Editorial: Occupy was and is a Rorschach test
If David Graeber is to be believed then NYC Occupy was in the grand american democratic tradition. This is taken from the fine website epemera journal
Graeber reconstructs an impromptu speech he delivered at a ‘post-Occupy’ protest action. While improvising a brief lecture on the history of democracy in America, Graeber argues, he suddenly realized that he ‘hadn’t been thinking of Occupy Wall Street as rooted in any grand tradition in U.S. history’ (xiv). But, he argues, this movement could indeed be placed within such a tradition. The history of the U.S. is characterized by a struggle between democratic, popular movements on the one hand, and institutionalized politics ‘from above’ on the other hand, which aims to limit and control such democratic expression as much as possible. Even though the founding fathers successfully prevented the U.S. from becoming truly democratic, many Americans have always remained skeptical of the idea of government. It is from this perspective that Graeber aims to conceptualize the Occupy movement – as an expression of the very possibility to act democratically against the existing order.
Contrast this to Occupy Oakland which, at least in the wikipedia version of history, “has often centered on complaints about alleged police misconduct, and relationships between protesters and police were especially frayed at Occupy Oakland. Oakland police estimated that as of April 2012 they had interacted with over 60,000 protesters since the movement began.”
A final contrast to the story of Occupy is the book that I edited and published prior to the traditional partisan producers of anarchist history. It tells the story of anarchist participation in what was an unformed but potentially exciting anti-authoritarian public space. As one unfriedly reviewer put it “Occupy Everything was a valiant attempt to undermine the soon-to-be dominant progressive discourse around the occupy phenomenon with a deliberately radical agenda. no, it was not great, and yes, but pointing out the origins of this particular wave of takeovers of (semi)public space in the explicitly radical and often anarchist practices of folks at UC and the New School was a welcome antidote to the handwringing anti-vandalism pacifism it so many post-Occupy commentators.”
Which is to say that only the anarchists that participated in Occupy benefitted from the lessons of it which were not about the pleasure of smashy (which is perhaps the anarchist universal that is also a limit) but the horrorshow that is the “peoples politics” that produces delights such as the people’s microphone and the zombie chants of prefiguration and how this is the new world in the shell of the old. As one of my favorite declarations about OO by ingirum stated
The occupation is also a spectacle. This is not the beginning of an insurrection, it is a laboratory where different forms of organizing, decisionmaking and interaction can be tried, tested, and eventually used or not used. It is a rare moment when space is actually held and used to this end. What Occupy Oakland is not is a home. The occupation was not worthless, it was useful, it has been used. Discard their real estate and find the appropriate moment to skillfully exit. It is the only way in which this can be called a victory. After all, all they’ll have is their rat-infested park back.
This week we will try to have an conversation about Occupy, The Occupy Movement, and what anarchists learned by participating in it. I do not think all the anarchist tools were deployed in an expression of People Power in 2011 but instead that there were amazing anarchistic things done in a very constrained environment and that the anarchist rhetoric was largely responsible for the particular burnout suffered by many of our anarchist friends. I’d like to believe that another occupy would bring a new generation of enthusiastic people out of their homes, off their screens, and into face to face collision but I’d also like to believe that a new event would be tactical rather than strategic, more universal in its attitudes against the police (against but also against cop logic more generally), and more fun!