Ed.Note: A frequent question to the team of the Occupy Solidarity Network is, “Why are you still here? Isn’t Occupy over?” The response is that we carry a moral responsibility to maintain and grow the networked communication hubs that we have been a part of building to help bring radical social change. Ms. Donovan’s article speaks to the importance of servicing, preserving, and lighting up these networks when needed. Additionally, this article speaks of how interconnected the networks are with on-the-ground work, and how one cannot happen without the other. Activists are only as good as the community that we organize and work with, so we honor all of you who work tirelessly organizing with information, resources, or people, one cannot work without the others. -Priscilla Grim
Occupy, Solidarities, and Social Movement Creation
by Joan Donovan
I am often asked, usually in a pejorative tone, “What has Occupy even accomplished?” As a sociologist though, these questions make me wonder “How do occupiers accomplish anything? How are projects made? How are they spread? Under what conditions are they successful? What do failed projects have in common?”
This has led me to study of very boring things, like infrastructure across multiple platforms. Here, I articulate how the Occupy movement communicates and coordinates action using the example of Occupy Sandy. I also introduce an idea that I am calling net work, i.e. the use of one’s free time in the service of a project involving multiple skills, knowledges, technologies, and people. It is concept closely related to Star’s work on infrastructure, where she describes infrastructure as a process and product where people ideas and technology are densely entangled. The concept of Net Work helps to better grasp how Occupiers organize without organizations. Important for Occupy, no one directs how the movement will unfold. Instead, people begin working on an idea, recruit some allies, and carry out action without knowing if another group is doing the same thing. The hacker ethos of “don’t propose, just do” helped Occupy become a multi-modal movement that melds online worlds and offline spaces. Focusing on how the communication infrastructure became formalized across occupy projects illustrates how occupiers as knowledge workers cull, assess, analyze, summarize, and distribute information in the service of the movement. I conclude with the example of Occupy Sandy to show how the forms of communication networks already used by occupiers were leveraged to provide direct aid to storm-torn communities.
Those who participate in net work projects are often already employed as knowledge workers. Italian theorist Bifo Berardi describes them as the cognitariat, workers whose labor consists of spending a good deal of their time thinking about and moving knowledge from one place to another. They gather, analyze, and assess data, facilitate collaboration and think critically about future directions. In the case of Occupy, the cognitariat remix the corporate space of social media for their own purposes, while also taking up public space or “privately owned public spaces” (POPS) as a way to challenge corporate rule. I argue that net work becomes possible because the main currency of the internet is keywords. A keyword like “occupy” can be used to move between online and offline groups and helps the user find similar communities of practice in ways that keywords like “social justice” simply can not.
Star stipulates that “Nobody is really in charge of infrastructure.” This is because infrastructure is layered overtime and involves not just different locales, but also generations of users with different skill sets and idiosyncrasies. Occupiers did not consciously make decisions early on about how to build a unified infrastructure, but rather, many infrastructures appeared with similar characteristics. For each occupation there was a facebook page, twitter account, webpage, general inquires email address, a google group, a donation page, phone number, a camp or public meeting space, as well as a set of committees.
Also, they all had keywords in common: #OccupyWallStreet is not an address, but an organizational schema that signals to the user to go on twitter and use that keyword to seek out like-minded people. When coupled with other keywords like “#OccupyOakland” or “#OccupyCleveland” localized groupings become possible.
Keywords also produce a kind of solidarity, if solidarity is thought about in the sense put forward by Emile Durkheim. Durkheim believed that solidarity refers to the interdependence of components within a social system which are held together by a set of similar values. The term “Occupy” became synonymous with another more potent phrase “We are the 99%,” where 99% refers to not just a proportion of the population, but a class position opposite the moneyed 1%. Becoming part of Occupy was more than just identifying with a subject position, it included finding a niche where you could use the skills that you have in order to start a new project or work on an existing one. For some, this could mean sleeping in parks, going to street actions, doing outreach, picking up garbage, or working on the group’s finances. But for the cognitariat it meant curating information, producing content, broadcasting livestreams, and administering social media platforms. Each form of participation was integral for the whole system to operate. Without people using the internet to promote actions, they would be sparsely attended. Without actions to report on, live streams would be dull, and social media stagnant.
The ability to find one another as well as a place to plug into the Occupy movement is an effect of rhizomatic communication. Communication across this global movement has no center or command post; instead, there is a sprawling organizational structure that leverages all points of connectivity to foster growth. It’s a rhizome, a nodal mass of roots that grows horizontally under the soil, such as a root of ginger. Like infrastructure, rhizomes rarely become visible and as such require some digging.
Occupy employs rhizomatic communication, wherein multiple channels are used to strengthen networked connections that spread ideas from one group to another. This model includes the simultaneous use of email groups, social networking sites, text loops, conference calling and face-to-face meetings to circulate information from many to many. This rhizomatic form, then, becomes a model for how to carry out direct actions themselves in distributed and redundant (while also coordinated) fashion.
Mobile communications such as smart phones and laptops with WIFI are technologies of social change that allow users to connect to the global network from anywhere with signal. Global movements against capitalism have creatively re-imagined the uses and constraints of social media’s capacity to network and broadcast. Castells calls this counter-power, where people use technology to build a sense of togetherness to combat state power. And this, I argue is where 8net work flourishes. Today, no single call to action is effective, but rather cognitarians, push information through networks with the intention of networking networks. Posting, linking, liking, friending, inviting, sharing, tweeting, retweeting, following, instagramming, regramming, streaming, broadcasting, commenting, blogging, emailing, texting, calling, watching, donating, recording, editing, documenting, note-taking, meeting, and finally, protesting are all forms of “GSD” within Occupy. GSD means “getting shit done” … In other words, labor or work.
Importantly, many cognitarians brought skills from their daily lives to bear on occupy projects, while also poaching much of their paid work hours to conduct mundane tasks for Occupy projects, like answer email, write press releases, admin social media accounts, all from their workplaces. Being able to plug into the network from both inside and outside the camps was critical for building solidarity and coordinating massive direct actions, like the west coast port shutdown in December 2011.
In my opinion, Occupy Sandy is the most sophisticated project to come out of the Occupy camps. Responding to the devastating superstorm, occupiers leveraged all existing platforms around a set of keywords in order to organize donations and volunteers. Instead of adopting a rigid bureaucratic structure that requires compliance to a set of rules (Think Red Cross), networks that use rhizomatic communication leverage aspects of bureaucratic communication, including reliance on documentation and skill building, while removing the hierarchical process of approval for taking action. “Don’t propose, just do!” became the ethos after the storm. With 40K New Yorkers without power, water, or access to public transit, already-existing Occupy social media accounts began using the keywords #sandyvolunteer to query needs and link people to social services and web resources. However, this quickly became an overwhelming and ineffective way to organize. The demand for information and resources far surpassed the people-power managing those accounts. Moreover, occupiers on the ground in Rockaway, Red Hook, and Staten Island were also experiencing a myriad of communication glitches from lack of electricity to cell services.
Enter InterOccupy.net, a small group of “network nerds” based in locations all over America. IO began in October 2011 during the height of the encampments, as a project to link different occupations together and provide conference calls, email lists, and documentation tools for those who wanted to spread ideas or coordinate actions nationwide. Importantly, by the time Sandy hit New York, IO had some practice dealing with ecological crisis as some worked on a campaign after Hurricane Isaac hit New Orleans. Moreover, IO and OWS volunteers also were able to rapidly set up internal and external email lists, a website, and social media accounts with nearly 30 administrators from all over the USA. Sharing the burden of communication and information management to those outside of the crisis area allowed for other forms of work, like databasing volunteers, routing donations, and answering emails, to get done more quickly.
The name #occupysandy was adopted later because one occupier who worked on finances for the camp in Manhattan already set up a donation page bearing the name. Moreover, in tweets inquirers were re-using occupy-related keywords and overlapping them with #sandyvolunteer. Many of the people volunteering in the emerging network were opposed to an occupy related organization, but were powerless to stop its momentum.
In order to remain cohesive around the Occupy Sandy keywords, a facebook page, twitter, and email account were set up to drive people to the website, donation pages, and volunteer locations. On the back end a series of conference calls, email lists, text loops, chat boxes, google docs, maps, phone calls, carpools, a volunteer database, newsletters, and wifi equipped volunteer locations, held the network together, albeit by a thread. Because Verizon held the lone cell towers in badly damaged areas, some were unable to reach the cell network and began using google voice numbers through their wifi as a way to patch holes in the communications system.
Interestingly, while InterOccupy always envisioned themselves as a network that circulated ideas, it did not occur to any of us that we could also distribute goods. This fact though was obvious when the movement had camps; as occupiers were able to feed, clothe, and provide medical services to many on a daily basis. But after the raids the question remained: how could Occupy enliven a spirit of public service akin to the one felt in the camps? Occupy Sandy shows that whatever networks move information, can also move goods and people. Yet, the conditions of the crisis still matter.
A hashtag like “mutual aid” would not have produced the kind of solidarity needed to respond to hurricane sandy. However, mutual aid is the basis for projects that use net work to meet community needs. In the case of Occupy Sandy, a group running the social media accounts might never speak to the person transporting 1000 flashlights, but all of the work is significant for making Occupy Sandy successful because actions are animated by mutual aid.
The anarchist zoologist, Peter Kropotkin, describes the benefits of mutual aid in his study of bees, “These small insects by working in common, multiply their individual forces; by resorting to a temporary division of labor combined with the capacity of each bee to perform every kind of work when required, they attain such a degree of well-being and safety as no isolated animal can ever expect to achieve, however strong or well-armed it may be. In their combinations, they are often more successful than man, when he neglects to take advantage of a well-planned mutual assistance. Thus, when a new swarm is going to leave the hive in search of a new abode, a number of bees will make a preliminary exploration of the neighborhood, and if they discover a convenient dwelling-place-say, an old basket- they will take possession of it, clean it and guard it, sometimes for a whole week, until the swarm comes to settle therein. But how many human settlers will perish in new countries, simply for not having understood the necessity of combining their efforts.”
Here, the combined efforts of Occupiers acting as cognitarians to leverage the networks built during the days of the encampments, while also scaling-up the technologies of communications that occupiers are already accustomed to using, led to direct aid in the most devastated areas. In the words of the New York Times, “Where FEMA Fell Short, Occupy Sandy Was There.”
Joan Donovan researches global anti-capitalist movements use of information and communication technologies. In 2011, she helped build the InterOccupy.net platform, which facilitates distributed direct actions by linking networks of activists. She is completing a dissertation at the University of California San Diego on the communication infrastructure of the Occupy movement.
This article was originally published on Occupy the Social.
Home Defenders Take Action Against Wells Fargo in Support of 86 Year Old Grandmother Facing Foreclosure
Home Defenders Take Action Against Wells Fargo in Support of 86 Year Old Grandmother Facing Foreclosure
#truth pic.twitter.com/xfmR4QYZFz— Occupy Wall Street (@OccupyWallSt) February 17, 2014
As European parliamentary elections approach in May, a revolutionary citizen network in Spain is emerging to challenge the business as usual approach to electoral politics.
Under the banner of the Partido X: a Citizen Network, a new project conceived around the 15M constellation, the people are putting together a new structure for political participation that seeks to channel the 99%’s thirst for meaningful action, while at the same time undermining the corrosive grip traditional political parties have had in Spain over the last decades.
— Occupy Wall Street (@OccupyWallSt) February 13, 2014
The idea is simple: create tools and methods for active citizen participation in the drafting of a party platform and the selection of candidates, that if elected must abide by the decisions of the network. “We want to open new ways for some of the victories the citizen movements have achieved to materialize, because the political parties in Spain are totally ignoring the population” says 15M veteran and Partido X organizer Miguel Aguilera.
Partido X combines a variety of emerging practices from around the world—like Brazilian participatory budgeting, wiki-constitutions in Iceland, citizen driven public transparency efforts in Sweden, Denmark or Finland, or regular use of referendums in Switzerland. Partido X is also creating new methods like the “Federation of Competences” an organizing principle that proposes mechanisms to implement effective distributed democratic participation in large-scale organizations. They are radically redrawing our expectations of how a political party ought to look like.
— Red Ciudadana (@Partido_X) February 11, 2014
“The Federation of Competences is an attempt to overcome some the limitations of both vertical and horizontal decision making structures. For example, the program of the Partido X is developed through crowd-sourced drafting of public policy proposals, where we invite groups or experts that are already working on a given issue and are socially recognized for it to submit the first draft of a policy proposal and later we post it online for the network to amend. This way we combine expert knowledge about an issue with open and transparent participation.” According to Aguilera so far they have approved three platform proposals using this method, and each go around has proven more successful than the past “our first proposal Democracy, Full Stop took several weeks to pass though the correction and amendments process, since then we’ve passed an Economic Plan and an Emergency Plan to confront the crisis, both have evolved in much smoother fashion.” More than 2,000 people have participated so far in the amend processes, and as the platform grows so do their numbers: around 25,000 are registered in their newsletter, which is the first step to collaborate in the network.
Partido X candidates are also selected differently “we create open lists of candidates, the only requirements are you not be affiliated with an existing political party and not be convicted of corruption or criminal charges. Candidates are then submitted to test-run events where the network can judge their competence.” When pressed on whether the reliance on candidates would jeopardized the democratic structure of the network, Aguilera suggest “we think of Partido X candidates as though they were public avatars for the network. By establishing radical transparency and new methods of participation, candidates will be constantly held responsible, not just until the next election cycle. We already have empty politicians, the difference is they respond to the interest of the corrupt and powerful.” What the Partido X Citizen Network is trying to do isn’t completely new, some established political parties have been experimenting with some of these methods, but it does represent the first incursion into electoral politics on the part of one of the diffuse network movements that sprung up during the global uprisings of 2011: “we took great pains from not trying to profit at the expense of the 15M and other citizen movements, and create to some extent our own identity and network infrastructures. But we are definitely tapping into the spirit of empowerment that 15M created.”
Currently the Partido X is going on tour throughout Spain, spreading the word and gauging whether to run European Parliament candidates for the elections in late May. The tour has become a powerful organizing tool, since it encourages cities that want to host a Partido X event to develop the crowdfunding campaign, promote it through local social networks and take care of the logistics, thus creating autonomous nodes for the Partido X across the country.
“These next european elections promise to be interesting. Even though our approach is different from the 5 Star Movement in Italy, what we are seeing is the growing momentum of a network driven opposition to the big financial interests thats have eroded democracy in Europe. The hope would be that if we start winning elections more parties will begin to adopt this approach.”
Miguel Aguilera is part of a large group of organizers some meeting through 15M and others attracted by the opening of a new front in the electoral arena, either in squares or online, and are spread all across the country. They have been working tirelessly over the past two years to assemble a workable alternative to the domination of the party system “we have been primarily focused on trying to set up a workable, scalable structure, which continues to evolve as the network grows. Soon we will have to focus on how to win elections.”
Many of the tools from different citizen movements will be re-purposed to garner support: everything from live streaming, to creative actions. But what members of the Partido X network are truly banking on is that:
“People are fed up. They are fed up with the political parties, they are fed up economic policies that serve the rich. They’re fed up with not having a voice. It’s time for the people to beat the Party System at their own game,” says Partido X.
This article was written by Pablo Benson and published by Occupy Wall Street.
We are the 99%… We are rising up… This year is gonna be hot… 2014 is going to be hot. pic.twitter.com/rcOIcuIorB
— Occupy Wall Street (@OccupyWallSt) February 13, 2014
I don’t want to waste your time so I’ll be brief.
I think you should start a new civilization.
If you can raise $7m for a rolling jubilee it should be easy to raise money for a new society. I read this fictional story called “Mann…
“Happy Valentine’s Day to all the Occupy lovers out there.” – OSN
— Occupy Wall Street (@OccupyWallSt) February 13, 2014
What is it about love that makes it a compelling or politically interesting concept? What kind of work does love do politically that other concepts don’t do?
Michael Hardt: One healthy thing love does is it breaks through a variety of conceptions about reason, passion, and the role of affect in politics. There are a number of other ways of doing this, but considering love as central to politics confounds the notion of interest as driving politics. Love makes central the role of affect within the political sphere.
Another thing that interests me is how love designates a transformative, collective power of politics – transformative, collective, and also sustained. If it were just a matter of the construction of social bonds and attachments, or rupture and transformation, it would be insufficient. For me, it would have to be a necessarily collective, transformative power in duration.
Lauren Berlant: We’re looking for something, some way of talking about the possibility of an attachment to a kind of collectivity that doesn’t exist yet. There are lots of things that can do that, like fascism, or the politically orchestrated forms of sociality that could do that. But we want the thing that includes a promise…
The thing I like about love as a concept for the possibility of the social is that love always means non-sovereignty. Love is always about violating your own attachment to your intentionality, without being anti-intentional. I like that love is greedy. You want incommensurate things and you want them now. And the now part is important.
When you plan social change, you have to imagine the world that you could promise, the world that could be seductive, the world you could induce people to want to leap into. But leaps are awkward, they’re not actually that beautiful. When you land, you’re probably going to fall, or hurt your ankle or hit someone. When you’re asking for social change, you want to be able to say there will be some kind of cushion when we take the leap. What love does as a seduction for this, and has done historically for political theory, is to try to imagine some continuity on the affective level. One that isn’t experienced at the historical, social or everyday level, but that still provides a kind of referential anchor affectively and as a political project.
Michael Hardt: Let me start with the non-sovereign thing. I like that. If one were to think a political project that would be based on or include love as a central motivation, you say, notions of sovereignty would be ruptured. That’s very interesting and powerful. I assume we are talking about a variety of scales here simultaneously, where both the self and the social are not sovereign in love.
When we engage in love, we abandon at least a certain type of sovereignty. In what ways would sovereignty not be adequate in explaining a social formation that was grounded in love? If we were to think of the sovereign as the one who decides, in the social relation of love there is no one who decides. Which does not mean that there are no decisions but, rather, that there would be a non-one who decides. That seems like a challenging and interesting question: what is a non-sovereign social formation? How is decision-making then arrived at? These are the kinds of things that require modes of organization; that require, if not institutions, customs, or habits, at least certain means of organizing the decision-making process. In a politics of love, one of the interests for me is a non-sovereign politics, or a non-sovereign social formation.
By thinking love as political, as somehow centrally involved in a political project, it forces us to think through that non-sovereignty, both conceptually, but also practically, organizationally.
Davis: I’m really intrigued by the ways you both speak of how love is a project of non-sovereignty in terms of the social, the self, and the relationship between the social and nature. If you’re trying to conceive of each of those layers with a certain consistency, whether that is a surface of habit or as an institution, then what is the difference between those formations and sovereignty?
Michael Hardt: I’ll start with some basic things. I think within the tradition of political theory, it’s not at all clear what a non-sovereign politics could be. It’s hard to make such grand generalizations, but the tradition of political theory we inherit is fundamentally related to the role and decision making of the one, whether that one be the king, the party, the liberal individual, all of these. Here, decision-making can only be performed by the one, and so I think this is what Toni Negri and I have felt is interestingly challenging about the concept of multitude itself. How can a multiplicity decide? The organization of decision-making is central for me for thinking politics or political theory. I guess I would apply this to the level of the individual too. How can an individual as multiplicity, and hence as non-sovereign, decide and not be just an incoherent helpless heap? What I think is required for that, now back again at the level of political theory, is understanding how collective structures, or structures of multiplicity, can enable social decision-making. We also have a long tradition of the possibility of the democracy proper – the rule of the many – but it’s a minor tradition, or sometimes a subterranean tradition. That seems to be one way of characterizing what’s at stake, or challenging in this.
One other pedagogical way of thinking about this, that seems to me useful for posing the problem, is the long tradition in European, Chinese, and many other political theorizing that goes back thousands of years, which poses an analogy between the human body and the social body. In these traditions, the analogy is very explicit: the army is the arms, the peasants are the feet, the king is the head, and so forth. This assumes the centrality, hierarchy, and unity of the organs of the body that ground and justify the centrality and unity of the organs of the social body. The natural assumption, in Hobbes and any number of others, about the human body and its functions, are what make necessary that kind of social form.
So what if one were to take seriously the contemporary or even the last thirty years of neuroscience that talks about the non-centrality of thought processes and decision-making processes in the brain? What if we were to keep the analogy and say, well, actually the brain is not centered. It’s an incredible complex of neurons firing and chemical processes. Thinking about the human body and the brain, in particular, as a non-centered multiplicity, would help us understand a radically different social body. I think that my inclination generally would be to throw out the analogy, but it’s at least polemically interesting to say let’s take the analogy and recognize it for what it is, and the functioning of the brain might help us understand that sovereignty was a mistaken idea in the first place for how the individual functions.
Lauren Berlant: I think “sovereignty” badly conceptualizes almost anything to which it’s attached. It’s an aspirational concept and, as often happens, aspirational concepts get treated as normative concepts, and then get traded and circulated as realism. And I think that’s what happened with sovereignty. So, in “Slow Death,” I say that perhaps we should throw sovereignty out, but people are so invested in it maybe we can’t, because you can’t just decide that ghosts don’t exist…
Read the full discussion between Lauren Berlant and Michael Hardt on the politics of love at Reviews in Cultural Theory
I own your soul. – Wall Street, the financial Gomorrah of America. pic.twitter.com/bnMc52Rddv— Occupy Wall Street (@OccupyWallSt) February 11, 2014
— Occupy Wall Street (@OccupyWallSt) February 12, 2014
Here’s a #Justice4Cecily update! I earnestly invite each of you to join us Thursday afternoon as we pack the courtroom.
Be there Thursday! Details: https://www.facebook.com/events/732227263455605/
Court let out for today about an hour ago. We didn’t get to jury selection, but we did find a judge, do the pretrial hearing, and set some dates for the rest of the trial.
Unfortunately, our judge has to see other cases tomorrow so we will not be in court again until Thursday (Wednesday is a court holiday). Jury selection will occur Thursday and the prosecution’s case will be heard on Friday.
Next Monday will again be a court holiday and our judge will again be busy elsewhere on Tuesday, so next week we won’t be in court again until Wednesday.
Will you #occupy?
“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.
Written by Damien Crisp (Zuccotti)
Dust off your television. Attend a Super Bowl XLVIII party. Throw one. Make vegan snacks. Make anti-capitalist pamphlets with colorful pictures of the Seattle Seahawks… or, I mean, the 99%. Find a good sports bar and subvert it. Occupy football language. Insert slogans. Be quick with your facts. Start conversations. Who is your team? “The 99%”. You want to see Denver… I mean the 1%, go down in a ball of flames and left behind crying on the football field when the night ends. Invite your dad over to watch the game. Invite co-workers. Neighbors. Tell them about the battle between the 99% and the 1%
The game of American football is beautiful as movement and strategy, a slow but dramatic event, and I understand why fans are driven to support the games year after year. On a deeper level, Super Bowl XLVIII symbolizes the contest between the 1%—who have only increased their monopoly over a corrupt 30 year reign—and the 99%—a fractious mass of everyone else increasingly unified around calls for economic justice.
