Tag Archive | occupy-wall-street

Why Occupy Failed

I got invited to speak at a conference in which i did not pay enough attention to the program. It turns out to be very new agey, and it might be too exotic/woo woo for me.  I did like the intro presentations about polarities though.

The best part so far - not either/or dualities but polarity dynamic tensions

The best part so far – not either/or dualities but polarity dynamic tensions

During one of the speeches a presenter said, “The reason that Occupy Wall Street failed is they rejected the idea of leadership.”  This struck me as wrong for two very different reasons.

The first is Occupy did not fall, it was pushed.  Dozens of police raids across the US displaced occupiers from their parks.  Remove the freedom to assemble and you eliminate free speech protests.

Oakland was the center of some of the worst police violence in the country

Oakland was the center of some of the worst police violence in the country

The second reason is that Occupy did not fail.  Oh, it did not succeed in getting banksters thrown in jail and it did not end income inequity in the US.  But it did change the conversation about these topics.  In New York itself, mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio vowed to tackle the “Tale of Two Cities” income disparity issue and won, in part, on this issue.  Similarly, one could argue Obama’s efforts to raise the minimum wage may well have been emboldened by this movement.

More importantly, Occupy gave birth to a whole collection of initiatives including Occupy Sandy, which outperformed both FEMA and the Red Cross after the superstorm hit the East Coast.  In many cities Occupy morphed into anti-evictions groups.  In Eugene, Occupy Medical still provides free medical services to populations that would otherwise have no access.  And these are just initiatives i know of because i work in these cities.

You should only hope that when you are dead, you have this much going on.

“The First Amendment is a little more important than Traffic”

You almost certainly heard about the Climate March last weekend in NYC.  It was a big colorful event.


And while this was important (because it was large – 400K participants, because it was diverse, because it was timely – just before the UN meeting on climate disruption – which did have some accomplishments of its own), it was not as important in my mind as the much smaller protest in NYC on the same issue the next day.

When is 3K > 400K ?  When you close Wall Street

When is 3K > 400K ? When you close Wall Street

Flood Wall Street tried to mimic some of the simplicity of Occupy Wall Street – wear blue and come prepared to stay.  And then a funny thing happened.  The NYC police did not come in and beat up and disperse these street blocking protests.  It could not have hurt that newly elected NYC mayor Bill De Blasio instructing the police to back off the protest.

NYC Mayor De Blasio, some US political hack and the Sec Gen of the UN

NYC Mayor De Blasio, some US political hack and the Sec Gen of the UN – Sept 21

When asked about his participation in the action which blocked the streets around the nations most critical financial district,. De Blasio somewhat amazingly said “I think the First Amendment is a little more important than traffic.”

If you know the NYPD, you know they hate unpermitted persons taking over the street.  They will generally quickly disperse and often attack any unpermitted march or action, if they can.

The police apparently were not excited by the mayor’s orders to not beat up the civil disobedience actions.  Perhaps change is possible.

Diversity of Tactics means Violence

The most vexing and important question for the next generation of Occupy is what do we think about violence as a part of protest.

There is a philosophical framing of this argument as the acceptance or rejection of the strategy of a diversity of tactics.    The unofficial spokes persons for the black block are the CrimethInc Kids who have a tight case for the activist right to violence

What is violence? Who gets to define it? Does it have a place in the pursuit of liberation? These age-old questions have returned to the fore during the Occupy movement. But this discussion never takes place on a level playing field; while some delegitimize violence, the language of legitimacy itself paves the way for the authorities to employ it.

can we explode our way into peacefulness?

The case against violence in the context of Occupy’s daughter movements is one of parasitism and culture.  The black block attends events in which the principal organizers have declared that the philosophy of the event is a non-violent one.  The event maybe family friendly, it might even be a permitted protest (something i would not recommend, but happens).  So hundreds or perhaps even thousands of people show up expecting to have a certain type of experience.  They come planning to express their political descent with a certain  personal risk.

The black block is often seeking confrontation with the police.  They are generally a small fraction of these larger events.  By fighting with the police, they are basically using the other protesters who signed on to a different set of agreements as there shields and foils.  Children might get tear gassed, grannies might get beat up by the cops, pacifists might end up in jail unexpectedly.

Can we disagree and still be friends?

Can we disagree and still be friends?

Of course if the black block wants to organize an action where the agenda of fighting with the police is explicate and is known to the participants, i have no problem with this.  i might not choose to attend, or might choose to support it in some indirect way (i’ve done plenty of fighting with the police, i am currently retired from this sport), but i would not feel like a larger group of non-violent protesters was being used.

The real problem with the black block at Occupy and other non-violent identified events is that they damage  the movement.  It is often a stretch for people to come out and protest, they are taking personal risks to do this type of activity.   Generally movements succeed by being persistent, by growing and by being clever in their tactics.  If a minority of protesters, violating the spirit of the events agreements causes other protesters not to return to future events, they are setting the cause backwards.

clowns and cops

who is fooling who?

