Criticism and Response

A group of revolutionaries from across the country, including members of Bring the Ruckus, the May First Anarchist Alliance, Black Orchid Collective, and others, have assembled a pamphlet that includes reports and analysis from the Occupy movement.

Released in sync with the West Coast Port Shutdown on December 12th, the pamphlet features "Reports from the streets" from five cities across the country, and analysis from multiple perspectives that ask "Where to from here?". It is available for viewing and download onScribd.

We have included one selection from the pamphlet below, originally posted on Insurgent Notes.

 

 

The Next Step for Occupy Wall Street: Occupy Buildings, Occupy Workplaces

Today, after two months of occupations and the attacks on the occupations in Portland, Oakland and now Manhattan, OWS might be crossing a new threshold–a massive convergence of students in Union Square and a working-class convergence in Foley Square attempting to give reality to the growing calls for a general strike. That new threshold should include the extension of the occupations to buildings for the coming winter and, beyond that, to workplaces, where the working class can make the system stop, as a further step toward taking over the administration of society on an entirely new basis. Whatever happens today (November 17th) and in the coming week of action, it is time to assess the strengths and limits of the occupation movement both in New York and around the U.S.

There is no question that this is the most important movement to hit the streets in the US in four decades. Its wildfire spread to 1,000 cities in a few weeks attests to that. The avalanche of “demands” has suddenly made the social and economic misery of 40 years, largely suffered passively, with occasional outbursts of resistance, a public reality impossible to ignore from now on. Politicians, TV personalities and various experts have been caught flat-footed before a movement that refuses to enter their suddenly irrelevant universe. For all the “grab-bag” quality of what it has said, the movement has been absolutely right to refuse to identify too closely with specific demands, ideologies and leaders. Daily social reality over years has educated it all too well for it to fall into that game. Underneath everything is the reality of what the movement represents: the refusal of a society that places ever-greater numbers of people on the scrapheap. To identify itself too closely with any laundry list of demands would be to fall beneath the movement’s deeply felt sense that everything must change and the certainty that nothing should be as before.

A few days ago, the Occupy Oakland general assembly decided against a proposal to change the name of the occupation to Decolonize Oakland. The assembly debated the subject for several hours before a vote was finally called, in which a majority voted in favor of the name change, but fell just short of the 70% needed to see the proposal to its next stage. After the vote, supporters of the proposal took over the general assembly with their own mic checks to express their disappointment and outrage.

Debate on the name change and its political significance has continued online in different forms, and we've re-posted a few selections here. Below is a video of the assembly the night of the vote accompanied by an open letter, as well as a public email exchange between Bay Area activists Darshan and Boots Riley of the hip-hop group The Coup.

 

Open Letter to the Occupy Movement


***please watch until the end to see the GA takeover!***

Open Letter to the Occupy Movement:

This movement has the potential to evolve into something beautiful, something that takes into account the issues affecting all of us—not just the white, college educated members of the 99%.

If you try to hinder this growth because you claim it will destroy the movement, you will only be left behind while a more radical autonomous platform is built. The new platform will center the experiences of people of color, of women, of other groups that have been marginalized by a white majority.

We are not asking for permission to rename the movement anymore. The movement-—the wave of empowerment that people are waking up to internationally-—does not belong to you. It was around before the occupy movement and it will be around long after it leaves us. Resistance is only truly sustainable if it holds sacred the struggles of the most oppressed and we will call our movements, our resistance, our struggle, whatever we want.

Thank you for taking the time to watch this film and reflecting on what role you wish to play in making movements truly liberating.

In Solidarity,
Rebecca

***********

A note on the footage: this is not an extensive video of the GA, as I was late and did not film everything. there were many white people who spoke in favor of the proposal (I included the one I filmed) and there were a few people of color who spoke against it. The majority of people present at what appeared to be a majority people of color GA voted in favor (68.5 percent) of changing the name to Decolonize Oakland.

 

Letter from Darshan

Dear Boots,

When I first heard your music, almost two decades ago, I swooned at the political insight, at the beats, at beauty of seeing Black people using the mic to check white power, corporate capitalism, and misogynist shenanigans. You and Pam the Funkstress created a space for me in hip hop at time when I felt sidelined in that movement.

