Occupy Wall Street: one year later

On Sept. 17, the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement, some 180 were arrested in Lower Manhattan trying to, once again, occupy Wall Street. As usual, the famous street was cordoned off behind police barricades, with only ID-carrying employees allowed through, so most of the "occupations" were actually on the surrounding blocks. Even converging before dawn was insufficient to avoid this fate. With protesters scattered in clusters throughout the area it was difficult to judge numbers, but mainstream sources (WSJ, Reuters, Al Jazeera) put it at a probably low-balled 1,000. Reporter Colin Moynihan in the New York Times has a video feed from the scene which shows some of the predictable instances of police thuggery, including a rather futile effort to bar journalists from filming the man-handling of protesters. Other such images are online at Gothamist

By the time this blogger arrived by bicycle in the afternoon (having been up all night blogging, as usual), the old focal point of Zuccotti Park was packed with crunchy kids making a racket with their human microphone routine and drum circles as if they'd never left. But it was surrounded by metal police barricades, with access and egress permitted only through a few small choke-points watched over closely by cops and private security. The politics on display were generally pretty good, although still suffering from the vague populism that has always been a weak point of the movement. There was a refreshing absence of sectarian-left parasites, Ron Pauli zealots or simple wingnuts. 

Banners ranged from the astute (BIG BUSINESS: "YOU DIDN'T BUILD THAT!" THOUSANDS OF WORKERS + SLAVERY BUILT THAT) to the borderline jingoistic (THERE'S NOTHING AMERICAN ABOUT "CORPORATE AMERICA"; END CORPORATE GREED!—with the word "AMERICAN" in star-spangled red, white and blue, no less). One particularly creative prop depicted Bain Capital as a giant anime-style killer robot labelled "JOB DESTROYER"—certainly an image we like much better than the overdone vampire squid. Also falling into the stupid jingoism category was a decal with a portrait of ethnic cleanser George Washington and the phrase "I FATHERED A COUNTRY AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS LOUSY POLICE STATE." (Yuck yuck.) A most welcome sight was the pithy phrase chalked on a sidewalk: "AYN RAND WAS WRONG ABOUT EVERYTHING"—accompanied by an anarchist symbol, which is really good since anarchists have a special responsibility to call out the appropriation of the libertarian tradition by the free-market right. Although it must be said that Ayn Rand was right about secularism and reproductive freedom, which makes her more progressive than the Republican nimrods who today tout her otherwise barbaric ideology!

Another astute slogan was "A BETTER WORLD IS ALREADY HERE, IT JUST ISN'T EVENLY DISTRIBUTED"—which keeps the focus on the class struggle that should be what the Occupy movement is all about, and is also an answer to the Malthusian scarcity-mongers. The closest this blogger saw to the demoralizingly stupid pro-capitalist politics of the Paulistas who were omnipresent at Zuccotti last fall was the inevitable "END THE FED" banner.

Unfortunately, even after everything it has accomplished, Occupy still hedges on what should be the fundamental principle of anti-capitalism. The front page of the Occupy Wall Street website does prominently feature the slogan: "the only solution is World Revolution." But even the muddle-headed Paulistas cluelessly bandy about the word "revolution." We have happily noted the existence of an "Occupy Wall Street Class War Camp"—but it still seems to be a minority current.

The Occupy movement isn't going to truly rise to the historic opportunity represented by the current crisis of capitalism unless it gets over this squeamish hedging. Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times' "Dealbook" financial column noted the anniversary by declaring Occupy Wall Street "a Frenzy That Fizzled," and gloating: "It will be an asterisk in the history books, if it gets a mention at all."

Let's see if we can prove the fucker wrong, eh? But we aren't going to do that through fuzzy populism that shirks from inevitable realities. If the doctrinal orthodoxy of the boring old sectarian left is a trap to be avoided, so too is the anything-goes anti-intellectualism that continues to characterize Occupy. Let's have the discussion that needs to be had already.

moving to the center

thanks. i couldn't go this year. i expected it would be smaller and ignored by mainstream media as the frenzy that fizzled. left establishment is afraid of obama being associated with class war so close to the elections. left is genuinely afraid of what should be their fundamental principle. can you imagine the world in which democrat candidates would quote karl marx with the same ease and frequency as republicans quote ayn rand? balance to the force bring that would, as Yoda would say.


    For the most part you very clear thoughtful about what OWS was doing, what their mission should be and what OWS needs to avoid. Thanks for the clear thinking.You having studied music and revolution may be able to answer the one question I have about OWS is why the incessant drums circles?
   The issue of class is still a taboo word in the liberal left and even the radical left when workers and marginalized workers are only good when they illustrate the current party cause of the moment. If the said worker is just merely an unschooled oppressed laborer that doesn't fit the socialist realism model the laborer is of no use and is ridiculed. Many an erstwhile "lefty" will use their class privilege to avoid the working stiff who is down in their luck and clueless as to how to remedy their life. Treat your custodian well.
    Your quote "Another astute slogan was "A BETTER WORLD IS ALREADY HERE, IT JUST ISN'T EVENLY DISTRIBUTED"—which keeps the focus on the class struggle that should be what the Occupy movement is all about, and is also an answer to the Malthusian scarcity-mongers." contains great reporting and sloppy acounting. "Malthusian scarcity-mongers" is one, imprecise in who you are referring to and two, ignores the fact that there is a limit as to how many people can live sustainably on Earth. That number varies depending on the definition sustainable and varies from 1 billion to several billion. Most people who recognize the impact of human population on the environment agree that we are well beyond anything that could be considered sustainable.
    That said the quote A BETTER WORLD IS ALREADY HERE, IT JUST ISN'T EVENLY DISTRIBUTED" is the heart of almost every struggle in human historyand should be the focus of OWS.

Malthusian scarcity-mongers

If you follow the links for that phrase back, it will immediately become clear who I am referring to. Nobody is denying that the planet has a carrying capacity, but scarcity is not the cause of poverty and privation. Capitalism is. I don't see any "impact of human population on the environment" whatsoever. I have seen peasant communities living sustainably on their lands from Chiapas to Cajamarca to Catalonia to Calabria. And I see lands that could provide for people everywhere being plundered by timber and mineral and oil and real estate interests. Nothing will convince me that "scarcity" is in any way a problem as long as this wealth iniquity persists. Sorry.

Malthusian scarcity-mongers

I'm also anti-capitalist but have studied ecology, agroecology and agroforestry. Scarcity is currently primarily created by capitalism. "And I see lands that could provide for people everywhere being plundered by timber and mineral and oil and real estate interests." You wouldn't have destruction of landscapes and natural resources if the combination of capitalism, resource depletion and urban populations disconnect from the realities and limits of these natural systems. The oceans have become depleted fish because the over consumption, misuse of resources (chicken, pet food) and of course capitilism. Yes peasant /indigenous communites do thrive when disconnected from the larger market. 

  Your viewpoint "Nothing will convince me that "scarcity" is in any way a problem as long as this wealth iniquity persists. " is rather utopian and would urge you to be more open to the science. It seems as though you may have been swayed by the current belief that permaculture systems (PS) in temporate climates will provide an abundant future. PS while efficient and very practical in tropic areas tend to obscure the real problems of food production, crop failures  and resource use in the colder temperate zones. 

  Most projections of yields are based on good harvests not the mean or average harvests which are much lower. Here is an example of the problem. J. Russell Smith "Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture"-1929, 1953 was an economic geographer who popularized Tree Crops, an early version of agroforestry and Permaculture. Smith, whose works I have studied could get the crops yields incorrect because of his ignornce of biology and ecosytems. He noted that oaks could produce about 400 #'s per year in Spain. The tree was old, very large and open grown.You can't extrapolate that number on a per acre basis to to represent world production of acorns.  That number was based on one tree in one year. Oaks tend to bear a "heavy" crop once in 5 years.  