Occupy Gezi

A week back, my amazing artist friend Amylin in Istanbul asked me to write about the Turkish protests in Gezi.  I have worked on this post off and on, struggling with it.   The problem is the unfortunate but unavoidable comparison between the inspirational revolution in Egypt which was focused on Tahrir Square, and the Turkish protest unfolding in Taksim Square which houses Gezi Park.  Central to this comparison was my belief that the Turkish protests were extremely unlikely to spark a revolution, because popular uprisings rarely disassemble democracies.

Leaders can certainly lose their jobs, but even this seemed unlikely with the relatively high approval ratings Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan was holding.  Yesterday, Erdogam issued his “final warning” that protesters had to leave the park within 24 hours.  There will be a fight in the next few hours, and in the short terms the police will likely win and the park will be cleared.  It is a relatively small space, the police have superior hardware, including tear gas and they have already demonstrated a capacity for violence that the protesters are unwilling to mimic.  The police will likely win today’s battle, but unlike a week ago, it seems like the protesters might just win the war.

ballet and tear gas

The first triumph of the protesters is that they were able to get their message out at all.  Turkey, like Italy, is a democracy which suffers from a near monopoly on its media.  [The Dogan conglomerate controls half the newspapers and three of the main national television stations].  The Turkish media is famous for blacking out stories and as one Turkish blogger wrote.

Mainstream [Turkish] media kept showing Miss Turkey and “the strangest cat of the world”.

Turkish TV stations which did cover the protests were fined by the government for “harming children”.  And while there were several clever break-outs from the media black out in Turkey, what is really noticeable to me is the international media coverage this protest has gained.    i organize and participate in lots of protests.  i watch the media attention on these events.  You can easily organize 10K people to march on the Pentagon and get absolutely no media echo at all.  So the amount of  international press and solidarity actions this occupation inspired is incredible [San Francisco, New York City, Oakland, Brussels just to name a few cities.]

Belgian solidarity protesters for Turkish occupation of Gezi Park

Belgian solidarity protesters for Turkish occupation of Gezi Park

Some of attention has been on the deep soccer rivalries that are being put aside in Turkey to focus on this demonstration.   The protest started to save the last park in Istanbul from being converted into a mall, but it has grown from there to encompass the large dissatisfaction of many (but likely not a majority) of Turks with the attack on secularism in that country.

The more i study the clever tactics of these protests, the more i appreciate them.  When pepper spray was fired at them, they threw bell peppers back at the police.  When the corrupt PM called them “riffraff”, thousands of protesters changed their last names on FB to Riffraff, embracing the title as an honorific.

i also appreciate that they are using the Occupy/Rainbow Gathering model for creating desirable spaces and handling all the needs of those attending.  As in Tahrir Square, protesters are cleaning up (often after the messes the police make) and making sure the space is as pleasant as it can be, given it is a low intensity war zone.  One Guardian article describes it well.

Inside the Gezi Park, the utopian feeling is multiplied. There are open buffets for people feeding themselves, yoga sessions in the morning and now, a library. Every morning, after the police withdrawal, protesters got the area squeaky clean. People have fun in their own way and nobody intervenes: Kurds dance their halays, Laz people do their horon dance, and a group with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk flags chant their slogans – All this happens within a few meters’ distance.

Just as the Occupy movement changed the political dialog in the US, even after they were evicted, Gezi Park is shaping the discussion about the future of Turkey and secular government in the middle east.  We can be thankful for the clever work of these protesters and look for ways to be in solidarity with them.

[The following is background information on the protests]

It started to save a park.

What started as an effort to preserve one of the last green spaces in Istanbul, blossomed into a nationwide protest of the increasingly repressive policies of PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development party (AKP).    Since it’s third re-election, by wide margins in 2011, AKP has been shifting the country to a more fundamentalist Muslim culture.  This has taken the form of significantly restricting access to alcohol, a near total ban on abortions, banning kissing in public and reversal of LGBT rights.  Spiritual complaints just begin the list of protesters critiques of the government, aid to Syrian rebels, the crack down on dissent within Turkey, the control of media and unchecked development of Istanbul are also sited as reasons for these mass protests.

Erdogan has already given up on the original shopping mall proposal for the park, which is a major victory for the protesters already.  “It’s the first time in Turkey’s democratic history that an unplanned, peaceful protest movement succeeded in changing the government’s approach and policy,” said Sinan Ulgen, the chairman of the Center for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies, a research group in Istanbul, according to the NY Times.  But an arrogant and defiant Erdogan has said there will still be a mosque development at Gezi Park in Taksim Square.

The US supplies tons of tear gas to Turkey

The US supplies tons of tear gas to Turkey

Despite retreating in face of tremendous popular support over the last weekend, the Turkish police have managed to injured over 1,000 people and kill two protesters.    Early protesters took the name and tactics of the Occupy movement and called themselves “Occupy Gezi”, which is the name of the threatened park.  Turkish police donning tactics used in Oakland on Occupy destroyed tents, beat protesters and let loose a hail of tear gas.

It is hard for US americans to appreciate the significance of this photo, rival teams rarely agree.

It is hard for US americans to appreciate the significance of this photo, rival teams rarely agree.


As in Tahrir and many Occupys, Gezi protesters clean their streets
As in Tahrir and many Occupys, Gezi protesters clean their streets

This is a video about how life is changing in Turkey

Climate Change Strategies

i love Beatrice, especially when we disagree.  She recently went to Larry Kramer’s Facebook Page and read the speech he gave that sparked the AIDS group ACT UP.

“Kramer said:** “If my speech tonight doesn’t scare the shit out of you, we’re in real trouble. If what you’re hearing doesn’t rouse you to anger, fury, rage, and action, gay men will have no future here on earth. How long does it take before you get angry and fight back?”**

And Beatrice asks “Where is our Larry Kramer? to fight to save our Biosphere, to take on big oil.”

She found Kramer’s anger and passion compelling and believes that climate change needs a similar enraged and dedicated hero.


ACT UP logo – and compelling political message

i am less convinced.  i certainly dont want to stop such a person from stepping forward, and i will get arrested and a non-violent climate change action faster than most people will (and already have).  But the issues are so different and the forces which need to shift are not at all the same.

In climate change we are fighting big oil, big coal and to a lesser extend nuclear.  These are rich, powerful entrenched interests which are willing to do lots of legal and illegal things to stop us.  With AIDS we were fighting a priorities battle.  Would medical resources be spent on dealing with this epidemic?  For the first many years the entrenched bureaucracy said “no”.  And Kramer gang was extremely effective in changing this, they were relentless, they got arrested repeatedly, they dogged political candidates and bureaucracies until they finally caved.

bush on climate change as junk science

Big oil wont cave.  They have extremely effectively used a similar type of disinformation campaign that the 1% have used to convince working class people that poor people are the problem.  Rush Limbaugh is pitching the idea that the heat index is a government conspiracy to convince us of the existence of climate change.  Climate change was not mentioned once in the presidential debates, this is the first time it was left out since it first showed up on the political scene in 1984.  But the very longevity of the issue works against the sense of immediacies that many of us activists feel about it.

This is part of the problem

This is part of the problem

In the long Facebook thread/debate on where is the Climate Change Kramer and do these tactics work there was the commonly heard call for the need for big actions.  People love to call for big actions. There issue is important, lets get a million people who agree in Washington to protest for it and that will change things.  Organizing big actions is extremely difficult and expensive.  I am not at all saying it should not be done, i am just saying it is not easy and we need to look at what it takes to make it work.  I wrote this about it:

Let’s talk about what it takes to create big actions, who has done it successfully in the last decade. We had big actions around the Bush II war in Iraq, which had an immediacy that i dont see a parallel to with climate change (which we have been talking about as a serious problem since before 1992 and the Rio Summit). We have had some big demonstrations for women’s reproductive rights – this again feels very immediate to many of the women and men involved. Perhaps the model is the pre-9/11 anti-globalization movement. Starting in Seattle in 1999 and the subsequent World Bank/IMF demonstrations and the Quebec City FTAA demo – we got tens to hundreds of thousands of people out for a very abstract issue, not very immediate at all. What made globalization protests work? Until they were destroyed by the “you are with the terrorists or you are with the US” rhetoric of the Bush administration post 9/11. For me this a more compelling organizing parallel than ACT UP which was incredibly immediate to a pretty small group of people.

Part of the argument in this thread was about does political change happen via “throwing the better party” or “harnessing peoples rage”.  And while the ACT UP folks definitely harnessed rage, it is clear from some of the reading i have done that the cohesion of the group was that the meetings has a better party aspect to them.

This is one of the most vexing issues of our time.  It is time to be brilliant about it.  What ar eyour thoughts?

And in this case, i am inclined to believe them

And in this case, i am inclined to believe them

An excellent link on how there is not science to support the denires.

Runnymede EcoVillage outside London

“We are not supposed to encourage people to go there.” The young security person told me when I asked for directions to the Runnymede EcoVillage. This made me feel like I was going to the right place.

It was well after dark that we were ultimately escorted by our host to the EcoVillage. Parts of it were immediately familiar. Like a cross between Occupy and the Rainbow Gathering, this DIY group of campers was roughing it in the brisk autumn night.

Blazing fire in large stove (version 2.0)  in common dome at Runnymede

The camp had been there for almost 4 months, and it had been evicted twice already, but none of the participants had any concerns about evictions. “They cant put a fence around it, the public lands are too large here, they are unwilling to come into the encampment and take our stuff out, so the evictions are nearly meaningless, we just return here after being thrown out and everything is the same.” said James who met several of the Runnymede EcoVillagers are a local Occupy encampment. And while Runnymede is not an Occupy camp per se, it can be added to the tremendous list of occupy influenced projects

Strawbale and other Runnymede structures

There are a couple dozen people at the camp, with many tents, teepees, yurts, domes and even a strawbale building on the site. Runnymede is different from a typical Occupy encampment, in that it is clear that these people are here to stay. The strawbale construction is quite large, the public dome has an impressive stove in it, which is apparently version 2.0, with the plans to tear this stove down and build a new one. Good sized solar panels charge batteries which are scattered around the camp mostly for light.

“What is an ‘intentional community’?” One of my hosts asks when I start talking about Twin Oaks. And when I describe the idea that the people in the community select each other someone quips “Then we are an unintentional community.” I did not bring up the question of how they throw people out how are bad fits for the camp. I imagine that the work is so hard to survive, departing is often part of residents thinking “how cold will it get?”, “will there be any food?”, “will they come and evict us again?”

But none of these discouraging questions seems to be on the mind of our hosts, who are friendly, talkative and generous. Eddy is making a break pudding for everyone for the evening. James is working on repairing version 2.0 of the mud oven, because they are not quite ready to build version 3.0. Vincent is working on the collective plumbing, having brought water from a natural spring. And while there is plenty of chatting, there is also lots of industrious behavior.

Fire bucket with holes in the bottom and tea kettle inside

i loved this device which i had not seen before.  It is a bucket, with holes int he bottom for air, you put the fire materials in the bucket.  Then you spin the bucket over your head to get the fire going.

Dumpster diving provides much of the free food that the EcoVillage consumes. And most of the participants are involved with it somehow. A loose consensus is the decision making model, mostly the old anarchist credo that those doing the work make the decisions.

Part of the dumpster provided dinner

Lisa shows up with her two kids. They have a tent in the village, but live in a boat nearby. By not being registered to vote, they avoid the Council Tax. The kids love the woods and run around while Lisa talks about the economic situation which has both her and her partner out of work for a while now. They come to the EcoVillage often, they are part of the social life and the informal meal plan.

Eddy has a compelling recruiting style. “Will you help me build that?” Eddy asks Diana who is traveling with me. She wants to build the teepee green house they have been discussing. “Sure.” Diana agrees, who could turn down an offer to help with such a project. And as Eddy talks about the myriad other projects at the EcoVillage, it is clear many have been asked to volunteer and a fair few have decided they had energy to give.

The lovely and talented Diana, who accompanied me and will help Eddy grow food

Runnymede is quite near where the Magna Carta was signed in 1215.  The contract which King John was forced to sign, giving rights to individuals some of which are greater than the kings whim.  The Runnymede folks are influenced by the Diggers movement of 1649, where another collection of embolded squatters took back unused land and started to grow food and DIY culture on it.

There is a skill share weekend workshop coming up. If you are in the greater London area you should think about going and supporting this worthy project. But dont ask the security people how to get there. They are not supposed to tell you

Revolutionary Experience > Cat Call Culture

I spoke with many revolutionaries in Egypt, and heard several fascinating tales. But the ones which haunt me I heard for Gihan. They were the tales of her experience in Tahrir square and afterward. Of the extraordinary temporary community which was created and how the act of revolution changed peoples lives. And very specifically hers.

Gihan in Tahrir Square - Dec 2012 (post revolution)

Gihan in Tahrir Square – Dec 2012 (post revolution)

She recalls when she was first in Tahrir Square she held up a sign so it was in front of her face, so she would not have to be seen. And with time she dropped the sign lower, chatted with the people passing by and the media, inviting them in – to be part of what was become more inevitably their revolution as well.

Gihan circa 2010

Gihan tells of her experience of cat calling [this is the verbal harassment many people – mostly women – get from men they dont know on the street. Frequently, but not exclusively about their appearance]. Before Tahrir Square she would just walk away from this type of harassment, feeling it was ubiquitous and hopeless to change.

After the revolution she found herself doing something else. When someone cat called her, she would turn and face them and ask “Were we together in Tahrir Square?” Millions of people from Cairo and other places participated in this popular revolution at least for part of it. Everyone she asks says “yes”

Tahrir square in it’s hayday

“What you just did hurt me and I know you would have never done that in Tahrir Square.” And then she turns to walk away – but every cat caller, asks her to stop and apologizes. And I think more importantly, they likely retire from this type of harassment.

The courage it takes to tear down a dictatorship not only changes the political landscape of the country, it empowers and emboldens the people who make it happen to take on other cultural injustices which surround them.