Occupy does not need to claim, redefine or save football. Occupy needs to hijack the event’s meaning. Our movement can’t afford commercial airtime to address the world directly, so we must run interference and attack dominant culture at the level of imagination.
Occupy should hijack the meaning of Super Bowl XLVIII. One team will represent the 1%. One team will represent the 99%. We will invade every living room, every tailgate party and every sports bar. Refuse to use the words “Seattle” and “Denver”. Drive Super Bowl fans mad while insisting on a real conversation about economic violence.
Does Denver or Seattle deserve the label “home of the 99%”?
All NFL teams declare themselves representatives of their cities. We need to know which city – Denver or Seattle – most represents the people over profits. Super Bowl’s are advertised as contests between cities. We also need to consider which team most represents the people over profits.
I chose the Seattle Seahawks as the true Occupy team. As a city and as a team, Seattle comes closer to what we want in an advocate for economic justice. You could choose Denver. Either way, we can create conversations around this single event but let me tell you why I chose Seattle.
Like many cities U.S. Seattle and Denver have increasingly reconstructed their social make-up. Both cities have developed into gentrified zones. In 2012, blogger Michael J. Petrilli created a list of the fastest gentrifying neighborhoods in the US. He relied on counting the “white share” of zip codes. It is a crude test but gentrification is class violence often tied race and displacement of marginalized communities. Denver is number 11 on Petrilli’s list. Seattle is not on the list. Denver’s “white share” of population increased 29.2% to 56.2%, 2000 to 2010.
Remember the Battle of Seattle? Seattle has the spirit of resistance in its past and present even though it faces gentrification by forces such as Microsoft and the city’s previous Mayor McGinn who worked hard for real estate developers. Seattle’s current Mayor Murray recently raised wages of all city workers to $15 per hour. He has worked to reform the culture of the city’s police. Murray is the city’s first openly gay mayor. As a senator, Murray led the state’s winning legislation for same-sex marriage.
Just this Wednesday, Seattle’s city council member delivered the best response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address. Kshama Sawant declared, “Tonight, President Obama talked about the deepening inequality. But that is a testament of his own presidency. A presidency that has betrayed the hopes of tens of millions of people who voted for him out of a genuine desire for fundamental change away from corporate politics and war mongering. Poverty is at record-high numbers – 95% of the gains in productivity during the so-called recovery have gone to the top 1%. The president’s focus on income inequality was an admission of the failure of his policies. An admission forced by rallies, demonstrations, and strikes by fast food and low wage workers demanding a minimum wage of $15. It has been forced by the outrage over the widening gulf between the super-rich and those of us working to create this wealth in society.”
Meanwhile, Denver tends to sell development for business and real estate – gentrification – using the language of misleading rhetoric laiden with pretense towards progressive community action.
“Stimulus funds aimed at jumpstarting the economy paid for about 4,000 trees in Denver, with many ending up at million dollar homes in Denver’s priciest neighborhoods where residents acknowledge they could have paid for their own trees…”, CBS News Denver reported in September 2013, “… that the tree program had no income guidelines, so trees ended up being planted at homes in Denver’s Country Club neighborhood, Hilltop, Belcaro and Washington Park neighborhoods — all considered upscale areas of the city.”
Denver’s mayor seems to be a leader in local gentrification. He recently co-opted plans by the Parks and Recreation department to renovate a park and began a kind of architectural invasion that inspired protests by site’s neighbors. The project was called City Loop: “Food trucks for families on the go. A soft track for jogging geezers. Hammocks for summer slackers and an ice rink for Winter Olympics hopefuls. Comfort stations for the uncomfortable. All it lacks is what the initial project description insisted it would have: community context and advocacy.”
Denver’s mayor is antagonistic to the legalized pot industry. He also led a police crackdown on lower Denver bars and customers. LoDo is an area of bars where crowds gather on weekends. Real estate security. It’s safe to assume this tactic led towards further gentrification and sterilization.
Seattle’s team is the game’s underdog. Denver’s team is a football dynasty. Seattle is a defensive team. To play defense well, players have to work for each other. A defensive position is a defiant position. Denver has long been an offensive team featuring star quarterbacks and crowd pleasing acrobatics. Teams with spectacular offenses are favored by corporate America. Smiling quarterbacks sell products well. Offensive players tend to earn more than defensive players. Denver’s quarterback, Peyton Manning, makes $15,000,000 each year from his team salary. His Seattle counterpart, Russell Wilson, “makes just 3.5 percent of Manning’s base salary”.
I think we have the team of the 99%. Occupy, our team is: Seattle.
Super Bowls, of course, are commercial spectacles aired more the delivery of television ads than love of the game. Football purists often say they don’t like the Super Bowl. It is too commercial. It is also a perfect target.
A Super Bowl’s ending – which fades as it replays across mainstream media until it is forgotten – always marks a new Spring to be remembered.
A pep talk for the 99%…
“We are in hell right now… Believe me. And we can stay here and get the shit kicked out of us or we can fight our way back into the light… One inch, at a time… The inches we need are everywhere around us… either we heal now, as a team, or we will die as individuals. That’s
football occupy… That’s all it is.”
Al Pacino – final speech from Any Given Sunday
This post was adapted from Watch This Year’s Super Bowl Through the Smoke of Class Warfare
Damien Crisp is an artist, writer and activist. He has lived in New York City, Guadalajara. Mexico, and currently lives in southeast Tennessee. His writings can be followed on social media, blogs, and have been re-published widely online. He was a body, voice and citizen journalist during Occupy Wall Street’s time at Zuccotti Park, as well as a coordinator for Occupy Sandy. His artwork includes painting, photography, installation, objects, text and video. He graduated from the University of Tennessee’s painting program at Knoxville in 2005, and received his MFA from the School Of Visual Arts in New York in 2007.
“We were very pleased to promote the response to the State of the Union from Kshama Sawant on Tuesday evening. One of the most important values of the Occupy Solidarity Network, is that we support and promote to our networks, a broad spectrum of ideas and solutions resonating from within the Occupy Movement. Bernardo Gutiérrez’s article talks at length of the importance of networks, and how they help to make possible future organizing by lighting up the supporters of prior actions. Much in the way that we hope to inspire you, those who care about the Occupy Movement, and hope to see real world change emerge.” – Priscilla Grim
Written By: Bernardo Gutiérrez
Revolution is getting too small for us. Its centenary semantic wall seems to crumble. Indeed, the Internet launches a gunshot of questions to the heart of the meaning of revolution. Revolution is just “a forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favor of a new system”? The new system will emerge only after taking power? What if taking power after revolution, as in Egypt, comes from the hand of the army? Is it still valid the sequence revolution, counter-revolution, involution? Could it be that the network is building, without taking power, a new system from new protocols and unlikely connections?
A few years ago, the Marxist thinker John Holloway, in his book Changing the world without taking power, began to glimpse the secret ways of the new revolutions. Holloway, enthusiastic with those Mexican neozapatistas, fully questioned the meaning of revolution. Those masked people who built their own world outside the state, those Autonomous Zones of Chiapas, halfway between Hakim Bey´s pirate utopias and the indigenous culture of the commons, deeply inspired Holloway: “In this revolutionary struggle there are no models, no recipes, just a question terribly urgent. Not an empty question, but a question filled with a thousand answers”. Perhaps we do not need a new and unique meaning for revolution. Perhaps it is enough to interconnect the multiple new answers.
Renaissance // Re-Birth
The writer / activist Douglas Ruskoff has another “Thesis That Questions the Revolution”. In his book Open Source Democracy, Ruskoff argues that the revolution has not arrived and what we are experiencing is a new renaissance. “Renaissances are historical instances of widespread recontextualisation. It is the rebirth of old ideas in a new context. Renaissance is a dimensional leap, when our perspective shifts so dramatically that our understanding of the oldest, most fundamental elements of existence changes. The stories we have been using no longer work”. The Renaissance, the dimensional leap, precedes revolutions. The perspective of the paintings of Piero della Francesca (among others) led to mathematical theory that ended some centuries later with the idea of a flat Earth. The movable type of Gutenberg´s printing machine changed the writer-reader relationship (and blew political structures). The network, connecting peers, reconfigures most definitions. From media to revolution, the meanings of the dictionaries seem not to fit into this new dimension.
The Renaissance, according to the prestigious James P. Carse, was not an “attempt to promote another vision, but that alternative visions promise other visions.” The Renaissance was a new horizon more than a set of answers. A new horizon in the words of Carse, who arose against anyone and formulated a constant invitation to join him.
Perhaps the revolution is not in sight. Maybe we’re just in a deep process of Renaissance. And maybe we do not even need the revolution as we know it. In fact, a pessimistic view of the three years of interconnected revolts that began with Tunisian Revolution in late 2010 would present a grim picture. The army, at the helm of Egypt that toppled Hosni Mubarak. A exagerated neoliberal Government in the Spain shaked by 15M movement – Indignados. The conservative Enrique Peña Nieto ruling México after #YoSoy132 explosion. Erdoğan, leading with an iron capitalist fist, post #DirenGezi Turkey. Changing the world without taking power?
The Network Created
“It is not what Occupy Wall Street has made, but the network that has been created.” The sentence was pronounced by Joan Donovan, participant in InterOccupy, at the meeting Three Years of Interconnected Revolts, held in October in Barcelona. And that casts a beam of light on the underappreciated and networked renaissance that is flourishing in the world. From Tunisia to Brazil, from Turkey to Spain, from Greece to Egypt, the so called #GlobalRevolution is in the details of the created network. #GlobalRevolution, more Enlightenment than revolution, more connections than achieved objectives, make sense looking at the different microcosms. There´s no need for that utopia of May 68, that inoffensive “Beneath the paving stones, the beach” which never materialized. There´s no need for it because interconnected revolts have built its own utopia: tens, hundreds, thousands, of networked micro-utopias.
The prototype, a concept of digital culture, is an important key of this new renaissance: “An early sample or model built to test a concept or process or to act as a thing to be replicated or learned from”. #GlobalRevolution is a system of micro-utopian prototypes, connected amongst themselves and (almost) in real time. Legal prototypes, communicative prototypes, political, urban, cultural, technological… And this networked collective prototypes, within this new, open, process-based world, replaces any fixed model. Maybe we do not need a definitive model for revolution. It may not be necessary to take power. Because these interconnected micro-utopias will be replacing the parts of the system. Gradually, inevitable.
Spanish 15M´s lawyers – Legal Sol, TomaParte – hanging their online documentation with free licenses and working for the commons. Or Ativistas Advogados collective, who defends Brazilian protesters from police abuse. #GlobalRevolution are citizens building self mass communication, as Manuel Castells theorizes. Spanish Indignado´s TomaLaTele, Brazilian Midia Independente Coletiva platform (MIC) or Turkish Gezi Occupy News are micro-utopias shaping a new communicative renaissance. #Globalrevolution is not just a social explosion. #Globalrevolution is the Athens Wireless Metropolitan Network building free connections in Athens, a music festival crowd funded thanks to #YoSoy132 movement in Mexico City or a digital, free library called Bookcamping.cc, born in the heat of Spanish 15M. #GlobalRevolution does not need rigid dictionaries. It could be a king of set-of-links, a reconnection of dispersed hyperlocalities. An infinite open game in which it doesn´t matter not having a goal, but looking for it collectively.
this new system of imperfect and collectively improved prototypes – is not what has be done, but the created network. When Spanish Indignados were given for dead, the human created network shaped a new urban self-governed space as El Campo de Cebada de Madrid, that won the prestigious European prize Golden Nica. GlobalRevolution puts at the service of concrete causes a dense networked system that influences media and makes information get viral. That was the case of Gamonal´s riots, a working class neighbourhood of Burgos (north of Spain), rose up against urban neoliberalism, visibly helped by 15M ecosystem in its success in stopping a private parking a a new expensive boulevard.
