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Repression Breeds Resistance

From: http://www.counterpunch.org

The Coming War on the Occupy Movement

by GEORGE CICCARIELLO-MAHER

As I begin to write this, Occupy Oakland circulates in a by-now familiar pattern: forced from the camp at the break of day, the occupiers reconvened as they have done before on the steps of the Public Library. Later, they will attempt to close a repeating circuit that stretches a short six blocks along 14th Street between City Hall and the Library.

This circuit, moreover, is one which draws its familiarity not only from recent weeks, but also from the early moments of what is a single cycle of struggle spanning years: it was down 14th Street that Oakland Police pursued us during the first rebellion, on January 7th of 2009, that greeted the murder of Oscar Grant. And it was in front of the same Public Library that I crouched behind a bush as an armored personnel carrier sped past, only to sprint off as heavily-clad militarized police-troops dismounted to chase myself and others on foot.

It has become all too apparent that the Occupy Movement is under attack, and that even my title is wholly insufficient: this war is not “coming,” this war has already begun.

Breaching the Limits of Tolerance

Writing from the perspective of a previous cycle of struggle, the radical Frankfurt School theorist Herbert Marcuse described the phenomenon of “repressive tolerance,” in which an ostensibly liberating concept and practice becomes distorted to suit the powerful and legitimate the status quo. According to the political theorist Wendy Brown, the discourse of tolerance serves to mark the powerful as normal while discrediting the “unruly” as somehow “deviant,” and thereby “legitimates the most illiberal actions of the state.” In other words, the repression that comes is not a distinct and corrupted form of tolerance, as for Marcuse, but instead embedded within the idea itself.

This lesson is of paramount importance to the Occupy Movement, but so is its opposite: even the most repressive of tolerance has its limits in the push-and-pull of forces vying for control, and Marcuse’s arguable pessimism on this point must be countered with the optimism of transgressing those limits.

This war began as most do, in the realm of hegemonic struggle where small shifts signal coming offensives. But walking the fine line of counterintelligence and counterinsurgency, the forces conspiring against the Occupy Movement have been anything but subtle. In a crude and thinly-veiled information war, lies are tossed about like the seeds they are, and the media duly parrots line put forth by police and city alike. This “chatter” (to turn the language of the counterinsurgents against them) begins to spread surreptitiously: that Occupy is unsanitary, now dangerously so, now downright violent.

By the time San Francisco Chronicle was citing “anonymous police sources” about the conditions of the camp (bearing in mind that the police were not even allowed into the camp), it was clear to many that a raid was imminent. For the second raid this morning, the warning was even clearer: another anonymous leak to the Chronicle, and a leaked email to parents at a local school about an “overwhelming use of force.”

The script is strikingly similar across the map, from Oakland to Portland, Atlanta to Philly: a Democratic mayor plays nice, claiming to represent “the 99%” and to support the Occupation’s crusade against big business. But at some point, as the chatter increases, the occupation goes badly wrong, becoming unacceptable and violent, unrecognizable to the Middle America for which it claims to speak. A murder, a suicide, a rape, and an overdose suddenly brim with political opportunity. With the stage set, all that remains is for the guardians of good order to step in to defend the common good.

The Students Step into the Fray

The Bay Area Occupy Movement received an unexpected shot in the arm last Wednesday when students protesting the creeping increase in fees in the UC system pitched a small number of tents on the grassy area in front of Sproul Hall. If Oakland Mayor Jean Quan drastically miscalculated when she unleashed the police in late October, the response by UCPD to this seemingly minor disturbance strays into the realm of the Epic Fail. Deploying overwhelming force, UCPD could be seen on video beating and spearing students with their batons, punching some in the face, and even dragging English Professor Celeste Langan down by her hair. Langan would later write about her experience, and another English Professor, Geoffrey O’Brien, was also injured by police on the day.

Such repressive tactics and blatant disconnect between the second-rate cops of the UCPD and the student body are nothing new. Amid the student upsurge of 2009, the UCPD came under heavy scrutiny for its handling of a wave of building occupations, and at least one lawsuit from a friend of mine whose fingers had been purposely broken by a sadistic officer outside the Wheeler Hall occupation. At the height of the repressive wave, I myself was one of many featured on the UCPD website in an openly McCarthyite attempt to foster a snitch culture on campus (website visitors were encouraged to send tips that would aid in identifying the dangerous student organizers). The website was eventually removed through legal action.

