Tag Archives: occupy

The unfolding disaster

TW: islamophobia, racist criminalization, police brutality, violence against protesters, institutionalization, sexual assault

(Until recently, almost all substantive coverage of this has been actually from foreign media, like the above protest sign that explains “We don’t want a spying, lying NYPD commissioner” which was published in the UK newspaper, The Guardian.)

There’s astoundingly little for me to say about Alex Pareene’s piece on the on-going early contest for the position of mayor of New York. It’s rare to see the larger context of corruption, racism, and fear mongering so effectively pulled together to provide a detailed account of what the current political situation in that city is, so it seems definitely worth a quite read. To give you a taste:

Let’s run down the record quickly: Kelly’s NYPD acts (to the annoyance of the FBI) like an international intelligence agency devoted entirely to spying on Muslims. The department has a network of informants spying on American Muslims known as “mosque-crawlers.” NYPD spies monitored Muslims in Newark as well, compiling a vital list of… restaurants. The NYPD even spied on Muslims who sought to ally themselves with the city against terrorism. (You can read the Associated Press’ award-winning coverage of the NYPD’s inept/counterproductive spying operations here.)

The NYPD has “trained” its officers with a virulent Islamophobic movie called “Third Jihad,” which claims that “much of the Muslim leadership in America” has a “strategy to infiltrate and dominate” the U.S.. Kelly appeared in this movie in an interview. When questioned about this, NYPD spokesperson Paul Browne lied about Kelly’s appearance, because everyone in the NYPD, from the highest levels to the beat cops, lies constantly, to juries and judges and the press.

Kelly’s NYPD costs the city a lot of money. Not just in the “buying drones and military-grade noise cannons while people starve in the streets” sense (though that is one way) but in the constantly getting sued for brutality and wrongful imprisonment and so on way.

The 2004 Republican National Convention took place in New York, and in preparation for the convention Kelly and Bloomberg spent a lot of time spying on activists in order to figure out how best to illegally arrest hundreds of protesters. A judge ruled the NYPD tactics unconstitutional, opening the door to more lawsuits.

The NYPD is a world-leader in marijuana arrests. The vast majority of those arrested have been black men, a group the city has explicitly persecuted under Kelly and Bloomberg in a depressing variety of ways. Between 2002 and 2012 the NYPD made 440,000 arrests for low-level marijuana possession. Until Kelly finally told officers to stop doing so in 2011, a common police tactic was to trick or coerce people being frisked into taking drugs out of their pockets themselves, putting the marijuana in “public view” and making it an arrestable offense. (This is also illegal.)

Of course, another common NYPD tactic is to simply plant drugs on suspects.

And we haven’t even gotten to the massive ticket-fixing thing, which led to charges against 16 officers. And the mass demonstration of NYPD officers outside the courthouse following those arrests, in which the cops said they were “just following orders” and mockingly chanted “E.B.T.” at people lined up to receive benefits across the street. (And the officer indicted for trying to pay to have a witness against him killed.) At least the ticket-fixing was one of the very, very few incidents of NYPD criminality that was actually uncovered by the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau, which has otherwise failed to police the police.

There are also the tapes produced by Adrian Schoolcraft, an officer who recorded NYPD activity in Bed-Stuy and revealed the widespread manipulation of arrest data designed to game “CompStat,” the much-vaunted Bloombergian data-driven police management program. Schoolcraft found that an NYPD cop “is expected to maintain high ‘activity’—including stop-and-frisks—but, paradoxically, to record fewer actual crimes.” Schoolcraft also confirmed the existence of “quotas” for arrests, summons and frisks — something else the NYPD lied about for years. Cops were told to arrest people for petty crimes (or for nothing at all) and downplay more serious ones, in order to show that the police were busy but that serious crime wasn’t a problem. Schoolcraft’s superiors sent the whistleblower to a psych ward for six days. Kelly then kept the NYPD’s own internal investigation into his allegations secret for two years.

And let’s not forget the gun-running, the rapes, the various incidents of casual racism, and arrests of black public officials at the West Indian Day Parade. And, of course, lying about arresting journalists at Occupy Wall Street, and destroying the library, and everything else.

It’s hard to be more damning than that in my mind, and keep in mind that’s just a portion of the article.

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Is class consciousness back in style?

Earlier today, Paul Krugman mused on the unexpected reversal of fortunes in the current presidential election. He noted that enthusiasm and unity have been shown on the Democratic side while decidedly lacking among Republicans, a bit of a contradiction of political stereotypes. But furthermore, he recognized a slow but steady shift in public attitudes:

Among other things, while we weren’t looking, social issues became a source of Democratic strength, not weakness — partly because the country has changed, partly because the Democrats have finally worked up the nerve to stand squarely for things like reproductive rights. […] The right is already set up to blame poor Mitt, claiming that he lost because he wasn’t conservative enough. But that’s not what we’re seeing; it looks as if voters are rejecting the right’s whole package, not just the messenger. As I said, not the election anyone was expecting — but a happy surprise for some, and a nasty shock for others.

There’s clear evidence on this point – as majorities of people in the United States now support same-sex marriage  and other progressive policy changes the Republicans oppose. I subtly suggested yesterday that the distinction between “social” and “economic” issues is a bit more fluid that usually acknowledged – economic protection from gender discrimination interacts with social policies towards women who either live independently or only with other women. I think it’s worth looking at issues of economic populism holistically – not just as political and economic issues but also as potential contexts of pop culture. From The Hunger Games to In Time, economic inequality has become a common topic in entertainment in the United States and elsewhere. Suzanne Collins, the author of the original Hunger Games trilogy, clearly called the trend as she planned out the books over the course of 2008 and published the first on September 14, 2008, a day before panic would break out on Wall Street after Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy.

For much of the following year, political debate in the United States would focus on class. It’s hard to deny the mingled forces of popular culture and economic populism in the following election. But even afterwards, a focal question at the time was whether deficit reduction (as suggested by the Tea Party protests) or unemployment (as suggested by the President’s and Congress’ stimulus plans) was the  greater danger for the poor and middle class. Ultimately, the discussion between restrained Keynesian approaches from the federal government and ostensibly grassroots protests from deficit-hawk conservatives was joined by the on-going Occupy protests of all forms of economic inequality. In spite of all these clearly economic issues being discussed, the national conversation couldn’t help remarking on the perceived hippie-ness of Occupy and the confederate undertones of the Tea Party. The protests were at once about common cultural values and economic policies. But as these movements’ influence continues to be felt through this election year, economic issues have seemed to be among the most salient of the issues making this election so “ideological” (as Krugman called it).

May 2011 protests in Madrid, Spain. (Photo from here.)

Meanwhile in the rest of the world, austerity policies and subsequent anti-austerity protests spread across Southern Europe, as the economic downturn reached around the world. Spanish and Portuguese protesters (called “los indignados”) marched across much of the Iberian peninsula, through a very perturbed France, and into the center of the European Union’s administration – Brussels, Belgium. Just as in the United States these sorts of protests were highly visible cultural events as much as political statements – with Portugal nominating a protest song to the massively popular Eurovision musical contest. Protests are only growing in intensity in Greece, so it seems clear that demands for retaining or augmenting redistributive economic policies will only get louder, and perhaps more embedded in popular culture.

Even in less directly affected countries throughout the Middle East, poor economic conditions stimulated mass protests. The original Arab Spring, in Tunisia and Egypt, was explicitly a reaction of the combination of economic as well as political malaise. Likewise, there was an explicitly cultural and artistic component to it, from the street art in the Arab world to the few gallery artists whose careers in other countries were launched by it. The protests elicited creative responses the world over, including reactions by Arabs living in other parts of the world [TW – police violence]:

It seems clear: culturally-resonant demands for economic populism are increasing their influence in much of the world, and it shouldn’t be a surprise to see it, along with other factors and issues, driving electoral choices in the United States and elsewhere in the near future.

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No evidence is proof of conspiracy when OWS is involved

You potentially have heard that The Weekly Standard bizarrely publicized yesterday that the Occupy Movement in the United States was going to speak with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his upcoming visit to the US. Specifically, the Standard noted,

A report today in an official outlet of the Iranian regime claims that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, will meet with members of the Occupy Wall Street movement […] ‘Ahmadinejad is also set to meet American university students, artists, intellectuals and elites, including Occupy Wall Street anti-capitalist protestors, despite the ongoing efforts made by the pro-Zionist lobbies to prevent direct link between American people and the Iranian president.'”

Yes, they uncritically took that statement as factual, after noting that this was released by the official outlet of the Iranian regime, and reading and republishing the quote about the pro-Zionist lobby trying to stop a meeting between Occupy “protestors” [sic] and President Ahmadinejad. And it’s not as if the Iranian government would like to co-opt the new media and international protests that brought down the dictatorship in Egypt!

Actually speaking with major figures in the Occupy Movement produces statements like – “Nobody in their right mind would meet with a fascist dictator like Ahmadenijad”. Still, the conservative media in the United States can’t even neutrally address the false information without their comments reading like Manchurian Candidate fanfiction. One commentator wrote,

Shawn Carrie, an activist with the Occupy Wall Street movement, also denied the report, telling Buzzfeed, ‘Nobody in their right mind would meet with a fascist dictator like Ahmadinejad.’ That’s why I believe OWS-Obama’s gang, has met and is meeting with the American hating thug from Iran.  The OWS-Obama’s gang, lost their minds many years ago.

I’ve written at length about the failings of purportedly “centrist” and conservative US media before, but there’s a terrifying problem revealed by the resistance of those media outlets’ readers to absorb impartially presented evidence that conflicts with their views. As much as terrible reporting deceives people, it’s effects cannot be easily resolved by better reporting. Misinformation is not simply solved. Extensive, constant, ever-reaching-further efforts to accurately and effectively inform people are the only possible means of allowing many people to remain more attached to reality than the commentator quoted above. The Daily Caller and other “respectable” conservative or “centrist” outfits have tried to reach a balance between spreading demonstrably untrue nonsense and impartial stenographer-like reporting. You just have to read the comments to articles like the above to realize this strategy isn’t working and is actively destabilizing the rationality of public discourse in the United States.

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Occupy Wall Street, the ACLU, and the Democratic Party

The people who have and still are stubbornly trying to occupy Wall Street are part of the liberal base of the Democratic party – the really important question is whether they, the everyday Democrats, are negotiating with the established political party (with a worrisomely high likelihood of no mutually satisfying outcome) or if their protests have (and will continue to) further the Democratic Party’s policy goals. Apparently, what’s key is to identify the relationship between the Occupy Movement and the official leaders of the Democratic Party.

Except, this entire discussion presumes that the occupiers are the only political faction potentially vying for influence over Democratic policies. Even a cursory knowledge of that specific movement reveals a process of contestation and conciliation between separate social and political contingents. At the core of the original protest was a general argument against the economic status quo by a mixture of post-capitalist anarchists and advocates of a more effectively democratically-checked and populist capitalism. These separate political camps effectively put aside their differences, agreeing to fight the common opponent of the existing economic system.

Following that initial negotiation between separate political groups, the Occupy Movement contended with the fact that its terminology recalled and appropriated the painful realities of many indigenous communities – and consequently alienated a large number of people of color, originally potential allies for the movement. Protesters worked to repair this rift, and largely succeeded, eventually incorporating Native American activists (and other activists of color) into the protests and a broader discussion of race-specific social justice into its message. This commitment to social liberalism likewise expanded into outreach to queer and feminist activists.

As the movement blossomed into a network of encampments across the US and even the world, in other urban contexts the protests’ purpose increasingly seemed to be an assertion of civil and political rights by various marginalized groups. Resolving these different intentions, especially within Occupy Oakland, was never really completed as police crackdowns on the movement gained momentum and spread across the United States.

Even within the movement, a number of different political needs competed for centrality to the protests’ message. These included the calls for a degree of economic stability and equality not offered by the current order, for social recognition and representation within the context of the economic debate, and for a feeling of security in the civil right to protest. Outside of the movement, additional political and social concerns shared by large numbers of voters (who had various relationships with the Democratic Party) competed and coordinated with those needs addressed by the Occupy Movement.

For all of the major issues addressed by Occupy, there was a common motif of proposed policies failing to match reality. The economic populists saw Dodd-Frank passed but not enacted. The social activists remembered the hard-won policy victories of the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Liberation Movement, the Queer Liberation Movement, and others but witnessed continued discrimination and marginalization. Those protesting against perceived restrictions of the right to protest saw a First Amendment that increasingly seemed meaningless. In that shared context, it makes sense that political procedure was meant to be reinvented – after all, it wasn’t producing the results it intended to. Looming on the horizon, as the movement halted because of police action, was the same process of negotiation with procedure-focused reform-friendly forces.

With Occupy focusing so intently on outcomes – that culpable banks have gotten off scotch-free, namely – and having come into conflict so immediately and frequently with police, it seems like the movement may have irreparably soured towards even innocuous-seeming political procedures. As a result it might have difficulty cooperating with an additional group of activists who work for organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who will defend the procedural rights of even the Ku Klux Klan even if the effect is the continued mainstreaming of white supremacy. Built on a basis of skepticism towards existing policies and now feeling targeted by militarized policy – has Occupy become unable to politically coordinate with the ACLU, which has become indispensible to any broader coalition that wants the US to remain a democracy?

So, it seems like a more immediately pertinent question than whether Occupy and the Democratic Party are serving each others’ interests is whether Occupy and the ACLU can stop making pot-shots against each other. With the ACLU having all but called Occupy protesters hyperbolic over a new federal security law, and the Occupy movement doubling down on insisting that the law will undermine their entire movement, negotiation looks like it’s off the table, leaving two of the major contemporary left-leaning factions of activists a bit at odds with each other. Perhaps we should ask if those two groups can cooperate, just as much as whether their aims align with the wishes of the officials in the Democratic Party.

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