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

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

#F29 Actions 


From occupywallst.org:

5:40PM EST: via @F29PDX: "Here's what's happening now: March in Las Vegas; direct action in Rockland, MA; march in Norfolk, VA; Rally in Gainesville, FL, rally and march in Phoenix, AZ; Rally in Minneapolis, MN; protest against Fletcher-Daniels in Kansas City, MO; and march in Portland! Follow Shut Down the Corporations for more updates tonight.

5:10PM EST: Two arrested at huge march in Portland. Occupy Las Vegas shuts down Walmart.

4:20PM EST: UC-Davis protesters shut down a U.S. Bank. Heavy police presence in Portland as police on motorcycles and bicycles try to cut off march and force protesters onto sidewalks. Some Occupiers have broken through police lines. Crowd estimated in 1000s. (Portland livestream). Oakland is off to shut down some banks. (Oakland livestream). Occupy DC has returned to Walmart construction site to continue protest.

3:50PM EST: General Assembly underway at occupied university in Barcelona. Anti-ALEC demos getting started in more cities and towns across the US. Occupiers in New Hampshire will target Koch brother-funded Americans for Prosperity. Numbers grow in Portland despite rain. Occupy Boston heading to City Hall to demand: "No HIKES! No CUTS! No Layoffs" in public transit at 6pm.

3:10PM EST: Police attack retreating Walmart protesters in SoCal, who had already declared victory by shutting down all targets. Some arrested while falling back as police rush forward with pepper guns loaded. Some Occupiers injured and seen limping away from police line. Others being treated by medics for bruises from baton strikes. Crowd dwindling as most protesters leave, some running to their cars.

2:50PM EST: Police move in on SoCal protesters with batons drawn, push back and begin kettling protesters. Police seen on livestream cutting off escape routes, using unnecessary force against protesters who are trying to follow dispersal orders, and aiming pepper-ball guns at nonviolent protesters. Crowds also assembling in Portland.

2:10PM EST: Standoff continues at Walmart warehouse in SoCal. via Occupy The Hood LA: ‏ @OTH_LosAngeles Keep in mind Riot Gear police came in while Occupy protesters were having a block party with music and discussion #PoliceState #FTP.

2:00PM EST: Occupy Oakland will rally at noon PST ar Snow Park to shut down the banks, and 6pm PST at Oscar Grant Park for a Funeral for Capitalism. OWS NYC continues to occupy Bryant Park in front of BoA tower. Eight arrests were made outside Pfizer R&D facility in Connecticut after multiple CT Occupations protest. Actions have also begun across Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico targeting ALEC's connection to racist anti-immigrant legislation and for-profit prisons. (Phoenix livestream)

1:30PM EST: Peaceful SoCal demo has been declared "unlawful" by riot cops who have kettled protesters and given dispersal orders despite being surrounded on all sides. In NYC, protesters run up to AT&T to decry anti-union policies.

1:10PM EST: Banner drop at Grand Central overpass in NYC (photo)

1:04PM EST: Protesters put bed in middle of intersection (photo) at 43rd st. and Madison Ave in NYC. Who are you in bed with? (Twitter) (Facebook)

1:00PM EST: Riot police have surrounded anti-Wal Mart demo in SoCal, where protesters have been celebrating and listening to music in the intersection after shutting down all targeted warehouses.

12:30PM EST: Actions starting in dozens more US cities, including Huntsville, Dayton, New Brunswick, Nashville, Buffalo, Albany, Richmond, Eugene, Louisville, Pensacola, Albuquerque, New Orleans, Charlotte, and more. Reports of arrests at BoA HQ in NYC as police aggressively push back protesters.

12:00PM EST: Large crowd in Pittsburgh protesting drastic cuts in public transit system, including potential shut-down of 35% of services, half of all routes, and 500 jobs. (Pittsburgh livestream). Orlando begins march on BoA. (Orlando livestream).

11:30AM EST: In Spain, massive protests still underway in Valencia and other cities. (Barcelona livestream). Teach-in underway in Bryant Park in front of Citibank discussing toxic loans, foreclosure, & bank crimes as Wells Fargo gets eviction notices in NYC. Anti-Walmart protesters continue to hold intersections in SoCal.

For breaking news throughout the rest of the day, return to occupywallst.org, go to shutdownthecorporations.org, use appropriate hashtags on Twitter, #occupywallstreet, #opdx, #occupythehood and #occupyoakland, among others, and watch livestreams and ustreams, such as the one at occupywallst.org and others linked there and elsewhere.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

NYPD Spying on Muslims Funded by the Federal Government 

Yes, it's confirmed, it's a federal surveillance program:

Millions of dollars in White House money has helped pay for New York Police Department programs that put entire American Muslim neighborhoods under surveillance.

The money is part of a little-known grant intended to help law enforcement fight drug crimes. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush and Obama administrations have provided $135 million to the New York and New Jersey region through the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, known as HIDTA.

Some of that money — it's unclear exactly how much because the program has little oversight — has paid for the cars that plainclothes NYPD officers used to conduct surveillance on Muslim neighborhoods. It also paid for computers that store even innocuous information about Muslim college students, mosque sermons and social events.

When NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly was filled in on these efforts, his briefings were prepared on HIDTA computers.

The AP confirmed the use of White House money through secret police documents and interviews with current and former city and federal officials. The AP also obtained electronic documents with digital signatures indicating they were created and saved on HIDTA computers. The HIDTA grant program is overseen by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Such a disclosure is probably the tip of the iceberg in two respects. First, it is likely that there is federal funding for similar surveillance plans elsewhere. Second, there is also a good chance that the program is supported with other sources of federal funding as well. And, beyond this, there is the probability that the information is being shared with federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

What's Happening in Saudi Arabia? 

From The Global Mail:

It's all happening in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, home to most of the Kingdom's Shia minority, and 90 per cent of its oil. Seven people have been shot dead by Saudi security forces since October 2011, two in the past month alone. The Saudi Interior Ministry says these deaths resulted from gun battles between protesters and police. But in all amateur videos that show protesters being shot, there is no evidence that protesters were shooting back.

There have been remarkable scenes of rebellion. One photograph, taken on February 10 this year, shows a young man hurling an effigy of Crown Prince Nayef at a row of armoured anti-riot tanks. It's an extraordinary provocation. Prince Nayef is not only the head of the Interior Ministry - he's also the heir to the throne.

But it's not just a few people defying the Prince. On February 13, at a funeral for the most recent 'martyr', 21-year-old Zuhair al Said, tens of thousands of people marched through the streets, chanting No Sunna, No Shia, but Islamic unity! We're not afraid, down with Nayef! You're the terrorist, you're the criminal, you're the butcher, ya Nayef!

We will never rest, country of oppressors! Son of Saud [royal family], hear the voice! We will never give up 'til death!

The article is excellent, and I recommend that people read it in its entirety. Protests intensified after Saudi Arabia sent troops into nearby Bahrain last spring to participate in the ongoing suppression of the democracy movement. There is speculation that the Saudi royal family has not acted even more aggressively because of fears that the populace might interrupt the flow of oil from the region.

Hat tip to the Angry Arab.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Reflections of an Aging Leftist 

Last night, I took my son to a movie, The Secret World of Arrietty. To see it, we had to go to a multiplex at the Arden Fair Mall. Now, I rarely go to a mall at anytime of year other than just before Christmas, so it is always a small culture shock for me. I was surprised to be among so many people at night, even though, by mall standards, it was semi-deserted, because I am invariably home with my son during weeknight evenings unless we go to a small pizza place or yogurt shop. The people use communications technologies with which I am unaware, listen to music with which I am unfamiliar and talk about things I haven't heard about before.

Prior to the start of the movie, there was a video admonition that no texting is allowed during the feature presentation. The specific theatre for our film was nearly empty, which could be a reflection of the fact that we went on Thursday evening, or that the movie isn't very popular, but I had the disquieting feeling that it was indicative of the fact that movie theatres are now an endangered species, about to become extinct. The previews went on interminably, especially for someone like me used to watching films at the Pacific Film Archive (amazingly, you sit down, the light dims, and the film starts!) and arthouses, so much so, that, after about the sixth one, my impatient son gently asked, are they going to end soon? Fortunately, the film itself was a delight.

Upon coming to work this morning, I went to a nearby cafe and got some tea. The man at the register was talking to his friend about Arkham City, a recently released Batman game. As with my trip to the mall, I experienced a sense of being a foreigner, capable of speaking the language but otherwise isolated. Gaming is a phenomenon that is mystery to me. Millions of people buy them and play them on their playstations at home, and I have the most minimal understanding of the experience, except that they appear to be very good at keeping kids occupied, frighteningly so. Surely, there are significant social and political implications to this phenomenon, but, if so, I have no idea what might be, other than an observation that it appears to be yet another way for people to isolate themselves with technology.

Such experiences cause me to wonder, what is the purpose of trying to engage people politically, either through this blog or over the radio, two increasingly antiquated forms of communication? How it is possible to reach people who have socially organized themselves in ways that I don't understand? Even if I can, does what I say have relevance to them, or do I sound like some hill country Baptist preacher, speaking in a dialect long since abandoned? And, if I have these problems, imagine what it must be like for people trained in the baroque rhetoric flourishes of 20th Century Marxism and feminism.

Ultimately, I can only take refuge, paradoxically enough, in the avant garde individualism of people like Donald Ritchie, the American who decided to stay in Japan permanently after his arrival in 1946, and indulge his obsession with the unfolding modernity and postmodernity of Japan within the context of his classical cultural referents. His courage lies in his simple, persistent refusal to allow the market and the mercurial trends of pop culture to dictate his interests and his intellectual relation to the world. It is a paradoxical refuge, because I, unlike Ritchie, believe in the possibility, indeed, the necessity, of a utopian, liberatory collective human enterprise. Without one, how can the human race survive? Even if we survive, how can we avoid the increasing probability of a truly genocidal extermination of billions of people who no longer have a place as either a producer, a consumer or a debtor in a world transformed into one of mechanical and virtual manufacture, communication and distribution?

For me, Occupy represents a gossamer thread of hope, a possibility, however slight, that people can organize themselves, from the bottom up, and avoid these dystopian outcomes. Many of the participants are young, tech savvy people, racially diverse (in California, at least), with a recognition of the hierarchical institutions of social control that oppress them. Occupy Oakland, for all of it problems, is the most inspiring, an occupation that has sought to engage young people, poor people, people of color and the working class more broadly. Perhaps, it's time has already come and gone, but, if true, which I doubt, it will still serve as an inspiring experience for those who come after it, inspiring not just because of its successes, but also because of its failures, failures which have resulted from its ambitious effort to confrontationally challenge the inherent violence and brutality of this society.

Hence, I put forward my perspective about Occupy with care, because I'm not on the front line, and, beyond that, as a cultural outsider, lack the insight to confidently make recommentations. Are the Fuck the Police marches in Oakland on Saturday evenings a bad idea? An activity that alienates people that might otherwise support Occupy Oakland? Probably. But I haven't lived in Oakland and been subjected to the predations of the police for years, or been attacked with tear gas and flash grenades during occupations, marches and direct actions, as many in Oakland have been. I can't dismiss the possibility that these marches may, in fact, anticipate a greater public willingness to challenge the power of the police in the future. In other words, the repressive power of the police over their lives may turn out to be a seminal issue for young people who are also being impoverished by austerity. Leftists, especially older ones, need to recognize the interrelationship between police repression and poverty instead of talking about them in implicitly mutually exclusive terms.

I am, however, confident enough to insist upon one thing: Occupy must be centered around the principle of the most radically inclusive democratic perspective, otherwise it will degenerate into yet another manipulative, liberal representational effort, or fragment into small, sectarian groups, some violent, some not, groups that spend more time fighting one another over the purity of their vision than engaging the people that purportedly justify their activity. There is a path that runs between them, one that requires understanding the day to day lives of distressed people and creating a place for them within the movement. Through this, Occupy can become a truly mass movement that threatens the existing social order. The repressive measures directed against Occupy to date reveal the potential for such an effort.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Did You Know that Long Island and Newark, New Jersey are Part of New York City? 

Clearly, this is part of a federally authorized program, administered through either the Department of Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency, or both:

Americans living and working in New Jersey's largest city were subjected to surveillance as part of the New York Police Department's effort to build databases of where Muslims work, shop and pray. The operation in Newark was so secretive even the city's mayor says he was kept in the dark.

For months in mid-2007, plainclothes officers from the NYPD's Demographics Units fanned out across Newark, taking pictures and eavesdropping on conversations inside businesses owned or frequented by Muslims.

The result was a 60-page report, obtained by The Associated Press, containing brief summaries of businesses and their clientele. Police also photographed and mapped 16 mosques, listing them as Islamic Religious Institutions.

For those of you who are interested, here is a link to the report itself. Please consider going through it, as the degree of personal and demographic detail is shocking.

Similarly, in Long Island:

The other report that AP released, which covers surveillance in Nassau County, New York (Long Island), shows NYPD mapped population centers and business districts of communities of interest. Like Newark, they found out where all people of Arab, Bangladeshi, Guyanese, Indian, Iranian, Pakistani and Turkish descent lived in Nassau County.

This report also notes which businesses sell or serve halal meat. It also notes the number of seats in each of the restaurants.

One site singled out is a Hookah cafe and lounge that caters to college students and plays Hip Hop music at night and is owned by Egyptians, Pakistanis and African Americans. Another site, Cleopatra, a small sized store for Middle Eastern food and groceries, is noted for having Al Jazeera news on the television.

Yemeni-owned businesses are noted, but there is no demographic map for Yemenis. It seems they were categorized as Arab.

A section, Locations Requiring Further Examination, includes an Unnamed Mosque and School the police seem to have presumed was owned by a Pakistani female. Also listed is a warehouse for Friday prayer and, finally, a place called Darul Tabligh North America (DNA) is listed because its primary goal is to assist the community in North America to fulfill its responsibility of imparting religious education to the upcoming generations, also to become a source of information on Islam for the public at large. Educating young people on Islamic tradition seems to be suspect to whomever made this note.

