare minimum, you want them to approve of you. To identify with you. Maybe even send a check.

You say you represent the “99 percent” of Americans getting screwed by the top one percent. So act like the 99 percent. Dress like them.

Be normal, inclusive and welcoming.

Reporters quoted demonstrators who sounded as ignorant about current affairs as members of the Tea Party, albeit nicer. It was a perfect set-up for hit pieces by the likes of Ginia Bellafante, who called the downtown gathering an “opportunity to air societal grievances as carnival” and slammed the “group’s lack of cohesion and its apparent wish to pantomime progressivism rather than practice it knowledgably.”

History has proven that an absolute commitment to nonviolence can never effect radical change. This was shown again on Saturday September 23rd, when police used orange plastic nets to “kettle” and arrest about 80 Occupy Wall Streeters who had been marching peacefully through Greenwich Village. According to numerous witnesses and media accounts, none resisted. Cops went wild, beating several men bloody and macing at least one woman after she had been cuffed.

Sadly, too many people angry at gangster capitalists will look at the YouTube videos of bloodied young faces and say to themselves: I’m willing to suffer for a cause, not a scene.

Back in July, Adbusters wanted the “one simple demand” expressed by Occupy Wall Street to be “that Barack Obama ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington.”

What do we want?

A bipartisan blue-ribbon commission to study the extension of campaign finance reform!

When do we want it?

As soon as the committee completes its work!

Unsurprisingly and rightly, that uninspiring (and easily satisfied) demand has been set aside in favor of something better but hardly worth taking a rubber bullet for: “a vague but certain notion that the richest percentile of the country remains fat and happy as the going-on-five-year-old recession continues to batter the middle and working class,” as The New York Observer put it.

Occupy Wall Street should have demanded something majestic, reasonable and unobtainable, in order to expose the brutal nature of the system. Something like the nationalization of all corporations, equal wages for all workers, or the abolition of securities exchanges.

Some organizers also called Occupy Wall Street “Days of Rage”; along with organization and focus, rage is what is lacking.

The aggregated wealth of the superrich has been stolen from the rest of us. We should not ask them to give some of it back. We should take it all, then jail them.

Which isn’t going to happen nonviolently.

Rich people are bad people. Someone has to say it out loud.

I have no problems with the organizers of a protest deciding that its marchers will remain nonviolent. I am speaking at such an event on October 6th. However, I think it’s unwise to broadcast those intentions to the authorities.

Few people think about it now, but street demonstrations have always relied on a sense of menace. Sure, people marching through the streets of a medieval city might begin by expressing their demands peacefully. But they drank beer instead of water. On a hot day, things might escalate into a riot. The local lord was wise to give in earlier rather than later.

The rich and powerful never relinquish their prerogatives voluntarily. Only violence or the credible threat of violence can force them to give up what they stole through violence and corruption.

Despite the protesters’ many missteps, which were inevitable due to their lack of experience and political seasoning, the Occupy Wall Streeters should be commended. Sure, they did some stupid things. But they have taken a first (tentative) step into history. They have learned lessons. Hopefully they will be smarter next time.

See you in Washington on October 6th, when the October 2011 Coalition will begin the occupation of Freedom Square near the White House. Our demand is simple: We will not leave until the last occupation soldier and mercenary is withdrawn from U.S.-occupied Afghanistan.

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

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL