This Occupation is Its Own Demand

Provoked by great comments on my last post from folks from other towns, I went poking around online at sites for different cities and came across this on the homepage of  Occupy Oakland:

To the Politicians and the 1%: This occupation is its own demand. Since we don’t need permission to claim what is already ours, we do not have a list of demands to give you. There is no specific thing you can do in order to make us “go away”. And the last thing we want is for you to preserve your power, to reinforce your role as the ruling classes in our society.

It may not be obvious to you, but the decisions you make daily, as well as this system you are a part of, these things are not working for us. Our goal is bring power back where it belongs, with the people, so we can fix what politicians and corporations have screwed up.

This is the most satisfying articulation I have heard yet on why the Occupy movement has no official demands. Just between you and me, I don’t think some of the occupiers are as clearheaded about this as the folks in Oakland, but I hope that they soon become so. I feel that this should be adopted as the definitive statement on demands to the 1% now and possibly forever and to the thousands of people who move in and out of the broader movement these occupations have spawned.

Reading this along with news of other occupations has created a lot of clarity for me.  Elsewhere I had lamented that the Occupy movement was becoming ‘a big sit-in without conditions for not sitting anymore.’ a concern that the Oakland statement neutralizes with its insistence on reclamation and permanence and its unwillingness to recognize the king through the act of petitioning him.

Along with this discovery, I am learning that some of the occupations — like Oakland and also Philly — seem very geared toward sustenance and respite for the most severely abused survivors of ruling class predation. According to Jacob Russell, an activist who is heavily involved in #OccupyPhilly,

We’ve been at this less than two weeks, and have managed to build a community, 300 + tents, feed 1500 peeps a day, including several hundred homeless.

This recalls things like the community efforts of the Black Panthers during the 60s and I hope this tendency is more widely adopted and continues to grow.  First of all, sustaining and creating community for struggling people is a good in its own right; second, I have a hunch that through communities like these, people who are in a position to give aid to others – legal aid, health services, food, technical support etc. – will be able to do so more directly and with fewer of the frustrations of working through established volunteer organizations, many of which reproduce all the dysfunction of a workplace and are, in some cases,  sick and corrupt themselves. Third, it’s hard to imagine anything more frightening to the 1% than a growing network of space-reclaiming occupations that continually repudiates and condemns their corrupt hegemony; fortifies and educates people for more resistance and which militantly fights back against state attempts at liquidation.

Now, I come at this as someone who still thinks that for practical purposes the problem of the king can’t be dismissed entirely and that certain policy matters have to be addressed urgently – wars, prison policy, wealth disparity etc.  Evolutionary change is too slow for some of the problems confronting us. I just don’t think that the Occupiers themselves should task themselves with this in any specific way. Their very presence creates leverage for policy change regardless of whether they make official endorsements.  In fact it it is very much not in the spirit of horizontal revolution to defer the matter of  how to engage with the king to them at all. People should stop doing it.

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16 Responses to This Occupation is Its Own Demand

  1. wjacobr says:

    Quick not to your last point–making statements or demands without nothing to back them up turns us into another ’cause.” we can emphasize the importance of certain issues over others, but first and foremost, we have to build on our revolutionary potential–which means digging deep international roots ASAP, so those roots will be there ready to spring up after they crush us–which I fully expect is likely to happen if we appear to be a real threat.

    No one GIVES us the right to assemble–it’s ours to seize and claim and defend for ourselves, as are all the human rights we’re making real in our community–inclusive of all those formerly marginalized–LBGTU, peeps with disabilities, minorities of all kinds… we have an Occupy the Hood working group. Without that, demands and manifestos don’t mean squat.
    Peace&Solidarity — back to work!
    -Jacob Spirit Stick

  2. i don’t mean this in a negative way. “power to the people” is too unspecific. what form does it take? how is it organized? devil in the details. there have been many power to the people movements in history. they haven’t always ended well. i have been to the wall street ga. i have followed the development of this movement since late august intently and closely. i really like the ga consensus model from what i see.

    • ohtarzie says:

      I don’t think the Occupiers are required to provide the details because the movement is not just the occupiers. I see them as the movement vanguard. It is appropriate for the movement vanguard to set the high standard: the power of the 1% is invalid, their institutions are fraudulent and the class war is on until this situation radically changes. It’s not the place of the Occupiers to dictate the details, nor would they be able to, but a lot follows from that statement.

      It’s a message that everyone needs to hear, not just the rulers. A lot of people suffer from a variation of Stockholm Syndrome. They feel lucky when authority treats them with respect and dignity. They blow kisses to cops who let them cross the street rather than pepper-spraying them. They hold their leaders to a lower standard of decency than they hold common criminals. In fact they don’t hold their leaders to any standard of decency at all. They worship people like Steve Jobs, who used sweatshop labor, hoarded 4 billion dollars up to his death and by all accounts was a horrible autocrat.

      The Oakland statement and, this movement, to me is in the same vein as Rosa Parks amazing, brilliant pivotal refusal to go to the back of the bus. Except the issue isn’t race this time, it’s class.

  3. Daniel says:

    There was a statement just like this that was supposed to come out of Liberty Park. Not sure what happened to it as I lost contact with the working group, but needless to say I think Occupy Oakland knocked the demands question out of the park. I hope we can get Occupy Wall Street behind it as I think it’s reflective of how most of the people I’m talking to feel about “demands.” Many are mildly resentful of AdBusters for contextualizing the movement in that way from the get go.

    • ohtarzie says:

      That’s good to know there are some like-minded people in New York. I have the say the people I have been meeting in Zucotti shy from demands but not for principled reasons like Oakland. They seem a little all over the place. A lot of them don’t even seem willing to reject the Democratic Party.

      • Daniel says:

        I’ve been there for weeks and that hasn’t been my takeaway at all. A lot of thoughtful informed people who are through waiting around for politicians to fix their problems. Honestly, I was a little baffled by your previous entry on Occupy Wall Street.

      • ohtarzie says:

        You certainly would have been welcome to speak up in reply that post. Folks from other cities did and they said my post didn’t correspond to their cities either. I must just be talking to the wrong people or something. I’m certainly happy to be wrong .

        I’d be curious if you would flesh out the details of your experience there. What is your background? What took you to OWS? How would you describe the demographics in terms of age, class and political orientation? What do people spend most of their time doing? Are all the same people attending General Assemblies? Are most of the GA attendees residents or visitors? Is there any de facto leadership emerging as sometimes happens in ostensibly non-hierarchical organizations?

      • Daniel says:

        Certainly, the only reason I didn’t speak up before is that it would have been essay length and I wanted to make my short point here first.

        So basically I was aware of OWS from Adbusters, but like a lot of people I find them to be more style than substance. Once I found out the way people there were organizing, I went down, got involved with a couple working groups, the Occupied Wall Street Journal, and of course the GA. I’m a white, male 20-something, unemployed and when I first got there the demographics probably skewed more in my direction, but that certainly isn’t true anymore. Political orientation is harder to lock down because unless I’m talking to an anarchist handing out literature, the socialist party, or the Ron Paul people, it’s a non-issue. People tend to want to talk about their own pet issue – End the Fed, Reinstate Glass-Steagall, Volcker Act, Corporate Personhood, none of which really fall along strict partisan lines. I think there is a (not too contentious) divide between the reformists and the revolutionaries, and I would put myself firmly in the ladder. But I wouldn’t reject the reforms people advocate because there’s obvious tangible good that will result from them. The GA attendees probably split between residents and visitors, but that’s a really rough guess. And of the visitors I’m always amazed and pleased by the amount of people showing up for the first time. Sometimes there’s a call for first-timers to raise their hands, other times you can just see the look of amazement on their face as they learn the process. Whatever else comes of this movement, tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people will be learning non-hierarchical organizing first hand and taking it back to their workplace and communities.

        As you rightly perceived, different people spend there time doing different things and getting different things out of Liberty Square: some are there for the drum circles (who are great for the marches, by the way), others for sign making and perimeter lining, and others tend to do working groups and process stuff. And I guess my biggest point of contention is with your characterization with the third camp. These people in my experience tend to be the least tied to Obama and the Democratic Party, and just top-down reformism in general. A lot are anarchists or just people deeply committed to the ideas of consensus and horizontal organizing. The people you might potentially see as de facto leaders emphatically reject that roll where they might be tempted,, at least for the time being. Some people from Brookfield approached some organizers to join the negotiating table and they immediately turned it down. They’re also very anxious to get new people involved in facilitation so it doesn’t tend to be the same faces up there.

        So yeah, like I said, essay length. Where do you part ways with me? Do you think getting deeper involved might give you a better perspective? I think in some ways you’re overly concerned with where these people were at 3 years ago, which is of little consequence to me as long as people are staying committed to the process and the underlying ideals of the movement.

  4. ohtarzie says:

    Daniel:

    Thanks for the insider perspective and I appreciate the length. I’m not sure anything you said completely contradicts what I said, though. Not saying this argumentatively. Just trying to paint a clear picture.

    You don’t go into a lot of detail about who is coming to the GAs except to say that a lot of them are non-occupants. It seemed that way to me, too; hence what I saw as a cultural shift. I never said everyone was white, but here in New York you can have very ethnically mixed crowds that consist mostly of middle and upper middle class people. On the night I was there, that’s the way it seemed. I think you’re right that it was a mistake for me to lump the people providing working group reports in with the facilitators and the most vocal crowd participants. They were definitely more of a mixed bag, but not in a way I found encouraging. I didn’t go into that in my original post because I thought it was too long and ambivalent as it was.

    In the GA I participated in, very few groups even made themselves available to report. One of the reporters told the GA to ‘kiss my ass’ for complaining about his slow reports. One members’ entire report consisted of urging us all to call our congressperson about a bill that was coming up. Someone else said his group was working on a Constitution that OWS would then ‘take to the government’ for ratification. The only group that seemed to have its shit together was media and I thought their $25,000 request was extravagant. I can’t imagine the Oakland or Philly Occupies spending money this way, but they probably don’t have it anyway.

    As to my being overly concerned with where people were 3 years ago. I think I was fair on the good points and bad points. People don’t just radicalize overnight, so even though the rough outline of their politics may change due to their own material conditions, some class residue still sticks. Hence you have people giving twitter blowjobs to cops who don’t assault them and still insisting on Obama’s hamstrung virtue. You particularly find this among people who are part of the movement but not camping out with it.

    Nevertheless, having gotten some clarity on where I think this movement should go, and the place the Manhattan group has in it, I am less concerned with problems I see there. The fact of the occupation and the way it is quickly normalizing resistance to ruling class authority is the most important thing. For the moment, anyway.

    • Daniel says:

      Sure, I think we probably agree more than we disagree, at least on the general value of OWS.

      Perhaps the GA you went to wasn’t most representative. Not to say they can’t be messy, contenuous, arduous, but y’know – that’s democracy. That’s where radical inclusivity gets you. But it’s also what made this movement as big as it is. Kitchen, Legal, Sanitation, Comfort, Direct Action, Internet, Library, and Free Libre Open Source are some of the working groups I would say (along with Media) have their shit together. And Finance is getting there. I haven’t found the divide between those actually sleeping there and those (like me) merely coming everyday to be that meaningful – except on certain narrow issues where the group needs to be reminded how this uniquely impacts the people sleeping (usually noise complaint stuff). And I’m always happy to address their needs in particular, as are most.

      My point is that we don’t need to “radicalize” all these people, as you said that doesn’t happen overnight. But so long as people there are identifying many of the things that are fucked up in our society (and I think most of them do), if you can offer them a type of societal organization that addresses and stop guards these problems, they could conceivable get on board without necessarily sharing the underlying ideology. I mean historically, that’s how revolutions tend to go. A minority of revolutionaries push while the masses, largely devoted to the status quo, go along with what seems possible. In fact, that’s exactly what’s happened in Liberty Square on a small scale. Most of the people there aren’t anarchists, but every single person there is practicing anarchism.

      • ohtarzie says:

        Yeah, I think we agree on most things. Things are happening so quickly and along with it the way I interpret things. When I first wrote my post, I was more fearful of co-opting than I am now. I still think that this movement could actually help Obama – the whole FDR ‘Make Me Do It’ nonsense that dipshits like Amy Goodman and Michael Moore are pimping – but that’s less problematic because the movement itself won’t be absorbed and neutralized the way the antiwar movement was.

        Very grateful for your contribution here and for your daily dedication to the movement as whole.

        Hope you’ll keep dropping by.

      • Daniel says:

        Yeah I’ve commented here before, I’m sure I’ll comment again. You’re in my roll call of blogs. By the way, I just remember the Occupied Wall Street Journal did put out a “no demands” statement in the second issue. Didn’t come out of the GA, but the sentiment is there to be found.

  5. ohtarzie: if you are interested, I have just posted about my encounters with Occupy Sacramento
    http://amleft.blogspot.com/2011_10_01_archive.html#1298744062371186293
    and, oh, by the way, keep up the good work

  6. Pingback: Roundup of Unusual Size: Transmedia Chess « Dire Critic

  7. about that discussion over at Lenin’s Tomb: thought you might be interested to know, if you don’t already, that the British Socialist Workers Party, of which Seymour is a member, had no problem aligning itself with Muslim fundamentalists and business people as part of the electoral RESPECT coalition several years ago

    I guess some of the people commenting there believe that we have pretty short memories

  8. ohtarzie says:

    “I guess some of the people commenting there believe that we have pretty short memories”

    Well, considering what I was beating the drum about over there, I can’t fault them for those alliances out of hand, except to say that it makes them hypocrites. But then they are already damned by their misplaced faith in the ‘social democrat’ elements in the Democratic Party.

    I was struck by what fundamentally undemocratic people they seem to be: they like majority rule because it makes it easier to hijack a broad-based movement for their own ends. Then there was Seymour’s disgustingly cynical idea to shock labor out of its Democratic Party allegiance by way of a quixotic call of Jobs for All.

    I have thought more about politics and allegiances more in this past month than at any other time in my life and have concluded that I am emphatically agnostic. I belong to no sect or tribe.

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