But repression breeds resistance, as we well know. As I write this, the November 15th system-wide student strike is but a few hours away, and the mass participation of students in the Occupy struggle promises, if they can successfully link with their counterparts to the south, to offer a much needed injection of energy and numbers.

The Indestructible Oakland Commune

The days following the Oakland General Strike and port shutdown were dominated by a debate that never should have been. Rather than crowing about an unprecedented and unexpected chain of victories, in which Occupiers forced the city to back down and re-took Oscar Grant Plaza only to then embark on a massive if not truly General Strike, which saw up to 25,000 people swarm and shut down the Port of Oakland, some within the metaphorical Occupy camp naively took the bait offered by the city and the police, and amplified by the media. The press talking points went something like this: an otherwise powerful day was sullied by the actions of a small few who broke windows at a bank and assailed the Whole Foods in my old neighborhood.

While this iteration of the “nonviolence” debate was won on many fronts by those promoting nuance and diversity of tactics, this was nevertheless a powerful foothold for those seeking to oust the Occupation once again. Within a matter of days the chatter had increased once again, City Council was almost unanimously urging its removal, and the formerly remorseful Jean Quan, fresh from a visit to Scott Olson’s bedside, was once again urging the Occupiers to vacate. Councilwoman Desley Brooks, whose opportunism apparently knows no bounds, went from sleeping at the occupation (or at least publicly emerging from a tent) to condemning the occupiers in a matter of mere weeks. (Such stage-managed populism is something of a forte: Brooks had previously unleashing her goons on myself and others for apparently undermining her carefully crafted image of sympathy with the people.)

As City Council turned against the Occupiers, and as the City Administrator threatened to go around the Mayor to approve a raid, Quan was apparently disconnected and feigned impotence: as a leaked email from her husband put it, “she does not set policy for the city… council does.” The very same Mayor who had approved the devastatingly brutal raid a week prior finally signed on to allow the same police, under the same police chief, with the same participating agencies, to move in and clear the camp.

This was too much for some within the Quan administration to handle. At 2am, Quan’s chief legal advisor Dan Siegel resigned via a twitter message. Siegel, who I am proud to count as a friend and a comrade, and whose civil rights law firm has tirelessly defended protestors in the past, has been for years fighting the struggle within the Quan administration against all odds. He has chosen to take a principled stand at exactly the right moment.

As Occupiers massed at the Public Library, only to march once again up 14th Street to again seize Oscar Grant Plaza with no resistance from police, the same Plaza the Mayor had just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to clear, it is clear that she has been defeated once again, and decisively so. One wonders what could possibly be next for Quan.

Occupy Philly’s “Wrong Turn”

On the opposite coast, the same script plays out. After initially expressing support for Occupy Philly, and evidently fooling many Occupiers in the process, Mayor Nutter was re-elected by a wide margin last Tuesday, freeing his hand for a radical change in course. The previous week, the Radical Caucus of Occupy Philly had brought forth a proposal to the General Assembly which simply stated that the Occupy camp would not voluntarily leave in preparation for a scheduled construction project in Dilworth Plaza, and would resist eviction. The proposal seemed to shock many who had been lulled into the false sense of security that liberal tolerance provides, but after extending discussion of a modified proposal for an entire week, a four-hour General Assembly decided almost unanimously (150 to 3) to remain in Dilworth Plaza and make preparations for nonviolent civil disobedience in the event of a raid.

Nutter’s first move came in a Sunday press conference, in which he announced his intentions to the world in so many words. “Occupy Philly has changed,” he insisted, and so to must the city’s relation with it change. Conditions had deteriorated, fire codes had been violated, and communication, according to the Mayor, had been unilaterally severed. The shadowy force behind this subtle and unwelcome change, according to Nutter, was the Radical Caucus, a frightening group that had taken over and is “bent on civil disobedience” (I only wonder why he didn’t follow suit with other cities in referring to “violence”). If the central pretext for eviction in other cities has been murder, suicide, and overdoses, in Philly it is rape: Nutter highlighted a sexual assault at the camp as an indication of just how far the movement had fallen.

If the repetition of this same strategy, discredit then evict, across the country were not enough to doubt the Mayor’s words, Occupy Philly itself was quick to respond. At a counter-press conference yesterday, speaker after speaker dismantled Nutter’s claim, piece by piece. The most shocking revelation came from the Women’s Caucus, which was quick to highlight the opportunism and hypocrisy of focusing in on the sexual assault as a pretext to attack the Occupation. As a representative of the Women’s Caucus told the press, “We asked police for help with the eviction of a sexual predator. The police said, ‘It’s not our problem. Get your men to handle it.’”

If anything, the Mayor’s slander has strengthened the resolve of those who will defend the camp from eviction, and here’s to hoping it will open the eyes of some who have claimed that the Mayor was on the side of the Occupation from day one. (The so-called “Reasonable Solutions Committee,” which had spearheaded efforts to hand the Plaza back to the city, appears to be beyond all limits of reason. Its members are now both circulating a petition to repeal the GA’s decision to remain, deemed a “Petition for the Logical” with characteristic condescension, while simultaneously betraying the Occupation as a whole by unilaterally applying for alternative permits from the city).

The Politics of War

From the messy dialectic of the spreading Occupy Movement emerge some expected developments. Solidarity develops among the occupiers, who draw strength from the successes and rage from the repression of their comrades, learning crucial and radicalizing lessons from both. Police and city administrators similarly close ranks (sometimes together, sometimes against one another) gripped with the fear that their power is splintering, that the movements have become ungovernable, that they are slipping the yoke and refusing the straitjacket. A climate of mutual polarization, radicalization, and warfare sets in.

But other unexpected dynamics surface as well, some of which play into the hands of the Occupiers. As Occupations spread from Oakland to Berkeley, the sheer number of available police becomes a question, as individual forces rely on mutual aid programs for costly, large-scale eviction efforts. Word emerges that Oakland’s efforts to remove the camp were sped-up due to the constraints imposed by the impending student strike tomorrow. Here the fallout from the brutality of the first Oakland eviction blows back on the police forces themselves: citing the excessive force in Oakland, Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to block mutual aid assistance between the Berkeley PD and UCPD.

And even those more than willing to participate in brutality have begun to demand more booty and protection: in the run-up to the second Oakland eviction this morning, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department demanded not only $1,000 per officer per day, and the City of Alameda also demanded increased legal protection in the case of a repeat of the brutality that left Iraq veteran Scott Olson critically injured at the hands of an ACSD officer. This increasing legal scrutiny, financial strain, and sheer numerical limitations bode well for the future of Bay Area occupations and those across the nation.

I use the language of war consciously, not out of some desire for violent conclusion but out of a recognition that violence is already there. As our Egyptian comrades made clear in a statement in solidarity with Oakland, “It is not our desire to participate in violence, but it is even less our desire to lose.” Despite the asymmetrical nature of the war that confronts us, the implements are the same: few can deny the shocking militarization of police departments in recent years, or that this heavy weaponry has been all but openly deployed against the Occupiers. If Clausewitz famously argued that war is politics by other means, a formulation which Foucault slyly reversed, the practical reality of the Occupy Movement is that the two are much more difficult to disentangle from one another. Every word from the mouth of these Democratic Mayors, every leak whispered from a cop to a reporter is a rubber bullet in potentia.

I use the language of war because we will not back down, and because as a result, the war will be brought to us.

But more importantly, I speak of war because this is not a one-sided affair, and we should not allow our opponents to strip us of our status as equals simply because we do not respond in kind. Our power is nothing to scoff at, although it circulates in a manner largely distinct from that which we oppose. Just two nights ago, Occupy Portland swelled into the thousands to defend Chapman and Lownsdale squares, facing down riot police, forcing their retreat, and winning the night in the most absolute of terms. Last night, the plaza was cleared and campers removed, but traces of such a stunning initial victory remain in the confidence and compromise of the occupiers as they regroup and go once more into the breach.

And as I finish, I receive late word from Oakland that the occupiers have re-taken Oscar Grant Plaza without more than a symbolic police presence, and even later word of a massive crackdown of Zucotti Park in Lower Manhattan. Another skirmish lost, another battle won, but the long war stretches out before us like an interminable horizon.

George Ciccariello-Maher is an exiled Oaklander who lives in Philadelphia and teaches political theory at Drexel University. He can be reached at gjcm(at)drexel.edu.

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Letter of solidarity from Mexico

From: http://radiozapatista.org/?p=4577

Spanish version: http://ocuparytraducir.wordpress.com/2011/11/17/carta-de-solidaridad-con-ocupa-oakland-desde-mexico/


Comrades,

A few days ago, we sent our this letter inviting comrades in Mexico to join our campaign in solidarity with the Occupy Oakland movement, in California, USA. On November 20, the Oakland Commune celebrated its one-month birthday, and in the past few weeks this movement has emerged as an important site of autonomous resistance and organization, in a city emblematic with a strong legacy of militancy and anticapitalist activism. After the first attempt by the police to evict the camp on October 25, thousands took to the streets marching in protest and the police responded with brutal repression, using “chemical weapons” against the protesters. On October 26, following a second march, at the General Assembly of Occupy Oakland 3000 people approved a call for a General Strike on November 2. The Oakland General Strike on November 2 (the first in the city since 1946) was an overwhelming success, blockading the Port of Oakland, with more than 50,000 people participating. Since then, the Occupy Oakland movement continues to resist, alongside related movements throughout the world, and we are very concerned by the possibility of anothet eviction attempt and more repression in the coming days. For these reasons, we feel it is extremely important to send this message of solidarity to our comrades on the Other Side of the border, to show our support.

Saludos rebeldes,

jóvenes en resistencia alternativa

—————————————–

November 13, 2011

To the Peoples of the World

To the Occupy Movement

To the Oakland Commune

To Our Sisters and Brothers in Struggle on the Other Side of the Border

We don’t need to remind you of the deep connections between Wall Street, Gringo Capitalism and our Mexican misery. From Imperialist wars to the initial experiments in agrobiotechnology, Mexico has been the principal landscape for offensives by northern capital. We have participated and continue to, in the uprising of the Zapatistas against the neoliberal attack of NAFTA. The uprising which set the spark for the movement against neoliberalism. We met each other at the summits of Seattle, Prague, Genoa, Miami and Cancun. We met each other through a great global conversation.

It’s been a long time since we fought together in the movement against neoliberalism and the world has changed since those times. Today the narco war is devastating our society. As two sides of the same coin, on one side we have the narco and on the other the militarization of the country. These two faces are crushing us from both sides. Although it seems like they fight, they are both at the service of capital and in the modern world local capital is connected in a strong fashion to global capital. In the last few months we have learned these connections between Wall Street and narco money. According to one analysis, narco money was the liquid capital necessary to rescue the banking sector from the initial hits of the financial crisis in 2008 [1]. Further, the huge quantity of drug profits needs a laundromat just as large. Although we don’t have a detailed balance, we know that Wall Street facilitates this laundering. For example according to the US justice department, one bank, Wachovia, laundered $378 billion narco dollars from Mexico between only 2004 and 2007. This bank fell and ironically was acquired by Wells Fargo, the same bank which still has the salaries of our fathers and grandfathers who worked in the bracero program. The same bank which funds detention centers for immigrants where our brothers and sisters die only trying to provide for their families.

But in Mexico there isn’t only the cultivation of misery. Here we drew one of the first lines of struggle against global capitalism in our laboratory of resistance. With humility in front of you, our comrades, we would like to tell of our experience. Encampments and occupations are common in Mexico and comrades joke about the lack of space to put up more encampments. But this isn’t by chance and was won through struggle. One recent example: in 2006, in the state of Oaxaca, the local teachers union setup an encampment in the center of Oaxaca City during their annual collective bargaining. One morning, on the 14th of june, the state police tried to take down the camp of the teachers and the city rose up, they not only retook the plaza but kicked the police out of the city. The Commune of Oaxaca was born on this day and the following 6 months transformed Oaxaca and the participants in the uprising. Like you, they also had problems of repression and representation. Against the repression they put up thousands of barricades each night to protect the population from the murderous paramilitaries of Governor Ulises Ruiz, who they struggled to kick out. Against the lying representation of the media, they took over their television and radio studios, collectivized the resources and began to have conversations that had never been had by those means.

