Written by Micah White, PhD
Contemporary activism begins from the realization that for the first time in history, a synergy of catastrophes face us. Our physical environment is dying, our financial markets are collapsing and our culture, fed on a diet of junk thought, is atrophying — unable to muster the intellectual courage to face our predicament.
While some may caution against immediate action by pointing out that societies often predict perils that never come, what is remarkable about our times is that the apocalypse has already happened.
When we compare the anxiety of our age to that of the Cold War era, we see that what differentiates the two periods is where the threat is temporally located. During the Cold War, the threat of nuclear destruction was always imagined to be in the future. What terrorized the Cold War generation was the thought of life after a nuclear holocaust. Anxiety was therefore centered on what life would be like “the day after” the future event, which was symbolized by the blinding light of a mushroom cloud on the horizon. Thus the post-apocalyptic narrative was deployed in a series of nuclear holocaust science-fiction stories either to mobilize fear in the name of anti-nuke peace — the exemplar of this tactic being the horrifying and scientifically realistic 1984 BBC docudrama Threads in which civilization collapses into barbarism — or, like Pat Frank’s 1959 novel Alas, Babylon, convince a wary public that winning and happily surviving nuclear war is possible, given resourcefulness, discipline and patriotism.
But for those of us alive today, the catastrophic event is not located in the future. There is no “post”-apocalyptic per se because we are already living in the apocalyptic. And although we can anticipate that life is going to get starker, darker and hellish, the essential feature of our times remains that we do not fear the future as much as we fear the present. We can notice this temporal shift in the work of James Lovelock, whose Gaia Hypothesis is gaining traction inside and outside of the scientific community. According to Lovelock’s book, The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning, even if we were to immediately cease all C02 emissions, sudden and drastic climate change will still occur. In fact, Lovelock argues that a drastic decrease in emissions would trigger climate catastrophe immediately whereas continuing emissions will trigger climate catastrophe eventually and unpredictably. This realization — that the line into a post-climate-change world has already been crossed — fundamentally changes the temporal and spatial assumptions underpinning activist struggles. And the first aspect of activism that must be rethought is our notion of temporality.
The typical activist project is inscribed within the horizon of a modern conception of temporality. The modernist activist acts as if we occupy a present moment that is a discrete point on the linear progression between a mythical, ancient past and an either utopian or dystopian future. But if we accept this model, then the goal of the activist can only be to change the future by preventing the dystopian possibility from being realized. This involves pushing for changes in laws and behaviors in the present that will impact our predictions of how the future will be. But activism based on this temporal model — which as John Foster points out in The Sustainability Mirage: Illusion and Reality in the Coming War on Climate Change underpins “green capitalism” and “sustainable development” — inevitably fails. For one, unable to accurately predict the future, we constantly play the game of basing our actions on rosy predictions while the future grows increasingly gloomier. Another problem with relying on linear temporality is the assumption that time moves in only one direction. Without the freedom to imagine going backwards, we are left the task of steering the runaway train of industrialization without hope of turning around.
Of course, linear time is not the only way to understand temporality and some models can have even worse political consequences. Take for example, the notion that time is cyclical. For the Roman Stoics, time was marked by a series of conflagrations in which the world was razed and a new one formed only to be razed again. In times of adversity when resistance seems impossible, such as the build-up to World War 2, a watered down version of cyclical temporality sometimes enters the cultural consciousness. It infected Nazis who cheered total war and anti-Nazis who used the spurious argument that only by a catastrophic Nazi triumph would a communist state be realized because only then would the people rise up. A similar line of thought was pursued by Martin Heidegger in a letter to Ernst Jünger in which he wondered if the only way to “cross the line” into a new world is to bring the present world to its awful culmination. Unlike the linear conception of time that calls the activist to act in order to realize an alternate future, the cyclical conception is often leveraged to justify inaction or worse, action contrary to one’s ideals.
To escape the problems of linear time and cyclical time, activism must rely on a new temporality. Perhaps the best articulation of this new activist temporality is in the work of Slavoj Žižek. In his most recent book, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce, Žižek blames the failure of contemporary activism on our assumption that time is a one-way line from past to future. He argues that activism is failing to avert the coming catastrophe because it is premised on the same notions of linear time that underpin industrial society. According to Žižek, therefore, a regeneration of activism must begin with a change in temporality. Paraphrasing Jean-Pierre Dupuy, Žižek writes, “if we are to confront adequately the threat of (social or environmental) catastrophe, we need to break out of this ‘historical’ notion of temporality: we have to introduce a new notion of time.” This new notion of time is a shift of perspective from historical progress to that of the timelessness of a revolutionary moment.
The role of the activist should not be to push history in the right direction but instead to disrupt it altogether. Žižek writes, “this is what a proper political act would be today: not so much to unleash a new movement, as to interrupt the present predominant movement. An act of ‘divine violence’ would then mean pulling the emergency cord on the train of Historical Progress.” To accomplish this act of revolutionary violence involves a switch of perspective from the present-looking-forward to the future-looking-backward. Instead of trying to influence the future by acting in the present, Žižek argues that we should start from the assumption that the dread catastrophic event — whether it be sudden climate catastrophe, a “grey goo” nano-crisis or widespread adoption of cyborg technologies — has already happened, and then work backwards to figure out what we should have done. “We have to accept that, at the level of possibilities, our future is doomed, that the catastrophe will take place, that it is our destiny — and then, against the background of this acceptance, mobilize ourselves to perform the act which will change destiny itself and thereby insert a new possibility into the past.” In other words, only by assuming that the feared event has already happened, can we imagine what actions would need to have been taken to prevent its occurrence. These steps would then be actualized by the present day activist. “Paradoxically,” he concludes, “the only way to prevent the disaster is to accept it as inevitable.”
Žižek is right to suggest that activism is at a crossroads; any honest activist will admit that lately our signature moves have failed to arouse more than a tepid response. The fact is that our present is being swallowed by the future we dreaded — the dystopian sci-fi nightmare of enforced consumerism and planet-wide degradation is, day-by-day, our new reality. And thus, activism faces a dilemma: how to walk the line between false hope and pessimistic resignation. It is no longer tenable to hold the nostalgic belief that educating the population, recycling and composting our waste and advocating for “green capitalism” will snatch us from the brink. Likewise, it is difficult to muster the courage to act when the apocalyptic collapse of civilization seems unavoidable, imminent and, in our misanthropic moments, potentially desirable. Žižek’s shift in temporality offers us a way to balance the paralyzing realization that our demise is inevitable with the motivating belief that we can change our destiny. By accepting that as the world is now we are doomed, we free ourselves to break from normalcy and act with the revolutionary fervor needed to achieve the impossible.
The question for would-be activists is therefore not, “how does one engage in meaningful activism when the future is so bleak?” but instead “how does one engage in revolutionary activism when the present is so dark?”
Corresponding to the necessary temporality shift is a spatial change in activism. The future of activism will be the transformation of strictly materialist struggles over the physical environment into cultural struggles over the mental environment. Green environmentalism, red communism and black anarchism will merge into blue mental environmentalism — activism to save our mental environment will eclipse activism to reclaim our physical environment.
Activism is entering a new era in which environmentalism will cease viewing our mental environment as secondary to our physical environment. No longer neglecting one in favor of the other, we will see a push on both fronts as the only possible way of changing either. This will involve a shift away from a materialist worldview that imagines there to be a one-way avenue between our interior reality and the external reality. Instead, recognition of the permeability of this barrier, an exploration of the mutually sustaining relationship between mindscape and landscape, will open, and reopen, new paths for politics.
This movement toward an activism of the mental environment is based on an ontological argument that can be stated succinctly: our minds influence reality and reality influences our minds. Although simply stated, this proposition has profound implications because it challenges the West’s long standing Cartesian divisions between internal and external reality that serve to ignore the danger of mental toxins. Whereas traditional politics has assumed a static mind that can only be addressed in terms of its rational beliefs, blue activism believes in changing external reality by addressing the health of our internal environment. This comes from an understanding that our mental environment influences which beings manifest, and which possibilities actualize, in our physical reality.
At first it may seem like a strange argument. But the imaginary has been a part of environmentalism since the beginning. Most people trace the lineage of the modern environmentalist movement back to Rachel Carson’s 1961 Silent Spring. Carson’s book argued that the accumulation of toxic chemicals in our environment could work its way up the food chain, causing a widespread die- off. It may not have been the first time the bioaccumulation argument had been made, but it was the first time that it resonated with people. Suddenly, a movement of committed activists and everyday citizens rallied under the environmentalism flag.
Looking back on Carson’s book from the perspective of mental environmentalism, it is significant that it begins, not with hard science as we may expect because Carson was a trained scientist, but with fantasy. The first chapter, entitled “A Fable for Tomorrow,” reads like a fairy tale: “There once was a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings.” She then goes on to describe an idyllic, pastoral community known for its abundant agriculture and wild biodiversity. She writes of foxes and deer; laurel, virburnum and alder; wild birds and trout. However, the beauty of the place is not permanent – an evil, invisible malady spreads across the land. Birds die, plants wilt and nature grows silent. The suggestion is that the land has been cursed; if this were a different story perhaps the farmers would have prayed, offered sacrifices to the gods or asked their ancestors for help. Instead, Carson shifts the blame away from transcendental forces and back to the materialist domain of man. “No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life on this stricken world.” Carson concludes, “The people had done it to themselves.”
Some literary critics have argued that the reason “Silent Spring” resonated with the larger public, sparking a movement of everyday people is largely due to this opening fable. They explain that Carson’s story takes Cold War era fears of radioactivity (an invisible, odorless killer) and redirect them into a new fear over environmental pollution that is, likewise, an invisible, odorless killer. This is a compelling interpretation that explains the rhetorical power of Carson’s story but it misses the larger point. Namely, that at its origin, environmentalism was grounded in a mythological story about a cursed land. Faced with a choice over whether to continue in this fantastical, narrative vein or enter the domain of scientific facts, environmentalism tried the latter. Environmentalism has thus become a scientific expedition largely regulated by Western scientists who tell us how many ppb of certain pollutants will be toxic and how many degrees hotter our earth can be before we are doomed. But here we see again the linear temporal model cropping up again which may explain the inability, according to James Lovelock, of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to predict the rising temperatures we have experienced. In light of the failures of the exclusively scientific approach, it is worth considering another option.
What if Carson had written about how the disappearance of birds was accompanied by the appearance of flickering screens in every home? What if she had drawn a connection between the lack of biodiversity and the dearth of infodiversity? Or the decrease in plant life and the increase in advertised life? To do so would necessitate a new worldview: a blue worldview that acknowledges the interconnection between mental pollution and environmental degradation, spiritual desecration and real-world extinctions.
Keeping one foot within the domain of imagination, environmentalism could speak not only of the disappearance of the wild birds due to physical pollutants but also their disappearance due to mental pollutants. We could wonder at the connection between a culture’s inability to name more than a handful of plants, and the lack of biodiversity in the surrounding nature. And instead of assuming that the lack of biodiversity in external reality caused our poor recognition skills, we would entertain the opposite possibility: that the fewer plants we recognize, the fewer plants will manifest.