When I first started coming to the encampment at Ogawa/Grant Plaza, I felt a similar sense of excitement. Here was a brother who was making sure that the table was long and wide, welcoming of everyone and especially those of us at the margins of the 99% in Oakland. You made me hopeful that together we were capable of turning that table into barricade against police violence and a platform for liberation, pure and sweet and real. Hearing your comments at the General Assembly last night as we were debating the name change - Occupy Oakland to Decolonize/Liberate Oakland - made me sad and angry; I felt like you stole the table, rearranged the seating charts, and left me at the door.

This is my mic check of a different kind, an open email letter.

When you spoke last night, you mentioned that the name of The Coup doesn’t alienate people from your message. Even though coups are associated with right-wing paramilitary movements, you noted, The Coup is not. There is no confusion over your name, no ambiguity about your message. You then chided supporters of the proposal for the name change for confusing words with deeds and emphasized your support for
the name Occupy Oakland.

Boots, your comparison stinks. It overlooks people like me who want a name that better reflects the movement of the 99% as it exists in Oakland. It ignores the voices of the Chochenyo Ohlone and native sisters like Krea Gomez and Morning Star Gali who assert that the name Occupy Oakland replicates the violence of colonialism. It turns the phrase the 99% into an empty sales pitch, and I’m not buying it. Your comparison cuts the movement down to size, recentering white entitlement to the “seats of power.” As if that’s the goal. I didn’t come to this movement to sit down. I came to rise up and decolonize Oakland.

“Life is a challenge, and you gotta team up.
If you play house pretend the man clean up.
You too busy with the other things you gotta do.
When you start something, now remember, follow through.”
- The Coup, 2001

Clean your draws, Boots.

Love, Darshan

 

Response from Boots

To start, I'm gonna try to ignore the offensive sign off remark.

When AIM took over Alcatraz in the 70s, they said- "We are Occupying Alcatraz". The same word was used at Wounded Knee, I believe. Throughout Mexico, Central America, and South America- when movements take over a space- they "occupy" it. The word is used in very revolutionary ways. It's obviously not just about the word.

I honestly believe that even POC movements of the last 30 years in the bay area especially- of which I feel like I've been a part of- has been very isolated from communities of color and don't have their finger on the pulse of what will involve them. The reasons have to do with the campaigns we've embarked on and the style that we've approached them. The focus on this word is indicative of that.

I'm all about decolonizing.
I'm all about fighting capitalism.

I have only no songs, since 1994 that use the word "capitalism". I have only 1 song since then that uses the word "communist". However, everyone knows that I'm a communist and that I want to destroy capitalism. This is because I talk about what we need to do and what's wrong with this system without using the same terminology.

Most folks of color have no idea what the term decolonize means. It is not a liberating term to most, it is simply another term that academics use. Similarly, most don't even have the political connotation with the word Occupy as it relates to colonialism.

Also, the debate over the name change hasn't been POC on one side and white folks on the other. There were both POC and White folks voting for the name change, and POC and White folks voting against. Your view about the name change doesn't make you somehow more on the side of people of color than I am.

Like I said, Saturday, I canvassed door-to-door in West Oakland. ACCE has been canvassing door-to-door in East Oakland since just after Nov 2. What I hear from the response from folks at ACCE and from my own interactions with folks of color that I know in Oakland, is that people are excited by OO, if a little confused on the ultimate goal, the name is the identifier, and they feel that it is connected to the larger movement and that it actually has the ability to change things through direct action. One of the reasons people feel its connected to the larger movement is the name.

Of course, the MAIN thing against it that people of color voice--particularly the Black folks I talk to--is "Oh, you mean all the White folks downtown?"

That doesn't change with the name.

It will only change through involving ourselves in campaigns that people feel have the power to affect their material condition in their daily life. This is something that even POC movements in my lifetime have failed to do.

The real problems of race and racism in this and any movement don't begin to get solved with a name change. They begin with a movement that actually addresses the material needs of people of color and one which makes space for people of color. Let's talk about the remedies to those problems.

Although you say my comparison stinks, you did not negate it's analogical validity.

My opinion doesn't overlook your, or anyone's opinion. It disagrees with yours.

Please don't come at me disrespectfully with comments like "Clean your draws, Boots".

Thank you.

The following piece was written by the November 13th group in Portland, Oregon, which includes some members of BtR-Portland.

It analyzes and draws conclusions from the events of November 13th, 2011, when crowds faced down riot police in a successful defense of Occupy Portland, with implications for the occupy movement nationally.

A printable PDF of this piece is available for download here, and a readable PDF is available here.

 

Nightsticks to Wall Street!
The Lessons of Saturday Night

by the November 13th Group

 

Nightsticks to Wall Street!

—chanted on the streets of Portland, Oregon on the morning of Sunday, Nov 13th while riot police menaced the crowd

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

—Frederick Douglass

 

Saturday night, and the subsequent raids and police actions nationally, have made a number of points clear:

1. This movement is no longer made up of just those staying at the encampments, nor those participating in the Assemblies. In Oakland and Portland, we’ve seen that large numbers of the population who are not camping or are unable to attend nightly meetings are still willing to come out in support of the Occupy movement.

2. The argument that “We can’t afford to disrupt life for the 99%” doesn’t always hold water. When Occupy Portland publicly defied both the Police and the City by insisting it would stay, Portlanders rallied behind it in numbers that matched those of day one of Occupy. Occupy Portland’s willingness to disrupt business as usual for the 1% and portions of the 99% in their employ found massive support—and that support won the night for Occupy Portland. Occupy Oakland’s call for a General Strike in response to state repression found somewhere well beyond 20,000 people marching behind it, shutting down Oakland’s economic foundation, the Port of Oakland. Our strength lies in our willingness to disrupt business as usual for the 1% and their tools.

3. There is a national strategy emerging against the Occupy movement. In Portland (as elsewhere), this has consisted of attempts to demonize the protest encampments with tales of violence, drug use, and even bomb-making. Cities across the country appear to be issuing versions of the same press release, uniformly citing health and safety concerns. These attempts at discrediting the movement have come alongside ‘soft’ police violence. Since the General Strike in Oakland, in response to massive and publicly-viewed police brutality against the Occupy movement, the State has concluded (at least temporarily) that the political costs of deploying overwhelming force against the Occupy movement in view of the public are too high—every time it does so, the movement’s numbers swell.

4. The Police are not our allies. Individual cops may be our friends or neighbors, they may be workers like ourselves, but the role and function of police is as enforcers for the 1%. Relatively soft treatment early on inspired some occupiers to view the police as allies, but now it is evident that the police will beat us and destroy our encampments for the 1%.

Policing and crime enforcement in the United States are structured entirely around race and class. When the poor and marginalized demand power, the 1% will always cry “criminals!” The 1% can gamble away our pensions, take our savings, foreclose our homes, destroy social security and run our economy into the ground—and what happens? The federal government rains dollars over them in the billions. Daily enforcement of drug laws, property crimes, and petty statutes disproportionately target out the poor, people of color and the homeless. These policies are known failures at preventing anti-social behavior. Through incarceration, parole, probation and street-level policing, the 1% maintains a constant and ever-tightening control over the sectors of society most likely to rebel.

If Occupy Portland is truly committed to a diverse movement of the 99%, it cannot afford to simply conclude that “the Police are our friends.” We embrace the position heard in the streets Sunday: “the police can join the rest of the 99% when they put down their batons and take off their riot gear.” To this we would add “and when they cease to kill and incarcerate our brothers and sisters in our neighborhoods and streets.”

The following piece is a response by Noel Ignatiev to last night's police raid on the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti park, originally posted on the PM Press Blog.

 

 

The Clearing of Zuccotti Park

The overnight clearing of Zuccotti Park by the police, following similar actions by police in Denver, Portland, Oakland and Atlanta, brings to a close one phase of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Some will reproach the movement for not fighting back harder against the police. (To their credit, a minority adopted “guerilla” tactics, running through the streets dodging cops.)

That reproach is beside the point. When the police hesitate, militant resistance may sway them; that is what happened in Portland, Oakland and earlier in New York. But no unarmed crowd in a public park is a match for organized and trained police who are determined to do their duty. The only hope is to reach out to new forces.

Resisting police violence with violence may accomplish that: in 1968 the sight of students in Paris battling police sparked a general strike. With the partial exception of Oakland, no such development occurred here.

