Monday, October 17, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Spreads Around The Globe


Is it starting to feel like 1848 again? While the netroots was bringing the OccupyWallStreet movement online with OccupyTheBoardroom, the street protests in New York swarmed Times Square... and spread to every continent except, as far as we know, Antarctica. Protests in Rome, London and Madrid-- scenes of recent anti-Austerity/anti-plutocracy demonstrations-- were especially feisty.
In Madrid, tens of thousands of people take a part in a demonstration in Puerta del Sol square in Madrid, home of the "Indignants" movement, which has been building through the summer as Spain's economy faltered.

Madrid anti-Austerity/OccupyWallStreet demonstration Saturday

In London, dusk fell on more than 2,000 protesters assembled in front of St Paul's Cathedral in London, earlier addressed by the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

There was civil unrest in Rome, where police turned teargas and water cannon on the crowds. Smoke hung over Rome as a small group broke away from the main demonstration and smashed windows, set cars on fire and assaulted television news crews. Others burned Italian and EU flags. "People of Europe: Rise Up!" read one banner in Rome. Fights broke out and bottles were thrown between demonstrators as some tried to stop the violence.

In Germany, about 4,000 people marched through the streets of Berlin, with banners calling for an end to capitalism. Some scuffled with police as they tried to get near parliamentary buildings. In Frankfurt, continental Europe's financial capital, some 5,000 people protested in front of the European Central Bank.

In the Bosnian city of Sarajevo, marchers carried pictures of Che Guevara and old communist flags that read "Death to capitalism, freedom to the people."

Another 500 people gathered at a peaceful rally in Stockholm, holding up red flags and banners that read "We are the 99%"-- a reference to the richest 1% of the world's population who control its assets while billions live in poverty.

"There are those who say the system is broke. It's not," trade union activist Bilbo Goransson shouted into a megaphone. "That's how it was built. It is there to make rich people richer."

...Police in New York said they made 70 arrests. These were mostly at two flashpoints: 42 were detained near Times Square when attempts to disperse a crowd led to confusion; 24 Citibank customers who attempted to close their accounts in protest were led away for trespass after they opposed an order by the branch manager for them to leave.

Reading Corey Robin, we saw how, historically, the 1% just will not put up with commoners speaking up and demanding any kinds of rights. And although they don't want to pay their fair share of taxes to pay for the police, the police control is still something they maintain and will use when the subordinate classes start making demands.... or closing their bank accounts at Citibank. Will this non-violent strategy work... to change the world? Let's leave aside whether or not the 1% and their instruments of violence will even allow the movement to remain non-violent and look at a powerful essay from Sean Paul Kelley:
I've been meaning to write this up since I made these tweets a few weeks ago:

First there is a very real case to be made for protest movements to resemble the crescendo of guerilla warfare tactics. Further, start small, micro-marches, co-ordinated with social media, build up and harry the police until the big showdown. This works. Lastly, it must remain non-violent. But it must inflict pain on elites. If it doesn't inflict pain nothing will change.

We're beginning to see some of this happen. And others, including at least one commenter here at The Agonist, are calling for a larger "general default" or "debt jubilee."

I think, in theory this is a great idea, but let me suggest some ideas first.

A big massive "people's default" is something we should be aiming for, but I believe it has to emerge out of a milieu of targeted, smaller scale actions first like the one being organized against Chase right now.

I think a bunch of smaller scale, localized actions, that get press or banker/elite attention are a good way of building momentum and building on the momentum that the Occupy Movement has thus far created.

Think of it like non-violent guerilla war. The entire theory and practice of guerilla war is to wear down a more powerful force by relentless small scale actions based on surprise-- something smart-phones, texting and flash mobs make very doable in the present environment-- and only late in the game to overcome the more powerful force with a large scale action once momentum has been gained by the insurgents and the more powerful force is becoming or is exhausted. The difference between guerrilla warfare and non-violent civil disobedience is that a guerilla campaign of non-violent civil disobedience should seek a massive over-reaction by the elites, thus garnering more and more attention to itself and sympathy from the general populace. Kind of like Mao's injunction to swim in a sea of people.

Creating a systematic campaign of smaller-scale actions-- some dedicated to shifting personal monies to community banks, others smaller sit-in actions regarding foreclosures, or direct bank-branch or city HQ actions--builds critical momentum. These actions should honor, what one emailer calls "the larger protestant work ethic." Civil-disobedience can never and should never be divorced from the larger values a society holds. In short, "we will honor our debts within our current meager and reduced means, but there will be strikes until we get real relief: principal write-downs, debt forgiveness and a demand that people's credit is not destroyed by such."

Such demands will get a reaction from elites and the government as more and more people realize that they can take action. One of the most pervasive problems we face in America is the hopelessness, the idea that "I, as an individual, have no power, no agency. In the face of all this change what can I do?" Anyone can attend a small, local march on a bank branch-- even one of two or three or four people-- who walk in and politely, but loudly demand their money. Trust me, I've opted out of enough back-splatter, porn-machine scans to know that once one person shows that kind of courage a lot more follow.

But, and I cannot emphasize this enough, this stuff has to be targeted and it has to be very, very painful (but I stress non-violent) to the elites. Until the elites feel real pain or real fear they will not come to the bargaining table. This is a fundamental reality of our age.

But by and large, yes, this is a great next step.

Allow me to close with a few lines from The Reactionary Mind about how much the 1% just will not ever recognize the legitimacy of any pretensions towards equality from the 99%.
[W]hen the left's demands shift to the economic realm, the threat of freedom's extension [which the right loathes] looms large. If women and workers are provided with the economic resources to make independent choices, they will be free not to obey their husbands and employers.

That is why Lawrence Mead, one of the leading intellectual opponents of the welfare state in the 1980s and 1990s, declared that the welfare recipient "must be made less free in certain senses rather than more." For the conservative [think Rick Scott or Scott Walker or Rick Snyder for a moment], equality portends more than a redistributions of resources, opportunities and outcomes-- though he certainly dislikes these too. What equality ultimately means is a rotation in the seat of power.

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