Of course, the report related to Long Island is identical to the one produced for Newark in terms of its detailed intrusiveness. I hesitate to say that such information is being developed in order to facilitate the seizure of large numbers of Muslims in the event of a political crisis, as happened with Japanese Americans in 1942. But the creation of such extensive surveillance information, information that would make it easier to carry out such a mass seizure, is alarming. I also doubt that the NYPD is the only police department in the US involved in such activity. For example, the Los Angeles Police Department had a similar surveillance program targeting Muslims in late 2007 that it purportedly abandoned. Maybe, the Associated Press should look into whether it really was abandoned, or just concealed further underground. Don't expect credulous politicians at any level of the government to display much curiousity about it.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Message to Occupy Sacramento from Anonymous 

UPDATE: Upon an examination of the Occupy Sacramento Facebook page, I have no idea as to what Anonymous finds so objectionable. The SEIU postings that I encountered last fall are nowhere to be seen, and, even if they were, the movement can surely find a way to engage the union in a way that does not entail acquiescence. As t stated the other day in relation to Occupy Chicago:

By patiently engaging the unions in the city and getting them to talk to Occupy (and one another), the working group has been able to instigate interesting discussions about challenging Rahm and the Democrat Machine in the city, about the need for independence from the Democratic Party, about the need for strike action, about organizing the unorganized and allying with anti-racist and immigrants rights struggles. There was recently an Occupy convened city-wide labor conference that drew Postal workers, bus drivers, subway conductors, nurses, teachers, teamsters from UPS and elsewhere, and many others. The discussions that happened at the conference were politically sharp and very interesting. They would not have been possible if Occupy Chicago had taken an undifferentiated anti-union perspective and derided all of these groups as nothing but tools of the system. The fact is that workers are interested in Occupy and what's needed is patient organizing work and political conversation between radicals, Occupiers, and labor.

Perhaps, Anonymous has already swiped the Facebook page clean of purportedly offensive material, material centered around the purpose of exploiting Occupy for other agendas, but, if so, who gave Anonymous the right to decide what people can post in relation to Occupy and what they cannot?

INITIAL POST:

Living here in Sacramento, I just had to post this. I will check out the Occupy Sacramento Facebook page when I get a chance, and see if it is as bad as claimed by Anonymous, although it may already be too late. One gets the impression from the video that the participants in Anonymous who engaged in this hack of the Occupy Sacramento Facebook page believe that any use of an Occupy page for anything other than direct action is illegitimate.

My guess is that Anonymous specifically objects to SEIU postings on the page as part of the condemned other agendas, given the notorious business unionism associated with the union. I haven't had much contact with it recently, but, last fall, my impression of Occupy Sacramento was that it was more influenced by progressives involved with the Democratic Party and the unions aligned with it than some other ones.

For example, I encountered people in November who were critical of Occupy Oakland and anarchists, foreshadowing the current line now emerging against Occupy more generally. Even so, if I am correct, it may also be indicative of a reductionism within Anonymous, whereby the ephemeral Black Bloc assumes the features of a monolithic enterprise and the participation of unions at the Occupy Sacramento Facebook page is necessarily considered a corruption of the movement. As recognized by t at Pink Scare in the comments section here, there are better ways of reaching working class people than by maligning unions as incorrigibly compromised.

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Did You Know that Yale University is in New York City? 

From the Associated Press:

Yale University and student groups are condemning the monitoring of Muslim college students across the Northeast by the New York Police Department, while Rutgers University and leaders of Muslim groups are calling for investigations.

The New York Police Department monitored Muslim college students far more broadly than previously known, at schools far beyond the city limits, including the Ivy League colleges of Yale and the University of Pennsylvania, The Associated Press reported Saturday.

Police talked with local authorities about professors 300 miles (480 kilometers) away in Buffalo and sent an undercover agent on a whitewater rafting trip in upstate New York, where he recorded students' names and noted in police intelligence files how many times they prayed.

Detectives trawled Muslim student websites every day and, although professors and students had not been accused of any wrongdoing, their names were recorded in reports prepared for Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

A 2006 report explained that officers from the NYPD's Cyber Intelligence unit visited the websites, blogs and forums of Muslim student associations as a daily routine. The universities included Yale; Columbia; the University of Pennsylvania; Syracuse; New York University; Clarkson University; Rutgers University; and the State University of New York campuses in Buffalo, Albany, Stony Brook and Potsdam; Queens College, Baruch College, Brooklyn College, and La Guardia Community College.

After describing others instances of the surveillance of Muslims, Kevin Gosztola speculates about the purpose of it:

Why does the NYPD need all this surveillance?

It could be how the government gets its next batch of Muslim terror suspects to target and entrap in sting operations, not dissimilar to what happened with the Newburgh Four. It could be how the NYPD helps the government ensure that no student groups build strong ties with any charities or nonprofit groups in the Middle East, who might aid Palestinians or Muslims suffering directly or indirectly as a result of the US government’s unbridled support for Israel and the war on terrorism. Or, it could be this is just another front in the war on solidarity activist groups in America.

The threat of homegrown Muslim terrorism is overblown. A stunning fact is that, since the 9/11 attacks, Muslim-American terrorist plots have killed only 33 people. In contrast, there have been over 150,000 murders in the US. Gang violence is much more of a problem for Americans than the threat of homegrown terrorism. However, the NYPD does not appear to be working to keep Americans safe. It appears to be working as a tool of US empire, an agency that watches and invades the privacy of anyone who says anything that might threaten America’s projection of power in the Middle East.

Consistent with such an explanation is the fact, as noted by Gosztola elsewhere in his post, that the NYPD carried out such surveillance with the assistance of the Central Intelligence Agency:

From an office on the Brooklyn waterfront in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, New York Police Department officials and a veteran CIA officer built an intelligence-gathering program with an ambitious goal: to map the region's ethnic communities and dispatch teams of undercover officers to keep tabs on where Muslims shopped, ate and prayed.

The program was known as the Demographics Unit and, though the NYPD denies its existence, the squad maintained a long list of ancestries of interest and received daily reports on life in Muslim neighborhoods, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The documents offer a rare glimpse into an intelligence program shaped and steered by a CIA officer. It was an unusual partnership, one that occasionally blurred the line between domestic and foreign spying. The CIA is prohibited from gathering intelligence inside the U.S.

Undercover police officers, known as rakers, visited Islamic bookstores and cafes, businesses and clubs. Police looked for businesses that attracted certain minorities, such as taxi companies hiring Pakistanis. They were told to monitor current events, keep an eye on community bulletin boards inside houses of worship and look for hot spots of trouble.

The Demographics Unit, a team of 16 officers speaking at least five languages, is the only squad of its kind known to be operating in the country.

Using census information and government databases, the NYPD mapped ethnic neighborhoods in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Rakers then visited local businesses, chatting up store owners to determine their ethnicity and gauge their sentiment, the documents show. They played cricket and eavesdropped in the city's ethnic cafes and clubs.