There may be times when it is necessary to fight even when defeat is certain: Trotsky, for example, denounced the Communist Party policy of advocating retreat in the face of Hitler, declaring that ten unsuccessful proletarian insurrections one after another would be less demoralizing to the German working class than allowing Hitler to take power peacefully. But the clearing of the parks does not mean the triumph of Hitler: the ruling class is still operating with its traditional instruments of carrot, club and cry of alarm, a blend of repression and concession. The people who took the initiative in this movement are still at liberty, free to try again.

OWS is the biggest upsurge in the U.S. since the 1960s. It drew in people with no history of political activity, and tested both them and the more experienced. It won near universal admiration even from people who were not ready to join it. In its conscious self-identification with movements in other countries, especially in the Arab world, it delivered a blow to American provincialism (and, by implication, to Zionism). Its refusal to define itself by what are sometimes called “reasonable” demands—a refusal that drove old-style reformists crazy—may turn out to be its most enduring legacy.

Phase one has ended. Phase two will pose new tasks.

The following piece, written by a comrade in the Bay Area, analyzes the current moment for Occupy Oakland and the occupation movement more broadly. It was also published on CounterPunch.

 

Occupy Oakland at a Crossroads
By Mike King

The historic and diverse protests that took place all day and into the night in Oakland on November 2nd marked a clear advancement of the Occupy movement. Though it was not a full general strike, it took advantage of overlapping political opportunities to broaden and deepen a struggle that is evolving and expanding by the day. The movement is organically evolving in stages that are taking place so quickly that it is difficult to fully capture. One thing is clear: Oakland was a different place on Thursday morning than it was when people got ready to hit the streets on Wednesday.

Cynical or duplicitous evaluations tend to complain that the movement has no demands, or that it has too many demands, or that the demands are unreasonable. It is not so much a matter of demands on the existing social relations and institutions; it is about abolishing some structures, transforming others, and creating new ones. The fact that 20,000 people responded to an organic call to shut down the city that was unapologetically and unambiguously anti-capitalist is an honest indication of the overall politics of the movement. Today’s question is: “What’s next?” As Wednesday’s multiple and diverse actions demonstrated clearly, there is no lack of good responses or collective energy. Because of the context, good ideas are becoming practical solutions. Occupy Oakland is not done. Looking at the solidarity actions in various US cities and around the world, the broader movement is not done either.

The crisis is more powerful than the forces trying to manage it

Wednesday’s actions, highlighted by the complete shut-down of one of the biggest ports on the West Coast, pushed the local movement from public occupation to mass movement. It also broadened what “occupation” means in Oakland and foreshadowed a likely future of more occupations of empty properties. The 9pm occupation of an abandoned center for the homeless was both symbolic and strategically minded, although the resulting skirmishes that resulted have been hotly, if not always strategically or contextually, debated. The whole day of action was a pivotal moment in the Occupy movement, one that expanded the limits of what is politically feasible and inspired hope in others to push harder wherever they are. Pivotal moments are generally a coming together of revolt and solidarity from below and contradictions and crisis above. Oakland has found itself blessed with both in the same moment, with the former helping to exacerbate the latter.

Former Oakland Police Chief Batts stepped down in recent weeks due to a stated lack of autonomy and resources in a city where police murders of unarmed men of color are common, officers are unaccountable, and the OPD controls 2/3rds of the city budget. The OPD wanted to have a free hand to destroy the occupation, which they would not get until after Batts resigned, which helped create an immediate stir for a mayoral recall campaign. The picture is more complicated, as Homeland Security, other federal forces, 17 agencies of state police and local police forces coordinate in the Bay Area as an ongoing reality, geared to quickly respond to mass protests, as they did in the movement that grew out of the police killing of Oscar Grant. The exact political reasoning and bureaucratic dynamics of the overall lack of aggression during the day Wednesday by police has yet to be fully examined. The basic reality is that a gap between the Mayor and police forces, whatever its nature and however big it is (or was), created a political opening. The lack of a sitting police chief, public backlash to the eviction of the occupation on the morning of October 25th, the (possibly deliberate) shooting of Marine veteran Scott Olsen that night, the re-occupation of Oscar Grant Plaza and overwhelming public participation the next night calling for a general strike, and the international visibility of the day of action all played a role in widening the political opening. We forced the door open and have walked through it. Now what?

The following is a contribution to the debates on violence, property damage and militancy unfolding in the aftermath of the Oakland general strike. Written by a comrade in the Bay Area, the piece was originally published on CounterPunch.

 

For the Fracture of Good Order
On "Violence" at Occupy Oakland

by Emily Brissette

“Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children….”

These were Father Daniel Berrigan’s words when he was on trial in 1969 for a draft board raid in Catonsville, Maryland. He and eight others had entered the draft board office during business hours, removed draft files (against some resistance from the staff) and then burned them out front with homemade napalm. At the time, there were many who construed this as an act of violence and, given the denunciations of property destruction emerging out of Oakland today, there are many in our current day who would undoubtedly agree. But Berrigan and many of the others who carried out draft board raids were principled pacifists and did not understand the destruction of draft files as an act of violence. Disruptive, disturbing, provocative? Without a doubt. Shot through with incivility? Perhaps, if you insist. But the point was that when the forces of order and “civility” wreak havoc—destroying homes, livelihoods, and lives—the “fracture of good order” is not only warranted, but necessary and indeed a moral obligation.

There are no easy or simple parallels between the destruction of draft files in the 1960s and the breaking of bank windows today. It is, however, worth thinking through the commonalities—both are largely symbolic actions targeting the physical manifestations of a system that causes harm to people—and pausing a moment on that logic. This means restraining the urge to react with hostility to the idea of property destruction, reining in the urge to simply denounce it as violence and thus close off reflection and debate (since all “good” people are necessarily opposed to violence). And it means setting aside for the moment—but only for the moment—the question of whether tactics involving property destruction makes sense in this particular time and place.

The question that first needs to be addressed is: what is violence? what defines an act as violent? This seemingly simple question is anything but. This has been a point of contention—and yes, division—in progressive social movements for at least the past half century. For those who see property destruction as a legitimate tactic under certain circumstances, including Catholic pacifists in the 1960s who saw little disjunction between their avowed pacifism and acts of restrained destruction, violence above all denotes harm to human beings (and other living things). This is the touchstone for determining whether an act constitutes violence: are people being injured or killed?

When the definition of violence is expanded to include acts that are directed at property only, in which no person is at risk of injury, property is treated as on par with (and in practice often more valuable than) human life. We live in a system characterized by deep stratification and inequality. In this context in which some human lives are accorded very little worth, to treat property destruction as a form of violence minimizes the daily experience of real violence—harm to human beings—in many communities. It also makes it hard to see systemic, structural forms of violence—the harm of under-resourced schools, shuttered libraries, inadequate and labyrinth mental health services; the harm of foreclosure, unemployment, and hunger—as violence, because we are so accustomed to thinking of violence as a great outburst or a spectacle instead.

The following is an anonymous statement originally posted on IndyBay, regarding the occupation of a building in Oakland during the general strike, which drew heavy police repression. Update: a further critique of the action, from a street medic who was present at the event and afterward, has been published here

 

Statement on the Occupation of the former Traveler's Aid Society at 520 16th Street

Last night, after one of the most remarkable days of resistance in recent history, some of us within Occupy Oakland took an important next step: we extended the occupation to an unused building near Oscar Grant Plaza. We did this, first off, in order to secure the shelter and space from which to continue organizing during the coming winter months. But we also hoped to use the national spotlight on Oakland to encourage other occupations in colder, more northern climates to consider claiming spaces and moving indoors in order to resist the repressive force of the weather, after so bravely resisting the police and the political establishment. We want this movement to be here next Spring, and claiming unused space is, in our view, the most plausible way forward for us at this point. We had plans to start using this space today as a library, a place for classes and workshops, as well as a dormitory for those with health conditions. We had already begun to move in books from the library.

The building we chose was perfect: not only was it a mere block from Oscar Grant Plaza, but it formerly housed the Traveler's Aid Society, a not-for-profit organization that provided services to the homeless but, due to cuts in government funding, lost its lease Given that Occupy Oakland feeds hundreds of people every day, provides them with places to sleep and equipment for doing so, involves them in the maintenance of the camp (if they so choose), we believe this makes us the ideal tenants of this space, despite our unwillingness to pay for it. None of this should be that surprising, in any case, as talk of such an action has percolated through the movement for months now, and the Oakland GA recently voted to support such occupations materially and otherwise. Business Insider discussed this decision in an article entitled “The Inevitable Has Happened.”

