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Reflections on New York’s Fattest
Is there anything less threatening than a morbidly obese cop on motor scooter?
Okay, 25 morbidly obese cops on motor scooters–that’s even more unthreatening. When I’m out in the streets chanting, “Show me what a police state looks like! THIS is what a police state looks like!” I think I have a right to be oppressed by proper storm troopers who have spent enough time at the gym to bristle instead of sag. They don’t have to be television actors or anything, but as a taxpayer, am I getting my money’s worth when I’m being beaten and arrested by a parade of fried dumplings?
I’m going to be fair here and admit that I did see a morbidly obese cop on a motor scooter run over somebody’s foot last fall. That was moderately threatening until the ambulance arrived.
Note to Mayor Bloomberg: Is this why you banned the 32 oz. Big Gulps? All the guards at your cement bunker on East 79th Street were getting diabetes?
Note to Commissioner Kelly: Make your cops get off the motor scooters and chase those anarchists on foot. It’s good exercise. You might lose some anarchists, but think how much less embarrassing it will be to display fewer bulges in blue uniforms the next time Obama ties up midtown.
At least 60% of the NYPD looks like the governor of New Jersey. Where is your pride?
It must be uncomfortable to have a hundred pounds of potbelly squeezing like toothpaste out the edges of those bullet-proof vests. You guys aren’t fooling anyone, using those vests like girdles.
It’s probably even more uncomfortable to work for a mayor who is cutting your pension while claiming you as a soldier in his “personal army.”
At the next big general assembly of Occupy Wall Street, I’m going make a motion that we have no demonstrations at all for the next three years and let the NYPD just waste away from lack of exercise. It’s hard to believe those guys have done anything since the last big OWS demonstration on May 1 except eat Big Macs and play with their gadgets from the Department of Homeland Security. Who will protect the ruling class when everyone in the NYPD has occluded arteries?
Such were my thoughts on Monday morning, the first birthday of Occupy Wall Street. I was with about 800 people of the Strike Debt branch of OWS who gathered at 55 Water Street, an unloved and unused Vietnam memorial with no grass in the tradition of Zucotti Park before the original occupation. The future of parks under late-stage capitalism: Nothing that requires maintenance, even for the casualties of empire.
There were several other “meetup” areas surrounding Wall Street with, I’m told, similar numbers of people, plus lots of freelancers who had their own plans. Nobody knows what the real numbers were, but when the corporate media estimated “less than a thousand,” as they all did, it’s because they didn’t understand what was going on, as always. There was never a single mass of people in one place to count. The point was disruption, not a mass rally.
We discussed strategy informally and formally in general assembly from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. and then took off in the direction of Wall Street. The idea was to “civilian” (yeah, that’s a verb) and proceed in small groups as normal pedestrians and seize on opportunities to cause chaos as they arose. This really messed up the morbidly obese cops on motor scooters, because they prefer to stay in lines to intimidate demonstrators into staying on the sidewalk. Since we weren’t demonstrating, and were going every which way on the confusing and windy streets of the financial district, the motor scooters had no one to herd and couldn’t figure out where to go.
My small affinity group (or AG) was mostly personal friends from Brooklyn, all gainfully employed and thoroughly disillusioned with capitalism, numbering from six to ten over the course of the morning. We didn’t quite know what we were doing at first, but latched on to a black bloc anarchist group at 9:20 who had the moves for tying up an intersection. I had previously thought of blocking an intersection as sitting down in the middle of the street and refusing to move until the cops came and administered a dose of pepper spray. The anarchists had a technique of “swirling,” which means a bunch of people walk around in a big circle from corner to corner, never letting cars through. It causes a big traffic jam, particularly in the narrow streets of Lower Manhattan, and the police have a hard time getting there. When they do arrive, the swirl goes civilian and everybody runs off to the next unguarded intersection. The police strategy of barricading Wall Street and demanding company IDs from pedestrians was irrelevant. We caused traffic jams wherever the police weren’t. I would guess that a thousand cops were chasing many thousands of demonstrators all day and catching very few. It was chaos, and it was fun.
