|marching to the Port of Oakland last night|
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.
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?
- Try to get information about the person I mistrust that can be verified, and see if it checks out.