Tag Archives: Zuccotti Park

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Good Reasons to Hate Big Tech

We love computers and other electronics, but — not unlike an addict’s opinion of his dealer — we hate the companies that sell them to us. Now our contempt for Silicon Valley is expanding to include tech workers.

In San Francisco, where locals know the techies best, 30-year-old worker bees are taking as much heat as their billionaire CEO overlords.

Geographical familiarity breeds political contempt.

Just as Zuccotti Park gave birth to Occupy Wall Street’s clarion cry against the predator class henceforth to be known as the Banksters, San Francisco bus stops have become ground zero in a backlash against Big Tech. Oversized SUV-like buses that ferry Google staffers down the Peninsula provoke anger by clogging public transit stops in a city whose crumbling fleet of city vehicles is starved of funding. Private tech company buses have been blocked by protesters who object to gentrification fueled by the soaring rents paid by deep-pocked tech workers. A bus window got smashed. Across the bay in Berkeley, demonstrators even showed up at the home of a Google engineer to hold him to account for his dual role as tech dystopian (he runs Google’s creepy robot car project) and real estate developer.

Save for a window and a few Google worker tardy notices, nothing has been harmed. Days of Rage this ain’t.

Despite the relative mellowness of it all, any hint that American leftism is livelier than a withered corpse prompts establishmentarians into anxious fits that the streets will soon run red with the blood of fattened-on-organic-veal-and-green-smoothies technorati. In Salon, the usually steady Andrew Leonard lectured San Francisco’s dispossessed that street actions like slashing bus tires are “bullshit,” opining that “delivering passionate rhetoric at a public hearing on city policy toward private shuttles is part and parcel of how a democratic society operates.” (Or doesn’t operate, by his very own account.)

“This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking,” Tom Perkins, an 82-year-old venture capitalist who helped fund the initial launch of Google, wrote in an instantly infamous letter to the The Wall Street Journal, comparing dislike of 1%ers to Nazi attacks on Jews. “Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?” (Note to Perkins: You’re old enough to remember that Nazism was a right-wing movement.)

“With spokesmen like Mr. Perkins,” David Streitfeld responded in The New York Times, “the tech community will alienate the entire country in no time.”

Gallup’s 2011 poll of public perceptions found that Americans view the tech sector more positively than any other industry but that, I think, is not going to last. Because there are lots of good reasons to hate Big Tech.

The root of our contempt for the tech biz is that all our economic eggs are in their basket. Manufacturing is never coming back. Whatever chance the U.S. economy has of recovering from the 2008-09 collapse (and, for that matter, the 2000-01 and 1989-93 recessions) lies with the tech sector. But the technies don’t care. And they’re barely employing anyone.

Facebook has 6,300 employees, Twitter has 2000, Instagram has 13.

The Big Three auto companies each employ between 2.5 million and 3 million workers directly or through subsidiaries and contractors.

It’s not like Facebook couldn’t use more American workers. Because Mark Zuckerberg can never grab enough loot for himself, Facebook does without the basics, like customer service reps. They don’t even have a phone number.

It’s hard to feel warm and fuzzy about companies that don’t hire us, our neighbors or, well, anyone at all.

Or answer the phone.

Fair or not, we feel vested in tech. The average American spends thousands of dollars a year on electronics and tech-related services, including broadband Internet. Objectively, we spend more on housing, food and energy — but those expenditures feel impersonal. Unlike our devices, we’re not constantly reminded of them.

Smartphones, tablets and desktop computers are central to our minute-by-minute lives, serving as a constant reminder of our material support to the digerati.

Every time we pick up our iPhone, we recall the $400 we spent on it. (And the $300 on its once cool, now lame, two-year-old precursor.) This makes us think of historic, extravagant profits pocketed by their makers. We can’t help but remember the over-the-top paychecks collected by their makers’ CEOs, including the incompetent ones. Also popping to the front of our consciousness is the despicable outsourcing of manufacturing to slave labor contracting firms like Foxconn, where abused Chinese workers attempt suicide so often that the company had to install netting around dormitory windows. Charmingly, Foxconn began requiring new hires to sign an agreement releasing the company from liability if they kill themselves.

Few industries gouge consumers as ferociously as wildly profitable tech outfits like Microsoft, Adobe and Apple.

Not only have Americans been reamed by Big Tech — they know they’ve been reamed. Which sets the stage for big-time resentment.

In the past, wealthy companies and individuals mitigated populist resentment by paying homage to the social contract — i.e., by giving back. Henry Ford paid assembly line workers more than market rates because he wanted them to be able to afford his cars. 19th century robber barons like J.P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt built museums and contributed to colleges and civic organizations. These gestures helped keep socialism at bay.

Whether it’s due to the influence of technolibertarianism, pure greed or obliviousness, tech titans are relative skinflints compared to the manufacturing giants they’ve supplanted. Yes, there’s the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (though its “philanthrocapitalism” model is staggeringly ineffective). But Steve Jobs kept almost every cent. Facebook and Twitter are basically “non-players” in the philanthropy world. Google doles out roughly 0.02% of its annual profits in charitable grants.

Some say the techies aren’t cheap — just skittish. “A lot of the wealthy in Silicon Valley are newly wealthy,” said E. Chris Wilder, executive director of the Valley Medical Center Foundation in San Jose. “That money still feels a little too tenuous; still feels fleeting. And the economic downturn has reinforced that feeling.”

Whatever the cause, underemployed and overcharged Americans expect tech’s 1% to start stepping up.

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COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Prequel to a Beginning

Why Occupy Wall Street Still Matters

      It was the middle of September. An ad hoc coalition of political groups, mostly left of center but not all, whose members mostly were young but not all, came together to express their opinions outside the officially approved two-party paradigm.

United by their anger and energy, these people held general assemblies (they called them “sit-ins.”) They marched. Throughout that fall and into part of the following year, they caught the attention of the news media, inspiring activists around the country. In the end, the powers that be did what power powers that be usually do: they sent in the cops. Beaten and swept away in mass arrests, the young activists drifted away. Voters, convinced by the system’s propaganda that the movement threatened law and order, turned to the right.

One year later, it was clear to most that the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley had failed.

Students had demanded that school administrators allow political organizations, including civil rights groups, to table and solicit contributions on campus. (In 1964 only the campus Democratic and Republican clubs were allowed to do so.) There was a concession: the acting chancellor grudgingly opened the steps of a single building for open discussion and tables, but only during certain hours. By the fall of 1966, however, UC had a new right-wing president and California was led by a new right-wing governor, Ronald Reagan, who had promised to “clean up the mess in Berkeley.”

Now we understand that the FSM was a prequel to a beginning. The FSM morphed into a campus movement that inspired widespread social unrest of the 1960s that centered on opposition to the Vietnam War. Everything that followed–feminists burning bras, gays rioting after the bust at the Stonewall Inn, America’s withdrawal from Vietnam–had its roots in that “failed” movement.

Keep the “failed” Free Speech Movement in mind as you read and watch this week’s coverage of the anniversary of Occupy. One year after activists set up the first Occupy Wall Street encampments in New York and Washington, D.C., the Occupy movement is described as in “disarray.” Indeed, it’s hard to remember how big OWS was. Were there really more than a thousand Occupations? Did 59% of the American public support OWS when it was barely a month old? What happened?

“I think they’re idiots. They have no agenda,” Robert Nicholson, who works on Wall Street, tells The Los Angeles Times. “They have yet to come out with a policy statement.”

“The movement [grew] too large too quickly. Without leaders or specific demands, what started as a protest against income inequality turned into an amorphous protest against everything wrong with the world,” argues the AP.

I was at Freedom Plaza in D.C. and Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. I’m a member of my local Occupy chapter on Long Island, Occupy the East End. (Yes, we’re still around.) I agree with Mikell Kober of Brooklyn, who was protesting in front of a Bank of America branch. She told a reporter that OWS is “about creating a public space where people could gather and have a conversation about the things that need to change.”

Coming up with a list of demands isn’t the point. Thinking outside the D vs. R box is. Now people know that electoral politics is theater. Real politics is in the streets. For the first time since the Sixties, we know that.

