Friday, September 28, 2012

It's Failure To Sell Week: Pre-figurative Politics and Occupy

This week, I've failed to sell a bunch of articles! While that may help keep food off of my family, what it does mean is that this one, a piece about S17 and the possibilities of pre-figurative protest, is old enough to be unsellable. So what? So here it is, in its entirety, for you jerks.
It is impossibly clear that the state will bring all available force to bear against the reestablishment of an Occupy encampment. A camp will not happen again in America, at least not for years. We probably just wont have one. Is that why we insist on nostaligizing them, on making them seem as though they were the most ‘positive’ part of Occupy? Now that they are gone (thanks to a federally coordinated sweep of the camps by post-9/11 super-militarized municipal police forces, not some tactical failing of Occupy), it’s important to seriously evaulate the power of the camps, and to criticize some spurious claims made about them, in order to be free of the worst parts of their legacy.

When discussing Occupy, there is an almost automatic distinction made (among radical, liberal, and reactionary commentators alike) between the ‘prefigurative’ aspects of the movement, the parts of the movement which foreshadow the post-revolutionary world, and the critical or negationary aspects: the protests, actions and marches that try to fight the powers that exist. The prefigurative parts of the movement are always understood as the camps, the GAs, and the structures of organization built to maintain them. As David Graeber put it, in an interview with Platypus, Occupy was “trying to create prefigurative spaces in which we can experiment and create the kind of institutional structures that would exist in a society that’s free of the state and capitalism.” [emphasis mine]

There were incredible things about the camp: the feeding and housing of anyone and everyone who came was a tremendous achievement, and giving a place for radicals and protesters to gather, launch actions, meet each other and fight together was deeply valuable. The power of mutual aid, and public spaces where strangers could meet and come together to work on common goals, or where people could be sure to find friends, was truly disruptive, and these things are exactly what we’d hope to see in a world without state or capital. They are also forms of action that require a centralized location, a camp: without one, they will have to be (and are already being, all over the country) re-thought and achieved in different ways, through social centers or more localized neighborhood or workplace associations.

But the GA? It all too quickly became another form of state-craft, an inefficient and ineffective decision making body which lacked the coercion of the state, union or party to actually hold sway over those it claimed to make rulings for. That was still better than if it had had that power, but, in quick order, it became irrelevant and immensely time-consuming. The use of the human-mic at GAs made it basically impossible to have an interesting or serious conversation, turning every comment into a particular form of vulgar speechifying and declaiming, not to mention making everything take four times longer than it had to. The establishment of a permanent facilitation working group meant that the same group of people ended up managing every conversation: while many of them worked hard to remain impartial, most became less and less ‘objective’ and ‘unbiased’, better and better at automatically manipulating the process. Simultaneously, the other working groups, which were suddenly flooded with cash (at one point there was $500,000 in the OWS kitty), proliferated, and did what all groups of people do when arbitrarily given power over resources to dole out to others: they became bureaucracies, intricate, irritating bureaucracies. The introduction of spokescouncil, a formal, managerial fix to a fundamentally ideological and political error, did little to improve the situation.

The institutional and governing structures built in the camp were not pre-figurative at all. In fact, they ended up reproducing statist and capitalist structures of power on a micro-scale. Last summer, we basically copied and pasted General Assemblies from Spain, Greece, and Latin America, where many of us had encountered them. But those places have a longer history of direct democracy, a better understanding of the dynamics of consensus. When I sat in on GAs in Barcelona, no one in the meeting hesitated to speak up if someone was going off topic, to keep things focused: here, we relied altogether too much on facilitators to do that. Of course, no one is born with that knowledge, everyone has to learn how to interact in these situations somewhere, and with practice we could have gotten right, if not for a crucial error: a general assembly is meant mostly as a system for report-backs, to let working groups know what other groups are up to; in Occupy it became a deliberative body through which proposals had to pass. The possibility of basically everyone agreeing on basically everything (a cartoonish understanding of consensus) is a fetish not of anarchists but of the American liberal: we should remember that ‘bipartisan consensus’ has been the Democratic Party’s magic invocation since Reagan.

To see how this played out, we only have to look at S17, last week’s protests celebrating Occupy’s one year anniversary. The morning’s actions were rarely militant, but they were weird, dispersed, and often exciting, spreading out across all of downtown in a way that reoriented the space into a swarming field of struggle. The sensation that every corner held another snake march, sit-in or piece of street theater, coming upon pink graffiti, red confetti and pink balloons wherever you went, the roving groups of protesters and friends, the chop-chop-chop of the helicopters overhead, all contributed to that surreal remaking of an otherwise calcified zone of urban control that has marked many of OWS’ actions.

A GA was called for 6-8PM in Zuccotti, with a march officially planned for 8. Zuccotti had two levels of barricades around it, with only two entrances, staffed by security guards. The park was surrounded by hundreds of police, who put up floodlights as they had during eviction night. The GA continued to argue well past 8 (until 9:30, in fact) about whether or not there should even be a march, despite it being ‘officially’ scheduled. The facilitators, hardly unbiased, clearly did not want the march to happen, and kept extending the GA, reopening procedural questions, inserting themselves into the discussion. By the end of the evening, there was a nasty racial dynamic as well, with people of color again and again calling to march and white facilitators shutting them down. As the futile argument dragged on, most stood in the West end of the park, far away from the GA, smoking cigarettes and being bored. People filed steadily out of Zuccotti, and by the time enough were fed up with the argument, and finally just marched out of the park, consensus unachieved, it was only 150 of the thousand or so left in Zuccotti, frustrated, impatient, and hardly still in the mood to march.

The only part of the day that pre-figured a better world was the morning’s marches. At their best, the wild, chaotic, decentralized actions in the street create a city built around real freedom: one of chance encounters, outbursts of public creativity and joy, with friends around every corner, each block bubbling with life. S17 wasn’t that, of course—there was plenty of silly, boring, and repetitive action, lots of angry loitering and aimless wandering around. But it prefigured that city of possibilities. Opening the city to new forms of creativity, action, sociality and movement is one of the things Occupy has been best at, but also the thing most consistently mis-analyzed. This reorganizing of urban psychogeography is pre-figurative, much more so than GAs, spokescouncils or working groups.

While S17 wasn’t a resounding success (what would that have looked like, anyway?) it put paid to the idea that Occupy is dead and gone. It would be a fool’s errand to predict what the next months will hold, but what they wont have is occupy encampments. Without camps, its twice as foolish to hold GAs, and they have to stop. But we also have to stop describing the camps as the only prefigurative part of the movement and start understanding that transforming the world doesn’t merely happen through governing bodies, formal methods of organization, bureaucracies or even holistic ‘movements’. We’ve lost the camps, but we’ve also lost certain authoritarian forms of psuedo-governance, and that is greatly to our benefit. We don’t need tents to make another world. The city we want to build is right there waiting in the streets. We just have to take it.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Fascists in Queens

This is a fascist banner, being hung by organizers from the Golden Dawn neo-fascist party. They are violent, antisocial racists.(1) It is being hung at the Stathakion Cultural Center.

In Greece, while Golden Dawn does better and better in the polls, their offices are being repeatedly smashed(2). Now they’re looking to expand into the US(3). Time has shown that bastards like these can be pushed back against successfully using a three-pronged approach. First, their ideological agenda must be countered ideologically. Wherever they speak, an opposition voice must speak also, speaking firmly and honestly. Second, their physical agenda must be met physically. You are left to your own devices to infer what this means. Third, their affiliations and ties to support must be severed, so they are left to recover from said aggressions on their own, and without the aid of others.

This post is being made because we know of Stathakion Cultural Center in Astoria, NY as one of their first US alliances. We don’t know whether the leadership of the Cultural Center supports them ideologically, is ignorant, or most likely, a mixture of both. We do know that Golden Dawn held a food and clothing drive to ‘be distributed to Hellenes, and only to Hellenes’ at Stathakion. You can read about it here:

This post is being made for two reasons: first, to inform you comrades in the NE that you have some nasty neighbors moving in, and you should be aware of that and take whatever measures are necessary to stay safe with these violent xenophobes on the loose. The second relates to the third prong of the plan to dismantled fascist organizations. Call Stathakion Cultural Center and tell them what violent ultra-right fanatics they’ve been hosting. Tell them how important it is to you that they don’t host them again. Ask them what they’re doing to prevent this group from unleashing the same kind of violent terror they’ve been responsible for in Athens. Their number is (718) 204-6500. Please call them and then reblog this.


