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.