In Denver, Boston, Oakland, Kansas City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, elsewhere—each occupation has chosen struggle.

 

I. Josef Kaplan

 

It’s October 14th, I'm standing in Liberty Plaza with maybe 3,000 other people and a representative from the Direct Action working group asks who is willing to get arrested. Everyone's hands go up and I think, "man, why is there all this anxiety on the left about the protests cooperating too much with the police?" Obviously, nobody here is going to cooperate with the police. Even now, with the NYPD army bearing down, when it would be most convenient and tactically handy to be friends with the guy who's about to mace you, nobody is going to cooperate with the police. 

 

And I think, "that's because the active reality of the occupation is inherently antithetical to cooperation with the State." The core, internal logic of the protest is this: seize property, then communize it. As long as that core holds, I'm not sure you could ally with the police even if you wanted to. How do you co-opt a mandate whose basic, operative function is the revolutionary transformation of requisitioned property, especially in a city like New York, where property takes on an almost mythic, totalizing appeal?

 

And, if anything, the general affinity amongst these protests—protests which are, rhetorically, a heterogeneity of political ideals—is fierce and vigorous opposition to the police and to property.  The moments of most acute solidarity and public attention have come at the expense of this fantasy of police cooperation, and the fantasy that it did not matter whether the physical space of resistance (the space of the march, or the space of an occupation) held out against police violence.

 

When faced with the existential threat of forced dispersal, no occupation has said "oh, ok—game over, I guess." In Denver, Boston, Oakland, Kansas City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, elsewhere—each occupation has chosen struggle.  The revolutionary potential of this wave of occupations, more so than the understandable desire to see a unified, anti-capitalist rhetoric, is the decision to actively struggle when faced with the coercive and oppressive nature of State control. The codifying of demand into the genuine will to struggle makes rhetoric coherent—it clears the ground for debate on alternative systems because it assumes the conditions by which those systems must be won. Thus the active realization of OWS has so often outpaced the rhetoric surrounding it.  We’re so often arguing about what it should do when it’s already doing it.

 

We must read this debate on the role of police as not being about this current stage in the movement’s development, when the form of the occupations are literally occupations, and therefore centered around the struggle for the expropriation of State control by community actors. It is instead a debate about whether the movement itself can exist beyond this imperative to claim and radicalize property. The Kessler-esque calls for police sympathy are actually a more drastic charge than simply “wouldn’t it be great if the cops did not hit us”—they’re instead a kind of proxy argument for focusing the aspirations of the movement, a way of speaking, obliquely, about the mercurial “demands” so often called into question.

 

Specifically, these calls for police sympathy are a reaction to this basic fact: cooperation with the police would mean the dissolution of the occupations as such, and the shifting of attention towards the reformist ideals of a legislative and electoral agenda. The police, by virtue of their labor, can never, and will never, abide the communizing of State and private property. When people say the cops are part of the 99%, they’re essentially saying that cops vote. If you believe in a political reality outside the ballot box—a political reality in which communities are organized around a transparent attention to egalitarian ends—then you had better be ready to fight the police because they will fucking kill you for that. Any claim to the contrary is a claim for democratic reform and should be understood as such, and mocked appropriately.

 

 

II. Aaron Winslow

 

And yet, since the morning of October 14th, the Occupation has taken a turn. Maybe it’s the change in the weather, maybe it’s the movement’s 1-month anniversary, who knows, but things have changed down in Liberty Square as OWS has turned into something more lasting. The #Occupy movement has grown not just numerically, it’s also grown more complex, more complicated, and the focus has partly turned inward with the full-blown emergence of the struggle over how to create a sustainable movement, and what shape that movement will take. While the assertion of working class resistance is still the driving force of the movement, we can no longer take that as a given—more and more mainstream politicians are aligning themselves with the Occupiers, and drafts for a set of suspiciously Dem friendly ‘official’ demands have been circulating. Attempts at co-opting OWS have already begun, although that’s probably to be expected.

 

More immediately pressing for the Occupiers in Liberty Square is the inability of the drum circle to agree to a General Assembly-approved 2-hour a day limit on drumming, which has lost OWS the support of the surrounding community board, who now threaten to ask the city to remove the Occupiers. It’s pretty clearly another roundabout way for the authorities to clear the park, a tactical maneuver by the city to drive out the encampment by drawing on bureaucratic ordinances. But it’s also an issue that has truly divided the Occupiers. As of now, mediation between the OWS organizers and the drummers has been called off, which is the first major defeat for an otherwise well-functioning horizontal structure. It’s a failure which further illustrates the difficulties of sustaining a functioning community while under siege by the city, the police, the state, and shows how those in power can exploit the movement’s dependency on occupation and physical space, turning what was heretofore its greatest strength into its weakest link.

