FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

From Occupation to Liberation

by RON JACOBS

Despite a myriad of obituaries for the movement that began in Manhattan in September 2011, the people of Occupy refuse to let it die.  There are hundreds involved in the Occupy Sandy effort in the New York City region following the devastation of Tropical Storm Sandy.  Individuals and groups connected to Occupy Wall Street have organized relief efforts that are feeding and caring for thousands of people left without power, work and homes.  Those being helped are primarily the working poor and folks on assistance.  They are also those traditional relief efforts tend to ignore, precisely because of their income status and , in the USA, also perhaps because of their skin tone or ethnic origin.  The vastness of the Occupy Sandy effort is testament to the Occupy movement’s most obvious strength: its ability to organize rapidly and from the ground up.

Since the advent of Occupy and the demise of its encampments, there have been millions of words written about the movement.  From FoxNews to the Revolutionary Communist Party’s journal Revolution; from Le Monde to the Jerusalem Post; and numerous journals, websites, blogs and television networks, Occupy Wall Street and the movement it spawned provoked a storm of commentary.  Some of it was sensationalist and some of it perhaps overly academic.  It was occasionally overly laudatory and often overly critical.  Overall, however, the press coverage did something that one could argue no left-leaning movement since the 1960s and 1970s had done.  It changed the nature of the national conversation.  Like the black liberation and antiwar movement of those decades long past changed the way mainstream America thought about the treatment of African Americans and the nature of its foreign policy, Occupy changed the way mainstream America thought about its economic system.  Or, maybe it just vocalized  thoughts people had held but did not know how to vocalize in a way that would draw some attention.

A year later there have been a number of column inches written about Occupy and its meaning.  The articles written in the mainstream press tend to acknowledge Occupy’s influence in the national conversation.  At the same time, these articles tend to diminish its long term role.  Perhaps because it is too early to tell.  Perhaps because they hope it doesn’t have one.

Occupy was the greatest manifestation of anti-authoritarian organizing in the United States in recent history.  It proved that spontaneity can work.  The taking of property and occupying it is a radical act in itself and obviously one the powers that be find threatening.  The involvement of the houseless was and is important.  Their presence and involvement not only made the gross shortcomings of monopoly capitalism real, they also provided food and a reaffirmation of value to those on the streets and an experience at self organizing for all.  Yet, it suffered from some of the same ills present in the larger society: racism, sexism and questions around violence and leadership.

Occupy was/is not a movement that began with highly defined politics.  This was its strength and its weakness.  Many different philosophies set up camp under its banner.  Anarchists, socialists, libertarians and liberals.  Even the occasional tea partier and Democrat.  Yet, despite this multitude of philosophies that cam to share the Occupy camps, the one that was its impetus remains a generally defined type of left anarchism.  Somewhat situationist like the poster artists of Paris in May 1968 while  also derivative of the squatters’ movement of the 1970s and 1980s in Europe, Occupy also drew from the anarchism of the Yippies, the counterculture of the 1960s and the punk culture that came later.  Therefore, it would seem that the best analysis of Occupy would come from folks that had similar roots.

Guess what?  The best analysis of Occupy does come from such folks.  Titled We Are Many: Reflections on Movement Strategy from Occupation to Liberation and published by AK Press, this aesthetically pleasing volume has the best overall take to date on the meaning of Occupy, its shortcomings, strengths and its potential future.  Never shortchanging the arguments within the movement, the writers collected in We Are Many take on the questions of racism, sexism, the Black Bloc and the cops and they do so in an intelligent and lively manner.  No other group of writers has done so well in exploring the Occupy movement from within it ranks.  In fact , no other group of writers has done so well in exploring the Occupy movement, period.

Unlike earlier books about Occupy, most of which were published either during the life of the encampments or immediately after, We Are Many has the perspective a little time often provides.  Away from the intensity of battles with police and the day-to-day reality of camping in the middle of some urban space, this book presents the reader with thoughtful essays designed to raise questions about strategy and politics that might have been pushed aside in the aforementioned day-to-day reality.  Earlier writings about Occupy were often chronicles of organizing; sometimes those chronicles were objective attempts to describe the daily life of the writer and those around them; other times they were impressionistic attempts to do the same thing.  We Are Many has its share of these essays, yet even those indicate a deeper reflection and understanding of Occupy’s historical meaning and the potential it unleashed for the future of oppositional and extra-parliamentary movements, especially in the United States.