We are following closely everything that is happening in Oakland. The police kill youth like Oscar Grant [2] and gravely injure anti-war veterans such as Scott Olsen [3]. The media lies about the popular participation in the movement and they propagate superficial divisions. The self-defense and sefl-representation of our movements are essential to our collective struggle. We invite you to learn from our experiences and we hope to learn from yours. Together and in concert we are toppling this miserable system.

In our stories you will see your story.

We Walk by Asking, We Reclaim by Occupying.

From Mexico with total support for Occupy Oakland.

SIGNED:

jóvenes en resistencia alternativa

Universidad de la Tierra en Oaxaca, A.C.

Colectivo Radio Zapatista

Regeneración Radio

Colectivo Cordyceps

Colectivo Noticias de la Rebelion

Amig@s de Mumia de Mexico

Furia de las Calles

El Centro Cultural La Piramide

Marea Creciente México (Capítulo de la Red Internacional por Justícia Climática Rising Tide)

Gustavo Esteva, Oaxaca, México

Bocafloja, DF, México

Patricia Westendarp, Querétaro, México

Alejandro Reyes Arias, Chiapas, México

José Rabasa, México

Cristian Guerrero, México

——————-

[1] http://www.saboteamos.info/2011/05/26/imperialismo-banqueros-guerra-de-la-droga-y-genocidio-en-mexico/

[2] http://www.kaosenlared.net/noticia/policia-mata-sangre-fria-joven-negro-desarmado

[3] http://pueblossinfronteras.wordpress.com/2011/10/28/veterano-de-guerra-de-irak-herido-por-policias-de-oakland-california/

Against the Dogmatic Fetishization of Non-Violence

From: occupyphillymedia.org

 by edaverynatale 

Note: Nothing contained within here is meant to spur anyone to commit acts of violence.  While I am a defender of violence and threats thereof as a tactic, I do not necessarily believe that our movement is in a place to begin committing these acts (though I think we should stand in solidarity with those who choose to do so, such as some in Oakland and elsewhere).  It seems to me that, at this stage, it might be most important to build linkages with others outside of our movement, and if violence alienates those individuals, then perhaps it is a tactic best not used in the name of Occupy at this point in time (though I think we should leave that open to debate rather than assuming from the outset that violence is an illegitimate tactic).  Instead, this article is meant to challenge the notion that violence is never acceptable and that only non-violent means serve legitimate purposes in a movement.  I also do not intend this article to fetishize violence—I believe that both tactics have merit, and that both have a time and place.

Note 2: The first few paragraphs of this article involve some “theory” before moving on to pragmatics.  I hope you’ll work through it! 

Tonight, Occupy Philly will be holding a candlelight vigil for non-violence.  The Facebook page for this even reads, “We invite our allies and friends to join us in expressing our earnest desire for continued nonviolence and an ongoing, peaceful dialogue with the City of Philadelphia.”  It is unclear to me what use this language serves in light of recent events.  While a candlelight vigil against the physical assaults on our comrades in New York, Oakland and elsewhere makes sense, the simple fact of the matter is that the vast majority of violence that has been committed at Occupy protests nationally has been committed not by Occupiers, but by authorities such as the police, in apparent collusion with the federal government.  So why is the candlelight vigil directed primarily at us?  What use does it serve?

It seems to me that throughout the Occupies nationally, there has been a dogmatic Fetishization of non-violence; there has practically emerged a religious cult of the non-violent who are hijacking any other messages and denouncing the “sinners” of “a diversity of tactics” (seen above: are those who might consider using violence not your friends and allies?  Are they not the 1%?  Are we not the proletariat?).  When I use the term “fetishization,” I mean it in its’ philosophical rather than sexual articulation (though it would be a mistake to construct these as wholly separate conceptual categories).  When something, such as an object or other man-made construct, is fetishized it is endowed with supernatural powers and is believed to have an inherent value unto itself and independent of any other existential reality of the object.  In the work of Karl Marx, the idea of fetishes in relation to commodity fetishism is used to describe something that people obsess over or concentrate on that prevents them from seeing the truth of the object or system in place.  To move Marx’s analysis away from economics, we could say that the symbolic value of something is transformed into an inherent and objective value that the object has unto itself, which the fetishizer may treat as an axiom of the object.

