Saturday, October 29, 2011

Eyewitness report from Oakland

Oakland Occupy Dispersed, but then…

Oakland Erupts!

Police Attack Protestors In the Streets

Oakland, very late on Tuesday the 25th of October 2011 --

It all took place under the endlessly circling helicopters, like giant gnats, flapping, buzzing, shining their threatening lights. It made me remember the line from a 1980s song, "I wish I had a rocket launcher."
The Oakland Occupy, a peaceful and well organized encampment of about 200 or so in front of Oakland's City Hall, was violently attacked and dispersed by 500 cops at 4:45 am this (Tuesday)morning. The Oakland police, backed up by cops from 13 other jurisdictions, including UC Berkeley cops and the California Highway patrol, moved in with tear gas, flash grenades, rubber bullets and even armored vehicles. At least three people were injured, including one hospitalized with a head wound.

Approximately 105 people arrested at the dispersal were still being held as of 4 pm, most charged with standard protest charges such as "refusing to leave the scene of a riot," according to representatives from the National Lawyers Guild, who have been acting as legal monitors. These may be cited and released, but some face more serious charges, and could be arraigned this week.

"This Is What A Police State Looks Like," said the Oscar Grant Plaza Gazette, which promises to keep publishing despite the dispersal. But the dispersal was just the beginning, as this evening's events showed. According to news reports, another hundred or so arrests have been added tonight, charges as yet unknown.

After the dispersal, a rally was called for and held at 4 pm on the steps of the main Oakland Public Library on 14th St, several blocks down from the Occupy site (which was now barricaded off and guarded by cops). The library was significant, since the Occupy and other protestors have sharply opposed the recent threats of Oakland's "left" liberal Mayor Jean Quan to close libraries, a threat which was used to force concessions from city workers. On an Occupy support march, which wound its way through Oakland's streets last Saturday to protest the threatened dispersal, marchers stopped in front of the library and chanted, "Shut down OPD, not the public library," to smiles and cheers from library workers. Then today, as the rally formed up, we were told that the the Oakland PD had asked the library to close its doors in advance of the expected rally. Library workers proudly refused to do so, to cheers from the crowd.

As the rally outside the library gained strength, supporters quickly filled 14th St below the library steps. Chants of "Every week, every day, the Occupy is here to stay," rose up from arriving supporters, and the rally vowed to march up 14th to re-take the Occupy site in Oscar Grant (officially Frank Ogawa) Plaza. Using "mic check" repetition, the rally vowed that, "whatever happens tonight, we meet again, every night, at 6 pm, at 14th and Broadway."
On the way to 14th and Broadway tonight, the plan was to wind our way West a few blocks to the local municipal jail at 7th and Broadway, to give some support to our detained comrades inside. As we marched closer to the jail, changing the route at least once to out-flank a major police barricade on Broadway, images of the storming of the Bastille came to mind, and I think the cops were thinking about that as well. They seemed almost desperate to keep us from getting to that jail.

As we rounded the corner at 8th and Washington, now only about two blocks from the jail, there was a thin blue line of 10 or so cops blocking the street. The crowd pushed up and many began to flow around the police line. After some billy-club poking, the line broke up, people poured through, and the cops were quickly surrounded, along with a handful of civilian vehicles that were caught there. Protestors and cops shouted and cops jabbed for a few minutes until all of a sudden three cops were bent over beating and containing someone. Enraged, the crowd surrounding the cops broke into a chant of "let them go." (It turned out it was two arrestees.)

While all this was going on, many marchers had moved on up the block, and once again made a turn to avoid a second and more formidable line of cops, complete with motorcycles and patrol cars, guarding the jail. The Occupyers' principle of consensus and no leaders seemed to alternatively work well, and then break down into disorganization; but then it usually picked up and found a united path again.

In this instance, while some marchers were shouting "let them go" and surrounding the cops, others were trying to get marchers to move on, not realizing that the cops had two prisoners down on the street. For a while marchers were separated into two groups, but then, the second line of cops moved in to rescue their now paint-spattered brethren, and all hell broke loose. This was the first battle of the evening, as police opened fire with flash-bang grenades and tear gas. The police then retreated with their prisoners, and the marchers reconnected and decided to keep moving, this time heading toward Oscar Grant Plaza, as darkness began to fall.

That set the pattern for most of the night. When we arrived at the site of the former encampment, it was barricaded off and guarded by a solid line of cops. (And City Hall was closed, even though tonight would have normally been a council meeting.) Protestors pushed up to the line, but very soon a sergeant was on the horn. "This is an unlawful assembly. If you do not leave the designated area within 5 minutes, you will be arrested. Chemical agents will be used. You could suffer serious injury." Just as the police were about to unleash a barrage of tear gas, protestor consensus worked again, and the march took off up Broadway and then swerved to go up Telegraph Ave. to avoid yet another line of cops.

