What is Realistic? Rejecting the system's limits on the possible

I will remember that night for the rest of my life. After an early morning police raid, supporters of Occupy Oakland converged in the streets and stood up to riot police hurling tear gas canisters, rubber bullets and flash-bang grenades. Despite how grim that sounds, my experience was one of cathartic elation; of being autonomous in a group of people aware of its own power; of having the lines between what I am for and what I am against rendered so clearly.

People around the world are rejecting the perceived inevitability of capitalist states and electoral democracy, citing their own needs for autonomy and community, which are not being met. Issues of class inequality and state violence have been front page news, and the kinds of conversations that it is possible to have with people in this atmosphere seem greatly expanded. Connections are being made between issues on a large scale and the energy generated is not being neatly channeled into small reforms or manipulated by hierarchical political machines.

Often, we go through life utterly surrounded by invisible systems which limit the actions and conversations that seem possible; which make any sentiment expressed outside of them seem crazy. Moments that create a rupture in this banality by making those systems visible allow us an opportunity to inhabit space and interact with each other in radically different ways; to become aware of tensions that are ever-present but often hidden and act in ways that did not previously seem possible. At their best, the Occupy actions and other demonstrations that have escalated around the world in the last year have created spaces for people to interact with each other and articulate their desires outside of established frameworks.

Useful realism

There are also tensions that arise as part of the occupation itself which are important to explore. Central to these is the tension between the beautiful possibility of this moment and the fact that we are still living within ugly and powerful systems that have trained us to think, speak and act on their terms. Thinking about what it means to be ‘realistic’ or ‘strategic’ is one way to map this particular tension usefully.

Large systems of calcified power like states, banks and corporations are very good at finding ways to make us believe that our best interest is what drives them, or failing that, that our goals can coexist harmoniously with theirs. They do this by shaping the conversations we have about what is necessary, possible and desirable; by encouraging us to abandon desires they cannot assimilate and by offering the promise of comfort, safety, and convenience in return

Appealing to realism is a tactic often used by these systems to convince people that their aspirations are too large. Any good idea or analysis that condemns systems of power or would require a radical shift in the status quo can be discredited easily as unrealistic by those who lack imagination. In this context, it is tempting to reject the concept of realism altogether; to believe that the audacity of demanding everything from our lives and nothing from established power negates any kind of rationality.

In fact, ‘being realistic’ is useful as a way of analyzing tactics and situations in light of a particular set of goals and desires. If we articulate our desires using only the narrow language of the system, “I want to make more money”, then being realistic can only include finding ways to make the system work better for us. If our goals are understood to be more expansive, “I want to be able to meet my physical and emotional needs”, then realistic options include subverting the logic of the system itself.

As the Occupy movement has gained momentum, some have claimed that the only way to be effective is with a centralized organization that can efficiently negotiate with power; they argue that having a specific set of reforms and charismatic leaders is the only realistic strategy for success.

I disagree with this analysis. The danger of making specific political demands is the danger of taking the energy of the moment and bending it to the service of something too small. The reason that the Occupy/Decolonize demonstrations have felt powerful to me is because they are leaderless and because they have not been interested in making specific demands. What is being rejected around the world is not just a tax system but the tenets of global capitalism itself and the particular brand of representative democracy that has helped it to become ascendant; not one incident of police brutality, but the presumption that a militarized police force is necessary in order to have communities that function.

Believing that the vast majority of people in our society are dissatisfied with the world that capitalism and state power has created is realistic to me but thinking that these people will be able to rally behind a single set of demands that is remotely powerful or interesting, does not. I am not particularly interested in finding ways to make small reforms in the systems that oppress us. I would rather use my energy to nurture communities that reject reformism and aren’t easily co-opted by established systems of power. For me, this means being honest about the facts on the ground and choosing tactics that allow me to keep space open where people can act on and articulate desires that are not easily absorbed by conventional political narratives.

Daring to frame the conversation in these terms is far more energizing than borrowing the limited language those in power have given us to express ourselves. In this context creating more spaces where power is decentralized and people are able to act autonomously is a worthwhile political end in itself. If our desires are grand and beautiful, then what is useful is having ways to assess risk and make informed decisions in specific situations without compromising them. This involves being honest about our emotional and intellectual reactions to the world regardless of whether or not they conform to the dominant social order or the opinions of our peers.

What are we doing here?

To think that an entrenched system can be brought to its knees quickly is totally realistic; the historical record is filled with moments of collapse. To assume that people who have been raised in and broken by that system are going to be able to turn on a dime and create better, more interesting alternatives without working through their shit and learning how to set boundaries and understand one another is not. Many people have been unbalanced and made crazy by this system regardless of income bracket.

Insisting that these camps are a demonstration of how we would like the world to function is beautifully poetic, but it does not take into account the fact that we have been cast into systems which are destructive and predatory. A city park in a capitalist police state is not liberated because it is occupied by people who desire liberation. A demonstration that prohibits commerce is not the same as a space outside of capitalism. A day when the police don’t show up is not the same as a world without police. The feeling of creative newness and possibility that has been experienced at various occupations should not be confused with the world we want. Confusing these things only sets folks up to burn out when they realize that utopia is not around the corner and learn how flawed even the communities planned and built with the best of intentions can be.

Being realistic about this situation means having realistic expectations of the work we would need to do to transform ourselves and each other into communities that are beautiful, strong, and allowed to thrive. This particular moment is part of a larger process that we cannot predict, let alone direct. A forest is more than a collection of trees; it is an interconnected ecosystem that will arise when the conditions are right. You cannot plant a field of forest, or design one with a
city planner; all you can do is encourage new growth and try to protect it from toxic elements. Life arises abundant but we should not be confused about the nature of these glorious weeds, even as we celebrate their potential.

Community and working on ourselves

It has been so inspiring to hear folks I have not had the pleasure of meeting before Occupy Oakland speak out about how we need to be open to hearing criticism from each other and be constantly working on ourselves. At one general assembly, some people spoke out about not feeling comfortable in the camp because they were being hit on by older men or because they were being insulted by homophobes. A proposal to section off a wimmin/queer/trans safer space for camping passed overwhelmingly, and next on stack was an older man announcing a men’s group meeting. Angela Davis came to speak at our general strike and her speech was dominated by “kill the ___ inside your head” rhetoric. This kind of thought is obvious to more people than I’d thought before and it is being spread even further. If only one thing comes out of this movement, I have hope it will be more of a willingness to work together and work on ourselves. There is a lot to work on, because behind all of this positive momentum, there are some ugly challenges.

Occupations become their own cities. The people participating find new neighbors, new local activities at the library tent or craft tent, new local cuisine at the kitchen tent, and new ways to get even more involved, with various meetings all day long, and then of course there is the general assembly. We can create our own cities and work together every day without the cops and without money. We can create our own cities and provide services for each other that the city will not provide. We can provide free education, free food, free medical attention. We can listen to our neighbors. We cannot create a utopia, a safe space, a zone free of all oppression and confrontation.