The flaw in Occupy, the seed of its future destruction, was its basic original premise: occupying public space nonviolently.

Occupying nonviolently is an oxymoron. If you decide to be nonviolent, you leave peacefully when the police show up to evict you. Which is what happened last winter to the OWS encampments.  If you are determined to occupy–and remain in–public space, you must resort to violence in order to defend yourselves from police violence.

OWS ought to have decided whether it wanted to be nonviolent or whether it wanted to occupy public space. If it chose nonviolence, it could have engaged in acts of resistance–flash mobs, demonstrations, strikes–that did not require setting up and defending encampments.

Also, a political movement is defined more by what it is not than by what it is. OWS was a movement outside of the duopoly, yet many “Occupiers” worked with, and got co-opted by, Democratic Party front groups like MoveOn.org who stole OWS’ “We are the 99%” slogan.Though the physical presence of OWS is a mere shadow of its presence a year ago, the Occupy idea remains colossally important–largely because the two major parties still refuse to engage the biggest problem we face: America’s growing poverty. “I don’t think Occupy itself has an enormous future,” Dr. Mark Naison, a professor at Fordham University, told the Associated Press. “I think that movements energized by Occupy have an enormous future.”

Like the Free Speech movement nearly a half century ago, Occupy is the prequel to the beginning.

Of course, change doesn’t always mean progress and inspiration isn’t always positive. “Reagan’s political career owed a lot to the [FSM] people who used the [UC] campus as a radical base for political activity. It is an irony that helped elect him,” says Earl Cheit, executive vice chancellor at Berkeley from 1965 to 1969.

(Ted Rall‘s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com’s Lean Forward blog.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Our F— You System of Government

Anti-Occupy Crackdowns Highlight Lack of Services

Governments are supposed to fulfill the basic needs of their citizens. Ours doesn’t pretend to try.

Sick? Too bad.

Can’t find a job? Tough.

Broke? Can’t afford rent? We don’t give a crap.

Forget “e pluribus unum.” We need a more accurate motto.

We live under a f— you system.

Got a problem? The U.S. government has an all-purpose response to whatever ails you: f— you.

During the ’80s I drove a yellow taxi in New York. Then, as now, there were no public restrooms in the city. At 4 in the morning, with few restaurants or bars open, the coffee I drank to stay awake posed a significant challenge.

It was—it is—insane. People pee. People poop. As basic needs go, toilets are as basic as it gets. Yet the City of New York, with the biggest tax base of any municipality in the United States, didn’t provide any.

So I did what all taxi drivers did. What they still do. I found a side street and a spot between two parked cars. It went OK until a cop caught me peeing under the old elevated West Side Highway, which later collapsed due to lack of maintenance. Perhaps decades of taxi driver urine corroded the support beams.

“You can’t do that here,” said the policeman.

“Where am I supposed to go?” I asked him. “There’s aren’t any restrooms anywhere in town.”

“I know,” he replied before going to get his summons book from his cruiser.

The old “f— you.” We create the problem, then blame you for the results.

I ran away.

In recent days American mayors have been ordering heavily armed riot police to attack and rob peaceful members of encampments allied with Occupy Wall Street.

Like NYC, which won’t provide public restrooms but arrests public urinators, government officials and their media allies use their own refusal to provide basic public services to justify raids against Occupations.

In the middle of the night on November 15th NYPD goons stormed into Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan. They beat and pepper-sprayed members of Occupy Wall Street and destroyed the books in their library. Citing “unsanitary conditions,” New York’s billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, then told reporters: “I have become increasingly concerned…that the occupation was coming to pose a health and fire safety hazard to the protesters and to the surrounding community.”

Four days before the police attack The New York Times had quoted a city health department statement worrying about the possible spread of norovirus, vomiting, diarrhea and tuberculosis: “It should go without saying that lots of people sleeping outside in a park as we head toward winter is not an ideal situation for anyone’s health.”

So why don’t they give the homeless some of the thousands of abandoned apartment units in New York?

Anyway, according to the Times: “Damp laundry and cardboard signs, left in the rain, have provided fertile ground for mold. Some protesters urinate in bottles, or occasionally a water-cooler jug, to avoid the lines at [the few] public restrooms.”