Blue activism begins with the realization that internal reality is connected to external reality and then wonders at the relation between pollution of internal reality and the desecration of external reality. The primary pollutant of our mental environment is corporate communication. It is no longer controversial to claim that advertisers stimulate false desires. Any parent knows that after their child watches the Saturday morning cartoons they will suddenly “need” new toys, new treats, new junk. But the effects of advertising go beyond, what the marketers call, “demand generation”. Advertising obliterates autopoesis, self-creation. It is an info-toxin that damages our imagination and our world picture, essential elements of our mental environment. Activists must work on the assumption that there is a connection between the level of pollution in our minds and the prevalence of pollution in our world. At the most basic level, this is because when our minds are polluted, and our imaginations stunted, we are unable to think of a different way of doing things. At a more complex level, it is because our mental environment dictates, to a certain extent, whether certain beings manifest in our physical environment. Naming calls beings into existence and when all the words we know are corporate-speak, the only beings that will manifesto are corporate- owned.
To understand how the pollution of the mental environment can impact the manifestation of beings, consider the story of the Passenger Pigeon. In 1810 one of the great American ornithologists, Alexander Wilson, observed a flock of Passenger Pigeons so plentiful that it blacked out the sun for three days. On another occasion he documented a flock estimated to be two hundred and forty miles long and a mile wide and comprised of over a billion — 1,000,000,000 — birds. A century later, the last passenger pigeon died in the Cincinnati Zoological Garden on September 1, 1914. How do we explain this alarming extinction of the Passenger Pigeon?
If we take a materialist activist position, then we will argue that their sudden demise is due to a combination of forces, all of which are located outside the psyche: overhunting combined with unenforced laws against killing the birds in their nesting places was exacerbated by the telegraph which was used to track the birds over hundreds of miles. The species death of the passenger pigeon is thus interpreted as a tragedy of specific technologies: guns, nets, laws and communication systems. Of course, this account is not wrong; it would be mistaken to argue that these technologies did not play a major factor in their extinction.
But physical environmentalism boils down to conservationism. It is allopathic, only able to treat the symptom, the disappearance of the birds, without considering the root cause. By focusing our attention exclusively on material forces, we are confined to certain activist tactics: a spectrum from reformist gestures of calling for greater enforcement of environmental protection laws, courageous tree sits and militant ELF arsons. And while these actions are commendable, and with open acknowledgment that a diversity of tactics is necessary, the focus on a secular materialist politics is limiting our success. Under this model, Ted Turner is considered a philanthropic hero because he is the nation’s largest landowner and maintains the largest privately owned bison herd. What we do not need is a rich patron of endangered species, but instead a world without endangered species. That requires more than money, it necessitates a paradigm shift.
The unexplainable extinction of the passenger pigeon is a symptom of the state of our mental environment. Species facing extinction can only be saved if we take their disappearance as a symptom and address the root cause of their disappearance. Because of an over-reliance on a secular, materialist conception of politics, scientists dictate the aims of activists. The irony is that our exclusive concern over the physical environment renders us unable to save it.
The curious interplay between our imagination and external reality gives credence to the argument that the struggles over the mental environment are the future of activism. The future of activism begins with the realization that only with a clear mind, a clean mental environment, do we approach the possibility of a clean physical environment.
Dispel immediately the notion that our mental environment is unique to each individual. Just as we share our natural environment, we also share our mental environment, which is crafted through the culture we consume – the television shows we watch, the websites we frequent and the symbols and concepts that comprise our thoughts. Thus, the mental environment is not something entirely within us but is instead something that is outside of our complete control and shared collectively.
Activism of the mental environmentalism is not a politics of solipsism, or an attempt to dodge the imperative of direct action. Instead, developing a politics of anti-consumerism and anti-materialism, places the role of imagination back into the forefront. Denying corporations the right to dominate our mental environment is the most effective long-term strategy of insurrection in the twenty- first century because it directly influences the manifestation of our natural environment. By targeting the mental polluters, vandalizing billboards and blacking out advertisements, we do more than clean up urban blight — we clear a creative space for a revolutionary moment.
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As righteous people, how can we live in a world that is poisonous to our souls, harmful to our minds and at odds with our ideals?
Common sense counsels us that we have only two options: either imitate or hate the world. But if we remain stuck within this binary opposition, we will lose ourselves: if we imitate the world we sacrifice our spirit; if we hate the world we succumb to being reactionary and lose the positive passion that grounds our affirmation. What then can we do? This is the question that Seneca, the great Stoic sage, posed nearly two millennia ago. And his answer speaks to today’s struggle of being true to oneself in a corporatist society.
Roman imperial culture was as ruinous to Seneca’s ideals as endgame corporatism is to ours. In a well-known letter to his friend Lucilius, Seneca writes that exposure to crowds and the entertainment they consume ought to be avoided because within the crowd we lose our inner resolve for living a good life. “To consort with the crowd is harmful,” Seneca writes in Letter VII of Epistulae morales ad Lucilium, “[because] there is no person who does not make some vice attractive to us, or stamp it upon us, or taint us unconsciously therewith. Certainly, the greater the mob with which we mingle, the greater the danger.” To prove his point, Seneca tells of his experience watching a gladiator death-match and returning home feeling “more greedy, more ambitious, more voluptuous and even more cruel and inhuman” than before.
In our era, Seneca’s observation will often be rejected on the presumption that his critique of mass culture is based on an aristocratic or antidemocratic philosophy. Proponents of this position will argue that Seneca’s dislike of crowds is due only to a prejudice toward common people and that his position is therefore not worthy of consideration. But this argument misses the deep philosophical insight that Seneca opens for us—there is a correlation between the culture that surrounds us and our inner life. If Seneca is correct then each of us has a legitimate reason to be concerned about involuntary exposure to violence, pornography, and lies because these cultural forms are destructive to our spirit. In other words, Seneca’s stoic philosophy provides another way to understand spiritual insurrection.
The pressing concern is how to resist the dominant culture in such a way that our ideals remain intact and our will to fight stays strong. And it is on this question that Seneca is most articulate. For Seneca, we must be on our guard at all times. He writes: “much harm is done by a single case of indulgence or greed; the familiar friend, if he be luxurious, weakens and softens us imperceptibly; the neighbor, if he be rich, rouses our covetousness; the companion, if he be slanderous, rubs off some of his rust upon us, even though we be spotless and sincere. What then do you think the effect will be on character, when the world at large assaults it!” But Seneca refuses to accept that we ought to either imitate or loathe the world.
Instead, Seneca proposes that we develop a parallel culture in which we commune among ourselves to strengthen our opposition to the dominant culture. Seneca’s counsel is simple: “Withdraw into yourself, as far as you can. Associate with those who will make a better person of you. Welcome those whom you yourself can improve.” While this advice seems simple, it is actually the most difficult to accept because it foregoes the principles of mass participation and mass culture that underlie the majority of contemporary politics.
It would be a mistake to assume that what Seneca has in mind is a politics of neutral moderation. For a stoic, moderation fails to address the root cause of society’s ills. Instead, the art of stoicism is to live within the tension of two extremes without seeking the middle path of unprincipled moderation. Stoicism challenges us to live an affirmation amidst the world as it is, to maintain our inner resolve in the face of temptation and to teach resistance by way of personal example. It is a difficult task for which Seneca offers only one suggestion: decrease your desire.
Seneca writes that the key to attaining happiness, pleasure, riches and anything else of value is, paradoxically, to lower our desires. He relates the story of Epicurus who when asked by Idomeneus how to make his friend Pythocles rich replied, “If you wish to make Pythocles rich, do not add to his store of money, but subtract from his desires.” This wisdom does not only apply to wealth, Seneca argues, and he goes on to give further examples of what Epicurus could have said: “‘if you wish to make Pythocles honourable, do not add to his honours, but subtract from his desires’; ‘if you wish Pythocles to have pleasure for ever, do not add to his pleasures, but subtract from his desires’; ‘if you wish to make Pythocles an old man, filling his life to the full, do not add to his years, but subtract from his desires.’” And I think Seneca would agree if we were to add one of our own to the list and say that if you wish to make a spiritual insurrection, do not wait for many people to join, instead subtract from your desires.
Seneca challenges us to imagine a positive cultural movement that is built on the shared practice of a radical decrease in desire. He suggests that we first build small friendship networks of resistance that are impervious to the influences of mass culture because their highest ideal is a life without consumption. Seneca encourages us to be like the wise man, who when asked why he devotes his life to a philosophy that may reach only a handful of people replied, “I am content with few, content with one, content with none at all.”
“The point is not how long you live but how nobly you live; and often this living nobly means you cannot live long.” pic.twitter.com/1qJW9l8rDd
— Occupy Wall Street (@OccupyWallSt) August 16, 2014
“When we asked the revolutionary philosopher Simon Critchley to help us understand the contemporary moment from a new perspective, he replied with a richly conceived work of political satire. We read it once and laughed. Then we read it again and again—each time finding another way of understanding the story.
Occupy Philosopher, Simon Critchley, is the celebrated author of numerous books including the classic of anarchism, Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance. He is a Professor of Philosophy at The New School and the Europäische Universität für Interdisziplinäre Studien (EGS) in Switzerland. Critchley’s contribution to Occupy’s Reboot is a meditation on dynamic social change and we are honored to share it with you today.” – Micah White
An evening, sometime in the near future…
26 Kadashevskaya nab. 115035 Moscow
January 1st, 2019
I guess we could all have seen it coming a few years back. Things really started to get worse around the end of 2013 and then dragged on into the long, cold winter months. That whole business with that guy, what was his name? Mountain in Wales. Snowden. That’s it. He went underground for a while and then emerged as the CEO of Bozhe Moi! (My God!): the amazing Russian search engine that overtook Google early in 2017. Totally wiped them out. I find it reassuringly old world and Le Carré-like to have the FSB watching all of us rather than the NSA.
Shortly after the President’s death, events moved fast. Well, suspicions were raised when they declared it accidental. Everyone knew it was suicide. He lost face (and faith) after that awful video circulated. You all know the one I mean. That was just after the attempted toppling of 1 WTC. Why did they build that thing? It looked like a huge robot schlong. It was lucky that only a couple of hundred people died in the rogue drone strike, but the building’s been empty – cursed – since then, apart from a shelter for the homeless on the ground floors. The city began to go bankrupt after whatshisname, De Blasio, was unable to raise taxes to pay for all the damage from the great storm of summer 2016. That was when the BBB movement (“Bring Back Bloomberg”) really got momentum. It turned out that people missed his bad Spanish at those press conferences. He’s been in power for a year now, even bringing back everyone’s pal, Ray Kelly. It’s just like old times.
Biden governed heroically, if ineffectively, until they called an early election due to the state of emergency. But he was never going to beat Chris Christie, particularly after Hillary had to pull out of the primaries because of that scandal with Anthony Weiner’s ex-wife. God that guy really embraced new technology. I think he’s still serving time. Chris Christie was a surprisingly popular president. It was like being governed by Tony Soprano. People love a benevolent despot. But I guess we weren’t surprised when the heart attack happened. He was inspecting the Acela line to Boston after it had been destroyed by floodwaters.
President Rubio has been in power for over a year now. He looks the very picture of health, glowing like the self-satisfied Miami sun when he speaks. Obamacare has been fully repealed, the rather minimal tax increases on the rich have been reversed, the federal budget has been slashed (his “War on Debt” campaign), and Rubio plans to implement the NRA’s proposal to arm all schoolkids. That’s equality. Everyone gets a gun. People seem to feel safer that way. Or they just stopped caring after that horrific school shooting in Greenport: the sixth one last year. I mean, who’s counting, right?