We are well aware that such an action is illegal, just as it is illegal to camp, cook, and live in Oscar Grant Plaza as we have done. We are aware that property law means that what we did last night counts as trespassing, if not burglary. Still, the ferocity of the police response surprised us. Once again, they mobilized hundreds of police officers, armed to the hilt with bean bag guns, tear gas and flashbang grenades, despite the fact that these so-called “less-than-lethal” weapons nearly killed someone last week. The city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to protect one landlord's right to earn a few thousand every month. Why is this? Whereas the blockade of the port – an action which caused millions of dollars of losses – met with no resistance, the attempt to take one single building, a building that was unused, met with the most brutal and swift response.

The following is a video of the October 31st press conference on the upcoming general strike in Oakland, originally posted on Indybay. The press conference includes a range of individuals and organizations, not all of whose politics we agree with, but we post the video here to provide a sense of the range of mobilization taking place on the ground at this time.


Your browser is not able to display this multimedia content.

Speaking at the press conference were Tim Simmons; Louise Michel; Boots Riley of The Coup and Street Sweeper Social Club; Cat Brooks of the ONYX Organizing Committee; Clarence Thomas of the ILWU Local 10 and the Million Worker March Movement; Nell Myhand of Causa Justa/Just Cause, Crystallee Crain, teacher at DeAnza College and the College of Alameda; Javier Armas, former Oakland teacher; Elaine Brown, SEIU member and former chairperson of the Black Panther Party; and Glenn Turner, a Telegraph Avenue shop owner.

This piece was written by Joel Olson, a member of BtR-Arizona, as a contribution to ongoing debates about the occupations taking place in the U.S.

A printable PDF of this piece is available for download here, and a readable PDF is available here.

 

Whiteness and the 99%
By Joel Olson

Occupy Wall Street and the hundreds of occupations it has sparked nationwide are among the most inspiring events in the U.S. in the 21st century. The occupations have brought together people to talk, occupy, and organize in new and exciting ways. The convergence of so many people with so many concerns has naturally created tensions within the occupation movement. One of the most significant tensions has been over race. This is not unusual, given the racial history of the United States. But this tension is particularly dangerous, for unless it is confronted, we cannot build the 99%. The key obstacle to building the 99% is left colorblindness, and the key to overcoming it is to put the struggles of communities of color at the center of this movement. It is the difference between a free world and the continued dominance of the 1%.

Left colorblindess is the enemy

Left colorblindness is the belief that race is a “divisive” issue among the 99%, so we should instead focus on problems that “everyone” shares. According to this argument, the movement is for everyone, and people of color should join it rather than attack it.

Left colorblindness claims to be inclusive, but it is actually just another way to keep whites’ interests at the forefront. It tells people of color to join “our” struggle (who makes up this “our,” anyway?) but warns them not to bring their “special” concerns into it. It enables white people to decide which issues are for the 99% and which ones are “too narrow.” It’s another way for whites to expect and insist on favored treatment, even in a democratic movement.

As long as left colorblindness dominates our movement, there will be no 99%. There will instead be a handful of whites claiming to speak for everyone. When people of color have to enter a movement on white people’s terms rather than their own, that’s not the 99%. That’s white democracy.

The white democracy

Biologically speaking, there’s no such thing as race. As hard as they’ve tried, scientists have never been able to define it. That’s because race is a human creation, not a fact of nature. Like money, it only exists because people accept it as “real.” Races exist because humans invented them.

Why would people invent race? Race was created in America in the late 1600s in order to preserve the land and power of the wealthy. Rich planters in Virginia feared what might happen if indigenous tribes, slaves, and indentured servants united and overthrew them. So, they cut a deal with the poor English colonists. The planters gave the English poor certain rights and privileges denied to all persons of African and Native American descent: the right to never be enslaved, to free speech and assembly, to move about without a pass, to marry without upper-class permission, to change jobs, to acquire property, and to bear arms. In exchange, the English poor agreed to respect the property of the rich, help them seize indigenous lands, and enforce slavery.

This cross-class alliance between the rich and the English poor came to be known as the “white race.” By accepting preferential treatment in an economic system that exploited their labor, too, the white working class tied their wagon to the elite rather than the rest of humanity. This devil’s bargain has undermined freedom and democracy in the U.S. ever since.


The cross-class alliance that makes up the white race.

