Arquivo da tag: Occupy

Manifestações neozapatistas (Fapesp)


Para além das reivindicações contra os gastos públicos na organização da Copa do Mundo e por melhorias no transporte, na saúde e educação, as manifestações de junho de 2013 no Brasil ressaltaram uma expressão simbólica das articulações do chamado “net-ativismo”, expressão-chave de um estudo financiado pela FAPESP. No vídeo produzido pela equipe de Pesquisa FAPESP, o sociólogo Massimo Di Felice, do Centro de Pesquisa Atopos da Escola de Comunicações e Artes da Universidade de São Paulo (ECA-USP) e coordenador do estudo, fala sobre a qualidade e o lugar das ações net-ativistas e como as redes digitais e os novos dispositivos móveis de conectividade estão mudando práticas de participação social no Brasil e no mundo.

Occupy Democracy is not considered newsworthy. It should be (The Guardian)

Sleeping outside for an iPhone is OK, but do it in furtherance of democratic expression and you’re in trouble, Monday 27 October 2014 15.11 GMT

Occupy London demonstrationOfficers policing the Occupy Democracy protest in Parliament Square, London. Photograph: Jay Shaw Baker/NurPhoto/Rex

You can tell a lot about the moral quality of a society by what is, and is not, considered news.

From last Tuesday, Parliament Square was wrapped in wire mesh. In one of the more surreal scenes in recent British political history, officers with trained German shepherds stand sentinel each day, at calculated distances across the lawn, surrounded by a giant box of fences, three metres high – all to ensure that no citizen enters to illegally practice democracy. Yet few major news outlets feel this is much of a story.

Occupy Democracy, a new incarnation of Occupy London, has attempted to use the space for an experiment in democratic organising. The idea was to turn Parliament Square back to the purposes to which it was, by most accounts, originally created: a place for public meetings and discussions, with an eye to bringing all the issues ignored by politicians in Westminster back into public debate. Seminars and assemblies were planned, colourful bamboo towers and sound systems put in place, to be followed by a temporary library, kitchen and toilets.

There was no plan to turn this into a permanent tent city, which are now explicitly illegal. True, this law is very selectively enforced; Metropolitan police regularly react with a wink and a smile if citizens camp on the street while queuing overnight for the latest iPhone. But to do it in furtherance of democratic expression is absolutely forbidden. Try it, and you can expect to immediately see your tent torn down and if you try even the most passive resistance you’re likely to be arrested. So organisers settled on a symbolic 24-hour presence, even if it meant sleeping on the grass under cardboard boxes in the autumn rain.

The police response can only be described as hysterical. Tarpaulins used to sit on the grass were said to be illegal, and when activists tried to sit on them they were attacked by scores of officers. Activists say they had limbs twisted and officers stuck thumbs into nerve endings as “pain compliance”. Pizza boxes were declared illegal structures and confiscated and commanders even sent officers to stand over activists at night telling them it was illegal to close their eyes.

Finally, the fences went up, and the guard dogs appeared – ostensibly, for what officers insisted was scheduled cleaning that happened to continue each day of the occupation. Hundreds of participants were thus pushed into the tiny green strip to the north of the Churchill statue, and even then, it seemed like every time they sat down for a seminar on financial reform or planning a response to the housing crisis, they were interrupted by some new pretext for police intervention – someone had an “illegal” megaphone, there was what looked like camping equipment, some regulation might have been violated – and squads of police once again stormed in.

One could speak of many things here: the obvious embarrassment of the police, compared with the perseverance and cheerful good humour of the occupiers, who continually grew in numbers and spirit as the repression increased. But what I really want to talk about is the reaction of the media.

The reason that park occupations are so important is because everyone knows they are there. Activists constantly hear the same refrain from would-be allies: “I agree that there’s been an erosion of democracy in this country, that the money controls everything, what I don’t know is: what can I do?” Our usual reply is: meet with other like-minded people. When people get together, brilliant ideas invariably emerge. But it’s impossible to bring people together unless there is a location, a place where they can always go, 24/7, to meet people and begin to have conversations and make plans. This is precisely what our political authorities have decided that Londoners must never again be allowed to have.

To achieve this, the police and media must take what are ostensibly completely opposite reactions to any occupation. The police act as if the possibility of non-violent camping is an existential threat to the very idea of civil government; hundreds of police are mobilised in a near-panic reaction; hallowed public spaces are shut off.

Official media, on the other hand – and in this case the BBC and mainstream newspapers are acting as if they were an arm of government – take exactly the opposite approach, insisting that the events in question are so trivial and unimportant that there is no need to cover them at all. The very same press that provides wall-to-wall coverage of pro-democracy occupations and police repression halfway around the world, in Hong Kong, acts as if analogous events at home are of no interest. It’s hard to think of a more dramatic story than battles between police and non-violent protesters, or the erection of giant fences and mobilisation of attack dogs directly beneath the mother of all parliaments. Yet while I was in the square, the only TV cameras I saw were being carried by journalists from Iran, Russia and Qatar.

We need to ask ourselves what it means that police suppression of democratic assemblies is no longer considered news. Is the wall of silence, as most activists suspect, simply a continuation of the actual physical wall surrounding Parliament Square, another piece of the same strategy, or is it a token of ultimate cynicism? Britons no longer have the right to freedom of assembly. Sorry, that’s no longer news.

The Original “Occupy”: Novel Was Written 100 Years Before Zuccotti Park (Truthout)

Sunday, 10 November 2013 00:00By John de GraafTruthout


Zuccotti Park. (Photo: Dan Nguyen / Flickr)

Affluenza author John de Graaf investigates the origins of the slogan “Bread and Roses” and discovers a little-known American classic and a history that should repeat itself.

I still remember how inspired I was when I first took home folksinger Judy Collins’ 1976 album, Bread and Roses, and played the title song. It was a stirring anthem, a triumphal march almost, the words of an old poem set to music by another folksinger, Mimi Farina.

As we go marching, marching
In the beauty of the day
A million darkened kitchens
A thousand mill lofts grey
Are touched with all the radiance
That a sudden sun discloses
For the people hear us singing
Bread and roses, bread and roses

As we go marching, marching
We battle too for men
For they are women’s children
And we mother them again
Our lives shall not be sweated
From birth until life closes
Hearts starve as well as bodies
Give us bread, but give us roses

As we go marching, marching
Unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing
Their ancient call for bread
Small art and love and beauty
Their drudging spirits knew
Yes, it is bread we fight for
But we fight for roses too.

As we go marching, marching
We bring the greater days
The rising of the women
Means the rising of the race
No more the drudge and idler
Ten that toil where one reposes
But a sharing of life’s glories
Bread and roses, bread and roses

For me, the message of Bread and Roses was that money is never enough. We need the non-material things of life – the “art and love and beauty,” friends and nature – and the time to appreciate them, smelling the roses, if you will. Hearts starve as well as bodies.

The Lawrence Textile Strike

I loved the traditional story [see, for example, Meredith Tax’s The Rising of the Women] connected with the poem, how it was written to honor the women of Lawrence, Massachusetts, who walked out of their textile mills on a wintry day in 1912, demanding higher pay and shorter hours. Thousands of mill workers, most of them immigrants speaking a babble of more than 20 languages, filled the streets of Lawrence in January and February of that winter, facing bayonet-carrying national guardsmen, trigger-hungry local police and even a contingent of Harvard students, given extra credit to come to Lawrence as strikebreakers.

One of the strikers, a young woman named Annie Lo Pizzo, was killed by a policeman’s bullets. Many were jailed and beaten for protesting. They sent their children away from Lawrence for safety’s sake. The odds against them were overwhelming, but they persisted, aided by labor organizers sent to Lawrence by the Industrial Workers of the World and eventually by an outpouring of national public concern over their treatment and living conditions. In March, the mill owners capitulated, granting the essence of the strikers’ demands.

It was an inspiring story, made even more so by the reports that some of the women carried a banner as they marched, inscribed with the words WE WANT BREAD, AND ROSES, TOO. As poor as they were, they knew that they did not live by bread alone. Hearts starve as well as bodies.

So the poem inspiring Collins’ song, I was told, honored these women and those banners they bore. It sounded so plausible, so natural. Hearing the song, and thinking about the noble women of Lawrence moved me deeply. I believed it, talked about it, wrote about it. It was a great story – art honoring courage and struggle.

There was just one problem. It couldn’t possibly have been true.

The main difficulty with the idea that the poem was written to honor the Lawrence strikers came in the fact that it was published in a New York magazine called The American Monthly in December 1911, a month before the Lawrence strike began. Then too, there was that reference to “a million darkened kitchens.” Lawrence only had about 80,000 residents at the time of the strike.

James Oppenheim’s Novels

Was the poem just a work of imagination, or was it based on a real event? No one seemed to know. I found the question on the Internet; plenty of people had pointed out that the poem was published before the strike. But there was no answer. Cryptically, the poet himself, James Oppenheim, referred to “bread and roses” as “a slogan of the women of the West.”

But which women? And where in the West? A couple of people weighing in on the web thought the reference was to the Women’s Trade Union League, founded in Chicago in 1903. But there seems to be no reference at all anywhere else to the slogan before Oppenheim’s 1911 verse. And there is no reference to it in the annals of the Lawrence strike. Not until about 1915 does the anecdote emerge about the “bread and roses” banner the strikers allegedly carried.

Just what really lay behind this story about phalanxes of marching women? I started by looking into the life of the author. Who was this James Oppenheim, and what had he done? What had he experienced that might have provided the basis for his poem? The surprising answer to my search came in a novel published precisely 100 years before “Occupy” protesters camped out in New York’s Zuccotti Park. And, luckily, since my research skills leave much to be desired, the answer actually came rather easily.

Born in St. Paul in 1882, Oppenheim was the son of the first Jewish member of the Minnesota Legislature. But his family moved to New York City in his childhood. He attended Columbia University at the turn of the century and soon after became a teacher and settlement house worker in Greenwich Village, where he came to sympathize with the plight of poor industrial workers.

Between 1909 and 1911, he wrote three novels whose themes all resonate in the present day. His first, Dr. Rast, is a collection of stories about a Jewish physician with a mission to provide health care for the poor, who often died because they could not pay for treatment. Remarkably, it was written almost exactly 100 before the passage of President Obama’s national health insurance plan. His second, Wild Oats(1910), took on venereal disease and the sexual double-standard for men and women.

But it was the title of the third novel, published in the fall of 1911, that caught my attention. It was called The Nine-Tenths. Hadn’t I been hearing a similar term being used widely since “Occupy” protesters took over Zuccotti Park, near Wall Street in September 2011. Did the “Nine-Tenths” refer to roughly the same segment of America’s population that Occupy sought to represent exactly 100 years later?

The novel is readily obtained; free online versions are available, because its copyright ran out long ago. I ordered a print-on-demand copy, which arrived in two days. Unable to put the volume down once I started reading, I nearly inhaled its words.The Nine-Tenths, published by Harper Brothers, is the most compelling of Oppenheim’s novels. The reviews of the day acclaimed the book as a powerful portrait of the lives of the poor, despite some complaints about Oppenheim’s penchant for the sentimental.

Sentimental, yet Powerful

Indeed, Oppenheim writes with great passion, sometimes-overwrought emotion and an idealism that no longer plays well in our detached and cynical times. His characters wear their feelings on their sleeves, as a recent National Public Radio story (“Mining Books to Map Emotions Through a Century”) points out was far more common 100 years ago:

We think of modern culture – and often ourselves – as more emotionally open than people in the past. We live in a world of reality television and blogs and Facebook – it feels like feelings are everywhere, displayed to a degree that they never were before. But according to this research, that’s not so.

Generally speaking, the usage of these commonly known emotion words has been in decline over the 20th century. … We used words that expressed our emotions less in the year 2000 than we did 100 years earlier – words about sadness and joy and anger and disgust and surprise.

Although sentimental, Oppenheim’s novel does not oversimplify its characters and their emotions or the reality they seek to change. The Nine-Tenths is a fictionalization of two actual events, but with their chronological order reversed, an artistic device employed with great skill by Oppenheim. The first of these events was the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, a well-known disaster that resulted in the deaths of 146 young women on March 24, 1911.

Oppenheim must have written The Nine-Tenths in great haste, although that is not apparent to the reader. Indeed, the book was published only six months after the Triangle Fire actually occurred, surely unusual even today, and surely more so in an era of hand-set type.

The Transformation of Joe Blaine

In the novel, The Triangle Fire becomes “The East Eighty-First Street Fire.” It starts with a carelessly tossed cigarette in a print shop and results in the death of dozens of very young women, who work making hats one floor higher in the same building. When the fire occurs, the print shop owner (I envision him looking and sounding exactly like Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life), a humble chap named Joe Blaine, is on a tryst with Myra, a teacher he has fallen in love with. In an instant, a moment of joy turns for Joe into one of horror.

Overcome with grief and guilt – because the fire began in his shop – Joe attends a memorial for the dead girls. Here, Oppenheim uses the exact words from a famous speech given by labor organizer Rose Schneiderman at the actual Triangle Fire memorial:

I would be a traitor to these poor burned bodies if I came here to talk good fellowship. We have tried you good people of the public and we have found you wanting. … This is not the first time girls have been burned alive in the city. Every week I must learn of the untimely death of one of my sister workers. Every year thousands of us are maimed. The life of men and women is so cheap and property is so sacred. … 

Oppenheim changes her name to Sally Heffer, but the character, who appears throughout the novel, is clearly Schneiderman. It seems that Oppenheim wants to Americanize the Russian-born Schneiderman, a Jew like himself, to give his novel wider appeal at a time when anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic sentiments were still strong.

Triangle was a life-changing event for many, including Frances Perkins, later FDR’s secretary of labor but then a New York social worker, who was actually having tea across Washington Park Square from the factory when the fire broke out. As Kirstin Downey explains in her powerful biography of Perkins,The Woman Behind the New Deal, she rushed to the site only to watch helplessly as women plunged to their deaths.

In The Nine-Tenths, Heffer’s speech rocks Joe Blaine’s world. He has been tried and found wanting. The souls of the deceased call out for justice and solidarity through action, not charity. Joe knows that the only way to expiate his guilt is to join their fight.

From now on I belong to those dead girls – yes, and to their fellow workers.

A Newspaper in Greenwich Village

He sells his shop, bids adieu to a broken-hearted Myra during a tension-filled winter walk in Central Park, and moves, together with his mother, from his Upper East Side home to a flat in the Village, where he begins to immerse himself in the lives of working-class immigrants. He uses the money he has made from selling the printery, a heady $20,000, big cash in those times, to start a newspaper for the workers – the 90 percent of society slowly being ground up in the wheels of the industrial system.

Blaine calls his paper The Nine-Tenths. He signs up Sally Heffer and other workers to write its content and drum up an audience. While there are men and women on the team, it is the women who lead it; indeed, “the rising of the women,” is Joe’s new dream, as clearly it was for Oppenheim.

Sally was of the new breed; she represented the new emancipation; the exodus of woman from the home to the battle-fields of the world; the willingness to fight in the open, shoulder to shoulder with men; the advance of a sex that now demanded a broader, freer life, a new health, a home built up on comradeship and economic freedom. In all of these things she contrasted sharply with Myra, and Joe always thought of the two together.

The Nine-Tenths seems an honest appraisal of the social strata of those times. Ninety-nine percent is a great exaggeration today, when the upper-middle classes live as royalty did then. The use of the term “99%” seems more strategic than accurate, designed to isolate the biggest winners in new war of all against all, although the gap between rich and poor is even wider now than it was in 1911.

In one of the paper’s first issues, Joe writes a powerful editorial laying out the misery of the poor working women whose cause he has chosen to champion. He describes their sacrifices, the agony of seeing their children grow sick and die, of seeing their husbands show up daily to compete with other men for a bare minimum of jobs and, failing to maintain their incomes and their dignity, turn to the anesthesia of the barroom or domestic violence and crime.

Possibly then the husband will come home and beat his wife, drag her about the floor, blacken her eyes, break a rib. … Very often he ceases to be a wage-earner and loafs about saloons. From then on the woman wrestles with world of trouble – unimaginable difficulties. Truly, running a state may be easier than running a family. And yet the woman toils on. … She keeps her head; she takes charge; she toils late into the night; she goes without food, without sleep. Somehow she manages. … 

He tells of how the mothers take in the laundry of the rich to survive, how the poor immigrant girls prematurely lose their beauty and laughter, how they are left only with love and, eventually, nothing at all.

It is a powerful section of the novel; reading the book takes one fully into the homes, factories and streets of industrial New York at the beginning of the last century. There is little black and white here; the laborers, particularly the men, have their own foibles. Some are bought off and turn traitor to their co-workers, while among the comfortable, there are those who come to the workers’ aid. A group of workers, egged on by their boss, turns angry mob, violently attacking Blaine and trashing his home and office.

The Uprising of the Thirty Thousand

The conversations Joe has with Sally and others are much the same as those we still must have: How do you reach people? How do you maintain democratic principles? How do win allies among the businesspeople? How do you avoid violence? What are the repercussions of courage?

In time, Joe’s Nine-Tenths newspaper has thousands of readers. Its stories embolden the women. They begin to walk away from their factories in protest. They rally at Cooper Union and vote for a general strike, raising the roof with their vows of solidarity, shouted in Yiddish. At this point, Oppenheim describes the other historical event on which the novel is based.

In the fall and winter of 1909 and 1910, in what was deemed “The Uprising of the Thirty Thousand,” masses of factory workers shut down their machines and took to the streets, supported by the Women’s Trade Union League. In this, they were joined by prominent women of the upper class, including banking magnate J.P. Morgan’s daughter, Anne. Their demands center on safe working conditions, shorter hours and an increase in pay. The fictional Nine-Tenths is the organ of solidarity that holds them together and publicizes their cause when the mainstream press will not.

Here, in the Uprising of the Thirty Thousand, we find the real events that inspiredBread and Roses, the women marching, the “million darkened kitchens” that actually existed in New York, then a city of 5 million people. Here in the novel is the meaning of that phrase from the poem, “Our lives shall not be sweated. … ” Sweating (in the “sweat shops”) was a practice of speeding up the line to increase production. Here also are the “ten that toil where one reposes,” the nine-tenths for which Joe Blaine published his paper.

And here, too, is the mass protest of the original Occupy.

In the midst of this, Joe’s girlfriend, Myra, returns home from a retreat in the country and is swept into the maelstrom of the strike. Originally unsympathetic to Joe (reminding him that the Bible says the poor will always be with us), she watches helplessly as Rhona, a teenage picket, is roughed up by police, taken to jail and sent to the “work-house” without reason.

After a few months, in the novel as in reality, the Uprising of the Thirty Thousand peters out, as many employers give in to the women’s key demands and, in places where they do not, the women slowly return to work. The most prominent of the real holdouts was the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, which refused to improve safety conditions. A year later, its belligerence produced tragedy.

Joe Blaine’s Vision – Time for Life

After the strike, a reunited Joe and Myra get married and go on a honeymoon. On their return to New York, it is full spring. Oppenheim describes the city reborn, in language reminiscent of Walt Whitman:

Over the city the spring cast its subtle spell. The skies had a more fleeting blue and softer clouds and more golden sun. Here and there on a window-sill a new red geranium plant was set out to touch the stone walls with the green earth’s glory. The salt breath of the sea, wandering up the dusty avenues, called the children of men to new adventures – hinted of far countries across the world, of men going down to the sea in ships, of traffic and merchandise in fairer climes, of dripping forest gloom and glittering peaks, of liquid-lisping brooks and the green scenery of the open earth.

There is a wild magic to Oppenheim’s words that stirs all but the most cynical and hardened of heart.

Restlessness seized the hearts of men and the works of men. From the almshouses and the jails emerged the vagrants, stopped overnight to meet their cronies in dives and saloons, and next day took the freight to the blooming West, or tramped by foot the dust of the roads that leave the city and go ribboning over the shoulder and horizon of the world. Windows were flung open, and the fresh sweet air came in to make the babies laugh and the women wistful and the men lazy. Factories droned with machines that seemed to grate against their iron fate. And of a night, now, the parks, the byways, and the waterside were the haunts of young lovers – stealing out together, arms round each other’s waists – the future of the world in their trembling hands.

From the green leaves, blossoms and buds of the new spring, Oppenheim draws lessons about the resilience of the human spirit.

Anything was possible. Did not earth set an example, showing how out of a hard dead crust and a forlorn and dry breast she could pour her new oceans of million-glorious life? If the dead tree could blossom and put forth green leaves, what dead soul need despair?

There is no mention of “bread and roses” in the novel at all, and no mention in the files of history about any of the women of the uprising using the term. Clearly, the idea that the women were “singing Bread and Roses,” came only from Oppenheim’s imagination; he put the words in their mouths. But while he refrains from using the phrase in his novel, there can be little doubt what he meant by it in the poem.

Bread, here, is a reference to higher pay, to money and the material needs of life. But Oppenheim understood that even as poor as these women were, they did not live on bread alone. They needed the non-material joys of life – art, beauty, nature, play, learning, friendship and love – and for all of these things, they needed time. The needed shorter hours of labor, time to smell the roses.

As they look upon the city from a ship in the East River, Joe tells Myra his vision for the future of New York, “the city of five million comrades.”

“They toil all day with one another; they create all of beauty and use that men may need; they exchange these things with each other; they go home at night to gardens and simple houses, they find happy women there and sunburnt, laughing children. Their evenings are given over to the best play – play with others, play with masses, or play at home. They have time for study, time for art, yet time for one another. Each loosens in himself and gives to the world his sublime possibilities. A city of toiling comrades, of sparkling homes, of wondrous art, and joyous festival. That is the city I see before me!” He paused. “And to the coming of that city I dedicate my life”

Oppenheim’s vision of the good life, while still infused by the gender bias of his day, is an enlightened one of modest homes, modest comfort and, most of all, time to appreciate the things that are not things, but are the best things in life.

A Novel Pregnant With Possibility

As I read The Nine-Tenths, I thought about how a novel like this one could be the basis of an entire semester’s course in a university. It starts with an original source rather than textbook commentary. It raises so many questions about values, takes readers into long-ago lives as nonfiction never can, and stirs heart as well as head.

For today’s students, mostly passive in the face of constantly rising costs, diminishing employment prospects, a society that seems to value only wealth and profit, art and media that wallows in hatred and ever-more-graphic and senseless violence, the story of Joe Blaine and his transformation contains enough subject matter to stir a hundred theses and even a hundred new outbreaks of Occupy.

It wasn’t surprising that the edition of The Nine-Tenths I now possess was the last one, a reissuing of the book in 1968, the high-water mark of student protests in the post-World War II era. That was a time when the idealism of Joe Blaine and the underlying optimism of the novel still held sway, just before the leading activists turned despairingly from the novel’s belief in nonviolent protest to the bombs of the Weather Underground.

The first recorded reference to the use of the phrase “bread and roses” in an actual historical event comes nearly a year after Oppenheim’s poem was published, when Rose Schneiderman used the term in a women’s suffrage rally – “The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.” On this the Wikipedia entry for Rose Schneiderman, has the events backward, suggesting that her 1912 speech inspired the poem!

But I think it more than likely that the story of the banners in Lawrence is true, despite the lack of documented evidence. The Lawrence strike came in January 1912, barely a month after Oppenheim’s poem was published in a popular magazine. And while it was undoubtedly still fresh in people’s minds. Many of the IWW leaders at Lawrence lived in New York City, including the fabled orator Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. They were active in the broader labor and cultural circles of their day. It seems almost impossible that they were unaware of the poem Bread and Roses and highly unlikely that they wouldn’t have talked about it, at least privately, with the strikers. So I suspect there is truth to the anecdotal reports about the banners that surfaced a few years after the strike. But we will probably never know for sure.

What we do know for sure is that there was a “nine-tenths” 100 years before the 99%, and an original Occupy in lower Manhattan 100 years before Zuccotti Park.

In those turbulent days that began the 20th century, masses of people, led by liberals, socialists, and anarchists and joined even by a contingent of the ten percent, were challenging the privilege, greed and rampant inequality of the Gilded Age. They took to the streets as the Occupy protesters did. But they also took to the ballot box, armed with a political program of concrete demands for radical reform. They were not scornful of leadership as the Occupy protesters were, nor unwilling to draft a blueprint for change. Like the Occupy protesters, they mourned the power of the wealthy and the corporations and the lack of democracy. They had no Citizens United to challenge, but an even greater battle for influence; remember that women could not even vote then.

From the Uprising to Political Action

In August 1912, many of them came together to form the Progressive Party and to present a program they called A Contract with the People, calling for:

  • A National Health Service.

  • Social insurance to provide for the elderly, the unemployed and the disabled.

  • A federalsecurities commission.

  • Relief for small farmers.

  • Compensation for workplace injuries.

  • The vote for women.

  • Direct election of senators.

  • Recall, referendum and initiative.

  • Strict limits on political campaign contributions.

The issues that animated the original occupiers were much the same as those that challenge us today. Almost all of them were won in the quarter century following the founding of the Progressive Party, many in next few years, others in the early days of the New Deal. They reduced the gap between rich and poor, vastly increased the size of the middle class, and offered “bread, and roses, too.”

But in the past three decades many of these important gains that came at the cost of the original occupiers’ blood and tears, have been eroded by the forces of greed that carry out the bidding of the 1%. Occupy has risen up against the new priorities of dog eat dog. But unlike its predecessors of a century ago, today’s Occupy seems to me inchoate and without clear plans or focused vision. In the past three decades, our modern Nine-Tenths have lost both bread and roses. They have been quick to notice the loss of bread, although sadly unable to prevent it. But they seem to have forgotten the roses, whose watering seems most urgent.

The philosopher George Santayana once observed that failing to remember the past dooms us to repeat it. But the reverse is also true; sometimes it’s important to remember history so we can repeat it. This is surely one of those times.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Occupying Wall Street: Places and Spaces of Political Action (Places)


The Design Observer Group

Occupy Wall Street digital activity timeline
Occupy Wall Street activity online. Click image to enlarge. [Timeline by the authors]

For nine weeks last fall crowds gathered every evening at the eastern end of Zuccotti Park, where a shallow crescent of stairs creates a modest amphitheater, to form the New York City General Assembly. A facilitator reviewed rules for prioritizing speakers and gestures by which participants could signal agreement or dissent. Over two hours or more, they worked through issues of common concern — every word repeated by the assembly, which formed a human microphone amplifying the speaker’s voice — until they reached consensus.

Such was the daily practice of Occupy Wall Street, paralleled in more than a thousand cities around the world. Participants borrowed tactics from Quaker meetings, Latin American popular assemblies, Spanish acampadas, and other traditions of protest and political organization. They also enacted something foundational to the western democratic tradition: constituting a polity as a group of speaking bodies gathered in a central public place.

At the same time, another crowd assembled in a range of online spaces. Moving between the physical and the virtual, participants navigated a hypercity built of granite and asphalt, algorithms and information, appropriating its platforms and creating new structures within it. As they posted links, updates, photos and videos on social media sites; as they deliberated in chat rooms and collaborated on crowdmaps; as they took to the streets with smartphones, occupiers tested the parameters of this multiply mediated world.

What is the layout of this place? What are its codes and protocols? Who owns it? How does its design condition opportunities for individual and collective action? Looking closely at these questions, we learn something about the possibilities for public life and political action created at the intersection of urban places and online spaces.

Top: Occupiers camp in Liberty Plaza as news vans line up across the street. Middle: Detail of#OccupyMap. Bottom: Occupy coordinators meet in the atrium of 60 Wall Street. [Photos by Jonathan Massey]

Occupying the Public Square 
Zuccotti Park — or Liberty Plaza — was the site not only of General Assembly but also of the bustling camp that materialized and sustained the occupation. As architects, we were fascinated by the intensive use of this privately owned public space. As citizens, we were inspired by the movement’s critique of the U.S. political system and its experiment with alternate forms of social organization. After the arrest of 700 protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge, Jonathan began visiting Liberty Plaza and occasionally participating in rallies. Brett tracked the movement’s use of new media to expose inequalities in wealth distribution. Jonathan enlisted friends to survey and document the encampment, while Brett developed an interactive project, Public Space 2.0, that linked Occupy to broader questions about public space. Following the eviction of occupiers in New York and other cities, we decided to collaborate on a project examining the spatial and social organization of Liberty Plaza.

In the tradition of urban demonstrations and sit-ins, the camp claimed a prominent and symbolically charged city space in order to call attention to a political cause. It provided logistical support as the first day of protest extended into a two-month occupation. It gave visitors a point of entry into the movement and its ideas. Moreover, it prefigured in microcosm the alternative polity desired by many participants, modeling and testing modes of self-organization partly autonomous from those provided by the state and the market.

As such, it embodied one of the defining tensions of Occupy Wall Street: between the aims of protest and prefiguration. [1] One reason for claiming Liberty Plaza was to command the attention of the public and the state. Indeed, the blog post that sparked the movement, by the Canadian magazine Adbusters, urged activists to create “a Tahrir moment” by insistently repeating “one simple demand” akin to the call for Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s resignation. [2] But some of the New York activists who planned the occupation pursued a vision of autonomous self-organization and self-government informed by anarchist principles. Occupiers refused to formulate their objectives as political demands, even though doing so might have strengthened their grip on the public imagination. Instead of a unified plea to elected representatives, broadcast from a central square, Occupy yielded a polyphony of discussions in the agoras of the hypercity.

Occupy Wall Street police observation tower
Top: Occupiers in mid-October. Bottom: NYPD Skywatch portable surveillance tower. [Photos by Jonathan Massey]

From its founding on September 17, 2011, the occupation traced contours of regulation and control. Its location, design and construction limned the legal, juridical and police affordances of New York’s public realm, revealing the constraints placed on people assembling to form a counterpublic — a public operating according to practices distinct from those of the mainstream. [3] The declared site of the first protest, carnival, and General Assembly was Chase Manhattan Plaza, but occupiers arrived to find the corporate space closed off by barricades and patrolled by police. Prior General Assemblies had been held in New York public parks and squares, but organizers knew the city tightly controlled those spaces by requiring permits, enforcing nighttime closures and barricading areas. The use of city sidewalks was also curtailed. Bloombergville, a sidewalk encampment near City Hall, had survived for three weeks in July, but a test camp-out on Wall Street on September 1 had been broken up by police. [4] When demonstrators found Chase Plaza closed, they moved to the privately-owned Zuccotti Park, three blocks away, claiming the space with signs, megaphones, sleeping bags and blankets.

The following weeks confirmed that the state would use police control to assert its hegemony over the terms of public assembly and discourse. When protesters crossed the border of Liberty Plaza onto city streets or squares, they encountered “order maintenance policing,” a euphemistic directive that empowers New York police to intervene in public events irrespective of criminal action. Over the past 15 years, the NYPD has expanded the practice to assert control over parades, festivals and rallies, often arresting participants for “disorderly conduct” and releasing them without charge. [5] Under this vague authority, NYPD limited the range and duration of Occupy demonstrations and tightly controlled their internal dynamics through barricades, kettling and arrests.

And yet Occupy Wall Street showed that possibilities foreclosed on private and public land could be actualized in the liminal territory of the city’s privately owned public spaces(POPS) — plazas, arcades and other spaces built by real estate developers in return for density bonuses under the terms of the 1961 Zoning Resolution. [6] The occupation of Zuccotti Park was made possible by ambiguities in the POPS system, which has created places where the city government must negotiate authority with corporate owners as well as site occupants. Even so, the city intervened in the camp’s internal organization and operation: fire marshals prohibited tents and other structures in the early weeks; they removed generators as the weather grew cold in late October; and, shortly after midnight on November 15, police forcibly cleared the park.

Zuccotti Park after eviction of protestors
Top: The planned site of the September 17 protest, Chase Manhattan Plaza, was barricaded at the request of its corporate owners. [Photo by David Shankbone] Bottom: Police patrol Zuccotti Park on November 15 after evicting protesters. [Photo by Jonathan Massey]

During the two-month occupation, protesters rewrote the social and spatial codes that had determined use of the block for decades. Created in the late 1960s as a POPS concession linked to the construction of One Liberty Plaza, the park was rebuilt by new owners Brookfield Properties in 2006 to a design by Cooper Robertson & Partners that serves downtown office workers by encouraging passive recreations like lunch and chess while discouraging active ones like cycling and skateboarding. In a related feature on Places, we look more closely at the Cooper Robertson design and its transformation into the Liberty Plaza encampment.

Stepping partially outside state and market systems, occupiers created their own structures for discussion and governance; for provision of daily services; for medical care and sacred space; for music, dance and art. Some aspects of this counterpublic resembled the exhilarating, liberatory “Temporary Autonomous Zones” described by anarchist writer Hakim Bey. [7] Others were pragmatic, even bureaucratic. Within days, working groups resembling urban agencies — dedicated to issues like Comfort, Medical, Kitchen, Library, Sanitation and Security — created a series of nodes or workstations that cut diagonally across the park. They appropriated design elements such as retaining walls, benches and tables to define functional zones.

In overlaying the permanent landscape of the park with new activities and installations, the occupation created what anthropologist Tim Ingold calls a “taskscape”: a topography of related activities deployed in space and changing over time. [8] Through their patterns of spatial appropriation, occupiers responded to the asymmetries of the park — its slope, the priority of Broadway relative to Trinity Place, and the more favorable sun and wind exposures available in the northeast corner — by programming the plaza along a gradient. Running from north and east to south and west, this gradient shaded from public to private, mind to body, waking to sleeping, and reason to faith. Outreach/Media/Legal claimed the location that afforded the most shelter and the best sun exposure while also being situated far from the noise and dust of the World Trade Center construction site.

Kitchen compost station and The People’s Library. [Photos by Jonathan Massey]

On the austere geometry of a tasteful corporate plaza, just under 33,000 square feet, the occupation created an entire world in which you could meditate, change your wardrobe, update your blog, cook lentils, read a book, sweep up litter, bandage a wound, bang a drum, roll a cigarette, debate how best to challenge corporate hegemony, make art, wash dishes and have sex, usually in the company of others.  The square teemed with friends and strangers, allies and antagonists; it was intensely public and interactive. Daily activities were saturated with a talky sociability in which the challenges and opportunities of every action, every decision, were open to reinterpretation and negotiation. At any moment, the call of “Mic check!” could ring out across the camp, obligating participants to drop personal conversations and become part of a communal discourse. The act of chanting in unison, as a human microphone, created a common sense of purpose, established relationships among neighbors and intensified awareness of surrounding bodies.

This new world could feel exhilarating and inspiring but also threatening and claustral. It was crowded. It was charged with strong emotions. Its core members were working hard, and they were often tired. On top of reforming global capitalism, they had to handle fights, thefts, drug use and sexual assaults, while operating under the strain of official hostility, police surveillance, constant interaction with supportive and hostile visitors, and weather. Radical openness and participatory self-government proved taxing. As the occupation stretched from days into weeks and months, participants took shelter from cold, rain and snow in tents and tarps. The plaza became more internalized and lost some of its intense sociability.

The functional zoning also reinforced sociological differences in the camp. Many of the most active members identified themselves as coordinators or occupiers. These groups were not mutually exclusive, but they gravitated toward spaces in separate ends of the park.Coordinators, who facilitated discussions and posted on blogs, often spent nights at home, while occupiers put their bodies on the line by living and sleeping in the park. A spatial gradient emerged, with occupiers’ tents clustered toward the western end. Not surprisingly, these constituencies were marked by differences in class, education level, ethnicity, sexuality and gender. The Daily Show even aired a skit about the differences, using “uptown” and “downtown” to describe the two ends of the park. [9]

Occupy Wall Street Sanitation Workstation

Top: Sanitation workstation. [Photo by Jonathan Massey] Bottom: Liberty Plaza Site Map drawn by Occupy participant on October 10. Click image to enlarge. [Map by Jake Deg]

Organizers worked hard to build the institutions needed to sustain the micro-city, but its autonomy was inherently limited; the camp was shaped by its adjacencies to the social, commercial and political networks of Lower Manhattan and the Financial District. Businesses provided restrooms. Sympathetic unions made facilities available. Organizations lent kitchen and office space. Individuals donated money, books, clothing and food. Murray Bergtraum High School opened its auditorium to meetings of the OWS Spokescouncil. A local government authority, Manhattan Community Board 1, mediated among protesters, neighborhood residents, Brookfield Properties and city officials in discussions about drum noise and other issues where order maintenance was enforced through claims about “quality of life.”

These interactions extended the spatial and social gradients of Liberty Plaza across a broader urban geography. Dozens of working groups met in the enclosed atrium at 60 Wall Street, a privately owned public space at the base of an office tower built by J.P. Morgan and currently occupied by Deutsche Bank. In that large room, designed by Roche and Dinkeloo and clad in marble and mirror and decorated with palm trees and postmodern grottoes, they shared space with chess-players and well-heeled denizens of the Financial District. From morning to night they used the tables, benches, chairs and wifi of the climate-controlled space as a purposeful, orderly extension of the eastern end of Liberty Plaza, establishing commuting patterns that figured 60 Wall as the Occupy office.

Occupying the Internet 
The Wall Street protests would not have materialized without extensive work by on-the-ground activists in New York. But it was the Adbusters blog post that gave the action a name and date. It also gave them #occupywallstreet, the first of thousands of #Occupy hashtags that enabled the spontaneous assembly of strangers on Twitter and other internet platforms. In the months leading up to the first occupation, and in the year afterward, Occupy established an online presence unmatched in the history of social action, leveraging multiple online spaces to stage protests and to generate a distinctive counter-public and alternative polity.

Top: Occupiers connect via laptops and smartphones from Liberty Plaza. [Photo by David Shankbone] Bottom: Instagram photo sent by Occupy activist: “Riding in a bus with 50 others, in cuffs writing this.” [Photo by pulseprotest]

In the United States, the internet was largely exempt from the state control and censorship that curtailed protest activity on the street, but it was inherently open to surveillance and imposed another set of exclusions based on access to online spaces and protocols. Its various platforms afforded ties that were both broader and weaker than those at Liberty Plaza. Discussions took place in specialized forums and channels quite unlike the multisensory, multiparticipatory assemblies, meetings, marches and rallies of the physical realm. From its inception, Occupy tested the capacities of the internet’s virtual spaces to sustain organizational activity, deliberative discourse and other kinds of public-making. [10]

As with the physical occupation, many online actions had precedent in earlier movements, from the anti-globalization protests of the 1990s to the Arab Spring of 2011. For years U.S. activists have used sites like Indymedia to distribute information and mobilize protest participation. [11] After posting its call to action, Adbusters sent word to its email distribution list and created a Facebook event, mobilizing a pre-existing network of followers. As one of the largest privately owned public spaces online, Facebook became a key platform for the Occupy movement. Facebook profiles such as OccupyWallSt,Gilded.Age and OccupyTogether, created in the weeks leading up to the first protest, provided broadly accessible channels for information. When individuals “liked” or commented on items in these newsfeeds, Occupy ideas propagated through user-generated social networks. Throughout the fall, members used the site’s text, link, note, and photo and video sharing features to endorse events and activities. [12]

During the groundwork phase, organizers also used open-source web-coding tools to create dedicated Occupy websites. The most important were, a Github site launched in mid-July as a clearinghouse and contact-point for the movement;, a WordPress site created a few weeks later to serve the New York City General Assembly and its working groups; and the blog These sites combined newsfeeds and social media links with manifestos, videos, crowdmaps and other resources, and they linked together other sites to create a sprawling landscape of information.

A selection of the more than 1600 posts submitted to the 99 Percent Project in October 2011.

In parallel, organizers tapped the internet’s capacity to build what sociologists Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport call “e-movements”: politically effective campaigns that circulate in the media without necessarily coalescing into mass gatherings. Online tools provide immediate and inexpensive site design and back-end functionality, allowing organizations or individuals to launch awareness campaigns and other political actions that demand little money or time from participants. [13] One such tool for Occupy activists was the image-based microblogging site Tumblr. In late summer, the 99 Percent Project invited people to “get known” as part of a majority disenfranchised by the super-rich. Under the slogan “We Are the 99 Percent,” the image blog featured self-portraits of working- and middle-class Americans holding handwritten signs or letters describing the circumstances of their indebtedness. The project called attention to the rise in income inequality and helpedpopularize the rhetoric of “the 99 percent.” [14] After September 17, it became an online analogue to Liberty Plaza, enabling a geographically dispersed set of participants to join the occupation of Wall Street and forging a common consciousness about debt and disenfranchisement. The self-portraits were often shot at a computer desk with a webcam, and overwhelmingly they were set in domestic interiors like living rooms, dens and bedrooms. But the handwritten signs pointed to a world outside those walls, evoking the signs of the homeless explaining their misfortunes and asking for help, as well as the signs of protesters bearing expressions of solidarity and calls to action. [15]

Global crowdmap on the Ushahidi platform. [Screenshot by the authors]

Contours of the Hypercity 
In the summer of 2011, before the first protesters had set foot in Liberty Plaza, the Occupy movement was evolving toward a model of General Assembly that hybridized online and offline discourse. While street activists in New York were practicing consensus decision-making in public parks, online participants were responding to a poll Adbusters created using Facebook’s “question” function: “What is our one demand?” Answers included abolishing capitalism, demilitarizing the police, legalizing marijuana, reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act and freeing the unicorns. (The winner was “Revoke Corporate Personhood.”) Through this asynchronous online polling, Facebook supported a weak form of political discussion that prefigured the stronger and more interactive deliberations that filled Liberty Plaza.

By September 10, General Assembly minutes were being posted online at NYCGA. Over time these became more elaborate, and note-takers projected their evolving documents on a screen in Liberty Plaza so that participants could respond to the minutes-in-the-making. Assembly meetings were livestreamed so that participants across the globe could follow in real time, and some were archived online in audio and video formats. Congregants also livetweeted the assemblies under Twitter handles such as @DiceyTroop and @LibertySqGA. These accounts attracted thousands of followers, many of whom responded to live events, adding a layer of online conversation that augmented the face-to-face assemblies.

Hybrid discussions were the norm for the working groups that handled the day-to-day and week-to-week activity of Occupy Wall Street. During and after the occupation, working groups met regularly at Liberty Plaza, the 60 Wall atrium, Union Square and other locations throughout New York. A blackboard at Liberty Plaza listed some of these meetings, but more reliable information was found online at NYCGA, where nearly every working group had a page with a blog, activity wall, shared documents and event calendar, and discussion forum involving members who had never attended the face-to-face meetings. By spring 2012, the site hosted roughly 90 working groups, some with just a handful of registered users and a couple of posts, others with many hundreds of users and more than 2,000 entries.

Top: Blackboard at Liberty Plaza announces working group meetings. [Photo by Jonathan Massey] Bottom left: Livestream at Occupy Detroit. [Photo by Stephen Boyle] Bottom right: “People’s Mic: Please join the Conversation.” 24/7 internet broadcast from Occupy Wall Street. [Photo by Chris Rojas]

As the weather changed in late October, the Town Planning forum hosted extensive discussions on a topic that simultaneously preoccupied the group’s in-person meetings and the General Assembly: how to sustain the camp into the winter. One participant lit up the forum with a long post advocating event tents that would cover large expanses of the park in communal enclosures, as an alternative to individual camping tents. “Safety teams are unfortunately learning … that privacy equals risk,” wrote Sean McKeown, “because privacy allows for unseen violence, unseen sexual menace, and for drugs, alcohol, and weapons to be kept in shockingly large number if we are to guess by the number of needles found around tents lately since they have gone up.” [16] Members suggested building geodesic domes or frame structures with salvaged materials, or claiming regulatory exemption by designating the camp as a Native American sacred site. The reconfiguration of Liberty Plaza at the beginning of November was negotiated simultaneously in the park, in dispersed work-group meetings, and on the internet.

While online forums, as the Latin term implies, evoke the experience of face-to-face discussion, other online technologies create public spaces without analogue in the physical world. The Twitter hashtag, for example, enables radically new modes of creating, discovering and organizing affinity clusters, which proved useful in movements like the January 25 Egyptian Revolution and the Green Revolution in Iran. In self-conscious emulation of those precedents, Adbusters branded September 17 with the hashtag#occupywallstreet, signaling an expectation that participants would use Twitter to communicate with one another and with larger publics.

It took more than a week for the hashtag to catch on, and from July 25 through the end of August, the four hashtags #occupywallstreet, #occupywallst, #occupy and #ows together accounted for an average of only 27 messages per day. Activity increased in September, and by the day of occupation, Twitter volume on this group of hashtags hit 78,351 as the broader public of participants, bystanders and commentators joined organizers in using the platform for realtime micoblogging of information, opinions and photos. Twitter’s instantaneous syndication was a valuable conduit for time-sensitive news, and its 140-character message limit was well suited to the mobile devices that predominated in Liberty Plaza. Some activists used photo, video and geotagging features on their phones to make Twitter a medium for mapping and building the extended Occupy taskscape. Volume on those four hashtags peaked at 411,117 on November 15, the day protesters were evicted from the park. [17]

Visualization of the Occupy movement online, July to December 2011, including activity on Google, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and We Are the 99 Percent. Click image to enlarge. [Timeline by the authors]

Many other online spaces provided venues for discourse and arenas for participation. Internet relay chat channels allowed participants to talk to one another, individually and in groups. Live video streams from Liberty Plaza and other camps opened real-time windows onto parks, squares and streets around the world. compiled more than 250 such livestreams, each flanked on screen by a chat feed. Video and photo-sharing sites such as YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr and Instagram enabled participants to post, share and discuss images of Occupy protests, police actions, and other content. Much of this activity garnered only limited interest, but some posts went viral, such as the late September videoof a high-ranking NYPD officer pepper-spraying women who had already been corralled on the sidewalk. Edited and annotated with the low-tech tools that support user-generated content, the video broadened awareness of and sympathy for the occupation.

As social media expanded the range of channels for participation in Occupy Wall Street, it also changed the nature of the public that joined. Extrapolating from the work of anthropologist Jeffrey S. Juris, we can contrast the network logics that predominated in summer 2011, when organizations and activists used email lists and websites to mobilize pre-existing networks, with a new set of aggregation logics that developed as the event took off. Social media engaged many thousands of people who had no pre-existing connection to social change organizations and activist networks. These virtual spaces, even more than city parks, became points of encounter where previously unrelated individuals aggregated to form popular assemblies.

Focusing on Occupy Boston, Juris suggests that while the alter-globalization protests of the 1990s created “temporary performative terrains along which networks made themselves and their struggles visible,” the Occupy movement activated a wider public. “Rather than providing spaces for particular networks to coordinate actions and physically represent themselves,” he writes, “the smart mob protests facilitated by social media such as Facebook and Twitter make visible crowds of individuals aggregated within concrete locales.” [18]

Political scientist Stephania Milan has characterized Occupy protests as “cloud protesting,” comparing the movement to “a cloud where a set of ‘soft resources’ coexist: identities, narratives, and know-how, which facilitate mobilization,” much as social media hosted via cloud computing gives individuals the tools for “producing, selecting, punctuating, and diffusing material like tweets, posts and videos.” [19]

Top: Protest sign in Times Square: “Get off the internet. I’ll Meet you in the streets.” [Photo by Geoff Stearns] Bottom: Collaboratively edited User Map at

Though Milan and Juris don’t address them, we could add crowdmaps to the list of “cloud tools” that activated aggregation logics in the Occupy movement. Online maps populated by user-generated content were published at Take the SquareUS Day of Rage,, and Most used Ushahidi, free open-source crowdmapping software developed in 2008 in Kenya to support disaster relief and response efforts. By compiling data into a common geospatial framework, these crowdmaps visualized Occupy participants and camps as discrete elements that aggregated to form a global phenomenon. They associated people, texts, images and videos with particular places, constructing hypergeographies of action and potential. Animated timeline features encouraged users to visualize themselves and local events as part of a process of “#globalchange.”

The most robust crowdmap was the #OccupyMap at, built by the Tech Ops working group of NYCGA. It provided a web interface for reporting events such as marches, rallies and police interventions, with easy media embedding and compatibility with the Ushahidi app on iOS and Android mobile devices. It also populated automatically from Twitter: any tweet from a location-enabled device that included the hashtag #occupymap generated a geotagged report that could incorporate photos and videos via the Twitpic and Twitvid apps. By spring 2012, the map had aggregated some 900 entries from New York City into a database that could be sorted geographically and temporally, by medium and by event type — all viewable via map, timeline and photo interfaces. By pulling together disparate events and data across space and time, the #OccupyMap created a counterpublic integrated through its use of online media to contest state and corporate control of urban places.

The Occupy crowdmaps were most compelling rhetorically at larger scales, where they visualized landscapes fundamentally distinct from those visible in city streets. In counterpoint to the intense attention paid to Liberty Plaza, these virtual geographies redefined the public of Occupy Wall Street as a dispersed set of agents linked more by online communication channels than by proximity. Viewed at national scale, the red placemarker icons on the User Map at suggested a crowd of hot air balloons that had landed — or were preparing to take off — all across the country. In places they clustered so tightly as to create red contours marking an otherwise invisible topography of radicalism. But at the local scale, what had seemed a continuous landscape of occupiers thinned out; zooming in on Liberty Plaza, you saw only a forlorn green oblong scattered with a few markers.

Open-Source Urbanism 
While some online activists relied on corporate media such as Facebook and Twitter to reach a broad public, many made a point of using open-source software, sources and methods such as wikicoding. Occupy websites became spaces for the elaboration of what Christopher Kelty calls a recursive public, “a public that is vitally concerned with the material and practical maintenance and modification of the technical, legal, practical, and conceptual means of its own existence.” [20] In the physical realm, Liberty Plaza and other occupied spaces functioned as offline analogues of a wiki page. Participants without much prior affiliation built new worlds and organized themselves to maintain them while avoiding hierarchy and formalization whenever they could. At these “wikicamps,” open-source urbanism operated at a scale simultaneously local and global. [21] The New York camp was built with knowledge, idea and resources from Spain and Argentina, Chiapas and Cairo, as well as from local coalitions.

Jonathan Massey and Brett Snyder map Liberty Plaza’s functional zones and activities. See the sidebar  “Mapping Liberty Plaza” for axonometric drawings of the site’s transformation.

Participants have continued to explore the ways that digital media can reshape our public spaces and public spheres. One example is a course project at The New School that emerged from a multi-day, multi-city “hackathon” sponsored by the working group Occupy Research. The Twitter bot @OccupyPOPS is a script that cross-references check-ins on social media sites Foursquare and Twitter with the New York City government database of privately-owned public spaces, then automatically tweets a call to temporarily occupy a particular POPS at a specific date and time. Created by Christo de Klerk, @OccupyPOPS mobilizes virtual spaces, physical places and social networks to reshape urban public space and the regulations that govern it. Other New York-based projects addressing the issues foregrounded by Occupy include #whOWNSpace and The Public School, as well as pre-existing initiatives like Not an Alternative.

Open-source hypercity urbanism becomes increasingly important as governments constrain public assembly in the offline world. On November 15, the state cleared the experimental agora at Liberty Plaza. Police and sanitation workers with bulldozers removed tents and tarps while resisting occupiers fell back to the People’s Kitchen. As NYPD blockaded the surrounding streets and airspace, people and texts and media feeds streamed out from an atmosphere made toxic by chemical and sonic weapons. Coordinated police actions evicted occupiers in Oakland, Portland, Denver and other cities.

Occupy Wall Street working groups and General Assemblies continue to meet in the 60 Wall Street atrium and other public locations, and to stage intermittent marches, rallies and actions. Occupations were sustained in other cities around the world, and activists tried several times to retake Zuccotti Park. Without its base camp, the Occupy movement relied even more extensively on websites and other online media as its primary means of communication and self-representation. This activity expanded into an array of diffuse campaigns: to reduce and renegotiate student debt; to resist foreclosures and reclaim bank-owned houses; and to challenge corporate power on many fronts.

Top: Sign posted at the 60 Wall atrium on November 15: “No excessive use of space.” [Photo byJohanna Clear] Bottom: Protesters remove police barriers and reoccupy Zuccotti Park on November 17. [Photo by Brennan Cavanaugh]

Occupy Wall Street had an immediate impact on U.S. domestic politics. Counteracting anti-deficit rhetoric from the Republican Party and Tea Party activists who sought to cut social services while borrowing heavily to fund wars and regressive income redistributions, the Occupy movement shifted the focus of mainstream political discourse to income inequality and the burdens of consumer debt. For many participants and observers, though, its more compelling achievement was to embody a minimally hierarchical communitarian polity that combined consensual direct democracy with a high degree of individual autonomy, and also a voluntary sharing economy with the market logics and state service provision that dominate everyday urban life. The longer-term impact of #OWS may well stem from the techniques it modeled online and in the streets for building new publics and polities.

What might this history mean for the future of public space and political action? Events are still unfolding, so the question is open-ended. But here are some provisional conclusions:

  • Online tools are rapidly changing the dynamics of political action. The aggregative, rhizomatic, and exponentially expanding character of the Occupy movement reflects the distinctive capacities of social media.
  • Media are accelerating the pace of discourse and action. Flash mobs and viral tweets may be excessively hyped, but the compressed temporality of the new media landscape is reflected in the rapid emergence, metastasis, and dormancy of Occupy Wall Street.
  • Digital communities are good at building systems. Wikicoding and other modes of online collaboration can build online venues fast and well.
  • These communities may still require face-to-face interaction to achieve substantive change. Digital communication is easy, but for that reason it can feel too light and weightless to mobilize people for the tenacious action it often takes to achieve deep structural changes.
  • Bodies in the street still matter for commanding attention and galvanizing engagement.
  • Modern forms of police control violate basic civil liberties. From the constraints placed on all manner of public assembly to the everyday civil rights violations of the stop-and-frisk system, police in New York and some other American cities have passed a dangerous tipping point.
  • Asserting a broad right to the city means claiming public places, online and offline, for assembly, dialogue and deliberation by multiple publics with varying spatial and temporal requirements.
  • Privately owned public spaces offer platforms for experimentation. The prevalence of corporate enclaves in our cities and online often homogenizes and constrains public life, but Occupy Wall Street showed that POPS can be sites for public-making and political action.
  • But users should reclaim some of the value we create in using corporate media. Activists should find ways to gain at least partial control over the valuable and revealing information trails that users generate through activity online and in our cities.

Finally, initiative is shifting to global-local coalitions. While Occupy was often framed in nationalist terms, its more pervasive character was simultaneously transnational and highly local, reflecting the new geographies of capitalism and its media. The intersections between global and local, online and face-to-face, reformist and radical are promising sites for the creation of the new publics and polities that might open up futures beyond the neoliberal state.

Editors’ Note

See the sidebar “Mapping Liberty Plaza” for axonometric drawings of the site’s transformation, by Jonathan Massey and Brett Snyder.For related content on Places, see also “Occupy: What Architecture Can Do” and “Occupy: The Day After,” by Reinhold Martin, and “Housing and the 99 Percent,” by Jonathan Massey.

Authors’ Note 

Andrew Weigand and Grant D. Foster assisted with research and visualization for this project.

We would like to thank many colleagues who contributed research and ideas. Early discussions about Occupy Wall Street included Joy Connolly, Elise Harris, Greg Smithsimon and Jenny Uleman. Matt Boorady, Timothy Gale, Steve Klimek, Gabriella Morrone and Nathaniel Wooten contributed to the mapping and surveying of Liberty Plaza. Jennifer Altman-Lupu, Rob Daurio and Katie Gill shared Occupy Wall Street maps they had made and gathered. The Transdisciplinary Media Studio at Syracuse University supported our research with funding from a Chancellor’s Leadership Initiative.

The project benefited from feedback at two stages. The Aggregate Architectural History Collaborativeworkshopped an early version of the text. Organizers and participants in the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute in Digital Humanities, “Digital Cultural Mapping,” held at UCLA in June and July 2012, helped us develop the project both intellectually and representationally. Particular thanks to organizers Todd Presner, Diane Favro and Chris Johanson, and to consultants Zoe Borovsky, Yoh Kawano, David Shepard and Elaine Sullivan, as well as Micha Cárdenas of USC.


1. See Doug Singsen, “Autonomous Zone on Wall Street?,” Socialist Worker, October 11, 2011.
2. “#OCCUPYWALLSTREET,” Adbusters, July 31, 2011.
3. On Occupy Oakland as a counterpublic, see Allison Laubach Wright, “Counterpublic Protest and the Purpose of Occupy: Reframing the Discourse of Occupy Wall Street,” Plaza: Dialogues in Language and Literature 2.2 (Spring 2012): 138-146.
4. “Nine Arrested and Released Without Charge in Occupy Wall Street Test Run,” Occupy Wall Street, September 8, 2011. For early histories of OWS in New York, see Writers for the 99%, Occupying Wall Street: The Inside Story of an Action that Changed America (New York and London: OR Books, 2011), andOccupyScenes from Occupied America, ed. Astra Taylor, Keith Gessen, et al. (London: Verso, 2011).
5. See Alex Vitale, “NYPD and OWS: A Clash of Styles,” in OccupyScenes from Occupied America, 74-81; and Vitale, City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics (New York: NYU Press, 2008).
6. On the POPS system, see Jerold S. Kayden et al., Privately Owned Public Spaces: The New York City Experience (John Wiley & Sons, 2000); and Benjamin Shepard and Greg Smithsimon, The Beach Beneath the Streets: Contesting New York City’s Public Spaces (Albany: Excelsior Editions/State University of New York Press, 2011), Chs. 2-3.
7. Hakim Bey, T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous ZoneOntological AnarchyPoetic Terrorism (New York: Autonomedia, 1985). See also Shepard and Smithsimon, The Beach Beneath the Streets, Ch. 1.
8. Tim Ingold, “The Temporality of the Landscape,” World Archaeology, 25:2 (1993): 152-174. Thanks to Jennifer Altman-Lupu for suggesting this way of understanding Liberty Plaza.
9. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, “Occupy Wall Street Divided,” 16 November 2011. For a more serious account, see Writers for the 99%, Occupying Wall Street, 61-67.
10. The Occupy movement online combined two modes that Sándor Végh describes as “internet-enhanced activism” and “internet-enabled activism.” See “Classifying Forms of Online Activism: The Case of Cyberprotests against the World Bank,” in Cyberactivism: Online Activism in Theory and Practice, ed. Martha McCaughey and Michael D. Ayers (Portsmouth, NH: Routledge, 2003), 71-96. These approaches constituted what we might call a digital repertory of contention. See Charles Tilly, Regimes and Repertoires (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), and Brett Rolfe, “Building an Electronic Repertoire of Contention,” Social Movement Studies 4:1 (May 2005): 65-74.
11. Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport call this “e-mobilization”: using the web to facilitate and coordinate in-person protest. See Digitally Enabled Social Change: Activism in the Internet Age (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011).
12. Some commentators even used the site’s “notes” function to publish commentaries on and critiques of the movement for others to discuss and repost. See, for instance, Greg Tate’s note “Top Ten Reasons Why So Few Blackfolk Seem Down to Occupy Wall Street,” 17 October 2011.
13. See Earl and Kimport, Digitally Enabled Social Change, Introduction.
14. See Adam Weinstein, “‘We Are the 99 Percent’ Creators Revealed,” Mother Jones, 7 October 2011, and Rebecca J. Rosen, “The 99 Percent Tumblr and Self-Service History,” The Atlantic, 10 October 2011.
15. After a slow start in August 2011, participation in the 99 Percent Project spiked at the beginning of October 2011, as the Brooklyn Bridge march and arrests spread awareness of Occupy Wall Street. Activity peaked on October 20, when site managers posted 264 photos and site visitors added nearly 6,000 comments. By the end of May 2012, the project encompassed 3255 posts and more than 134,000 comments.
16. Sean McKeown, “Winter Event Tents for Liberty Plaza,” Town Planning forum, New York City General Assembly.
17. Twitter data is drawn from a dataset compiled by social analytics company PeopleBrowsr.
18. Jeffrey S. Juris, “Reflections on #Occupy Everywhere: Social media, public space, and emerging logics of aggregation,” American Ethnologist 39:2 (2012): 259-79: 260-61.
19. Stefania Milan, “Cloud Protesting: On Mobilization in Times of Social Media,” lecture, 10 February 2012 (abstract).
20. Christopher Kelty, Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software (Duke University Press, 2008). See also “Recursive Public,” The Foundation for P2P Alternatives.
21. “Wikicamps” adapts the term that sociologist Manuel Castells used to describe the camps that filled Spanish plazas beginning in May 2011. See Castells, “The Disgust Becomes a Network” (translation of “#Wikiacampadas,” La Vanguardia, 28 May 2011), trans. Hugh Green, Adbusters 97 (2 August 2011).

David Graeber’s “The Democracy Project” and the anarchist revival (New Yorker)



BY , MAY 13, 2013

Occupy resisted those who wanted to stop it and those who wanted to organize it. Illustration by Shout.

Occupy resisted those who wanted to stop it and those who wanted to organize it. Illustration by Shout.

In the summer of 2011, when David Graeber heard rumors of a mobilization against Wall Street, he was hopeful but wary. Graeber is an anthropologist by trade, and a radical by inclination, which means that he spends a lot of time at political demonstrations, scrutinizing other demonstrators. When he wandered down to Bowling Green, in the financial district, on August 2nd, he noticed a few people who appeared to be the leaders, equipped with signs and megaphones. It seemed that they were affiliated with the Workers World Party, a socialist group known for stringent pronouncements that hark back to the Cold War—a recent article in the W.W.P. newspaper hailed the “steadfast determination” of North Korea and its leaders. As far as Graeber was concerned, W.W.P. organizers and others like them could doom the new movement, turning away potential allies with their discredited ideology and their unimaginative tactics. Perhaps they would deliver a handful of speeches and lead a bedraggled march, culminating in the presentation of a list of demands. Names and e-mail addresses would be collected, and then, a few weeks or months later, everyone would regroup and do it again.

Graeber refers to march planners and other organizers as “verticals,” and to him this is an insult: it refers not just to defenders of Kim Jong-un but to anyone who thinks a political uprising needs parties or leaders. He is a “horizontal,” which is to say, an anarchist. He is fifty-two, but he has made common cause with a generation of activists too young to have any interest in the Cold War, or anything associated with it. And, as he listened to speeches in Bowling Green, he realized that many of the people there seemed to be horizontals, too. Working with some like-minded activists, on the opposite side of the park, Graeber helped to convene a general assembly—an open-ended meeting, with no agenda and a commitment to consensus.Adbusters, a Canadian magazine, had called for an occupation of Wall Street on September 17th, which was six weeks away; that afternoon, in Bowling Green, a few dozen horizontals decided to see what they could do to respond.

When the day came, Graeber and his allies had to fend off two different enemies: the people who wanted to stop the occupation and the people who wanted to organize it. Occupy Wall Street succeeded, and survived, in its original location—Zuccotti Park, halfway between Wall Street and the World Trade Center site—for nearly two months, much longer than anyone predicted. It inspired similar occupations around the country, creating a model for radical politics in the Obama era. And it became known, more than anything, for its commitment to horizontalism: no parties, no leaders, no demands.

Inevitably, this triumph of horizontalism increased the prominence of a handful of horizontals, none more than Graeber, who has emerged as perhaps the most influential radical political thinker of the moment. His American academic career has been rocky: he was an associate professor at Yale but was never up for tenure, and in 2005 the university decided not to extend his contract. (He now suggests that he was insufficiently deferential to Yale’s “hierarchical environment.”) By the summer of 2011, he was teaching anthropology at Goldsmiths College, in London, while building a growing reputation in anarchist circles worldwide. His books tend to end up as pirated PDF files, freely available on left-wing Web sites.

A few weeks before the rally in Bowling Green, Graeber published “Debt: The First 5,000 Years,” a provocative counter-history of civilization that has become an unlikely best-seller. He argued that the current American anxiety about debt, private and public, is merely the latest manifestation of an ancient obsession. He sought to show that debt preëxisted money: people owed things to each other before they had a way to measure the size of those obligations. In one of his most memorable passages, he considered the differing roles of debt in a market society (where we “don’t owe each other anything,” except what we agree to) and in a nation-state (where we all owe an insurmountable debt to the government, whether we agree or not). He called this dichotomy “a great trap of the twentieth century”—a false choice between the freedom of a consumer and the obligations of a citizen. “States created markets,” he wrote. “Markets require states. Neither could continue without the other, at least in anything like the forms we would recognize today.” This is the essence of Graeber’s ideology, and to a large extent the essence of Occupy: a commitment to fighting the twinned powers of private wealth and public force. He has proposed a grand debt cancellation, to remind the world that a debt is merely a promise—that is, a plan, and one that can be changed.

By the time the New York Police Department reclaimed Zuccotti Park, in November, the evictees were already trying to figure out whether the occupation had been a success, and what “success” might mean. In the past year, this debate has been taken up in a series of essays and books rehearsing the little indignities and big ideas that characterized life in Zuccotti Park and other sites of occupation. Now comes Graeber himself, with “The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement” (Spiegel & Grau). Like all revolutionaries, he is skilled in the art of wild extrapolation, starting from a small band of dissidents and imagining a world transformed. He doesn’t believe that a better future is inevitable. But like lots of people, not all of them radical or even political, he does believe that the current arrangement is unstable, and that we may as well start thinking about what might come next.

“We are the ninety-nine per cent!” That was the rallying cry in Zuccotti Park, and beyond, although there is some debate about exactly which member of the “we” came up with it. In his book, Graeber stakes a partial claim, quoting an e-mail he sent to a group list on August 4, 2011, in which he proposed calling the occupation the Ninety-Nine Per Cent Movement. The figure had been popularized by the economist Joseph Stiglitz, who estimated that the richest one per cent of Americans earn nearly twenty-five per cent of the income and control forty per cent of the wealth. “The ninety-nine per cent,” then, is everybody else. It was a great slogan, because it linked the people in the parks to the people watching at home, suggesting a kind of class struggle that even class-averse Americans could support.

What’s striking about this formulation, though, is what’s missing: any explicit reference to the one per cent. It was a self-reflexive slogan for a self-reflexive movement, one that came to be known more for its internal politics than for its critique of the outside world. Perhaps no one could say exactly what the Zuccotti Park occupation wanted, but lots of people knew how it worked. There was “the people’s mic,” an ingenious system of public address: short speeches were delivered one phrase at a time, with each phrase repeated, in unison, by whoever happened to be standing nearby. And there was a small lexicon of hand signals, which Occupiers could use to respond with approval, or disapproval, or extreme disapproval—the crossed-fists “block,” which could bring any discussion to a halt.

In “We Are Many: Reflections on Movement Strategy from Occupation to Liberation” (AK Press), a deftly edited anthology, a wide range of Occupiers and sympathizers look back on those days in 2011. One New York participant recalls the nerve-racking moment when she helped block the adoption of an official declaration, because she felt that the language downplayed the importance of race, gender, and other kinds of identity. Marisa Holmes, a New York activist, describes how the occupation’s horizontal structure—composed of semi-autonomous working groups, free-form discussions, and a spokescouncil—worked, for a time, and then disintegrated. Graeber describes the encampments as “a defiant experiment in libertarian communism,” but the subtext of “We Are Many” is that this experiment was more inspiring as an ideal: the most enthusiastic essays tend to come from people, like Graeber, who spent little or no time actually living in the parks.

Is it fair to describe the Occupy movement as anarchist? In “We Are Many,” Cindy Milstein, a longtime activist, stipulates that radicals in Zuccotti Park were outnumbered by liberals, including those she deprecates as “militant liberals.” But she argues that, even if the Occupiers weren’t all anarchists, they were nevertheless “doing anarchism.” In Zuccotti Park and elsewhere, “doing anarchism” often meant struggling not against bankers, directly, but against local government and local police. (In New York, one galvanizing figure was Anthony Bologna, a senior police officer who was disciplined after video surfaced showing him squirting protesters with pepper spray.) Perhaps this was a smart strategy: instead of arguing about economics and ideology, the Occupiers could affirm, instead, their unanimous commitment to freedom of assembly. Occupy may have begun with a grievance against Wall Street, but the process of occupation transformed the movement into a meta-movement, peopled by activists demanding the right to demand their rights.

Karl Marx agreed with the anarchists of his day that the state should be destroyed. But he disagreed about when. He was convinced that the state would become obsolete only after the working class had taken it over, thereby destroying the class system. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the French philosopher who popularized the term “anarchist,” thought that the idea of a revolutionary government was a contradiction in terms. “Governments are God’s scourge, established todiscipline the world,” he wrote. “Do you really expect them to destroy themselves, to create freedom, to make revolution?” Mikhail Bakunin, the prickly Russian agitator, sneered at Marx’s idea of a workers’ state. “As soon as they become rulers or representatives of the people,” he wrote, they “will cease to be workers and will begin to look upon the whole workers’ world from the heights of the state.” In 1872, at a meeting in The Hague, Marx helped to expel Bakunin from the International Workingmen’s Association, formalizing a division that seemed no less stark, nearly a century and a half later, when the horizontals broke from the verticals on an August afternoon in Bowling Green.

In delivering his brief for anarchism, Graeber asks readers to take into account the movement’s history of good behavior. “For nearly a century now,” he writes, “anarchism has been one of the very few political philosophies whose exponents never blow anyone up.” This is a sly way of acknowledging that, a hundred years ago, anarchists had a rather different reputation. On May 4, 1886, in Haymarket Square, in Chicago, police tried to halt a demonstration by striking workers, and someone in the crowd threw a bomb, which killed at least ten people, including seven police officers. Chicago had become a hub of anarchist politics, and although the bomber was never identified, eight anarchists were convicted of being accessories to murder. In Europe, anarchists carried out a series of spectacular attacks, including the assassinations of one President (French), two kings (Italian and Greek), and three Prime Ministers (Spanish, Russian, and Spanish again). In the U.S., anarchism’s reputation was sealed for a generation by Leon Czolgosz, who killed President William McKinley, in 1901; he had evidently been inspired by Emma Goldman, the prominent anarchist rabble-rouser.

Over the years, though, anarchists’ ferocious reputation has mellowed. The Occupy movement borrowed some of its organizing tactics from the egalitarian groups that formed, in the nineteen-seventies, to try to stop the construction of nuclear power plants. And the rise of punk helped give anarchism a new image: “Anarchy in the U.K.,” by the Sex Pistols, was an ambiguous provocation; other bands, like Crass, used “anarchy” to signal their commitment to a bundle of emancipatory causes, and their independence from the socialist organizations that dominated the British left. The connection to punk lent anarchism a countercultural credibility, and in 1999, when tens of thousands of activists materialized in Seattle, intent on shutting down a World Trade Organization conference, raucous young anarchists were out in front; at one point, they smashed the window of a Starbucks. The smashed window became an icon of resistance, and the chaos in the streets of Seattle galvanized a mobilization, known as the Global Justice movement.

Twelve years later, not all of Occupy’s supporters were happy to see anarchists playing a starring role. In a contentious essay titled, “The Cancer in Occupy,” Chris Hedges called for a clean break. Hedges is a former Times reporter turned socialist author and activist, and he published his essay on the progressive Web site Truthdig, a few months after the Zuccotti eviction. His main target was the “black bloc” phenomenon, in which activists—often anarchists—dress in black clothes, with black handkerchiefs obscuring their faces, the better to cause mischief anonymously. Hedges accused black blocs of a “lust” for destruction, which he described as a sickness. “Once the Occupy movement is painted as a flag-burning, rock-throwing, angry mob we are finished,” he wrote.

In a deeply indignant response to Hedges, Graeber pointed out that black-bloc actions had been rare in the Occupy movement. Much of Hedges’s concern seemed to arise from a single incident in Oakland, when a black bloc smashed bank windows and vandalized a Whole Foods. Like many anarchists, Graeber doesn’t think property damage is violence. And he believes that so-called “mobs” have their uses—in 2001, in Quebec City, he was part of a black bloc that succeeded in toppling a chain-link fence meant to separate activists from the free-trade meeting they wanted to disrupt. He supports “diversity of tactics,” an approach that urges different kinds of activists to stay physically separate (so as not to endanger each other) but politically united. Above all, Graeber rejects what he calls “the peace police”: activists who try to control other activists’ behavior, sometimes in collaboration with the real police. His tolerance for confrontational protest stems in part from his disinclination to empower anyone to stop it.

Graeber is more worried about the charge that modern anarchists are feckless, so he is keen to give anarchists credit for changing the world. He claims that the Global Justice movement weakened the W.T.O. and scuttled the Free Trade Area of the Americas pact, which was the topic of those discussions in Quebec City. And he credits the Occupy movement with preventing Mitt Romney from becoming President. (He underestimates Romney’s own, invaluable contributions to this cause.) Graeber is pleased, too, to underscore the links between Occupy and other popular movements around the world, from the Egyptian uprising to the ongoing demonstrations of the Indignados, in Spain. He sees a global “insurrectionary wave,” united less by a shared ideology than by a shared opposition to an increasingly global social arrangement.

The rehabilitation of anarchism in America has a lot to do with the fall of the Soviet Union, which lives on in popular memory as a quaint and brutal place—an embarrassing precursor that modern, pro-democracy socialists must find ways to disavow. Graeber sees “authoritarian socialists” not as distant relatives but as longtime enemies; channelling Bakunin, he claims that the Marxist intention to smash the state by seizing it first is a “pipe dream.” For anarchists, the major historical precursors are so fleeting as to be nearly nonexistent: the Paris Commune lasted scarcely two months, in 1871; anarchists dominated Catalonia for about a year, after the Spanish revolution in 1936. The appeal of anarchism is largely negative: a promise that a different world needn’t resemble any of the ones that have been tried before.

In a new book, “Two Cheers for Anarchism” (Princeton), James C. Scott, a highly regarded professor of anthropology and political science at Yale (and, Graeber says, “one of the great political thinkers of our time”), commends anarchism precisely for its “tolerance for confusion and improvisation.” Graeber did his anthropological field work in the highlands of Madagascar, and Scott did his in Southeast Asia, but their conclusions were similar. Both of them encountered communities that lived more or less autonomously, finding ways to resist or ignore whatever governments claimed jurisdiction over them. And both are eager to expand the history of lived anarchism beyond Paris and Catalonia; it is, they argue, broader and more common than we’ve been taught.

“Two Cheers for Anarchism” conducts a brief and digressive seminar in political philosophy, starting from the perspective of a disillusioned leftist. “Virtually every major successful revolution ended by creating a state more powerful than the one it overthrew,” Scott writes. Traditionally, this has been an argument against revolutions, but Scott wonders whether it might be an argument against states. He stops short of calling for the abolition of government, which explains the missing cheer. Instead, he highlights everyday acts of petty resistance: “foot-dragging, poaching, pilfering, dissimulation, sabotage, desertion, absenteeism, squatting, and flight.” Most of all, he urges citizens to be wary of their governments, which is good advice, but rather deflating—Scott can make anarchism sound like little more than a colorful word for critical thinking.

Graeber shares Scott’s mistrust of grand prescriptions, but he thinks that he has found an alternative: prefigurative politics, which holds that political movements resemble the worlds they seek to create. Instead of planning a new society, revolutionaries must form a new society, and then grow. A hierarchical vanguard party will never create broad equality, just as, he says, “grim joyless revolutionaries” can’t be trusted to increase human happiness. From this perspective, all those seemingly insular procedural debates in Zuccotti Park weren’t insular at all: how the movement worked would determine what it wanted. What Graeber wants is a kind of decentralized socialism, with decisions made by a patchwork of local assemblies and coöperatives—at one point, he imagines “something vaguely like jury duty, except non-compulsory.” He argues that serious economic inequality wouldn’t endure without a state to enforce it. “We are already anarchists, or at least we act like anarchists, every time we come to understandings with one another that would not require physical threats as a means of enforcement,” he writes. “It’s a question of building on what we are already doing, expanding the zones of freedom, until freedom becomes the ultimate organizing principle.”

Graeber is comfortable—perhaps too comfortable—with uncertainty. “We have little idea what sort of organizations, or for that matter, technologies, would emerge if free people were unfettered to use their imagination to actually solve collective problems rather than to make them worse,” he writes, which seems an odd admission for a deeply committed unfetterer. (If we don’t know much about this “free” world, how do we know it won’t be, in some ways, just as coercive?) Graeber talks about the way a new society would expand people’s options, but he has acknowledged that a truly anarchist revolution would mean less production, and less consumption. Humankind would be rid of “all the useless or destructive occupations like telemarketers, lawyers, prison guards, financial analysts, public relations experts, bureaucrats and politicians.” (Anthropology professors would appear to be safe.) Although Graeber likes to distance himself from his grim and joyless rivals, there is a trace of asceticism in his vision. Part of Graeber’s motivation for wandering down to Bowling Green, back in 2011, was his opposition to what he calls “draconian austerity budgets” proposed by Mayor Bloomberg. Graeber wants to demonize modern debt without demonizing debtors. Yet the language of economic “austerity” finds a striking analogue in his vision of a post-debt society composed of people who have learned, at long last, to live within their means.

Graeber believes that the Occupy movement wouldn’t have attracted as much attention if it hadn’t been for the Tea Party movement, a few years earlier. Reporters sensed a parallel, and they wanted, he says, to make “a minimal gesture in the way of balance.” He notes that the reporters moved on around the time it became clear that the Occupy movement, unlike the Tea Party movement, was not going to become a force in electoral politics. In fact, there is one anarchist who could be considered influential in Washington, but he wasn’t among the activists who participated in the Occupy movement—he died nearly twenty years ago. His name is Murray Rothbard, and, among small-government Republicans, he is something of a cult hero. He was Ron Paul’s intellectual mentor, which makes him the godfather of the godfather of the Tea Party. Justin Amash, a young Republican congressman from Michigan and a rising star in the Party, hangs a framed portrait of him on his office wall.

Rothbard was an anarchist, but also a capitalist. “True anarchism will be capitalism, and true capitalism will be anarchism,” he once said, and he sometimes referred to himself by means of a seven-syllable honorific: “anarcho-capitalist.” Graeber thinks that governments treat their citizens “like children,” and that, when governments disappear, people will behave differently. Anarcho-capitalists, on the contrary, believe that, without government, people will behave more or less the same: we will be just as creative or greedy or competent as we are now, only freer. Instead of imagining a world without drastic inequality, anarcho-capitalists imagine a world where people and their property are secured by private defense agencies, which are paid to keep the peace. Graeber doesn’t consider anarcho-capitalists to be true anarchists; no doubt the feeling is mutual.

The split personality of anarchism demonstrates the slippery nature of anti-government arguments, which can bring together a wide range of people who are deeply dissatisfied with the government we’ve got. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and the government bailouts and loans that followed, capitalists and anticapitalists were often united in their disapproval, and, when Graeber criticizes “collusion between government and financial institutions,” he is speaking the shared language of the Tea Party and the Occupy movements. During those days in 2011, one of the politicians who expressed support for the Occupy movement was Buddy Roemer, a Republican and a former governor of Louisiana, who was waging a long-shot campaign to win his party’s Presidential nomination. “I think the Tea Party is onto something: special favors for special friends,” he said, after visiting the Washington encampment. “Hell, that’s what Occupy Washington, D.C., is saying—they’re saying the same thing.”

Despite a few attempts at outreach, Occupy and the Tea Party never found much common ground. It’s not easy for a protest movement to shrug off the logic of partisanship: the Tea Party was essentially a Republican movement, and, if the Occupiers held low opinions of the Democratic Party, it was always clear that they disdained Republicans much more. Even Graeber, for all his radicalism, still sees himself as an ally, however disaffected, of liberal Democrats in their fight against the conservative agenda. In a recent online exchange, he wrote about his frustration with the political establishment. “What reformers have to understand is that they’re never going to get anywhere without radicals and revolutionaries to betray,” he wrote, and went on:

I’ve never understood why “progressives” don’t understand this. The mainstream right understands it, that’s why they go crazy when it looks like someone might be cracking down on far-right militia groups, and so forth. They know it’s totally to their political advantage to have people even further to the right than they so they can seem moderate. If only the mainstream left acted the same way!

Despite his implacable opposition to state power, Graeber often finds himself defending the sorts of government program that liberals typically support, such as socialized medicine. There is a distinction, he argues, between state institutions based on coercion, like prisons or border control, and those which could (in a post-capitalist future) be run as voluntary collectives, like health care. Still, he is self-aware enough to be amused by all the ways in which anarchists find themselves fighting, in the short term, for causes that would seem to increase the role of government. Early in “The Democracy Project,” he describes being at a demonstration in London that protested government budget cuts and corporate tax breaks. He remembers thinking, “It feels a bit unsettling watching a bunch of anarchists in masks outside Topshop, lobbing paint bombs over a line of riot cops, shouting, ‘Pay your taxes!’ ” Then he admits that he was one of the paint bombers.

At times, Graeber can sound like one of the orthodox Marxists he lampoons, eager to see the state wither away—just not quite yet. It’s a common paradox. For years, American politicians have been promising to bring the country a smaller, more streamlined state; President Obama was obliged to present his health-care reforms as an opportunity to reduce, not increase, the federal budget. As the government expands, the calls to shrink it grow louder; even many radicals, these days, decline to be counted as proponents of big government. In a more fragile state, like Greece or Spain, anarchism often adopts an apocalyptic tone: to be an anarchist is to accept, or even to welcome, the cataclysm that all the politicians fear. But in America anarchism’s appeal surely has something to do with the seeming durability of our current arrangement, and the inexorable growth of the government that maintains it. Such is the power of a sprawling and sophisticated state: the bigger it gets, the easier it becomes for us to imagine that we could live without it. ♦

Lições Espanholas: debate entre o movimento 15M da Espanha e os movimentos de Porto Alegre (MaterialismoS)

Publicado em abril 4, 2013 por 

Debate com participante do movimento 15M, da Espanha, este sábado às 17h45 no Quilombo das Artes/Assentamento Urbano Utopia e Luta, escadaria da Borges.

Lições Espanholas MaterialismosG

Enquanto Porto Alegre viu, nas últimas semanas, aquilo que pode ser o início de um novo movimento de massa, a Espanha tem vivido desde maio de 2011 um momento riquíssimo de mobilização popular. Mais antigo, mais numeroso e mais duradouro que o movimento Occupy dos Estados Unidos, o 15M foi o primeiro dos movimentos globais a seguir o exemplo da Primavera Árabe e reagir contra as políticas de austeridade, a ditadura do capital financeiro e a erosão da democracia representativa no estado espanhol e na Europa; foi da Espanha que originalmente partiu o chamado para o dia de ação global de 15 de outubro de 2011, que transformou Occupy em um fenômeno global.

Nestes quase dois anos, o 15M se deparou com vários desafios que os movimentos de Porto Alegre terão de enfrentar cada vez mais: a necessidade de ampliar seu alcance para parcelas cada vez maiores da população; as tentativas de criminalização pela polícia e a mídia; a relação com os partidos políticos e a política institucional; o problema de como aumentar a capacidade de agir mantendo a democracia interna; a necessidade de desenvolver diversidade e flexibilidade de táticas de ação e comunicação para atacar as questões sociais de diferentes ângulos.

Este encontro é uma oportunidade para aprender mais sobre esta experiência com alguém que a vive por dentro: Sérgio González, cientista político e ecólogo, membro da rede 15M de Barcelona e do projeto, associação de defesa da cultura livre e da democracia em rede. É também uma ocasião para refletir sobre o que estamos fazendo em Porto Alegre, e pensar, a partir daquilo que tem se construído na Espanha, quais podem ser nossos próximos passos.

O debate é coorganizado pelo grupo de pesquisa MaterialismoS e o Assentamento Urbano Utopia e Luta, e dá continuidade a discussões iniciadas no evento O que significa mudar o mundo hoje? de outubro de 2011.

Para saber mais sobre o 15M:

Para saber mais sobre o Assentamento Urbano Utopia e Luta:

David Graeber: Some Remarks on Consensus (Occupy Wall Street)

Posted on Feb. 26, 2013, 3:37 p.m. EST by OccupyWallSt 

the medium is the message

As part of our recent series on Occupy and consensus, we are posting this timely piece by David Graeber, originally published at

There has been a flurry of discussion around process in OWS of late. This can only be a good thing. Atrophy and complacency are the death of movements. Any viable experiment in freedom is pretty much going to have to constantly re-examine itself, see what’s working and what isn’t—partly because situations keep changing, partly because we’re trying to invent a culture of democracy in a society where almost no one really has any experience in democratic decision-making, and most have been told for most of their lives that it would be impossible, and partly just because it’s all an experiment, and it’s in the nature of experiments that sometimes they don’t work.

A lot of this debate has centered around the role of consensus. This is healthy too, because there seem to be a lot of misconceptions floating around about what consensus is and is supposed to be about. Some of these misconceptions are so basic, though, I must admit I find them a bit startling.

Just one telling example. Justine Tunney recently wrote a piece called “Occupiers: Stop Using Consensus!” that begins by describing it as “the idea that a group must strictly adhere to a protocol where all decisions are unanimous”—and then goes on to claim that OWS used such a process, with disastrous results. This is bizarre. OWS never used absolute consensus. On the very first meeting on August 2, 2011 we established we’d use a form of modified consensus with a fallback to a two-thirds vote. Anyway, the description is wrong even if we had been using absolute consensus (an approach nowadays rarely used in groups of over 20 or 30 people), since consensus is not a system of unanimous voting, it’s a system where any participant has the right to veto a proposal which they consider either to violate some fundamental principle, or which they object to so fundamentally that proceeding would cause them to quit the group. If we can have people who have been involved with OWS from the very beginning who still don’t know that much, but think consensus is some kind of “strict” unanimous voting system, we’ve got a major problem. How could anyone have worked with OWS that long and still remained apparently completely unaware of the basic principles under which we were supposed to be operating?

Granted, this seems to be an extreme case. But it reflects a more general confusion. And it exists on both sides of the argument: both some of the consensus’ greatest supporters, and its greatest detractors, seem to think “consensus” is a formal set of rules, analogous to Roberts’ Rules of Order, which must be strictly observed, or thrown away. This certainly was not what people who first developed formal process thought that they were doing! They saw consensus as a set of principles, a commitment to making decisions in a spirit of problem-solving, mutual respect, and above all, a refusal of coercion. It was an attempt to create processes that could work in a truly free society. None of them, even the most legalistic, were so presumptuous to claim those were the only procedures that could ever work in a free society. That would have been ridiculous.

Let me return to this point in a moment. First,


The first thing to be said about this statement is that this idea is a very American thing. Anyone I mention it to who is not from the United States tends to react to the statement with complete confusion. Even in the US, it is a relatively recent idea, and the product of a very particular set of historical circumstances.

The confusion overseas is due to the fact that almost everywhere except the US, the exact opposite is true. In the Americas, Africa, Asia, Oceania, one finds longstanding traditions of making decisions by consensus, and then, histories of white colonialists coming and imposing Roberts Rules of Order, majority voting, elected representatives, and the whole associated package—by force. South Asian panchayat councils did not operate by majority voting and still don’t unless there has been a direct colonial influence, or by political parties that learned their idea of democracy in colonial schools and government bodies the colonialists set up. The same is true of communal assemblies in Africa. (In China, village assemblies also operated by consensus until the ’50s when the Communist Party imposed majority voting, since Mao felt voting was more “Western” and therefore “modern.”) Almost everywhere in the Americas, indigenous communities use consensus and the white or mestizo descendants of colonialists use majority voting (insofar as they made decisions on an equal basis at all, which mostly they didn’t), and when you find an indigenous community using majority voting, it is again under the explicit influence of European ideas—almost always, along with elected officials, and formal rules of procedure obviously learned in colonial schools or borrowed from colonial regimes. Insofar as anyone is teaching anyone else to use consensus, it’s the other way around: as in the case of the Maya-speaking Zapatista communities who insisted the EZLN adopt consensus over the strong initial objections of Spanish-speaking mestizos like Marcos, or for that matter the white Australian activists I know who told me that student groups in the ’80s and ’90s had to turn to veterans of the Maoist New People’s Army to train them in consensus process—not because Maoists were supposed to believe in consensus, since Mao himself didn’t like the idea, but because NPA guerillas were mostly from rural communities in the Philippines that had always used consensus to make decisions and therefore guerilla units had adopted the same techniques spontaneously.

So where does the idea that consensus is a “white thing” actually come from? Indigenous communities in America all used consensus decision-making instead of voting. Africans brought to the Americas had been kidnapped from communities where consensus was the normal mode of making collective decisions, and violently thrust into a society where “democracy” meant voting (even though they themselves were not allowed to vote.) Meanwhile, the only significant group of white settlers who employed consensus were the Quakers—and even they had developed much of their process under the influence of Native Americans like the Haudenosaunee.

As far as I can make out the ideas comes out of political arguments that surrounded the rise of Black Nationalism in the 1960s. The very first mass movement in the United States that operated by consensus was the SNCC, or Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, a primarily African-American group created in 1960 as a horizontal alternative to Martin Luther King’s (very vertical) SCLC. SNCC operated in a decentralized fashion and used consensus decision-making. It was SNCC for instance that organized the famous “freedom rides” and most of the direct action campaigns of the early ’60s. By 1964, an emerging Black Power faction was looking for an issue with which to isolate and ultimately expel the white members of the group. They seized on consensus as a kind of wedge issue—this made sense, politically, because many of those white allies were Quakers, and it was advantageous, at first, to frame the argument as one of efficiency, rather than being about more fundamental moral and political issues like non-violence. It’s important to emphasize though that the objections to consensus as inefficient and culturally alien that were put forward at the time were not put forward in the name of moving to some other form of direct democracy (i.e., majority voting), but ultimately, part of a rejection of the whole package of horizontality, consensus, and non-violence with the ultimate aim of creating top-down organizational structures that could support much greater militancy. It also corresponded to an overt attack on the place of women in the organization—an organization that had in fact been founded by the famous African-American activist Ella Baker on the principle “strong people don’t need strong leaders.” Stokely Carmichael, the most famous early Black Power advocate in SNCC, notoriously responded to a paper circulated by feminists noting that women seemed to be systematically excluded from positions in the emerging leadership structure by saying as far as he was concerned, “the only position for women in SNCC is prone.”

Within a few years SNCC began to splinter; white allies were expelled in 1965; after a brief merger with the Panthers it split again, and dissolved in the ’70s.

These tensions—challenges to horizontalism and consensus, macho leadership styles, the marginalization of women—were by no means peculiar to SNCC. Similar battles were going on in predominantly white groups: notably SDS, which ultimately ditched consensus too, and ended up splitting between Maoists and Weathermen. This is one reason the feminist movement of the early ’70s, which within the New Left began partly as a reaction to just this kind of macho posturing, embraced consensus as an antidote. (Anarchists only later adopted it from them.) But one point bears emphasizing. It’s important. None of those who challenged consensus did so in the name of a different form of direct democracy. In fact, I’m not aware of any example of an activist group that abandoned consensus and then went on to settle on some different, but equally horizontal approach to decision-making. The end result is invariably abandoning direct democracy entirely Sometimes that’s because, as here, that is explicitly what those challenging consensus want. But even when it’s not, the same thing happens, because moving from consensus sets off a dynamic that inevitably leads in a vertical direction. When consensus is abandoned, some are likely to quit in protest. These are likely to be the most dedicated to horizontal principles. Factions form. Minority factions that consistently lose key votes, and don’t have their concerns incorporated in resulting proposals, will often split off. Since they too are likely to consist of more horizontally oriented participants, the group becomes ever more vertical. Before long, those who never liked direct democracy to begin with start saying it’s what’s really to blame for all these problems, it’s inefficient, things would run far more smoothly with clearly defined leadership roles—and it only takes a vote of 51% of the remaining, much more vertical group, to ditch direct democracy entirely.

Obviously, the widespread perception of consensus process as white isn’t just be a hold-over from events that took place forty years ago. A lot of the problem is that, since the ’70s, consensus process has largely been developed among direct-action oriented groups, and, while there are certainly African-American-based groups operating in what might be called the Ella Baker tradition, most of those groups have been largely white. The reasons are pretty obvious. Those lacking white privilege face much higher levels of state repression, and (unlike, in say, Mexico, or India, where those who face the most repression are generally speaking already organized in semi-autonomous communities that operate at least partly by consensus), in the US, this limits the degree to which it’s possible to engage in creating experimental spaces outside the system. Communities face immediate such practical concerns so pressing many feel working outside the system would be irresponsible. Those who don’t often feel they have no choice but to adopt either strict, rigorous, MLK-style non-violence, or adopt revolutionary militarism like the panthers—both of which tend to lead to top down forms of organization. As a result, the culture of consensus, the style in which it’s conducted, the sensibilities surrounding it, inevitably comes to reflect the white middle-class background of so many of those who have created and shaped it, and the result is that those who do not share these sensibilities feel alienated and excluded. Obviously this is something that urgently needs to be addressed. But the problem here is not with the principles underlying consensus (that all voices have equal weight, that no one be compelled to act against their will), but with the way it’s being done—and the fact that the way it’s being done have the effect of undermining those very principles.


I think the real problem here is a misunderstanding about what we’re basically arguing about. A lot of people on both sides of the debate seem to think “consensus” is a set of rules. If you follow the rules, you’re doing consensus. If you break the rules, or even do them in the wrong order it’s somehow not. I’ve seen people show up to meetings armed with elaborate diagrams or flow-charts for some kind of formal process downloaded from some web page and insist that only this is the really real thing. So it’s hardly surprising that other people put off by all this, or who see that particular form of process hit some kind of loggerhead, say “well consensus doesn’t work. Let’s try something else.”

As far as I’m concerned both sides completely miss the point.

I’ll say it again. Consensus is not a set of rules. It’s a set of principles. Actually I’d even go so far to say that if you really boil it down, it ultimately comes down to just two principles: everyone should have equal say (call this “equality”), and nobody should be compelled to do anything they really don’t want to do (call this, “freedom.”)

Basically, that’s it. The rules are just a way to try to come to decisions in the spirit of those principles. “Formal consensus process,” in is various manifestations, is just one technique people have made up, over the years, to try to come to group decisions that solve practical problems in a way that ensures no one’s perspective is ignored, and no one is forced to do anything or comply with rules they find truly obnoxious. That’s it. It’s a way to find consensus. It’s not itself “consensus.” Formal process as it exists today has been proved to work pretty well for some kinds of people, under some circumstances. It is obviously completely inappropriate in others. To take an obvious example: most small groups of friends don’t need formal process at all. Other groups might, over time, develop a completely different approach that suits their own dynamics, relations, situation, culture, sensibilities. And there’s absolutely no reason any group can’t improvise an entirely new one if that’s what they want to do. As long as they are trying to create a process that embodies those basic principles, one that gives everyone equal say and doesn’t force anyone to go along with a decision they find fundamentally objectionable, then what they come up with is a form of consensus process—no matter how it operates. After all, it a group of people all decide they want to be bound by a majority decision, well, who exactly is going to stop them? But if they all decide to be bound by a majority decision, then they have reached a consensus (in fact, an absolute consensus) that they want to operate that way. The same would be true if they all decided they wanted to be bound by the decisions of a Ouija Board, or appointed one member of the group Il Duce. Who’s going to stop them? However, for the exact same reason, the moment the majority (or Ouija board, or Il Duce) comes up with a decision to do something that some people think is absolutely outrageous and refuse to do, how exactly is anyone going to force them to go along? Threaten to shoot them? Basically, it could only happen if the majority is somehow in control of some key resource—money, space, connections, a name—and others aren’t. That is, if there is some means of coercion, subtle or otherwise. In the absence of a way to compel people to do things they do not wish to do, you’re ultimately stuck with some kind of consensus whether you like it or not.

The question then is what kind of decision making process is most likely to lead to decisions that no one will object to so fundamentally that they will march off in frustration or simply refuse to cooperate? Sometimes that will be some sort of formal consensus process. In other circumstances that’s the last thing one should try. Still, there’s a reason that 51/49% majority voting is so rarely employed in such circumstances: usually, it is the method least likely to come up with such decisions.

Think of it this way.

Imagine the city is about to destroy some cherished landmark and someone puts up posters calling for people to meet in a nearby square to organize against it. Fifty people show up. Someone says, okay, “I propose we all lay down in front of the bulldozers. Let’s hold a vote.” So 30 people raised their hands yes, and 20 people raise their hands no. Well, what possible reason is there that the 20 people who said no would somehow feel obliged to now go and lay in front of the bulldozers? These were just 50 strangers gathered in a square. Why should the opinions of a majority of a group of strangers oblige the minority to do anything—let alone something which will expose them to personal danger?

The example might seem absurd—who would hold such a vote?—but I experienced something almost exactly like it a few years ago, at an “all-anarchist” meeting called in London before a mass mobilization against the G8. About 200 people showed up at the RampArts Social Center. The facilitator, a syndicalist who disliked consensus, explained that another group had proposed a march, followed by some kind of direct action, and immediately proceeded to hold a vote on whether we, as a group, wanted to join as. Oddly, it did not seem to occur to him that, since we were not in fact a group, but just a bunch of people who had showed up at a meeting, there was no reason to think that those who did not want to join such an action would be swayed by the result. In fact he wasn’t taking a vote at all. He was taking a poll: “how many people are thinking of joining the march?” Now, there’s nothing wrong with polls; arguably, the most helpful thing he could have done under the circumstance was to ask for a show of hands so everyone could see what other people were thinking. The results might even have changed some people’s minds—”well, it looks like a lot of people are going to that march, maybe I will too” (though in this case, in fact, it didn’t.) But the facilitator thought he was actually conducting a vote on what to do, as if they were somehow bound by the decision.

How could he have been so oblivious? Well, he was a syndicalist; unions use majority vote; that’s why he preferred it. But of course, unions are membership-based groups. If you join a union, you are, by the very act of doing so, agreeing to abide by its rules, which includes, accepting majority vote decisions. Those who do not follow the group’s rules can be sanctioned, or even expelled. It simply didn’t occur to him that most unions’ voting system depended on the prior existence of membership rolls, dues, charters, and usually, legal standing—which in effect meant that either everyone who had voluntarily joined the unions was in effect consenting to the rules, or else, if membership was obligatory in a certain shop or industry owing to some prior government-enforced agreement, was ultimately enforced by the power of the state. To act the same way when people had not consented to be bound by such a decision, and then expect them to follow the dictates of the majority anyway, is just going to annoy people and make them less, not more, likely to do so.

So let’s go back to Justine’s first example,

the first time I saw a block used at Occupy was at one of the first general assemblies in August 2011. There were about a hundred people that day and in the middle of the meeting a proposal was made to join Verizon workers on the picket line as a gesture of solidarity in the hope that they might also support us in return. People loved the idea and there was quite a bit of positive energy until one woman in the crowd, busy tweeting on her phone, casually raised her hand and said, “I block that”. The moderator, quite flabbergasted asked why she blocked and she explained that showing solidarity with workers would alienate the phantasm of our right-wing supporters. Discussion then abruptly ended and the meeting went on. The truth was irrelevant, popular opinion didn’t matter, and solidarity—the most important of all leftist values—was thrown to the wind based on the whims of just one individual. Occupy had to find a new way to do outreach.

Now, I was at this meeting, and I remember the event quite vividly because at the time I was one of the participants who was more than a little bit annoyed by the block. But I also know that this is simply not what happened.

First of all, as I remarked, OWS from the beginning did not have a system where just one person could block a proposal; in the event of a block, we had the option to fall back on a 2/3 majority vote. So if everyone had really loved the proposal, the block could have been simply brushed aside. While many felt the woman in question was being ridiculous (most of us suspected the “national movement” she claimed to represent didn’t really exist), the facilitator, when she asked if anyone felt the same way, was surprised to discover a significant contingent–some, but not all, insurrectionist anarchists–did in fact object to holding the next meeting at a picket line, since they didn’t want to immediately identify the movement with the institutional left. Once it became clear it was not just one crazy person, but a significant chunk of the meeting—probably not quite a third, but close (there weren’t really a hundred people there, incidentally; more like sixty)—she asked if anyone felt strongly that we should move to a vote, and no one insisted. Was this a terrible failure of process? I must admit at the time I found it exasperating. But in retrospect I realize that had we forced a vote, the results might well have been catastrophic. Because at that point we, too were just a bunch of people who’d all showed up in a park. We weren’t a “group” at all. Nobody had committed to anything; certainly, no one had committed to going along with a majority decision.

A block is not a “no” vote. It’s a veto. Or maybe a better way to put it is that giving everyone the power to block is like giving the power to take on the role of the Supreme Court, and stop a piece of legislation that they feel to be unconstitutional, to anyone who has the courage to stand up in front of the entire group and use it. When you block you are saying a proposal violates one of the group’s agreed-on common principles. Of course, in this case we didn’t have any agreed-on common principles. In cases like that, the usual rule of thumb is that you should only block if you feel so strongly about an issue that you’d actually leave the group. In this sense I suspect the initial blocker was indeed being irresponsible (she wouldn’t have really left; and many wouldn’t have mourned her if she had.) However, others felt strongly. Had we held a vote and decided to hold our next meeting at a picket line over their objections, many of them would likely not have shown up. The anti-authoritarian contingent would have been weakened. Had that happened, there was a real chance later decisions, much more important ones, might have gone the other way. I am thinking here in particular of the crucial decision, made some weeks later, not to appoint official marshals and police liaisons for September 17. Judging by the experience of other camps, had that happened, everything might have gone differently and the entire occupation failed. In retrospect, the loss of one early opportunity to create ties with striking unionists now seems a small price to pay for heading off on a road that might have led to that. Especially since we had no trouble establishing strong ties with unions later—precisely because we had succeeded in creating a real occupation in the park.

There are a lot of other issues that one could discuss. Above all, we desperately need to have a conversation about decentralization. Another point of confusion about consensus is the idea that it’s crucial to get approval from everyone about everything, which is again stifling and absurd. Consensus only works if working groups or collectives don’t feel they need to seek constant approval from the larger group, if initiative arises from below, and people only check upwards if there’s a genuinely compelling reason not to go ahead with some initiative without clearing it with everyone else. In a weird way, the very unwieldiness of consensus meetings is helpful here, since it can discourage people from taking trivial issues to a larger group, and thus potentially waste hours of everyone’s time.

But all this will no doubt will be hashed out in the discussions that are going on (another good rule of thumb for consensus meetings: you don’t need to say everything you can think to say if you’re pretty sure someone else will make a lot of the same points anyway). Mainly what I want to say is this:

Our power is in our principles. The power of Occupy has always been that it is an experiment in human freedom. That’s what inspired so many to join us. That’s what terrified the banks and politicians, who scrambled to do everything in their power—infiltration, disruption, propaganda, terror, violence—to be able to tell the word we’d failed, that they had proved a genuinely free society is impossible, that it would necessarily collapse into chaos, squalor, antagonism, violence, and dysfunction. We cannot allow them such a victory. The only way to fight back is to renew our absolute commitment to those principles. We will never compromise on equality and freedom. We will always base our relations to each other on those principles. We will not fall back on top-down structures and forms of decision making premised on the power of coercion. But as long as we do that, and if we really believe in those principles, that necessarily means being as open and flexible as we can about pretty much everything else.

A tinta vermelha: discurso de Slavoj Žižek aos manifestantes do movimento Occupy Wall Street (Boitempo)

Oct 9, 2011

Não se apaixonem por si mesmos, nem pelo momento agradável que estamos tendo aqui. Carnavais custam muito pouco – o verdadeiro teste de seu valor é o que permanece no dia seguinte, ou a maneira como nossa vida normal e cotidiana será modificada. Apaixone-se pelo trabalho duro e paciente – somos o início, não o fim. Nossa mensagem básica é: o tabu já foi rompido, não vivemos no melhor mundo possível, temos a permissão e a obrigação de pensar em alternativas. Há um longo caminho pela frente, e em pouco tempo teremos de enfrentar questões realmente difíceis – questões não sobre aquilo que não queremos, mas sobre aquilo que QUEREMOS. Qual organização social pode substituir o capitalismo vigente? De quais tipos de líderes nós precisamos? As alternativas do século XX obviamente não servem.

Então não culpe o povo e suas atitudes: o problema não é a corrupção ou a ganância, mas o sistema que nos incita a sermos corruptos. A solução não é o lema “Main Street, not Wall Street”, mas sim mudar o sistema em que a Main Street não funciona sem o Wall Street. Tenham cuidado não só com os inimigos, mas também com falsos amigos que fingem nos apoiar e já fazem de tudo para diluir nosso protesto. Da mesma maneira que compramos café sem cafeína, cerveja sem álcool e sorvete sem gordura, eles tentarão transformar isto aqui em um protesto moral inofensivo. Mas a razão de estarmos reunidos é o fato de já termos tido o bastante de um mundo onde reciclar latas de Coca-Cola, dar alguns dólares para a caridade ou comprar um cappuccino da Starbucks que tem 1% da renda revertida para problemas do Terceiro Mundo é o suficiente para nos fazer sentir bem. Depois de terceirizar o trabalho, depois de terceirizar a tortura, depois que as agências matrimoniais começaram a terceirizar até nossos encontros, é que percebemos que, há muito tempo, também permitimos que nossos engajamentos políticos sejam terceirizados – mas agora nós os queremos de volta.

Dirão que somos “não americanos”. Mas quando fundamentalistas conservadores nos disserem que os Estados Unidos são uma nação cristã, lembrem-se do que é o Cristianismo: o Espírito Santo, a comunidade livre e igualitária de fiéis unidos pelo amor. Nós, aqui, somos o Espírito Santo, enquanto em Wall Street eles são pagãos que adoram falsos ídolos.

Dirão que somos violentos, que nossa linguagem é violenta, referindo-se à ocupação e assim por diante. Sim, somos violentos, mas somente no mesmo sentido em que Mahatma Gandhi foi violento. Somos violentos porque queremos dar um basta no modo como as coisas andam – mas o que significa essa violência puramente simbólica quando comparada à violência necessária para sustentar o funcionamento constante do sistema capitalista global?

Seremos chamados de perdedores – mas os verdadeiros perdedores não estariam lá em Wall Street, os que se safaram com a ajuda de centenas de bilhões do nosso dinheiro? Vocês são chamados de socialistas, mas nos Estados Unidos já existe o socialismo para os ricos. Eles dirão que vocês não respeitam a propriedade privada, mas as especulações de Wall Street que levaram à queda de 2008 foram mais responsáveis pela extinção de propriedades privadas obtidas a duras penas do que se estivéssemos destruindo-as agora, dia e noite – pense nas centenas de casas hipotecadas…

Nós não somos comunistas, se o comunismo significa o sistema que merecidamente entrou em colapso em 1990 – e lembrem-se de que os comunistas que ainda detêm o poder atualmente governam o mais implacável dos capitalismos (na China). O sucesso do capitalismo chinês liderado pelo comunismo é um sinal abominável de que o casamento entre o capitalismo e a democracia está próximo do divórcio. Nós somos comunistas em um sentido apenas: nós nos importamos com os bens comuns – os da natureza, do conhecimento – que estão ameaçados pelo sistema.

Eles dirão que vocês estão sonhando, mas os verdadeiros sonhadores são os que pensam que as coisas podem continuar sendo o que são por um tempo indefinido, assim como ocorre com as mudanças cosméticas. Nós não estamos sonhando; nós acordamos de um sonho que está se transformando em pesadelo. Não estamos destruindo nada; somos apenas testemunhas de como o sistema está gradualmente destruindo a si próprio. Todos nós conhecemos a cena clássica dos desenhos animados: o gato chega à beira do precipício e continua caminhando, ignorando o fato de que não há chão sob suas patas; ele só começa a cair quando olha para baixo e vê o abismo. O que estamos fazendo é simplesmente levar os que estão no poder a olhar para baixo…

Então, a mudança é realmente possível? Hoje, o possível e o impossível são dispostos de maneira estranha. Nos domínios da liberdade pessoal e da tecnologia científica, o impossível está se tornando cada vez mais possível (ou pelo menos é o que nos dizem): “nada é impossível”, podemos ter sexo em suas mais perversas variações; arquivos inteiros de músicas, filmes e seriados de TV estão disponíveis para download; a viagem espacial está à venda para quem tiver dinheiro; podemos melhorar nossas habilidades físicas e psíquicas por meio de intervenções no genoma, e até mesmo realizar o sonho tecnognóstico de atingir a imortalidade transformando nossa identidade em um programa de computador. Por outro lado, no domínio das relações econômicas e sociais, somos bombardeados o tempo todo por um discurso do “você não pode” se envolver em atos políticos coletivos (que necessariamente terminam no terror totalitário), ou aderir ao antigo Estado de bem-estar social (ele nos transforma em não competitivos e leva à crise econômica), ou se isolar do mercado global etc. Quando medidas de austeridade são impostas, dizem-nos repetidas vezes que se trata apenas do que tem de ser feito. Quem sabe não chegou a hora de inverter as coordenadas do que é possível e impossível? Quem sabe não podemos ter mais solidariedade e assistência médica, já que não somos imortais?

Em meados de abril de 2011, a mídia revelou que o governo chinês havia proibido a exibição, em cinemas e na TV, de filmes que falassem de viagens no tempo e histórias paralelas, argumentando que elas trazem frivolidade para questões históricas sérias – até mesmo a fuga fictícia para uma realidade alternativa é considerada perigosa demais. Nós, do mundo Ocidental liberal, não precisamos de uma proibição tão explícita: a ideologia exerce poder material suficiente para evitar que narrativas históricas alternativas sejam interpretadas com o mínimo de seriedade. Para nós é fácil imaginar o fim do mundo – vide os inúmeros filmes apocalípticos –, mas não o fim do capitalismo.

Em uma velha piada da antiga República Democrática Alemã, um trabalhador alemão consegue um emprego na Sibéria; sabendo que todas as suas correspondências serão lidas pelos censores, ele diz para os amigos: “Vamos combinar um código: se vocês receberem uma carta minha escrita com tinta azul, ela é verdadeira; se a tinta for vermelha, é falsa”. Depois de um mês, os amigos receberam a primeira carta, escrita em azul: “Tudo é uma maravilha por aqui: os estoques estão cheios, a comida é abundante, os apartamentos são amplos e aquecidos, os cinemas exibem filmes ocidentais, há mulheres lindas prontas para um romance – a única coisa que não temos é tinta vermelha.” E essa situação, não é a mesma que vivemos até hoje? Temos toda a liberdade que desejamos – a única coisa que falta é a “tinta vermelha”: nós nos “sentimos livres” porque somos desprovidos da linguagem para articular nossa falta de liberdade. O que a falta de tinta vermelha significa é que, hoje, todos os principais termos que usamos para designar o conflito atual – “guerra ao terror”, “democracia e liberdade”, “direitos humanos” etc. etc. – são termos FALSOS que mistificam nossa percepção da situação em vez de permitir que pensemos nela. Você, que está aqui presente, está dando a todos nós tinta vermelha.

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Slavoj Žižek speaks at Occupy Wall Street: Transcript (Impose)

BY SARAHANA » Don’t fall in love with yourselves

Posted on October 10, 2011

slavoj zizek speaking at occupy wall street

Yesterday at noon, this blog’s trusty mentor, the Slovenian philosopher-scholar Slavoj Žižek, spoke at Zuccotti Park, where Occupy Wall Street protests are being held. Here is a full transcript of his speech. Update: Transcript of the Q&A portion of the talk has been posted as well.

Made some corrections, Oct 25, 6:30PM EST


They are saying we are all losers, but the true losers are down there on Wall Street. They were bailed out by billions of our money. We are called socialists, but here there is always socialism for the rich. They say we don’t respect private property, but in the 2008 financial crash-down more hard-earned private property was destroyed than if all of us here were to be destroying it night and day for weeks. They tell you we are dreamers. The true dreamers are those who think things can go on indefinitely the way they are. We are not dreamers. We are the awakening from a dream that is turning into a nightmare.

We are not destroying anything. We are only witnessing how the system is destroying itself. We all know the classic scene from cartoons. The cat reaches a precipice but it goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is nothing beneath this ground. Only when it looks down and notices it, it falls down. This is what we are doing here. We are telling the guys there on Wall Street, “Hey, look down!”

In mid-April 2011, the Chinese government prohibited on TV, films, and novels all stories that contain alternate reality or time travel. This is a good sign for China. These people still dream about alternatives, so you have to prohibit this dreaming. Here, we don’t need a prohibition because the ruling system has even oppressed our capacity to dream. Look at the movies that we see all the time. It’s easy to imagine the end of the world. An asteroid destroying all life and so on. But you cannot imagine the end of capitalism.

So what are we doing here? Let me tell you a wonderful, old joke from Communist times. A guy was sent from East Germany to work in Siberia. He knew his mail would be read by censors, so he told his friends: “Let’s establish a code. If a letter you get from me is written in blue ink, it is true what I say. If it is written in red ink, it is false.” After a month, his friends get the first letter. Everything is in blue. It says, this letter: “Everything is wonderful here. Stores are full of good food. Movie theatres show good films from the west. Apartments are large and luxurious. The only thing you cannot buy is red ink.” This is how we live. We have all the freedoms we want. But what we are missing is red ink: the language to articulate our non-freedom. The way we are taught to speak about freedom— war on terror and so on—falsifies freedom. And this is what you are doing here. You are giving all of us red ink.

There is a danger. Don’t fall in love with yourselves. We have a nice time here. But remember, carnivals come cheap. What matters is the day after, when we will have to return to normal lives. Will there be any changes then? I don’t want you to remember these days, you know, like “Oh. we were young and it was beautiful.” Remember that our basic message is “We are allowed to think about alternatives.” If the taboo is broken, we do not live in the best possible world. But there is a long road ahead. There are truly difficult questions that confront us. We know what we do not want. But what do we want? What social organization can replace capitalism? What type of new leaders do we want?

Remember. The problem is not corruption or greed. The problem is the system. It forces you to be corrupt. Beware not only of the enemies, but also of false friends who are already working to dilute this process. In the same way you get coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, ice cream without fat, they will try to make this into a harmless, moral protest. A decaffienated protest. But the reason we are here is that we have had enough of a world where, to recycle Coke cans, to give a couple of dollars for charity, or to buy a Starbucks cappuccino where 1% goes to third world starving children is enough to make us feel good. After outsourcing work and torture, after marriage agencies are now outsourcing our love life, we can see that for a long time, we allow our political engagement also to be outsourced. We want it back.

We are not Communists if Communism means a system which collapsed in 1990. Remember that today those Communists are the most efficient, ruthless Capitalists. In China today, we have Capitalism which is even more dynamic than your American Capitalism, but doesn’t need democracy. Which means when you criticize Capitalism, don’t allow yourself to be blackmailed that you are against democracy. The marriage between democracy and Capitalism is over. The change is possible.

What do we perceive today as possible? Just follow the media. On the one hand, in technology and sexuality, everything seems to be possible. You can travel to the moon, you can become immortal by biogenetics, you can have sex with animals or whatever, but look at the field of society and economy. There, almost everything is considered impossible. You want to raise taxes by little bit for the rich. They tell you it’s impossible. We lose competitivity. You want more money for health care, they tell you, “Impossible, this means totalitarian state.” There’s something wrong in the world, where you are promised to be immortal but cannot spend a little bit more for healthcare. Maybe we need to set our priorities straight here. We don’t want higher standard of living. We want a better standard of living. The only sense in which we are Communists is that we care for the commons. The commons of nature. The commons of privatized by intellectual property. The commons of biogenetics. For this, and only for this, we should fight.

Communism failed absolutely, but the problems of the commons are here. They are telling you we are not American here. But the conservatives fundamentalists who claim they really are American have to be reminded of something: What is Christianity? It’s the holy spirit. What is the holy spirit? It’s an egalitarian community of believers who are linked by love for each other, and who only have their own freedom and responsibility to do it. In this sense, the holy spirit is here now. And down there on Wall Street, there are pagans who are worshipping blasphemous idols. So all we need is patience. The only thing I’m afraid of is that we will someday just go home and then we will meet once a year, drinking beer, and nostaligically remembering “What a nice time we had here.” Promise yourselves that this will not be the case. We know that people often desire something but do not really want it. Don’t be afraid to really want what you desire. Thank you very much.


Here’s Astra Taylor, who made the documentaries Zizek! and An Examined Life. (She also happens to be married to Jeff Mangum, who performed earlier in the week for the protestors.)

Free training included how to undo a handcuff:

– See more at:

Criminalizing Dissent and Punishing Occupy Protesters: Introduction to Henry Giroux’s “Youth in Revolt” (Truth Out)

Thursday, 31 January 2013 06:22By Henry A GirouxTruthout | Book Excerpt

Military-style command and control systems are now be­ing established to support “zero tolerance” policing and urban surveillance practices designed to exclude failed consumers or undesirable persons from the new enclaves of urban consumption and leisure.

—Stephen Graham

Youth in Revolt.(Image: Paradigm Publishers)

Young people are demonstrating all over the world against a variety of issues ranging from economic injustice and massive inequality to drastic cuts in education and public services.1 In the fall of 2011, on the tenth anniversary of September 11, as the United States revisited the tragic loss and celebrated the courage displayed on that torturous day, another kind of commemoration took place. The Occupy movement shone out like flame in the darkness—a beacon of the irrepressible spirit of democracy and a humane desire for justice. Unfortunately, the peacefully organized protests across America have often been met with derogatory commentaries in the mainstream media and, increasingly, state-sanctioned violence. The war against society has become a war against youthful protesters and in­creasingly bears a striking resemblance to the violence waged against Occupy movement protesters and the violence associ­ated with the contemporary war zone.2 Missing from both the dominant media and state and national politics is an attempt to critically engage the issues the protesters are raising, not to mention any attempt to dialogue with them over their strate­gies, tactics, and political concerns. That many young people have become “a new class of stateless individuals … cast into a threatening and faceless mass whose identities collapse into the language of debt, survival, and disposability” appears to have escaped the attention of the mainstream media.3 Matters of justice, human dignity, and social responsibility have given way to a double gesture that seeks to undercut democratic public spheres through the criminalization of dissent while also resorting to crude and violent forms of punishment as the only mediating tools to use with young people who are at­tempting to open a new conversation about politics, inequality, and social justice.

In the United States, the state monopoly on the use of violence has intensified since the 1980s and in the process has been di­rected disproportionately against young people, poor minorities, immigrants, women, and the elderly. Guided by the notion that unregulated, market-driven values and relations should shape every domain of human life, a business model of governance has eviscerated any viable notion of social responsibility and conscience, thereby furthering the dismissal of social problems and expanding cutbacks in basic social services.4 The examples are endless, but one in particular stands out. In March 2012, Texas governor Rick Perry7joined eight other states in passing legislation to ban funding for clinics, including Planned Parent­hood facilities, affiliated with abortion services for women.5 As a result, the federal government has stopped funding the Texas Women’s Health Program. Unfortunately, this attempt by Perry to punish all women because of his antiabortion stance means that more than 130,000 women in Texas will not have access to vital services ranging from mammograms to health care for their children. There is more at work here than a resurgent war on women and their children or “an insane bout of mass misogyny.”8 There is also a deep-seated religious and political authoritarianism that has become one of the fundamental pil­lars of what I call a neoliberal culture of cruelty. As the welfare state is hollowed out. a culture of compassion is replaced by a culture of violence, cruelty, waste, and disposability.7Banks, hedge funds, and finance capital as the contemporary registers of class power have a new visibility, and their spokespersons are unabashedly blunt in supporting a corporate culture in which “ruthlessness is prized and money is the ultimate measure.”Collective insurance policies and social protections have given way to the forces of economic deregulation, the transformation of the welfare state into punitive workfare programs, the privatiza­tion of public goods, and an appeal to individual culpability as a substitute for civic responsibility. At the same time, violence—or what Anne-Marie Cusac calls “American punishment”—travels from our prisons and schools to various aspects of our daily lives, “becoming omnipresent … [from] the shows we watch on television, [to] the way many of us treat children [to] some influential religious practices.”9

David Harvey has argued that neoliberalism is “a political proj­ect to re-establish the conditions for capital accumulation and to restore the power of economic elites” through the implementation of “an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade.”10 Neoliberalism is also a pedagogical project designed to create particular subjects, desires, and values defined largely by market considerations. National destiny becomes linked to a market-driven logic in which freedom is stripped down to freedom from government regulation, freedom to consume, and freedom to say anything one wants, regardless of how racist or toxic the consequences might be. This neoliberal notion of freedom is abstracted from any sense of civic responsibility or social cost. In fact, “neoliberalism is grounded in the idea of the ‘free, possessive individual,'” with the state cast “as tyrannical and oppressive.”11 The welfare state, in particular, becomes the archenemy of freedom. As Stuart Hall points out, according to apostles of free-market fundamentalism, ‘The state must never govern society, dictate to free individuals how to dispose of their private property, regulate a free-market economy or interfere with the God-given right to make profits and amass personal wealth.”12

Paradoxically, neoliberalism severely proscribes any vestige of social and civic agency through the figure of the isolated automaton for whom choice is reduced to the practice of end­less shopping, fleeing from any sense of civic obligation, and safeguarding a radically individualized existence. Neoliberal governance translates into a state that attempts to substitute individual security for social welfare but in doing so offers only the protection of gated communities for the privileged and incarceration for those considered flawed consumers or threats to the mythic ideal of a white Christian nation. Neoliberalism refuses to recognize how private troubles are connected to broader systemic issues, legitimating instead an ode to self-reliance in which the experience of personal misfortune becomes merely the just desserts delivered by the righteous hand of the free market—not a pernicious outcome of the social order being hijacked by an antisocial ruling elite and forced to serve a narrow set of interests. Critical thought and human agency are rendered impotent as neoliberal rationality “substitutes emotional and personal vocabularies for political ones in formulating solutions to political problems.”13 Within such a depoliticized discourse, youths are told that there is no dream of the collective, no viable social bonds, only the ac­tions of autonomous individuals who must rely on their own resources and who bear sole responsibility for the effects of larger systemic political and economic problems.

Under the regime of neoliberalism, no claims are recognized that call for compassion, justice, and social responsibility. No claims are recognized that demand youths have a future better than the present, and no claims are recognized in which young people assert the need to narrate themselves as part of a broader struggle for global justice and radical democracy. Parading as a species of democracy, neoliberal economics and ideology cancel out democracy “as the incommensurable sharing of existence that makes the political possible.”14 Symptoms of ethical, politi­cal, and economic impoverishment are all around us. And, as if that were not enough, at the current moment in history we are witnessing the merging of violence and governance along with a systemic disinvestment in and breakdown of institutions and public spheres that have provided the minimal conditions for democracy and the principles of communal responsibil­ity. Young people are particularly vulnerable. As Jean-Marie Durand points out, “Youth is no longer considered the world’s future, but as a threat to its present. [For] youth, there is no longer any political discourse except for a disciplinary one.”13

As young people make diverse claims on the promise of a radical democracy in the streets, on campuses, and at other occupied sites, articulating what a fair and just world might be, they are treated as criminal populations—rogue groups incapable of toeing the line, “prone to irrational, intemperate and unpredictable” behavior.16Moreover, they are increasingly subjected to orchestrated modes of control and containment, if not police violence. Such youths are now viewed as the enemy by the political and corporate establishment because they make visible the repressed images of the common good and the impor­tance of democratic public spheres, public services, the social state, and a society shaped by democratic values rather than market values. Youthful protesters and others are reclaiming the repressed memories of the Good Society and a social state that once, as Zygmunt Bauman has pointed out, “endorsed collective insurance against individual misfortune and its consequences.”17 Bauman explains that such a state “lifts members of society to the status of citizens—that is, makes them stake-holders in addition to being stock-holders, beneficiaries but also actors responsible for the benefits’ creation and availability, individuals with acute interest in the common good understood as the shared institutions that can be trusted to assure solidity and reliability of the state-issued ‘collective insurance policy.'”18 In an attempt to excavate the repressed memories of the welfare state, David Theo Goldberg spells out in detail the specific mechanisms and policies it produced in the name of the general welfare between the 1930s and 1970s in the United States. He writes,

From the 1930s through the 1970s, the liberal democratic state had offered a more or less robust set of institutional appara­tuses concerned in principle at least to advance the welfare of its citizens. This was the period of advancing social security, welfare safety nets, various forms of national health system, the expansion of and investment in public education, including higher education, in some states to the exclusion of private and religiously sponsored educational institutions. It saw the emer­gence of state bureaucracies as major employers especially in later years of historically excluded groups. And all this, in turn, offered optimism among a growing proportion of the populace for access to middle-class amenities, including those previously racially excluded within the state and new immigrants from the global south.19

Young people today are protesting against a strengthening global capitalist project that erases the benefits of the welfare state and the possibility of a radical notion of democracy. They are protesting against a neoliberal project of accumulation, dispossession, deregulation, privatization, and commodification that leaves them out of any viable notion of the future. They are rejecting and resisting a form of casino capitalism that has ushered in a permanent revolution marked by a massive project of depoliticization, on the one hand, and an aggressive, if not savage, practice of distributing upward wealth, income, and op­portunity for the 1 percent on the other. Under neoliberalism, every moment, space, practice, and social relation offers the possibility of financial investment, or what Ernst Bloch once called the “swindle of fulfillment.”20 Goods, services, and targeted human beings are ingested into its waste machine and dismissed and disposed of as excess. Flawed consumers are now assigned the status of damaged and defective human beings. Resistance to such oppressive policies and practices does not come easily, and many young people are paying a price for such resistance. According to, “there have been at least 6705 arrests in over 112 different cities as of March 6, 2012.”21

Occupy movement protests and state-sponsored violence “have become a mirror”—and I would add a defining feature—”of the contemporary state.”22 Abandoned by the existing political system, young people in Oakland, California, New York City, and numerous other cities have placed their bodies on the line, protesting peacefully while trying to produce a new language, politics, and “community that manifests the values of equality and mutual respect that they see missing in a world that is structured by neoliberal principles.”23 Well aware that the spaces, sites, and spheres for the representation of their voices, desires, and concerns have collapsed, they have occupied a number of spaces ranging from public parks to college campuses in an effort to create a public forum where they can narrate themselves and their visions of the future while representing the misfortunes, suffering, and hopes of the unemployed, poor, incarcerated, and marginalized. This movement is not simply about reclaiming space but also about producing new ideas, generating a new conversation, and introducing a new political language.

Rejecting the notion that democracy and markets are the same, young people are calling for the termination of corporate control over the commanding institutions of politics, culture, and economics, an end to the suppression of dissent, and a shutting down of the permanent warfare state. Richard Lichtman is right to insist that the Occupy movement should be praised for its embrace of communal democracy as well as an emerging set of shared concerns, principles, and values articulated “by a demand for equality, or, at the very least, for a significant lessening of the horrid extent of inequality; for a working democracy; for the elimination of the moneyed foun­dation of politics; for the abolition of political domination by a dehumanized plutocracy; for the replacement of ubiquitous commodification by the reciprocal recognition of humanity in the actions of its agents.”24 As Arundhati Roy points out, what connects the protests in the United States to resistance move­ments all over the globe is that young people “know that their being excluded from the obscene amassing of wealth of U.S. corporations is part of the same system of the exclusion and war that is being waged by these corporations in places like India, Africa, and the Middle East.”25 Of course, Lichtman, Roy, and others believe that this is just the beginning of a movement and that much needs to be done, as Staughton Lynd argues, to build new strategies, a vast network of new institutions and public spheres, a community of trust, and political organiza­tion that invites poor people into its ranks.26 Stanley Aronowitz goes further and insists that the Occupy movement needs to bring together the fight for economic equality and security with the task of reshaping American institutions along genuinely democratic lines.27

All of these issues are important, but what must be addressed in the most immediate sense is the danger the emerging police state in the United States poses not just to the young protesters occupying a number of American cities but to democracy itself. This threat is particularly evident in the results of a merging of neoliberal modes of discipline and education with a warlike mentality in which it becomes nearly impossible to reclaim the language of obligation, compassion, community, social re­sponsibility, and civic engagement. And unless the actions of young protesters, however diverse they may be, are understood alongside a robust notion of the social, civic courage, com­munal bonds, and the imperatives of a vital democracy, it will be difficult for the American public to challenge state violence and the framing of protest, dissent, and civic engagement as un-American or, worse, as a species of criminal behavior.

Although considerable coverage has been given in the pro­gressive media to the violence being waged against the Occupy protesters, these analyses rarely go far enough. I want to build on these critiques by arguing that it is important to situate the growing police violence within a broader set of categories that both enables a critical understanding of the underlying social, economic, and political forces at work in such assaults and al­lows us to reflect critically on the distinctiveness of the current historical period in which they are taking place. For example, it is difficult to address such state-sponsored violence against young people and the Occupy movement without analyzing the devolution of the social state and the corresponding rise of the warfare and punishing state.’2b The notion of historical conjunc­ture is important here because it both provides an opening into the diverse forces shaping a particular moment and allows for a productive balance of theory and strategy to inform future interventions. That is. it helps us to address theoretically how youth protests are largely related to and might resist a histori­cally specific neoliberal project that promotes vast inequalities in income and wealth, creates the student-loan debt bomb, eliminates much-needed social programs, privileges profits and commodities over people, and eviscerates the social wage.

Within the United States, the often violent response to non­violent forms of youth protest must also be analyzed within the framework of a mammoth military-industrial state and its commitment to war and the militarization of the entire society. The merging of the military-industrial complex and unchecked finance capital points to the need for strategies that address what is specific about the current warfare state and the neo­liberal project that legitimates it. That is, what are the diverse practices, interests, modes of power, social relations, public pedagogies, and economic configurations that shape the poli­tics of the punishing state? Focusing on the specifics of the current historical conjuncture is invaluable politically in that such an approach makes visible the ideologies, policies, and modes of governance produced by the neoliberal warfare state. When neoliberal mechanisms of power and ideology are made visible, it becomes easier for the American public to challenge the common assumptions that legitimate these apparatuses of power. This type of interrogative strategy also reclaims the necessity of critical thought, civic engagement, and democratic politics by invoking the pedagogical imperative that humans not only make history but can alter its course and future direction.

For many young people today, human agency is denned as a mode of self-reflection and critical social engagement rather than a surrender to a paralyzing and unchallengeable fate. Likewise, democratic expression has become fundamental to their existence. Many young people are embracing democracy not merely as a mode of governance, but more importantly, as Bill Moyers points out, as a means of dignifying people “so they become fully free to claim their moral and political agency.”29 Human agency has become a vital force to struggle over as part of an ongoing project in which the future remains an open horizon that cannot be dismissed through appeals to the end of history or end of ideology.30 But to understand how politics refuses any guarantees and resistance becomes possible, we must first understand the present. Following Stuart Hall. I want to argue that the current historical moment, or what he calls the “long march of the Neoliberal Revolution,”31 has to be understood not only through the emergent power of finance capital and its institutions but also in terms of the growing forms of authoritarian violence that it deploys and reinforces. I want to address these antidemocratic pressures and their relationship to the rising protests of young people in the United States and abroad through the lens of two interrelated crises: the crisis of governing through violence and the crisis of what Alex Honneth has called “a failed sociality”32—which currently conjoin as a driving force to dismantle any viable notion of public pedagogy and civic education. If we are not to fall prey to a third crisis—”the crisis of negation”33—then it is imperative that we recognize the hope symbolized and embodied by young people across America and their attempt to remake society in order to ensure a better, more democratic future for us all.

The Crisis of Governing through Violence

The United States is addicted to violence, and this dependency is fueled increasingly by its willingness to wage war at home and abroad.34 As Andrew Bacevich rightly argues, “war has be­come a normal condition [matched by] Washington’s seemingly irrevocable abandonment of any semblance of self-restraint regarding the use of violence as an instrument of statecraft.”35 But war in this instance is not merely the outgrowth of policies designed ‘to protect the security- and well-being of the United States. It is also, as C. Wright Mills pointed out. part of a “mili­tary metaphysics”36—a complex of forces that includes corpora­tions, defense industries, politicians, financial institutions, and universities. The culture of war provides jobs, profits, political payoffs, research funds, and forms of political and economic power that reach into every aspect of society. War is also one of the nation’s most honored virtues. Its militaristic values now bear down on almost every aspect of American life.37 Similarly, as the governing-through-violence complex becomes normalized in the broader society, it continually works in a variety of ways to erode any distinction between war and peace.

Increasingly stoked by a moral arnd political hysteria, war­like values produce and endorse shared fears and organized violence as the primary registers of social relations. The con­ceptual merging of war and violence is evident in the ways in which the language of militarization is now used by politicians to address a range of policies as if they are operating on a battlefield or in a war zone. War becomes the adjective of choice as policymakers talk about waging war on drugs, poverty, and the underclass. There is more at work here than the prevalence of armed knowledge and a militarized discourse; there is also the emergence of a militarized society in which “the range of acceptable opinion inevitably shrinks.”38 And this choice of vocabulary and slow narrowing of democratic vision further enable the use of violence as an instrument of domestic policy.

How else to explain that the United States has become the punishing state par excellence, as indicated by the hideous fact that while it contains “5 percent of the Earth’s population, it is home to nearly a quarter of its prisoners”?39 Senator Lindsay Graham made this very clear in his rhetorical justification of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act by stating “that under this Act the U.S. homeland is considered a ‘battlefield.'”40 The ominous implications behind this statement, especially for Oc­cupy movement protesters, became obvious in light of the fact that the act gives the US government the right to detain “U.S. citizens indefinitely without charge or trial if deemed necessary by the president…. Detentions can follow mere membership, past or present, in ‘suspect organizations.'”41

Since 9/11, the war on terror and the campaign for home­land security have increasingly mimicked the tactics of the enemies they sought to crush and as such have become a war on democracy. A new military urbanism has taken root the United States as state surveillance projects proliferate, signaling what Stephen Graham calls “the startling militariza­tion of civil society—the extension of military ideas of tracking, identification, and targeting into the quotidian spaces and circulations of everyday life.”42 This is partly evident in the ongoing militarization of police departments throughout the United States. Baton-wielding cops are now being supplied with the latest military equipment imported straight from the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. Military technologies once used exclusively on the battlefield are now being supplied to police units across the nation: drones, machine-gun-equipped armored trucks, SWAT-type vehicles, “digital communications equipment, and Kevlar helmets, like those used by soldiers used in foreign wars.”43The domestic war against “terrorists” (code for young protesters) provides new opportunities for major defense contractors and corporations to become “more a part of our domestic lives.”44 As Glenn Greenwald points out, the United States since 9/11

has aggressively paramilitarized the nation’s domestic police forces by lavishing them with countless military-style weapons and other war-like technologies, training them in war-zone mili­tary tactics, and generally imposing a war mentality on them. Arming domestic police forces with paramilitary weaponry will ensure their systematic use even in the absence of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil; they will simply find other, increasingly permissive uses for those weapons.45

These domestic paramilitary forces also undermine free speech and dissent through the sheer threat of violence while often wielding power that runs roughshod over civil liberties, human rights, and civic responsibilities.46 Given that “by age 23, almost a third of Americans are arrested for a crime,” it is not unreason­able to assume that in the new militarized state the perception of young people as predators, threats to corporate governance, and disposable objects will intensify, as will the growth of a punish­ing state that acts out against young protesters in increasingly unrestrained and savage ways.47 Young people, particularly poor minorities of color, have already become the targets of what David Theo Goldberg calls “extraordinary power in the name of securitization … [viewed as] unruly populations … [who] are to be subjected to necropolitical discipline through the threat of imprisonment or death, physical or social.”4

Shared fears and the media hysteria that promotes them pro­duce more than a culture of suspects and unbridled intimidation. Fear on a broad public scale serves the interests of policymakers who support a growing militarization of the police along with the corporations that supply high-tech scanners, surveillance cameras, riot extinguishers, and toxic chemicals—all of which are increasingly used with impunity on anyone who engages in peaceful protests against the warfare and corporate state.49 Im­ages abound in the mainstream media of such abuses. There is the now famous image of an eighty-four-year-old woman looking straight into a camera, her face drenched in a liquid spray used by the police after attending a protest rally. There is the image of a woman who is two months pregnant being carried to safety after being pepper-sprayed by the police. By now, the images of young people being dragged by their hair across a street to a waiting police van have become all too familiar.50 Some protesters have been seriously hurt, as in the case of Scott Olsen. an Iraq War veteran who was critically injured in a protest in Oakland in October 2011. Too much of this violence is reminiscent of the violence used against civil rights demonstrators by the enforcers of Jim Crow in the 1950s and 1960s.51

No longer restricted to a particular military ideology, the celebration and permeation of warlike values throughout the culture have hastened the militarization of the entire society. As Michael Geyer points out, militarization can be defined as “the contradictory and tense social process in which civil society organizes itself for the production of violence.”52 As the late Tony Judt put it, “The United States is becoming not just a militarized state but a military society: a country where armed power is the measure of national greatness, and war, or planning for war, is the exemplary (and only) common project.”55 But the prevailing intensification of American society’s permanent war status does more than embrace a set of unifying symbols that promote a survival-of-the-fittest ethic, conformity over dissent, the strong over the weak, and fear over responsibility. Such a move also gives rise to a “failed sociality” in which violence becomes the most important tool of power and the mediating force in shaping social relationships.

A state that embraces a policy of permanent war needs willing subjects to abide by its values, ideology, and narratives of fear and violence. Such legitimation is largely provided through people’s immersion in a market-driven society that appears increasingly addicted to consumerism, militarism, and the spectacles of violence endlessly circulated through popular culture.54 Examples of the violent fare on offer extend from the realm of high fashion and Hollywood movies to extreme sports, video games, and music concerts sponsored by the Pentagon.55 The market-driven celebration of a militaristic mind-set de­mands a culture of conformity, quiet intellectuals, and a largely passive republic of consumers. It also needs subjects who find intense pleasure in spectacles of violence.56

In a society saturated with hyperviolence and spectacular representations of cruelty, it becomes more difficult for the American public to respond politically and ethically to the violence as it is actually happening on the ground. In this in­stance, previously unfamiliar violence such as extreme images of torture and death become banally familiar, while familiar violence that occurs daily is barely recognized, relegated to the realm of the unnoticed and unnoticeable. How else to explain the public indifference to the violence inflicted on nonviolent youth protesters who are raising their voices against a state in which they have been excluded from any claim on hope, pros­perity, and democracy? While an increasing volume of brutal­ity is pumped into the culture, yesterday’s spine-chilling and nerve-wrenching displays of violence lose their shock value. As the demand for more intense images of violence accumulates, the moral indifference and desensitization to violence grow, while matters of savage cruelty and suffering are offered up as fodder for sports, entertainment, news media, and other pleasure-seeking outlets.

As American culture is more and more marked by exag­gerated aggression and a virulent notion of hard masculinity, state violence—particularly the use of torture, abductions, and targeted assassinations—wins public support and requires little or no justification as US exceptionalism becomes accepted by many Americans as a matter of common sense.57 The social impacts of a “political culture of hyper punitiveness”58 can be seen in how structures of discipline and punishment have in­filtrated the social order like a highly charged electric current. For example, the growing taste for violence can be seen in the criminalization of behaviors such as homelessness that once elicited compassion and social protection. We throw the home­less in jail instead of building houses, just as we increasingly send poor, semiliterate students to jail instead of providing them with a decent education. Similarly, instead of creating jobs for the unemployed, we allow banks to foreclose on their mortgages and in some cases put jobless people in debtors’ prisons. The prison in the twenty-first century7 becomes a way of making the effects of ruthless power invisible by making the victims of such power disappear. As Angela Davis points out, “According to this logic the prison becomes a way of disappearing people in the false hope of disappearing the underlying social problems they represent.”39 As the notion of the social is emptied out. criminality is now defined as an essential part of a person’s identity. As a rhetoric of punishment gains ground in American society, social problems are reduced to character flaws, insuf­ficient morality, or a eugenicist notion of being “born evil.”60

Another symptomatic example of the way in which violence has saturated everyday life and produced a “failed sociality” can be seen in the growing acceptance by the American pub­lic of modeling public schools after prisons and criminalizing the behavior of young people in public schools. Incidents that were traditionally handled by teachers, guidance counselors, and school administrators are now dealt with by the police and the criminal justice system. The consequences have been disastrous for young people. Not only do schools increasingly resemble the culture of prisons, but young children are being arrested and subjected to court appearances for behaviors that can only be called trivial. How else to explain the case of the five-year-old student in Florida who was put in handcuffs and taken to the local jail because she had a temper tantrum, or the case of Alexa Gonzales in New York, who was arrested for doodling on her desk? Or twelve-year-old Sarah Bustamatenes, who was pulled from a Texas classroom, charged with a crimi­nal misdemeanor, and hauled into court because she sprayed perfume on herself?61 How do we explain the arrest of a thirteen-year-old student in a Maryland school for refusing to say the pledge of allegiance?62 Or the case of a sixteen-year-old student with an IQ below 70 being pepper-sprayed because he did not understand a question asked by the police officer in his school? After being pepper-sprayed, the startled youth started swinging his arms and for that was charged with two counts of assault on a public servant and faces a possible prison sentence .63 In

The most extreme cases, children have been beaten, Tasered, and killed by the police.

These examples may still be unusual enough to shock, though they are becoming more commonplace. What must be recognized is that too many schools have become combat zones in which students are routinely subjected to metal detectors, surveillance cameras, uniformed security guards, weapons searches, and in some cases SWAT raids and police dogs sniffing for drugs.64 Under such circumstances, the purpose of school­ing becomes to contain and punish young people, especially those marginalized by race and class, rather than educate them. “Arrests and police interactions … disproportionately affect low-income schools with large African-American and Latino populations.”65 For the many disadvantaged students being funnelled into the “school-to-prison pipeline,” schools ensure that their futures look grim indeed as their educational experiences acclimatize them to forms of carceral treatment.66 There is more at work here than a flight from responsibility on the part of educators, parents, and politicians who support and maintain policies that fuel this expanding edifice of law enforce­ment against youth. Underlying the repeated decisions to turn away from helping young people is the growing sentiment that youths, particularly minorities of color and class, constitute a threat to adults and the only effective way to deal with them is to subject them to mind-crushing punishment. Students being miseducated, criminalized, and arrested through a form of pe­nal pedagogy in prison-type schools provides a grave reminder of the degree to which the ethos of containment and punishment now creeps into spheres of everyday life that were largely im­mune in the past to this type of state and institutional violence.

The era of failed sociality that Americans now inhabit reminds us that we live in a time that breaks young people, devalues justice, and saturates the minute details of everyday life with the constant threat, if not reality, of violence. The medieval turn to embracing forms of punishment that inflict pain on the psyches and bodies of young people is part of a larger immersion of society in public spectacles of violence. The control society67 is now the ultimate form of entertainment in America, as the pain of others, especially those considered disposable and pow­erless, is no longer a subject of compassion but one of ridicule and amusement. High-octane violence and human suffering are now considered consumer entertainment products designed to raise the collective pleasure quotient. Brute force and savage killing replayed over and over in the culture function as part of an anti-immune system that turns the economy of genuine pleasure into a mode of sadism that saps democracy of any political substance and moral vitality, even as the body politic appears engaged in a process of cannibalizing its own young. It is perhaps not far-fetched to imagine a reality TV show in which millions tune in to watch young kids being handcuffed, arrested, tried in the courts, and sent to juvenile detention centers. No society can make a claim to being a democracy as long as it defines itself through shared hatred and fears rather than shared responsibilities.

In the United States, society has been reconfigured to eliminate many young people’s access to the minimal condi­tions required for living a full, dignified, and productive life as well as the conditions necessary for sustaining and nurturing democratic structures and ideologies. The cruelty and violence infecting the culture are both a symptom and a cause of our collective failure to mobilize large-scale collective resistance against a growing police state and the massive suffering caused by the savagery of neoliberal capitalism. Unfortunately, even as expressions of authentic rage against Wall Street continue in the Occupy movement, the widespread hardship that young people and other marginalized populations face today “has not found resonance in the public space of articulation. “fs With the collapse of a market economy into a market society, democracy no longer makes a claim on the importance of the common good. As a mode of diseased sociality, the current version of market fundamentalism has turned the principle of freedom against itself, deforming a collective vision of democracy and social justice that once made equality a viable economic idea and political goal in the pursuit of one’s own freedom and civil liberties. As Zygmunt Bauman insists, one of the consequences of this market-driven sovereignty is “the progressive decomposi­tion and crumbling of social bonds and communal cohesion.”6

Neoliberalism creates a language of social magic in which the social either vaporizes into thin air or is utterly pathologized. Shared realities and effects of poverty, racism, inequality, and financial corruption disappear, but not the ideological and institutional mechanisms that make such scourges possible.70 And when the social is invoked favorably, the invocation is only ever used to recognize the claims and values of corporations, the ultrarich, banks, hedgefund managers, and other privileged groups comprising the 1 percent. Self-reliance and the image of the self-made man cancel out any viable notion of social relations, the common good, public values, and collective struggle.

The Occupy movements have recognized that what erodes under such conditions is not only an acknowledgment of the historical contexts, social and economic formations, relations of power, and systemic forms of discrimination that have pro­duced massive inequalities in wealth, income, and opportunity but also any claim to the promise of a substantive democracy. Increasingly, as both the public pedagogy and economic dic­tates of neoliberalism are contested by the Occupiers, the state responds with violence. But the challenges to militarism, in­equality, and political corruption with which young people have confronted American society are being met with a violence that encompasses more than isolated incidents of police brutality. It is a violence emanating from an ongoing wholesale transfor­mation of the United States into a warfare state, from a state that once embraced the social contract—at least minimally—to one that no longer has even a language for community, a state in which the bonds of fear and commodification have replaced the bonds of civic responsibility and democratic commitment. As a result, violence on the part of the state and corporations is not aimed just at youthful protesters. Through a range of visible and invisible mechanisms, an ever-expanding multitude of individuals and populations has been caught in a web of cruelty, dispossession, exclusion, and exploitation.

The predominance of violence in all aspects of social life suggests that young people and others marginalized by class, race, and ethnicity have been abandoned as American soci­ety’s claim on democracy gives way to the forces of militarism, market fundamentalism, and state terrorism. We must ad­dress how a metaphysics of war and violence has taken hold of American society, and the savage social costs it has entailed.

It is these very forms of social, political, and economic violence that young people have recognized and endured against their own minds and bodies, but they are using their indignation to inspire action rather than despair. The spreading imprint of violence throughout society suggests the need for a politics that riot only critiques the established order but imagines a new one—one informed by a radical vision in which the future does not imitate the present. Critique must emerge alongside a sense of realistic hope, and individual struggles must merge into larger social movements.

Occupy Wall Street surfaced in the wake of the 9/11 memori­als and global economic devastation rooted in market deregu­lation and financial corruption. It also developed in response to atrocities committed by the US military in the name of the war on terror, violent and racist extremism spreading through US politics and popular culture, a growing regime of discipline and punishment aimed at marginalized youth, retrograde edu­cation policies destructive of knowledge and critical learning, and the enactment of ruthless austerity policies that serve only to increase human suffering. With the democratic horizon in the United States increasingly darkened by the shadows of a looming authoritarianism and unprecedented levels of social and economic inequality, the Occupy movement and other global movements signify hope and renewal. The power of these movements to educate and act for change should not be under­estimated, particularly among youths, even as we collectively bear witness to the violent retaliation of official power against democratic protesters and the growing fury of the punishing state. In the book that follows, I present chapters that move from negation to hope, from critique to imagining otherwise in order to act otherwise.

The first chapter provides a retrospective on 9/11 that ac­knowledges the way in which the tragic events of 2001 were used to unleash brutal violence on a global scale and legitimate the expansion of the warfare state and unthinkable forms of torture against populations increasingly deemed disposable. In particular, the traumatic aftermath of 9/11 in the United States was distorted into a culture of fear: heightened domes­tic security; and accelerated disciplinary forces that targeted youth, particularly the most vulnerable marginalized by race and class, as potential threats to the social order. This chapter exposes some of the widespread impacts of an unchecked pun­ishing state and its apparatuses—most notably the escalating war on youth, the attack on the social state, and the growth of a “governing through crime” complex—while also paying tribute to the resilience and humanity of the victims of the 9/11 at­tacks and their families. It asserts that public recollection in the aftermath of those traumatic events—particularly the sense of common purpose and civic commitment that ensued—should serve as a source of collective hope for a different future than the one we have seen on display since September 2001.71

Chapter 2 discusses in further detail the cultural shift in the United States that has led to the inscription and normalization of cruelty and violence. In spring 2011, the role of the domi­nant media in sanctioning this culture of cruelty extended to its failure to provide a critical response when the “Kill Team” photographs were released. Even as young people around the world demonstrated against military power and authoritarian regimes, soldiers in the US military fighting in the “war on ter­ror” gleefully participated in horrifying injustices inflicted upon helpless others. The “Kill Team” photos—images of US soldiers smiling and posing with dead Afghan civilians and their des­ecrated bodies—serve as but one example signaling a broader shift in American culture away from compassion for the suffer­ing of other human beings toward a militarization of the culture and a sadistic pleasure in violent spectacles of pain and torture. Further discussion of American popular culture demonstrates how US society increasingly manifests a “depravity of aesthetics” through eagerly consuming displays of aggression, brutality, and death. Connecting this culture of cruelty to the growing influence of neoliberal policies across all sectors, I suggest that this disturbing new enjoyment of the humiliation of others—far from representing an individualized pathology—now infects US society as a whole in a way that portends the demise of the social state, if not any vestige of a real and substantive democ­racy. Recognizing the power of dominant culture to shape our thoughts, identities, and desires, we must struggle to uncover “instants of truth” that draw upon our compassion for others and rupture the hardened order of reality constructed by the media and other dominant cultural forces.

The third chapter suggests that even as US popular culture increasingly circulates images of mind-crushing brutality, American political culture in a similar fashion now functions like a theater of cruelty in which spectacles and public policies display gratuitous and unthinking violence toward the most vulnerable groups in the country, especially children. Despite persistent characterizations of terrorists as “other,” the greatest threat to US security lies in homegrown, right-wing extremism of a kind similar to that espoused by Anders Behring Breivik who in July 2011 bombed government buildings in Oslo, kill­ing eight people, and then went on a murderous shooting rampage in Norway, killing sixty-nine youths attending a Labor Party camp. The eruption of violent speech and racist rhetoric within US political discourse indicates a growing tolerance at the highest levels of government of extremist elements and the authoritarian views and racist hatred they deploy to advance their agenda—which includes dismantling the social state, legitimating a governing apparatus based on fear and punish­ment, undermining critical thought and education through ap­peals to conformity and authoritarian populism, and disposing of all populations deemed dangerous and threatening to the dominance of a white conservative nationalism. Bespeaking far more than a disturbing turn in US politics and the broader cul­ture, right-wing policymakers abetted by the dominant media are waging a campaign of domestic terrorism against children, the poor, and other vulnerable groups as part of a larger war against democracy and the democratic formative culture on which it depends for survival.

Continuing an exploration of the neoliberal mode of authori­tarianism that has infiltrated US politics, Chapter 4 discusses how anti-immigrant and racist political ideology couched in a discourse of patriotism is being translated into regressive educational policies and an attack on critical education. Remi­niscent of the book burnings conducted in Nazi Germany, the Arizona state legislature and school board in Tucson have systematically eliminated ethnic studies from elementary schools and banned books that: discuss racism and oppres­sion, including several books by Mexican American authors in a school district where more than 60 percent of the students are from a Mexican American background. Within a neoliberal regime that supports corporate hegemony, social and economic inequality, and antidemocratic forms of governance, racism is either privatized by encouraging individual solutions to socially produced problems or disavowed, appearing instead in the guise of a language of punishment that persecutes anyone who even raises the specter of ongoing racism. The censorship of ethnic studies in Arizona and of forms of pedagogy that give voice to oppression points to how ideas that engage people in a struggle for equality and democracy pose a threat to fundamentalist ideologues and their war against the bodies, histories, and modes of knowledge that could produce the critical conscious­ness and civic courage necessary for a just society.

Chapter 5 examines the politics of austerity in terms of how it releases corporations and the rich from responsibility for the global economic recession and instead inflicts vast amounts of pain and suffering upon the most vulnerable in society. As an extension of the culture of cruelty, austerity measures encode a fear and contempt for social and economic equality, leading not only to the weakening of social protections and tax breaks for the wealthy but also to the criminalization of social prob­lems. Austerity as a form of “trickle-down cruelty” symbolizes much more than neglect—it suggests a new mode of violence mobilized to address pervasive social ills that will only serve to hasten the emergence of punishing states and networks of global violence. Hope for preventing the escalation of human suffering must be situated in a concerted effort both to raise awareness about the damage wreaked by unchecked casino capitalism and to rethink the very nature of what democracy means and might look like in the United States. A capacity for critical thought, compassion, and informed judgment needs to be nurtured against the forms of bigotry, omission, and social irresponsibility that appear increasingly not only to sanction but also to revel in horror stories of inhumanity and destruc­tion.

Tracing the trajectory of class struggle and inequality in America up to the present day, Chapter 6 argues that a grow­ing concentration of wealth in the hands of the ruling elite means that the political system and mode of governance in the United States are no longer democratic, even as state power is subordinated to the interests of corporate sovereignty. In this chapter, an account of the political, social, and economic injus­tices confronting the vast majority of Americans—the result of a decades-long unchecked supremacy of corporate power, the reign of corrupt financiers, and a ruthless attack on the social state and social protections—sets the stage for what emerged as the Occupy Wall Street movement in September 2011. While making visible the ongoing significance of class as a political category, the Occupiers did much more than rehash the tired rhetoric of “class warfare” (marshaled by their opponents in an effort to position the ruling elites as victims of class resentment) Quite to the contrary, the Occupiers revealed the potential for a broad collective movement both to expose the material realities of inequality and injustice and to counter prevailing antidemocratic narratives while also fundamentally changing the terms of engagement by producing new images, stories, and memories that challenged the complacency of the public and the impoverished imagination of political and corporate leadership in America.

Chapter 7 concludes the book by reviewing the impact and legacy of the Occupy movement, particularly how it exposed the many ways in which US society has mortgaged the future of youth. The Occupiers have become the new public intellectu­als, and they are creating a newpedagogy and politics firmly rooted in democracy, social justice, and human dignity that increasingly occupies the terrain of public discourse and poses a fundamental challenge to the control of the public sphere by corporate elites and their teaching machines. At risk of losing ideological dominance, the authorities retaliated against Oc­cupy protesters by resorting to brutal forms of punishment. This police violence at once made visible the modes of au­thoritarianism and culture of cruelty that permeate American society—as was seen even at universities and colleges across the United States, institutions charged with contributing to the intellectual, social, and moral growth of society’s youth.

As I complete the writing of this introduction, the Occupy struggle for social and economic justice continues on American university campuses—where the influence of austerity mea­sures is increasingly being felt, although the working conditions for faculty and the quality of education for students began to deteriorate under the neoliberal ascendancy decades ago. The issues impacting higher education are undoubtedly symptom­atic of the accelerated pace with which the withering away of the public realm is happening. The book finishes, however, by suggesting that the Occupy movement is far from over— despite the shrinking of physical space in which it can protest. As it expands and spreads across the globe, the movement is producing a new public realm of ideas and making important connections between the deteriorating state of education, an­tidemocratic forces, and the savage inequalities produced by a market society. The response of young people as the new generation of public intellectuals offers us both critique and hope. It is a call to work collectively to foster new modes of thought and action—one that should be actively supported by higher education and other remaining public spheres in the United States, if American democracy is to have a future at all.


Notes for Introduction

1.   Clearly, there are many reasons for the various youthful pro­tests across the globe, ranging from the murder of young people and anger against financial corruption to the riots against cuts to social benefits and the rise of educational costs.

2.   Christopher McMichael, ‘The Shock-and-Awe of Mega Sports Events,” OpenDemocracy (January 30, 2012), online at:

3.  Zygmunt Bauman, Wasted Lives (London: Polity, 2004), p. 76.

4.   See Loic Wacquant, Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Govern­ment of Social Insecurity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009).

5.  Amanda Peterson Beadle, “Obama Administration Ends Medicaid Funding for Texas Women’s Health Program,” Think-Progress (March 16, 2012), online at: health/2012/03/16/445894/funding-cut-for-texas-womens-health-program.

6.   Maureen Dowd, “Don’t Tread on Us,” New York Times (March 14, 2012), p. A25.

7.   See, for example, Daisy Grewal, “How Wealth Reduces Com­passion: As Riches Grow, Empathy for Others Seems to Decline,” Scientific American (Tuesday, April 10, 2012), online at: http://

8.  Azam Ahmed, “The Hunch, the Pounce and the Kill: How Boaz Weinstein and Hedge Funds Outsmarted JPMorgan,” New York Times (May 27, 2012), p. BUI.

9.  Anne-Marie Cusac, Cruel and Unusual: The Culture of Punish­ment in America (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009), p. 3.

10.   David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 19.

11.   Stuart Hall, “The Neo-Liberal Revolution,” Cultural Studies 25:6 (November 2011): 706.

12.   Ibid.

13.  Wendy Brown, Regulating Aversion (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), p. 16.

14.   Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas, “Translators’ Note,” in Jean-Luc Nancy, The Truth of Democracy (New York: Fordham University Press, 2010), p. ix.

15.  Jean-Marie Durand, “For Youth: A Disciplinary Discourse Only,” TruthOut (November 15, 2009), trans. Leslie Thatcher, online at: http://www.truthout.0rg/l1190911.

16.   David Theo Goldberg, The Threat of Race: Reflections on Racial Neoliberalism (Maiden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), p. 347.

17.   Zygmunt Bauman, “Has the Future a Left?” Soundings 35 (Spring 2007): 5-6.

18.   Ibid.

19.   Goldberg, The Threat of Race, p. 331.

20.   Cited in Anson Rabinach, “Unclaimed Heritage: Ernst Bloch’s Heritage of Our Times and the Theory of Fascism,” New German Cri­tique (Spring 1997): 8.

21.   See,

22.   Durand, “For Youth.”

23.   Kyle Bella, “Bodies in Alliance: Gender Theorist Judith Butler on the Occupy and SlutWalk Movements,” TruthOut (December 15, 2011), online at:

24.   Richard Lichtman, “Not a Revolution?” TruthOut (Decem­ber 14, 2011), online at:

25.   Arun Gupta, “Arundhati Roy: The People Who Created the Crisis Will Not Be the Ones That Come up with a Solution,'” Guard­ian (November 30, 2011), online at: world/2011 /nov/30/arundhati-roy-interview.

26.   Staughton Lynd, “What Is to Be Done Next?” Counter-Punch (February 29, 2012), online at: http://www.counterpunch .org/2012/02/29/what-is-to-be-done-next.

27.   Stanley Aronowitz, “Notes on the Occupy Movement,” Logos (Fall 2011), online at: l/fall_aronowitz.

28.   On the rise of the punishing state, see Cusac, Cruel and Unusual; Wacquant, Punishing the Poor, Angela Y. Davis, Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons, and Torture (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2005).

29.   Bill Moyers, “Discovering What Democracy Means,” Tom-Paine (February 12, 2007), online at:

30.   Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties (New York: Free Press, 1966); and the more recent Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free Press, 2006).

31.   Stuart Hall, “The March of the Neoliberals,” Guardian (September 12, 2011), online at: l/sep/12/march-of-the-neoliberals/.

32.  Alex Honneth, Pathologies of Reason (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), p. 188.

33.   John Van Houdt, ‘The Crisis of Negation: An Interview with Alain Badiou,” Continent 1:4 (2011): 234-238, online at:

34.   See for instance, Noam Chomsky, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2007).

35.   Andrew Bacevich, “After Iraq, War Is US,” Reader Supported News (December 20, 2011), online at: http://readersupportednews. org/opinion2/424-national-security/9007-after-iraq-war-is-us.

36.   C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 222.

37.   See Gore Vidal, Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia (New York: Nation Books, 2004); Gore Vidal, Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace (New York: Nation Books, 2002); Chris Hedges, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (New York: Anchor Books, 2003); Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004); Andrew Bacevich, The New American Militarism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Chalmers Johnson, Nemesis: The Last Days of the Republic (New York: Metropolitan Books); Andrew J. Bacevich, Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010); and Nick Turse, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008).

38.   Tony Judt, “The New World Order,” New York Review of Books 11:2 (July 14, 2005): 17.

39.   Cusac, Cruel and Unusual, p. 2.

40.   Jim Garrison, “Obama’s Most Fateful Decision,” Huffington Post (December 12, 2011), online at: jim-garrison/obamas-most-fateful-decis_b_l 143005.html.

41.   Ibid.

42.   Stephen Graham, Cities under Siege: The New Military Urban-ism (London: Verso, 2010), p. xi.

43.  Andrew Becker and G. W. Schulz, “Cops Ready for War,” Reader Supported News (December 21, 2011), online at: http://

44.   Ibid.

45.   Glenn Greenwald, “The Roots of the UC-Davis Pepper-Spraying,” Salon (November 20, 2011), online at: .com/2011/11 /20/the_roots_of_the_uc_davis_pepper_spraying.

46.   See, for instance, Steven Rosenfeld, “5 Freedom-Killing Tactics Police Will Use to Crack Down on Protests in 2012,” AlterNet (March 16, 2012), online at:

47.   Erica Goode, “Many in U.S. Are Arrested by Age 23, Study Finds,” New York Times (December 19, 2011), p. A15.

48.   Goldberg, The Threat of Race, p. 334.

49.   Lauren Kelley, “Occupy Updates: Extreme Police Violence in Berkeley, with Calls for a Strike; Harvard Protesters Shut out of Harvard Yard,” AlterNet (November 14, 2011), online at:,_with_calls_for_a_strike%3B_har-vard_protesters_shut_out_of_harvard_yard; Conor Friedersdorf, “UC Berkeley Riot Police Use Batons to Clear Students from Sproul Plaza,” Atlantic (November 10, 2011), online at: http://www.theatlantic. com/national/print/2011/11 /uc-berkeley-riot-police-use-batons-to-clear-students-from-sproul-plaza/248228; Al Baker, “When the Police Go Military,” New York Times (December 3, 2011), p. SR6; and Rania Khalek, “Pepper-Spraying Protesters Is Just the Beginning: Here Are More Hypermilitarized Weapons Your Local Police Force Could Employ,” AlterNet (November 22, 2011), online at: http://www beginning%3A_here_are_more_hypermilitarized_weapons_your_lo-caLpolice_force_could_employ.

50.   Philip Govrevitch, “Whose Police?” New Yorker (November 17, 2011), online at:

51.   Phil Rockstroh, “The Police State Makes Its Move: Re­taining One’s Humanity in the Face of Tyranny,” CommonDreams (November 15, 2011), online at: view/2011/11/15.

52.   Michael Geyer, ‘The Militarization of Europe, 1914-1945,” in John R. Gillis, ed. The Militarization of the Western World (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1989), p. 79.

53.  Judt, “The New World Order,” pp. 14-18.

54.   Geoff Martin and Erin Steuter, Pop Culture Goes to War: Enlisting and Resisting Militarism in the War on Terror (New York: Lexington Books, 2010).

55.   Carl Boggs and Tom Pollard, The Hollywood War Machine: U.S. Militarism and Popular Culture (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publish­ers, 2006).

56.   Kostas Gouliamos and Christos Kassimeris, eds., The Market­ing of War in the Age of Neo-Militarism (New York: Routledge, 2011).

57.   David Cole, “An Executive Power to Kill?” New York Review of Books (March 6, 2012), online at: nyrblog/2012/mar/06/targeted-killings-holder-speech.

58.   Steve Herbert and Elizabeth Brown, “Conceptions of Space and Crime in the Punitive Neoliberal City,” Antipode (2006): 757.

59.   Davis, Abolition Democracy, p. 41.

60.   One classic example of this neoliberal screed can be found most recently in an unapologetic defense of social Darwinism by Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 (New York: Crown Forum, 2012). For a critique of this position, see David Garland, The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Con­temporary Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001); Philip Jenkins, Decade of Nightmares: The End of the Sixties and the Making of Eighties America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); and Jonathan Simon, Governing through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).

61.   Chris McGreal, ‘The US Schools with Their Own Police,” Guardian (January 9, 2012), online at: world/2012/jan/09/texas-police-schools.

62.   Daniel Tancer, “Student Punished for Refusing to Cite the Pledge,” Psyche, Science, and Society (February 25, 2010), online at:

63.   McGreal, ‘The US Schools with Their Own Police.”

64.   Criminal Injustice Kos, “Criminal Injustice Kos: Interrupting the School to Prison Pipeline,” Daily Kos (March 30, 2011), online at:

65.   “A Failure of Imagination,” Smartypants (March 3, 2010), online at:

66.   See Mark P. Fancher, Reclaiming Michigan’s Throwaway Kids: Students Trapped in the School-to-Prison Pipeline (Michigan: ACLU, 2011), online at: resource_1287.pdf; and Advancement Project, Test, Punish, and Push Out: How “Zero Tolerance” and High-Stakes Testing Funnel Youth into the School-to-Prison Pipeline (Washington, DC: Advancement Project, March 2010), online at:

67.   Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript on the Societies of Control,” October 59 (Winter 1992): 3-7.

68.  Alex Honneth, Pathologies of Reason (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), p. 188.

69.   Bauman, “Has the Future a Left?” p. 2.

70.   Barbara Ehrenreich, “How We Cured The Culture of Pov­erty,’ Not Poverty Itself,” Truthout (March 15, 2012), online at: http://

71.  This theme is taken up in great detail in Jonathan Simon, Governing through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

New York Post Helps NYPD Slander Occupy Wall Street (Again) (Village Voice)

By Nick Pinto Thu., Jan. 3 2013 at 2:57 PM

morgangliedman.jpgFacebook – Morgan Gliedman was arrested with Aaron Greene, who the Post incorrectly linked to Occupy Wall Street.

When police raided the West Village apartment of Morgan Gliedman and Aaron Greene on Saturday, the New York Post was first to the story.

It was the sort of story that was right in the Post‘s wheelhouse. Gliedman, 27, nine months pregnant, the daughter of a prominent doctor and the product of a Park-Avenue-and-Dalton upbringing, and Greene, a Harvard alumnus, caught in a filthy den of drugs, decadence, and bomb-making materials just blocks from the townhouse where Weather Underground bomb-makers accidentally blew themselves up decades before.

The story also had another element that appears to becoming a Post signature: citing anonymous sources, apparently from within the NYPD, Post reporters Jamie Schram, Antonio Antenucci, and Matt McNulty reported that Greene had ties to Occupy Wall Street. The assertion was right up top in the story’s lead sentence:

“The privileged daughter of a prominent city doctor, and her boyfriend — a Harvard grad and Occupy Wall Street activist — have been busted for allegedly having a cache of weapons and a bombmaking explosive in their Greenwich Village apartment.”

The Occupy association was quickly picked up and rebroadcast by both Reuters and the Associated Press.

Needless to say, the Occupy angle was red meat to FBI-informant-turned-right-wing-bloviator Brandon Darby, who used the link to justify the recent revelation (dropped on the deadest Friday afternoon of the year) that the FBI had indeed been centrally involved in nationwide surveillance of the Occupy movement.

The thing is, the story didn’t hold up. People involved in Occupy Wall Street had no memory of ever encountering Greene. And by the first afternoon, the Occupy link was already being stepped back in the media. As the Associated Press reported, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly suggested that the question of radical affiliations was still open:

“No political writings were discovered, and Kelly said the investigation was continuing into whether the couple had any larger plans or ties to any radical groups.”

That evening, the Daily Beast called the whole scenario into question with a post entitled “NY Couple Not Terrorists, Say Cops, Just Rich Kids With Drug Habits

By the next day, the NYPD was in the Times fully contradicting the Post’s initial Occupy claims:

“But the police said they did not believe that Mr. Greene was active in any political movements.”

Even so, activists, say, the damage had already been done. None of the outlets ran corrections, and most of the initial stories are still online.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time that the Post — and more specifically, Schram, one of its top cop reporters — has been a conduit for vaguely sourced and ultimately baseless police claims linking scary high-profile crimes to Occupy Wall Street.

In July, Schram co-authored a cover story for the Post under the screaming front-page headline “OWS Murder Link,” citing the claims of anonymous sources that the cold-case murder of a jogger in Inwood had been linked by DNA to a chain used to hold open subway doors during a fare strike by transit workers and Occupy activists last winter. The local NBC affiliate did the same.

That story too was quickly rolled back, as officials conceded that in fact the match was far more likely to have resulted from sloppy lab work, but not before the fabricated link had been picked up by media outlets far and wide.

Occupy Wall Street is now pushing back. An online petition decrying the Post story is approaching 1,000 signatures.

Some activists see a pattern emerging, in which the NYPD uses it’s cozy relationship with the Post to put out anonymous slanders of a nonviolent social-justice movement without having to get its hands dirty.

Whether or not that’s the case, the fact that his has happened twice now raises real questions about the Post’s policies governing the use of anonymous law-enforcement sources and its commitment to correcting factually inaccurate reporting.

Kelly McBride, the senior ethics faculty at the Poynter Institute, told the Voice the Post is definitely doing this wrong:

“In a case like this, the best practices would suggest that The Post is definitely obligated to correct their mistake, both by updating the online version of the story and noting the error, as well as printing a correction in the paper to inform people who saw the mistake there.”

We emailed both Schram and the Post’s PR office for comment, but haven’t heard back yet. We’ll update the post if we do.

UPDATEMore Misreporting On the West Village Explosives Arrests

Previous Coverage:

Revealed: how the FBI coordinated the crackdown on Occupy (The Guardian)

New documents prove what was once dismissed as paranoid fantasy: totally integrated corporate-state repression of dissent

Naomi Wolf –, Saturday 29 December 2012 14.58 GMT

Occupy Oakland clashes

Police used teargas to drive back protesters following an attempt by the Occupy supporters to shut down the city of Oakland. Photograph: Noah Berger/AP

It was more sophisticated than we had imagined: new documents show that the violent crackdown on Occupy last fall – so mystifying at the time – was not just coordinated at the level of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and local police. The crackdown, which involved, as you may recall, violent arrests, group disruption, canister missiles to the skulls of protesters, people held in handcuffs so tight they were injured, people held in bondage till they were forced to wet or soil themselves –was coordinated with the big banks themselves.

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, in a groundbreaking scoop that should once more shame major US media outlets (why are nonprofits now some of the only entities in America left breaking major civil liberties news?), filed this request. The document – reproduced here in an easily searchable format – shows a terrifying network of coordinated DHS, FBI, police, regional fusion center, and private-sector activity so completely merged into one another that the monstrous whole is, in fact, one entity: in some cases, bearing a single name, the Domestic Security Alliance Council. And it reveals this merged entity to have one centrally planned, locally executed mission. The documents, in short, show the cops and DHS working for and with banks to target, arrest, and politically disable peaceful American citizens.

The documents, released after long delay in the week between Christmas and New Year, show a nationwide meta-plot unfolding in city after city in an Orwellian world: six American universities are sites where campus police funneled information about students involved with OWS to the FBI, with the administrations’ knowledge (p51); banks sat down with FBI officials to pool information about OWS protesters harvested by private security; plans to crush Occupy events, planned for a month down the road, were made by the FBI – and offered to the representatives of the same organizations that the protests would target; and even threats of the assassination of OWS leaders by sniper fire – by whom? Where? – now remain redacted and undisclosed to those American citizens in danger, contrary to standard FBI practice to inform the person concerned when there is a threat against a political leader (p61).

As Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the PCJF, put it, the documents show that from the start, the FBI – though it acknowledgesOccupy movement as being, in fact, a peaceful organization – nonetheless designated OWS repeatedly as a “terrorist threat”:

“FBI documents just obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) … reveal that from its inception, the FBI treated the Occupy movement as a potential criminal and terrorist threat … The PCJF has obtained heavily redacted documents showing that FBI offices and agents around the country were in high gear conductingsurveillance against the movement even as early as August 2011, a month prior to the establishment of the OWS encampment in Zuccotti Park and other Occupy actions around the country.”

Verheyden-Hilliard points out the close partnering of banks, the New York Stock Exchange and at least one local Federal Reserve with the FBI and DHS, and calls it “police-statism”:

“This production [of documents], which we believe is just the tip of the iceberg, is a window into the nationwide scope of the FBI’s surveillance, monitoring, and reporting on peaceful protestors organizing with the Occupy movement … These documents also show these federal agencies functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America.”

The documents show stunning range: in Denver, Colorado, that branch of the FBI and a “Bank Fraud Working Group” met in November 2011 – during the Occupy protests – to surveil the group. The Federal Reserve of Richmond, Virginia had its own private security surveilling Occupy Tampa and Tampa Veterans for Peace and passing privately-collected information on activists back to the Richmond FBI, which, in turn, categorized OWS activities under its “domestic terrorism” unit. The Anchorage, Alaska “terrorism task force” was watching Occupy Anchorage. The Jackson, Mississippi “joint terrorism task force” was issuing a “counterterrorism preparedness alert” about the ill-organized grandmas and college sophomores in Occupy there. Also in Jackson, Mississippi, the FBI and the “Bank Security Group” – multiple private banks – met to discuss the reaction to “National Bad Bank Sit-in Day” (the response was violent, as you may recall). The Virginia FBI sent that state’s Occupy members’ details to the Virginia terrorism fusion center. The Memphis FBI tracked OWS under its “joint terrorism task force” aegis, too. And so on, for over 100 pages.

Jason Leopold, at, who has sought similar documents for more than a year, reported that the FBI falsely asserted in response to his own FOIA requests that no documents related to its infiltration ofOccupy Wall Street existed at all. But the release may be strategic: if you are an Occupy activist and see how your information is being sent to terrorism task forces and fusion centers, not to mention the “longterm plans” of some redacted group to shoot you, this document is quite the deterrent.

There is a new twist: the merger of the private sector, DHS and the FBI means that any of us can become WikiLeaks, a point that Julian Assange was trying to make in explaining the argument behind his recent book. The fusion of the tracking of money and the suppression of dissent means that a huge area of vulnerability in civil society – people’s income streams and financial records – is now firmly in the hands of the banks, which are, in turn, now in the business of tracking your dissent.

Remember that only 10% of the money donated to WikiLeaks can be processed – because of financial sector and DHS-sponsored targeting of PayPal data. With this merger, that crushing of one’s personal or business financial freedom can happen to any of us. How messy, criminalizing and prosecuting dissent. How simple, by contrast, just to label an entity a “terrorist organization” and choke off, disrupt or indict its sources of financing.

Why the huge push for counterterrorism “fusion centers”, the DHS militarizing of police departments, and so on? It was never really about “the terrorists”. It was not even about civil unrest. It was always about this moment, when vast crimes might be uncovered by citizens – it was always, that is to say, meant to be about you.

• This article originally referred to a joint terrorism task force in Jackson, Michigan. This was amended to Jackson, Mississippi at 4pm ET on 2 January 2012

Occupy, Anthropology, and the 2011 Global Uprisings (Cultural Anthropology)

Hot spot – Occupy, Anthropology, and the 2011 Global Uprisings

Submitted by Cultural Anthropology on Fri, 2012-07-27 10:36

Introduction: Occupy, Anthropology, and the 2011 Global Uprisings

Guest Edited by Jeffrey S. Juris (Northeastern University) and Maple Razsa (Colby College)

Occupy Wall Street burst spectacularly onto the scene last fall with the take-over of New York City’s Zuccotti Park on September 17, 2011, followed by the rapid spread of occupations to cities throughout the US and the world. The movement combined mass occupations of urban public spaces with horizontal forms of organization and large-scale, directly democratic assemblies. Making effective use of the viral flows of images and information generated by the intersections of social and mass media, the occupations mobilized tens of thousands around the globe, including many new activists who had never taken part in a mass movement before, and inspired many more beyond the physical encampments themselves. Before the wave of violent police evictions in November and December of 2011 drove activists into submerged forms of organizing through the winter, the Occupy movements had already captured the public imagination. Bequeathing to us potent new memes such as the 1% (those at the top of the wealth and income scale) and the 99% (the rest of us), Occupy provided a framework for talking about issues that have been long obscured in public life such as class and socio-economic inequality and helped to shift the dominant political-economic discourse from an obsession with budget deficits and austerity to a countervailing concern for jobs, equality, and economic fairness.

In other words, prior to Occupy, much of the populist anger stemming from the 2008 financial crisis in North America and Europe had been effectively channeled by the Right into both an attack on marginalized groups—e.g. immigrants, people of color, Gays and Lesbians—and a particularly pernicious version of the already familiar critique of unbridled spending. This was especially so in the US where the Tea Party tapped into the widespread public ire over the Wall Street bailouts to bolster a far-reaching attack on “big government” through a radical program of fiscal austerity. Of course, the debt problem was a consequence rather than a cause of the crisis, the result of deregulation, predatory lending, and the spread of highly complex financial instruments facilitated by the neoliberal agenda of the very people who were now seeking to impose budgetary discipline (see Financial Crisis Hot Spot).

However, the contributions of Occupy are not exclusively, or even primarily, to be assessed in terms of their intervention in public discourse. The Occupy movements are also a response to a fundamental crisis of representative politics embodied in an embrace of more radical, directly democratic practices and forms. In their commitment to direct democracy and action the politics put into practice in the various encampments are also innovative prefigurative attempts to model alternative forms of political organization, decision making, and sociability. This turn is crucial: while neoliberalism has been endlessly critiqued it seems to live on as the only policy response—in the form of austerity—to the crisis neoliberalism itself has produced. The need for ethnographic accounts of this prefigurative politics, and its attendant challenges and contradictions, is especially urgent given that Occupy has refused official representatives and because occupiers have extended democracy beyond formal institutions into new spheres of life through a range of practices, including the collective seizure of public space, the people’s mic, horizontal organization, hand signals, and general assemblies.

It is also important to remember that Occupy was a relative latecomer—if a symbolically important one—to the social unrest the global crisis and policies of austerity have provoked. Cracks in the veneer of conformity emerged during the 2008 rebellion in Greece, where students, union members, and other social actors, galvanized by the murder of a fifteen year old student, took to the streets to challenge the worsening economic conditions (See Greece Hot Spot). Students were also among the first wave of resistance elsewhere with protests against budget cuts and increased fees in California, Croatia, the UK, and Chile. In the US signs of wider social discontent finally surfaced during the Wisconsin uprising in February 2011, which included the occupation of the Wisconsin State House in opposition to Governor Scott Walker’s attack on collective bargaining for public sector unions under the guise of budgetary discipline (cf. Collins 2012). As in Wisconsin, the widespread circulation of images from the Arab Spring continued to spark the intense feelings of solidarity, political possibility, and agency that ultimately led to the occupation of Wall Street. From the pro-democracy marches in Tunisia in response to the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi to the mass occupations of Cairo’s Tahrir Square in opposition to the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, the Middle East uprisings, imbued protesters with the sense that dramatic political transformation was possible even as subsequent events have indicated that actual political outcomes are always ambivalent and uncertain (see Arab Spring Hot Spot).

Inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt and responding to the working and middle class casualties of Spain and Europe’s debt crisis, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Madrid on May 15, 2011 and occupied the Puerta del Sol square, sparking a wave of similar mobilizations and encampments around the Spain that would become known as 15M or the movement of the Indignados. Indeed, the combination of mass public occupations with large-scale participatory assemblies provided a template that would be enacted in Zuccotti Park, in part via the influence of Spanish activists residing in New York. That summer a similar movement of Israeli youths sprang up in Tel Aviv, using tent cities and popular assemblies to shine a light on the rising cost of housing and other living expenses.

Finally, in response to an August 2011 call by the Canadian magazine AdBusters to occupy Wall Street in the spirit of these 2011 Global uprisings, activists occupied Zuccotti Park after being rebuffed by the police in an attempt to take Wall Street itself. The occupation initially garnered little media attention, until its second week when images of police repression started going viral, leading to a surge in public sympathy and support, and ever growing numbers streaming to the encampments themselves each time another protester was maced or a group of seemingly innocent protesters rounded up, beaten, and/or arrested. Occupations quickly spread around the US and other parts of the world, generating, for a moment, a proliferating series of encampments physically rooted in local territories, yet linked up with other occupations through interpersonal and online trans-local networks. Following the evictions in the US last fall, local assemblies and working groups have continued to meet—hosting discussions, planning actions and campaigns, producing media, and building and modifying organizational forms—even as the Occupy movements prepared for their public reemergence in the spring through mobilizations such as the May Day protests and mass direct actions against NATO in Chicago and the European Central Bank in Frankfurt.

Additionally, each of these uprisings has diffused through the widespread use of social media, reflecting the mutually constitutive nature of embodied and online protest. The use of social media, in particular, has allowed the Occupy movements, as in other recent mobilizations, to penetrate deeply into the social fabric and mobilize many newcomers who have never been active before in social movements. At the same time, these emerging “logics of aggregation” within the Occupy movements have resulted in a more individualized mode of participation and a form of movement that is more singularizing (e.g. the way the 99% frame can obscure internal differences) and more dependent on the long-term occupation of public space than other recent movements (Juris 2012). A particular set of tensions and strategic dilemmas have thus plagued the Occupy movements, including a divide between newer and more seasoned activists, the difficulty of recognizing and negotiating internal differences, a lack of common political and organizational principles beyond the General Assembly model, and the difficulty of transitioning to new tactics, strategies, visions, and structures in a post-eviction era. In short, activists are now faced with fundamental questions about how to build a movement capable of actually transforming the deep inequalities they have attempted to address.

In assembling this Hot Spot on Occupy we have invited contributions from anthropologists, ethnographers, and activists writing on the above themes: the mass occupation of public spaces, directly democratic practices and forms, the use of social media, the emotions and emerging subjectivities of protest, as well as the underlying political critiques and contradictions that have arisen in the movement. Similarly, in light of the global history we outline above, the range of other social movement responses to the current global economic crisis, as well as the ongoing links between struggles in the US, Europe, Latin America, and North Africa, we have been careful to include contributors conducting research beyond the US in countries such as Greece, Slovenia, Spain, Israel, Argentina, Egypt, and Canada. In so doing, we insist that Occupy must be understood in a global rather than a populist US-centric framework.

Our collaboration on this Hot Spot—which emerged from conversations around our articles on Occupy in the May 2012 edition ofAmerican Ethnologist (Juris 2012Razsa and Kurnik 2012)—also reflects our scholarly and political commitments, as well as those of our contributors. First, it was our priority to invite scholars and activists who are directly involved with these movements rather than adding to the abundant armchair punditry on Occupy. These contributions also reflect recent trends in anthropology with respect to the growing practice of activist research, militant ethnography, public anthropology, and other forms of politically committed ethnographic research, which are taking increasingly institutionalized forms with Cultural Anthropology “Hot Spots”like this one, “Public Anthropology Reviews” in American Anthropologist, recent interventions in American Ethnologist on Egypt, Wisconsin, and Occupy, as well as Current Anthropology “Current Applications.”

In addition to providing an ethnographically and analytically informed view of and from various occupations and kindred mobilizations, this Hot Spot thus provides another example of how anthropologists are making themselves politically relevant and are engaging issues of broad public concern. Given these shifts, together with the progressive inclinations of many anthropologists and the ubiquity and inherent interest of Occupy, it should come as no surprise that so many anthropologists and ethnographers from related fields, including those within and outside the academy, have played key roles in the Occupy movements and their precursors in countries such as Greece and Spain. Indeed, in their post Carles Feixa and his collaboratorsrefer to anthropologists as the “organic intellectuals” of the 15 M movement. As many of the contributions to this Hot Spot attest, a similar case might be made for the role of activist anthropologists within Occupy more generally.

As the contributions below make clear, our emphasis on participatory and politically committed research does not imply a romanticization of resistance or a refusal to confront the contradictions, limits, and exclusions of social movements, especially along axes of class, race, gender, sexuality, and citizenship. Given the disproportionate, though by no means exclusively White, middle class participation in the US Occupy movements, such critical perspectives are essential. Each of the following entries thus combines thick ethnographic description on the part of anthropologists, ethnographers, and activists who have been directly involved in the Occupy movements or other instances of mobilization during the 2011 global uprisings—either through engagement with one more encampments and/or the themes addressed by Occupy—with critical analysis of one or more of the issues outlined above.


[1] Occupy has thus addressed many of the same themes and drawn on many of the organizational practices associated with the global justice movements of a previous era, even as it has resonated more strongly with domestic national contexts of the Global north.

[2] The people’s mic is a form of voice amplification whereby everyone in listening distance repeats a speaker’s words so that others situated further away can also hear (See Garces, this Hot Spot).

[3] For example, in the U.S. local encampments created “Inter-Occupy” groups maintain ties with other occupations, while twitter feeds, listservs, websites, and other digital tools were used to communicate and coordinate more broadly. See our digital resources page for additional links.


Collins, Jane. 2012. “Theorizing Wisconsin’s 2011 Protests: Community-Based Unionism Confronts Accumulation by Dispossession.” American Ethnologist 39 (1):6–20.

Juris, Jeffrey. 2012. “Reflections on #Occupy Everywhere: Social Media, Public Space, and Emerging Logics of Aggregation.”American Ethnologist 39 (2):259-279.

Razsa, Maple and Andrej Kurnik. 2012. “The Occupy Movement in Žižek’s Hometown: Direct Democracy and a Politics of Becoming.” American Ethnologist 39 (2):238-258.


Prefigurative Politics

Marianne Maeckelbergh, Horizontal Decision-Making across Time and Place

Chris Garces, People’s Mic and ‘Leaderful’ Charisma

Philip Cartelli, Trying to Occupy Harvard

Public Space

Zoltán Glück, Between Wall Street and Zuccotti: Occupy and the Scale of Politics

Carles Feixa, et al., The #spanishrevolution and Beyond

Dimitris Dalakoglou,  The Movement and the “Movement” of Syntagma Square

Experience and Subjectivity

Jeffrey S. Juris, The 99% and the Production of Insurgent Subjectivity

Diane Nelson, et al., Her earliest leaf’s a flower…

Maple Razsa, The Subjective Turn: The Radicalization of Personal Experience within Occupy Slovenia

Marina Sitrin, Occupy Trust: The Role of Emotion in the New Movements

Strategy and Tactics

David Graeber, Occupy Wall Street rediscovers the radical imagination

Kate Griffiths-Dingani, May Day, Precarity, Affective Labor, and the General Strike

Angelique Haugerud, Humor and Occupy Wall Street

Karen Ho, Occupy Finance and the Paradox/Possibilities of Productivity

Social Media

Alice Mattoni, Beyond Celebration: Toward a More Nuanced Assessment of Facebook’s Role in Occupy Wall Street

John Postill, Participatory Media Research and Spain’s 15M Movement

Critical Perspectives

Yvonne Yen Liu, Decolonizing the Occupy Movement

Manissa McCleave Maharawal, Fieldnotes on Union Square, Anti-Oppression, and Occupy

Uri Gordon, Israel’s “Tent Protests:” A Domesticated Mobilization

Alex Khasnabish, Occupy Nova Scotia: The Symbolism and Politics of Space