Writers who appear in this volume include some names fairly well known in anti-authoritarian and left circles: Cindy Milstein, Vijay Prashad, Frances Fox Piven, Andy Cornell, David Graeber, George Cicciariello-Maher, and the Crimethinc Collective, to name just a few.  This list is a small representation of the more than fifty writers and artists collected here.  AK Press has done a great service by publishing them together in this volume.  Like so many of the publications released by this collective, not only is this book filled with good thoughtful writing and great art, it is attractively presented.  These writers take a hard look at manifestations of racism and sexism in the movement; they discuss the nature of violence and its role in popular movements; and they discuss these and other questions from a perspective that represents the grassroots democratic and anti-capitalist philosophy that motivated the movement.

We do not know what will happen next with the movement awakened by that first presence in lower Manhattan back in the autumn of 2011.  In Europe, general strikes and daily protests continue to occur as neoliberal capitalism takes its ransom from governments across the continent.  In the Middle East and Central Asia, wars continue to flare and military occupations continue to be challenged.  In North America, the corporate and financial elites continue to ravish the economy and politicians conspire to destroy the remaining social welfare and retirement systems previous generations fought hard to build.  WalMart workers are organizing unions and Quebec students fought against university privatization moves and won.  It is not the end of the battle, but the beginning.

Onward.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His collection of essays and other musings titled Tripping Through the American Night is now available and his new novel is The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

 

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 27, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
California Scheming: Democrats Betray Single-Payer Again
Jonathan Cook
Hersh’s New Syria Revelations Buried From View
Edward Hunt
Excessive and Avoidable Harm in Yemen
Howard Lisnoff
The Death of Democracy Both Here and Abroad and All Those Colorful Sneakers
Gary Leupp
Immanuel Kant on Electoral Interference
Kenneth Surin
Theresa May and the Tories are in Freefall
Slavoj Zizek
Get the Left
Robert Fisk
Saudi Arabia Wants to Reduce Qatar to a Vassal State
Ralph Nader
Driverless Cars: Hype, Hubris and Distractions
Rima Najjar
Palestinians Are Seeking Justice in Jerusalem – Not an Abusive Life-Long Mate
Norman Solomon
Is ‘Russiagate’ Collapsing as a Political Strategy?
Binoy Kampmark
In the Twitter Building: Tech Incubators and Altering Perceptions
Dean Baker
Uber’s Repudiation is the Moment for the U.S. to Finally Start Regulating the So-called Sharing Economy
Rob Seimetz
What I Saw From The Law
George Wuerthner
The Causes of Forest Fires: Climate vs. Logging
June 26, 2017
William Hawes – Jason Holland
Lies That Capitalists Tell Us
Chairman Brandon Sazue
Out of the Shadow of Custer: Zinke Proves He’s No “Champion” of Indian Country With his Grizzly Lies
Patrick Cockburn
Grenfell Tower: the Tragic Price of the Rolled-Back Stat
Joseph Mangano
Tritium: Toxic Tip of the Nuclear Iceberg
Ray McGovern
Hersh’s Big Scoop: Bad Intel Behind Trump’s Syria Attack
Roy Eidelson
Heart of Darkness: Observations on a Torture Notebook
Geoff Beckman
Why Democrats Lose: the Case of Jon Ossoff
Matthew Stevenson
Travels Around Trump’s America
David Macaray
Law Enforcement’s Dirty Little Secret
Colin Todhunter
Future Shock: Imagining India
Yoav Litvin
Animals at the Roger Waters Concert
Binoy Kampmark
Pride in San Francisco
Stansfield Smith
North Koreans in South Korea Face Imprisonment for Wanting to Return Home
Hamid Yazdan Panah
Remembering Native American Civil Rights Pioneer, Lehman Brightman
James Porteous
Seventeen-Year-Old Nabra Hassanen Was Murdered
Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castile’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail