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.
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.”
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