Of course, there’s an obvious solution: provide adequate bathroom facilities—not just for Occupy but for all New Yorkers. But that’s off the table under New York’s f— you system of government.

Doctors noted a new phenomenon called “Zuccotti cough.” Symptoms are similar to those of “Ground Zero cough” suffered by 9/11 first responders.

Zuccotti is 450 feet away from Ground Zero.

Which brings to mind the fact that the collapse of the World Trade Center towers released 400 tons of asbestos into the air. It was never cleaned up properly. Could Occupiers be suffering the results of sleeping in a should-have-been-Superfund site for two months?

We’ll never know. As under Bush, Obama’s EPA still won’t conduct a 9/11 environmental impact study.

Sick? Wanna know why? F— you.

One of the authorities’ most ironic complaints about the Occupations is that they attract the mentally ill, drug users and habitually homeless.

To listen to the mayors of Portland, Denver and New York, you’d think the Occupiers beamed in bums and nutcases from outer space.

When mentally disabled people seek help from their government, they get the usual answer: f— you.

When people addicted to drugs—drugs imported into the U.S. under the watchful eyes of corrupt border enforcement officers—ask their government for help, they are turned away. F— you again.

When people who lost their homes because their government said “f— you” to them rather than help turn to the same government to look for safe shelter, again they are told: “f— you.”

And then, after days and years and decades of shirking their responsibility to provide us with such staples of human survival as places to urinate and defecate and sleep, and food, and medical care, our “f— you” government has the amazing audacity to blame us, victims of their negligence and corruption and violence, for messing things up.

Which is why we are finally, at long last, starting to say “f— you” to them.

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

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Occupier’s Choice: Violence or Failure

Don’t Know What They Want, But They Know How To Get It

Here’s how U.S. state-controlled media covered events at Occupy Oakland:

“A day of demonstrations in Oakland that began as a significant step toward expanding the political and economic influence of the Occupy Wall Street movement, ended with police in riot gear arresting dozens of protesters who had marched through downtown to break into a vacant building, shattering windows, spraying graffiti and setting fires along the way,” reported the AP.

Then they quoted an Occupy Oakland member: “‘We go from having a peaceful movement to now just chaos,’ said protester Monique Agnew, 40.”

The lede of this November 3rd AP story frames a larger narrative. “Political and economic influence” cannot be achieved through violence. Ms. Agnew’s quote is used to support that framing. The move from “peace” to “chaos” represents a setback for the Occupy movement.

Violence = tragedy.

Considering that recorded history does not include a single instance of a nonviolent movement effecting radical change, it is interesting that anyone would argue that violence is by definition a negative development. It is equally astonishing that anyone would believe it.

In a revolution, one set of elites gets supplanted by another. There has never been a nonviolent revolution.

Never.

Gandhi was nonviolent. But his allies did resort to violence on numerous occasions. And India wasn’t a revolution. It was an independence struggle. The rich remained rich; the poor stayed poor. Conversely, there has never been a revolution in which violence was the primary tactic. Even the bloodiest revolutions—France, Russia, China—relied more on national strikes, sabotage, marches and demonstrations than shooting people. Revolutions are mostly nonviolent. But violence must always part be of the revolutionist’s toolkit.

Movements move.

Sometimes against the will of many of its members, the nascent Occupy movement is being propelled forward into its second phase: increasingly direct confrontation with the security apparatus of the American police state. The consideration of violence as a tactic is the inevitable result of Occupy’s own internal logic, resulting from a combination of its timing—at a time when revolution is needed and desired by millions of Americans, it’s the only insurrection in town—and its leaderless structure.

Never in history have the wealthy or powerful voluntarily relinquished substantial amounts of money or power. The corporate elite and the political class that enables them—the “1%,” as Occupy calls them—will never give into the Occupier’s demands to reduce their power or wealth unless faced with violence or the credible threat thereof.

As Peter Gelderloos writes in his book How Nonviolence Protects the State: “Time and again, people struggling not for some token reform but for complete liberation—the reclamation of control over our own lives and the power to negotiate our own relationships with the people and the world around us—will find that nonviolence does not work, that we face a self-perpetuating power structure that is immune to appeals to conscience and strong enough to plow over the disobedient and uncooperative.”

