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'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Origins of Occupy Oakland 

For more background about this, go here and here and here and here.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Reflections on Occupy and Social Media 

NOTE: As mentioned here last Tuesday, Jessica Hollie, also known as BellaEiko, spoke about how we need to stop segregating ourselves through fear for the benefit of the 1%. Just passing it along so that you can see what I experienced.

POST: About five weeks ago, I was stunned by the realization that e-mail is the new snail mail. It came upon me suddenly, as these things so often do when you are older like myself, while I was producing a KDVS program centered around ustreamers of Occupy Oakland. I was trying to reach a ustreamer, BellaEiko, so that I could interview her along with another ustreamer, LaurynG. I posted a message on her ustream site, nothing. There was no e-mail address. What to do?

Of course, BellaEiko has a Twitter account, as she also predictably tweets about Occupy Oakland and Occupy more generally. At this point, it began to dawn on me that Twitter is more than just a social networking site for celebraties to tell all their fans what they ate for breakfast. I had a brief encounter with such an insight previously when someone tweated their critical responses as they read Tony Blair's book, A Journey, last year, but I did not grasp the ramifications of it. Now, I was learning the hard way that it is nearly impossible to reach people involved in occupations initially through phone calls or, when available, e-mail. As far they were concerned, I may as well be living in Kazakhstan. So, I had to face reality: if I wanted to obtain guests involved in Occupy I was going to have to open a Twitter account. I begrudingly did so, and finally reached BellaEiko so that she could participate in the interview.

If you are going to attempt to engage Occupy, you cannot avoid engagement with Twitter and Ustream. Twitter is, in essence, a global chatroom where those at the scene of a general assembly or action rely information to everyone else outside of it. Occupiers also issue calls for assistance through Twitter, as they are retweeted across the Internet. As a consequence, homepages for various occupations have been rendered secondary, usually updated hours or even days after the fact. Homepages now appear to serve the purpose of providing detailed content which then, of course, gets delivered to people through Twitter. Not surprisingly, Facebook serves much the same purpose, but my impression is that Twitter has superceded Facebook as the means by which real time information is disseminated, rendering it more of a vehicle for organizing future activities.

Meanwhile, the participants of Occupy are humanized through Ustream. Ustreamers show every aspect of Occupy through video sent out over the Internet through phones and cameras. Ustreamers shatter the demonized construction of occupiers purveyed in the commercial media by showing them as they speak and act in real time. Jessica Hollie's speech, as presented at the top of this entry, is just one example among many of this phenomenon. OccupyFreedomLA, a ustreamer associated with, of course, Occupy LA, provided another compelling example when she ustreamed a group including herself preparing for a possible police assault by telling each other how to prepare for the possible use of tear gas and stenciling hearts on their hands to display to the officers as a symbol of their commitment to non-violence. One can agree or disagree with the actions of the occupiers in a specific situation, but, through Ustream, they are shown as flesh and blood people in the richness of their social and emotional diversity. The fact that the police have adopted less violent tactics towards Occupy as a consequence of these live presentations of Occupy activities is already well known.

Embedded within this embrace of the accelerated communication capacity of social media liesa number of troubling dilemmas. Practically, there is the problem that the use of social media varies with age. Hence, older people are less likely to understand Occupy because they do not use Twitter, Ustream and Facebook. If anything, I suspect that Facebook would constitute the most likely means of them receiving information about Occupy outside of the commercial media. Beyond this, there is the question as to whether Occupy runs the risk of becoming a virtualized form of reality television as people consider the movement a form of vicarious entertainment. Why go to a general assembly or action when you can stay home and watch it on Ustream? Along these lines, note that interest in police raids upon occupations, as reported through Twitter, seemed to wane if it became apparent that the police were not going to violently attack them.

More abstractly, there is the question as to the personal consequences associated with people processing so much information so rapidly. Franco Berardi, also known as Bifo, maintains that people receive information through communication technologies far beyond their ability to process it over time. Every aspect of our lives, our work, our families and our personal activities, are suffused with this virtual intrusion The result is eventually a feeling of powerlessness and depression, which is expressed either inwardly through withdrawal or self-harm, or outwardly, through violence directed against others, along with an accompanying loss of intimacy. Combined with the pre-existing psychological problems of burnout and depression connected to the exaltation of the activist, a figure encouraged to dedicate all aspects of their life to the movement, much as, paradoxically, executives subordinate their lives to the artifical needs of their corporations, there is a potentially combustible peril here. Yet Occupy is inescapably intertwined with the urgency of social media. One wonders, have the participants of Occupy and the recipients of Occupy's stream of virtual information found a way out of the cul-de-sac described by Bifo? Regardless of the answer, the creative expansion of the uses of social media by Occupy may partially illustrate the integration of the movement with contemporary socioeconomic conditions, rendering it a potentially radically transformative enterprise.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Just Imagine Shutting Down US Military Bases 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

