Occupy Wall Street Reflections
The Occupy Wall Street movement, a movement that arose in reaction to the Global Financial Crisis, the crisis inherent to capitalist-imperialism, re-popularized the notion of class. In order to truly grasp any historical moment in time it is necessary to look at the social context within which it occurred. We live in a settler colonial state; the United States of Amerika was invaded by European settlers. In their settling they committed mass genocide of the various Indigenous peoples of this land. Rapes, burning of villages, chemical warfare, the colonization of the Indigenous peoples wiped out over 100 million people and entire peoples. Upon this state was built an infrastructure that was constructed mainly through a) enslaved Afrikan labor and b) European serfs The bulk of the construction of this nation’s financial infrastructure was done primarily by the internally colonized Afrikans stolen from their homeland. This system that was built was called capitalism.
Capitalism is a system where the means of production and the state are in control of the capitalist class who seek to commodify everything in order to make a profit and re-invest their wealth to make more profit. Capitalism is a mode of production defined by the socialized abstract labor and the privatized extraction and control of its products. Afrikans in this nation were commodities, to be sold and traded. They toiled for long hours producing for a slave master who reaped all of the profits and provided the enslaved the bare minimum to survive until the next day. In order to protect this social order, a state was necessary. The formation of the American state, as I said before, born in colonization, genocide, and kidnapping of entire nations of people. Now, what does all this have to do with Occupy Wall Street? Occupy Wall Street was a moment in time when the modern day slaves, the wage slaves and the actually existing slaves in the dungeons of this empire, shifted to the Left in their class consciousness. Although Occupy Wall Street was a petty bourgeois movement, led by those who were in the middle class felt the sting of the capitalist crisis in 2008 set off by the Home Foreclosure scandals.
The conditions that led to the activism that created and sustained Occupy Wall Street were the same brutal and harsh exploitative relations of capitalism in its imperialist stage. Here is a glimpse into the state of affairs in 20011.
- More than 54 % of the US discretionary budget was spent on imperialist aggression
- 6 million Americans lost their homes.
- 100,00 in the U.S. died annually by being denied decent medical care
- Real joblessness spiraled to over 20%
- Average college tuition in the U.S. had risen by 900 % since 1978.
- The average college graduate was $ 25,000 in debt.
- No 2010 income taxes were paid by corporations that made huge profits or took huge bailouts and subsidies, such as CitiCorp, Exxon/Mobil, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Boeing, Verizon, News Corporation, Merck, and Pzfer.
- There were 56 million active Twitter users. 600 million people visited Facebook each month.
Amidst this chaos, people were coming together from all different walks of life. Students, Stock brokers, Union workers, and not to mention the socialist, communist, and anarchist political elements. Starting on September 17th, 2011 people in New York City took to the streets wearing signs that read of a growing anti-capitalist consciousness. Some signs read “Wall Street is Our Street” “Tax the Rich!” “No War for Oil” and of course the most famous, “We Are the 99%”
The Occupy movement grew after September 24th, when police pepper sprayed four women they had culled from a crowd of protestors and kept them trapped behind orange nets. The number of participants grew after this point. The concept of “Occupy” caught on all across the nation. By October 9th, more than 600 “Occupy” encampments sprang up in cities like Boston, Cleveland, San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas, and Knoxville.
Patterns emerged among various Occupy camps where the main tactic became getting arrested as a symbolic act. The arrests were too orchestrated and criticism and debate occurred around the question of tactics and non-violence that still goes on today. After the police brutality in New York, other Occupy camps were approached in a more soft way, but this did not last long.
In Oakland, where the activists were more militant and class conscious repression was more harsh. Occupy Oakland became a center for resistance and a representative of the more advanced elements of the Occupy movement in general. On October 24th, an Iraq war veteran, Scott Olsen was severely injured by a police projectile. On November 2nd, thousands of people shut down the port. Police repression began to pick up as the first half of November was marked by the violent repressing and shutting down of more than a dozen camps all across the country. The Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and other federal agencies collaborated and helped to coordinate raids in 18 cities. In every city mayors and the political establishment willfully sought cooperation from the more repressive apparatuses of the state. On November 18th, at UC-Davis university police pepper sprayed students sitting peacefully in the quad area. The video went viral and the world saw the police brutalizing peaceful demonstrators. Although sympathy was won among the masses, the Occupy movement was unable to capture and channel this energy into a political and social force to challenge Capital and the state directly. Despite widespread and rampant police violence and brutality some more liberal elements of the Occupy movement thought that the “Police are part of the 99%.
The concept of the 99% is partially correct. What is meant is “the masses” or “the people” in a vague populist way. The so called 1% actually only controlled 34.6% of the nation’s wealth and the top 10 % controls 73.1% and the top 20% controls 85% of the wealth. This just proves that in order to understand social inequality in a class society, particularly a capitalist society, we need a materialist class analysis.
The police’s basic function is to maintain this class society and because of the historical conditions of the growth of the police in the US, they are also a means of colonialism, of policing the oppressed nations within the US namely the New Afrikan nation. Understanding this dual form and function of the police will tell us more than any law will reveal about what police should, could, or would do. Historically the police have been enemies of the labor movement, civil rights movement, and any social movement seeking to struggle against capitalism, racism, sexism, and the state.
The petit bourgeois leadership and elements of the Occupy movement in general exposed the utter vacuity of the concept of the 99%. The police as an arm of the state have the state’s intelligence and counterinsurgency arms at its disposal. In the post anti-Vietnam war period, the police adopted a strategy of pacification called “Negotiated Management.” In this model, the police seek to accomodate the protestors and hem them up through requiring that they request a permit for their demonstrations and seek relationships with responsible leaders. The police allow demonstrators and accomodate certain forms of civil disobedience and in exchange the protestors become limited in the type of disruptive action they engage in. These “soft” tactics serve better to neutralize social movements. Occupy began because this model was breached when Detective Bologna single handedly pushed Occupy into national headlines.
The protestors may have symbolically broken laws and gotten arrested. Without confrontation, the protests were largely meaningless while protest leaders naively believed that by avoiding a confrontation they were actually winning. In fact, the protestors made the police repression unnecessary by making themselves irrelevant.
If a social movement has teeth, they will pose a threat to the status quo and thus be potentially disruptive. The role of the police is to neutralize those threats. They use managerial means or direct coercion it depends on the context. The police adapt with the times to meet new challenges and in order for social movements to take an advantage social movements have to change our game up. The massive civil disobedience triggered a police repression that gained the sympathy for the demonstrators. The police violence against the protestors was not exceptional but the norm that is what the police do.
To end, the Occupy Wall Street movement was an attempt by petit bourgeois to struggle against Capital without a clear ideology or tools to dissect the system. It failed in actually challenged the ruling class but what it did do was lay the basis for the popularization of socialism and Lefitst ideas. It pointed to Wall Street and capitalism as the enemy. Occupy Wall Street had tactics that would not lead the struggle to higher stages. It is up to us to sum up practice and move beyond Occupy. In order to build a movement against the state we need to be ready to struggle to the end and maintain our tools of criticism & self-criticism, unity-struggle-unity, and the united front to destroy racism and the police state.