So my mostly Brooklyn AG joined the anarchists in a rousing chant of “1-2-3-4, this is fucking class war! 5-6-7-8, eat the rich and smash the state!” as we swirled around an intersection a couple blocks south of Wall Street. It was too much for some asshole in an $80,000 Porsche, who nudged his honking way into and out of the swirl, taking off at a high rate of speed, until he hit the next traffic jam a block away.
We lost the black bloc after a couple more swirls and hooked up with some splinter of the Guitarmy, led by two young men with cheap acoustic guitars. We found an intersection already full of stopped cars, walked into the middle of it and sang several verses of “The Times They Are A-Changin’”. The two guitar players were only intermittently familiar with the chord progression and the verses, but we made a lot of noise. Finally, one of the white-shirted middle-management cops (more fat-necked than fat) dared to come into the street and scream that he was going to arrest us for singing in a traffic jam. So we walked into a Starbucks and sang several more verses, until the middle-management cop came in and screamed that he was going to arrest us for…I don’t know…maybe the crime was singing folk songs for free when Starbucks was trying to sell them on overpriced CDs by the cash register. The veins were popping out of his fat neck, I remember that.
“Those cops must be getting blue balls,” said a friend. “By the time enough of them show up with their clubs out, we’re gone.”
I never saw the scheduled Labor Walk of Shame at 8:30 a.m. Nor did I witness any of the 10 a.m. Storm Wall Street thing, whatever it was, if it happened. I did go to the 11:15 Action Spokescouncil at Bowling Green park. They had many “report backs,” with all the spokespersons from the various AGs reporting to the large crowd a feeling exhilaration and satisfaction with swirling. The police had two or three helicopters doing their own swirl overhead, making it difficult to hear. There were also hundreds of people milling about the open space around the Bowling Green subway stop, and another large contingent in Zucotti Park/Liberty Plaza, and an unknown number still blocking traffic around Wall Street. And it just kept going all afternoon. A good time was had by all, except maybe by the morbidly obese, who were gassed before their deep-fried lunch. 185 honorable Occupiers got arrested, most allowing themselves to be arrested.
When Occupy Wall Street started on September 17, 2011, everyone remarked on the brilliance of the slogans. All the imagery of the oppressed 99% versus the opulent 1% caught the country’s imagination as much as the actual encampment. Many great chants, like “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!”, followed from the basic insight that the many were getting screwed by the few. The Democrats looked on enviously while never missing an opportunity to demoralize their own voters. “Lets steal some of that Occupy language while raising most of our money on Wall Street” was their response. It fell flat, and now we are in the middle of yet another presidential campaign that is more dismal than the last. Dismal, dismal, dismal–all the way back, and all the way forward. The Democrats learned nothing from Occupy Wall Street, least of all courage.
My own favorite Occupy slogan emerged from the dark tents of the lumpenized/bohemian elements: “Shit is fucked up and bullshit.” The first time I heard it, probably last October, I laughed out loud. It was perfect in its lack of art, theory, grace, abstraction, education or pretense. It was at once inarticulate and eloquent, stupid and profound. It was Zen in its brevity and hints of vastly deeper insight. You didn’t need to understand Marx’s theory of surplus value, you didn’t need to understand the nuances of gambling on bubbles of collateralized mortgage obligations. You just needed to understand that shit was fucked up and bullshit. And if you did understand, you had to act.
At first I assumed it must be a quote from some rapper I didn’t know. But I asked around, and everybody insisted it came out of the park, even though nobody knew who originated the phrase. Maybe someone said it at a general assembly and it got echoed by the people’s microphone. The mainstream of Occupy, wary of offending the middle class, never pushed the slogan, but it lived on as an inside joke among the cognescenti of rebellion.
I was happy to see “Shit Is Fucked Up And Bullshit” on a sign someone was carrying in the distance on Monday. The slogan perseveres. Occupy perseveres. Wall Street would love to forget it. The corporate media would love to forget it. Both political parties would love to forget it. The union leaders who have thrown in again with Democrats would love to forget it. The sectarian far left, always uncomfortable with a large tent, would love to forget it. But they can’t forget, whatever they all claim, because shit is still fucked up and bullshit.
CHARLES M. YOUNG is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappenng!, the new independent Project Censored Award-winning online alternative newspaper.