For some reason, I don't expect any credible investigation of this surveillance activity. Indeed, I doubt that any restrictions will be placed upon it.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Hunger Strike of Khader Adnan 

From al-Jazeera:

By the time you read these words, Khader Adnan could be dead. After 58 full days on hunger strike, his body is already well past the stage where his vital organs may cease to function at any moment. But Khader Adnan is dying to live.

The 33-year-old Palestinian baker, husband, father, and graduate student has refused food since December 18, a day after he was arrested in a nighttime raid on his family home by Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank. He has lost over 40 kgs and his wife Randa and young daughters have described his appearance as shocking.

Adnan, whom Israel says is a member of Islamic Jihad, was given a four month administrative detention order by the Israeli military - meaning that he is held without being charged for any crime or trial, a practice continued by Israel that dates back to British colonial days.

Yesterday an Israeli military court rejected Adnan's appeal against the arbitrary detention. Having vowed to maintain his hunger strike until he is released or charged, the judge - an Israeli military officer - might as well have sentenced Khader Adnan to death, unless there is urgent international intervention.

Though the life in his body hangs on by a thread, his spirit is unbroken.

The Israeli occupation has gone to extremes against our people, especially prisoners, Adnan wrote in a letter published through his lawyer, I have been humiliated, beaten, and harassed by interrogators for no reason, and thus I swore to God I would fight the policy of administrative detention to which I and hundreds of my fellow prisoners fell prey.

According to Amnesty International, which has issued two urgent appeals on Adnan's behalf, as of December 31 last year, 307 Palestinians were in Israeli administrative detention, including 21 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council that was elected in January 2006.

I hereby assert that I am confronting the occupiers not for my own sake as an individual, but for the sake of thousands of prisoners who are being deprived of their simplest human rights while the world and international community look on, Adnan wrote in his letter.

In addition to Amnesty, Human Rights Watch too has heard Adnan's message, calling on Israel to release or charge him.

Hat tip to the Angry Arab.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Origins of Occupy? Mission District Murals, 12/31/2003 

UPDATE: Hat tip to bakononist for discovering that the person who composed the poem is Daisy Zamora. According to her wikipedia entry, she is one of the most prominent figures in contemporary Latin American poetry. Her work is known for its uncompromising voice and wide-ranging subject matter that dwells on the details of daily life while encompassing human rights, politics, revolution, feminist issues, art, history and culture. Given that she resides in Managua and San Francisco, I wonder if she actually participated in the painting of the mural.

INITIAL POST: Many years ago, I biked around the Mission District in San Francisco, and stopped to examine the murals in Clarion Alley, off Valencia. Many of them present highly politicized, socially radical themes, with an emphasis upon the the transformative harshness of the migration, the paradoxically collective nomadism inherent within it and the indigenous experience.

I remembered this today as I was looking through a stack of old business cards and papers with phone numbers of guests for my KDVS radio show (I remain primarily pre-virtual in this regard). As I did so, I came across a Modern Times Bookstore receipt from December 31, 2003. For those of you who are interested, I purchased the The Sorrows of Empire by the late Chalmers Johnson, A Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture, edited by Eyal Weizman, Rafi Segal and David Tartakover, and Israel/Palestine: The Black Book by Reporters Without Borders. To this day, I haven't read the last one, it's sitting in a stack somewhere in my house.

Afterwards, on this same day, I stopped to ponder the nearby murals in Clarion Alley, as, back then, Modern Times was located on Valencia Street near Clarion instead of 24th Street as it is now. I was sufficiently struck by one of them that I wrote down what appeared to be a title or introductory statement to a poem and the poem itself. Upon reading it again today, I was quite surprised:

Occupy your streets and not other countries

And, then, there was the poem itself, a romantic expression of magical realism:

When we return to our ancient land which we never knew

And talk about all those things that never happened

We will walk holding the hands of children who have never existed

We will listen to their voices and we will live that life

Which we have spoken of so often and have never lived

Was this composed by the people who painted the mural? Is is the work of a famous poet that I do not know? While I have a fondness for literature and film, I admit my ignorance when it comes to poetry.

I wish that I had a picture of it, but I don't. I wonder if the people who painted it remembered it as Occupy captured the public imagination last fall. Did they actually participate in the occupations? Did they appear and urge the importance of decolonization as an essential principle to acknowledge the imperial conquest of their lands and their cultures? Did they go to the general assembly and insist upon the inclusion of the experiences of people of color? Or had they forgotten about the mural, painted so long ago? Possibly even moved to live in other countries?

All questions without answers. With the passage of time, we can only recognize that the author(s) gave voice, in their elliptical way, to their utopian aspirations, aspirations that collectively emerged years later within Occupy. Perhaps, some day, we will fulfill them, because, as I frequently tell people these days, capitalism was also a utopian vision for many centuries, albeit a perverse one.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

An Open Letter from 4 Oakland Radicals 

UPDATE: On Twitter, laurenriot engages in an ongoing debate, tweet by tweet, with the signatories of the statement. Here is a sample of them, expect more to come at the hashtag #laurenriot:

58m lauren riot @laurenriot
I wonder if these folks actually spent any time in the days we laid down roots at Oscar Grant Plaza. I remember ferocity! Militance!

59m lauren riot @laurenriot
Do they mean taking a building after 10s of 1000s took to the streets only 4 weeks in?

59m lauren riot @laurenriot
Do they mean the roots of masked folx building barricades 2 weeks in to protect from cops?

1h lauren riot @laurenriot
Which roots exactly? OO was never an OWS satellite.

1h lauren riot @laurenriot
As the Oakland Commune evolves and finds its legs, these folks want to return to its roots.

1h lauren riot @laurenriot
And yet this group is most concerned about a handful of people who organized a *single* *action* they didn't like.

1h lauren riot @laurenriot
An aside, the "radical inclusivity" of OO has us organizing w/ holocaust deniers, unapologetic racists, rapists, misogynists and homophobes.

1h lauren riot @laurenriot
and seriously, just LOL at the reference to riot porn, an expression they no doubt learned from a sarcastic insurrectionary anarchist.

1h lauren riot @laurenriot
The link to the Bay of Rage article (& other language) says to me that one organizer in specific is being targeted, and that's fucked up.

1h lauren riot @laurenriot
The GA voted 2 keep many parts of the organizing of #J28 closed, while allowing the majority of the work to be done openly. Quite democratic

1h lauren riot @laurenriot
The critique of undemocratic processes seems to be another complaint about the organizing format agreed on my consensus at the GA. Ironic.

1h lauren riot @laurenriot
When you consider downtown residents opening their homes to strangers for teargas/OC decontamination on #J28-again, I see massive support!

1h lauren riot @laurenriot
When you consider 1000s on #J28 willing to commit trespassing, at least hundreds willing to commit burglary - speaks to massive support

1h lauren riot @laurenriot
What I see in the community is that the support for #OO is still very strong, if not stronger than it's been.!

Hat tip to Richard Crary of The Existence Machine.

