FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

451 at Zuccotti Park

by PETER LINEBAUGH

The cowardly, nocturnal destruction of more than 5,000 volumes of “the People’s Library” last week, a repository of knowledge gathered by the Occupy Wall Street assembly at Zuccotti Park requires the most vigorous push-back.   Mayor Bloomberg of New York ordered the destruction which was certainly coordinated with Wall Street and the White House.

Let the number 451 become his license plate; let it become his Social Security Number; let it become the password to his billions; let it become his total ID, for now the world knows him as the one who realized the dystopia of book-burning described in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953) known to every American high school student.

Or, one might liken the destruction at Zuccotti Park to the burning of the books in Germany in 1933.  The German burning inspired a comrade of 1968 to place at the site of the Nazi’s hideous deed a plaque with Heinrich Heine’s words, written in 1821,

… wo man Bücher verbrennt,
Verbrennt man
Auch am Ende Menschen.

which roughly means, ‘where man starts by burning books he ends up by burning people.’  There is, of course, a difference between 1933 and 2011.  The distance between the gasses of the holocausts and the burning of pepper spray is substantial but it is a distance upon a similar chemical continuum and it shares the same fear of ideas. Though the plutocrats are still leagued with the war-mongers they are no longer organized as national and social capital; capitalism now is globalized they constantly tell us, not national and not social. However, we the 99%  too are world-wide and becoming more and more social.

The books at Zuccotti Park were hauled away in dumpsters belonging to the sanitation department. The pretext of the destruction was “cleaning” the park which, the Mayor said, was filled with “filth”.  This is the rhetoric of Mein Kampf.  But no one is deceived.  These acts are deliberate attempts to destroy the ideas and the many “yesses” of the movement against neo-liberalism, and our utter negation of the blasphemous notion that rule by the 1% with its wars, debts, and work is inevitable and eternal.

The trashing of the books is a sign of our times as surely as the deliberate destruction of the antiquities and national library of Baghdad.  In the case of Mesopotamia the books held the knowledge of the first cities of human history; in the case of Zuccotti Park the knowledge was surely of the next cities of human history.  Well, not only cities.  Obviously the country and the seas and the stratosphere are planetary sites of filth and destruction in need of repair. Even the Biblical jubilee of debt forgiveness, manumission, and land restoration entails a time of fallow, to give the earth a rest.

Nowadays the 1% expect all the respect, as if money conferred it, while we, the 99%, are degraded and devalued.  Our wealth is not filthy lucre.  Our wealth consists of ideas, it consists of our books, it consists of our prefigurments in our relations with one another.  Our wealth consists of our assemblies where the “people’s microphone” returns to the Greek etymology of the assembly, the ecclesia, which meant to “call out.”

Within a few hours the call went out again and people re-gathered to re-constitute the movement to occupy Wall Street. Among the signs was one which surely is a call-out, “Arrest one of us; two more appear. You can’t arrest an idea!” Ideas are not “absolutely dead things,” as Milton said (Areopagitica 1644), “they are as lively, as vigorously productive as those fabulous dragon’s teeth, and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men.”  He was writing in the midst of civil war; we may say that we are armed with books and with ideas.  Our occupations, up and down and everywhere, embody them.   You have only to witness the soft-spoken eloquence and the powerful composure of the librarians of the OWS Library at their press conference of the day before yesterday to understand this ecclesia.

This – the relation between words and deeds –  is the essential point. The Occupation of Wall Street tended towards a unity of action and talk, because the action of occupation created the assembly where speaking out and speaking up could transpire.  The resulting discourse creates knowledge of the revolutionary future.  The struggle for ideas is a struggle for space:  it was so with the hills and mountains of the liberating guerrillas, it was so with the peasants and soldiers in the soviets, it was the case with the congregations of the yeomen and artisans in the English civil war; it was the case with the tennis court where the French Revolution of 1789 began; it was so with the zocolo in Oaxaca; it was the case with the numberless encampments of history in forest and field from Kett’s Rebellion to the Zapatistas of Chiapas.   In all of these it was the combination of ideas and assembled people in some actual, occupied space that was creative:  ideas alone quickly become smothered in isolated study carrels, crowds alone quickly become mindless in the stadiums of authorized sport. When they are united our movement lives up to its name.  History can begin. Hence, our enemies need to repress our deeds and our ideas.  The protection of this relation of ideas and assembly is what the US Constitution forgot and had to be repaired right away in the very first amendment.

Peter Linebaugh teaches history at the University of Toledo. The London Hanged and (with Marcus Rediker) The Many-Headed Hydra: the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic. His essay on the history of May Day is included in Serpents in the Garden. His latest book is the Magna Carta Manifesto. He can be reached at: plineba@yahoo.com

Peter Linebaugh teaches history at the University of Toledo. His books included: The London Hanged,(with Marcus Rediker) The Many-Headed Hydra: the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic and Magna Carta Manifesto. His essay on the history of May Day is included in Serpents in the Garden. His latest book is Stop Thief! The Commons, Enclosures and Resistance.  He can be reached at:plineba@yahoo.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail