Sunday, November 20, 2011

Whose Rainbow? My Week of Occupying Everything

This was going to be my week off from Occupying, but it didn’t work out that way.

Photo courtesy Steve Rhoads via flickr
Late Sunday/early Monday I got the text message that Occupy Oakland was being evicted.  I rushed down there, even though I knew it would probably be hours before the raid, which it was.  So I went to work Monday with a scant two hours of sleep.  Tuesday night I rushed over to Cal after work to catch the end of their Day of Action, Robert Reich giving the Mario Savio Lecture to an assembled 5,000 or so people crammed into Sproul Plaza.  Wednesday I spent my lunch hour marching around the San Francisco Financial District with a spirited student-led demonstration demanding that California refund public education; Thursday at lunch I responded to an alert to go to a protest in support of Pancho Ramos Stierle, who was arrested at Occupy Oakland and turned over the Immigration; that one, as far as I could tell, did not happen, but at least the cops seemed as confused as I was.
Thursday night we heard that Occupy SF was expecting a raid, so I went over after work, decided I needed warmer clothes so went home, changed, ate dinner and drove back to the City, just in time to get the text saying they didn’t expect a raid after all.  Stayed an hour and left.

Yesterday, I marched around Oakland for hours with a few thousand others, marched right past my own house twice, fought the temptation to duck out and go curl up in front of the heater with my cat and a cup of tea.  Good rally at one of the five schools slated for closure at the end of this year, although a friend pointed out that a big majority of teachers and parent activists are women and all the ones who spoke were men.

Photo courtesy Bradley Stuart and Indybay
Then we marched back to 19th and Telegraph where we knocked down a hastily erected fence around the big empty lot and park and established a new, beautiful Occupy Oakland camp.  They set up the sound system and played dance music and chanted "Evict us and we multiply/Hella Hella Occupy."  It started to pour.  By the time I got home, I was so stiff I could barely move.  I changed into dry clothes, put dinner in the oven and curled up with a book about the Free Speech Movement.  People who are constantly criticizing the Occupy movement’s ultrademocratic process as producing a garbled message, should check out this book.  People like Cal Student Advisor Faye Lawson, who allegedly participated in FSM and was onKCBS radio saying, 
“Mario spoke with one voice, and he listened…. I think this movement needs direction. They need a speaker and they need to come together as a cohesive group with one voice and one mission…Then they can negotiate what they want on the table, what they want from us.”
Here’s a quote from FSM Steering Committee member Patti Iiyama, about the day that the students surrounded the police car on Sproul Plaza in 1964, when Savio and a few other “leaders” made an agreement with the administration to abandon the sit-in:
“Our first reaction was ‘My God! He had no right to make that agreement without coming back and taking a vote of everybody sitting around the car,’ because here we were willing to get our heads bashed in, and Mario and several other people had signed this agreement.”
And here’s FSM Executive Committee member, Andy Wells, talking about events a couple months later (this is in the chapter entitled “Internal Combustion”):

“We felt [the Steering Committee] were moving too fast without consulting the student body and there wasn’t enough communication between the Executive Committee and the Steering Committee.  We felt that though we agreed with a lot of the proposals, the Steering Committee was very skilled in parliamentary maneuverings and it seemed that an awful lot of railroading was going on.  … It seemed like a lot of secrecy was going on…Jack Weinberg and Mario and particularly Steve Weissman …defeated some proposals that we thought were pretty sound.”
This is not to say that the FSM was any more screwed up than many other groups, or that Occupy does everything right.  It’s not to dispute that “horizontal” groups are always more democratic than groups with clearly defined leadership, or that consensus can’t be manipulated just as much as Robert’s Rules of Order (which my friends who have experience in labor unions call Robot’s Rules) can.  In my considerable experience with groups that are “horizontal” or practice “pure democracy,” there’s always covert leadership, and a lot of times it’s self-appointed by those who have endless hours to spend in meetings, without the accountability that can come from elections, and with no ability to correct for things like the disproportionate influence of white men.  A friend who has been heavily involved in Occupy Oakland, and comes out to every march and camp defense, referred to the Oakland General Assembly as a “dudefest.”

My opinion is that every popular movement embodies both a real human drive for democracy and the limitations of most forms of democracy.  Except in very small groups where everyone knows each other very well and are completely on the same page politically, it can be painfully slow to make decisions by consensus.  If you try to short-cut it by using majority or supermajority vote, people end up feeling disempowered and if they end up on the wrong side of the vote more than a couple times, they are likely to walk away.  But people who can’t stick out the long process of reaching consensus are equally likely to walk away.

A lot of groups I’ve been in recently have adapted something I call faux-consensus, where decisions are officially made by “consensus” but we also have an agreement to keep meetings short, so everything that doesn’t reach consensus easily is either tabled or resolved in some technocratic way, like being turned over to a “working group” or relegated to a Parking Lot (a piece of butcher paper for things you’re not actually going to deal with in the meeting).  So that gives the impression of everyone’s concerns being addressed, but really it’s just a way of shoving aside what the organizers of the meeting, who made the agenda, didn’t think was important.  What is really going on is that the important decisions have been made before anyone walked into the meeting and the only real role for people who come to it is to take on a few discrete tasks that the organizers don’t feel they need to control and recruit others for the action.

Okay, that was a long digression into something that’s been on my mind a lot – this rabid obsession with trashing the leaderlessness of the Occupy movement (though one article I read recently called it “leaderfull” which I think is both accurate and lovely).  But back to the chronology of my break from Occupying:

At midnight, I put down the FSM book, having just gotten to the part where the negotiations with the administration fell apart and the students were setting up their illegal tables again on Sproul Plaza (hilarious to me, because those tables have been a fixture of the campus since I started school there in 1980, and the order of things has hardly come crashing down).  I watched a rerun of “Grey’s Anatomy.”  At 1:00 am I turned off the TV and was about to go to bed when I got a text message – “OccupySF call for support; come defend 101 market; cops in riot gear NOW staging a few blocks away.”  I grabbed my car keys, though I knew there was a good chance it would be over by the time I got there, which it more or less was.  The cops were blocking access to the Market Street encampment, and even though my work ID got me close, I couldn’t really see.  My friend David and I walked around with a couple heavy “Make the Banks Pay” banners, in hopes of injecting a little on-point messaging into an otherwise pretty unfocused scene.  I stayed about an hour, long enough to get wet and cold again.

I got home around 3:00 and went to sleep.  At 8:06, I got another text:  “Riot cops at Occupy Oakland  GET HERE NOW!!! 20 minute warning for raid.”  I dressed and drove the few blocks to the new camp.  It wasn’t raining so I didn’t take my rain jacket.  Nearly all the tents, art, equipment was gone from the space by the time I got there.  A line of riot cops was standing at the edge of the park, and every five minutes they would move about ten yards closer to the people who were frantically disassembling tents.  It started to rain again.  At the end, with the cops encroaching, I helped carry out the last two improvised tents.  We didn’t have time to take them apart, so one person took each pole as if it were a chupah, a Jewish wedding canopy.  As the cops pressed us the last few yards out of the park, supporters showed up with coffee and oatmeal for the campers, who drank and ate it in the street under a rainbow.

They chanted “Whose rainbow?  Our rainbow.”

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Is There a Disinformation Campaign Against #Occupy?

Two weeks ago, I predicted that the government was going to use some form of COINTELPRO (Counterintelligence Program) to destroy the Occupy/99% movement. At that time, I focused on the possibility of infiltration in order to create dissension within the groups. That is still very likely as the movement moves to its next phase, whatever that turns out to be now that controlled demolition has been employed around the country to remove encampments. But there is another form of COINTELPRO, which is even easier for the elites to launch, and that’s disinformation.

Here’s what Wikipedia says about disinformation:

Disinformation (a translation of the Russian word dezinformatsiya) is intentionally false or inaccurate information that is spread deliberately….Disinformation should not be confused with misinformation, information that is unintentionally false….A common disinformation tactic is to mix some truth and observation with false conclusions and lies, or to reveal part of the truth while presenting it as the whole….
UC and SF State Students join OccupySF at Bank of America
D. Boyer, Indybay
We are already seeing a pattern of this with regard to the Occupy encampments. While I cannot say for sure that it’s a nationally coordinated strategy, we know that the physical attacks on the camps were coordinated by Homeland Security, and there is a suspicious sameness in the allegations made to criminalize and marginalize the Occupy groups in cities across the country.

New York: “The park was becoming a place where people came not to protest but rather to break laws, and in some cases to harm others,” Mayor Bloomberg said in a nationally released statement.

University of California: “The University of California regents have canceled this week’s meeting in San Francisco, citing a ‘real danger of significant violence and vandalism.’ UC leaders said Monday that university police told them 'rogue elements intent on violence and confrontation with UC public safety officers were planning to attach themselves to peaceful demonstrations expected to occur at the meeting'....”

DC: “’The one-month-old Occupy D.C. movement has grown ‘increasingly confrontational and violent,’ the District’s police chief said…”

San Francisco: “Managers at the Ferry Building…blamed a rash of shoplifting, vandalism and muggings at the Embarcadero marketplace on Occupy campers they said had run amok.”

From Fox News: “A rash of reports of sexual assaults at Occupy Wall Street protests across the country has both police and activists raising red flags…The most serious incident was reported in downtown Portland last night – cops responded to calls of a Molotov cocktail being set off near the city’s World Trade Center…At the site of the Occupy San Diego camp, street cart vendors were forced to close up shop when protesters, angry that they stopped receiving free food, ransacked and vandalized the carts.”

In some cases, incidents near Occupy camps are immediately linked to the protests, where no evidence exists that there’s a connection. In Oakland, a man was tragically killed in a fight near the plaza where the camp was located. The police – who had been calling for the camp’s destruction since it went up – mentioned in an open letter begging the protesters to leave the Plaza that “This is the 101st homicide in the city this year,” implying that the month-old encampment was somehow responsible for eleven months’ worth of murders. At Cal Berkeley, a freak incident in which an allegedly armed student was shot and killed by police at the business school was immediately linked by the media and the college administration to Occupy-themed protests that were happening on campus that day. The local CBS radio station reported:

It was the first on-campus shooting since 1992. In that earlier incident, an Oakland police officer fatally shot a machete-wielding activist from nearby People’s Park who had broken into the former chancellor’s mansion….The shooting occurred as anti-Wall Street activists were preparing another attempt to establish an Occupy Cal camp after a failed effort last week led to dozens of arrests.”
By mentioning Wall Street, and using the word “activist” in both contexts, the story manages to imply that the shooting at the business school was an anti-business protest. In fact, unlike the woman who allegedly broke into the ex-chancellor’s house, who was involved in the movement to stop the college from turning People’s Park into a volleyball court by the college, no evidence has been offered that the student killed on Tuesday had any connection to Occupy Cal. He was taking classes at the business school.

Disinformation: “mixing truth with false conclusions and lies.” There is some truth in many of the accusations. There has in fact been sexual assault and sexual harassment at Occupy camps. There’s also been racial and anti-queer harassment. The camps have set up mechanisms to deal with these, some better than others, but that doesn’t differentiate them from pretty much any other place in the country where people live. If the police raided every work place where sexual harassment, up to and including assault, was taking place, it’s hard to believe there would be a public or private office left open.

The disinformation has been combined with a government tool that is even more common in our “democracy”: criminalizing dissent. Now in a lot of countries, governments simply outlaw protest, either entirely or in certain circumstances. Here, it’s generally more complicated than that. We have freedom to dissent, as long as our expressions of dissent have no possibility of influencing anyone. The people in charge say, “You don’t need to make trouble; you don’t need to sit in at lunch counters, you can picket, you can vote, you can write to your Congresspeople. If you don’t get what you want, obviously it’s because not enough people agreed with you.” When two-thirds of the people opposed the ongoing Iraq war, Cheney said he didn’t make policy by opinion polls. When at least 70% of the people (including 61% of millionaires) want to raise taxes on the 1% instead of cutting funding for schools and social services, government spokespeople say we should have protests in places that don’t create inconvenience. And if you insist on being where they don’t want you to be, you’re the problem – you’re a criminal.

It’s like in the old Malvina Reynolds song: “It isn’t nice to block the doorway, it isn’t nice to go to jail/There are nicer ways to do it, but the nice ways always fail.” She wrote that in 1964.

The media collude in this by only covering most protest if it’s a crime story. Two years ago, when asked why they continually ignored large demonstrations against the Iraq War, the Washington Post responded that they do not cover rallies. They were covering the Tea Party non-stop, but theoretically, they were not covering the Tea Party’s rallies, they were covering the threat they posed to political officials. Except that they covered the threat by interviewing its spokespeople at length. More than two weeks after Occupy Wall Street had set up in Zuccatti Park, the New York Times said they were not covering it because it wasn’t very big and had no famous people involved. This was after several thousand people had participated in marches and General Assemblies, and Michael Moore, Roseanne Barr and Eve Ensler had all visited the camp.

The only way for left-wing protests to get coverage, and it’s not a sure bet itself, is if there are arrests, which is why so many of our actions involve orchestrated civil disobedience. But then, much of the time the story is that we were arrested, so we’re obviously criminals.

While there was a brief moment when the media was having a little love-fest with the 99% Movement, it has mostly passed. Now actions of police and others against protesters are reported as evidence of our criminality, while standard civil disobedience tactics are branded “violent.”

One of the bases for DC police chief Cathy Lanier labeling the occupation “increasingly violent” was that at a demonstration on Friday night, “four protesters were hit by a vehicle….She described the group as peaceful last week but distributed videos Monday showing some protesters blocking the doors of the convention center and pounding on windows.”

On a march in San Francisco last Saturday, which I was involved in organizing, police attempted to force us onto the sidewalk by riding motorcycles into protesters, shoving us and grabbing at our banners. The march was calling attention to the military tribunals that Egyptian democracy activists are facing, now that the army, which helped to oust Mubarak, has consolidated its power. The only media story about it – which was picked up by pretty much every newspaper in the country and even by progressive radio station KPFA – was that police claimed their officers were attacked in two separate incidents, one involving an Xacto knife.

We are pretty sure these incidents didn’t happen (we have video, which doesn’t show them), but our police liaison did say that an officer in charge told him a cop might have been cut by a something attached to a banner. That’s possible, since the banner poles were wooden and the cops were grabbing at them, but it’s quite different from what they later reported, “a woman came from the crowd, slashed an officer's hand with a pen knife or razor blade, then disappeared before he realized he'd been cut.” In every previous Saturday march since OccupySF began, we have marched in the street and the police made no effort to stop us. But this week, they changed their tactics and suddenly we are criminals.

At UC Berkeley last Wednesday, when police badly beat students for trying to set up a tent – on their own campus, which they’re paying handsomely to attend, BTW, the police captain explained that “linking arms in a human chain when ordered to step aside is not a nonviolent protest.” The chancellor, Robert Birgeneau, famously repeated that claim in a statement which made it all the way to Stephen Colbert’s show. Obviously Birgeneau either has never seen pictures of Martin Luther King, Jr. linking arms with Dr. Ralph Bunche on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, or he assumes that all the guys we name holidays and streets after were violent criminals – which, of course, might not be so far from the truth.

So if Homeland Security, under Obama, is now coordinating a disinformation campaign to discredit the Occupy movement, after Nancy Pelosi and the president himself expressed support for its goals a few weeks ago, why? Of course I don’t know, but I do have a theory.

-- The Obama administration needs these protests to be over before the Day After Thanksgiving (I refuse to use the term “Black” Friday). Given the fragile state of the economy, nothing can be allowed to interfere with the almighty shopping season. Mayors and city officials too are afraid of the possible impact that unsightly and bad-smelling camps rife with homeless people and anti-capitalists might have on those all-important retail numbers. They had planned to be well done with this movement by now, having started the raids long ago, but the backlash over Shock and Awe in Oakland delayed them by several weeks. So now they need the camps to be gone, and they need help speeding it up. In San Francisco, for instance, Mayor Ed Lee was more or less forced to endorse the camp, which has the advantage, we were told, of not being in an “inconvenient” – read central – location, because his public works people were saying that it wasn’t a problem, that the campers were being very cooperative with them, and the local papers were actually saying that it was “bringing back a blighted park.” But that was a week ago, when he had barely squeaked out an election he was never supposed to be in. Now, it seems he’s being pressured by someone, or perhaps many people, to get with the program and he needs a justification to reverse course.

-- The Democrats are worried about their legislative agenda. They sort of liked the movement at first, because it gave them some leverage, and that actually seemed to pay off for them – they got a few things done in the last weeks. But now the debt super-committee is about to come back with its recommendations to slash and/or privatize Medicare and Social Security; the jobs bill is weak and going to get weaker; they are not going to deliver on any of their fine rhetoric about taxing the 1%, and they DO NOT want highly energized, mobilized crowds in every city ready to go marching through the streets. They may not dare to tell Homeland Security to go round up all the activists and put us in a stadium somewhere until future notice, but they’re going to do the next best thing – shove the protesters out of sight, and smear the hell out of any who won’t go quietly.

And in that effort, Disinformation is their friend.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Live Long and Prosper?

Around 3:00 pm yesterday, just when I was thoroughly sick of being at work, I got an email from a coworker entitled “PUMPKIN PIE.”  She had brought two pies from a bakery near her house and was offering to share with people she likes.  She’d even brought a can of whipped cream.  I ran up there.  Didn’t literally run, I took the elevator, maybe it would have been a good idea to pre-burn the calories by walking up the 24 stories, but the building doesn’t allow it and there was that little problem of having work to do.  But it sure helped get through the rest of the afternoon.

As I washed the pie down with cappuccino - our office recently got new machines that offer espresso, cappuccino (not bad, really), French Vanilla (fat free, whatever that means), Hot Chocolate, and various combos - I flashed on the most recent interview I’d heard with Michael Pollan, who nearly always seems to be on one talk show or another.  “If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, you’re not hungry,” he said.  (To which Stephen Colbert replied, “That’s quite an insult to the apple industry.”)
Now Pollan, who has actually done a lot of great work on the food industry, is not as bad as a lot of the people I incessantly hear on the radio.  People like John McDougall, creator of Livestrong and Jeanie Redick, founder of Eat forLife, who claim we are “meant” to eat only whole, unprocessed plant foods, are missing a fundamental point.

If I were not “meant” to eat pumpkin pie, it would not taste so good or make me so happy.
Moreover, the people who claim that humans are by nature hunter-gatherers (though they really mean gatherers, because they’re all vegans), and that eating dairy is a recent alien innovation, never met my ancestors.  Pollan suggests we follow “the wisdom of our grandparents” when it comes to food.  My grandmother did not invent the recipes for malai (corn bread with farmer cheese, butter and sour cream) or noodle kugel with cream cheese and sour cream, or milchiks, a type of pastry whose very name means “dairy.”  She learned them from her mother, who no doubt learned them from hers.

The basis for all these new-fangled theories about how we should not eat anything but unadulterated vegetables is that the only reason past generations were able to get away with ingesting inappropriate animal products was because they didn’t live long enough to experience the ill effects.  Now that we in the developed countries are not so subject to the ravages of typhoid, rampant tuberculosis, war or being eaten by bears, we are discovering how unhealthy our diet is.

Again, this seems counter-historical to me.  My grandmother lived to be ninety.  I wouldn’t say the last five or so years of her life were that happy, and she wasn’t necessarily in the best health, but more of that has to do with a fairly sedentary lifestyle once her kids were grown up, less awareness of the importance of taking steps to prevent things like osteoporosis, and probably also early experiences in Romania.  She had some heart issues late in life, but as far as I know, she never had a major illness until then.  For most of her life she was happy.  She had most of her kids and grandkids around her (she lived in Montreal, and I grew up 800 miles away in Richmond, Virginia, but she usually came to stay with us for the winters), and friends and other family members, and her cooking – with lots of butter and other dairy products, as well as meat – was one of the things that made her happy.

In fact, what population scientists predict is that our generation and those that follow will not live as long as those who preceded us.  Yet many more people now are vegetarians and vegans, lots of us are eating organics and getting our vegetables fresh from farmers’ markets rather than canned or frozen, which is what I mostly grew up on.  (Smoked fish might be a delicacy now, but it was invented as a means of preserving fish in countries where without it, people would starve during the winter.)  All evidence is that it’s the poisons in our environment, as well as in the foods that are mass-marketed, that pose such hazards to our health (and to be fair, Michael Pollan has helped to spread that awareness).  That is, it’s the social problems created by corporate capitalism, not our individual taste for unhealthy foods, that are toxic. So the wisdom of the nutrition experts setting up their Wellness Clubs at Whole Foods should be contemplated carefully.

But my big revelation in what I have dubbed my Pumpkin Pie Moment is that I don’t care if I live as long as I possibly can.  I hope I live another twenty years or more, I have a lot of things I want to do.  But living as long as possible just isn’t my top priority.  Being happy is.  Not that there is necessarily a contradiction.  A few months ago, I heard an interview with one of the researchers on The Longevity Project, a huge study begun in the [twenties] which followed a large cohort of Americans for their entire lives.  Now that they are all dead (including the original researcher, Lewis Terman), a team has compiled information on what factors seem to yield the longest, most satisfying lives.

The shocker that’s grabbed the headlines was that Happiness Doesn’t Help.  The people who were most “conscientious” or “responsible” lived longer than those who were carefree, thus ostensibly bursting the age-old assumption that stress and worry are bad for your health.  Okay, that’s interesting.  But the researcher I heard on the radio, Leslie Martin, used that information to advise parents not to worry if their kids are not making friends or having a good time, because they’ll be fine in the end.

Now I’m all for telling parents to stop measuring their kids against a one-size-fits-all playbook.  But the fact that anxious, friendless kids may in the long run live longer than their happy, well-adjusted peers is not a good argument.  Presumably, the parents of a seven-year-old are not deciding what is and is not a problem for her based on whether she’s going to live to be 84 or 88.

Now admittedly, when I read the study I found it more nuanced than it sounded in the interview.  They measured not just how long people lived but how satisfied they were with their lives.  And one of their points is that there was no behavior that determined who lived longest or had the most success, keeping in mind that all the participants in the study started out in fairly privileged circumstances.  One of my secret ahas:  no specific diet ended up yielding better results than any other in their study.  The NPR story about the study is entitled, “It’s Not All About the Broccoli.”  Alas, cruciferous vegetables, which I happen to love, according to this particular study at least, do not significantly prolong our lives.

I mentioned that to a coworker.  She said a friend of hers who recently died from breast cancer said, “If I’d known I was going to die now, I wouldn’t have eaten all that broccoli.”
Well I’m going to keep eating broccoli, but I’m also going to keep eating pumpkin pie and ice cream.  I’m also going to stop worrying so much about what other people think I should be doing, and if that doesn’t help me live longer, at least it’s going to make me happier.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

This Thanksgiving, Give Thanks for Occupy Wall Street

Five reasons to be grateful to those intrepid activists who trudged down to Wall Street with their tents on September 17:
1.  Labor is back.  Tuesday’s victory in Ohio, repealing the governor’s attack on public workers’ bargaining rights, has been hailed by union leadership as “one of the biggest victories in decades for a labor movement that has been on the defensive all year.”  The fact is that the victory itself was pretty modest, but it was a rebuff to Gov. John Kasich and his buddy Scott Walker and the other Tea Party governors who just six short months ago were poised to trample the labor movement into the ground.  When the outpouring in Wisconsin failed to stop the tide, the unions and their supporters seemed about ready to throw up their hands in defeat.  The OWS movement, for all its ostensible “fuzziness” and lack of “concrete demands,” showed that something could be done.  It’s like a cloud has lifted.  You go to demonstrations and see people you haven’t seen since the first day of the Iraq War, if then.  People are crawling out of their holes.  I believe if this continues, some day we might see actual organizing in the private sector – though perhaps I’m overestimating the legs this movement is gonna have.

Photo of Oakland General Strike, from Planet Save

2.  Protest is fashionable.  I remember the last time that was true.  It was in the eighties, the antinuclear days.  If you were a protester, people wanted to know you.  In 1983, I got invited to a wedding by people I hardly knew, because I had just gotten out of jail from the big Livermore Labs blockade.  I was their celebrity protester.  Media went around interviewing us about our (boring) lives for protester profile features.  Now it’s like that again.  The scruffy people I go off to meet on my lunch hour are not seen as a possible source of contagious diseases; rather, coworkers want to shake their hands so they can go home and tell their kids they met one of those Occupy people.
3.  It’s a great time to be a political blogger.  Enuf said.  My twitter following is still pathetic, but hits on my blog are climbing.  More to the point, there’s a lot of other stuff I want to read.  Though #Occupy or #OWS are still not trending on Twitter.
4.  People are debating nonviolence.  I might rather everyone agreed about the value of nonviolent struggle, but at least people are thinking deeply, from Time Magazine to the movement itself (check out the videos from Occupy LA).  A few great things I’ve read today:
in response to the police, it rests on being able to show that nonviolence works. Thanks to Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, whose work I already quoted last week, we now have information at our disposal that can make this case. … The basic finding is that of 323 violent and nonviolent movements they analyzed between 1900 and 2006, 53% of the nonviolent ones succeeded as compared to only 26% of the violent ones. What's even more telling is that when the movements were repressed, the nonviolent movements were 6 times more likely to succeed.”  (From Miki Kashtan’s blog and she gives the link to the full article.)
“Lack of agreements [about nonviolence] privileges the young over the old, the loud voices over the soft, the fast over the slow, the able-bodied over those with disabilities, the citizen over the immigrant, white folks over people of color, those who can do damage and flee the scene over those who are left to face the consequences.” (An Open Letter by Starhawk and other trainers)
“If there is any chance that nonviolence will be proclaimed as a strategy, especially in Oakland, especially
And by far the most ill-informed is this comment

 Non-violence doesn’t not work when your opponents are sadists.
Sorry, “indio007” but you are dead wrong about that (assuming "doesn't not work" was a typo).  It’s precisely when your opponents are sadists that nonviolence works best.  Ask the Freedom Riders.  Or more to the point, ask the people who spent five hours blockading Wells Fargo a few weeks ago while the cops ignored us.
I went to the Occupy Oakland forum on property damage last Thursday, brought on by the confrontations following the General Strike.  It was very interesting - 500+ people sitting in the cold and dark mostly respectfully listening to one another.  Most people (though not all) spoke for some form of nonviolence, some for tactical or strategic reasons, others to protect the camp and those in it who are vulnerable.  To me the most impressive was a guy who was part of the building occupation Wednesday night who critiqued his own group for setting a fire and building a barricade rather than locking arms and blockading with their bodies.  That indicated to me that (some) people are thinking deeply and learning from one another.
5.  Everyone’s learning to use twitter and text loops (well, almost everyone).  A die-hard friend of mine was convinced to get a cell phone because she didn’t want to risk missing the call to come defend Occupy Oakland in the middle of the night.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

General Strike! And Now What?

It wasn’t a general strike, but it was pretty great.

marching to the Port of Oakland last night
At least 10,000 people came out to protest in Oakland yesterday, bringing a host of issues, sectors and tactics to make the demands of the 99% visible. It reminded me of the Shutdown of San Francisco in the first days of the Second Iraq War in 2003. The police, still hanging their heads over their outrageous aggression of last week and either under orders from or to embarrass Mayor Jean Quan, or both, kept an extremely low – read almost nonexistent – profile, allowing the windows of numerous banks and Whole Foods (all within a few blocks of my house) to be shattered. Walking home last night after the picket at the docks reminded me of nothing more than the streets of Seattle after the first day of the WTO in 1999. With the helicopters whirring overhead (they still are as I write this), it looked and sounded like a war zone.

KRON, our local NBC affiliate, reported that 41% of people responding to their poll said they were “all for the general strike,” and another 31% said it was “fine as long as it stays peaceful.” That means that a whopping 72% basically approve of it; of the rest, 17% said it was stupid because it wouldn’t do any good, while only 7% actively disapproved.

It’s almost enough to convince you that the revolution is coming.

The big question is, what comes next? Of course, I might know the answer if I had the strength to go back to Oscar Grant Plaza for the ten o’clock convergence, but I just can’t do it. My guess, if past movements are any guide (which, as I have previous suggested, they might or might not be), is that there will be two factions on that question. One will say, “We got ten thousand people [except they’ll probably say they had twenty-five; the city called it 4,500, which is both ridiculously low and ridiculously precise] this time; let’s do it again next week and we’ll get fifty thousand.” The other will say, “This was great, but we can’t repeat it; we need to deepen our approach. We can’t just keep protesting, we have to figure out what we’re FOR.” There will be those who want to focus on building the new society in the camp, and those who think they should be doing outreach to the community, to draw in the sectors who were not out today – and in fact, though the numbers were impressive, from what I saw on television and in person, there were a lot of communities missing from today’s actions.

The 99% movement also needs to be thinking about what the government’s next move is going to be. I don’t want to make anyone paranoid, but I predict the era of COINTELPRO is upon us. Last week, it seemed like the government strategy was going to be a simple one: crush and dismantle the camps one by one. It’s just a hypothesis, but it seems pretty likely that Homeland Security has been handing out more than Darth Vader costumes and stun grenades. The impressive display of interdepartmental cooperation at Oakland last week – 17 different police departments! – supports that theory; otherwise, mightn’t San Francisco and Berkeley have said, “No, we can’t come help raid Oakland, we have our own occupations to worry about”? And readers of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine will recognize the “shock and awe” approach favored by their counterinsurgency experts: go in in the middle of the night with overwhelming force and create as much chaos as possible in the first three minutes. The theory is supposed to be that that stuns people into submission. In the case of Occupy Oakland, it clearly didn’t, and that apparently was the root of the problem. They just didn’t imagine that people would regroup that day and come back out that night.

That strategy had to be scrapped because now mayors of cities like Santa Rosa are saying, “We don’t want to risk what happened in Oakland.” That statement is absurd on its face; as my friend Buff said, it’s like saying, “I’m afraid I might bomb you.” But if the people saying it are not calling the shots, it makes more sense.

So now that shock and awe are out of favor, I suspect the DHS plan is first to hope that the bad weather back east kills off OWS and ripples through the offspring, and failing that, various forms of destabilization. And let me just say that from what I’ve seen of Oakland and San Francisco, it wouldn’t take a counterinsurgency genius to destabilize these movements.

First of all, they are trying to use consensus, and even though most of them are using modified consensus, it’s a cumbersome and challenging process for a thousand or ten thousand people who don’t know each other and don’t have that much political unity. As a possible harbinger of things to come, at the SF general assembly (GA) the other day, apparently a few people objected that they didn’t realize they had agreed to modified consensus, and insisted on going back to “pure” consensus – whereby one person can block a decision. While I hope it isn’t, that could be a dangerous tool in the hands of someone wanting to wreak havoc.

What I saw when I got to OGP last night

Second, at least in Oakland and San Francisco, and I imagine in just about every large urban area, there are basically two camps. There are the political people, largely white, young and well educated, and then there are the homeless. There’s crossover and there are people that are not either of the above – especially now in Oakland, you have the professional organizers and people from other movements who were motivated by the crackdown to get involved, but I have really noticed that if you go to the camps in the middle of the day, you get one impression and if you go to the GA, you get a totally different view of who is there. And this is something that was mentioned at the SF GA the other night, when the subject of drug and alcohol use in the camp was raised.

Third, even within the “political class” at the camps, there are a lot of different stripes. There are anarchists and socialists and reformists and people who are not into labels. There are people who think the cops are part of the 99%, people who think the cops are the army of the 1%, and people like me who think if the cops want to be part of the 99%, they need to act like it. Even among anarchists, there are those who favor strategic property damage and provoking not-so-strategic confrontations with the police, and people who adhere to strict nonviolence, and everything in between. In those situations, it’s not very hard to sow discord. (Right after I finished writing this, I got a text message that the police were attacking the camp. When I got there, I found that a small group of men was setting fires and taunting the police, who were responding – unnecessarily but predictably – by firing tear gas and sound bombs into the camp, and threatening to arrest a much larger group of people who were only sitting on the sidewalk.)

So, how can the 99% Movement protect itself against destabilization? It’s not going to be easy. There’s no magic bullet. The first step is being aware of the potential. The second is guarding against paranoia and suspicion. If we start accusing everyone we don’t know or don’t like of being an agent, the government won’t need to send in any actual agents.

Here are a few things to think about:
  • Is someone who has recently shown up trying to take too much control? Especially, are they trying to control money?
  • Does someone always seem to be urging people to do things that will escalate the risk of confrontation with authorities? Do they get impatient or angry when anyone questions the strategic purpose of their proposals?
  • Is there anyone who always seems to be at the center of strong and hostile disagreements at general assemblies or working group meetings?
  • Is there someone who uses sexuality in a manipulative or aggressive way? Someone whom women, people of color or queer people say is behaving in an abusive or harassing way?
  • Is there someone your gut tells you not to trust, even if you can’t explain why?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, what should you do? Once again, I want to stress I don’t know the answer. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a group where a member was later revealed to have been an agent or infiltrator. But if I suspected someone, this is what I would do:
  • Talk to others I know I can trust, and see if any of them feel the same way.
  • Try to get information about the person I mistrust that can be verified, and see if it checks out.
  • Confront sexism, racism, bad process, shady dealings involving money in a principled and forthright way. Don’t let people sweep them under the rug but don’t make accusations I can’t defend.
  • Keep an eye on the person or people I mistrust. Be open to realizing that I’m probably wrong about them.
  • Listen if someone tells me that someone harassed or abused them, and be an ally. Stand up against abusive behavior no matter who the perpetrator is.
  • Try to remain friendly and open to new people. Don’t get sucked into a culture of suspicion.
  • Trust my instincts, but don’t worship them.
Some excellent things to read about COINTELPRO and infiltration:

Agents of Repression:  The FBI’s Secret Wars Against the American Indian Movement and the Black Panther Party, by Ward Churchill and Jim Van der Wall.  The best history ever of the COINTELPRO of the seventies, must read for activists (but it will make you never want to leave your house).

"Why Misogynists Make Great Informants: How Gender Violence in Movements Enables State Violence", great article by Courtney Desiree Morris, initially published in the feminist journal make/shift.
"Informants, Infiltrators & Provocateurs", nice, pithy and practical.