When many thought that Occupy Wall Street had ended, the latency power of created network invented the process #OccupySandy, that after Hurricane Sandy, helped New Yorkers better than either the State or private industry. #Globalrevolution, more process than aim, resembles the unpredictable Guerrilla of T.E Lawrence that described Arab tactics that, escaping from the logic of classic war, defeated the Ottoman Empire between 1916 and 1918. #Globalrevolution would be, paraphrasing Guerrilla, “an influence, something invulnerable, intangible, moving like gas”. It appears where it is not expected. Is the legion of students from #DirenODTU, replanting trees on the campus that Erdogan wanted to turn into highway. Or the Rolling Jubilee linked to Occupy Wall Street, that buy private debts and then forgive them. Or the #EfectoGamonal campaign that spreads world wide Gamonal struggle and complements the strategy of direct action and negotiation of neighbors.
Counter, lateral strike
GlobalRevolution: that guerrilla-gas, flees the classic strategy of the working class, its massive strikes. Without being antagonistic to that formula – some groups work in a self-governed strike of the 99% without unions – #globalrevolution does not find its strength in the stoppage, but in construction. Not in the boycott, but in the movement. In addition, its power is not just replacing the pieces of the system. Its explosive secret lies in the possibility of building their own pieces. Pieces-prototypes openly made in shared flows. Its sting is not, for example, blocking a port, but building an enough attractive port to replace the old one. Or better yet: to create a new system of urban gardens, parallel currencies, micro-ports and a 3D printers network to build objects that will make unnecessary the mega-port of the past.
“Don´t look at us, join us”, sing the Spanish indignados. “Don´t beat the enemy, let them join you”, says Douglas Ruskoff. #GlobalRevolution is not just a social explosion. It is a lever that takes us to a new dimension in which the micro-utopias are replacing the old world, building new spaces, new inclusive processes. Micro-utopias that are shaping a new connecting meta-utopia, atmospheric and rhizomatic at the same time. Who needs, therefore, the orthodox revolution that lives in old dictionaries?
Nothing better to complete this inventory of interconnected micro-utopias, this incipient meta-utopia, as a sentence that Douglas Ruskoff uses to define Occupy Wall Street: “The movement resembles the network in several ways. In part, because it is difficult to conceptualize, because of its peer-to-peer structure. Also, for its ability to tolerate that there is not an ending, but a set of connections. And every connection is a new beginning to something new, and unfolds and unfolds, as life itself”.
Bernardo Gutiérrez is a Spanish journalist and writer. He participates and researches in 15M-Indignados and Global Revolution in general. He is living in São Paulo and the founder of the network FuturaMedia.net.
Occupy’s response to President Obama’s State of the Union address, will be delivered live at 10pm EST by Kshama Sawant (Socialist, Occupy, Seattle City Councilmember)
Tonight, President Obama talked about the deepening inequality.
But that is a testament of his own presidency. A presidency that has betrayed the hopes of tens of millions of people who voted for him out of a genuine desire for fundamental change away from corporate politics and war mongering.
Poverty is at record-high numbers – 95% of the gains in productivity during the so-called recovery have gone to the top 1%.
The president’s focus on income inequality was an admission of the failure of his policies.
An admission forced by rallies, demonstrations, and strikes by fast food and low wage workers demanding a minimum wage of $15. It has been forced by the outrage over the widening gulf between the super-rich and those of us working to create this wealth in society.
Obama is the president who is using smartphone apps – games like Angry Birds – to spy against tens of millions of ordinary people in a completely blatant violation of basic constitutional rights.
The President claims ending two wars while he continues to intensify a brutal campaign of drone wars in multiple countries, killing hundreds of innocent civilians, and not to mention the plight of US soldiers returning with permanent medical conditions and declining veterans’ benefits.
Obama is the president whose broken website is a symbol of the broken hopes of millions who believed his promises for affordable healthcare.
“Climate change is a fact,” says Obama.
Here is another fact: Climate change is getting worse and worse, on his watch. [There has been a massive increase in incredibly destructive practices like the use of coal and fracking(http://ecowatch.com/2014/01/28/obama-sotu-climate-fracking/).
Obama shouts “Fix our broken immigration system.” He is the president with record numbers of deportations.
My brothers and sisters, these problems are not new. And they are not an accident.
Four decades, with four Republican presidents and three Democratic presidents. Four decades that show neither party can solve these problems and that both fundamentally represent the same interests – the interests of the super-wealthy and big corporations.
We will only make progress on the basis of fundamental, systemic change. We need a break from the policies of Wall Street and Corporate America.
We need a break from capitalism. It has failed the 99%.
Both parties bow down before the free market, and loyally serve the interests of their corporate masters – the only difference being a matter of degree.
The political system is completely dysfunctional and broken. It is drowning in corporate cash.
Working people, youth, people of color, women, the elderly, the disabled, immigrants – the 99% – have no voice or representation
We need our own political party. Independent of big business, and independent of the parties of big business.
Some say it cannot be done.
But look at the example of my campaign for Seattle City Council. I ran as an open socialist. I did not take a penny in corporate cash. My campaign raised $140,000 from ordinary working people. I ran as an independent working-class challenger to the capitalist establishment.
I ran on a platform of $15 minimum wage, taxing the super-rich to pay for mass transit and education, and for affordable housing, including rent control.
I am only taking the average worker’s wage while politicians in Seattle and in Congress are totally out of touch with the lives of the rest of us.
We built a grassroots campaign of over 450 people. With almost 100,000 votes, my election was the first time in decades an independent socialist was elected in a major US city.
Americans are hungry for something different. And it’s not just in Seattle. A recent poll showed that sixty percent of Americans want a third party.
Let’s talk about minimum wage. Obama said, “No one working full-time should have to raise a family in poverty.”
And his solution? Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 over 3 years.
I absolutely welcome any step forward on raising the minimum wage. And it is outrageous how the Republican Party is standing in the way.
But let’s be honest: $10.10/hour over three years – or $20,000 per year if you are lucky enough to have a full-time job – is not a ticket out of poverty for working families.
Fast food workers and Walmart workers have gone on strike and built powerful protests in cities in every part of the country over the past year for $15/hour. And that is the only reason politicians are now talking about raising the minimum wage.
Look at the example of the SeaTac $15/hour initiative. An initiative for $15/hour minimum wage was on the ballot – and won!
“Let’s make this a year of action,” Obama said.
In my view, we need action by working people and the poor for higher wages and a $15/hour minimum wage. Action by young people fighting student fees and the debt around their neck for the rest of their life. Action by homeowners against the epidemic of foreclosures. By trade unionists against anti-trade union laws and for workers’ rights.
Get active in your union. Get active in a local movement. Join the struggle to defend the environment.
Join with me and my organization, Socialist Alternative, to challenge big business and fight capitalism.
The epicenter of the fight back in 2014 is the Fight for Fifteen.
I urge you to be part of this struggle. Find out more and sign up to get involved at 15Now.org.
Written by: Justin Wedes (Zuccotti)
I found myself on the eve of 2014 in San Cristobal de las Casas in the southernmost Chiapas state of Mexico, just above the border with Guatemala. The colonial city’s name itself betrays a kind of solidarity with the native peoples of this land: Bartolomé de las Casas was Christopher Columbus’s lesser-known companion, the first Bishop of Chiapas, and a fierce defender of indigenous peoples against enslavement and killing by the colonizers. When indigenous activists seized this city on January 1st, 1994 – the day the NAFTA treaty went into effect – they found the town cheering on their arrival including the Bishop Samuel Ruiz, a modern-day de las Casas.
‘Silence kills. Rise up, woman.’ Chiapas, Mexico pic.twitter.com/ynIkq1TzNF
— Justin Wedes (@justinwedes) January 1, 2014
Tonight, the air smells of sparklers and fireworks, mixed with fresh tamales and ponche de piña made and served in little street carts by poor street vendors. A light-skinned woman wearing pearls and a Happy New Year tiara laughs deeply from inside a corner restaurant. Extravagance and misery commingle in the cool mountain evening.
The Zapatistas are not here in town but rather deep in the Lacandon Jungle surrounding us, and they’ve convened a Zapatista Freedom School on the 20th anniversary of their uprising to show activists, journalists and academics from around the world how they’ve progressed in building their Gobierno Autónomo in Chiapas. After the armed uprising of ’94 and the success of the Zapatistas in reclaiming and defending huge swaths of land from rancheros (Mexican ranchers, or large land-holders), the Mexican government began a strategy of low-intensity military and economic warfare to attempt to isolate, divide and ultimately conquer the growing rebel insurrection. The Zapatistas responded by shifting strategy from armed conflict to non-violent civil resistance, while bolstering and tightening their organizational structures “with a civil and peaceful movement”, as they proclaimed in their 2005 Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle. This movement, in all of its intricate detail, is what I have come down to see in action.
Ten days later, I emerge from the jungle and return to San Cristobal de las Casas with a new perspective on this bold community-building work. And while Gobierno Autónomo - truly autonomous and independent structures of governance – may not be the exact aim of every social justice activist, good government undoubtedly begins with governing oneself and then one’s local community. Here are 7 lessons I humbly submit to you, based on the very Principles of Good Government of the Zapatista rebels:
1 — Lead by Obeying / Obedecer y no Mandar
One of the most unfortunate consequences of living in a society that expends so much money and energy on election campaigns is that political “leaders” become cult figures. The cult of personality has been recognized for centuries to be a threat to real democracy, and is what lead the ancient Greeks to establish the ostrakismos (ostracism) that banned overly influential Athenians from society for 10 years. Politics should not be a fashion show or a popularity contest. It should be an unglamorous but essential civil service job.
The Zapatistas believe that political leaders are at best public servants, installed on a rotating basis at the local level to serve those particular needs of the local and regional community that can’t be fulfilled without collaboration. There are no campaign periods because these jobs are not glorified or lucrative: often times people are elected to positions of authority without them requesting it, and the job never pays a salary. This is not seen as an imposition or burden, because every Zapatista knows they have an obligation to serve their community through their unpaid trabajo colectivo (collective work). This work, however, will never take up more than half of their time, so they can focus on their equally-important trabajo individual (individual work) in order to provide for their families and themselves.
Imagine if our local political leaders worked only part-time as unpaid public servants and still held jobs to provide for their families. Imagine if they saw their role not as deciding for us how we should best live our lives – in consultation, of course, with their corporate masters – but rather helping us organize ourselves better to plan initiatives and confront inevitable problems that arise. The most qualified candidates for these jobs would be identified by the entire community in neighborhood assemblies and voted into office democratically. I imagine politicians wouldn’t have to spend most of their time campaigning for the next election if the job were framed this way.
2 — To represent; not replace / Representar y no suplantar
There has been an endless amount of digital pixels splattered on screens in our movement about representative democracy and its failings. I do not know for certain whether representative democracy, or direct democracy, or even democracy in any form, is the best system of governance. I do know that any system that serves the people must be based on the consent of the governed, and that requires trust. When we proclaim “You don’t represent us!” I suspect that some of us mean “You aren’t representing us!” and some of us mean “You can’t represent us!” I believe both groups have something to learn from the Zapatistas.
The Zapatistas system of governance is based upon the notion of obedience, as described above, and is grounded in the collective trust of the community that all manner of civil conflicts can be resolved within the community by means of dialogue and honest mediation. This shared trusted is bolstered by the elders and teachers of the pueblos (villages), who remind us that “before the conquistadores arrived we indigenous people knew how to govern ourselves”. Self-governance is in their DNA.
Zapatistas take self-governance extremely seriously, as I quickly learned when I arrived to the jungle. An anecdote:
The Occupied Wall Street Journals I brought have created a bit of a problem for my Guardian – the Zapatista young man who has been put in charge of watching over me during the Escuelita (Freedom School). When I gave a copy to him he accepted it, but was concerned that he shouldn’t be taking a gift from me without consulting with his superiors first. (Almost all of his superiors, all the way up to the Junta de Buen Gobierno – the highest office the Zona – are women.)
Today, after breakfast, a woman with a pad of paper tells him to take the gift and any extra copies to the Junta. We walk into the Junta’s office, which has two large desks and a seating area of benches. It looks strikingly like a NY Courtroom. Almost all women in charge. They take down my name and my organization, three women writing diligently in triplicate. Then, they ask me to come forward and explain myself. It all has a very official feel to it, only slightly betrayed by the quiet, warm grins of the women.
I hand them the 10 copies I have and cautiously leave with my Guardian. He tells me they’ll take a look at them and then distribute them around the different Zonas in order to make sure nobody is left out. I breathe a sigh of relief as I survive my first encounter with the Junta.
The Zapatistas understand that the only alternative to the 500+ years of oppression by Europeans is to form their own Gobierno Autónomo and not have to depend on the colonists for their well-being. They see good governance and representing the people as key to this strategy. As the sign welcoming us into their territory reads:
YOU ARE IN ZAPATISTA TERRITORY
Here the People Govern and the Government Obeys
3 — To work from below and not seek to rise / Bajar y no subir
Each Zapatista I spoke to described their trabajo colectivo with an almost-religious dedication. The doctor in the health clinic in my pueblo described meticulously the pharmacy and each of the herbal medications contained in it. When I asked him about the most common ailments, he responded: fever, stomach aches, and diarrhea. He said he travels by car to nearby pueblos to give talks about sanitation and boiling water to remove bacteria. He is unsalaried, and works 8 days a month at the clinic. His travel costs, and all of the costs of the clinic, are not covered by charging patients for healthcare nor adding a premium to the precio justo (literally “just price”, at-cost price) of medications. The clinic operates transparently from the profits of a .5 peso premium on all the items sold in the nearby Zapatista store on the main road. If I don’t believe him, I can just look at the clinic’s entire accounting, which is done on a chalkboard in the waiting room of the clinic.
There is a dentist as well – say Dentista Zapatista five times fast! – with a state-of-the-art dentist chair in this humble clinic. The dentist did not take out hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans to earn his career, but was selected by the community to participate in a training program with a visiting Swiss general practitioner five years ago. Today, he does regular cleanings, cavities and other dental work for 20 pesos per visit. That’s about $1.50 in U.S. dollars. If you’re not a Zapatista, it’s 30 pesos. (I tried unsuccessfully to explain to the Dentist why it costs about 30,000 pesos to treat a cavity in the USA. If in the future I find myself in need of dental work it might be more economical for me to come to him, airfare and 3-hour ride through the jungle all factored in.)
Each of these professionals is doing their trabajo colectivo (collective work), and sees it less as a career than an obligation to their community. When I asked if the mal gobierno (literally bad government, the term used to refer to the Mexican federal government) had tried to lure them out of their jobs with promises, they acknowledged that this is always happening. Scholarships for young indigenous students, drainage systems, more lucrative jobs, and all manner of alluring offers appear regularly from the mal gobierno, but most Zapatistas turn them down out of a very grounded feeling of commitment to their compañeros/as (loosely ‘comrades’). Their non-Zapatista neighbors, called hermanos/as (brothers/sisters), seem to benefit from this kind of low-intensity economic warfare as the recipients of the many federally-funded schools, roads, hospitals, and other services that otherwise may not have been provided had the Zapatistas not been there vying for their allegiance.
4 — To serve; not self-serve / Servir y no servirse
Everything for everyone. Nothing for ourselves / Para todos todo, para nosotros nada
- Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) slogan
There is a deep culture of mutual aid and support in the Zapatista community, not just in governance but at the local and familial level. A vibrant barter economy and sharing economy exists within the pueblos. If a visitor comes to your home during mealtime, it is customary to invite them to eat as well. Hard work is highly-valued, and those who work their milpa (your parcel of land to grow corn, beans, etc.) diligently are held up as role models to the youth. “The land belongs to those who work it” is a coveted saying here. By upholding personal responsibility to one’s family and one’s pueblo, the Zapatistas ensure that people can take care of themselves and won’t have to rely on the Mexican government for peso-paying jobs or scholarships.
This principle of serving others is not to be construed as self-abdication or some kind of religious asceticism. If anything, it’s the opposite: Zapatista culture revolves around balancing one’s collective and individual work so as to optimize the benefits of both. Tasks that are best done by groups of compañeros/as are designated as trabajo colectivo and the benefits of this work are shared equally amongst the community. There’s a bakery collective, a health collective, a sheep collective, a livestock collective, even music collectives that organize mariachi or traditional music bands. Still, Zapatistas recognize that your collective work should never overrun your life – a lesson many an activist I know can take to heart.
The balaclava masks that compañeros/as wear – they call them pasamontañas, are another symbol of the unity of the Zapatistas, and are worn whenever travelling or in large Zapatista public gatherings like the Escuelita. The masks makes visible one’s deep commitment to the organization, and by hiding the face also serves to engender intrigue and hopefully empathy from would-be supporters. Subcomandante Marcos, one notable and famous Zapatista militant, once told a reporter that his mask was “a mirror” reflecting back to the viewer. To the wearer, the mask also serves to ‘decolonize’ the mind and differentiate the indigenous peoples from their oppressor.
1/13/14 – At lunch my Guardian took off his mask to eat. Now I see his young face, probably my same age. His indigenous eyes looked wise and old behind his mask. Now he appears young and vital.
“That’s my cousin over there,” he says to me as he points to a young woman across the way. She has taken off her mask as well and is strikingly beautiful. I wave and she smiles, pointing to my Guardian and I can see her mouthing “Mi primo.” My cousin.
5 — To convince; not conquer / Convencer y no vencer
One corollary of the concept of consent of the governed is that good governance is not imposed by force but grown bottom-up by debate and convincing people. This idea has nearly been lost in many of our so-called “democratic” communities. Elected, or appointed, officials hold sham “public meetings” where they pretend to listen to parents, students, teachers, workers, farmers affected by chemical spills, or some other natural constituency. Then they pull out their BlackBerry and text their friend at the most powerful nearby corporation to let them know that they’ll be safe to keep profiting off of us peons. It’s no wonder that countless school board meetings keep showing up on YouTube with indignant parents being dragged off by security thugs. They’re not listening, let alone trying to convince us!
The thing is it’s easier to conquer than it is to convince. Convincing takes logical argument, consideration of many viewpoints, discussion, debate, revision, reflection, and a good dose of humility. It is far easier to bypass all of that messy democracy stuff and just steamroll through the will of the people. For Zapatistas, that isn’t even an option.
Each new project or proposal in the community triggers a community assembly, where men and women alike gather to discuss pertinent issues. These don’t have to be tiresome, 4-hour meetings, and are often merged with convivios (social gatherings, literally “living together”) that include delicious food with leftovers going into family pots for later consumption at home. The spirit of Resistencia is what propels these meetings, and as many of learned at Zuccotti Park: consensus is easier to achieve when people are trying to agree.
6 — To construct; not destroy / Construir y no destruir
Anti-exploitation is at the heart of the Zapatista mindset. From the Zapatista hymn:
Nuestro pueblo exige ya / Our people demand now
acabar la explotación / An end to exploitation
nuestra historia dice ya / Our history says now
lucha de liberación / Struggle for liberation!
1/5/13 – My Guardian’s father and I are standing atop a hill overlooking the village I am staying in. Hundreds of acres of fertile land, once owned by a single ranchero who put only his family and friends on it. Now, hundreds of indigenous people – some Zapatistas, others not – live on the land. The elder tells me about an oil company that was preparing a drill rig on the edge of this land in 1994 when the uprising began. After hearing that the Zapatistas had taken over the ranch and the land, the company packed up and left without even a fight. They didn’t want to be anywhere near Zapatistas.
The non-destruction principle applies as much to human relationships as to land, as evidenced by the Zapatista’s unique justice system. It bears a resemblance to restorative justice, the alternative to a retributive (or punitive) justice system. It sees crime as an offense against an individual or community rather than the state, and seeks to resolve conflicts by restoring justice for all parties injured by the act. (This includes the offender, who has unmet needs as well.)
Alcohol and drugs are prohibited in Zapatista communities, and stigmatized as tools of the mal gobierno to keep people down and confused. These stories become mildly believable when one considers the rampant alcoholism in Western society, among all strata of society and also among indigenous Native Americans.
Education is central in Zapatista culture, and autonomous schools exist in each pueblo to teach youngsters about their long history of Resistencia and self-governance. This is a particular point of pride for Zapatistas, who often recount the story of a Zapatista youth who went through autonomous schooling and then left the region for a non-Zapatista school. Her teacher in this new school was amazed at how proficient she was in all subjects, and knew that she must have come from a Zapatista school. One of the biggest threats to the Zapatistas, however, is the luring away of students from the community with promises of scholarships to state schools. This exploits the Zapatista’s highly non-coercive culture, which does not compel people to remain in the organization but rather tries to convince them of its value.
7 — To propose; not impose / Proponer y no imponer
The last, and perhaps most important, lesson to be learned from the Zapatistas is their breath-taking humility. This derives from a culture of debate and self-reflection rather than steamrolling forward without vision or contemplation. To propose a path forward, and not to impose one, is the ideal of the Zapatista. A common phrase heard around the Freedom School
“Un mundo en que quepan muchos mundos / A world in which many worlds fit”
I asked my host uncle this very question at the dinner table, as I could sense he was both up on current events in the world and politically-inclined. The look in his eyes communicated to me that I was unnecessarily complicating the issue. He reminded me of the Zapatista mantra
Here the People Govern and the Government Obeys
This is both populist – the noble ‘people’ versus the elite few – and separatist. But neither term does it justice, and the 21st-century Zapatistas don’t view themselves in an insulated bubble but rather as part of a global movement for real democracy and climate justice. They don’t aim to take down the Mexican government, but rather to lift up (or perhaps ground down, in the humbling language of the Zapatistas) the people of Mexico to a grander ideal of living in harmony with each other and the land.
All of this reminds me of the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City, a document which one of its authors described as “a document, like a structure, with space inside for all of us.” It’s a deeply pluralistic movement like ours, bounded only by a commitment to preserving the 500-year tradition of its people against the often-overwhelming onslaught of misinformation and propaganda slung toward it by the destabilizing colonialist forces. It’s a meta-movement, a movement of local movements.
1/6/14 – La Despedida / The Goodbye
It’s called a convivio when people get together like this to just spend some time together, eat, talk, pass the mic, you know.
This convivio has atole, sweet corn water, and each family comes up to get their bucket-full. Tamales too, filled with mashed black beans. We sit with our families as the mic is passed around the crowd for departing words, each mini-speech followed by a short cadence from a live mariachi band stationed at the corner of the open-air auditorium.