March to the Port of Oakland (12/12 at 5:26 AM) 

I went out with this group on Monday morning. I'm the bearded guy in a black raincoat, with a red backpack on his back, holding a sign in the background at 53:21 through 53:26. I should have included this video with my post about the shutdown earlier this week, but just now came across it. OakFoSho was the ustreamer.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Occupy and the Tasks of Socialists 

Leaving aside the fact that I include anarchists among socialists, Pham Binh has written a provocative, insightful evaluation of Occupy from a Marxist perspective. Here is the introductory paragraph:

Occupy is a once in a lifetime opportunity to re-merge the socialist and working class movements and create a viable broad-based party of radicals, two prospects that have not been on the cards in the United States since the late 1960s and early 1970s. The socialist left has not begun to think through these big picture implications of Occupy, nor has it fully adjusted to the new tasks that Occupy’s outbreak has created for socialists. In practice, the socialist left follows Occupy’s lead rather than Occupy follow the socialist left’s lead. As a result, we struggle to keep pace with Occupy’s rapid evolution.

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) mobilized more workers and oppressed people in four weeks than the entire socialist left combined has in four decades. We would benefit by coming to grips with how and why other forces (namely anarchists) accomplished this historic feat.

The following is an attempt to understand Occupy, review the socialist response, and draw some practical conclusions aimed at helping the socialist left become central rather than remain marginal to Occupy’s overall direction.

Please visit The Unrepentent Marxist and read it in its entirety, as Binh addresses many of the practical issues that have emerged since the movement began.

If anything, Binh may have underestimated the extent to which the old divisions among socialists, between anarchists, Marxists and social democrats, have already begun to wither away. For example, consider my post yesterday about my experience during the West Coast port blockade in this light. Given the prominent role of young people and poor people in the movement, it is not surprising that they are less confined by ideological doctrine, and more influenced by their personal experiences. Hence, an analysis based upon considering Marxists (which is what I believe he really means by use of the term socialist left) and anarchists mutually exclusive, competing left perspectives is dubious. Even so, his practical insights into the operation of the movement are essential to forming an understanding of it.

Binh advocates for the creation of a revolutionary party as a means of carrying the struggle forward. Unfortunately, to the extent that such a proposal originates among Marxists, and is expressed by reference to Marxist language and experience, it is probably likely to be dismissed. But, if presented as a means of coordinating the actions of semi-autonomous groups nationally, centered around an explicitly anti-capitalist perspective, it might get a better reception. Clearly, the proposal for a Joint Committee of Revolutionary Socialists put forward by Socialist Viewpoint is problematic, especially as the proponents seem oblivious to the essential role of anti-authoritarians within the movement. But it does provide a good starting point for discussion of both ideological and practical issues. For example, would increased centralization assist the movement or impair it? Along these lines, recall that the adoption of Leninist forms of organization in both the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers were turned against them with success by law enforcement. Furthermore, it also had the practical effect of suppressing debate that might have allowed both to survive. So, the problem becomes, how does the movement organize itself effectively while retaining much of the openness and spontaneity that has been so integral to its success?

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On the Picket Line at the Port of Oakland 

Yesterday morning, I got up at 3:45am, quickly got dressed, and traveled to the West Oakland BART station for the 5:30am march to the Port of Oakland. I exited the station about five minutes late, along with about 30 to 40 other people, which was just in time, because this was an action that required that we cover the approximately two and a half mile distance from the station to the port gates as quickly as possible. As I looked around, I was surprised by the large number of people that had congregated at such an early hour of the day.

The march began shortly thereafter, and I've heard estimates that there were about 1500 and 2000 people walking briskly down the wide boulevard towards the port, accompanied by the screeching woosh of BART trains entering and exiting the Transbay Tube, but around 800 to 1000 seems more likely to me, but then again, the science of estimating the size of crowds is notoriously imprecise. Given that the weather was dank, mid-40s and drizzle, I was impressed. We arrived at one of the gates at about 6:15am, after having another group go to another gate. I'd say about 200 to 300 of us marched in a picket line, while another 100 or so watched and pondered the police presence, which was mild. Shortly thereafter, a couple with a young boy, probably about 4 years old, gave out some raisin cookies to us.

There was a wide array of participaton among the left: the International Socialist Organization, anarchists (including some people from AK Press, naturally), the Industrial Workers of the World Food and Retail Workers Union (also anarchist, from what I have heard), teachers from the Oakland Education Association that endorsed the call, young gays and lesbians (the young radical contingent Feminists & Queers Against Capitalism, plus others upset about the torture of Bradley Manning, with one wearing a Free Bradley Manning sticker on his jacket). As this suggests, there were a lot of young people, a multiracial group of young African Americans, Latinos, whites, gays, lesbians and some Asian Americans, with the young people of color and the anarchists connecting the port shutdown to the killing of Oscar Grant, as it is becoming more and more obvious that his death was a seminal event in the intensified radicalization of young people in Oakland. And, of course, there was Clarence Thomas and some others from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, as well as someone from the Alameda Central Labor Council, along with some older radicals, such as, for example, David Solnit, one of the anti-authoritarian, anti-globalization organizers of Direct Action to Stop the War in 2003. I'm guessing that there were some California Nurses Association people there, too.

Thomas played a prominent role in making sure that everyone remained focused on the purpose of the action. Initially, when we first arrived and set up the picket, some young male anarchists with bandannas got up in the face of the cops and yelled typically insulting, inane things at them. Thomas and other ILWU people got on that right away, telling the organizers that these guys were doing stupid bullshit and needed to stop. They did. My impression was that the ISO participated in the planning and organization for the event instead of limiting themselves to proselytizing from the outside. The ISO people, along with others, communicated information and told people what needed to done (please touch the curb, we have to do that for it to be a legal picket). So, the anarchists and the ISO must be getting along. There's a lot of cross-pollination associated with Occupy Oakland, as the young organizers come from a variety of groups.

I can't say this from personal knowledge, but it looks like the ILWU workers in the port supported the action, if you measure it by the fact that it was reported that none crossed the community picket. The more challenging issue is the extent to which the blockade required truck drivers, employed as independent contractors, to sacrifice for the possibility of better wages and working conditions in the future as well as for other workers, like the ILWU ones in Longview. Predictably, the commercial media made much of the displeasure of drivers not being able to enter the port, but there were other organizations of drivers that expressed support for the action by reference to their demeaning working conditions, such as, for example, their low pay and lack of any rest room facilities.

As the sun rose, the mood in front of the gate was festive. We are unstoppable, another world is possible. Someone brought a speaker in a carriage attached to their bike, and Bloq Capital cranked up some hip hop, power pop and funk in the center of the circular picket line. Along with a young lesbian flag team, they set up an impromptu dance club. I know Louis Proyect over at The Unrepentant Marxist looks askance at this sort of thing, but, when you are walking around slowly in a circle in cold weather, as we were yesterday, it really picks up your spirit, which it did in this instance. Humorously, the line went crazy over their energetic dancing to The Go-Gos We've Got the Beat, and joined in. A few of the cops smiled. I suspect that I will always think of this protest whenever I hear that song again. It was all part of a cultural effort to subvert the power and authority of the police, a subject that I may post a brief blog entry about if I find the time. And then We've Got the Beat faded into the ferocity of Le Tigre's New Kicks, a powerful, now nostalgic 2003 anthem given a new importance by yet another manifestation of the same struggle, and the dancers chanted in unison with the lyrics, This is What Democracy Looks Like! This is What Democracy Sounds Like! And as the song wound down, everyone yelled, We say no to war! No war! We say no to war! No war! It was one of those epiphanies when, for the briefest of moments, our most fervent dreams became real.

At around 10:30am, the organizers announced that the arbitrator had determined that the picket made it unsafe for ILWU wokers to enter the port, effectively closing the port for the morning shift, and we thereafter departed. As you probably already know, the ILWU could not endorse the blockade, but can refuse to cross a community picket line. For me, the striking aspect of the blockade was the participation of so many young people and their organizational skills. Of course, one should avoid exaggeration, an action like this is going to primarily attract leftists, but the mere fact that they are willing to publicly engage in such militant political activity is significant. There is something important happening here generationally, a willingness of some people under 30 to embrace anti-capitalist social perspectives and act upon them.

Beyond the more common chants of the We are the 99% kind, here are a few of the more distinctive ones specific to Oakland that rippled through the crowd as we returned to the West Oakland BART station:

Labor, Black and Brown, Oakland is a Union Town

Fuck the Police, From Oakland to Greece

We are the Proletariat

Oscar Grant Didn't Have to Die, Shot Him in the Back, Wouldn't Look Him in the Eye

All of them reflect the multiethnic working class synergy that is emerging in Oakland, a synergy generated from concrete social conditions, such as, obviously, the brutality of the Oakland Police Department and the BART police, and the harshness of their economic distress. At a small rally upon our return to Oscar Grant Plaza, Jessica Hollie, an Occupy Oakland activist and ustreamer from East Oakland, gave a brief, passionate speech about how the 1% is impoverishing everyone by separating us through fear, fear of places like West Oakland, East Oakland and Richmond. For them, she said, we are all the same, all they care about is how they enrich themselves at our expense. She emphasized the urgency of working together, declaring I care about you, and I hope you care about me. In this, she touched upon the essential need for collective organization and emotional support as an alternative to the current predatory economic system. Earlier, on the way back from the port, I saw a man poignantly express something similar with a poignant sign that said, After the Banks Fail, We Still Have Each Other. Leftists must engage this need for mutual support during a time of crisis that if we are to have any future relevance.

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Friday, December 09, 2011

12/12 West Coast Port Blockade (Part 2) 

On Monday, the first march to the Port of Oakland will start at 5:30am from the nearby West Oakland BART station, with subsequent afternoon marches to the port at 4:00pm and 5:00pm. In Long Beach, people will meet at Harry Bridges Park at 5:00am and march to the SSA Marine terminal. In Portland, people will congregate at Kelley Point Park for a 6:00am rally and 7:00am blockade. In Seattle, people will meet at Westlake Park at 1:00pm and march to the Port of Seattle. In San Diego, people will gather at Chicano Park at 6am for a march to the port. And these are just some of the planned actions.

In the Bay Area, the organizing efforts for the blockade have been extraordinary:

Shrugging off tent removal, tear gas and rubber bullets, Occupy Oakland has become the nucleus of coordination, holding inter-Occupy conference calls; brainstorming budgets to provide camps with everything from porta-potties to bullhorns; and using union networks to connect rank-and-file members with general assemblies on the West Coast.

Hundreds of Oakland citizens are leafletting commuter trains, staging rush-hour banner drops, reaching out to non-unionized workers, and sending out bilingual teams to ethnic boroughs to help populate the blockade. Other local organizations are independently working for the event. For example, the International Socialist Organization immediately began contacting branches in relevant cities while the East Bay Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice will be hosting a pre-march teach-in about the plight of longshoremen and port truckers.

And, one of the consequences of this effort has been pressure within unions to respond to this radical current:

Barucha says the democratization paradigm of the leaderless occupation movement is proving to be a model for workers unhappy with the status quo.

This is the first time there has been an exemplary movement that is encouraging and teaching people to self-organize. The occupation, she said, allows union members to act as individual community participants and create community pickets, alongside the unemployed, the non-unionized working class, the homeless and any other supportive neighbors that share the same material needs.

One Bay Area couple who belong to another big local union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, said they and some other grocers chose to organize after watching their contracts being written up behind closed doors. The couple, who asked not to be identified, said the UFCW leaders negotiated a pension concession that they could opt out of by accepting other concessions.

No wonder Democratic mayors across the country have cracked down on Occupy Together. Effective organizing from the bottom up is the most serious threat to the Labor/Democratic Party/Corporate triumvirate in many years. For example, consider this effort by Occupy Oakland tomorrow in the impoverished neighborhood adjacent to the port:

10:00 am-11:00am: Activists and community members from across West Oakland and beyond will gather in DeFremery park for outreach training about the Port Blockade Action.

11:00 am-1:00 pm: Groups will disperse from the park to engage Oakland community members in real conversation around why the West Coast Port Blockade is crucial to achieving solidarity with the working class who live next to and work in the Port of Oakland.

Of course, people have participated in such efforts for decades. The novelty lies in the number of people involved this time and the intensity of their motivation. For more information about the blockade, go here.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Fourth Reich 

Too bad Fassbinder is no longer with us. Few, if any, so astutely recognized the perseverance of fascist values in postwar Germany, sublimated in the guise of the bourgeois values of work and frugality than he did, with its attendant consequences resulting from the suppression of the libido. In films like The Marriage of Maria Braun and Lola, he addressed the joyful, contradictory features of contemporary capitalism, one defined by the duality of austerity and excess. Through the character of Maria Braun, a smart, savvy women, who, reminscent of Scarlett O'Hara during Reconstruction, exploits the entreprenuerial spirit of the time to rise to great heights during the German economic miracle of the 1950s, he prefigured the rise of Merkel.