There will be violence. There will be arguments. There will be theft. There will be abuse. These things exist within all of that which we exist within: patriarchy, class struggle, gentrification, racial tension, queer- and transphobia, misogyny, dishonesty, greed, and on and on. This is the system we all live in, we were all brought up in, we all know. All we know. Welcome to the real world, in which we are poisoned every day. We can take the time to care for ourselves but we will always be interrupted by more damage, more abuse. The occupy movement does not claim to be a network of tent city islands unaffected by this real world.

The homeless are not the problem, the homeless are our family. The problem is lack of jobs and options for those who cannot work, privatized and inflated education, gentrification, and a plethora of other things which aid in one’s becoming homeless. The problem is also the media’s installation of fear and detestation of the homeless into the minds of those who have not experienced this lifestyle. The violence is not the problem. The problem is the idea implanted in the minds of young kids that they must fight to survive, living in a violent state, a desensitization to violence as seen in movies and on TV–including the news broadcasts. We are all products of a sick system. How dare this very system criticize us for not being less affected?

In the 1980s, the CIA introduced crack cocaine into low income communities of color. At the same time, a large number of psychiatric hospitals were closed and the ex-patients scarcely had alternatives to the streets. For decades, community members have been losing their housing due to the development of posh studios and condos appealing in aesthetic and available in price only to more wealthy, more white, transplants from other parts of town or other towns altogether. Recently we have seen this phenomenon reach a new level with the housing collapse, bank bailouts and foreclosures. These are the kind of things the Occupy Wall Street movement may be speaking out and camping out against.

People who are products of generations of legislation and city planning like this have already been occupying cities everywhere. Perhaps creating a space for people to exist together, laying their struggles out right in front of city hall to dry from the rain, is a good way to make the city face the problems like homelessness, illness and hunger that they ignore every day. Since city officials are not homeless people, they may not understand this like others do. They hand out eviction notices along with vouchers for and information about a local shelter, which will not open for another three days (many shelters in the bay area are only open during the more rainy months), and which requires a rent payment (How long are those vouchers good for? Long enough for the city to forget?) They may even think they are doing good. (Have you ever heard of the city reaching out to folks being kicked out of their homes like this?)

The corporate media, city officials, and internet commentators have done their best to point out how crazy and out of control those involved with the occupations are. Reports of urinating in public! People gotta piss. Reports of dogs biting reporters! Hey, we said we did not welcome the mainstream news. Reports of drug usage! Just because it’s out in the open doesn’t mean it is unique. There was even a person murdered outside of the Occupy Oakland encampment, as well as a suicide in Burlington, VT and another death in Salt Lake City, UT. These are tragic occurrences, but do not stand solely in the occupy movement. People die, people are murdered every day. This is not a problem with the occupations.

I am unsure whether I have a place writing about the things I’m writing about. I am just some white lady, but I feel it is urgent to have these dialogues. The occupy movement brings people from so many different backgrounds and paths together and few of us share the same story. I have been homeless and I have been unemployed and I have never experienced wealth, but I will never fully understand the feelings and experiences behind the racial tension present in our communities. I feel like even this racial tension is a product of the system and a tool to render us powerless, pitted against each other before a common enemy.

Is it wrong to believe the state is smart enough to put white cops in black neighborhoods and vise versa? Smart enough to portray young black men as criminal-aged violent gangbangers and young white men as college-aged upcoming entrepreneurs? Things like this can frustrate and paralyze, but communication is a beautiful thing so I may as well try my best. I believe that is all we can do.

The Awakening in America

A radical situation is a collective awakening. . . . In such situations people become much more open to new perspectives, readier to question previous assumptions, quicker to see through the usual cons. . . . People learn more about society in a week than in years of academic “social studies” or leftist “consciousness raising.” . . . Everything seems possible — and much more is possible. People can hardly believe what they used to put up with in “the old days.” . . . Passive consumption is replaced by active communication. Strangers strike up lively discussions on street corners. Debates continue round the clock, new arrivals constantly replacing those who depart for other activities or to try to catch a few hours of sleep, though they are usually too excited to sleep very long. While some people succumb to demagogues, others start making their own proposals and taking their own initiatives. Bystanders get drawn into the vortex, and go through astonishingly rapid changes. . . . Radical situations are the rare moments when qualitative change really becomes possible. Far from being abnormal, they reveal how abnormally repressed we usually are; they make our “normal” life seem like sleepwalking.

–Ken Knabb, The Joy of Revolution

The “Occupy” movement that has swept across the country the country over the last four weeks is already the most significant radical breakthrough in America since the 1960s. And it is just beginning. . . .

The ruling elite don’t know what’s hit them and have suddenly been thrown on the defensive, while the clueless media pundits try to dismiss the movement for failing to articulate a coherent program or list of demands. The participants have of course expressed numerous grievances, grievances that are obvious enough to anyone who has been paying attention to what’s been going on in the world. But they have wisely avoided limiting themselves to a single demand, or even just a few demands, because it has become increasingly clear that every aspect of the system is problematic and that all the problems are interrelated. Instead, recognizing that popular participation is itself an essential part of any real solution, they have come up with a disarmingly simple yet eminently subversive proposal, urging the people of the world to “Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone. . . . Join us and make your voices heard!” (Declaration of the Occupation of New York City).

Almost as clueless are those doctrinaire radicals who remain on the sidelines glumly predicting that the movement will be coopted or complaining that it hasn’t instantly adopted the most radical positions. They of all people should know that the dynamic of social movements is far more important than their ostensible ideological positions. Revolutions arise out of complex processes of social debate and interaction that happen to reach a critical mass and trigger a chain reaction — processes very much like what we are seeing at this moment. The “99%” slogan may not be a very precise “class analysis,” but it’s a close enough approximation for starters, an excellent meme to cut through a lot of traditional sociological jargon and make the point that the vast majority of people are subordinate to a system run by and for a tiny ruling elite. And it rightly puts the focus on the economic institutions rather than on the politicians who are merely their lackeys. The countless grievances may not constitute a coherent program, but taken as a whole they already imply a fundamental transformation of the system. The nature of that transformation will become clearer as the struggle develops. If the movement ends up forcing the system to come up with some sort of significant, New Deal-type reforms, so much the better — that will temporarily ease conditions so we can more easily push further. If the system proves incapable of implementing any significant reforms, that will force people to look into more radical alternatives. As for cooption, there will indeed be many attempts to take over or manipulate the movement. But I don’t think they’ll have a very easy time of it. From the beginning the occupation movement has been resolutely antihierarchical and participatory. General assembly decisions are scrupulously democratic and most decisions are taken by consensus — a process which can sometimes be unwieldy, but which has the merit of making any manipulation practically impossible. In fact, the real threat is the other way around: The example of participatory democracy ultimately threatens all hierarchies and social divisions, including those between rank-and-file workers and their union bureaucracies, and between political parties and their constituents. Which is why so many politicians and union bureaucrats are trying to jump on the bandwagon. That is a reflection of our strength, not of our weakness. (Cooption happens when we are tricked into riding in their wagons.) The assemblies may of course agree to collaborate with some political group for a demonstration or with some labor union for a strike, but most of them are taking care that the distinctions remain clear, and practically all of them have sharply distanced themselves from both of the major political parties.