INITIAL POST: An excerpt from a statement by four people involved in Occupy Oakland from the inception:

In our individualistic culture, it is rare when radical activists are able to pitch a big tent and draw in masses of people to the cause. The early days of the Occupy movement provided one of those rare opportunities. Occupy was the spark for the emergence of a broad wave of anti-corporate, anti-repression sentiment in our society. We are concerned that the inclusivity that began this movement and contributed to its rapid growth is dying in OO as a result of the dominant insurrectionist tendencies and the vanguardist maneuvering and manipulations of some of its proponents. Dramatically shrinking numbers reveal that this ideology and organizing style either misreads the real political situation in Oakland, or else underestimates the importance of consolidating and advancing a broad, united and popular front. We all collectively must take responsibility for this hardening and shrinking of the OO ranks, and we must recognize that in trying to re-make OO in an ideologically purist vision, we are destroying our ability to garner the wide base of support and goodwill that will be necessary to successfully resist corporate and state domination.

Occupiers who have begun to question the decision-making processes involved in recent actions like J28 are being asked, in the name of unity, to maintain silence. We have been told that our concerns will be dealt with, that there’s nothing to worry about, and that we shouldn’t speak publicly about them. Yet we feel that without transparency and open dialogue, the problems will only get worse. We are speaking to everyone who still believes in Occupy Oakland, but especially to those most active in the GA and various committees who have the ability to help us make the kinds of changes that would reassure the larger Bay Area community that Occupy Oakland is still a wise place to invest its energy.

The four of us decided to speak out because we have each been pushed to the margins of OO by ugly, ideological purification behavior that often now takes place at the GAs and in groups like the Move-In Committee, where dissenting voices are booed and jeered and group speak and in-group relationships now dominate. Please do not mistake our concerns as yet another attack on anarchism or Black Bloc; it’s not about that at all. It’s about the exclusionary strategies and tactics that alienate those of us who are interested in a slower, more solid, more inclusive approach of mass movement building.

Please consider reading the statement in its entirety, as well as the comments in response to it. They provide insight into the urgency of adopting inclusive practices that will expand the reach of Occupy.

As Cheryl Kohler, one of the signatories to the statement, says:

We are arguing against a strategy of full-blown insurrection and asking those who seem to be pushing in that direction to reconsider the strategy.

Let's hope that the participants in Occupy Oakland do so. As Bifo more generally observed in After the Future:

The identification of desire with energy has produced the identification of force with violence that turned out so badly for the Italian movement in the 1970s and 1980s. We have to distinguish energy and desire. Energy is falling, but desire has to be saved. Similarly, we have to distinguish force from violence. Fighting power with violence is suicidal or useless nowadays. How can we think of activists going against professional organizations of killers in the mold of Blackwater, Halliburton, secret services, mafias?

For those committed to the creation of alternative forms of collective organization and resistance, the answer to this rhetorical question is obvious. As I said on Thursday, socially and economically vulnerable people, and, for that matter, most people, whatever their background, are not going to commit themselves to a movement centered around high profile direct actions that present a higher probability of confrontation with the police. They are not going to participate in actions where, through the unilateral decisions of others, they suddenly find themselves subject to police assault. Such an experience is not going to result in a mass movement directed towards the dismantlement of governmental authority and police power in Oakland. If anything, it is more likely to lead to the imposition of a state of emergency.

As noted in my replies to Richard Crary's comments about my post yesterday, there are other ways of carrying out direct actions that incorporate the concerns of the community and reduce the prospect of a violent confrontation. For example, consider Jan Gilbrecht's explanation of how the seizure of the Kaiser Center, otherwise known as J28, could have been carried out:

Some of the proponents and proposers kept adding anything goes to the list of what would happen in the building, like for example child care, without consulting the childcare committee or having that be part of the initial proposal, or housing without addressing the serious issues with violence at the old encampment. I pointed out that it was hubris for the Move-In committee to decide on behalf of the community what would happen in the building. My proposal was to build for a very large Move-In action and community festival for the weekend, with a mass GA to be held each night, where members of the community could make proposals for the future of the building and then make decisions and commitments together. Rather than a distraction, many many people agreed with or also proposed this type of an approach, and a committee actually came up with a list of proposed housing guidelines to present to the GAs. Someone was identified to facilitate these mass GAs. Actually, it was one of the central proposers and planners of the action who told me personally that he didn’t care what we said would happen in the building, because it wasn’t about holding the building anyway, that would never happen. He thought we should say whatever people wanted to hear to get them out that day. That is exactly the kind of dishonest approach that caused me to withdraw from the Move-In action.

Interestingly, even Gilbrecht did not perceive the peril in a public mass action to seize the Kaiser Center, but, at least, she did recognize the need to place the facility at the service of the community. If this approach had been adopted and communicated to the people of Oakland prior to the action, it may well have generated a larger turnout of support, deterring the police from responding with such extreme force. If not, Occupy Oakland might have received more broad based community support after the subsequently kettles and arrests. Her claim that she was told by someone that Occupy Oakland never expected to hold the building points towards another serious issue, one beyond mendacity. If true, it highlights the arguable assumption that people can be best organized through theatrical protest spectacles, where the activists and the police all play their assigned roles.

Unfortunately, in this instance, the police didn't, a fact echoed in subsequent statements by some organizers to the effect that they expected the police to allow marchers to enter the Kaiser Center and arrest them later, as with past encampments. They expected to be allowed to, in effect, briefly squat the Center, conduct a couple of GAs and have a dance party before being evicted. There is nothing wrong with that, other than the failure to inform everyone of this purpose, except that, once the police stepped outside of their assigned role, and refused entry, a few protesters did so as well, responding with bottles, rocks and firecrackers. In other words, it was on. On J28, the Oakland Police Department displayed its ability to evolve and more effectively respond to the tactics of Occupy Oakland, catching it flat-footed. Furthermore, had something like the Gilbrecht approach been adopted, Occupy Oakland might have discovered that people in the community were not very enthusiastic about it, while suggesting modifications, such as, say, a more initially covert seizure, or something else entirely instead in the spirit of democratic discourse.

Beyond this, there is the troubling possibility that such violence facilitates the current harsh transformation of global capitalism, one centered around the accumulation of surplus by means of the provision of surveillance and security services, as explained by Stephen Graham during this Democracy Now! interview:

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Stephen Graham, what’s the market? You’re talking about a growth industry. What are we talking about here in terms of investment of dollars by—because there are so many, obviously, municipalities in the United States with their own police forces?

STEPHEN GRAHAM: Well, I mean, globally speaking, the so-called homeland security market is a real—is in real boom town—boom time, excuse me. I mean, in a world where actual defense contracts are often being reduced, a lot of the big companies are moving into civilian applications. They’re moving into these non-lethal weapons, moving into all of the technologies of crowd control and civilian disturbance control. And that has to be added to, of course, the much bigger markets that are growing in terms of broader questions of surveillance and security for buildings, for cities, for special events, as we see these systems established more and more in terms of everyday spaces and everyday bits of cities. So, I haven’t got figures at hand, I’m afraid, but it’s multibillion-dollar markets that are projected to grow globally at very, very high rates over the next 15 years, according to some of the recent market research reports.

For more about Stephen Graham, and his pathbreaking work about the militarization of the city, go here and here.