The truth is that national politics no longer seems to matter. Neither does the state. Cosmos is the new 1% international political force, set up by Jamie Dimon and other senior business figures from across the world. Its radical plan is to abandon all states and national borders and establish an independent league of mega-cities (initially New York, Shanghai, London, Tokyo, Mumbai, Moscow, but many others want to join) with its own police force and border agents. They’ve already begun to issue passports. It comes free when you sign up for their premium credit card. I have one here in my wallet. It has their catchy motto engraved on the titanium: “The world is ours. Make it yours”. They were initially called “The League of Rootless Cosmopolitans”. But they shortened their name: like the magazine, like the drink. The only political imperative was how to preserve the patina of liberalism while maintaining existing levels of inequality. Unsurprisingly, this is not that hard. It turns out that this is what we had anyway. A large proportion of the funding base for the Democratic Party has evaporated. Bozhe Moi! is also a big funder of the Cosmos party. Secession from their various states is expected to begin this year.
After the whole Google glasses debacle and the copycat suicides where people filmed their own deaths while wearing them, huge amounts of money were spent on lawsuits and the program was abandoned. Capital was poured into the development of what was called “inner space research.” There were various plans to insert probes under the skin at the wrist in order to internalize search functions with fingertip control. They also tried to develop an ultra-gossamer type mask where computer and skin surface would meet and merge. They called it “2 Skin”. It also failed. As did the plan to insert implants in the retina. The stroke of genius at Bozhe Moi! was realizing that the search engine and the whole apparatus could be run from a customized pair of headphones. People really like headphones. It turns out that there is still a huge difference between what you are prepared to stick in your eyes and your ears. I’m wearing mine right now to talk to you. The translate function means that everyone can speak any language they wish, which is what I do here in Moscow. Rosetta Stone is already a distant memory.
Of course, we knew that the rise of Bozhe Moi! was a soft authoritarian takeover. Old-fashioned leftists would proclaim that the promised means of our emancipation (the internet circa 1996. Remember that?) had merely shackled us more tightly in virtual servitude. Boring! I mean we read Foucault too when it still mattered. But the truth was that people didn’t really care about their privacy. Not really. Not even the Germans.
Wars came and went in the Middle East, huge populations were displaced and innocent civilians were killed. Business as usual. The pieces moved slightly on the global chessboard and then moved again. We stopped caring, particularly after the big broadcast networks began to fold – CNN was first. We knew less and less about world, particularly after all those attacks on BBC journalists. But life was just fine here. There is still no two-state or one-state solution in Israel and settlements are still being built. After the attacks on Iran following their nuclear tests, the Ayatollahs even took out a new fatwa on Salman Rushdie and one on Bono too, after he was involved in that hit musical about the Iranian Revolution. But I think they both still go to parties.
I guess the weirdest changes have been around sex. The omnipresence of the highest quality 3D pornography, combined with “sensorium” patches that went on sale in 2015, effectively killed it off. Together with the first cases of a fatal testicular cancer caused by a variant of the HPV virus that was said to be in 90% of the sexually active young male population. That got their attention.
This led to two trends. A sudden vogue, that summer, for reckless, public sex: in buses, parks, sidewalks, subways, everywhere. It became a kind of display of political indifference or even resistance among the poor, but it was picked up and imitated by a lot of college kids. They call themselves the “League of Lovers” or LOL as way of mocking the Cosmos. There continue to be many arrests and an African-American couple was shot last weekend for refusing to stop making love in Prospect Park. Not so much “Stop and Frisk” as “Stopping Friskiness.”
The other trend – less numerous, but much more influential – was the Cenobite movement, where people would pay significant amounts of money to live together but in such a way that they could remain apart and not constitute any kind of threat to each other. The first one was founded outside Warren, Vermont a few years back. But they have spread all across Vermont, New Hampshire and Upstate New York. After electing to withdraw from the world – what they call anachoreisis – each Cenobite is given an “anchorhold” where they can stay safe and warm with their devices and sleep. Any participation in public events is optional, but with the right use of a wonderful new anxiety medication called Atarax, cenobites are able to be together socially and even main eye contact without looking at their devices for up to two minutes. For fear of contagion, celibacy is the rule in all cenobite groups. This did not extend to masturbation, of course. That would have taken things too far.
People incapable of even this degree of social activity or who could not bear to be disconnected from their devices began to gather outside the Cenobite communities in more extreme group. They began to be called “Hamlet camps” or the “Inkies” after their customized black clothing, that was something between sports clothing and a Benedictine habit. The sign up fee is prohibitively high in order to pay for the private police force and guarantee exclusivity. But I hear that some of the “Inkies” are beginning to produce some really high-level electronic music.
New York City began to feel too much like Alexandria in the late fourth century and I decided to get out when the right job offer came through. I’ve been living in this hotel in Moscow for the last 6 months working for a contemporary art space funded by one of oligarchs behind the Cosmos. It’s alright. The Russians make a generic version of Atarax and I have a bodyguard and a driver. But I stay in the hotel most of the time as it’s too dangerous to go out. Oh, happy new year.
A message from the good people at @CascadiaNow!
Summer is in mid-stride, and that means it’s almost time for our first ever Cascadia rainingman festival. So what exactly is Rainingman? is it a burning man ripoff… or Cascadia cult event….
“This is the inaugural article in a Theory Thursday series commissioned by the Occupy Solidarity Network to encourage intellectual curiosity, strategic thinking and tactical innovation within the global Occupy movement. To catalyze an Occupy reboot, we asked the greatest political philosophers of our movement to contribute a thought-piece. We will post one each week.
We begin with Andy Merrifield—a prolific political philosopher—because his work is woefully under-read in North America. And yet, he is one of the greats. For an introduction to Merrifield’s work, find yourself a copy of both The Wisdom of Donkeys: Finding Tranquility in a Chaotic World and Magical Marxism: Subversive Politics and the Imagination.” – Micah White
Anybody who glances at the latest literature on cities and urban development will see a lot of hype about “global cities” as engines of economic growth. Yet you’ve really got to wonder what cities these commentators have in mind? You’ve really got to wonder if big cities nowadays are actually about the “wealth of nations” (as Jane Jacobs proclaimed in the 1980s) or express some “triumph of the city” (Ed Glaeser’s patent). On the contrary, today’s big cities have economies almost exclusively predicated on activities we could justifiably categorize as “parasitic.”
World cities are giant arenas where the most prominent activity is the activity of extorting land rent, of making land pay. London, like New York, like other megacities, is now rich pickings for the world’s super-elite. Its property market is a newer, safer investment haven (at least for the time being), a stock market in exile, a global reserve currency with bonanza rates of annualized return (currently around 10%), generating an inflationary spiral that squeezes other, more modest sectors of the housing and rental market.
The only thing that is truly entrepreneurial and creative about parasitic elites is the innovative way in which they’ve reclaimed the public sector, how they’ve used and abused the public sector to prime the private pump, to subsidize the accumulation of capital rather than the reproduction of people. “Creation” here seems more akin to creative accountancy and creative ways to avoid paying tax; creative devices to gouge make-believe fees from ordinary citizens (especially in utility bills); creative finagling of stock and financial markets (like LIBOR); creative destruction of competition to garner inflated monopoly rents and merchant profits; creative excuses to cadge money from the state. The list goes on, creatively. And when they parachute into cities, these “creative” parasitic classes have little use of public infrastructure anyway; their lives are so utterly privatized, geared only towards individual, market-oriented goods, that they bid up land values and property prices and hasten the abandonment of the public realm in the creative bargain.
“These are fiery, start-up movements and ideas that we, the people, can further fuel and develop.” – Andy Merrifield
When things go belly up, furthermore, as they inevitably do, when there are glitches within the overall economy, the state inevitably plays its ace card as a first line of defense, as a veritable executive committee managing the common affairs of a bourgeois and aristocratic super-elite, stepping in at the first signs of crisis—bailing out the bankrupted corporations, the debt-ridden, too-big-to-fail financial institutions, dishing out corporate welfare to multinationals, turning a blind-eye on tax avoidance and sleazy accountancy.
One string in the state’s bow is austerity governance. Austerity is manufactured consent, ruling class ideology, neatly fitting into the material needs of the 1%. Austerity enables parasitic predilections to flourish by opening up hitherto closed market niches: it lets primitive accumulation continue apace, condoning the flogging off of public sector assets and infrastructure, the fire-sales and free giveaways, the privatizations, etc., etc., all done in the name of cost control, of supposedly trimming bloated public budgets. What were once untouchable and non-negotiable collective use-values (public services) are now fair game for re-commodification, for snapping up cheaply by the predators only to resell at colossally dearer prices to those who can afford them.
Austerity conditions the global urbanization boom by nourishing the parasitic city. In parasitic cities, social wealth is consumed through conspicuously wasteful enterprises, administered by parasitic urban elites, who, acting like rentier aristocrats from the Gilded Age, now squander generative capacity by thriving off unproductive activities. They prosper from rents and interest-bearing assets, from shareholder dividends and fictitious fees. Paradoxically, they’ve amassed colossal wealth when corporate profits have dipped, defying economic gravity because rentiers have helped themselves to the commonwealth the world over. They’ve eaten away inside our social body, stripped peoples’ assets, made predatory loans to people who can’t afford these loans, repossessed homes, engineered land grabs and eminent domain to dispossess value rather than contribute anything toward its creation. They’ve simply invested in themselves rather than built up human capital, privatizing profit all the while as they socialize risk.
How can ordinary people develop civic immunity? One initial measure is to stop the billions of pounds and dollars draining from public finances because of corporate tax avoidance. Governments insist on belt-tightening policies, running down public service provision at the same time as they turn a blind eye on tax dodging companies and super-rich individuals, who’ve carved themselves up and re-registering head offices in offshore tax havens like the Cayman Islands, Monaco or Luxembourg, etc., etc. Already a groundswell of opposition has developed. Grassroots organizations in Britain like “UK Uncut” has adopted rambunctious and brilliantly innovative direct action occupations, creating scandals around tax-avoiding parasites like Vodafone (with its handy 0% income tax rate for 2012) and assorted banks like HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclay’s and other Dodge City financial institutions.
Maybe there’s a sense in which tax reform and stamping down on bigwig tax avoidance can be revolutionary? Paris-based economist Thomas Piketty has lately been campaigning for a “fiscal revolution” [“révolution fiscale”]. While Piketty has stirred up debate in France, his manifesto has broader, European and global implications, given systems of taxation everywhere cannot be reformed: they need a complete overhaul, a thorough reconstitution on a new democratic basis, with a dual prong of equity and progressive taxation. Equity here boils down to applying the same fiscal logic to capital as to work, rallying around the development of a Financial Transactions Tax(FTT). In Britain and Europe, ordinary small-businesses and self-employed people are compelled to pay 20% Valued Added Tax (VAT) on profitable earnings, so why should we let financial institutions off the hook, particularly when they balk at even a miserly 0.01% penalty?
We might also bring the other aspect of that famous capitalist holy trinity—land—into the taxable bargain. Long ago in Poverty and Progress (1879), Henry George proposed a novel idea that we might want to explore today. In order to “satisfy the law of justice,” George said, a rent tax seems the only alternative preventing parasitic anti-social wealth appropriation. George, accordingly, declared that all land accruing inflated dividends for private investors should be subject to taxation. “I do not propose either to purchase or to confiscate private property in land,” George wrote. “Let individuals who now hold it still retain, if they want to, possession of what they are pleased to call their land. Let them continue to call it their land. Let them buy and sell it, and bequeath and devise it. We may safely leave them the shell, if we take the kernel. It is not necessary to confiscate land; it is only necessary to confiscate rent.”
Thus that preeminent parasitic organism, the leech of landed property—“the monstrous power wielded by landed property,” Marx called it, “expelling people from the earth as a dwelling-place”—can be expunged, or at least democratized by a Community Land Trust that collects this rent tax, instigating another notion of the public realm, one not owned and managed by any centralized state but owned and run by a collectivization of people, federated, communal and truly responsive to citizens’ needs.
Likely the greatest fiscal reform and strongest prophylactic against parasitic urban invasion, though, is democracy, a strengthening of participatory democracy in the face of too much representative democracy, especially when representation means public servants intent on defending private gain. On this note, French philosopher Etienne Balibar has reversed the famous American Revolution mantra and Washington D.C. bumper sticker slogan—“no taxation without representation”—suggesting these days that “no representation without taxation” is more appropriate. Balibar concurs with Piketty, and even thinks that widespread political mobilization for such a “fiscal revolution” could be a key for converting the current “passive citizenship” of the populace into an “active citizenship.”
Active citizens need to engineer some planned shrinkage of the financial sector, and must wage war on monetary blood sucking in the same vein as ruling classes waged war on public services during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1976, then-New York City Housing Commissioner Roger Starr said the city, any city, needed separating into neighborhoods that were “productive” and “unproductive” on the tax base. The plan was to eliminate the unproductive ones, closing down the fire stations, police and sanitation services. Poor areas like the South Bronx suffered immeasurably. Ironically, the idea retains some purchase. Shrinking services that are unproductive drags on our tax base might boil down to financial services; and neighborhoods like London’s Mayfair, home of hedge funds and private equity companies, discreet behind iron-railed Victorian mews, spotlessly painted white, might be the first to be reclaimed. Indeed, as Nicholas Shaxson says, “Mayfair would be far more economically productive if it were turned into a giant waste-disposal center.”
Meanwhile, citizens can strike out at our “Creditocracy” (Andrew Ross’s label), and participate in a debtors’ movement, like Rolling Jubilee, Occupy Wall Street’s roving Strike Debt group, which hasn’t only waged war on the debt collector (college tuition debt alone stands at $1 trillion), but has likewise bailed out the people, organizing a committee to buy back $15 millions worth of household debt, at knockdown prices, on the secondary debt market. Rolling Jubilee has liberated debt at the same time as highlighted the grand larceny and absurdity of the growing debt racket.
These are fiery, start-up movements and ideas that we, the people, can further fuel and develop. We’ve sat back way too long watching our cities and society get repossessed by crooked investors and creditors, gaped helplessly as all this gets endorsed by career politicians and their administrators (or is that the other way around?) who no longer even pretend to want to change anything significant.
Andy Merrifield is a radical political philosopher. Merrifield has written several books including a biography of Situationist philosopher Guy Debord. His latest work is The New Urban Question forthcoming from London’s Pluto Press (March, 2014)
written by Justine Tunney
I’m a strong supporter of matriarchy. This is because men are violent misbehaving creatures. If you want to have order in your society and maximize quality of life for womyn, you need to find some way to cure man of his brutish tendencies. If you look at history, you will see that only one method has really proven to work. That method is slavery.
The two most popular types of slavery in modern america are are wage slavery and slavery to a wife and children through marriage. If the men in your society aren’t married or working jobs, then you will have disorder and chaos. They’ll form violent gangs and spend all their time gambling and getting drunk in saloons and brothels.
Women on the other hand don’t need to be slaves, since women are naturally more civilized. Under matriarchy, a woman is head of her home and home is the center of the universe. She lives in peace and serenity, spending her time with children, family, and community. She spends her time making her surroundings beautiful and sharing nourishing meals with her loved ones. After all, these are the things that truly matter. They’re the very foundation of our existence. Everything else that we do, is meant to support these fundamental things. And only women should have the right to enjoy them to the fullest.
On the other hand… all the horrible soul-crushing things that suck, yet are required to support a woman’s happiness—should be the sole responsibility of men. Men should be the ones forced to do all the grueling physical labor. Men should be the ones who are forced to go to war to fight and die. Men should be the ones forced to work awful jobs for evil corporations where they’re tormented by cruel uncaring bosses that don’t care whether they live or die. Men should have to be the ones who worry about money, bills, and all the other capitalist abominations in our society—which I might add were invented by men! When will they learn?
— Justine Tunney (@JustineTunney)
Written by Micah White, PhD
Nothing is more offensive to our innate sense of justice than the continuing freedom of known financial criminals – financier fraudsters who used money as a weapon to commit well-documented crimes, stealing homes and jobs and life-savings from our parents, our friends, our comrades and neighbors. Blankfein et al are jetting around free as birds… and getting richer each fiscal quarter. Meanwhile we fear our piling up bills, pull our hair and wonder aloud, “Why haven’t the guilty bankers been arrested? Why has not a single corporate megabank been put on trial? Why is Goldman Sachs still alive?” only to be reminded that our current system is unwilling, unable and unequipped to dispense justice on mega-banks.
If the regulators and the police and the courts and the President won’t bring justice, then we the people must, right?
But how? By what right do “we, the people” have to take the law into our own hands? By what authority can we go out and handcuff the CEOs, put Chase on trial and pass a fair sentence? How do we step outside the established law and use vigilante justice while still being confident that what we are doing is righteous and just? At its core this is an essentially philosophical problem about the nature of authority that has been debated for centuries by revolutionary thinkers like Plato, Nietzsche, Benjamin, Derrida, Deleuze and now Alain Badiou, the 75 year old master philosopher, whose timely solution provides the ground for the mass arrest of the bankers.
In his recent book, The Rebirth of History, Badiou begins by unraveling the “we are the 99%” paradox which has plagued our movement: how can we be the 99% if only 1% of the world’s population ever participated in our GA? Where does our authority and power derive if we are not the majority? Rather than increase the number of people in our movement – a process that destroys our insurrectionary impulse – Badiou argues that we must rid ourselves of the electoral notion that authority “emerges in the form of a numerical majority.” Instead it is from events like Occupy – “historical riots, which are minoritarian but localized, unified and intense” – that the true “general will”, or the abstract desires of the people, emerges… an argument that makes perfect sense when we consider how minuscule the first day of the Tahrir Uprising was and yet those people were better expressing the desires of their entire country than the tens of millions who stayed home.
Many of us already see our movement as the manifestation of the general will. For Badiou, it is now matter of courageously asserting that we represent an absolute truth about how the world should, and will from now on, be governed. We legitimize ourselves, Badiou argues, in the grand gesture of asserting that we are a “new political possibility”. And we find our strength in “the authority of truth, the authority of reason.” This explicit connection between authoritarian impulses and our horizontal movement may be surprising but Badiou believes an open embrace of people power is secretly what we desire, if not need. It is “precisely this dictatorial element that enthuses everyone just like the finally discovered proof of a theorem, a dazzling work of art or a finally declared amorous passion – all of them things whose absolute law cannot be defeated by any opinion.” By whose authority will we arrest the bankers? In the end, the answer is simple: by our own authority as representatives of the people’s will.
We are coming for you first, Goldman Sachs.
“Preface” to Anti-Oedipus by Michel Foucault
During the years 1945-1965 (I am referring to Europe), there was a certain way of thinking correctly, a certain style of political discourse, a certain ethics of the intellectual. One had to be on familiar terms with Marx, not let one’s dreams stray too far from Freud. And one had to treat sign-systems — the signifier — with the greatest respect. These were the three requirements that made the strange occupation of writing and speaking a measure of truth about oneself and one’s time acceptable.
Then came the five brief, impassioned, jubilant, enigmatic years. At the gates of our world, there was Vietnam, of course, and the first major blow to the powers that be. But here, inside our walls, what exactly was taking place? An amalgam of revolutionary and antirepressive politics? A war fought on two fronts: against social exploitation and psychic repression? A surge of libido modulated by the class struggle? Perhaps. At any rate, it is this familiar, dualistic interpretation that has laid claim to the events of those years. The dream that cast its spell, between the First World War and fascism, over the dreamiest parts of Europe — the Germany of Wilhelm Reich, and the France of the surrealists — had returned and set fire to reality itself: Marx and Freud in the same incandescent light.
But is that really what happened? Had the utopian project of the thirties been resumed, this time on the scale of historical practice? Or was there, on the contrary, a movement toward political struggles that no longer conformed to the model that Marxist tradition had prescribed? Toward an experience and a technology of desire that were no longer Freudian. It is true that the old banners were raised, but the combat shifted and spread into new zones.
Anti-Oedipus shows us first of all how much ground has been covered. But it does much more than that. It wastes no time in discrediting the old idols. even though it does have a great deal of fun with Freud. Most important, it motivates us to go further.
It would be a mistake to read Anti-Oedipus as the new theoretical reference (you know, that much-heralded theory that finally encompasses everything, that finally totalizes and reassures, the one we are told we “need so badly” in our age of dispersion and specialization where “hope” is lacking). One must not look for a “philosophy” amid the extraordinary profusion of new notions and surprise concepts: Anti-Oedipus is not a flashy Hegel. I think that Anti-Oedipus can best be read as an “art,” in the sense that is conveyed by the term “erotic art,” for example. Informed by the seemingly abstract notions of muliplicities, flows, arrangements, and connections, the analysis of the relationship of desire to reality and to the capitalist “machine” yields answers to concrete questions. Questions that are less concerned with why this or that than with how to proceed. How does one introduce desire into thought, into discourse, into action? How can and must desire deploy its forces within the political domain and grow more intense in the process of overturning the established order? Ars erotica, ars theoretica, ars politica.
Whence the three adversaries confronted by Anti-Oedipus. Three adversaries who do not have the same strength, who represent varying degrees of danger, and whom the book combats in different ways:
• The political ascetics, the sad militant, the terrorists of theory, those who would preserve the pure order of politics and political discourse. Bureaucrats of the revolution and civil servants of Truth.
• The poor technicians of desire — psychoanalysts and semiologists of every sign and symptom — who would subjugate the multiplicity of desire to the twofold law of structure and lack.
• Last but not least, the major enemy, the strategic adversary is fascism (whereas Anti-Oedipus‘ opposition to the others is more of a tactical engagement). And not only historical fascism, the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini — which was able to mobilize and use the desire of the masses so effectively — but also the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.
I would say that Anti-Oedipus (may its authors forgive me) is a book of ethics, the first book of ethics to be written in France in quite a long time (perhaps that explains why its success was not limited to a particular “readership”: being anti-oedipal has become a life style, a way of thinking and living). How does one keep from being fascist, even (especially) when one believes oneself to be a revolutionary militant? How do we rid our speech and our acts, our hearts and our pleasures, of fascism? How do we ferret out the fascism that is ingrained in our behavior? The Christian moralists sought out the traces of the flesh lodged deep within the soul. Deleuze and Guattari, for their part, pursue the slightest traces of fascism in the body.
Paying a modest tribute to Saint Francis de Sales, one might say that Anti-Oedipus is an Introduction to the Non-Fascist Life.
This art of living counter to all forms of fascism, whether already present or impending, carries with it a certain number of essential principles which I would summarize as follows if I were to make this great book into a manual or guide for everyday life:
• Free political action from all unitary and totalizing paranoia.
• Develop action, thought, and desires by proliferation, juxtaposition, and disjunction, and not by subdivision and pyramidal hierarchization.
• Withdraw allegiance from the old categories of the Negative (law, limit, castration, lack, lacuna), which Western thought has so long held sacred as a form of power and an access to reality. Prefer what is positive and multiple, difference over uniformity, flows over unities, mobile arrangements over systems. Believe that what is productive is not sedentary but nomadic.
• Do not think that one has to be sad in order to be militant, even though the thing one is fighting is abominable. It is the connection of desire to reality (and not its retreat into the forms of representation) that possesses revolutionary force.
• Do not use thought to ground a political practice in Truth; nor political action to discredit, as mere speculation, a line of thought. Use political practice as an intensifier of thought, and analysis as a multiplier of the forms and domains for the intervention of political action.
• Do not demand of politics that it restore the “rights” of the individual, as philosophy has defined them. The individual is the product of power. What is needed is to “de-individualize” by means of multiplication and displacement, diverse combinations. The group must not be the organic bond uniting hierarchized individuals, but a constant generator of de-individualization.
• Do not become enamored of power.
It could even be said that Deleuze and Guattari care so little for power that they have tried to neutralize the effects of power linked to their own discourse. Hence the games and snares scattered throughout the book, rendering its translation a feat of real prowess. But thse are not the familiar traps of rhetoric; the latter work to sway the reader without his being aware of the manipulation, and ultimately win him over against his will. The traps of Anti-Oedipus are those of humor: so many invitations to let oneself be put out, to take one’s leave of the text and slam the door shut. The book often leads one to believe it is all fun and games, when something essential is taking place, something of extreme seriousness: the tracking down of all varieties of fascism, from the enormous ones that surround and crush us to the petty ones that constitute the tyrannical bitterness of our everday lives.
Give us a boost in time for a hot summer! Let’s send 1,000 Occupy Wall Street posters into the wild!
Order a fine art quality poster or canvas for your comrades and friends. Proceeds of your donation will go towards an activist fund managed …
540 West 59 Street
Sunday, June 1, 2014
3:40pm – 5:40pm
How can we best support a movement of movements? In this moderated dialogue we will talk about the experience of creating #OCCUPYWALLSTREET and other politically viral memes and how that impacts on-the-street engagement. We will discuss the effectiveness and drawbacks of building new political consciousness and popular conversation with social media. Finally, we will reflect on what is coming and what we have learned moving forward. In the second hour of the panel we will be presenting two upcoming social justice campaigns with our recommendations for on the ground action and online media strategies.
Priscilla Grim, the Occupy Solidarity Network (@grimwomyn)
Rob Robinson, Take Back The Land (@rob_TBTL)
Winnie Wong, Seismologik (@SeismoMedia)
Priscilla Grim is the Brooklyn mother incorrectly credited with “secretly running the Occupy Movement
out of her Brooklyn apartment” by Dan Rather. She co-founded the We Are The 99 Percent Tumblr blog, The Occupied Wall Street Journal and most recently, the Occupy Solidarity Network. In 2009 she co-founded, RealPunkRadio.com, a 2011 Webby Honoree. She wants to help build a transformed world in which people have all they need to live, so that they can build a better global society.
Rob Robinson is a member of the Campaign to Restore National Housing Rights supported by the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative – a policy and research organization. He is a member of the Land and Housing Action Group with the Take Back the Land national movement and a member of the US Human Rights Network. He has worked with several coalitions – the Right to the City Alliance and the Coalition to Save Harlem among them. He is a board member of the Left Forum.
Micah White is the American creator of the Occupy Wall Street meme, the activist tactic now known as Rolling Jubilee and former editor of Adbusters. Mr. White has fifteen years of breakthrough campaign experience. In high school he was awarded Americans United’s Religious Liberty Award for his “eloquent support of church-state separation” and the ACLU of Michigan’s Civil Libertarian of The Year Award. In college he sparked the nationwide Diebold Electronic Civil Disobedience.
Winnie Wong is the founder of Seismologik, an award winning progressive blog and social media feed. As a core media organizer of the Occupy Movement, Wong was part of the historic occupation of Zuccotti Park on Sept. 17th, 2011 as well as a founding organizer for Occupy Sandy. She is an in-demand digital strategist and has pioneered social media trends during the 2012 election in her work designing the political hot button site, The Message. Currently she is a Strategist for State.com.
ROME (Reuters) – Franco Picini, a schoolteacher in Italy’s capital city, says he has voted for the left all his life, but in this month’s European parliament elections, he will back the 5-Star Movement of comedian Beppe Grillo.
“I know his political platform isn’t very clear, but enough with Italy’s old political guard! They all have to go,” says the slim 58-year-old, who teaches teenagers with special needs. “Grillo is the only alternative … if we want to start over.”
The 5-Star Movement swept into Italy’s national parliament for the first time last year, riding a wave of discontent with the country’s politicians and their mismanagement of the euro zone’s third largest economy.
But over the past year, 5-Star has been rocked by internal strife and has little to show in the way of new legislation.
Even so, with Italy still scarred by a three-year economic downturn, the 65-year-old Grillo’s grassroots populism remains a potent electoral weapon.
Polls put Grillo’s support at about 27 percent for the European elections on May 25, up from the 25.6 percent he took in last year’s national elections. That’s behind the Democratic Party’s 33-34 percent, but some say polls underestimate 5-Star as pollsters typically conduct telephone surveys on land lines, while younger voters, the core of Grillo’s support, tend to use mobiles.
“Since the crisis isn’t going to be resolved over the next few weeks, the political space for Grillo is still vast,” says Elisabetta Gualmini, political scientist for the Istituto Cattaneo research group and author of a book on the 5-Star Movement.
Italy, like other southern European states, is showing tepid signs of economic recovery, and investors are returning to a debt market they had shunned en masse, but business is still suffering, and unemployment high, especially among the young. Even before the crisis, Italy’s real per capita gross domestic product had not improved since 1997, two years before the introduction of the euro, according to Eurostat.
Grillo’s critics say the party has wasted an opportunity over this past year to put their popular mandate to good use, maintaining a stance of opposition in parliament, and refusing to join with other parties to pass legislation. But it is seen as a badge of honour by supporters disillusioned with decades of political compromise that has kept coalitions together at the expense of much-needed reform.
And Grillo is having a broader influence on Italy’s political discourse. The Democratic Party’s new prime minister Matteo Renzi, at 39 Italy’s youngest ever, peppers his speeches with slogans from Grillo’s hymnsheet, and last month announced he was selling dozens of official government cars on eBay as a way to reduce the fringe benefits of Italy’s politicians.
“Renzi and Grillo are very similar. Renzi is the only politician who could eat into the 5-Star Movement’s popularity, because he uses the same populist communication strategies that Grillo uses; he speaks directly to homemakers, factory workers,” says Gualmini.
In last year’s elections, Italians lapped up Grillo’s rhetoric that it was time to make government more accountable, especially after a year of austerity measures at the hands of the technocrat government of Mario Monti, who was appointed, not elected, to bring Italy back from the brink of default.
“Neither the right nor the left has done anything to make our life better, or to try something new,” says Massimo Ornaghi, a 42-year-old information technology engineer who voted for Grillo in last year’s national elections. Ornaghi says that if 5-Star hadn’t run, he wouldn’t have voted at all.
The result gave 5-Star a formidable block of 163 lawmakers between the lower house Chamber of Deputies and upper house Senate.
“The attention we were getting, particularly abroad, was huge,” recalls Vito Crimi, speaker of the party in the Senate.
“It was enough to give us all big heads, and some did get cocky.”
From the start, Grillo, who founded and runs 5-Star but is not in parliament, said his party “was neither right nor left, but behind the scenes to check on those who govern”.
Sometimes they have been very much centre-stage, including a heated attempt to filibuster a property tax bill that led to scuffles in parliament. They failed on that occasion, but on others have exerted influence on government policy. On party financing, long a controversial issue in Italy, they helped push the former government of Enrico Letta to substitute state financing with voluntary contributions by 2017. 5-Star also say they influenced Renzi’s plans to reduce the power of various levels of local government in Italy.
“(Grillo) has managed to strip certain controversial issues that used to previously belong either to the right or to the left of the political spectrum,” says Roberto Weber, from polling organisation Istituto Ixe’.
Perhaps 5-Star’s most effective move, in the eyes of its supporters, is to have agreed to halve their salaries to about 4,000 euros a month and use the savings to support small and medium-sized enterprises.
“The other lawmakers drone on about spending cuts, but when we asked them to follow our example and cut their salaries, there was no response,” said Nicola Biondo, head of communications for the party in the lower house.
Though in terms of legislation the party has little to its credit, it did secure a popular amendment to the budget that allows private businesses to withhold tax for unpaid bills owed by the state.
Its popularity has survived what often proves fatal to mainstream parties – a series of bitter internal feuds and high-profile defections and expulsions. As many as 14 of its 54 senators and four of its 109 deputies are no longer with the party.
“The idea that everyone counts in the same way in 5-Star is pure hypocrisy,” says Luis Orellana, one of the senators who was expelled in February.
SHIFT TO THE RIGHT?
Hurt by the defections and to counter the freshness of Renzi, who had not set foot in parliament until he became premier, 5-Star has been tweaking its policy platform. Grillo, in his blog, has recently tried to attract centre-right voters, in particular small businesses and entrepreneurs, traditionally on the right of the political spectrum, whose biggest complaint is Italy’s high taxes.
“The party has gradually been moving towards the right,” says Mario Catania, a member of the centrist Civic Choice party and former minister of agriculture in Monti’s technocrat government.
That’s partly a strategic move, analysts say, as Grillo is trying to take disillusioned voters from Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, which has also suffered internal divisions.
On the blog, which is also an active debate forum, Grillo in April suggested abolishing Equitalia, a private tax collection agency, which he dubbed “the oppressor of small and very small companies, while closing an eye to rich people”.
A major plank of Grillo’s strategy ahead of European elections is to fuel euroscepticism and seek a popular mandate to abandon the euro, unless there are changes to the financial and budgetary constraints the currency group has signed up to.
“We need to hold a referendum, and our vote will be ‘no’ if the conditions of the Stability Pact and the Fiscal Compact remain,” says Crimi, the party’s Senate speaker.
He says 5-Star’s biggest achievement is to have restored credibility to Italian politics. “Thanks to us, many people have fallen in love with politics again, and we have opened a window into how our institutions are run.”
“This is a model of transparency that we now want to export to Europe,” he adds.
Millionaire Grillo has said that if 5-Star doesn’t poll first in Italy, he will step aside.
Many don’t take him at his word, as they believe the party would fall apart without him.
“He’s saying so to shake things up,” says Nicola Biondo, the party’s communication chief in the lower house. “He wants us to aim high.”
(Editing by Alessandra Galloni and Will Waterman)
Today, Cecily McMillan was sentenced to 90 days in prison for being sexually assaulted by a police officer at a protest, and then responding to that violence by defending herself. We all know that Cecily did not receive a fair trial and this case will be fought in the Court of Appeals.
The sentencing of Cecily McMillan has elicited an array of deeply felt responses from a broad range of individuals and communities, and it has also created a moment to think about what solidarity means. For many of us who consider ourselves to be part of the Occupy movement, there’s first and foremost a simple and deep sadness for a member of our community who has endured a painful and demeaning physical and sexual assault, and now has had her freedom taken away from her. And it’s painfully clear to us that Cecily’s case is not special. Sexual violence against women is disturbingly common, and there is a tremendous amount of over-policing and prosecutorial overreach by the police and the courts, enacted predominantly upon black and brown populations every single day, generation after generation.
On a broader level, there’s been a tremendous outpouring of public support in the wake of the verdict, for which Cecily and the team are truly grateful. We’re heartened, too, by the outrage this blatant, heavy-handed attempt to quash dissent has elicited from the public at large.
The message this verdict sends is clear: What Cecily continues to endure can happen to any woman who dares to challenge the corporate state, its Wall Street patrons, and their heavy handed enforcers, the NYPD.
We certainly think outrage is an appropriate response from economic and social justice activists and allies who are concerned about the silencing of those who push for change. The DA and the courts want to make an example out of Cecily—to deter us, to scare us, to keep us out of the streets. And we won’t let that happen. This ruling will not deter us, it will strengthen our resolve.
At the same time we recognize that outrage is a blunt tool that can too often obscure important distinctions. Cecily’s story represents a confluence of a number of different kinds of structural and institutional oppression that impact different communities in different ways. Expressions of shock at the mistreatment and denial of justice for Cecily—a white, cisgendered graduate student—only underline how rarely we’re proven wrong in our presumptions that common privileges of race, class and gender-normativity will be fulfilled.
It’s no great secret that police brutality and intimidation and railroading in the court system are an all-too-predictable part of life for many low-income black and brown people, immigrants, and gender nonconforming New Yorkers—the vast majority of whom receive far less than Cecily in the way of legal support and media attention. And while we’re furious that, in the wake of a violent sexual assault, Cecily might now be subject to the institutionalized sexual violence of the prison system, it’s only on top of our horror at the gross injustice that countless people with significantly less recourse experience daily at the hands of that same system.
While we believe Cecily’s story can provide a rallying point around which others may challenge police sexual violence and the brutal suppression of dissent, we recognize that, at best, Cecily is an awkward symbol for the broader issues of police brutality and a broken, biased legal system. This awkwardness is but one example of many awkward scenarios regarding race and privilege that played out in Occupy communities since the original occupation of Zuccotti Park. As a movement, we see in this moment a chance not to push past, but to sit with that awkwardness—to start to reach out in ways that at times may be uncomfortable and to further stretch our boundaries. To learn from communities who’ve been in this struggle long before Occupy existed: From feminist organizations who resist patriarchal domination and combat sexual violence, to anti-racist organizations who, in their struggle for justice, have been met every step of the way by a violent police force and a legal system committed to silencing dissent.
The Occupy Wall Street Movement has been a catalyst for social and economic change. But, while we claim to be “the 99%”, building a movement that truly represents the diversity and strength of the people will require a principled approach in our activism centered around a love ethic. Bell Hooks describes the love ethic in All About Love as:
“The will to one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. Love is as love does, Love is an act of will—namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.”
To build solidarity, it’s not enough to simply be a slogan or a meme—Slavoj Zizek told us during the encampment to “not fall in love with ourselves”.
Solidarity means listening and extending ourselves when oppressed communities ask—not to try to lead, but to get our hands dirty and do the work.
Building solidarity across the 99% is the only way to effectively fight the 1%, and to create genuine change. Though Zuccotti Park changed us forever, the true work began when we went back out into the world.
Many of us are now are working in communities, figuring out how to most effectively demand justice for the 99%—from copwatch, to tenant councils that combat high rents and poor living conditions, to helping build community gardens. As we continue building support networks in our new communities, for the people who still interact with one another in the movement, we are more than friends now—we are family. We’re connected because we see in each other the strength to overcome struggles we couldn’t possibly win on our own.
A member of our support team went to Rikers Island yesterday to visit Cecily and she spoke of her experiences in prison:
“I am very conscious of how privileged I am, especially in here. When you are in prison white privilege works against you. You tend to react when you come out of white privilege by saying “you can’t do that” when prison authorities force you to do something arbitrary and meaningless. But the poor understand that’s the system. They know it is absurd, capricious and senseless, that it is all about being forced to pay deference to power. If you react out of white privilege it sets you apart. I have learned to respond as a collective, to speak to authority in a unified voice. And this has been good for me. I needed this.”
“We can talk about movement theory all we want,” she went on. “We can read Michel Foucault or Pierre Bourdieu, but at a certain point it becomes a game. You have to get out and live it. You have to actually build a movement. And if we don’t get to work to build a movement now there will be no one studying movement theory in a decade because there will be no movements. I can do this in prison. I can do this out of prison. It is all one struggle.”
As Cecily continues the struggle in prison, we will continue outside. We show that we are a family not just by words, but by our actions. Paulo Freire states in Pedagogy of the Oppressed that praxis is the “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it. Through praxis, oppressed people can acquire a critical awareness of their own condition, and, with their allies, struggle for liberation.”
Through praxis, we learn again and again that all of our grievances are connected. Our struggles are not the same. But our fates are tied up in each others. Solidarity is the only way we’ll see our way through.
To stay involved and help Cecily while she is in prison, please go to www.justiceforcecily.com for more details.
No #Justice4Cecily, No Peace. Rally at 7:30PM TONIGHT, Zuccotti Park
Occupy Wall Street activist Cecily McMillan has been sentenced in New York City. Her imprisonment and botched trial are just the latest in a two-year trial of injustices that leads back to her brutal arrest on March 17, 2012 in Liberty Square. She has become another symbol of the two-tiered justice system in the United States: prisons overflowing with nonviolent offenders, whistleblowers and political dissenters while thieving executives and banksters walk free.
As Gandhi said, “Poverty is the worst form of violence.” The perpetrators of the crime of poverty not only walk amongst us but are elevated by a broken system to the highest offices of government and corporate power. Enough!
When we took to the streets across our country in 2011 in dignified and peaceful protest, we were brutally arrested by militarized police officers sent to destroy our solidarity and resolve. By the thousands we occupied jail cells and courtrooms and learned of the atrocities committed to the ‘other 1%’: the 1 in 100 Americans who are currently ensnared in the prison system in some form. This is the highest rate of incarceration this country, and the world, has ever seen. Enough!
We need a mass and militantly non-violent movement to bring down the broken prison system in the USA and restore justice.
This is a call to action.
Take a one-day vow of silence against their violence.
Take a picture of yourself with duct tape covering your mouth and on it write the name of a prisoner you know. Post it online.
Join with others at your local District Attorney’s office for a rally or direct action.
Create or join a silent candlelight vigil in your community against police brutality and for freedom for all political prisoners.
You will not be alone in your silence. We will join your silence with ours and unite in a deafening roar to let the country know we will not stand by while you destroy our loved ones’ futures.
At the end of the one-day silence, we will take bold and brave direct action together to shut down the prison-industrial complex. We will have your back.
Our silence against their violence.
Justice for the victims of poverty!
Justice for the victims of systemic racism!
Justice for all.
We have OCCUPIED ITU Mining Faculty to demand the perpetrators and their collaborators in our university to account for what happened in Soma on 13th of May, Tuesday.
After our occupation has begun, the Dean of ITU Mining Faculty Fatma Aslan has declared that all collaboration with the Soma Holding has been canceled. With our demand, Secretary General to Rectorate Tayfun Kındap has also declared that none of the students who have participated in occupation will be subjected to investigation. In addition, Orhan Kural apologized publicly from his own web site. Although our basic demands have been verbally accepted, this occupation cannot be limited by demands. We still do not accept the declaration of the Rectorate considering the situation far from scientific view, similar to government. ITU administration must make an official declaration that they have consented to our demands and that the Soma incident was a massacre.
The former governments’ multiplication of worker-hating and out-sourcing policies today, with AKP government, has become the greatest worker massacre of the century.
This massacre is neither the first, nor the last. As the labor organizations and Chamber of Mining Engineering, who has fought against the governments’ policies of privatization and out-sourcing, have been repeatedly saying for years, the most important reasons for accidents and murders in work are privatization and out-sourcing. Even though 95% of the accidents can be prevented, 5000 work accident has occurred only in Soma in 2013. The privatization of supervision and the interest of the greedy bosses to reduce costs, have cost to the lives of workers; Soma massacre was no surprise.
With this occupation, we declare that we will not be a part of this massacre and we do not accept ITU to have any part in this crime against humanity. ITU must raise science and knowledge for the interest of the people, the labors who work with their honorable stand, not for the bosses who multiply their fortune from them. The involvement of ITU Mining Faculty with the companies aiming to provide them more profit with the cost of workers lives, is not in harmony with science and conscience at all.
The number of workers who are left to die under the mines is still unknown, yet the government continues to attack the people in Soma from every direction possible. But, the spark of Soma has built up a fire in ITU. Now, we call for all our friends in universities to demand the perpetrators to account for Soma, to start occupations in their universities for Soma and to rise up against the collaboration of universities with the capital and the policies of out-sourcing.
We declare that we will participate in the process of retribution of those responsible from Roboski to Reyhanlı and to Soma.
We demand worker-hating AKP, partisan Rectors, and collaborating academicians to account for what they have done. We continue our occupation and we continue to make it grow.
We will be the engineers and architects of the people, not those murderers!
THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING, LONG LIVE OUR RESISTANCE!
No, that isn’t a typo. It’s really my salary.
You see, I work for McDonald’s in Denmark, where an agreement between our union and the company guarantees that workers older than 18 are paid at least $21 an hour. Employees younger than 18 make at least $15 — meaning teenagers working at McDonald’s in Denmark make more than two times what many adults in America earn working at the Golden Arches.
To anyone who says that fast-food jobs can’t be good jobs, I would answer that mine isn’t bad. In fact, parts of it are just fine. Under our union’s agreement with McDonald’s, for example, I receive paid sick leave that workers are still fighting for in many parts of the world. We also get overtime pay, guaranteed hours and at least two days off a week, unlike workers in most countries. At least 10 percent of the staff in any given restaurant must work at least 30 hours a week.
Many of the U.S. workers I meet make less than $9 an hour. And unlike in Denmark, where most fast-food workers are young people looking to make extra money while in school, the vast majority of U.S. fast-food workers are adults trying to support their families. Roughly 70 percent are in their 20s or older, according to a recent study, and more than a quarter are raising kids.
Jessica Davis, for example, who works at a McDonald’s in Chicago and has two daughters— one 4 years old and the other 4 months old. After working four years at McDonald’s, she makes $8.98 an hour and has no stable work schedule.
How can fast-food companies expect employees to work hard but not pay them enough to live on? All fast-food workers should be able to support themselves while helping large companies like McDonald’s make huge profits.
Employees also deserve a voice in their workplace — as we have in Denmark — and McDonald’s should respect the right of employees in all countries to organize and speak for themselves.
McDonald’s didn’t give us our union. We had to fight for it. It was a five-year struggle that involved many demonstrations like the ones that will stretched across the globe on Thursday.
Among their findings:
- More than half (52 percent) of the families of front-line fast-food workers are enrolled in one or more public programs, compared to 25 percent of the workforce as a whole.
- The cost of public assistance to families of workers in the fast-food industry is nearly $7 billion per year.
Following that report, the National Employment Law Project found that the top fast food employers are the biggest beneficiaries of that assistance:
Additionally, the report found that the top five fast food companies profited a combined $7.44 billion while purchasing $7.7 billion in stock buybacks for the benefit of executives and investors.
People working in fast-food jobs are more likely to live in or near poverty. Meanwhile, fast food corporations are posting records in profits and buybacks while spending billions on advertising and millions on corporate jets.
If the stark difference between workers and executives becomes too much McDonald’s has sage advice for its employees: “Stop Complaining.”
But it gets even worse. Workers admit that their bosses routinely steal from them as well.
For these reasons and more, we are joining the #FastFoodGlobal day of action.
*Article originally posted on FastFoodGlobal.org
The liberal tendencies of some Occupiers severely undermined the movement’s strength; identifying them will make it easier to resist them next time.
In a country so devoid of genuinely left politics as the United States, it was little surprise that Occupy Wall Street (OWS), the most dynamic American social movement in decades, surged to the fore of national politics riding a robust wave of liberal euphoria. As I argue in Translating Anarchy: The Anarchism of Occupy Wall Street, OWS never would have attained historic proportions without tapping into the pervasive despair that plagued left-liberal and progressive circles after Obama’s failure to live up to the “savior of the left” hype that was so recklessly bestowed upon him in 2008.
But it was liberal support for a movement that a core organizing group of anarchists and anti-capitalist anti-authoritarians shifted in an autonomous, directly democratic, non-electoral, class struggle, direct-action-oriented direction that made OWS popular, radical, and radicalizing. Without the anarchists it would have been ineffectual; without the liberals it would have been irrelevant. By carving out space for liberals and progressives to engage with anarchist praxis, OWS made a profound contribution to the development of anti-authoritarianism in the USA and beyond.
However, some of the most debilitating obstacles that we encountered stemmed from a number of liberal tendencies infecting a predominantly radical anti-capitalist organizing network. No, I’m not talking about attempts to turn Occupy into a voter-registration drive for the Democratic Party, or run “Occupy candidates” in local elections, or morph the movement into a new, hip political party that “breaks all the rules.” No, those tendencies were always peripheral and idiosyncratic within OWS, and they were cloaked in the stench of putrefying electoralism.
Instead, I’m referring to unacknowledged, internalized perspectives and orientations infected with liberalism through their constant exposure to the individualistic, capitalist climate we endure in this country. I hope that by examining a handful of them (space and time do not permit a complete list), we can better resist them next time.
1. Liberal Libertarianism
What do you get when an activist partially digests a skewed counter-cultural anti-authoritarianism without having rid themselves of their lingering liberalism? That’s right, a Liberal Libertarian. The Liberal Libertarian is the person who has learned enough about the potentially heinous repercussions of coercion and exclusion to renounce authoritarian organizing structures, but takes this in such an individualistic direction that they also often dismiss even directly democratic structures and reject collective attempts to prevent boisterous individuals from completely disrupting assemblies, meetings, actions or any other collective endeavor.
If, at a large assembly of 200 people, one person is screaming out of turn about an unrelated topic and won’t take several offers from nearby people to step aside and discuss the issue; and this happens often enough for it to get to the point where most people would rather leave the movement than endure such excruciating experiences; and it’s known that there are myriad infiltrators and provocateurs, sent by both state and capital, among us, then most people would agree that a plan would have to be put in place to prevent one person from shutting down the work of hundreds. Not the Liberal Libertarian.
The Liberal Libertarian would rather see our collective efforts grind to a screeching halt than see one person “silenced” for any reason under any context.
The Liberal Libertarian doesn’t actually care about collective power; they simply seek individual self-realization. Take this quote from Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, in a trailer for the film Occupy Love: “this movement isn’t about the 99% defeating or toppling the 1%. You know the next chapter of that story: which is that the 99% create a new 1%. That’s not what it’s about.” Instead of expropriating a ruling class whose obscene wealth is drenched in the blood of millions, the Liberal Libertarian just wants to multiply interpersonal emotional exchanges.
When that outlook begins to infect organizing spaces, the result can be disastrous unless we have procedures and decision-making methods that can withstand Liberal Libertarianism’s corrosive effects.
2. Outcome Neutrality
Liberal Libertarianism is reactionary because it isn’t really about transforming the underlying economic or political system. Instead, it aims to enact a more authentic rendition of popular liberal principles. So while the liberals of the Democratic Party don’t really value freedom of speech, the Liberal Libertarians (in conjunction with left-liberals and progressives) often see nothing more important than creating free speech zones where traditional liberal values can be fully upheld.
This is often extended even to those who verbally derail the movement and in the case of Occupy Toronto even to the presence of Nazis. At an event in Toronto, a group of Occupy organizers explained how their encampment was split in half over whether to allow Nazis their “right to free speech” within Occupy.
But to make matters worse, this “free speech” liberal prefigurative politics infects outlooks on organizing and political struggle to the point where some activists consider it oppressive to promote a tactical direction or political agenda. Outcome Neutrality is the result. It dictates that any political direction that any group or community decides to take is essentially as worthwhile as any other. It incorporates a libertarian emphasis on autonomy and decentralization, but drains left libertarianism of its proscriptive content and reduces it to laissez faire (in the literal sense) left politics.
I once heard a guy at OWS with generally pretty decent politics say that he wanted to create an anti-capitalist, anarchist society, but if another society wanted to have capitalism that would be fine with him since he didn’t want to “impose” his “opinion” on others. Politics dissolved into atomized opinions floating in a “free speech” pond. As long as everyone has the opportunity to express themselves then whatever follows is just “democracy.”
Certainly some of this is derived from the important realization that activists and organizers shouldn’t tell other communities or groups what to do and instead should work in solidarity with others toward collective liberation. But while an anti-authoritarian outlook eschews hierarchical organizing strategies that confine collective aspirations to plans and blueprints designed by others, solidarity is not a blank check.
Truly revolutionary solidarity strikes a balance between advocating for our anti-capitalist, anti-hierarchical politics and recognizing that these values and ideas must be freely adopted rather than mandated.
Our politics must maintain an anti-authoritarian normativity if they are to avoid falling into the liberal impotence of Outcome Neutrality.
3. The Opiate of the Virtual Collective Commonwealth
The historic movements of 2011 were often reduced to technology. According to the New York Times and many others, the Egyptian Revolution “began on Facebook” with the actions of a Google marketing executive living abroad. Then “what bubbled up online spilled into the streets” and, so the narrative goes, SMS and Twitter made mass mobilizations possible. While I’m not trying to minimize the importance that innovations in communications technology have had on popular politics, from the printing press to the newspaper, from the telegraph to social media, society’s fetishization of novelty inflates the importance of the latest social media technology at the expense of less innovative or headline-worthy, but far more crucial, components of struggle.
In other words, to say that Egyptian resistance “spilled into the streets” is to miss the fact that it had been living on the streets and in workplaces, homes, neighborhoods, mosques, and churches long before any Facebook group. Sure, social media was a catalyst in the Middle East and North Africa, Southern Europe, the USA and elsewhere, but in focusing so much attention on a single catalyst we not only ignore other catalysts, we obscure the necessity of having social and economic conditions to catalyze in the first place.
And those conditions are not generated in cyberspace. The excessive focus on social media distracts us from the lived dynamics of actually-existing spheres of human sociability, and it subtly promotes a liberal prescription for political problems: that political change is primarily about disseminating isolated ideas for atomized individuals to consider, rather than organizing collectively from the ground-up and compelling our oppressors to adhere to our power. As I’ve argued elsewhere, this is a variation of what I call “the idea as motor of history,” or the notion that change follows from enough people having come into contact with a transformative idea isolated from context.
In Zuccotti Park in the fall of 2011 there were a lot of people who thought that if we could just articulate the Occupy idea to enough people they would just have to come around to it because of its sheer righteousness. But although the Occupy idea was broadcast far and wide, it was not enough on its own in the absence of strong and sustained connections with concrete struggles. Many liberals argue that all we need to do is come up the right ideas to “fix the world,” but felled-forests-worth of visionary thought has been published for some time.
We don’t need another idea; we need the power to make it happen.
Although social media and 24-hour cable news rapidly accelerated the dissemination of Occupy across the country and around the world, it catapulted OWS into the spotlight before it had accomplished the organizing that needs to happen initially in order to develop the capacity to be able to incorporate thousands of new people. We were constantly playing catch-up and before we knew it the meteoric rise of OWS was followed by a correspondingly precipitous plunge once social media and cable news moved onto the next big thing.
In that way, OWS was like the pop sensation “Gangnam Style” by Korean singer Psy. For a brief window of time “everyone” sang the song and did the dance (often with an ironic detachment) just as they flooded parks and squares so they could tell their grandkids that they too had “Occupied.” But anyone who was caught blasting “Gangnam Style” (or organizing an Occupy event) a few months after it went out of style was considered hopelessly passé. Therefore, one of our most pressing questions is how to build a solid social movement that can withstand the inevitable social media hangover.
4. The Lens of the Live-Action Opinion Poll
Mainstream media coverage of political demonstrations essentially considers them live-action opinion polls that show what a large segment of the population thinks about an issue. Their liberal assumption is that the demonstration’s only value is its ability to communicate a public message to legislators. If the government accedes to the demonstration’s demand(s) it will be deemed a success, and if not (which is almost always) it is deemed a failure.
While only the most staunchly electoral activists fail to focus on the demonstration’s primary role as a catalyst for organizing society around a given issue, The Lens of the Live-Action Opinion Poll extends itself beyond its prominence in the media into how activists assess turnouts for their events. Because so many of our organizing efforts fail to generate mass support, the enormous turnouts that Occupy events generated lulled some into assessing crowds solely in terms of numbers without analyzing who the people were, what brought them out, and who they came with.
Successful movements don’t organize disaggregated, de-contextualized individuals; they organize tenants, migrants, workers, prisoners, community members, etc. based on issues directly affecting them on a daily basis. That’s part of the reason why the floods of people that surged into Occupy encampments flowed back out just as fast as they came in: the movement wasn’t sufficiently anchored in their everyday struggles.
For some new-age liberal types this question didn’t matter because through their post-identity politics they only saw a uniform sea of humanity. But this liberal discomfort with group identity manifested itself in a variety of ways such as opposition to the formation of People of Color Caucuses and organizing spaces, for example, and the promotion of a “melting pot” identity-less politics that saw everyone as “Occupiers.”
While the liberal outlook would have people lose the particularities of their oppression in an artificial unity oriented around grievances of the movement’s most well-off, a revolutionary outlook would have people find themselves through collective struggle and form links of solidarity across different planes of resistance.
5. The Myth of the Misinformed Officers of the 99%
John Steinbeck once wrote that “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” To that, I’d add, “Opposition to the police never took root in America because people see the police not as armed guardians of capital but as temporarily confused workers.” Of course, just as Steinbeck overstated the failure of socialism in America, I overstate the lack of opposition to the police, especially in working class communities of color. Nevertheless, as compared to many other countries around the world, the United States has had a deficiency of socialism and anti-police sentiment.
If you attend a relatively mainstream left demonstration in Latin America or southern Europe, for example, it’s quite common to hear anti-police epithets shouted and chanted without any audible dissent in the crowd. At an Occupy event, a cop could be brutalizing someone, yet shouting “fuck you” at the cop would inevitably attract the ire of several invariably white protesters.
A major reason for this is the misguided notion that the police are also part of the 99%. Space does not permit a full discussion of the limitations and problems with the 99% language, but suffice it to say that “the 99%,” just like “the working class,” when used politically is a normative rather than a purely descriptive phrase. So although the police work and are paid less than the 1% their entire raison d’être is to oppose the political advancement of the working class. Modern police forces emerged from Southern slave patrols and the need to repress labor disputes.
We need to eradicate the liberal notion that if we articulate our grievances precisely enough the police won’t bash our heads in. While in a few isolated cases some police officers might realize the reactionary nature of their profession and quit, they’d only be replaced by other working class people looking for some job security and authority, and their resignation wouldn’t address the structural nature of law enforcement as the bodyguard of the ruling class. You can’t reason with class rule.
Occupy didn’t come anywhere near threatening the ruling class and engaged in non-violent tactics but was, nevertheless, faced with systematic brutality. Imagine what the police would do if we managed to generate a powerful anti-systemic movement. The Black Panthers certainly found out.
When left to fester, these liberal tendencies leave us with activists who eschew collective political aspirations in favor of detached personal opinions, spend an inordinate amount of time trying to disseminate those opinions online while ignoring interpersonal social relations, block attempts to forge a united struggle and resist disrupters and infiltrators, ignore the particularities of oppression, and defend the police even when they’re assaulting peaceful demonstrators. Those exposed to these influences oppose building power in the name of a postmodern opposition to hegemony while simultaneously drain struggles of their ability and willingness to withstand repression.
Instead, we need to construct groups, movements, and projects that nourish person-to-person bonds in neighborhoods, apartment buildings, workplaces, and communities without getting lost in how many followers a group’s Twitter account has. We need to be vigilant against the attempts of isolated people to impose their priorities on everyone else in the name of their individuality (after all, the beauty of free association implies the option of free disassociation) and use organizing structures that are durable and designed to withstand interference.
And while recognizing the importance of humility and introspection every step of the way, we mustn’t be afraid to make our case for the reconstruction of society. To see calls for a world devoid of hunger and hatred as mere “opinions” on par with capitalist appeals to augment inequality and incarceration is to fall into the liberal trap of ceding contestations of power to our enemies. Successful struggle requires an anti-authoritarian normativity that rejects the bizarre liberal notion that the perspectives of oppressors are as worthwhile as those of the oppressed.
Mark Bray is the author of Translating Anarchy: The Anarchism of Occupy Wall Street. He is a member of the Black Rose Anarchist Federation and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and has been a political organizer involved in various groups and campaigns over the years. You can follow him on Twitter via @Mark__Bray.
This article was originally published on Roar Mag
— Ydanis Rodriguez (@ydanis) May 11, 2014
You are needed—Justice is in your hands. We’re encouraging solidarity actions in cities worldwide. Use orange paint.
— Pussy Riot (@pussyrrriot) May 11, 2014
— YourAnonLive (@YourAnonLive) May 11, 2014
Follow #FreeCecily on twitter to contribute to the conversation and lend support.
— Pussy Riot (@pussyrrriot) May 9, 2014
On Monday, we ask that you think about how our communities are being enslaved for profit by the prison industrial complex and the #NewJimCrow. In solidarity with the many who are in this abusive system, we ask that you wear orange.
Our friend and fellow occupier, Cecily McMillan is the victim of a sexual assault in which her breast was violently grabbed by an NYPD officer. She is now looking at 2-7 years in New York state prison after a guilty verdict came down from the jurors on May 5th. Nine jurors have officially petitioned the court for leniency in the sentencing of Cecily McMillan. It is clear that hard time in prison is a punishment that does not fit the crime.
If you are in New York City, we encourage you to come to the press conference at City Hall on Monday at 12pm: Facebook Page. Elected officials, occupiers and advocates of all stripes are calling for leniency in the form of community service instead of jail in anticipation of her sentencing on May 19th. We will then deliver 20,000+ petition signatures calling for #Leniency4Cecily.
If you have not signed and shared with your friends yet please do so now: http://bit.ly/CecilyPetition
If you are looking for ways to plug into the efforts to help Cecily, follow this Facebook page.
If we are not heard on the steps of City Hall, we are prepared to take this fight to Washington, DC. Please support that future effort by signing White House petition
We recommend that you check out Beyond Bars (http://goo.gl/Zolpsb) to see how you can work to fight the capitalist whirlpool of the prison industrial complex.
— Pussy Riot (@pussyrrriot) May 11, 2014
— Stan Williams (@stanisoccupying) May 10, 2014
First step: Sign the petition to free Cecily.
Next step: You are needed—Justice is in your hands.
Wear “Safety Orange” (aka blaze orange, or prisoner orange) to show your solidarity with Cecily McMillan and all political prisoners worldwide!
— Pussy Riot (@pussyrrriot) May 9, 2014
Occupy Wall Street Hero and Founding Zuccotti Cecily McMillan was physically assaulted by the NYPD on March 17, 2012 and then perversely convicted of assaulting the police officer who put her in the hospital. Cecily is now in prison at Rikers Island awaiting her sentencing, for up to 7 years in prison.
Alert: 8 Days remain until Cecily’s sentencing on May 19.
For updates from Cecily’s Support Team, follow justiceforcecily.com
This page has gone viral! Please click Like and Tweet on left side of page to keep it going!
After an incredibly inspiring visit to see Cecily McMillan in New York’s Rikers Island prison. Cecily was amazing! pic.twitter.com/wyu9NtgKmd
— Pussy Riot (@pussyrrriot) May 9, 2014
“We hope Americans will show as much support to Cecily McMillan’s case as the people in the United States did to us, when we were in prison. Cecily is completely anti-fear… she realizes what is going on and can take responsibility for everything that is happening.” – Pussy Riot
We are hoping that Manhattan court will not convict Cecily McMillan to prison term. Anyway,it’s time to start your own, american Pussy Riot.
— Pussy Riot (@pussyrrriot) May 7, 2014
[NEW YORK, NY] At 11:00am EST Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina of Pussy Riot / Zona Prava visited New York’s Rikers Island to meet with jailed Occupy founder Cecily McMillan (Zuccotti).
The purpose of Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina’s visit was to offer consolation and solidarity with Cecily and to learn more about the injustices she is experiencing.
The following is a statement from Cecily McMillan’s support committee regarding this morning’s visit:
“On May 9th, Nadezhda ‘Nadia’ Tolokonnikova and Maria ‘Masha’ Alyokhina, who were persecuted for their involvement in Pussy Riot, specifically their Punk Prayer performance in Moscow, Russia, met up with the Justice For Cecily Team in preparation for their visit to Cecily McMillan at Rikers Island. They were very interested to learn about the injustices in this case, specifically in the prosecutorial process and the nested relations between Wall Street, the justice system and elected officials. Nadia and Masha identified with Cecily’s plight, especially the disproportionate sentencing she faces. We thank Nadia and Masha for visiting, and hope their visit will draw attention to Cecily’s case in the larger context of stifling dissent whether here, in Russia or elsewhere in the world.”
Just spoke to @pussyrrriot leaving Rikers after visiting Cecily McMillan.
— Danny Shea (@danielshea) May 9, 2014
“We hope americans will show as much support to her case as the people in the United States did to us, when we were in prison.” @pussyrrriot
— Danny Shea (@danielshea) May 9, 2014
“Cecily is completely anti-fear…she realizes what is going on and can take responsibility for everything that is happening.” – @pussyrrriot
— Danny Shea (@danielshea) May 9, 2014
Masha Alyokhina, one of the Pussy Riot members, called Occupier Cecily McMillan a “hero.” Here’s that photo again. pic.twitter.com/fUTQxowYfo
— Colin Daileda (@ColinDaileda) May 9, 2014
— Occupy Wall Street (@OccupyWallStNYC) May 9, 2014
I am a general practitioner and sat in on some of the pre-trial and trial dates for my former client who was represented by an experienced criminal defense attorney. I found Judge Zweibel to be very biased in favor of the prosecution. He mad…
We are less than four years away from a decisive people’s victory in one or more nations. If our leaderless revolution can survive through mutation, innovation and escalation then we stand a good chance of flanking the dinosaurs and taking legislative control of a State after a period of sustained unrest.
Our people’s war is asymmetric. And it is to our advantage that we are the weaker side. In How the Weak Win Wars: A Theory of Asymmetric Conflict, military historian Ivan Arreguín-Toft does a statistical analysis of conflicts since 1800 in which one side had 10 times or more resources.
As a result of his military history research, Arreguín-Toft discovered two fundamental principles of people’s war.
Principle #1: The Weaker Will Win
Over time the weaker adversary is winning more frequently and that since 1950, the weaker side has won more often than not. This trend will continue; the advantages of being weaker, smaller, nimbler are growing.
Principle #2: Innovation is a Force Multiplier
The second principle is the most important of all: the weaker adversary tends to win conflicts when they act innovatively. If the weaker refused to mimic the stronger adversary’s actions then they won 63% of the time. In essence, we innovate; we win.
BREAKING #Justice4Cecily NEWS:
Nine members of the jury that convicted Occupy Wall Street protester of felony assault of an officer have signed a letter asking that the judge not sentence her to any prison time
“We the jury petition the court for leniency in the sentencing of Cecily McMillan,” the letter reads. “We feel that the felony mark on Cecily’s record is punishment enough for this case and that it serves no purpose to Cecily or to society to incarcerate her for any amount of time.”
One member of the jury told the Guardian a day after the verdict that they weren’t aware that McMillan was facing up to seven years in prison for their verdict: “Most just wanted her to do probation, maybe some community service. But now what I’m hearing is seven years in jail? That’s ludicrous. Even a year in jail is ridiculous.”
In the trial that lasted nearly four weeks, McMillan claimed that her arresting officer, Grantley Bovell, violently grabbed her breast, which caused her to rear back and strike him with her elbow. Officer Bovell testified that it was intentional. Photographs show a deep bruise on McMillan’s right breast.
Dear Jon Stewart,
The #Justice4Cecily team appreciates the attention you showed to Cecily McMillan’s case last night on The Daily Show, and we agree with your message of Justice for Some that resounds throughout the show. It has become more than abundantly clear since the financial crisis that there are two sets of laws in this country: one for Wall Street and the 1%, and another one for Occupy Wall Street and the 99%.
Unfortunately, your scoreboard of the number of arrests for both of these groups – “Wall Street: 1 – OWS: 1”, however in jest you presented it – gives the impression that somehow justice has been served for Cecily and for the millions of Occupy activists and supporters across the country and around the world. And with this we must respectfully disagree.
For Cecily, justice has most definitely not been served. Cecily was violently, and sexually, assaulted in Zuccotti Park on the 6th month anniversary of OWS in March, 2012. She sustained bruises on her right breast, ribs, arms, legs and back, underwent a seizure, had to be hospitalized, and still suffers from PTSD originating from the incident. The more than two-year delay in her criminal case has put her bright academic and political career on complete standstill.
Furthermore, the jury trial that convicted Cecily was rife with juridical missteps: suppression of key evidence, gag orders on Cecily’s attorney, and clear bias on the part of Judge Zweibel, who is well known as ‘a prosecutor in robes.’ Even the jury that convicted Cecily regretted their decision upon learning post-trial of the potential sentencing length. One juror told the Guardian:
“They felt bad. Most just wanted her to do probation, maybe some community service. But now what I’m hearing is seven years in jail? That’s ludicrous. Even a year in jail is ridiculous.”
Just as important is the lack of justice for the almost 8,000 Occupy activists who have been arrested in the last three years for peacefully protesting wealth inequality and corporate corruption of our democracy, and for the millions of people who have fallen into the 700% prison population increase of the United States since the 1970s. Cecily has been privileged to have good counsel and a support network of people to make her case for innocence, but countless others haven’t been so fortunate.
You have an important opportunity, Mr. Stewart, with this case to make a powerful statement about the need for reform of our justice system in order to serve all people fairly and blindly. Rather than leave your audience with an ambiguous answer to the question of Justice for Some? We kindly ask that you correct the record on your next show or invite a member of our team to appear and correct it ourselves.
Thank you, again, for standing up for the 99% and for justice for all.
The #Justice4Cecily Team