 

Fortunately, OWS has already demonstrated its ability to transcend spatial boundaries. The occupations in hundreds of cities worldwide are testament to the movement’s fluidity, and the fact that it’s a form of organization both highly portable and open to broad interpretation to suit the needs of individual communities. Indeed, many Occupations elsewhere in the City (Brooklyn, Bronx, the colleges and universities) don’t occupy anything, they simply hold regular General Assemblies. It’s here that the OWS emphasis on constructing a communal physical space segues easily, necessarily, into the construction of communal political space.

 

But, while political space is an important and vital component of OWS, it’s ultimately a metaphor, virtual at best. The question for OWS, as it moves forward, is how to leverage the necessity for a highly mobile political apparatus against the more inherently radical occupation of territory. We need to keep in mind that there literally is nothing more radical—and radicalizing--than liberated, communal space. It’s a chance for people from otherwise isolated communities to listen and talk to one another, to have political discussions, to break-down some of the isolation of highly-stratified NYC, and there’s nothing more threatening to those in power. Wherever the OWS movement goes—in NYC and beyond—the single most effective strategy is to keep bringing people out into the streets.

 

 

III. Erika Marquez

 

It is true that, while any power struggle is, initially, about overcoming the first line of state/capital repressive defense, OWS and its radical claims-in-the-making come preceded by an endemic, violent policing against the so-defined, “dangerous classes.” While less conspicuously engaging demands for communalized property, youth of color, undocumented immigrants, sexual workers, and others regularly subject to racial profiling and street control pose a challenge to any analysis of policing and radicalism. Some questions that such analysis should address involve, for instance, to what extent will OWS embrace the “dangerous classes” predicament in its critique of authoritarianism? In what terms will it appeal to those whose lives most pervasively bear the brunt of armed state repression? Will a critique of policing throughout the occupation address the daily repression broad social sectors endure?

 

The suggestion that OWS attempts to seize and collectivize property is one worth considering in responding to these questions. While some have problematized the use of the term “occupy” as a concept identifying the current movement (some have, in this vein, suggested terms like “decolonize,” “take back,” or, in allusion to gentrification and police/military occupation, “unoccupy” or “disoccupy”), it is also true that the park occupiers have commanded an effort to—via a partial but effective provision to the new residents’ basic subsistence needs (food, counseling, education, access to a library, movies)—offer a taste (with its limitations and great potentials) of what a collectively organized social (vital/political) space would be.

 

The Zucotti/Liberty Park occupation seems to be, indeed, a symbolic (and, sure, material) interpellation to the monopolistic, speculative real state/space control in the city. Yet, this temporary space seizure must give place, as it is occurring right now, to decentralizing the occupation. To barrio GAs, to school occupations, to one-night occupations, to occupying airwaves. I have seen, in Latin America, airwaves occupation of 8PM soap opera space. There continues being, of course, temporary occupation of roads, and occupation—sometimes called recuperation—of land. In Spain there were Okupas, too, squatting abandoned property. All of these occupations, of course, have been met with harsh repression at the same time that they gain precious visibility for the sake of their assembling potentials, and may be more importantly, to continue posing the terms for the ‘conversation’ they stage.

 

While all this occupation potential appears blurry in our present context, ongoing efforts to (de)liberate way beyond the park, face policing tactics familiar to those of their potential participants. Without the 3,000 arrestees to-be at Zucotti/Liberty, with no previous notice, with the sole and incredibly intimidating presence of two police officers at the entrance of a public assembly at a local parish in West Harlem, local organizers had a taste of what neighborhood policing will look like if they continue to occupy barrio by barrio. At this particular gathering, the police warnings to the local priest that the meeting participants were to, possibly, engage in criminal behavior throughout the assembly, made it visible once more the largely uncontested policing that occurs at many areas inhabited by people of color in New York. At the end, the police strictly monitored the ending time of the meeting and the attendees, after taking a great portion of the meeting to discuss these events, left at the first police call, ready to plan the next assembly. And the next.

 

Today I heard that people of color, reunited in an OWS caucus that represents them, have mobilized 15 outreach teams to the boroughs, conducted numerous teach-ins on racism, policing, inequality, and often facilitated bilingual communication. How will OWS police the police, who are surely restless now, without conceding one bit to ultimatums or postponement of these occupations in vital political space? The path forward will surely have to move beyond the cooperative/uncooperative framework.

 

 

[Editor's note: for related reading see a post on the n+1 blog and an article on the Los Angeles Review of Books page.]

 

 

 


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