We marched and marched, seeing no cops, and getting enthusiastic welcome from the drivers whose cars were stuck at intersections that the march was passing through. In the streets the whole way, this march had grown as people heard news reports on KPFA and came down to join it. Very hard to say, but I think its peak could have been 3,000.

After a stop at Snow Park, on the shore of Lake Merritt (the site of a second encampment, which was also removed early Tuesday morning), marchers headed back up to 14th and Broadway. That's when the serious battle erupted. This time, after the usual warning, marchers held their ground, and the cops unleashed a huge barrage of tear gas, which sent most of us off in different directions. At least one demonstrator was struck in the head by a tear gas canister.

The police were later quoted on local TV news as saying that they acted in self-defense, since they were being bombarded with rocks, bottles, and even knives. This is crap. I was watching the whole time from the outer edge of the crowd, and saw exactly one piece of something flying toward the cops. It was now about 8 pm, and my companion and I escaped the tear gas and called it a night. But many marchers, fewer in number each time, kept returning to the scene at 14th and Broadway. According to news reports, three more barrages of tear gas were fired at ever smaller groups of protestors, the last one around 11 pm. And the maddening drone of helicopters never seems to stop, just one price of living in a war zone.

The spirit and determination--and the numbers--of these protestors was impressive. One young marcher said to me, early in the march, that he'd been to several of the other Occupys around the country, but except for New York, Oakland was the only place that could produce a large protest such as this on the very next day after a police dispersal of their encampment.

As for consensus and "99 percent?" Those concepts will inevitably give way to a process of sorting out. The bulk of the Tea Party, the police rank-and-file, and Mayor Jean Quan are all in the 99 percent, as it is being defined. The General Assembly of the Oakland Occupy evolved, in its 2-weeks so far, a view of the police as the enemy who needed to be kept out of the encampment, and a decision-making process that involves a quorum of at least three to present a proposal, and a super majority (but not unanimity) to pass one.

For now though, the great value of this movement is that its aim is quite good. The one percent of Wall Street barons, the financiers who are the very peak of the imperialist ruling class, is exactly the clique that needs to be overthrown in a working class revolution which would expropriate, not just control, the banks. The aim is good, but the revolutionary consciousness is not quite there yet. Still, the consciousness is a bit better than what is suggested by one sign that I saw being held up at the library rally earlier today. It read, "Mayor Quan, and Oakland Police - Which Side Are You On?" I smiled and said to the sign holder, "I think they've already answered that question." He smiled back broadly, but still held the sign.

-- Chris Kinder, socialist and activist

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Impresiones de la ocupación de Wall Street

Por Alex Steiner

06 de octubre 2011

Traducción de Antonio Baluarte

En el centro de Manhattan está Wall Street , preñado de la historia de los Estados Unidos. Aunque hoy en día Wall Street se conoce como el corazón financiero del capitalismo estadounidense,  comenzó como una muralla, al límite norte del asentamiento original holandés de Nueva Amsterdam. Los jóvenes manifestantes que se encuentran ahora en la tercera semana de su ocupación de Zuccotti Park eligieron su campamento también. Apenas a tres cuadras de sus tiendas de campaña se encuentra la razón de ese símbolo del capitalismo americano, el New York Stock Exchange.

En diagonal, a través de la calle de las columnas de mármol de la Bolsa de Valores,hay una gigantesca estatua del fundador de la república estadounidense, George Washington. Él está de pie en las escalinatas del Federal Hall, el lugar donde fue juramentado como el primer Presidente de la República. Otro padre fundador está enterrado aún más cerca del sitio del campamento de los manifestantes - Alexander Hamilton, el arquitecto de los Estados Unidos , del First National Bank, está descansando en el cementerio de Trinity Church. 

Otro bloque más o menos por la calle y la vuelta de la esquina de la Bolsa de Valores se encuentra levantadas las gigantescas murallas fortificadas de la Reserva Federal de Nueva York, sede de lo que es quizás el mayor tesoro de lingotes de oro en el mundo, por un valor aproximadamente de 7.000 toneladas. Más que esto, aquí es donde la mayor parte de la política económica de los Estados Unidos se lleva a cabo, a partir de la fijación de los tipos de cambio de monedas extranjeras a la transferencia de miles de millones de dólares entre los bancos sobre una base diaria. El edificio también organizó, junto con el Departamento del Tesoro en Washington, algunos de los encuentros que reunió a los jefes de la Reserva Federal y el Tesoro con el CEO de los mayores bancos del país para elaborar los términos de lo que eventualmente se convirtió en el plan de rescate del TARP de los bancos tras la crisis provocada por el colapso de Lehman Brothers en 2008.