While the movement is eclectic and open to everyone, it is safe to say that its underlying spirit is strongly antiauthoritarian, drawing inspiration not only from recent popular movements in Argentina, Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, Spain and other countries, but from anarchist and situationist theories and tactics. As the editor of Adbusters (one of the groups that helped initiate the movement) noted:

“We are not just inspired by what happened in the Arab Spring recently, we are students of the Situationist movement. Those are the people who gave birth to what many people think was the first global revolution back in 1968 when some uprisings in Paris suddenly inspired uprisings all over the world. All of a sudden universities and cities were exploding. This was done by a small group of people, the Situationists, who were like the philosophical backbone of the movement. One of the key guys was Guy Debord, who wrote The Society of the Spectacle. The idea is that if you have a very powerful meme — a very powerful idea — and the moment is ripe, then that is enough to ignite a revolution. This is the background that we come out of.”

The May 1968 revolt in France was in fact also an “occupation movement” — one of its most notable features was the occupation of the Sorbonne and other public buildings, which then inspired the occupation of factories all over the country by more than 10 million workers. (Needless to say, we are still very far from something like that, which can hardly happen until American workers bypass their union bureaucracies and take collective action on their own, as they did in France.)

As the movement spreads to hundreds of cities, it is important to note that each of the new occupations and assemblies remains totally autonomous. Though inspired by the original Wall Street occupation, they have all been created by the people in their own communities. No outside person or group has the slightest control over any of these assemblies. Which is just as it should be. When the local assemblies see a practical need for coordination, they will coordinate; in the mean time, the proliferation of autonomous groups and actions is safer and more fruitful than the top-down “unity” for which bureaucrats are always appealing. Safer, because it counteracts repression: if the occupation in one city is crushed (or coopted), the movement will still be alive and well in a hundred others. More fruitful, because this diversity enables people to share and compare among a wider range of tactics and ideas.

Each assembly is working out its own procedures. Some are operating by strict consensus, others by majority vote, others with various combinations of the two (e.
g. a “modified consensus” policy of requiring only 90% agreement). Some are remaining strictly within the law, others are engaging in various kinds of civil disobedience. They are establishing diverse types of committees or “working groups” to deal with particular issues, and diverse methods of ensuring the accountability of delegates or spokespeople. They are making diverse decisions as to how to deal with media, with police and with provocateurs, and adopting diverse ways of collaborating with other groups or causes. Many types of organization are possible; what is essential is that things remain transparent, democratic and participatory, that any tendency toward hierarchy or manipulation is immediately exposed and rejected.

Another new feature of this movement is that, in contrast to previous radical movements that tended to come together around a particular issue on a particular day and then disperse, the current occupations are settling in their locations with no end date. They’re there for the long haul, with time to grow roots and experiment with all sorts of new possibilities.

You have to participate to understand what is really going on. Not everyone may be up for joining in the overnight occupations, but practically anyone can take part in the general assemblies. At the Occupy Together website you can find out about occupations (or planned occupations) in more than a thousand cities in the United States as well as several hundred others around the world. The occupations are bringing together all sorts of people coming from all sorts of different backgrounds. This can be a new and perhaps unsettling experience for some people, but it’s amazing how quickly the barriers break down when you’re working together on an exciting collective project. The consensus method may at first seem tedious, especially if an assembly is using the “people’s mic” system (in which the assembly echoes each phrase of the speaker so that everybody can hear). But it has the advantage of encouraging people to speak to the point, and after a little while you get into the rhythm and begin to appreciate the effect of everyone focusing on each phrase together, and of everyone getting a chance to have their say and see their concerns get a respectful hearing from everyone else.

In this process we are already getting a taste of a new kind of life, life as it could be if we weren’t stuck in such an absurd and anachronistic social system. So much is happening so quickly that we hardly know how to express it. Feelings like: “I can’t believe it! Finally! This is it! Or at least it could be it — what we’ve been waiting for for so long, the sort of human awakening that we’ve dreamed of but didn’t know if it would ever actually happen in our lifetime.” Now it’s here and I know I’m not the only one with tears of joy. A woman speaking at the first Occupy Oakland general assembly said, “I came here today not just to change the world, but to change myself.” I think everyone there knew what she meant. In this brave new world we’re all beginners. We’re all going to be making lots of mistakes. That is only to be expected, and it’s okay. We’re new at this. But under these new conditions we’ll learn fast. At that same assembly someone else had a sign that said: “There are more reasons to be excited than to be scared.”

For other writings from the Bureau of Public Secrets on Occupy Oakland and other topics, see bopsecrets.org.

Introduction – issue #108

Slingshot is an independent radical newspaper published since 1988.

We’ve pulled together this extra edition devoted to the occupy movement super quickly, running on the surge of enthusiasm pouring out of Occupy Oakland and related developments around the world. We had just finished our last (regularly scheduled) issue when Occupy Oakland started and a lot of us jumped right into the thick of it. We’re all having so many intense experiences, meeting so many new people, having so many amazing conversations and taking on so many new projects that life has felt overwhelming, like a blur, electric. It is humbling to be part of something so big, so complex, so fast-moving.

We’re having a blast mixed with moments of frustration, exhaustion and confusion. Is it too cheesy to say how much we love the people we’ve marched with, camped with, been in the general assembly with, and who’ve helped us through this? There is an amazing community developing on many levels and none of us could do all this without so many others holding down their parts.

Trying to create a coherent paper in just a couple of weeks has been challenging, and we know we’ve missed a lot of important topics and articles that we hope we can explore in our next issue — just 2 months away. We’ve each written a few notes here to share topics that didn’t make it into an article, but express something about what is going on. Join us and write something about your reality in all this!

• • •

Occupy has gifted us the public space to reveal parts of ourselves that had previously remained behind closed doors. Facets of our personalities that had been unable to emerge under the values of isolation and competition are beginning to blossom. Slowly but surely, we are developing post-capitalist identities. And once those identities have bloomed, there will be no going back: we will continue to demand the space we need to express them.

And, while some people at Occupy would like us to keep this process hidden–from the media and from each other–we will not let them stamp out the spark. We will not let the fear of looking bad on television derail us from experiencing the inward revolution: the process of decolonizing our behaviors, hearts, and minds. We don’t care if it doesn’t look pretty to outsiders. Let the media spin whatever they want about us: the pundits and talk show hosts are nothing more than yapping corporate lapdogs. Let them yap. Their power over us has ended: the media cannot spin our lives. Our experience belongs to us.

• • •

In all of the conversations about property damage and police violence, it is difficult sometimes to acknowledge that violent acts also happen within our communities. Chaotic moments of violence are part of the society we live in. The state and its financial patrons will always seize selectively on incidents of interpersonal violence as evidence that strong, authoritarian measures are needed to keep people safe. This is not true: at best these measures only push the misery around. More often, they exacerbate it. Emotional responses to trauma caused by institutional violence habitually lead to acts of interpersonal violence. The more our communities are composed of strong connections between people who are resilient and respect their own needs, the more manageable and less likely incidents of interpersonal violence become.

• • •

Events that linger fresh in our minds:

Sept 17: Occupy Wall Street camp begins

Sept 24: Video of unprovoked police pepper spraying of women goes viral

Oct 4: First Oakland General Assembly (GA) to discuss starting Occupy Oakland

Oct 11: Occupy Oakland encampment begins

Oct 25: Police raid OO in morning. That evening, 1000 people protest and are tear gassed; Iraq vet Scott Olsen’s scull fractured

Oct 26: OO camp re-established, 1600 person general assembly votes to call general strike

Nov 2: Oakland General Strike: thousands skip work and shut down the Port of Oakland

Nov 9: Occupy Cal begins at UC Berkeley. Those in tents are severely beaten and arrested

Nov 14: Police raid OO camp for 2nd time

Nov 15: UC Davis students occupy Mrak Hall. Occupy Cal strike and Open University. OO marches from Oakland to Berkley to join students

Nov 16: UC regents cancel meeting due to protests. Many march on their corporate sponsors and pitch a tent in the Bank of America in SF

Nov 17: Occupy Cal is raided at 3:30 am; Occupy UCLA begins

Nov 18: Demanding that the military cede power, tens of thousands of Egyptians flood Tahir Square; dozens are killed. UC Davis students are pepper-sprayed in the face while peacefully sitting in their quad in the middle of the day; 2 are hospitalized

Nov 21: The Davis General Assembly votes for a statewide strike on 11/28 to coincide with the Regent’s next budget vote. UCD faculty vote to support a resolution demanding that the UCD police be disbanded

• • •

Some of the best chants we heard:

“The system, has got to die, Hella, hella occupy!”

“Keep the world in our hands, let’s refuse to make demands!”

“We’re here, we’re queer, burn the fucking banks!”

On Halloween: “I don’t want a Fun Size, I want a King Size!”

To cops: “You’re Sexy! You’re cute! Take off your riot suit!”

“MOVE banks, get out the way. Get out the way banks, get out the way!

• • •

The General Strike Poster: The night after Occupy Oakland decided to call the general strike (Thursday), a few Slingshot folks discussed making a 17 X 23 inch poster to promote it — in the spirit of autonomous action. Our printing press needed the artwork by 2 pm Friday to get the poster printed by 4:30 Friday afternoon. I sent an email seeking artists but as the clock ticked Friday, it looked like it wasn’t going to happen. At noon, Lucis called to say he could do art. We dashed down to the Long Haul and he drew art while I laid out words. I biked to the printer at 2 and by 5 pm, 2,000 posters got delivered to the Occupation. They ended up all over Oakland.

• • •

Occupy Scene Report by hurricane

I lost my housing a month in a half ago, my solution: Travel! Occupy everything! Here’s the best to the worst to the swag along the west coast.

Vancouver BC: Canadians know what’s up. Period. Tons of DIY “Nobody For President 2012” signs. Makes no sense, because I’m in fucking Canada.

Grass Valley: About 400 folks occupying. Nice variety of people who wouldn’t normally mix. Epic scenery.

Fresno: Fres-yes! Perfect weather, lots of actions organized with local labor unions. Right after I left camp, occupy was raided by the police. Damn!

Downtown LA: Across the street from Occupy is the county courthouse. Same location of the Michael Jackson murder trial. The mainstream media was there to film the outraged protesters. The strangest action I’ve ever participated in.

Overall I noticed a sense of unwarranted self-importance from the finance committees, everywhere! Just a suggestion to Occupy Camps universally: Money changes everything, money gives the illusion of power, that power needs to be destroyed. Or else money will destroy this movement. Check your privilege and get to know your fellow wingnuts at camp.

• • •

As we are putting the paper together, a series of raids that appear to have been federally coordinated forcibly are evicting Occupy encampments across the country. UC Davis cops are dousing sitting students with pepper spray. In Egypt, the military is murdering protesters in Tahir Square. Just a reminder: don’t believe them when they tell you they’ll manage your revolution.

• • •

Slingshot is always looking for new writers, artists, editors, photographers, translators, distributors, etc. to make this paper. If you send
something written, please be open to editing.

Editorial decisions are made by the Slingshot Collective but not all the articles reflect the opinions of all collective members. We welcome debate and constructive criticism.

Thanks to the people who made this: Babs, Bird, Claire, Darin, DA, Enola, Glenn, Ibrahim, Jesse, Joey, Josh, Kathryn, Kermit, Lew, Lucis, Micah, Samara, Sara, Sean, Suzanne, Solomon, Stella, Stephanie and all the authors and artists.

Slingshot New Volunteer Meeting

Volunteers interested in getting involved with Slingshot can come to the new volunteer meeting on Sunday, December 11, 2011 at 4 p.m. at the Long Haul in Berkeley (see below.)

Article Deadline & Next Issue Date

Submit your articles for issue 109 by January 14, 2012 at 3 p.m.

Volume 1, Number 108, Circulation 20,000

Printed November 25, 2011

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No demands – strike, takeover, occupy everything

Usually coupled with discussions of the fact that the Occupy Movement is largely leaderless, is the subject of demands. Although each Occupy camp is autonomous, and thus different, most of the camps have no demands. The fact is that with an absence of demands, movements effectively reject the logic of representation – a logic that at once disempowers the many and allows for a force to refocus, or manage, the energy of a movement.

Without demands, there is no room made for concessions with power. Instead of focusing on a new round of electoral politics (recall this, vote for that), people must act. This is where the power of no demands comes from. A reclaimation of space is certainly powerful. That such reclaimations have been generalized throughout the world is incredible. But we cannot think that this is an ends in itself. The Occupy camps should continue while looking to expand their function as a space for organizing actions.

The occupation as a political act is not new – its use by those in power is exemplary in the history of colonialism. To look at its counter, the use of occupations by the disenfranchised, gives us a number of historical examples to remember and learn from. Perhaps one of the more enigmatic occupation movements was the one that transpired in France in May of 1968. Following the occupation of the Sorbonne (a university in Paris), workers began taking over the factories they worked in. The generalized tactic was used with the goal of autonomous control – occupation provided the means of effectively reclaiming a place of work or enterprise, such as a factory, school, or farm. May ’68 was a failure because of the efforts of union bureaucrats who ultimately wanted workers to return to work as it was before the strike. Ultimately most returned to the normal situation of day-to-day alienation under capitalism.

The Landless Workers’ Movement in Brazil is another example of a political upheaval based around the reclaimation of space. The movement came out of a social climate in which 3% of the country’s population owned two-thirds of all arable land. It was, in a sense, an occupation movement concerned both with the equitable distribution of land and sustainable agricultural practices (which is to say they actively rejected the efforts of companies, like Monsanto, who had a vested interest in the proliferation of GMO crops). Their slogan was “occupy, resist, and produce.”

So here is the challenge: what if we were to use the occupation to takeover our workplaces and schools in order to reclaim and run it with our own goals in mind? Without bosses, without administrative classes, without politicians, our aim could be redirected towards collective empowerment on a very real level. What is clear is that those unwelcome “managers of society” pursue interests that are counter to the needs of the people. Why not takeover the tools of our own disillusionment? A factory that is an instrument of oppression in one hand could be liberatory in another after being repurposed by the workers themselves. Let us strike, forever.

At the point when the takeover is widespread, no longer limited to the public squares that formed the base of this movement, the worker as a subjectivity will soon dissolve. The delineations between employment and leisure (concepts best left to the realm of consumer capitalism) mean less and less as reclaimed enterprises suddenly fulfill a tangible role in our everyday lives. Such a movement “could then have proclaimed the expropriation of all capital, including state capital; announced that all the country’s means of production were henceforth collective property of the proletariat organized in direct democracy; and appealed directly (by finally seizing the some of the means of telecommunication, for example) to the workers of the entire world to support this revolution” (Situationist International Anthology, Knabb).

What is clear is that we must be proactive if we are to be effective. The Occupy Movement is at a fork in the road. Will we continue on the path of dead-ends and media fetishizations, or will we come together to reclaim and build a new world? Occupations of public space are certainly valuable. But we must now look to occupy workplaces and schools so that we can manage them in ways that speak to our needs and desires. This is not only possible, it is an essential move in a struggle for economic and social justice.

Creative, disruptive and loud – State Parks and wild places need de-colonization, too

The weekend of Nov.12-13 over 300 people occupied Hendy Woods State Park in southern Mendocino County, CA, one of the last remaining public access old growth redwood groves in the state. The park is slated to be closed as of July 2012 along with 70 other California state parks due to budget constraints. Occupy Hendy Woods! stated: “We demand a re-prioritization in state budgeting which favors long-term thinking over short-sighted panic-driven ‘solutions.’ We want a stable budget which favors people, land and public services over corporations and banks. We refuse to sit back and watch our park destroyed by neglect and misuse. Short term measures, driven by a budget crisis we the 99% did not create, will steal our natural heritage unless we do something about it. We will not let this park close. Let’s get creative, inspired and loud!” The local organizers want to network and help inspire others to occupy state parks and other wild places in need of protection, contact occupyhendywoods@gmail.com. An occupation of China Camp State Park in the Bay Area is being planned for January 2012, contact fuschiafringe@gmail.com.

What next? What have we learned and what can we add now?

As Slingshot goes to press, the hundreds of occupations inspired by Occupy Wall Street are struggling to transition tactically from tent cities to other actions that will help the amazing momentum behind the movement to continue and expand. Many occupations have been swept away by police raids and those that still exist face severe challenges from internal dysfunction and winter weather. But the political moment that made the occupy movement possible is not about a particular tactical expression. It can and will continue without tents. In fact, moving beyond tents may help the movement expand since the residential aspect of occupations have eaten up so much energy on camp logistics.

No matter what tactics gain support next, the movement has to stick with the key aspects that have made it so extraordinary:

• Re-defining what is possible. Now isn’t the time to retreat to what may seem “realistic” and limit our ideas or demands to areas defined as acceptable by the system. Two months ago, none of what we have already achieved seemed within reach. The occupy movement is strong when it stretches the world to create its own reality. It is hard to think or write about what to do next precisely because at long last we’re in uncharted waters and we don’t actually know what is possible. We need to prolong and expand that sense as much as possible and see where it goes. We need to fight anything that is going to end this moment, narrow it, or concede to reality. The most important battlefield is in each of our heads and our collective consciousness — moving beyond the voices from the system that try to limit our imagination.

• Provoking dialogue and discussion. In just a couple of months, the occupy movement has dramatically shifted the social landscape by opening long-overdue debate over wealth and power inequality and whether the capitalist system is working for the average person. One of the most powerful parts of our General Assemblies has been break-out groups where we talk to people we’ve never met before about what is wrong with the world, and what we can do to create something new. These discussions have spread throughout society and millions of people are talking about class, power and injustice in new ways and for the first time in our lives. This explosion of dialogue is powerful. We need to do whatever we can to keep the conversation going and broaden it. Start some conversations with strangers at the bus stop, your neighbors, your family, co-workers, etc. These discussions are extra exciting and fruitful right now.

• Keeping the focus on the big picture and avoid getting sucked into reformism or single issue politics. Almost since the beginning, media pundits have asked for a list of demands — “what do they want?” To the credit of the occupy movement, we’ve mostly avoided reducing our movement to a laundry list of reforms. The key insight of the movement has been that the political / economic system is bankrupt and is the problem. This isn’t just a protest so we don’t want any crumbs the system can give us. We have to resist any effort to hijack the movement by pursuing single issues or to serve particular political parties or union leaderships.

• Maintaining horizontal structures such as the General Assembly and avoiding the development of leaders or bureaucracies. All of the three points, above, will be easier if we maintain the radical decentralization of the movement. How can we build the sense of community and equality we feel at the General Assembly into the fabric of everyday life? The goal isn’t just about running a particular meeting or structure with participatory democracy. Ultimately, these structures change how people treat each other and how each of us approaches the world. Decentralized structures change our assumptions — are other people hostile competitors or our community?

All of us are empowered to expand decentralized spontaneous actions to more neighborhoods and new groups of people. It’s up to each of us to take initiative to make this happen — everything that has happened so far has happened without any central leadership deciding it should happen, but rather based on individuals and small groups taking action on their own. Right on!

In Oakland, a number of specific tactical ideas are under discussion as of press time. No doubt more will be dreamed up by the time you read this in towns and cities around the world. No doubt you can think of some other ideas and do them yourself:

• Kittens. Early on, a speaker at the Oakland General Assembly pointed out how all our energy was focused on the few blocks surrounding the occupation, and how much better it might be if we spread our energy around the city talking to folks, organizing and agitating. What would we look like if we were kittens — adorable but with claws — climbing all over the place and getting into everything, as opposed to the herd-like formation of traditional marches?

