November 17th was an amazing day. A few things happened in NYC which my eyes could hardly behold. Hopefully, more of that will happen in the upcoming years of struggle.
I went to the attempt to occupy the Stock Exchange. The numbers were big: several thousand people at 7am-ish. The marches got divided into 3 or 4 smaller ones. The one I was at blocked traffic on Broadway and Pine, I believe. There was a mic-check style debate with 50 people or so on the merits of being in solidarity with the NYPD. While the debates went along usual lines of differences, I want to say it was productive and that there were many more people who wanted to have a clear difference with the NYPD. This has not been my experience in the past. Hopefully, this shows that political lessons are being learned. It seems that at least a 1/3 out of this 50 was against seeing the NYPD as part of the 99 percent—a good development. At the same time many sang the national anthem. I did a mic-check and said, “What would Iraqis have to say about the national anthem with lines like ‘Bombs bursting in the air’?” The crowd had no response. Contradictions; contradictions!
Eventually, we headed back to Liberty Park. What is amazing is that the crowd tore down one entire side of the barricades. Even more interesting for me is that when the police tried to push us back into the park, the crowd rallied and pushed the police back to the edge of the street. I have not seen anything like that in NYC before. My sense is that more and more people are getting confident about their ability to enforce their collective power. I would guess it is fragile and all that, but a different feel in the crowd. I certainly was slightly “high” off the last several days of struggle as well and feeling solidarity with the crowd.
Next, I went to the Graduate Center of CUNY which is in mid-town/business/tourist central. It was attended by 30–40 people. I was a little surprised by the turnout. I rushed over to CUNY-Hunter to see what was up with the strike. It was about 1:30ish when I got there and about 20 students inside Hunter were protesting. I was very surprised by the small turnout. Soon after, I went to Union Square. Very quickly, thousands of students gathered. I was pretty surprised considering how small the other events were. I passed out a bunch of Insurgent Notes literature. I was not able to get into conversations with people, cuz I was just in mass flyering mode, but pretty much everyone took the literature.
What happened next blew my mind away. By the time the march left it was huge. People just took the streets and blocked traffic. We marched through stopped cars, trucks and taxis. The trucks and taxis were in solidarity with us—rolling down their windows, waving, and raising their fists, and honking their horns. It was very powerful. One truck driver of color got out and giving everyone high fives. People rejoiced to see that happen. It was unbelievable to walk through all the various avenues and streets and literally stop traffic. The cops were nowhere to be seen. Eventually on one of the intersections they brought a semi-truck to block the entire road and some cops stood their ground to force us onto the side walk. People just walked around them and back onto the street. I could not believe it.
It was a powerful lesson. I have really had to think about what I think about militancy and I think I have misunderstood it at times. I saw that when people want to do something, they will just do it. I am also wondering what the NYPD higher ups were thinking. Maybe they knew rich Columbia and NYU students were attending and did not want to bust their heads so took a more hands off approach. Not sure. I definitely am against the idea that doing radical shit means you are a superhero—which sometimes the activities of anarchists and others reinforce. What happened yesterday was that many first time protestors did something pretty illegal, but it was in mass numbers.
Eventually we got to the Foley Square. Nothing too exciting! It was evening and I was exhausted. I went home.
As many of you know, Occupy Wall Street in Manhattan was cleared. This is part report back and part reflection/analysis. You can check the OWS websites for a more play by play account so I will not get into all that.
I first want to say how inspiring this movement continues to be even with all its contradictions. My fundamental urge, no matter how many disagreements I have with OWS, is that it is on the right side of things, I still feel connected to it, and it has changed this country for the better. I am also being challenged by this movement politically and organizationally. I am seeing many folks with probably less radical politics make the right decisions time after time. And seeing folks with the “correct political” perspective become more and more marginal—including myself, cuz we have little to offer.
I arrived at Occupy Wall Street by 2 am after receiving a text message. The NYPD had closed down Brooklyn Bridge and all subway lines from Brooklyn into Manhattan except the R. I took a cab. I came from a meeting of Anarchists and Marxists on next steps for concrete organizing. The NYPD had created a 2–4 block perimeter around Liberty Square Park. No one was allowed to get in. I gathered with a crowd of 200–300 people. We were not sure what to do until we got text messages from communications of Liberty Square Park that we should meet up at Foley Square. At Foley Square, a debate took place over what to do next.
Take Back Occupy or Survive Till Thursday
I don’t know how many, but some people were very pissed that we had left the Liberty Square folks to get arrested. As the crowed and police gathered, I got up on a platform and argued we should go back and challenge the police. (Later, I found out 1,000 NYPD were at Liberty Square). I believe Sharon Smith from the ISO said no, we should live to survive another day and build for a general strike. While at the specific moment I disagreed with her strongly, looking back I think it was a fair and principled position she argued.
This discussion would happen again and again as we ran through the streets of Manhattan, being chased by lots of NYPD. One by one, protestors would get arrested by the NYPD. I saw maybe 20 arrests happen this way. Some of us would argue for staying around the protestors, but one OWS-er said it well, if we are not going to de-arrest right now, then we need to keep moving. What settled in for me was kind of a guerilla insurgent strategy. If we cannot hold the ground, and are going to be decimated by the police, then we need to keep moving and make ourselves a hard target to pin down. I get it.