“I hope we come to see each other again, but if not, we will be together in heaven,” says the elder of the pueblo.
Justin Wedes is an educator and activist based in Brooklyn, New York. He is the founder and co-Principal of the Paul Robeson Freedom School, an independent social justice youth and adult education space in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. He’ll be reporting back on his experience in Chiapas this Tuesday night at the Freedom School’s bi-monthly free community dinner + lecture series.
“We commissioned the greatest political philosophers of our movement to contribute a thought-piece that encourages intellectual curiosity, strategic thinking and tactical innovation within the global Occupy movement. We call it Theory Thursday. This week’s contribution is from Christopher Key, a movement philosopher in NYC. Christopher is a Zuccotti. That is a term we use to distinguish the founders of the first Occupy Wall Street encampment and assembly in Zuccotti Park. To read this article on your device, download the unabridged ebook edition.” – Micah White
For a truly transformative revolution to take place a parallel, alternative society must be created that is robust enough for the people to live their entire lives within it from cradle to grave.
People would be born in this new society’s hospitals, be educated within its schools, work within its institutions, and be buried in its grounds, all the while drawing entertainment, friendship, and meaning from those around them. Such institutions must go beyond simple charity, beyond providing people things, and instead be a means through which people are able to provide for themselves in a manner that directly challenges the prevailing order while not replicating its neuroses. Any successful revolution will co-opt the functions of the society it opposes because society, essentially, is these functions.
Secession Versus Mosaic
There are two ways that this can be accomplished. One is a secessionist model, the way of communes and collectives. Under this model, the community would generate everything it needs by itself, being a self-sustaining closed loop society that can simply separate from the dominant order with little to no ill-effects. While such things are wonderful experiments in sustainability and community living, their isolation, both geographic and social, makes them poor tools for mass revolution. While they may well achieve the cradle to grave totality that a parallel system needs and, within its limited sphere, create and sustain a new model for the way things are done, their isolation means that they cannot effectively engage with society as a whole, because it is that much more difficult to interact with them in a meaningful way. This reduces them, at best, to sociological museum pieces that can be observed and commented on, but never really experienced on the scale that is needed to transform large sections of society. In addition, because someone has to go out of their way to interact with and observe these communities in action, the only information that most people will have about them is that which has been supplied by other people, which means that these communities have that much less control over their own message and image. Since, by definition, they are out of the mainstream, this means that the dominant order will be the one that gets to tell people who and what this community is. This means that, despite their intensely practical nature, their demonstrative impact is limited to a rather small sphere. Finally, it should be noted that such communities are rarely sustainable in the long run because, historically, children raised within them tend to leave them behind, making their lifespan only a few generations at most, and just one or two more commonly.
Not that this means a secessionist model is automatically doomed to failure. For a secessionist community to thrive, however, it must directly address a practical problem that is faced by many people, such as lack of farmland to grow food, regardless of ideology. Once again, the alternative must be directly demonstrated through the amelioration of some sort of practical difficulty. This is the difference between, say, the Zapatistas in Mexico and a small commune in upstate New York formed for the explicit purpose of practicing orthodox Marxism. The intentional community is just that: intentional. Its formation is a matter of choice, a bold project intended to explore the depths of political and social possibilities but, ultimately, remains a matter of curiosity on the part of its founders. For the likes of the Zapatistas or Brazil’s landless workers movement, however, such a community is a matter of survival, and those who also want to survive are the ones who are drawn to them.
However, there still remain significant outreach problems among those that are not naturally inclined to join such a community. While blunted by the perspective of those who experience the problems that a secessionist community is built to address, their image among mainstream society will still largely be controlled by those who oppose them due, once again, to a lack of direct, everyday engagement among the population as a whole. Its main impact will be on those within this community and those who are in similar circumstances to those who first formed it. Their specialized demographics mean that it is much more difficult to reach outside of this circle and into mainstream society as a whole. Additionally, if the community is set up to address a specific problem faced by a certain set of people, then those who are not facing this problem will have little reason to join it, which means there is a fixed number of people who would be potentially interested in joining such a community.
These challenges are less of an issue with another possible way, which is the mosaic model, where the individual components of the new society exist side by side with those of the current established order, decentralized but linked into a single network. While a secessionist model has every aspect of its parallel society contained in a single place, with participation limited only to the people living within the community, the mosaic model has each of its functions handled by a different group, each of them gaining their means of support through interactions with these other groups. Rather than being geographically and socially isolated, these institutions are, by design, directly engaged with society. People don’t need to go out of their way to see these institutions operate. They will see them just by living in the same area, and will thus more easily be able to participate if they have an interest or need.
Take, for example, a volunteer ambulance service: even if they, themselves, never avail themselves of its services, people will constantly see its vehicles traveling from place to place and know that it is possible to get ambulance service under this alternative model. If they should ever find themselves in a situation where they need such services and call upon them, the demonstration of this model’s viability will be even stronger and will better understand its superiority.
Further, because it exists among society rather than apart from it, it is easier for people to make side by side comparisons between the revolutionary institutions and the mainstream ones, and to choose the revolutionary institutions for getting their needs met, which not only builds loyalty to the alternative system but weakens the current one by denying it access to the resources and support it needs to sustain itself. In the greatest of all ironies, capitalism will simply be out raced. If it continues to exist at all, it will do so only as a quaint historical curiosity, perhaps as a theme park where people dress in period costumes and speak in old dialects to educate students on what life was like before participating in non-market networks of [mutual aid](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutual_aid_(organization_theory) became simply how things are done.
Because each of these institutions will only have a piece of what is needed to sustain themselves and the people within them, they will have to depend on each other for their existence and comfort and so will, by necessity, have to be outwardly facing in nature. Solidarity will be not just a sentiment but a survival mechanism, which makes ironing out any disagreements with each other a matter of life and death. It will be through cooperation, not competition, that any of these institutions will be capable of continued existence, for none will be able to sustain themselves completely without the support of other institutions. Withdrawal, the logical conclusion of the secessionist model, will simply not be possible.
The mosaic model is also advantageous because it is modular. You don’t need to have everything in place at once to start building up a robust network. You can build up their capacities over time, and experiment with what does and doesn’t work. It’s inevitable that, at least in the beginning, some engagement with mainstream society will be necessary. A farm might not be able to grow enough produce at first to be anything more than a supplement; a clinic may need to tap into the grid for the power it needs to run its machines; a carpentry crew might need to buy its tools and equipment from a capitalist firm. So long as such arrangements are understood, in the long term, to be temporary, and the institutions make weaning themselves off of their dependence on the dominant order as high priority, however, these short-term concessions should not stand in the way of eventually achieving what I would call a stateless sovereignty: an ability for people to live entirely within a parallel society and provide for themselves by interacting only with the alternative economy.
Astute readers may note that just as there are many communes and collectives that follow the secessionist model, there exist myriad specialized collectives, mostly in urban areas, that follow the mosaic model, and they haven’t been successful in starting the revolution either. If a mosaic model is so much better, what explains its lack of success thus far?
One reason is lack of effective networking. While an area might have an abundance of individual collectives, all diligently working toward their own particular goals, they have not often worked together on a consistent basis. While a city might have one organization concentrating on food distribution, another focused on providing medical services and a third offering child care, they have tended to remain isolated from each other, with each thinking of their own particular project as some sort of separate endeavor, as opposed to being part of one large network that can boast all of these things simultaneously.
Another reason is simple lack of resources, material and human, with both problems usually feeding into each other. Revolutionary groups tend to be small and, because of this, usually have limited access to resources that they need to fulfill their missions. Anyone with even a passing familiarity such with groups know that they tend to run into constant problems regarding access to equipment, supplies and even a place out of which they can operate. Part of the reason for this is that, starting out, they only have the resources–material, intellectual and social –that their individual members can bring to bear, and there tend not to be a lot of individual members who consistently show up.
But this is not always the case. There are large, robust collectives that manage to consistently operate with an adequate amount of resources. If resources were the only stumbling block, this would be puzzling. However, another reason these specialized collectives have yet to build to a serious revolution is that they tend to be rather insular. Put bluntly, many contemporary collectives appeal only to other revolutionaries, and do so by design. Organizations founded by revolutionaries tend to attract only other revolutionaries. Much like it is in capitalism, it is folly to think that the new system will be composed entirely of true believers, but radical insularity presumes just this, which limits them only to those who would be inclined to agree with them anyway and becomes, at best, a support system for other revolutionaries. A big reason for this is because it is generally only other revolutionaries that will know about their existence to begin with. This means that, even in a large city, these groups can be isolated from the population as a whole. While they may, spatially, be among the community, culturally they are as isolated as a country commune.
Models for a Parallel Society
Making non-revolutionaries the focus when accomplishing practical, concrete goals should address these issues. The model should be participatory in nature, existing as a means for people to provide for themselves, not to be provided for. The participatory nature of this system is vital because it instills a level of commitment and ownership that simple gratitude cannot match and, furthermore, allows for sustainability in a way that a purely charitable model would not. Those who benefit from the system should also be the ones who contribute to it. The more people it reaches, the more people it will have to support it. Starting out, focus should be on the needs that are most under served in a population, a place where capitalism has left gaps that can be filled in by alternative economic models.
Since the entire venture will collapse without new people constantly joining, at least at the start, outreach is a survival skill. A network will not survive without constantly making new contacts and expanding its scope. Meanwhile, by making the network participatory in nature and eliminating the barrier between server and served, you address the problem caused by lack of people which, in turn, can help address the problem caused by lack of resources. This also helps address the problem of such networks appealing only to other radicals; there are only so many radicals out there. If a network is successful in solving practical, concrete problems, its appeal will spread to anyone that it touches, because the results will speak for its efficacy.
One possible model for such a system is what could best be described as a network of networks, each constituent part devoted to meeting some specific need. For example, one part of the network would be composed entirely of individuals and organizations interested in creating a food distribution network, another would be dedicated to meeting medical needs, another would ensure public sanitation, and so on and so forth. Within each of these individual networks would, in turn, be smaller networks that work on the individual needs of that particular network as a whole. So, within the food network, one part will focus on producing food, perhaps through farms and gardens, another will focus on distribution, while another would handle food safety. Each of these networks would be composed of still smaller networks as needed. For example, the food production network would, itself, be composed of seed gathering networks, soil quality networks, and harvesting networks.
Individual networks would act autonomously on matters directly pertaining to them. However, discussions that would impact other parts of the network on some unavoidable, inescapable level (such as if, say, a particular crop can only be grown where another project already operates) would be discussed with all the relevant stakeholders, with courses of action decided upon through careful conversation and debate on what they feel is the best course of action. This is to ensure that decision making does not become a top-down affair — the wider scale a decision, the more people the conversation will necessarily involve. This also ensures that people do not get bogged down in endless meetings concerned with minutiae that have nothing to do with the majority of people there — the only decisions made will be the ones that directly concern the participants, which maximizes the autonomy of each network as well. However, considering that decisions tend to ripple throughout a network, such conversations will probably involve multiple networks.
Because whether or not a decision pertains to someone is not always immediately apparent, a transparent information structure will be vital so that, even if a debate isn’t necessarily germane to one network, its members will still know about it and be able to judge for themselves whether it’s relevant to them. How these debates happen and how people will judge whether or not a decision pertains to a particular network is, of course, a decision that affects all people in the network, and so no matter what it is that people decide, this overall structure must be determined with full participation and input from all members of the network.
Step one is getting a large starting base of people, which will require extensive networking, possibly with community groups already in the area that already have people and resources that can be utilized, which avoids the previously mentioned pitfall of having isolated, discrete organizations that don’t work together.