• Neighborhood assemblies. The Occupy Oakland general assembly often involves 400 or more people. For larger cities like this, it may make more sense to break up into smaller neighborhood assemblies or subcommittees of the citywide General Assembly. The Occupy Oakland General Assembly originally met every night, but after 2 weeks switched to four times a week. The nights without a citywide General Assembly could be a time to decentralize.

• Direct action and strikes. The initial occupations disrupted business as usual and brought people who were dissatisfied with the system together. Once we found each other, our sense of isolation and powerlessness vanished. In Oakland, the occupation has been the launching pad for numerous marches and actions against banks and other oppressive institutions. This can expand. While taking direct action, we need to figure out ways to target disruption against the rulers and minimize collateral damage where possible. The Oakland general strike is also a model for future wildcat (non-official) job actions that hit the 1% where it hurts — against one company or industry, or in one city, region, or nationally.

The system is fragile economically and politically. It is up to us to figure out all the ways in which its legitimacy is compromised and exploit those soft spots. Banks, corporations and mainstream electoral politics aren’t offering answers, but our direct actions can.

• Building occupations. Occupations don’t have to be in public parks. Many occupations around the country are experimenting with occupying bank-owned buildings or other buildings needlessly sitting empty because of the failures of the economic system. Closed factories? Closed schools, parks or other public buildings? These actions are highly symbolic and, when successful, provide space safe from the weather with doors to help limit access to individuals bent on disrupting us.

• Foreclosures. Another campaign under discussion is to research foreclosed buildings about to go to auction, or families about to lose their homes, and show up to disrupt the process (with the families blessing, of course.)

• Re-occupation. Since the second Oakland police raid on November 14, many have discussed how to re-occupy the original site downtown. Occupations have numerous components: the general assembly, space for informal discussion, libraries, medic tents, kitchens, kids areas, art supplies for making signs, media tents and residential tents for sleeping. One option under discussion is to continue activities during “legal” daylight hours and develop mobile versions of infrastructure like food, media, etc. — doing everything the occupation did prior to a raid except without residential tents.

Such a strategy could focus our energy on the best parts of the occupation — communication and community — while de-emphasizing the residential aspect, which is the most problematic for us to maintain for our own interna
l reasons.

In pursuing these transitional tactics, we can consider what have we learned over the past couple of months during these occupations, and add aspects that have been missing.

The current eruption of protest is more than just unfocused anger at recession and austerity. It reflects a widespread sense that the system is not working, growing out of the last 40 years of stagnant wages while corporate profits soared. For years, the 1% busted our unions, eliminated living-wage jobs, and privatized social resources with very little resistance. Now, finally, resistance seems to be breaking out all over all at once.

Now is a great time to start diverse discussions about the horrors of capitalism beyond just wealth inequality.

Capitalism has systematically sucked meaning, community and stability from our lives. With all the consumer items and labor saving inventions, we’ve lost our humanity. People want to cooperate and share with those around them, but capitalism requires constant competition, increasing isolation and loneliness, a relentless speed up, and a race to the bottom.

Capitalism is good at making more stuff, making it cheaper, and doing so with fewer people. As people psychologically adapt themselves to these economic goals — attempting to measure satisfaction with material wealth rather than with our connection to ourselves, other people and the world around us — we gradually drive ourselves insane. Consumerism, corporate jobs and mediated suburban life are meaningless. Human beings need more than computers and bank balances — we need freedom, emotional intensity, and un-managed, challenging adventures.

Moreover, capitalism is killing the planet. Some of the amazing energy behind this movement may be coming from an underlying, almost subconscious sense of despair about the environment. How much of our emotional energy is going to suppress and deny our awareness that the climate is changing, that rivers and oceans are dying, that forests and wild places are shrinking? We have to ignore these things to maintain our sanity as we do what is necessary to exist within this system — driving to work, plugging into the grid, buying our food from industrial farms far away.

The occupy movement can blow the lid off all kinds of un-discussed, unspoken aspects of our economic and political system. While the rhetoric of the 99% is theoretically weak, it is also charmingly and subversively inclusive — folks from many different walks of life with different ideas have to grudgingly agree that they are, in fact, part of the 99%. Most politics and the culture war, etc. have been all about looking at the world based on different assumptions and ideological positions. Occupy changes the lens from “what precisely should happen” to “what position in the system do I occupy and what benefits me?”

What is going on is fundamentally not a left-wing version of the tea party. The tea party has always remained firmly rooted in system-defined limits of what is possible. In fact essential to the tea party are assumptions that the structure of the markets are “natural” and inevitable, and that the US Constitution carries religion-like weight. To the contrary, the occupy movement is all about rejecting tired structures and ways of thinking that are no longer serving us.

The occupy eruption is so extremely exciting because we’ve broken our isolation and sense of powerlessness. We’re finally discussing topics long ignored. And we’re not assuming we’ve lost before we’ve even started to fight.

Tips for disruption

The proposal to the General Assembly calling for the Oakland general strike stated “All banks and corporations should close down for the day or we will march on them.” However, except for shutting down the Port in the evening, only a handful of banks were blockaded and shut down during the strike. Most of the thousands of people in downtown that day stayed close to the occupation except for a few short marches. As a result, while a few blocks were closed to traffic and totally disrupted, it generally seemed like a normal day only a few blocks from the occupation on November 2.

If there is another general strike, the participants will have to determine whether it makes sense to try harder at disrupting business as usual as much as our numbers might allow, or whether a mostly symbolic day of action is enough.

Following are suggestions on how to disrupt business as usual in an urban area:

In a protest, you request change from those in power. Direct action is when people ignore those in power and build new forms of social interaction on their own — cooperatively organizing housing, farms, workplaces, etc. Militant disruption falls between traditional protest and direct action — the common situation in which people reject the authority and legitimacy of those in power, yet don’t have sufficient social resources to just build a world outside the rulers’ control. Disruption seeks to prevent business as usual and resist social control, thereby weakening the rulers and opening possibilities for new social structures.

Tactics that evade the police are almost always the most disruptive. All too often, you see would-be militants getting caught up in the cop game by focusing on confronting the police — pushing against a police line, etc. This is a mistake. When you confront the police, it usually results in order, not disorder, because the police know precisely where you are. They can re-route traffic around you, maintaining productivity and business as usual everywhere else except on your tiny corner until they can amass enough forces to surround and bust your ass.