If voting or writing letters to the editor worked, we wouldn’t need Occupations.

The Occupy movement can wind up in one of two ways:

Failure.

Or success, partly via the occasional use of violence and/or the credible threat of violence that results from those sporadic outbursts.

First let’s define terms. Vandalism, theft and destruction of property are not violence. Inanimate objects do not suffer. Violence can only be inflicted upon living beings. Breaking a window may or may not be morally justified, but it is never violence. Further, violent self-defense is not the same as violence. Until now the violence at the Occupations has all been initiated by the police. When policemen fire rubber bullets, bean bags, tear gas and pepper spray at unarmed, peaceful protesters, their victims have every right to defend themselves—to run away, to avoid arrest and yes, to strike back.

Every civilized society recognizes the right to self-defense.

Perhaps because they were retroactively spooked by the bombings, bank robberies and kidnappings that marked the disintegration of the Vietnam protest movement, throughout the last 40 years American leftists have adhered to a strict code of militant nonviolence. Abandoning the tactics of disruption and non-cooperation (both of which were central to Gandhi’s approach), demonstrators’ ridiculous cooperation with government authorities reduced progressivism to farce.

Marchers apply for permits on public streets. Organizers give the police pre-printed lists, last name first, of activists who volunteer to be arrested; they are quickly booked and released, rarely less than $100 poorer. It is theater, a mere pantomime of genuine protest.

And it never works. You need only look back at the political history of the United States between 1971 and 2011 to see what 100% nonviolence has accomplished. Even under Democratic presidents and Congressional majorities, the Left has lost one battle after another.

The Left’s only major victory during that period followed the 1999 Battle of Seattle. Riots and broken windows disrupted the World Trade Organization for years. Countless American jobs were saved as a result. Yet liberals were ashamed.

Violence! How terrible!

Not as terrible as the wars and the massive unemployment, apparently.

At the core of the cowardice of protests carried out by establishment liberals has been slavish adherence to nonviolence at all cost. At most protests over the past few decades self-appointed “peace police” patrol the edges of crowds penned into “free speech zones” (which are inevitably placed out of the way, far from cameras). The peace police don’t lift a finger to protect demonstrators against police brutality. Instead, they act to prevent protesters from doing anything to “provoke” the cops, even when they are trying to protect themselves from brutality.

What makes the Occupy movement different and so compelling is that it moves beyond going-through-the-motions toward real resistance against tyranny for the first time since the 1960s. Seizing territory without a permit and refusing to relinquish it, as has happened at Occupy Wall Street and hundreds of other cities, presents an inherent threat to the system. The authorities can’t win no matter what they do.

They can’t do nothing. Tolerance signals legitimacy, even tacit approval of OWS and their message that rich individuals and big corporations have too much wealth and control over us. Can’t have that. Rupert Murdoch’s house organ, the New York Post, ran a front-page editorial on November 3rd screaming: “Enough!”

But crackdowns make the movement grow even bigger. A video of a NYPD official pepper-spraying four women at OWS without provocation inflamed public opinion and drew more people to Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park. An announced plan to evict OWS was scrapped after hundreds of people traveled there to gird for battle.

Speaking for New York’s business community as well as Murdoch, the Post editorialized: “Time’s up. The Zuccotti Park vagabonds have had their say—and trashed lower Manhattan—for long enough. They need to go. Be it voluntarily—by packing their tents and heading off in an orderly fashion. Or by having the NYPD step in—and evict them.” They blame OWSers for urinating outside. Which merely reminds New Yorkers how unresponsive their government is: there are no public restrooms in Manhattan.

You can smell the fear along with the pee.

Meanwhile, as politicians feel more pressure to crack heads, Occupations will have to move indoors. Freezing temperatures have arrived in New York and much of the country. Tensions will rise. As clashes with the authorities intensify, the ridiculous fetish of nonviolence—a faith-based tactic with no more basis in historical fact or reality than creationism—will be forgotten and, one day soon, laughed at.

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

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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

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: 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