While there are doubtless many different ways to do this, one possible method would be to call a large general meeting of as many of these organizations as possible, as well as individuals who may not be a part of any of them but are nonetheless interested in what they do. Once gathered in one place, the group as a whole can examine their collective capacities and resources and decide for itself the specific areas on which they can focus, such as food or transportation or home maintenance and repair. The general group can then separate off into breakout groups organized along each of these areas and begin the work of planning and implementing their specific part of the overall network. While not necessary, it may also help to have a group within this network composed of members of all the various other organizations that will focus on one-off projects and events that concerns itself with immediate problems and issues that can be addressed right away, rather than long-term needs such as food or medicine. People may also find it prudent to have a similar group devoted to outreach and visibility, giving new people interested in participating an easy conduit through which they can engage.
Depending on how many people come in at the start, it may be possible to only form one or two networks that meet a few immediate needs, say food and medicine. This is okay. The important thing, in this model, is to get the first few networks off the ground. Once these groups are assembled, they can focus on growing their base by increasing participation, and creating new networks that meet new needs, with the goal being the creation of a cradle to grave totality that generates the stateless sovereignty that will form the basis for the post-revolutionary economic system.
This is, of course, but one example. Presumably, each network will have its own quirks, variation accounting for local resources and conditions, and all will be run in slightly different ways. However, regardless of the specifics, in general the most important parts of any network are active and open participation, transparency, autonomy and accountability, and modularity. While the particulars may vary, a successful network will incorporate all of these main principles. As time goes on and networks grow, the various ways in which these networks operate will form the basis for how the communities they serve will govern themselves.
Regardless of the particulars, though, the focus in general should be on fixing specific problems, which is essentially the purpose of any societal institution. This need not necessarily be done in the exact same way that our current society functions, and given that the whole point of a revolution is to produce a root and stem change in the fundamental ways that society operates, a wholesale replication is not even a desirable outcome anyway. But, ultimately, people accessing these alternatives need to be better off doing so than they would be accessing that which is offered by mainstream society. This is the metric against which all such networks must be measured.
Process and Defense
There is no purpose of creating a new society if it degenerates into a copy of the old, which has been the fate of all too many revolutions in the past.
So while it is indeed important to consider what sorts of decisions will get made, even more important is how they will get made in the first place: who took part in this decision? Who got to speak? How were people made aware that the discussion was taking place at all? And what sort of process will evaluate the decision so it can be changed should the need arise? These factors must always be considered to create a new society, because current society almost completely ignores them. As current society is hierarchical in nature, the network must operate non-hierarchically, with no one part having direct authority over another. If the organization is capable of doing this, then even if people within it were power-hungry and authoritarian, there is no outlet through which these desires can be expressed and it becomes that much less likely that a single person or group can dominate the process. Hierarchy is vulnerability: it presents an inviting target for opponents, is an easy access point for subversion, and encourages power struggles that can pose existential threats to the entire project. Furthermore, it is inefficient, as groups lose the ability to act autonomously and must instead seek approval for their actions from some director or manager.
While it will probably not happen at first, there may be some push back from the dominant order, especially as the revolutionary economy starts co-opting the functions that give the state its power. Early on, this will probably take the form various rules and regulations, and the potentially violent enforcement thereof. Current society does what it can to maintain the monopoly it has on every day life and possesses numerous rules on what one can or cannot do, some of which are well intentioned, but mainly are demonstrations of its territoriality over people’s lives. For example, a network might want to set up a group home somewhere, or even build one themselves, but may run afoul of things such as zoning and planning regulations that prohibit such a use on that particular property. Working within legitimate channels, such as getting a zoning variance for the aforementioned group home, might work and may represent the optimal solution at a particular time, but this cannot be guaranteed. Utilizing the system’s mechanisms should be seen as only a pragmatic measure undertaken as a last resort, considering that the whole point of this endeavor is to set up an entirely new system within the shell of the old. A revolution is predicated on a refusal to acknowledge the dominant order entirely and so its laws are to be seen as merely practical obstacles on the way to providing something better. With this in mind, though, it may be a good idea for a network to set up a defense group that will actively work to prevent incursions that would inhibit the work that it does through media outreach, direct action and good old fashioned protest.
As time goes on, though, more severe reactions may occur. Although a mutual aid network may seem innocuous at first, not worth the consideration of serious attention from the state and capitalist economic system, the networks may eventually come to encounter the thuggish repression that always seems to accompany legitimate challenges to the powers that be, starting with riot police and, if those prove ineffective, escalating to rifles and tanks, bombers and drones, against which the chances of victory are slim. Slightly more manageable would be infiltration and sabotage such as that enacted by COINTELPRO a few decades ago, though this too has proven to be hideously effective against movements in the past.
In both cases, the efficacy of the network must be its strongest defense. By the time the state finally realizes that there is a legitimate threat within its midst, there must be enough people within these networks across the country that action against them would necessarily mean action against their friends and loved ones. The more engaged and integrated with the community that a particular network is, the more problematic blunt force repression becomes. Therefore, being outward facing and participatory in nature is a matter of survival. Should a network achieve this level of growth, violent repression will backfire spectacularly. If it does not, if it is composed entirely of politically aware radicals, then the state will have no problems firing at will, because the guns will be aimed not at “us” but at “them.” If you live in a niche, you will die in a niche.
The other danger that exists is that of co-option into the dominant order, becoming yet one more amusing specimen in its already vast menagerie of organizations that seek not to overthrow the old system but to make life within it slightly more tolerable. This happens when people forget that building alternative institutions which address people’s needs in a direct way is only a means to an end, namely revolution, not an end in and of itself. While this fate may befall a revolutionary network under virtually any circumstances, it will be hastened by exposure and entanglement with the mechanisms of mainstream society – involving itself in electoral politics, for example, or becoming too enmeshed in the nonprofit organization mindset, both of which create a dependency on the continued existence of the state and capitalist economic system in order to optimally function. This is, in fact, an even bigger threat than repression from the system, and will only grow bigger the larger and more successful the network becomes.
The true purpose behind the organization must always be kept in mind in order to guard against this happening. The goal is a fundamental transformation of all society in the way we live, work and play, which necessitates the eventual destruction of the state and capitalist economic system, both of which alienate us from our own lives for the benefit of a select few. Nothing short of this, in the long term, will do because the problems that we face necessarily emanate from these institutions. Thus, there must be frequent internal reflection to detect early any signs of creeping reformism. However, one cannot rely on reflection alone – the very structure of the network itself must be built so that the existence of the dominant order does not matter one way or the other, with every action of those within it reflecting the nature of the new society. This means things such as avoiding the use of market mechanisms in its operations as much as possible, mainly relying instead on in-kind exchanges of goods and services, and minimizing any interaction with the state. The network should operate as much as possible as if the revolution has already arrived.
While there is no doubt much frustration as to the speed with which the revolution happens, it must be known that, even in the best of cases, this is a multi-generational process that will require effort on the part of grandparents, parents and children in a great unbroken chain, not only to achieve the critical mass necessary to present a truly viable alternative to mainstream society but to ensure it remains robust for the future. We all carry within us the neuroses of our own pasts, and while great efforts can be expended to manage the authoritarian impulses learned from living in a hierarchical society and the ruthless selfishness learned from living in a capitalistic one, they will never be truly erased. While our work in building the foundations of a new society is important, we will not be the ones who will carry its banner; that honor will go to future generations that grew up in this new civilization having never known the spiritual sickness from which their precursors suffered.
Not realizing this has been why so many revolutions in the past have turned utopias into graveyards. The neuroses of the old order seep into that of the new. On a technical level, yes, a swift and often violent overthrow of the established power can quickly create new institutions and reorder the very structure of society, mainly because these things are usually done at gunpoint, which is one hell of a motivator. While this may be more immediately satisfying than the slow way, history shows that such revolutions tend to quickly unravel into a humanitarian nightmare. Revolutionaries don’t even need to necessarily succeed for this to happen; witness extant militias today that have long ago abandoned all but the most faint of pretense of revolutionary aims in favor of becoming, essentially, armed gangs concerned more with controlling territory than establishing a new society. This is because a violent revolution, by its very definition, will be won by those who have no problem with using violence to achieve their aims. Why should this thinking evaporate once they come into power? It was though the gun that they seized power and it is through the gun that they shall preserve it, and we are back at the repression and alienation that necessitated the revolution to begin with, old wine in a new bottle. The gun answers only to its wielder. At best, you have replaced one type of oppression with another that shuffles the members of the ruling class but maintains the existence of that class none the same. It’s not even a stable condition because the people as a whole have not been primed to work within this new society and so, themselves, continue to carry the same mindset that characterized the old one. A forced change produces violent reaction, and the only way to prevent this reaction in such a situation is to be more violent still – not an optimal solution by any means.
In the end, then, the revolution must be won through bread and medicine–not bombs and rifles. The key to creating a new social order is a network that aims to solve practical, everyday problems in a way that is superior to the current one, both in its efficacy and its appeal to those who participate in it. The revolution is not a tearing down but a building up. The revolutionary’s goal is to break the current system’s monopoly on every day life. Only then can a new society emerge.
Christopher Key is a Zuccotti—a founder of the Occupy Wall Street encampment in New York City—who wants to see thousands of mutual aid networks spring up to challenge the dominant order.
While the Waltons enjoy a life of epic luxury and entitlement, resting in the top 20 of wealth holders in the planet, the #WalmartStrikers are fighting for food at the table, sick days, and $15 dollars an hour (at the very least).
Last week, we introduced for public perusal a few of the training materials for Walmart managers. Missing in those slides, were some key talking points.
What does a loyal manager do if a Walmart Associate asks about the big bad union?
If you are a Walmart worker and you want to be involved in organizing your workplace, contact Making Change.
In light of the recent disturbing disclosures concerning Governor Chris Christie’s flagrant misuse of federal Sandy aid money, the collective of storm survivors and their allies who organize under the Occupy Sandy New Jersey banner are hereby calling on residents of New Jersey to join us in Trenton in Occupying outside the Capitol starting this Saturday, January 18th, at noon. We intend to maintain our camp through Chris Christie’s re-inauguration festivities on Tuesday, January 21st.
In particular we invite and encourage Sandy survivors to make the trip to Trenton (we’ll help you get here if you reach out: call 609-318-4271 or email [email protected]) to tell your stories to the state and national media already camped out nearby. We know that the people of New Jersey have stories to tell, to Chris Christie and to anyone willing to listen, and we plan to provide a safe space from which to do so.
Since our Sandy recovery work continues on a daily basis—indeed, some of our volunteers and organizers may not even be able to make it to Trenton due to responsibilities in the field—this will only be a four day Occupation. However, should the administration fail to quickly fix its broken response to the storm and shift its attention to the state’s residents who are most in need, we will not rule out returning to Trenton again soon. Governor Christie must understand that the last people he should be bullying right now are Sandy survivors.
This article is by Damien Crisp
In West Virginia three hundred thousand folks were without water. They could not shower. They could not drink their water. They could not make coffee. Local businesses could not open their doors. Residents could flush their toilets but, otherwise, the water was declared useless for an unknown amount of time. West Virginia’s governor declared the water safe again but residents remained weary. Do you trust the local officials in a state long controlled by industry? You certainly cannot trust the company responsible for poisoning your water supply. And, how long will residue from the chemicals be in your pipes? How much is left in the water supply? The Elk River was being poisoned by the effects of hyper-capitalist driven deregulation and now residents have to live with the paranoia created by irresponsible industries who never concede fault. Now, West Virginia’s Charleston Gazette is reporting tests used to declare water safe again were faulty. We have to ask: were they were intentionally misleading?
Freedom Industries is responsible for leaking 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol into the river. Operating under few restrictions and aggressively seeking to maintain profit, Freedom Industries attempted to hide their spill of chemicals used to clean coal. They had good reason to believe this spill could be hidden. Their efforts were thwarted by locals who could smell chemicals and reported the crisis.
The state of West Virginia is a poster child for nationwide exploitation of people and the environment via “free market” ideology. Residents of Appalachia, especially West Virginia, have long been exploited by industry. Isolation, lack of solid education, abundant natural resources and empty promises by predatory capitalists guaranteed historic exploitation.
Historic exploitation that has included the United States Army siding with the Coal industry (surprise, surprise) to break a rebellion by coal miners trying to unionize.
The state has consistently worked against its own environmental and economic survival by allowing the worst practices of the coal industry a safe place to play. Control of the electorate as well as control of state and local governments by the coal industry left little choice other than self-destruction over the past 150 years.
The effects of a nationwide push to deregulate industry in the United States are now an undeniable reality to 300,000 West Virginians. They were left with the evidence: a river of toxicity. More broadly, the effects of a state controlled by the coal industry are made extremely clear to the American public by this crisis. As residents, journalists and activists tried to learn the impact of this chemical spill, they found a chemical that has been allowed to be used by the coal industry without adequate research into its dangers.
Could this be the environmental disaster that turns residents of West Virginia against exploitation of their land and lives? Could this example of “free market” ideology in practice help reverse our slide into a reality increasingly dominated by big business regardless of its destructive impact? Stand in solidarity with the people of West Virginia and hold this crisis up as proof of the destruction created by capitalist ideology. Profit at any cost is not acceptable anymore. Fight back West Virginians! Occupy the energy and demand an end to the coal industry and its abuses.
First image via riddle-you-this.tumblr.com
Damien Crisp is an artist, writer and activist. He has lived in New York City, Guadalajara. Mexico, and currently lives in southeast Tennessee. His writings can be followed on social media and blogs. He was a body, voice, and citizen journalist during Occupy Wall Street’s time at Zuccotti Park, as well as a coordinator for Occupy Sandy.
“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)
Who would have thought that a relatively conservative city like Burgos, Spain would have detonated a string of spontaneous and massive protest across the country? Over the past four days, social media networks across the globe have exploded with the hashtag #Gamonal and #EfectoGamonal, viralizing this small town’s struggle against rising property prices and corrupt municipal dealings to international attention, and along the way reawaken national indignation that has been simmering in Spain for years.
The conflict originated around the slatted construction of an expensive multi-story parking garage in the densely populated center of Gamonal, a working class neighborhood of Burgos. The project is to be lead by developer and local media tycoon Antonio Miguel Méndez Pozo, a former felon charged with corruption and with ties to the right-wing Popular Party. Mendez Pozo is seen as an emblematical figure, responsible for the runaway property prices that stem from years of collusion between elected officials and private real estate developers and his control of the regions biggest newspaper. Public demonstrations began on Monday, as local residents perplexed by the scale and invasiveness of the new development, went to the streets demanding a refocusing of priorities to address the city’s chronic unemployment and underfunded public services. Once the internet got a hold of it, the rising up of this working class community became a battle cry to denounce the general corruption of the Spanish government long ago taken over by banks and private interest. Under the banner of the #GamonalEffect Solidarity marches assembled in Madrid, Seville, Valladolid, Logroño, Oviedo, Zaragoza, and Barcelona.
Yesterday, firefighters in Barcelona congregated in Plaça de Catalunya in an impressive show of force carrying signs that read “If Burgos can, We can too”.
Last night in Madrid 13 demonstrators were arrested as thousands took to the streets of the Gran Via.
Today we all stand united by #Gamonal because their struggle is our struggle: people having a voice in the face of a brutal economic system that puts profits before people.
Following the release of a claim from Anonymous that Walmart would be targeted, we received the following secret internal documents on Walmart’s attempts to thwart workers who are mobilizing for basic rights and a decent wage. These documents go a long way in revealing just how scared Walmart is of its own workers standing together for change.
FACT CHECK: OUR Walmart is not a union nor is it seeking union recognition. OUR Walmart is simply a group of Walmart hourly workers who have come together to address issues in their stores.
FACT CHECK: Walmart falsely claims that OUR Walmart is seeking union recognition and trying to build a union, because under US labor law, this would take away some of the rights of striking workers. OUR Walmart workers have gone on strike to stand up to Walmart’s retaliation against workers when they have come together to speak out about issues like decent pay, respect in the workplace and getting enough hours to survive. These are legally protected unfair labor practice strikes. Walmart wants people to believe that these are strikes for union recognition so that it can freely fire and target workers, rather than be forced to obey the law and respect their right to speak up.
FACT CHECK: OUR Walmart and UFCW are not seeking to represent Walmart workers.
FACT CHECK: Some of the materials claim that Walmart “takes care” of its own associates. Walmart actually costs tax-payers $900,000 a store in subsidies because they care so poorly for their associates. Recently, a store Walmart held a food drive, for its own workers who can’t afford to eat.
FACT CHECK: Of course workers organizing does not guarantee any result, but we’ve already seen the result of doing nothing and you can guarantee that nothing will get better if people don’t stand up to bullying tactics, insufficient hours and low pay.
FACT CHECK: Walmart claims to have open lines of communication through its “open door policy.” This is really a divide-and-conquer tactic, in which the company makes a single worker bring issues to management alone. This means the “open door” is closed to groups who wish to raise issues together and is one way Walmart seeks to deal with people individually, instead of collectively in a stronger group.
FACT CHECK: Walmart claims to be transparent, but doesn’t even supply its workers with a policy manual. They have to access company policies at work on the company network, without time to fully review, rather than having a clear understanding of what is required and allowed.
FACT CHECK: OUR Walmart is a group of Associates who are speaking and representing themselves.
FACT CHECK: What this graph doesn’t tell you is what happened to wages and the middle class when union membership dropped.
via Huffington Post
FACT CHECK: OUR Walmart dues are $5/month and goes to support the organizing work of OUR Walmart. Workers are still welcome to participate if they do not pay dues or are unable to continue paying dues.
FACT CHECK: Making Change at Walmart is the UFCW-led coalition that works in solidarity with OUR Walmart, much like Occupy Wall Street.
FACT CHECK: Walmart workers, in most other countries, have union representation – the United States is an anomaly. When asked why that is the case, then International Chief Executive and soon-to-be Walmart CEO said “We have a local philosophy. It’s our intention to demonstrate that we are a great corporate citizen.”
FACT CHECK: Despite Walmart’s acronym “TIPS” Walmart has recently gotten into trouble for breaking most of the rules outlined in the acronym.
The report also documents how Walmart has tried to silence communities along with workers through:
- Restraining orders against protesters
- Selective enforcement of company policies in order to provide a pretext for disciplining or terminating
- Selective enforcement of the company’s solicitation policies in order to limit workers’ access to information
about the benefits of organizing
- Illegal threats that workers would face serious consequences if they organized, including economic losses
- Illegal manipulation of store staffing in order to dilute support for organizing and union representation in the run-up to a union election
- Illegal information gathering including coercive interrogation, eavesdropping, and remote monitoring of
workers via security cameras
The National Labor Relations Board has found merit in workers’ claims of intimidation and illegal action on Walmart’s behalf. After workers went on strike over retaliation in 2013, Walmart responded by firing around 20 workers and disciplining 40 more to scare workers out of standing up for their rights.
FACT CHECK: Note that the union card on page #34 does not say anything about Walmart. OUR Walmart doesn’t sign representation over to UFCW.
FACT CHECK: Unions partner with local groups to help them hold Walmart accountable. This is not meant to harm the company, but to call on Walmart to be a good neighbor and keep its promises to the community. Walmart often makes promises about wages and jobs when it comes to a community, but there is nothing to hold them accountable. This work is all done in solidarity with the workers.
If you are a Walmart worker, there is no time like the present to start organizing your workplace. Go to: http://ChangeWalmart.org
If you are an occupy activist and you would like to help with the effort, go to: http://ChangeWalmart.org and tell them we sent you.
In 2014 we will rise up like never before. We will rise up with compassion, action, and consciousness. We will rise up rooted, like trees. We will rise up connected, like mycorrhizzal fungi, a rhizome spreading, cracking, shattering the cold concrete of a consumer culture bent on self destruction. We will rise up symbiotic, interdependent and [...]
Exponentially growing income inequality has widened the gulf between the haves and have-nots in the United States, leaving too many hungry and disempowered.
A small group of caring individuals in Long Island, NY has taken matters into their …
From one of the 99%:
Got an email last night about the expiration of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program on December 29, 2013.
I am officially screwed. As is everyone else collecting extended benefits.
Laura Schlegel, a mother and active community member in Portage Park, Chicago, is facing eviction by the Cogsville Group, a private equity firm in New York City. The family is one of thousands of families now renting homes owned by massive private equity firms and hedge funds. Capitalizing on the foreclosure crisis, these Wall Street investors have purchased 200,000 homes across the country — mostly in cities hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis.
Laura is struggling with chronic pain due to nerve damage and needs to be close to her doctors in Portage Park. She could be evicted any day, and she has nowhere for her, her son and her dogs to go.
Instead of putting them out on the street, the Cogsville Group should at least offer her and her family a new lease that allows them to stay in the home they previously owned.
Why this is important:
As the banks enjoy record-breaking profits and the 1% steal a bigger share of annual income than ever, the 99% have learned that this so-called economic recovery is nothing more than a big fat lie.
Tens of thousands of people are still being evicted each month through foreclosure, and now private equity firms and hedge funds are executing a massive land grab in cities across the country.
In some cities, like Phoenix, there are already Wall Street-owned homes on every single block by the hedge fund Blackstone.
These Wall Street hedge funds and private equity firms are pretending to help by renting out these vacant houses — but we know that they are just trying to make more money off the banks of the 99%. One of these private equity firms has even released a new risky security backed by rental payments — which is just like the mortgage-backed securities that destroyed the economy in 2008.
The story of Laura and her family show how we must stop this land grab and demand that housing be enshrined as a human right, not a means to make a short-term profit.
Laura, her son and 3 small dogs have lived in their Portage Park home for the last seven years. With the help of a partner, she bought the home in 2006 for nearly $400,000. After the market crashed, they attempted to refinance the mortgage. Following the bank’s instructions, Laura and her partner missed three months of their mortgage payments to qualify for a loan modification. But instead of working with the family, Bank of America put the home in foreclosure, using the highly controversial process of “dual tracking” in which banks simultaneously put families in the process of modifying their loans and put the loan in the foreclosure pipeline.
In Laura’s case — as with so many other homeowners across the country — the foreclosure process won.
Her home was sold at an auction and bought back by the government-owned mortgage giant Fannie Mae — which then allowed a private equity firm, The Cogsville Group, to buy the right to manage her house and collect rent from the family. But when her home flooded this past spring, the company did not help her with clean up, mold remediation or repairs.
In efforts to pressure Cogsville to assume responsibility for its property management, Laura’s partner stopped paying the rent. But instead of negotiating under the circumstances, the family received an eviction notice.
Laura and her family are asking that the eviction be dropped, and that the Cogsville Group offer Laura a new lease with an option to buy.
Help us stop Laura’s eviction — and send a message to Wall Street that they can no longer exploit our human needs for their short term profits!
This article originally appeared on Occupy Our Homes