If you see a police line, it is usually best to go the other way or melt away and regroup elsewhere. This keeps police guessing and confused while you’re free to cause chaos. The police are organized centrally and use radios which can only communicate between two locations at a time. If we can keep mobile in several different groups, their hierarchical structure has a much harder time keeping track of it all. If you’re lucky, you and a group of friends can get together, run through a business district, push some dumpsters into the middle of traffic, and generally run amok. If you keep moving, you’ll never see any police because by the time they arrive at a particular location, you’ll be gone. Sometimes you can watch cop helicopters to figure out locations cops are concerned with.

The police hope we’ll engage them on their level – it is up to us to figure out realms in which we hold the advantage:

• Maintaining traffic flow is a weak link for the system – causing traffic chaos is very disruptive to the system. The day the Iraq war started, a few hundred people were able to shut down traffic in downtown San Francisco with flying traffic blockades. As few as 20 people materialized on the street a safe distance from police, joined hands to block traffic, and stood in the street for a few moments. When police approached, the line melted away. These short interruptions in flow caused a ripple effect blocks away and gridlock for miles.

• Disruption and disorder can take many forms. Sometimes, creating beautiful or humorous expressions of the world we seek to build — music, art, gardens, public sex, bicycle swarms, etc. — can be disruptive while avoiding the system’s “us and them” paradigm. A disruptive march on leap day action night in 2004 invaded bank lobbies but threw only glitter and popcorn. Another tied doors shut with a pretty red bow.

What to Bring

For mobility, you want to travel as light as possible and avoid bulky signs, props or costumes. Leave those to the protesters. Carry water in a squirt bottle for drinking and to treat chemical weapons. Use a fanny pack or bag that doesn’t get in the way in case you have to run. Not everyone has to adopt the black bloc uniform – it can be like wearing a huge target on your ass. You may be able to get away with more if you’re dressed so you don’t stand out.

If weather permits, water repellent clothes protect skin from pepper spray. Layers are good because they provide padding and can be used for disguise/escape. In hot weather, dress comfortably — avoiding heatstroke and dehydration so you can run is way more important than protection from chemical weapons, padding or a disguise. Wear good running shoes. Don’t wear contact lenses, loose jewelry, loose long hair or anything the cops can grab, or any oil based skin product that may make chemical weapons exposure worse. Carefully consider if you want to bring drugs, weapons, burglary tools or anything that would get you in extra trouble if arrested.

Affinity Groups/Decision Making

Affinity groups are small action cells — usually 4-8 people — who share attitudes about tactics and who organize themselves for effectiveness and protection. The best affinity groups are people with pre-existing relationships who know and trust each other intimately. Decisions are (hopefully) made democratically, face-to-face and quickly on the spot. In a chaotic situation, affinity groups make decision making (as opposed to just reacting) possible, while watching each others’ backs. Affinity groups with experience and a vision can take the initiative and start something when the larger crowd is standing around wondering what to do next.

Some affinity groups use a code word which any member can yell if they have an idea for what the group should do next. Upon hearing the word, others in the group yell it too, until the whole group gathers up and the person who called the huddle makes a proposal. The group can then agree to the proposal, or quickly discuss alternatives, and then move. A code word can also allow regrouping when the group gets separated in a chaotic situation. Sometimes someone in the group holds a visible sign or flag to help keep the group together. It is a good idea for everyone in the group to discuss their limits before an action. During the action, taking time to check in about how everyone is feeling will keep the group unified. Don’t forget to eat and take pee breaks — a lot easier when someone can act as lookout while you duck behind a dumpster.

Chemical weapons

The police use these weapons to scare and disperse crowds. While these weapons can be painful and dangerous to people with medical issues, most people can endure tear gas and pepper spray just fine, thank you. Don’t believe rumors about use of these weapons — these rumors frequently circulate and are often false.

If you see tear gas, stay calm and focused and avoid it as much as possible. If there is wind, the gas is likely to blow away quickly. Some people are more chemically sensitive than others, so everyone has to decide individually what their body can accept, no questions asked. Throwing gas canisters back is heroic and looks great, but be careful of hitting other demonstrators or burning your hand. The canister might be fairly cool right after it goes off but heats up quickly — a heavy glove helps. Pepper spray is nasty — the best advice is to avoid getting hit by it. If you get hit, don’t spread it around or rub your eyes. You may need help from a medic to clean up. If you get hit with tear gas or pepper spray, avoid contact with others (including pets) until you wash off and change clothes.

Keep the movement

As a participant in both the Occupy Oakland and Occupy SF movements, I have experienced three police raids on our camps. Residents’ tents and sleeping bags trampled, bookcases splintered, kitchens demolished, and all was thrown into dump trucks to be hauled to the city dump.

I understand the legitimate reasons for protestors to intentionally let themselves be arrested, to make a stand, and to not back down in the face of unchecked and unjustified aggression towards the movement. I also understand the necessity of our sustainable camps and the resources and facilities they bring to those who don’t have access to them under our current system, and the need for us to be physically occupying space in our protests. Considering this, but also realizing that our current modes of occupation leave both our resources and ourselves vulnerable to police attack, I propose a change of tactics.

Suppose, if instead of standing our ground every police raid and getting our gear smashed, our bodies beaten, and our friends arrested, we had a system of rapidly and effectively deconstructing our camps, so that they could be brought back the next morning after the police have left. What we need are guerilla tactics: having a committee in charge of organizing folks in the event of a police raid to rapidly dismantle and move the camp. Such a committee could see to it that kitchens and more permanent constructions were erected in ways which are easily deconstructed and can be quickly packed up, and that drivers and vehicles are on call and ready to move camp supplies, and that instructions are distributed in a timely manner before a raid.

Although we call ourselves occupiers, we are in effect the resistance, the resistance to oppressive and illegitimate aspects of our current oligarchical system and to the status quo as it stands. An effective resistance movement needs the ability to move about freely, and not be tied down to any one space for any given period of time. We should stop trying to fight the police on their terms. They will always have enough handcuffs, jail cells, and manpower to deal with our encampments as they exist now. So let them keep coming by the hundreds and “force” us out. We’ll just be back in the morning none the worse for wear.

Oakland General Strike – some critical notes

My personal experience of the Nov. 2nd general strike in Oakland was that it was a blast. The event was beautiful and exhilarating — even the colors in the sky were perfect! More importantly, as the first attempt at a general strike in a U.S. city in sixty-six years, I hope Nov. 2nd in Oakland can stir a long-suffering and silent wage-earning class in the United States to see the collective power we can have when we use a mass-scale workplace walkout as a political weapon against the owners of America. This is a gift to our future from the Occupy movement as a whole, and in particular a tribute to the outward-directed and working class focus of Occupy Oakland. Today in the Occupy movement, Oakland leads the way.

The ever-more-alienated internet is now saturated with exhaustively detailed first-person accounts of this event and I don’t need to add to these. I’m not out to revel in a self-indulgent buzz. The San Francisco Bay Area anti-authoritarian protest-scenester-scene is at its most limber and energetic when patting itself on its back, reveling in imaginary victories, celebrating its manifest failings as glorious victories, and proclaiming the limits of its current endeavors as the highest possible point that future efforts can aspire to.