"open to the science"?

Spare me. You yourself point to "overconsumption" and the "larger market" to explain resource depletion. These are functions of capitalism, not human numbers. Barry Commoner is a scientist and he deftly demolished the Malthusian claptrap in The Closing Circle. Read that one?

   Years ago and Barry

   Years ago and Barry Commoner was wrong in the larger issues since he was unaware of sustainability as I recall. Please spare me your ideological blinders.  Refusing to face the facts and deny science really doesn't solve the problem of too many people extracting resources which we are rapidly running out of. 
   Just try to feed NYC when fossil fuels run out. Most cities are abyssmal for food production and are parasites on the land. How many of NYC people would be willing to work in the fields like the Chinese in years past? 
   Yes, capitalism exacerbates the problem as does civilization. I spoke with a sorghum pathologist/breeder in 84 and he said that there was no food shoratage in India. What? asked Lew. He said it was economic. The Soviet Union (OK a state capitalist country) destroyed the established agriculture systems. Resource depletion is a matter of numbers and poor technology which can ameliorate the problem but certainly never makes it go away.
    I'll look for worthwhile material for you to think about. May take some time to find it since I don't wharehouse information.
    Read Derrick Jensen. I do have trouble with wome of his premises/analogies about men who have battered women and children can never change. He's just playing the victim and building a causeon a false premise. 

...Commoner "unaware of sustainability"?

What are you talking about? You have yet to back up your accusations that I am denying science. I am doing no such thing. I never said New York City was a sustainable entity; I said the roots of privation are wealth iniquities and institutionalized waste (upon which capitalism is predicated), not "overpopulation" or "scarcity."

What I've read of Derrick Jensen doesn't impress me. I suggest you read Food First: Beyond the Myth of Scarcity by Lappé & Collins (yeah, another classic from the '70s, but with an analysis no less timely), Reproductive Rights and Wrongs: The Global Politics of Population Control by Betsy Hartmann, the brilliant introduction to Eduardo Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America (which exposes the fallacy of "poverty as a result of the children that the poor don't avoid having"), and, if I may toot my own horn, the chapter "Overpopulation as a Propaganda Device" in my own book War on the Land: Ecology and Politics in Central America.

And if you really wanna hit the classics, don't forget Marx's definitive critique of Malthus in the Grundrisse. Just as valid today as it was in 1858.

Happy reading.

Hail and Farewell, Barry Commoner

Days after we mentioned Barry Commoner and his righteous battle with the neo-Malthusians, he passed on at the age of 95—and his obit in the New York Times emphasized this very point:

Dr. Commoner's diagnoses and prescriptions sometimes put him at odds with other environmental leaders...

That was the context for the rift between Dr. Commoner and advocates of population control, who saw environmental degradation as a byproduct of overpopulation. They had become a force on the strength of Paul R. Ehrlich's huge best seller "The Population Bomb." Conservationist groups like the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation were strong supporters of Dr. Ehrlich's views.

Dr. Commoner took aim at the “neo-Malthusians,” as he called those who, like the English scholar Thomas Malthus, foresaw perils in population growth. In a panel discussion with Dr. Ehrlich in 1970, he said it was "a cop-out of the worst kind" to say that "none of our pollution problems can be solved without getting at population first."

He elaborated in his best-known book, "The Closing Circle," published the next year. Reducing population, Dr. Commoner wrote, was "equivalent to attempting to save a leaking ship by lightening the load and forcing passengers overboard."

"One is constrained to ask if there isn't something radically wrong with the ship."

[A]lthough Dr. Commoner had a record of achievement as a cellular biologist and founding director of the government-financed Center for the Biology of Natural Systems, he was seen primarily as the advocate for a politics that relatively few considered practicable or even desirable. Among other positions, he advocated forgiveness of all third world debt, which he said would decrease poverty and despair and thus act as a natural curb on population growth.