Hat tip to Louis Proyect, The Unrepentant Marxist.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Doctor Hedges Misdiagnoses the Decline of Occupy (Part 2) 

t at Pink Scare demonstrates, yet again, that he is one of the most incisive critics of Chris Hedges' condemnation of the Black Bloc, and the evasion of the true challenges facing Occupy:

So, the question of Black Bloc: Pro or Con? is not one that can be answered abstractly. It should only be answered by direct participants in a mass movement who collectively debate and deliberate together in an open, democratic spirit. To think that a few self-appointed experts could answer this question for everyone in a couple of widely-publicized internet debates misses this crucial point.

As I responded in the comments to his post:

Curiously, both Hedges and those who practice violent Bloc tactics want to impose their approach on everyone else. In this, they are reverse sides of the same coin.

In each instance, the people are absent. Both approaches will shrink the movement instead of expanding it, because, even though Hedges has the right result for current conditions, non-violence, it is being dictated from above with no opportunity for discussion.

As I posted yesterday, there are many people living in distressed conditions that should be gravitating to Occupy. One reason is that they are not doing so is because they are legitimately frightened of the terrible things that can happen if they are subjected to police violence. But there is a bigger problem, they are also hesitant because the movement is not sufficiently open enough to them, not yet able to devise ways of incorporating their experience into it.

Neither Hedges nor the defenders of Bloc tactics have anything to say about this, about the need to focus our attention on the people who are not already part of Occupy.

Only through an emphasis upon the most rigorously inclusive, anti-authoritarian practice can the participants within Occupy induce the victims of the existing social order to collectively resist it. For leftists and progressives who come from privileged backgrounds, like Hedges, this is a disconcerting prospect, one that requires them to relinquish the exercise of hierarchical authority to which they have become accustomed if they are going to continue to remain a positive influence within the movement.

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Thursday, February 09, 2012

Doctor Hedges Misdiagnoses the Decline of Occupy (Part 1) 

The police have raided many of the encampments across the country. Protests and actions called by Occupy are declining in number, with reduced participation. Workers and marginalized people, like the homeless, who were initially drawn to Occupy have, in many instances, departed. It is discouraging, and someone or some people must be responsible.

Chris Hedges has the answer: Occupy has a cancer known as the Black Bloc that must be aggressively treated before it becomes terminal. According to Hedges, the Bloc, its violence, its contempt for collective social organization and its hypermasculinity are turning the public against Occupy. If Occupy is to survive, the Bloc must be expelled. His answer has a superficial allure especially given his skillful elaboration of it. As a consequence, his article has been posted all over the Internet. For those with a legitimate grudge against the Bloc, like Louis Proyect and other Marxists, it is a golden opportunity to drive a stake through the heart of it. Perhaps, that would be a good thing, as I've never been very enthusiastic about people who knowingly put others at risk by precipatating violent confrontations with the police. Anyone who does that, Bloc or not, has no place in Occupy or any other movement for social justice.

But it's all just a little too convenient. Preliminarily, there's a conceptual problem. Contrary to what Hedges, and even Proyect, would have you believe, the Bloc isn't nearly as monolithic as they suggest, as this perceptive comment by Black Bloc at Pink Scare demonstrates:

There is no the Black Bloc. A black bloc is a tactic, not an organisation, engaged in by anarchists (yes, even us boring old neo-Platformist anarchocommunists, not just Insurrectionists) in which anarchists show up en masse at a protest, take steps to preserve their anonymity (as defense against state profiling), band together, ignore demands from illegitimate authority (i.e. the cops) and act together to defend participants' bodies and autonomy against state violence. It does not necessarily include sabotage-style direct action nor confrontation with cops (except for the fact that cops in general *seek* that very confrontation with any black bloc that forms on the ground). In fact there have been numerous black blocs on the east coast that I have been a participant in and that did not result in any property damage nor violent confrontation with cops whatsoever.

If you require a more detailed, even more convincing explanation of Black Bloc practice, consider reading David Graeber's response to Hedges at n+1. Given the decentralized, transitory nature of what anarchists describe as the Bloc, periodic Bloc groups come into existence around the country, sometimes for violent purposes, sometimes not. Graeber even states that participation in these blocs is not limited to anarchists. Accordingly, the question becomes less about the Bloc, and more about why some people gravitate towards violent forms of political activity, and the consequences of such activity for Occupy. As such, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to treat Occupy consistent with Hedges' diagnosis. There are few readily identifiable people that can be characterized as Bloc (for example, consider this photo of the Occupy Oakland Tactical Action Committee, promoters of the weekly Fuck the Police marches, who's Bloc and who's not?), and, even if there are, they may or may not be involved with the violent police confrontations associated with some occupations, like Occupy Oakland. One can read the comment of Black Bloc as an implicit approval of Bloc violence in self-defense, but, if so, it is hard to rely upon it to justify a characterization of such Bloc behavior as cancerous, although such an interpretation does raise thorny, but less polarizing, issues of personal responsibility within a collective movement. Possibly, for this reason, Hedges prefers to expound upon Zerzan and Bloc ideology to avoid engagement with them.

Indeed, Occupy Oakland, an occupation that appears to be the target of Hedges' polemic, illustrates the lack of factual support for his theory. On November 2nd, I participated in one of the several marches during the general strike. Some masked people broke windows at a couple of bank branches, a Wells Fargo one and a Chase one. Interestingly, the media gave little attention to these incidents, perhaps because the vandalism was so trivial in nature. Instead, the media was much more engrossed in the attempted takeover of the Traveler's Aid Society Building near Oscar Grant Plaza later that night, as the police responded to ineffectual efforts to take the building and defend it with tear gas and flash grenades. A large crowd of young people, still out in the streets, participated, and, as the situation with the police escalated, some of them looted a Tully's Coffee Shop. Hedges describes them as Groups of Black Bloc protesters.

But were they? I have looked in vain for pictures of the people who did it, but I did find this article about the episode, which questions the utility of describing it within the confines of Bloc theory and practice accessed over the Internet by Hedges:

At the Oakland encampment, Hale Nicholson, who described himself and others as pacifists, said he participated in Wednesday's demonstration and march to the port and then went to sleep at the camp around 9:30 p.m. Around 1 a.m., he said, he was awakened by the sound of flash-bang grenades.

A group of protesters broke into the former Travelers Aid building in order to, as some shouting protesters put it, reclaim the building for the people. They voiced anger over budget cuts that forced the closure of a homeless aid program.

They blocked off a street with wood, metal Dumpsters and other large trash bins, sparking bonfires that leapt as high as 15 feet in the air. Several businesses were heavily vandalized. Dozens of protesters wielding shields were surrounded and arrested.

They voiced anger over budget cuts that that forced the closure of a homeless aid program. Think about that for a moment. Doesn't sound very Bloc like, does it? Instead, it sounds like a group of people influenced by a variegated mixture of direct action principles, motivated to do something spontaneous by their involvement in the strike. Of course, such behavior can be damaging to a social movement, but it is not something that can be so easily addressed by subsuming their behavior within the repository of a Black Bloc, specifically designed for this purpose.