In short, it is my opinion that we have seen such a value attributed to the concept of non-violence.   Non-violence as a tactic has been treated by many in the Occupies as the starting point of dialogue rather than something to be debated.  Non-violence is treated with a value inherent to itself that does not require dialogue, debate, or dialectical reasoning—in short, it is treated as if its value is axiomatic. When violent acts occur, even if those acts are of violence against something as arbitrary and unethical as private property—which is only itself every created and protected by the violence of the state, the capitalists, and alienated labor—those who have broken windows or some other such thing are immediately denounced (I would say that they are thrown under the bus, but I suspect that many on the side of pacifism would reject the violent metaphor).  Often these individuals are assumed to be anarchists—and perhaps they are—but so what?  There are both violent and non-violent anarchists.  Must you homogenize and represent the group for us?  And is our Occupation solidarity so weak that it breaks as easily as the glass on a storefront window the minute the religion of non-violence is confronted with an act that might be interpreted as violent?  Are the pacifists so certain that their method is not only best, but that it actually works, that the very possibility of some other form of action need be removed from the table, necessarily?

The simple fact of the matter is that radical social change has never taken place without either violence or at least the threat thereof.  Even the saints of the church of non-violence would often have not been successful if violence had not at least been on the table: Martin Luther King Jr. was successful in part because groups such as the Black Panthers, armed and ready, scared the white establishment so much that King’s non-violent methods seemed more acceptable.  Gandhi’s movement in India was in part successful because of the horrors of World War II, which bankrupted England.  In addition, there were violent activists in India at this time too, who are not often heard from in history texts.

However, if the dogmatic fetishization of non-violence is going to be enforced by the Occupying Powers That Be, then I encourage the following: either at tonight’s candlelight vigil, or at a future General Assembly, denounce the following, even if retrospectively: The Boston Tea Party, The American Revolution, The French Revolution, Native Americans fighting against colonization, slave uprisings against their masters and the racist American government, non-pacifist uprisings of poor people against the bourgeois ruling elite in America and the rest of the world, race riots in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, sabotage on behalf of workers in the 1930s or slaves in the American south, the events of May 1968, the Spanish Civil War, the acts of the Zapatistas in Mexico, the acts of the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement (AIM), the Arab Spring, the Greek insurrectionists, the Weathermen, John Brown, Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman, Malcolm X… the list, of course, goes on… in short, denounce many of our radical forebrothers and foresisters who gave their freedom, blood and lives for a cause greater than themselves, who recognized that at times violence was a necessary tool.  History teaches us repeatedly that the state will use violence, and that the state is only ever—EVER—threatened when violence is at least a possibility on behalf of the people.

Non-violence is one tool among many, and it is a legitimate tool with man wonderful and beautiful uses, and I encourage everyone to participate in non-violent acts, and I respect individuals who for personal or religious reasons will never be able to bring themselves to engage in acts of violence.  But to engage in the dogmatic fetishization of non-violence, to become an adherent to the church of non-violence, will only work to separate us.  Historically, the state has worked hard to separate movements.  We see examples of this at least as early as 1636 when the state of Virginia passed laws granting advantages to the White indentured servants while placing all Black servants in permanent slavery.  The state of Virginia was scared because a united working class was rising up and using acts of sabotage and violence against them.  We see many such examples of historical splitting of movements, of ways of keeping us looking at each other rather than at the “1%” who are entirely willing to use violence against us as well as against our brothers and sisters in Iraq, Afghanistan and anywhere else that the neo-liberal power structure is challenged.

We in Philadelphia have so far been left alone, more or less, by the police.  This will inevitably not last.  However, our brothers and sisters around the country and the world have not been so lucky, and they have been fighting back.  Who are any of we to judge what they need to do to continue this movement?

When they kick out your front door, how you gonna come?  With your hands on your head or on the trigger of your gun?  ~The Clash~

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