Note: This post is informational only and in no way advocates violence or property destruction against fascist organizers. Such acts would be illegal and thus, inherently wrong, regardless of how little harm it caused and how much good it caused. One must never be tempted to stand up against racist terror using anything other than kind words.

Reblogged from Fuck Yeah Anarchist Banners!

Police: Black Holes of Banality

I just finished a piece on S17 and prefigurative politics which will be published, hopefully, somewhere (when it is published, I will change this note to reflect that). But I cut some paragraphs about the police that I think might be generally helpful. Also, I get to block quote If You Can Read This You're Lying, the authors of which are two of the three people who read this blog. 

It is important to note here that I am not blaming the camps for the collapse of Occupy or the drop of momentum. So many commentators seem eager, on this year anniversary, to blame Occupy’s collapse on a particular political failing on the part of occupiers, but,
Conspicuously absent from these discussions have been the simple facts, available to anyone with a memory, that Occupy encampments throughout the country were raided in the middle of the night and forcibly evacuated by militarized police forces; that this wave of evacuations was the result of a coordinated effort by municipal governments around the country, facilitated by federal authorities, to end Occupy once and for all; that activists were often subject to beatings, harassment, surveillance, and false arrests, sometimes in their own homes; that journalists who attempted to cover protests were regularly arrested; and that since the end of the encampments, the authorities have done their very best to actively suppress any form of vigorous political expression before it even starts. –If You Can Read This You’re Lying
The police have been trying desperately to kill Occupy (with a big assist from that smiling mouth that dissembles the long arm’s blows: the media), and, in a real way, they have not succeeded. Failed or not, they’ll never stop gunning for protesters: they are a force that we need to overcome. That overcoming, however, is not merely a question of fighting, of negationary struggle: we don’t want to live in a world just without police, but one without policing, without the racism, misogyny, homophobia and classism that divides us from one another, without the fear that makes us kowtow to authorities and anxiously trace out our slow deaths of boredom. To achieve that means building unbreakable bonds with each other, making ourselves bold, strong and free. At their best, the wild, chaotic, decentralized actions in the street build a city of such freedom: one of chance encounters, outbursts of public creativity and joy, with friends around every corner, each block bubbling with life.

S17 wasn’t that, of course—there was plenty of silly, boring, and repetitive action, lots of angry loitering and aimless wandering around. But it prefigured that city of possibilities: and as a result came into repeated, direct contact with the police, who not only enforce unjust laws and reproduce racial and gendered violence, but also dull and stultify everyday life. They quash anything out of the ordinary, anything loud, or unruly, anything which holds up traffic, or even just makes people stop and stare, any activity that even slightly impedes the deadly routines of capital’s circulation. Cops are black holes of banality, turning disruptive acts of art into crime, moments of solidarity and joy into violent confrontation, parties into tickets, spontaneous public expression into jail time.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Cops Incapable of Murder, Part 3

At 2 AM this morning, 3 armed men held up a bodega in the Bronx. When they had their back turned, 20 year old Reynaldo Cuevas, a clerk at the Bodega, ran out of the store. An NYPD officer, responding to the robbery, shot Cuevas once, fatally, as he attempted to flee the scene. Here's a grainy and upsetting video of the incident.

The New York Post is now reporting that the three alleged robbers will be charged with Cuevas' murder. Once again, as in the ESB shooting, we see that the cops are never responsible for the violence that they inflict. Once again, as with the S. African miners, it is the people who police are acting against, not the police themselves, that are accused of murder. At this point, can anyone question this logic of state violence? The police are not merely 'above the law', they are literally incapable of being its subject.

Time to face some hard truth. When it comes to violence, either the inflicting or receiving of it, police are not people. Don't respect them as such, and if you're getting robbed, never call them. They might just shoot you too.

Condolences and solidarity to Cuevas' family, and all victims of extra-human police violence.