Susie Cagle, in an article posted at Truthout, refutes Hedges even more categorically:

Hedges condemns property destruction in political protest by condemning black bloc tactics, regardless of the facts. The local coffee shop vandalism Hedges contends was committed by black bloc was in fact one window of a corporate coffee chain smashed in that post-strike fog of war - and by someone not wearing a mask, not wearing black. The people who broke into City Hall on January 28, and many of those who destroyed property there, were also largely unmasked. And both of these acts came immediately after, as in within minutes of, violent mass kettling and arrest actions.

As Cagle relates elsewhere in the article, the challenge presented by some involved in Occupy Oakland is their willingness to embrace more and more confrontational forms of protest, forms that make people like Hedges uncomfortable, at least when they aren't happening in Greece:

Here’s to the Greeks. They know what to do when corporations pillage and loot their country. They know what to do when Goldman Sachs and international bankers collude with their power elite to falsify economic data and then make billions betting that the Greek economy will collapse. They know what to do when they are told their pensions, benefits and jobs have to be cut to pay corporate banks, which screwed them in the first place. Call a general strike. Riot. Shut down the city centers. Toss the bastards out. Do not be afraid of the language of class warfare—the rich versus the poor, the oligarchs versus the citizens, the capitalists versus the proletariat. The Greeks, unlike most of us, get it.

My, my, Hedges comes across here, does one dare say it, as very much like his characterization of the Bloc, or close to it, certainly more so than the people who attempted to take over the Traveler's Aid Society building. Here, it seems, we have on old activist stereotype, one who exoticizes political violence in other places, usually lesser developed ones, but finds himself alarmed when it emerges close to home. Proyect, in a post otherwise sympathetic to Hedges, perceptively observes that, to date, the riots, general strikes and attacks upon businesses celebrated by Hedges have failed to stall the ruthless imposition of austerity measures upon the Greek populace.

Consistent with this, while Hedges confined his condemnation to the Bloc, I suspect that the popularity of the piece, the reason why it went viral, is because liberals and progressives, non-socialists, in other words, have become fatigued with the direct action ethos of Occupy. For example, read through the comments to this post, written by someone who participated in the January 28th attempt by Occupy Oakland to seize the vacant Kaiser Center Auditorium and convert it into a community center. Numerous people, who, because of their local knowledge, appear to be Bay Area progressives, posted hostile comments, showing no sympathy for the people who were attacked and arrested by the police, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority were not among the few who threw rocks, bottles and firecrackers at the cops. Confronted with an excessive police response, especially at the end of the day, when officers kettled protesters, subjected them to a barrage of tear gas and flash grenades, and then arrested over 400 in front of the YWCA building, the commenters were either silent, or dismissed it as predictable. Clearly, they objected to the attempt to seize the building just as much as they did the people who threw objects at the police.

The reason for this hostility is simple: they, like Hedges, are alarmed at the increasing intensity of the confrontations with the police. Hence, liberals and progressives will be critical of any action, even non-violent ones, like property seizures, if they degenerate into street violence between protesters and cops, while conversely, ones that actually involve property destruction, without a violent police response, like the windows broken during the day of the general strike, or, more recently, the windows broken at an upscale car dealership on Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco during the evening of the Occupy Wall Street West action, generate much less comment, except by those who learn of them during the real time livestreams and Twitter feeds or subsequent YouTube videos.

Such a response exposes the fault line that runs between older progressives and the young militants of Occupy. Older progressives live within existing institutional structures, unions, universities, schools and the public sector, and have become, in many instances, middle and upper class. Overall, they have a positive opinion of the police, even as they believe that officers should stop treating poor people and peole of color so badly. In other words, they believe that the police are necessary to preserve social order, and that they can be reformed. Conversely, many of the young militants of Occupy now consider the police to be an implacable enemy, a bulwark of the existing system of social oppression. And, in Oakland, they knew about the predations of the police prior to Occupy, which explains the intensity of the conflict there.

Here, finally, we begin to recognize some of the challenges currently confronting Occupy. On the one hand, we have people who purportedly want to support it, and may have even done so in the initial period of occupations, but cannot do so now because of the violence they perceive associated with it. On the other, we have others, rightly outraged over the conduct of the police, who risk substituting confrontations with law enforcement over direct challenges to crony capitalists responsible for the economic distress experienced by so many. Occupy also initially attracted marginalized people, but they seem to have departed.

Is there a path out of this dark forest? If so, it may lie within the processes of Occupy itself. As Pham Binh and others have observed, Occupy is a direct action social movement where those who dedicate the most time and energy disproportionately influence the outcomes. There is nothing unique about this, it is true of most institutions in this society. But such an approach will not work for a movement that seeks to represent the 99%. As Tiny, also known as Lisa Garcia-Gray, wrote about her experience during a march and bank occupation in San Francisco:

POOR Magazine was in the march on this day, sadly with only three members, we did have four family members but several of our poor parents are houseless and jobless and so our fourth member had his phone cut off the night before and so we couldn’t find each other in the masses of people, and all of our other family members were working one of several jobs and hustles and so they didn’t even have the privilege to be there at all.

At first I was taken by the almost flawless organizing by Bay Area non-profit organizations. From the emcee to the turn-out from group after group, the whole event was wound tightly as a rope on a drum. Each act of civil disobedience, set-off at the mouths of Wells Fargo bank branches, were beautifully orchestrated stages of theatre and action. It was obvious that funded organizations with time and paid staff had organized this event down to the last balloon, slightly like a party we at POOR Magazine had never received an invitation to.

As we left the protest to get our young kids to school on time, Tony and I spoke about the power of the resistance that we had just been part of. I brought up how although I am excited and about all of the issues peoples were speaking and acting on I remain vexed by the fact that as poor peoples of color and indigenous peoples we are constantly in battle, in protest about the genocide and violence perpetrated on us and yet it is a struggle for us to get 50 people to show up for protests, so what is the difference? and what really is our role in all of these resistance occupations as poor peoples of color in struggle who are also in struggle with the occupation of our time due to no-wage and low-wage work, system abuse and ongoing criminalization and why do our resistance movements stay at the margins of what is important to show up for?

At last, Tiny, not Chris Hedges, has revealed what ails Occupy, the difficulty of reaching and empowering the people most victimized in this capitalist society. By targeting the ephemeral Bloc as the source of the illness, Hedges evades this much more challenging social and political dilemma. Accordingly, Occupy should evaluate its internal processes and future actions by the extent to which they bring these people into the movement, and not by simplistic bright line rules about violence and non-violence.

For now, and, perhaps permanently, that means trying to avoid violent confrontations with the police as much as possible, not because the conduct of the police should be considered acceptable, far from it, but, rather, because many of the people that might embrace Occupy most enthusiastically are terrified, and for good reason, of being beaten, arrested, and, if undocumented, deported. I actually accidentally had the opportunity of seeing Tiny request Occupy Oakland support for an immigrants rights march during a general assembly in mid to late November, and someone asked, because of the attempted Traveler's Aid Society takeover, whether there would be any violence. She emphatically said something like . . No . . No . . absolutely not . . we are going to have families with children with us on the march. In relation to the attempt to take over the Kaiser Center, such considerations might suggest an initially more covert effort to seize it, with a subsequent display of public support, as occurred at Wheeler Hall at UC Berkeley in November 2010, instead of a mass attempt to storm police lines at mid-day. Similarly, the manner by which Occupy Oakland organized in advance of the port shutdown, and provided picket line support for striking workers might serve as good examples as well. All three constituted effective efforts to support workers at the base.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Anonymous and the Black Bloc 

UPDATE: Please consider reading t's highly original and provocative objections to the methodology of Chris Hedges' condemnation of the Black Bloc over at PInk Scare.

INITIAL POST:

For now, I am posting this for your personal evaluation. I have some thoughts about the subject of Occupy and the Black Bloc, and I expect to post them soon.

Hat tip to Louis Proyect at the The Unrepentant Marxist.

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Sunday, February 05, 2012

Chilean School Occupations 

Recently, I was pleased to discover Raul Zibechi is now writing reports for the Americas Program. Zibechi, a South American academic, is well known for his studies of South American social movements, such as the ones associated with the indigenous peoples of Bolivia, as related in Dispersing Power: Social Movements as Anti-State Forces. Dispersing Power is, sad to say, one of those many books that I can never find the time to review, so you will have to find it and read it yourself to appreciate it.

In the meantime, though, as noted, the Americas Program is now posting Zibechi articles in English, and I recommend that you search them out. On January 25th, the Program posted one entitled A New Chile is Possible. Zibechi provides us with a report about student takeovers of schools initially subject to occupation after protests briefly mentioned here last year:

Chilean students question the education system as commercial and elitist because it reproduces existing social inequities and makes them worse. But they are not just asking questions: They are practicing the kind of education they have spent years dreaming about and struggling to obtain.

If workers can manage a factory, we can manage the school, says Cristóbal, 17, as he flashes a smile. Cristóbal is a student at the Luis Galecio Corvera A-90 high school in the Santiago borough of San Miguel. The school is among the 200 in the city that students have occupied. But on September 26, they decided to follow the example of the workers of Cerámicas Zanón, the Argentine factory workers took over and began running 10 years ago.

Things were getting complicated because the occupation was weakening,Cristóbal says. It was clear to us that it wasn’t enough to just criticize our education. We had to do something more, but we didn’t know where to start until we heard that the Zanón workers were giving a talk at the University of Chile. We went to listen to them and when we came back we started running the school ourselves.

After the takeover, a majority of students—with the enthusiastic support of many parents—returned to school. Some of the teachers joined them. When I saw that my children were getting up and going to school without having to wake them up, that they were excited about going, I understood that they were doing something important, something that adds up to a different kind of education, says a mother at the basketball court, where the November sun shines brightly.

Non-teaching workers took refuge in a union resolution that authorizes them to not work without school management. The unions don’t work if there’s no boss, Cristóbal noted with irony, prompting bursts of laughter in the courtyard. In just a few months the secondary students have learned more than they did during years of monotonous classes. They take the initiative for their studies, propose topics, show up on time, and are delighted not to wear the government-mandated school uniform they call penguin suits.

Zibechi thereafter addresses this phenomenon within the context of the Pinochet imposed privatization of education that endures to this day.

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Thursday, February 02, 2012

No, No, Please Don't! 

David Ignatius of the Washington Post provides yet another in a seeming proliferation of stories to the effect that the US really doesn't want Israel to attack Iran:

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has a lot on his mind these days, from cutting the defense budget to managing the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But his biggest worry is the growing possibility that Israel will attack Iran over the next few months.

Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June — before Iran enters what Israelis described as a zone of immunity to commence building a nuclear bomb. Very soon, the Israelis fear, the Iranians will have stored enough enriched uranium in deep underground facilities to make a weapon — and only the United States could then stop them militarily.

Ignatius reveals himself as a skilled practitioner of political comedy with the conclusion of what the Post characterizes as an opinion piece:

U.S. officials see two possible ways to dissuade the Israelis from such an attack: Tehran could finally open serious negotiations for a formula to verifiably guarantee that its nuclear program will remain a civilian one; or the United States could step up its covert actions to degrade the program so much that Israelis would decide that military action wasn’t necessary.

Serious negotiations? Of course, Ignatius knows that this is the last thing the US wants, he is just using it as a capstone to one of the funniest propaganda pieces in recent memory. After all, Iran has sought to negotiate with the US several times since 9/11, but has been rebuffed every time, most recently when it accepted a US proposal put forward through Turkey and Brazil. Naturally, the US thereafter abandoned it when the objective of demonstrating the intransigence of Iran failed to materialize. But, oops, I forgot to mention that the Iranian nuclear program is a civilian one, something that Ignatius no doubt knows as well. Just goes to show how easily one can start internalizing the imperialist narrative when it comes to Iran.

Beyond this, the notion that the US could degrade the Iranian research program covertly is farcical. The objective of Ignatius' humorous propaganda is obvious, to distance the US from any Israeli attack while reaping the anticipated reward, regime change. And, keeping his options open, Ignatius relies upon the indirectly quoted US officials to put forward rigged alternatives that justify a military attack. In other words, we tried to stop it, but, there was really no alternative, anyway.

When things get too politically hot, characterize the action as a unilaterial Israeli one, like, for example, when Israel sold weapons to South Africa or trained the militaries of South American dictatorships. In both instances, there was a serendipitous coincidence between the purported unilateral action and the objectives of US foreign policy. In this instance, it appears that the disinformation campaign was launched by a Mark Perry article in Foreign Affairs to the effect that Israeli intelligence agents had posed as CIA agents to assist Jundallah in carrying out violent attacks inside Iran. The whole thing sounds implausible, all the way down to Perry's reportage to the effect that Bush was outraged when he heard about the operation because it might put Americans at risk. Bush spent his entire presidency putting Americans at risk, regardless of whether they wore uniforms or not.

Indeed, one gets the impression that a secondary purpose of the Foreign Affairs article, beyond distancing the US from covert operations consistent with foreign policy objectives, is to establish plausible deniability for Bush and Obama. For example, consider this howler:

Since Obama's initial order (scaling back joint US-Israel intelligence programs targeting Iran), U.S. intelligence services have received clearance to cooperate with Israel on a number of classified intelligence-gathering operations focused on Iran's nuclear program, according to a currently serving officer. These operations are highly technical in nature and do not involve covert actions targeting Iran's infrastructure or political or military leadership.

We don't do bang and boom, a recently retired intelligence officer said. And we don't do political assassinations.

Israel regularly proposes conducting covert operations targeting Iranians, but is just as regularly shut down, according to retired and current intelligence officers. They come into the room and spread out their plans, and we just shake our heads, one highly placed intelligence source said, and we say to them -- 'Don't even go there. The answer is no.'

Right. We don't do bang and boom . . . we don't do political assassinations. Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries around the world are littered with the victims of bang and boom and political assassinations, and, yet, we are supposed to believe that Bush and Obama objected to it when Israel proposed to subject Iran to similar treatment, assuming that Israel had to propose it at all.

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