The word ‘strike’ means “to hit with force’ (Webster’s dictionary). Except for a few large windows of some wholly appropriate businesses, nothing got hit with force in Oakland on Nov. 2, 2011. It may be years until we have some accurate figure of the number of people who actually walked off the job in Oakland on Nov. 2nd, but my guess is that it was something less than 15% of the city’s wage earners. Below 10% might be even more likely.

A “strike” that the boss gives you permission to take part in isn’t really a strike. On Nov. 2nd in Oakland this meant:

1. Employees represented by the California Nurses Association making use of their sick days,

2. Oakland City government employees were given permission from the city to “participate,”

3. And the occasionally leftist-jargon-slinging port worker’s union, the ILWU, needed to have masses of protesters block the gates to port facilities, and with this in place got an official mediator to approve of one of the port worker’s shifts being cancelled. Other ILWU members went to work during an earlier shift on the day of the general strike.

A strike has to have some forcible, breaking-all-the-normal-rules, disruptive and destructive qualities to be a true act of social or class rebellion. It has to damage the economic interest of the bosses, and this didn’t happen with the strike on Nov. 2nd. Among other negative indicators here, I haven’t seen the bourgeois media offering any public estimate of money lost to businesses from the strike. You can generally count on this after similar episodes in all those other countries where the working class has been more assertive of its interests than we’ve been. An actual one-day general strike would deliver an economic rabbit-punch to the bourgeoisie, and if they had taken a real hit this way we would have heard them acting martyred about it afterward.

Still, this doesn’t mean that Nov. 2nd was a failure. The majority of working people in the contemporary U.S. are many generations distant from any directly lived experience of collective workplace-based confrontation with capital, let alone a large-scale, city-wide event taking the form of a mass workplace walkout. From the car culture to hip-hop, we’ve been subjected to an ever-more sophisticated hundred-year-long psychological operations campaign of consumer society that tells us that we are all free and atomized individuals. And of course in Uncle-Sam-Land everybody is “middle class,” only some have a lot more money than others. All this has preempted the emergence of a collective class awareness, even in a rudimentary defensive sense, let alone a widespread, conscious, irreconcilable, collective hostility to our exploiters and to the political and ideological mechanisms of their power. Fortunately, as the often tedious and dogmatic ultra-left Marxist Amadeo Bordiga noted, action tends to precede consciousness, and the simple fact that a general strike of sorts was attempted in Oakland in November 2011 may generate some awareness of the potential that an action like this can have among a wider U.S. audience.

Before the strike, the call for a city-wide walkout was not publicized in an even minimally adequate way. On the Saturday night before the Wednesday strike we had a march to the Oakland City Jail with a thousand people chanting anti-cop slogans. Two nights later I walked the length of Telegraph Avenue, one of Oakland’s main streets, from the center of downtown Oakland to the Berkeley border, a distance of several miles, and saw a total of less than two dozen handbills slapped up in a desultory manner, and these mostly along a short stretch in the semi-hipsterized/gentrified Temescal District. My guess is that this paucity of propaganda applied equally to other main thoroughfares as well. So, what’s that mean? A thousand people showed up for an entertaining, lightweight, low calorie episode of anti-pig posturing, but not one fiftieth of that number had the authentic dedication and commitment to form crews with paint brushes and buckets of wallpaper paste, or with tape guns, and cover the length of the main streets of Oakland with posters and flyers, with visible public propaganda calling attention to an action that had to strike most mainstream contemporary U.S. working people as a wholly unusual, exotic and foreign idea.

The main routes of the bus system AC Transit, major bus stops and BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) could have and should have been used as a platform for the message in the form of mass postering and flyering. This did not happen in the build-up to the general strike. In the days leading up to Nov. 2nd, rank and file union members and low-level union bureaucrats came to meetings of the Occupy Oakland General Assembly. Many of these folks sincerely tried to get their unions involved in the build-up to the general strike. Some union locals generated pious statements devoid of any threat of action. Participation of unions in an effort like this is like asking the U.S. Department of Labor to organize a general strike. Unions are capitalist business organizations — they cannot be transformed into something other than this by combative members, or compelled to act as anything other than transmission belts from capital to labor that help adjust labor to the requirements of capital. Eighty years of repressive labor legislation have also tied capital’s labor brokerages at the ankles, wrists and elbows to capitalist legality and to the capitalist state. The fact that unions are sociologically made up of working class people doesn’t make them an expression of the class interests of their members, much less of the working class as a whole. The U.S. Army is for the most part made up of individuals who are sociologically working class in origin, but that doesn’t make the Army a “working class organization.”

Organizers at Occupy Oakland were probably and quite understandably overwhelmed by the task they had set for themselves in calling for a general strike, and they only had about six days to prepare for it and get the word out. Trying to get unions involved may have seemed like some kind of short cut into the world of the mainstream working class. It wasn’t. And it won’t be next time, either.

Today almost ninety percent of U.S. wage slaves aren’t members of labor unions. Among those who are union members, those who have any strong opinions at all about unions are as likely to have negative perceptions of “their” union as positive ones, and they may see “their” union as a wholly bureaucratic entity that steals dues from their pay and is either indifferent or actively hostile to their needs.

Any real future general strike has to do an end-run around unions. All future efforts of this so
rt will have to draw many energetic individuals to get the word out in a big way, using direct action methods, appealing to immediate needs, and do this with an uncompromising anti-capitalist message. This is no small task, and unions will do nothing to help us here.

The admirable and exemplary targeting by Black Bloc youth of windows of a store of the despicable market-libertarian-owned Whole Foods Market chain during the 2 p.m. “anti-capitalist” march points the way to where the Occupy movement must now go; into a much deeper involvement with the everyday life struggles of the mainstream wage-slave class in capitalist America, from a public, highly visible, aggressive anti-market/anti-money/anti-wage labor perspective. And for all its viscerally satisfying qualities, bricks through the windows of deserving capitalist enterprises aren’t going to draw in the large numbers of hard-pressed mainstream working people who have so much to gain from mobilization in a new mass social movement. The bricks can come later. A few broken windows won’t scare off the work-within-the-system types, either. Liberals of the MoveOn.org stripe and leftists including or akin to the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition are the deadly enemies of any liberatory potential that the Occupy movement has, but these counter-subversives have to be politically combatted and defeated in an open debate where the only weapon will be the weapon of language.

For all its admirable, spontaneous, anti-hierarchical and tremendously positive aspects, the Occupy movement in the United States is still just not enough of a mainstream working people’s movement. The problems with the Oakland General Strike prove that this is absolutely the direction that the Occupy movement must go in now.