Some Thoughts RE: #OWS Tactics For 2012
Via CurrentTV’s Storify collection of 12/9 #OWS tweets, the Huffington Post reported that Charlotte, North Carolina, which is scheduled to host the 2012 Democratic National Committee meeting on the week of September 3rd, 2012, is taking some questionable, predictable steps to prevent #Occupy from disrupting the DNC.
Given that the national conventions of both parties have histories as flashpoints for populist outrage, it’s not surprising that Charlotte might expect occupiers to stop by.
Is that cop on the right smoking a cigar??
In 1968, during the heated campaign for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President, anti-Vietnam protesters were brutally suppressed by Chicago Police during the Democratic National Convention. Blended with the shocking trauma of prominent populist candidate Robert F. Kennedy’s murder, the left’s experience in Chicago that year was a defining moment in American political history and is commonly perceived as having crippled establishment nominee Hubert Humphrey’s general election campaign before it even began.
And Occupy Wall Street itself is in some ways a descendant of the anti-war and anti-globalization movements that converged in massive numbers at the 2004 Republican National Convention. The NYPD’s response to Occupy Wall Street was also honed in those protests, when Ray Kelly’s finest infamously detained a thousand people in an oily, asbestosy warehouse for days.
So 2012’s DNC and RNC may both seem to some like an inviting rematch. They are certainly an opportunity to disrupt, and to further challenge the frighteningly militaristic police response to protests that began with the Battle of Seattle and has been continually and frighteningly deployed and honed ever since.
This is a personal assessment, but I think for some folks there is a post-traumatic attachment to these conflicts; potentially it’s an unintended consequence of many activists’ up-close-and-personal understanding of the militarization of law enforcement. Surprisingly enough, being violently denied access to your inalienable rights to speech and assembly can be a real source of resentment.
But despite this emotionally and politically meaningful history, and despite the massively problematic fact that our nation’s militarized police are so predictably gearing up to crush dissent during the election of the United States’ most powerful elected official, there are many reasons why I think we should generally avoid focusing on the 2012 primary conventions. And if we do make plans that relate to the 2012 elections, they should focus on core unique strengths of #Occupy, like what Matt Taibbi called "providing a forum for people to show how tired they are not just of Wall Street, but everything”.
A few reasons, then an alternative idea:
First of all, is this even really an election year?
On the Democratic side, there’s no primary; Barack Obama’s nomination for a second term is assured. On the Republican side, there’s a bunch of vaudevillains performing slapstick on a sound stage.
How can anyone take any single one of these guys seriously?
While Obama occasionally polls beneath a “generic Republican,” no flesh-and-blood Republican has been able to sustain any kind of lead over the President. But whether or not that trend continues, nothing of importance will happen at this year’s DNC. And dignifying this year’s Republican field with a collective response is, frankly, beneath us.
Secondly: Messing around with the ticking time bomb that is America’s electoral process might be enormously counterproductive.
The protesters that converged on the DNC in 1968 reflected outrage and opposition to the likely nomination of Hubert Humphrey:
Humphrey … went on to easily win the Democratic nomination at the party convention in Chicago, Illinois. Unfortunately for Humphrey and his campaign, outside the convention hall there were riots and protests by thousands of antiwar demonstrators, many of whom favored McCarthy, George McGovern, or other “anti-war” candidates. These protesters…were attacked and beaten on live television by Chicago police, which merely amplified the growing feelings of unrest in the general public. Humphrey’s inaction during the riots, as well as public backlash from securing the presidential nomination without entering a single primary, highlighted turmoil in the Democratic party’s base that proved to be too much for Humphrey to overcome in time for the general election. The … unpopularity of [President Lyndon Baines] Johnson, the Chicago riots, and the discouragement of liberals and African-Americans when both Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.were assassinated during the election year, were all contributing factors that caused him to eventually lose the election to former Vice President Nixon.
So, an unprimaried incumbent Democratic nominee, with the albatross of war around his neck, in the face of a great deal of mistrust among the Democratic base, responded feebly to very public suppression of speech and then lost in the general election. There are a number of oddly familiar themes, and an outcome worth pondering, no?
The fallout from Humphrey’s loss to Nixon continues to this day. Meanwhile, the civil rights movement remained politically and culturally resonant and won several reforms, but it left structural racism mostly unaddressed. The anti-war and other counter-culture movements of the ’60s and ’70s eventually expended the mainstream cultural capital they had and became defined within the context of traditional politics.
The point of all this? Our electoral system is a shaky and undemocratic mess, especially at the Presidential level. Interacting with it can lead to unintended consequences, and if we’re going to do it, I think we’d better have a very good reason.
Third, in the interest of maintaining consensus, we should not encourage or endorse faith in a system many occupiers feel is too broken to fix.
While there are Occupiers actively working to push for systemic changes in the short term, often by appealing to legislators and elected officials, most proposals that involve using the collective voice of Occupy to do so are rebuffed by General Assemblies.
I think most of us are well-informed about the grievances of which reformists seek redress: the insanity of corporate personhood, the criminality of the financial sector, the problematic nature of currency, weakened protections for human and civil rights, and our government’s failure to invest in or even to protect the commons are a few common themes. But even if we object to these things, a large percentage of occupiers reject the idea of reform, which many of us hoped we were casting our votes for in 2008. Why waste our voice, whether we use it to beg or to demand, on hopelessly muffled ears?
In my view, we have a chance to think beyond convention as we collectively direct the movement. Acknowledging the existing system, which we broadly consider to be far from legitimate even across the reform/redesign divide, runs a high chance of damaging our consensus.
My fourth reason: #Occupy’s core innovation beyond traditional protest is that it is a network of social, political, and economic laboratories in which working alternative models can be tested, shared and demonstrated.
Like it or not - and we really don’t - occupiers have already experienced 1968-style suppression simply for holding our ground and maintaining our meta-protests in public spaces. Many of us were arrested for asserting our rights to speech and assembly. Our encampments were trashed and our belongings destroyed. Police departments across the country used crowd-control techniques not to protect themselves but to more easily subdue us.
But we never asked for any of that treatment. Our intent is to speak, assemble, and organize as the public has a right to do. Our occupations have been our homes and our workplaces not because police really hate it when we do that but because in so organizing we were able to present living, breathing, inspiring alternatives to our current ways of life.
It’s true — implementation is a big challenge, far too big to be fully unpacked here. There are many challenging realities, including that most of our nation’s resources are controlled by the political and economic actors most empowered within the tone-deaf institutions that govern our lives. If you were to make a list, it would be an enormously intimidating catalogue of resources that #Occupy does not have. On this list would be the military, every grid system and the loudest forms of media currently in use.
But one thing we do have, and it’s a doozy, is a better idea.
Less glibly, we have a bunch of ideas-in-development that are already far superior to the systems currently in use. Horizontal organization side-steps issues of corruption and when based on consensus models it can provide everyone a real voice. And we can get things done: the Occupy model of direct democracy is already being expanded beyond collective decision-making (most prominently displayed in its working groups and General Assemblies) to integrating existing and successful models for collectivistic democratic workplaces. And combined with other horizontal designs still in progress or yet to be conceived of, it’s not far-fetched to hope it can eventually form a completely novel political and economic structure.
So even as we keep learning and growing together, we’ve already got a bundle of good news to share. If we can use the 2012 presidential circus as a platform for a post-electoral demonstration of positive solutions, I think we should.
And finally: we don’t need to go to the existing nexuses of power; folks have consistently come to us - and quite probably will continue to do so.
Like the anti-war and civil rights movements, Occupy’s voice has become, I think it’s fair to say, reasonably powerful. But unlike the anti-war and civil rights movements, which faced a vast cultural gulf they needed to bridge with herculean educational efforts, #Occupy culture is, in essence, already very familiar.
After 20 years of the Internet, Americans of all ages and stripes have become accustomed to the freedoms of horizontalism. On the Internet, all voices are equal, as long as by voice you mean your computer/smartphone/exobrain. And even that bold claim isn’t comprehensive; the Internet also extends two of our most important senses, sight and sound. And the better our methods of accessing all of this info get, the more they boost our memory. The Internet offers a number of crucial new tools for self-empowerment and provides a vast, free environment in which to use them.
But the Internet isn’t enough. Our smartphones have begun enabling us to bring these enhancements to our real lives. It’s only natural that we would want our real lives, where we experience the full pleasures of being functioning human beings, to embody the same sense of freedom and creative potential. If this is, as I suspect it is, one common source of the urge to #Occupy, it’s no surprise that folks are drawn to #Occupied spaces.
(And it ain’t hard to tell why the institutions that have most recoiled in the face of #Occupy are the same ones threatened by the real democracy enabled by the Internet: those whose primary function is as middlemen between us and our democracy, our peace, our culture, and our freedom of choice.)
So, here’s my view: let’s forget the DNC and the RNC. Forget the unjust laws we protest, forget the money we distrust, forget the bloated zombie institutions of government. Remember the ties that really bind us in positive ways: our communities.
It’s said frequently, but we must #occupy so that our alternative model can be further developed and tested. Prior to August 2012, many #occupations will have gained quite a lot of insight on the ins and outs of current and future horizontal models.
So - and this is just food for thought - let me throw something out there. If we American #Occupiers want to have a true national assembly, to address issues that affect all of us as Americans, to share skills, break bread, make collective decisions together, and demonstrate our vision for the future, why not do it in Lebanon, Kansas, the geographic center of the contiguous 48 states?
A park, you say?
Considering that it is essentially the heartlandiest of the heartlands, Lebanon, Kansas is appropriately low-profile. It appears to be a very small farming community with a declining population (303 on 2000’s census; 218 in 2010). Its Wikipedia article shouts it out for experiencing “rural flight”, which I guess is like white flight, except, since Lebanon is 99.01% white, not as racist. Or more racist. I don’t know.
It’s possible that folks there would appreciate the shot in the arm and the prominence #Occupy could bring it. It has a service station, a library and a newspaper, the Lebanon Times — according to Google Maps. I could dig deeper, but if Lebanon is anything like the other very small farming towns I’ve been to, it’s probably close to being just that humble.
Or, the Lebanonians (Kansan Lebanese?) might hate the idea. Engagement with the community would obviously be a pre-requisite.
As for timing, even though we oughtn’t care much about the DNC or the RNC, the media will want to focus on both. The RNC precedes the DNC, the week of August 27th.
So, maybe we can meet up in Lebanon - or do something else - during the week of August 20th.
We’re pretty okay at self-documentation; folks will want to see our contribution that week whether the media cares or not.
And the bona fide democracy that would occur at such a gathering, were it to become, like, a thing (i.e., be developed collectively at #OWS and/or other occupations and widely consensed upon), would massively overshadow the pointless spectacle of the following two weeks’ political melodrama.
Though I feel strongly about ignoring the 2012 elections, #OccupyLebanon2012 is no more than a figment of my imagination until it leaves my brain and enters #Occupy’s creative and decision-making processes at some actualized point of entry. But let’s see how we feel in a few months.
And just for the record, if this, or another non-co-optive national #Occupation were to actually occur, I’d be down.