I agree with the de-arresting. But it also seems the crowd was not prepared to de-arrest and for all the militant rhetoric of revolutionaries like me, neither was I. So practically that meant evading the police all night—humbling experience of rhetoric versus reality, very humbling. In that way many of the more probably liberal OWS-ers have a better grasp on realty and praxis than I did and probably many other revolutionaries. I would be cool for a militant minority of radical-minded people de-arresting, but there appears to be no such formation. The revolutionary left in NYC at this moment does not exist in any organized form. What it seems to be is a bunch of isolated individuals who have radical critiques of OWS, but no practical alternative or organizational form to demonstrate what something more radical looks like. In NYC there are definitely enough individual revolutionaries to form something, but it has not happened. I also am aware that there are tons of differences in such a broad term as revolutionary.
Lack of militancy
We got in a confrontation with the police around 6 am. About 500 people gathered a couple blocks away from Liberty Square Park. Eventually, the police said we needed to get off the streets. A crowd of 100–200 people gathered to stop the police from breaking through. We locked arms and tried to hold our ground. It was amazing how quickly the police broke through. It was also amazing how peaceful the entire thing was.
It really left some us wondering why the crowd was not more militant. It also left us wondering what the role of revolutionaries should be in escalating militancy. Some of the objective problems are definitely everyone is worried about the police cameras everywhere and the general seriousness of the NYPD. There is also the subjective problem that revolutionaries have no organizational framework through which to operate. Then there are the problems that the feeling of the crowd I get is definitely more of a liberal/nonviolence scene.
I saw some Black Nationalists argue against throwing garbage in the streets. I am not sure what angle they were coming from. Whether it is from a conservative place or whether it was a sensible assessment of reality. I talked with some Anarchists/Marxists about this question. If folks were really serious about violence, what kind of preparation was needed? Frankly, no one came prepared, but we are all talking about it rhetorically. I can agree then with the Black Nationalists about not being violent. If we are gonna be violent, where is our preparation? This is the NYPD, not something to be fucked around with. Look at the crowd. People will just get an ass-whooping and look like fools. It is a more complicated debate than liberal = nonviolent and revolutionary = violent. The reality is that in NYC, the revolutionaries talk about militancy and their militancy is throwing garbage in the streets: Fanon, the Panthers, and IWW’s legacy indeed! (Sarcastic, if it is not obvious.)
As an aside, and to be clear that I am not some bureaucratic fool about this stuff, I went to an anti-Nazi demonstration in Toledo. I don’t know if anyone was prepared other than the Anarchists who came. But a large crowd of Black youth showed up and threw tons of rocks at the Nazis and cops. I don’t know if they had a plan, probably not. It was a good victory against the Nazis that day.
We talked about Robert F. Williams and the Deacons for Defense and Justice. I focused on how it took a long time for the Civil Rights Movement to move from a position of nonviolence to something more militant; how that was a historical development being forced by the situation to develop that, and the difference between the heroic militant like Robert F. Williams and the mass involvement of people on more Pantherish terms.
Throwing Kleenex Around
Probably the most comical thing which occurred during the night was the sight of Anarchists, Marxists and other folks dressed in Black throwing garbage in the streets. Many OWS-ers got very pissed. It was the usual nonviolent and keep-it-civil arguments. While I thought the policing of the Anarchists was off, I have to say this was not very productive as far as I can tell. The only sensible argument I heard from Anarchists why throwing garbage in the street made sense was to slow down cop cars behind us. Although at times, it seemed throwing garbage bags and cans in the street was more of a political statement for some people.
Before I go any further, I want to make it clear I am not against violence. I am for attacking police cars, looting Nike stores, Macy’s, and attacking banks. I see a political point to these things. I can see layers of the lumpen and working class agreeing with it and participating. I have no idea who in society will relate to garbage being thrown in the streets. Again, I really don’t care about garbage in the streets. But the Anarchists make it a political point. I frankly think it makes the whole concept of violence and militancy look rather stupid. Militancy and violence should revolve around the sanctity of private property or the cops, etc. I do not know in what way throwing garbage in the street clarifies those things. It only reinforces what many liberals claim it to be: juvenile, pointless, etc. I also think that when normal people see stuff like garbage thrown in the streets, it only reminds them that this is young white kids playing revolutionary. My point is it raises no debate worth discussing.
I saw very nasty debates inside the movement. I guess my point is, if we are gonna have the debate, do it around something which has real content like the things I mentioned. But I just wonder what this says of the Anarchist/Marxist left at this point. That our militancy is reduced to throwing garbage in the streets—really?
What Has Happened
Regardless of what the New York Times and other media outlets say, it looks like the movement has been galvanized. While the numbers at night were much smaller than I thought. I think maybe 1,000–1,500 people came out to defend the park. By 6 pm in NYC, 3,000–5,000 people were at Liberty Square Park. I will say, I don’t think the rank and file of labor is heavily involved. People kept saying labor is coming and I did not see many workers. Most of the people I saw looked like students, former students, unemployed people who used to be students, etc. I mean workers were there at the park, but in much smaller numbers than the rhetoric about unions supporting the movement. I would say at tops 15 percent of the people were people of color, with Asian-Americans being the largest component of that 15 percent.
Also, and amazingly enough, although serious infrastructure is no longer allowed at Liberty Square Park, many churches and other groups have donated space in the area where Occupy will be running out of. It is an amazing logistical operation in that sense. There is talk of occupying buildings in the winter. I don’t know which buildings and the rest of the details.
There is a lot of excitement about November 17th. Rumor has it unions are bussing in people from out of state so the labor march is gonna be huge. It seems the November 17th stuff has reenergized lots of people.
Guess that is all for now.
- Occupy Wall Street Retake “Liberty Park” As Year Begins (infantile-disorder.blogspot.com)
- Occupy Wall Street update: (Who did NYPD target last night?) (onthewilderside.com)
- OWS Fight Is Far from Over: Explosive Actions on 2-Month Anniversary of Movement (alternet.org)