In Katzelmacher, Fassbinder exposed the enduring German sense of racial superiority in regard to the peoples of southern Europe, and the sexual jealousies connected to it, dramatized by means of the hostility of the young German working class characters to the Greek immigrant, Jurgos. Such attitudes have been on prominent display during the current Eurozone crisis, with Germans and the German media purveying crude stereotypes about the purportedly profligate Greeks so as to justify the colonization of the country by financial interests aligned with the German state. Merkel's proposal for a new Eurozone is based upon implicitly bigoted assumptions about countries like Italy and Greece, as revealed through the notion that Germans, through the administrative processes of the European Union, must seize power from them and act as their firm, disciplinarian parents.

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Monday, December 05, 2011

12/12 West Coast Port Blockade (Part 1) 

From the Occupy Oakland website:

As of November 27, 2011, the Occupy movement in every major West Coast port city: Occupy LA, Occupy San Diego, Occupy Portland, Occupy Tacoma, Occupy Seattle have joined Occupy Oakland in calling for and organizing a coordinated West Coast Port Blockade and Shutdown on December 12, 2011. Other West Coast Occupies, including Occupy Anchorage and Vancouver, Canada are planning to join the economic blockade and disruption of the 1% on that date, according to organizers.

We’re shutting down these ports because of the union busting and attacks on the working class by the 1%: the firing of Port truckers organizing at SSA terminals in LA; the attempt to rupture ILWU union jurisdiction in Longview, WA by EGT. EGT includes Bunge LTD, a company which reported 2.5 billion dollars in profit last year and has economically devastated poor people in Argentina and Brazil. SSA is responsible for inhumane working conditions and gross exploitation of port truckers and is owned by Goldman Sachs. EGT and Goldman Sachs is Wallstreet on the Waterfront stated Barucha Peller of the West Coast Port Blockade Assembly of Occupy Oakland.

It is important to understand that the port blockade, like the last one in Oakland on November 2nd, has been predominately called for the express purpose of supporting the struggles of workers involved in transport. Occupy Oakland has provided an exemplary example in regard to recognizing the interrelationship between race, poverty and the exploitation of workers.

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Sunday, December 04, 2011

Philip Glass Addresses Occupy Wall Street 

As someone who has unapologetically appreciated minimalism, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Philip Glass addressed Occupy Wall Street on Thursday:

If my memory serves me correctly, Glass has lived on the Lower East Side, one of the most socially and politically radical neighborhoods in the US, for many years.

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Saturday, December 03, 2011

The Hidden Abuse of Occupy LA Detainees 

From an article by Yasha Levine in The Exiled:

While people are now beginning to learn that the police attack on Occupy LA was much more violent than previously reported, few actually realize that much—if not most—of the abuse happened while the protesters were in police custody, completely outside the range of the press and news media. And the disgraceful truth is that a lot of the abuse was police sadism, pure and simple:

* I heard from two different sources that at least one busload of protesters (around 40 people) was forced to spend seven excruciating hours locked in tiny cages on a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept. prison bus, denied food, water and access to bathroom facilities. Both men and women were forced to urinate in their seats. Meanwhile, the cops in charge of the bus took an extended Starbucks coffee break.

* The bus that I was shoved into didn’t move for at least an hour. The whole time we listened to the screams and crying from a young woman whom the cops locked into a tiny cage at the front of the bus. She was in agony, begging and pleading for one of the policemen to loosen her plastic handcuffs. A police officer sat a couple of feet away the entire time that she screamed–but wouldn’t lift a finger.

* Everyone on my bus felt her pain–literally felt it. That’s because the zip-tie handcuffs they use—like the ones you see on Iraq prisoners in Abu Ghraib—cut off your circulation and wedge deep through your skin, where they can do some serious nerve damage, if that’s the point. And it did seem to be the point. A couple of guys around me were writhing in agony in their hard plastic seats, hands handcuffed behind their back.

Levine's account highlights how people in positions of authority rely upon sadism to abuse those who participate in protest movements that threaten established economic interests. He concludes that the order to treat the detainees in this fashion came from the highest levels, probably from Police Chief Charlie Beck and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Of course, poor people and people of color aren't surprised, they've been treated this way for decades.

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