As this white race expanded to include other European ethnicities, the result was a very curious political system: the white democracy. The white democracy has two contradictory aspects to it. On the one hand, all whites are considered equal (even as the poor are subordinated to the rich and women are subordinated to men). On the other, every white person is considered superior to every person of color. It’s democracy for white folks, but tyranny for everyone else.

In this system, whites praised freedom, equal opportunity, and hard work, while at the same time insisting on higher wages, access to the best jobs, to be the first hired and the last fired at the workplace, full enjoyment of civil rights, the right to send their kids to the best schools, to live in the nicest neighborhoods, and to enjoy decent treatment by the police. In exchange for these “public and psychological wages,” as W.E.B. Du Bois called them, whites agreed to enforce slavery, segregation, reservation, genocide, and other forms of discrimination. The tragedy of the white democracy is that it oppressed working class whites as well as people of color, because with the working class bitterly divided, the elites could rule easily.

The following is a statement by the National Committee of Bring the Ruckus on the current wave of occupations. A previous version of this article erroneously stated that there had been a publicly-acknowledged racist attack at Occupy Boston, and has since been removed.

 

Occupy Earth
a statement by the National Committee of Bring the Ruckus

I.
We welcome the Occupy movement as we welcomed the Arab Spring.

In the space of a month it has leapt past the original call for Occupy Wall Street, to become a national and international manifestation. The seizure of public space - both physical and on-line - gives a space for open discussion of the crises facing the planet.

II.
At the same time, the differences between the Occupies across the nation illustrates the problems and potentials before us. Occupy San Francisco appears more like left-over Burning Man moved to a narrow strip in front of the Federal Reserve Bank in the barren Financial District. A short BART ride away, Occupy Oakland has taken and will hold Oscar Grant Plaza right in front of City Hall - it is at the center of public space in Oakland, both physically and politically.

One exists after negotiations with the police chief; the other exists in a space where thousands refused to negotiate with the police, and have banned public officials from speaking to the General Assembly there.

We don't expect all the Occupies to be identical. The Occupy in Maquoketa, Iowa is different from the ones in Cedar Falls, Ames, Des Moines, Iowa City, the Quad Cities, and other Iowa towns. None of these or the thousand more in the U.S. existed a month ago; most political organizations wouldn't even have worked out what their name will be in a similar time span.

III.
Perhaps one out of a hundred of the people who have thrown their bodies and minds into Occupy can state the original political demand, or the original group, that called for it (Adbusters magazine’s original call for Occupy Wall Street in mid-summer, 2011, sought to have Obama "ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington").

The upsurge has gone far beyond the original group and the original demand. It has not yet - in any of the Occupies - figured out what it will do, what it wants and what it will become. By refusing to narrow itself to a simple list of demands, programs and leaders, it confounds modern political society. That is a strength and a weakness. A weakness, in that those who already know what they want - the Democratic Party, the AFL-CIO (which is already printing bumper stickers with an Occupy slogan), simple opportunists - are already coming at the movement with a vengeance.

IV.
The internal weaknesses of Occupy are already evident across the nation. When speakers from Occupy LA come to Oakland and point out "difficult conversations about white privilege", they're merely echoing the struggles that are occurring openly or beneath the surface in every Occupy. The white blinders range from allowing outright racist attacks in some locales (Philly, New York) and not exiling the perpetrators, to the continued and more subtle racist approach of negotiating and/or cooperation with police (Occupy Portland, L.A., Philly, ATL), to demanding that all who attend submit to the tedious and ridiculous jargon of consensus decision-making (every Occupy) and the continual problem of too many white dudes at the mic.

This new movement, like all progressive, radical and revolutionary movements in the U.S., will confront white supremacy squarely or it will fail. We welcome the organizing of People of Color caucuses and the leadership that they will bring to all Occupies, and we condemn all efforts to paint these caucuses as divisive or unproductive.

V.
There are other problems and debates to be engaged. We are not trying to be exhaustive here, since the pace of organizing will throw up many more. Whether the Occupies can transform themselves into spaces of necessity and resistance, like the Hoovervilles of The Grapes of Wrath or the autonomous communities that have existed in many Black neighborhoods, we don't know.

No one demand, whether it is for a "Jubilee" of debt cancellation or others that we hope are raised, will necessarily unify and move us forward. We believe those demands that will confront capitalism, the state, and the police, and the strategies that arise from the struggles of those who have been struggling longest, will soon come forth.

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