Esto nos lleva a una consideración de lo que está pasando en el Zuccotti Park. Varios miles de manifestantes están diciendo que han tenido suficiente. Están cansados ​​de ver a miles de millones de dólares que se utiliza para rescatar a los bancos cuyas prácticas fraudulentas en los años anteriores los dejó en posesión de bienes masivos, cuyo valor bajó repentinamente a cero. Al otro lado del rescate bancario realizado tanto por las administraciones de Bush y Obama, ha sido el empobrecimiento de decenas de millones de personas, especialmente de los jóvenes. Mi impresión, como resultado de hablar con algunos de los manifestantes y la audiencia que entrevisté es que la gran mayoría de los ocupantes de Wall Street no ve ningún futuro para sí mismos en virtud de este sistema económico conocido como capitalismo.

También me impresionó el espíritu de la inventiva y la lucha de estos jóvenes. Ellos, frente a grandes dificultades, han sido capaces de mantener una ciudad de carpas en el centro de Manhattan, en un inhóspito "parque" que es en realidad una plaza de concreto con poco o nada de servicios, que no sean la hierba y los árboles, y no hay baños públicos o fuentes de agua. Lo que sí hay son  algunas mesas y sillas que normalmente son ocupadas por los trabajadores de oficina sorbiendo su café de la mañana, los jugadores de ajedrez o sitios de tomar de los magnates de Wall Street para los cuartos. De alguna manera este grupo ha logrado alimentarse a sí mismo, con la ayuda de los vecinos que han donado alimentos.

Se las arreglaron para mantener seca  la cara en las implacables lluvias de otoño en Nueva York,  gracias a unas lonas que ellos han secuestrado. Sin electricidad, han conseguido crear un centro de comunicaciones, alimentado por un generador portátil, donde varias personas están ocupadas en la cima dándolo vuelta durante todo el día, llueva o haga sol, esparciendo su mensaje a los sitios de redes sociales en todo el mundo.

Se han creado comités encargados de confección de carteles, impresión de una versión satírica de The Wall Street Journal, y la organización de las marchas y actos de desobediencia civil. Hay un ruido constante de tambores y otros instrumentos en una esquina donde puedes encontrar juerguistas traspasado por los sonidos rítmicos. Hay incluso una biblioteca libre repleta de libros donados, disponible para quien quiera leerlos. Lo más destacado de cada noche es lo que ellos llaman una "Asamblea General", un experimento de participación democrática donde todo el mundo que quiera puede hablar y contribuir a la discusión. A las decisiones se llega a través de un torturante proceso de consenso.

La policía ha prohibido el uso de megáfonos o equipos de audio por lo que es extremadamente difícil de mantener reuniones al aire libre. Sin embargo, los manifestantes han vuelto a encontrar una ingeniosa manera de sortear este obstáculo legal para la democracia participativa. Una persona habla, la  que es a su vez, estrechamente rodeada de cientos de facilitadores. Luego, estos animadores hacen eco con su voz, de las palabras del hablante, de manera que la multitud que los rodea puede conocer de la demanda. El procedimiento me recuerda a la brillante película de Truffaut, Fahrenheit 451, (basada en una historia igual de brillante, de Ray Bradbury), donde en un futuro cuando la lectura o la impresión de los libros están prohibidos, un grupo de personas que se dedican a la preservación de la literatura mediante memorizar libros enteros que ya no pueden ser impresos o a los cuales ya no se puede  acceder físicamente. Se han convertido en libros de vida así como a los facilitadores en la Ocupada Wall Street se han convertido en megáfonos vivientes.

La política de los manifestantes, en la medida en que la articulan, es ciertamente ingenua y contradictoria. He visto pronunciamientos que a la vez que sonaban muy radicales, llamando a poner fin a la plutocracia que maneja este país, junto con otros signos ("Emitir la ley para trabajos  ya") que indica que la luna de miel con Obama en que muchos jóvenes en 2008, aunque mal herida, no puede ser completamente terminada para algunos. Los manifestantes OWS han hecho hincapié en que  desprecian el proceso político y han evitado deliberadamente la presentación de una serie de demandas. Lo que indica claramente han sido inspirados por el ejemplo de las manifestaciones masivas en la plaza Tahrir de El Cairo a principios de este año y la plaza Syntagma, en Atenas. Ellos consideran  su acción como la chispa de la Revolución Americana.

Esta no es una revolución  pero es imposible predecir cómo este movimiento va a mostrar sus efectos. Hay indicios de que los manifestantes han aprovechado una vena de la ira contra las injusticias de la vida en la  América del siglo XXI que ha estado hirviendo a fuego lento durante años. Sus acciones ya han inspirado a otras protestas en otras ciudades. Asistimos una vista previa de esta acción en los plantones en Madison, Wisconsin, a principios de este año. Desafortunadamente ese movimiento fue desviado por la burocracia sindical y el Partido Demócrata que incitaron abandonar sus protestas y poner su energía en una campaña de más valor. A los manifestantes OWS no será tan fácil desviarlos. Sin embargo, su rechazo de la acción política es a la vez su fuerza y ​​su debilidad.

Lo que se considera la política normal en este país, el apoyo a uno u otro de los dos partidos burgueses, sin duda merece una dosis fuerte de desprecio. Pero que por sí misma hace poco para lograr el tipo de sociedad más justa que los manifestantes imaginan. De hecho, puede servir como una invitación para los demagogos y oportunistas de varias clases para venir y llenar el vacío. Y aunque he visto pocos indicios de  la confluencia habitual de los grupos de la izquierda en el campamento, su presencia se hincha cada vez que hay una marcha de protesta o alguna otra acción. El partido neo-estalinista de los Trabajadores del Mundo se ha manifestado al igual que la Organización Socialista Internacional (ISO). Hubo mucho entusiasmo hoy en la anticipación de los representantes de los sindicatos a venir mañana para mostrar su apoyo.
 Por supuesto, los publicistas de la burocracia sindical que se unirán a la marcha de mañana van a estar aquí para tratar de canalizar este movimiento hacia atrás en la seguridad de convertir las protestas en inofensivas y por el apoyo al Partido Demócrata. La ingenuidad evidenciada en los manifestantes, que  podrían esperar otra cosa de la burocracia sindical, no es sorprendente. Ellos vienen de una generación casi totalmente desprovista de cualquier cultura o de educación política histórica.

Los que han entrado en contacto con la política, ha sido en gran medida a los movimientos de protesta de la última década, el movimiento anti-guerra, el movimiento de justicia global, etc.  han recogido una educación en gran medida gracias a los sitios de redes sociales en Internet y al ejemplo de Egipto y Grecia. Independientemente de sus orígenes, ya sea de la clase trabajadora o clase media,  han llegado a la misma coyuntura en este tercer año de la mayor crisis económica del sistema capitalista desde la Gran Depresión. En su mayoría son desempleados o subempleados, y no ven un futuro para sí mismos en una sociedad que los ha bombardeado desde el nacimiento con imágenes de una utopía de los consumidores de Iphones y centros de entretenimiento en el hogar. El sueño americano se ha convertido para ellos en una pesadilla.

Ellos han resucitado muchos de los símbolos y las imágenes de la contracultura de 1960 y movimiento de protesta. Esto es evidente para cualquier visitante a Zuccotti Park, que tiene la edad suficiente para recordar la estética de los hippies y las consignas de los radicales de la década de 1960. Este endeudamiento con las imágenes de otra época era prácticamente inevitable, dado que la década de 1960 representó el último período de gran agitación política en este país. Sin embargo, este es un movimiento muy diferente a la contracultura de 1960. No está tanto para protestar por la injusticia  que nuestro país inflige a los demás en el extranjero - aunque esto tampoco no está ausente, - pero su objetivo principal es la injusticia infligida a ellos y a sus amigos y familiares. No son los hijos e hijas de la clase media acomodada enajenados por la cultura de la banalidad burguesa. Son personas que no ven un futuro para sí mismos sin un cambio fundamental en la sociedad y que están dispuestos a poner sus vidas para que esto suceda.

El sábado pasado 700 de ellos fueron detenidos en el Puente de Brooklyn después de entrar en una trampa tendida por la policía de Nueva York. (En realidad, la policía los llevó en su marcha sobre el puente, no les dijo que estaban entrando en una zona de tráfico limitado, y luego cuando estaban a un  1 / 3 de camino sobre el puente vieron que estaban rodeados, atrapados por las redes y detenidos. ) Las detenciones masivas han hecho poco para amortiguar sus espíritus.

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Yo escribí las impresiones  un par de días atrás, pero como la situación en Wall Street es muy dinámica y cambia todos los días ,quería añadir algunas reflexiones sobre los hechos hasta el día de hoy (06 de octubre).

La marcha de Foley Square en Miércoles, 05 de octubre, era enorme y llevó a  gran número de trabajadores y estudiantes en apoyo de los manifestantes. Según algunas estimaciones, había una multitud de 20.000 o más. Como se predijo, la burocracia sindical salió y se quedó con los políticos del Partido Demócrata en un patético intento de canalizar la furia de los manifestantes de nuevo con el apoyo a Obama y el Partido Demócrata. Por lo que pude observar más tarde, esa noche una gran mayoría de los manifestantes no quiere saber nada de ella. Su actitud podría resumirse en una de las pancartas que vi en Zuccotti Park esa noche: "La guerra de clase por delante".

La debilidad de los manifestantes estuvo también en evidencia por la noche. Un grupo de anarquistas pronto anunciaron que iban a marchar a la famosa estatua del toro de Wall Street y  paró el tráfico en el proceso. Varios cientos de jóvenes fueron por las estrechas calles del distrito financiero  buscando el toro. Al menos  muchos policías les siguieron. Cuando por fin llegamos al toro, que fue cerrada por barricadas de la policía por todos lados y varios agentes de policía fueron asignados a pie dentro de las barricadas y proteger el toro a toda costa, como si el destino de la civilización occidental dependía de ellos y su capacidad para proteger el toro de cualquier daño. Este fue sin duda uno de los episodios más divertidos del día. Después un par de los miembros más francos de la marcha del grupo fueron hacia el toro, se detuvo a los mismos, las medidas se agotaron y todo el mundo se dirigió a Zuccotti Park.

Sin embargo, esa misma tarde otro grupo de manifestantes demostró más notable ingenuidad que ha caracterizado a esta ocupación desde el principio. Un proyector situado en algún lugar en el Zuccotti Park (no pude encontrar la ubicación exacta) fue transmitido en la calle diagonal frente a un edificio alto que carecía de ventanas, una característica común a muchos edificios comerciales construidos durante los años 1960 y 1970 en Manhattan. Este artefacto convirtió la pared de este edificio en una pantalla perfecta para un anuncio gigante. ¿Cuáles fueron las palabras que brillaban en este improvisado cartel?

Romper la ley del valor
Abolir el capitalismo

Así que parece que el hombre más odiado y temido por la clase capitalista, cuyas teorías se pensaba que eran obsoletas y que nunca podría hacerse un lugar en el suelo anti-filosófico de América - Karl Marx - ha vuelto y tiene algo que decir a los jóvenes y los trabajadores de este país. No quiero hacer más de este incidente que se justifica. Todavía hay un largo camino por recorrer en el camino de repetir algunas palabras de Marx en la asimilación de todas las implicaciones de su trabajo. Pero sí existe una indicación de que hay talvez ahora una receptividad a las ideas de este hombre, más que en cualquier momento de nuestra historia reciente. La calidad irónica de este desarrollo sólo puede ser apreciada si se considera la reacción a los acontecimientos de Wall Street de algunos de nuestros blogeros radicales, un tema que va a llegar a la brevedad.

Estamos en solidaridad con los manifestantes Ocupar Wall Street. Su espíritu y la creatividad es digna de admiración y compartan sus objetivos. Pero nosotros no nuestra responsabilidad como revolucionarios marxistas y si no les advierte de los peligros de ignorar la lucha política y la historia y la herencia teórica de quienes los precedieron en la lucha por el socialismo. Tomo nota de que una serie de bloggers radicales han tomado exactamente el camino opuesto. Ellos están cayendo sobre sí mismos con las palabras de adulación a los manifestantes y condenar a cualquiera que introduce aún más suave, con buenas intenciones críticas. Por ejemplo, un blogger radical lanzó una fuerte crítica de la ISO para la simple mención de que los manifestantes tienen algunas lecciones que aprender. Él escribió:

"... Hay una desconexión real entre los jóvenes activistas que buscan el cambio social fundamental, y grupos como el ISO que se consideran de alguna manera mejor calificado para dirigir esas luchas, ya que han logrado algún tipo de conocimiento superior del marxismo, o porque son conscientemente siguiendo el ejemplo de Lenin o Trotsky en lugar de los experimentos de tropiezo y tentativas de los jóvenes en el parque de la libertad. "

Aunque no creo que la ISO será capaz de educar a este movimiento, sin duda piensan que pueden utilizar la educación y el análisis de Marx sobre la crisis del capitalismo y la asimilación de la obra de Lenin y Trotsky, es por lo menos un comienzo. La demagogia en el comentario de este blogero consiste en la contraposición de una educación en la historia y la teoría del marxismo a la creatividad natural y la espontaneidad del movimiento de masas. Pero esto es un razonamiento falaz. Esperamos que, incluso con una educación en el marxismo, la revolución tendrá que enfrentarse a tropiezos y errores y de sus participantes a aprender de sus experiencias. Pero no todos los errores son necesarios y no todos los tropiezos tienen un efecto saludable en sus participantes. A veces, errores tienen consecuencias desastrosas. Los que van en una situación de ciegos y privados de la teoría o la historia inevitablemente se quedan en el camino a pesar de su valor y la inventiva. Esta ha sido la experiencia de todas las revoluciones anteriores y no esperamos que sea diferente en el siglo 21.

La cuestión clave es cómo llegar a estas personas. No va a ser realizada por aquellos que dicen ser marxistas, conferencias por personas que les dicen que "debe" unirse o leer este sitio web. Tales esfuerzos causan risa teniendo en cuenta el reproche que merecen correctamente.

Aquí están algunas ideas para los manifestantes a considerar:

1. "Socialismo para los ricos, capitalismo para los pobres" -  es una forma muy popular de caracterizar el rescate de Wall Street por BushObama mientras que a decenas de millones de trabajadores y la clase media se han ejecutado la hipotec,por pérdida de empleos o no pueden encontrar trabajo. Sin embargo, hace que te preguntes: si el socialismo es bueno para los ricos, ¿por qué no se da para todo el mundo?

2.Ustedes necesitan saber a dónde van, si alguna vez va a llegar. Movimientos sin una meta no tienen una dirección, y se convierten en fácil presa para desviar o cooptar.

3."No creer en alguien que te dice que el sistema puede ser fijo y los políticos pueden ser presionados para hacer lo correcto. Nada es más peligroso que una crisis de ilusión. Lea lo que dice Wall Street y usted pronto verá que en  el mejor de los casos es de  hay un escenario para una década de depresión económica y  austeridad, asumiendo que no hay un crack en toda regla. ¡Una década! Para los jóvenes esto significa ser condenados a una vida arruinada - para no tener la oportunidad de una carrera, un trabajo estable, un lugar decente para vivir. No tenemos ningún interés en este sistema. No tenemos nada que perder - y todo para ganar - por deshacernos de él.

4.No crean en los que tienen interés en el sistema, especialmente los políticos demócratas y líderes empresariales de los sindicatos. Las únicas personas en las que podemos confiar son los que se encuentran en el mismo lado de la brecha económica como  nosotros mismos - la clase obrera.

5. Tenemos que estar organizados. Nuestros enemigos lo están. La Organización no es  enemiga de la democracia. Por el contrario, la democracia sin organización significa que la energía del movimiento se disipa, reducida a un mínimo común denominador. Esto significa que el movimiento nunca se plantea un serio desafío para el sistema, nunca van a más allá de ser un espectáculo político.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Impressions from Occupy Wall Street

By Alex Steiner
Oct 6, 2011

Wall Street in downtown Manhattan is pregnant with the history of the United States.  Although today Wall St. is known as the financial heart of American capitalism, it began as a fortified wall, the Northern boundary of the original Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam.  The young protesters who are now in the third week of their occupation of  Zuccotti Park chose their encampment well.  Barely three blocks from their tent city stands the grounds of that symbol of American capitalism, the New York Stock Exchange.  Diagonally across the street from the marble columns of the Stock Exchange is a giant statue of the founder of the American Republic, George Washington.  He is standing on the steps of Federal Hall,  the site where he was sworn in as the first President of this Republic. Another founding father lies buried even closer to the site of the protesters camp -  Alexander Hamilton, architect of the United States first National Bank, is resting in the churchyard of Trinity Church. Another block or so down the street and around the corner from the Stock Exchange stands the massive fortified walls of the New York Federal Reserve, home of what is perhaps the largest hoard of gold bullion in the world,  approximately 7000 tons worth. More to the point, this is where much of the economic policy of the United States is implemented,  from the setting of exchange rates with foreign currencies to the transfer of trillions of dollars between banks on a daily basis. The building also hosted, along with the Treasury Department in Washington, some of the meetings that brought together the heads of the Fed and the Treasury with the CEO's of the largest banks in the country to work out the terms of what eventually became the TARP bailout of the banks following the crisis precipitated by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008.

This takes us back to a consideration of what is going on at Zuccotti Park.  Several thousand protesters are saying that they have had enough.  They are tired of seeing trillions of dollars being used to bail out the banks whose fraudulent practices in the preceding years left them holding massive assets whose value suddenly went to zero.  The other side of the bank bailout by both the Bush and Obama Administrations has been the impoverishment of tens of millions of people, particularly young people.  My impression as a result of talking with some of the protesters and hearing them interviewed is that the vast majority of those occupying Wall Street do not see any future for themselves under this economic system known as capitalism.

I was also struck by the inventiveness and fighting spirit of these young people.  They have, against great odds, been able to maintain a tent city in the middle of Manhattan, in an inhospitable "park" that is actually a concrete plaza with little in the way of amenities such as grass and trees and no public bathrooms or water fountains. What it does have are some tables and chairs that are normally occupied by office workers sipping their morning coffee or chess players taking on Wall Street tycoons for quarters. Somehow this group has managed to feed itself, with the help of neighbors donating food.  They managed to keep dry in the face of New York's relentless autumn rains thanks to some tarps (no pun intended) they sequestered from somewhere.  Without electricity they have managed to create a communications center, powered by a portable generator, where several people are busy on lap tops round the clock, rain or shine, spreading their message to social network sites all over the globe.  They have created committees in charge of making posters, printing a satirical version of the Wall Street Journal, and organizing their marches and acts of civil disobedience.  There is a constant thump of drums and other instruments in one corner where you can find revelers transfixed by the rhythmic sounds.  There is even a free library stocked with donated books, available for anyone who wants to read them. The highlight of each evening is what they call a "General Assembly" an experiment in participatory democracy wherein everyone who wishes to can speak and contribute to the discussion.  Decisions are arrived at through a torturous consensus process. 

The police have banned the use of megaphones or other audio equipment making it extremely difficult to hold meetings in the open air. But the protesters have once again found an ingenious way to get around this legal obstacle to participatory democracy.  One person speaks who is in turn closely surrounded by hundreds of facilitators.  The facilitators then echo back in one voice the words of the speaker so that the huge crowd surrounding them can hear the proceedings.  The proceedings reminded me of the brilliant movie by Truffaut, Fahrenheit 451, (based on an equally brilliant story by Ray Bradbury) where in a future when the reading or printing of books are banned,  a core group of people dedicate themselves to preserving literature by memorizing entire books that can no longer be printed or accessed physically. They have become living books just as the facilitators at Occupy Wall Street have become living megaphones.

The politics of the protesters, insofar as they articulate one,  is certainly naive and contradictory. I saw signs that at once sounded very radical, calling for an end to the plutocracy that runs this country, along with other signs ("Pass the F____ Jobs Bill Already") indicating that the honeymoon with Obama that many young people had in 2008, although badly bruised, may not be entirely over for some.  The OWS protesters have emphasized that they are contemptuous of the political process and have deliberately avoided putting forward a set of demands. They have clearly been inspired by the example of the massive demonstrations in Tahrir Square in Cairo earlier this year and Syntagma Square in Athens.  They see their action as the spark of the American Revolution.  

This is not a revolution at this point but it is impossible to predict how this movement will play itself out. There are signs that the protesters have tapped into a vein of anger against the inequities of life in 21st century America that has been simmering for years. Their actions have already inspired other protests in other cities.  We saw a preview of this action in the sit-ins in Madison, Wisconsin earlier this year. Unfortunately that movement was sidetracked by the labor bureaucracy and the Democratic Party into abandoning their protests and putting their energy into a worthless recall campaign. The OWS protesters will not be so easily sidetracked. But their rejection of political action is both their strength and their weakness.

What is considered normal politics in this country, support for one or the other of the two bourgeois parties, certainly deserves a heady dose of contempt.  But that by itself does little to bring about the kind of just society the protesters envision.  It can in fact serve as an invitation for demagogues and opportunists of various stripes to come in and fill the vacuum.  And though I saw little evidence of the usual confluence of left groups at the encampment, their presence swells each time there is a protest march or some other action.  The neo-Stalinist Workers World Party has been in evidence as has the International Socialist Organization (ISO).  There was much excitement today at the anticipation of representatives from the unions coming tomorrow to show their support.  Of course, the flacks from the trade union bureaucracy who will join the march tomorrow will be there to try to channel this movement back into the safety of harmless protests and support for the Democratic Party. The naiveté evidenced by the protesters, that they would expect anything else from the trade union bureaucracy, is hardly surprising. They come from a generation almost completely devoid of any political culture or historical education. What politics they have come into contact with has been largely the protest movements of the last decade, the anti-war movement, the global justice movement, etc. They have picked up an education largely on their own, thanks to the social networking sites on the Internet and the example of Egypt and Greece.  Whatever their background, be it working class or middle class, they have now come to the same juncture in this third year of the greatest economic crisis of the capitalist system since the Great Depression.  They are largely unemployed or underemployed and see no future for themselves in a society that has bombarded them from birth with images of a consumer utopia of iPhones and home entertainment centers. The American dream has for them become a nightmare.

They have resurrected many of the symbols and images of the 1960s counter culture and protest movement. This is obvious to any visitor to Zuccotti Park who is old enough to remember the aesthetics of the hippies and the slogans of the 1960s radicals. This borrowing of the imagery of another era was practically inevitable given that the 1960s represented the last great period of political turmoil in this country.  Nevertheless, this is a very a different movement than the 1960s counter culture.  They are not so much protesting the injustice that our country inflicts on others in foreign lands - although that is not absent either - but their primary target is the injustice inflicted on them and their friends and family.  They are not the sons and daughters of the affluent middle class alienated from the culture of bourgeois banality.  They are people who see no future for themselves without a fundamental change in society and they are willing to put their lives on the line to make that happen.  

This past Saturday 700 of them were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge after walking into a trap set by the New York City Police. (The police actually led them on their march on the bridge, did not tell them they were walking into a restricted traffic area, and then when they were 1/3 of the way over the bridge they were surrounded,  trapped by nets and arrested.)  The mass arrests have done little to dampen their spirits.  

I wrote the above impressions a couple of days ago but as the situation on Wall Street is extremely dynamic and changes daily I wanted to add a few thoughts on the events up to today (Oct. 6).

The march to Foley Square on Wednesday, Oct 5, was massive and brought out large number of workers and students in support of the protesters.  Some estimates had the crowd at 20,000 or more. As predicted, the trade union bureaucracy came out and stood with Democratic Party politicians in a pathetic attempt to channel the fury of the marchers back to support for Obama and the Democratic Party.  From what I could observe later that evening, a large majority of the protesters will have none of it.  Their attitude could be summed up by one of the placards I saw in Zuccotti Park that evening: "Class War Ahead".   

The weakness of the protesters was also in evidence that evening.  A group of anarchists suddenly announced that they were going to march to the famous statue of the Wall Street bull and stop traffic in the process.  Several hundred young people took off through the narrow streets of the financial district looking for the bull.  At least as many police followed them.  When we finally got to the bull, it was closed off by police barricades on all sides and several police officers were assigned to stand inside the barricades and protect the bull at all costs as if the fate of Western Civilization depended on them and their ability to guard the bull from harm.  This was certainly one of the more amusing episodes of the day. After a couple of the more outspoken members of the group marching toward the bull got themselves arrested the action such as it was ran out of steam and everyone headed back to Zuccotti Park.  

However that same evening another group of protesters demonstrated more of the remarkable ingenuity that has marked this occupation from the beginning.  A projector located somewhere in Zuccotti Park (I could not find the exact location) was beamed diagonally against a tall building across the street that was devoid of windows, a feature common to many commercial buildings built during the 1960s and 1970s in Manhattan. This attribute turned the wall of this building into a perfect screen for a giant advertisement.  What were the words flashed on this improvised billboard? 


So it seems that the man most reviled and feared by the capitalist class, whose theories were thought to be obsolete and could never gain a foothold on the un-philosophical soil of America  - Karl Marx - has returned and has something to say to the youth and workers of this country. I do not want to make more of this one incident than is warranted. There is still a long way to go on the road from repeating a few words of Marx to assimilating the full implications of his work. But it does indicate that there is perhaps now a receptivity to the ideas of this man, more so than at any time in our recent history.  The ironic quality of this development can only be appreciated if we consider the reaction to the Wall Street events of some of our radical bloggers, a subject I will get to shortly.

We are in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protesters.  Their spirit and creativity is to be admired and we share their aims. But we would fail our responsibility as Marxists and revolutionaries if we did not warn them of the dangers of ignoring the political struggle and the history and theoretical heritage of those who preceded them in the struggle for socialism. I note that a number of radical bloggers have taken exactly the opposite tack. They are falling over themselves with words of adulation for the protesters and damning anyone who introduces even the mildest, well-intentioned criticism. For instance, one radical blogger launched into a sharp criticism of the ISO for merely mentioning that the protesters have some lessons to learn. He wrote,

"...there is a real disconnect between young activists who are seeking fundamental social change and groups like the ISO that see themselves as somehow better qualified to lead such struggles because they have achieved some kind of superior understanding of Marxism or because they are consciously following the example of Lenin or Trotsky rather than the stumbling and tentative experiments of the young people in Liberty Park."

While we do not think the ISO will be able to educate this movement, we certainly think that they can use an education and Marx's analysis of the crisis of capitalism and an assimilation of the work of Lenin and Trotsky is at least a beginning. The demagogy in this blogger's comment consists in his counterpoising an education in the history and theory of Marxism to the natural creativity and spontaneity of the mass movement. But this is fallacious reasoning. We expect that even with an education in Marxism, the revolution will still face stumbles and missteps and its participants will learn from their experiences. But not all missteps are necessary and not all stumbles have a salutary effect on their participants. Sometimes such missteps have disastrous consequences. Those who go into a situation blind and bereft of theory or history will inevitably fall by the wayside despite their courage and inventiveness. This has been the experience of every previous revolution and we do not expect it to be any different in the 21st century.

The critical question is how to reach these people. It will not be done by those claiming to be Marxists lecturing at people or telling them that they "must" join this party or read this web site. Such efforts will be laughed off and given the rebuke they properly deserve.

Here are some ideas for the protestors to consider:

1. “Socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor” – that's a widely popular way of characterizing the Wall Street bailout by BushObama while tens of millions of workers and middle class people have been foreclosed on, lost jobs or can't find work. But it makes you wonder: if socialism is good for the rich, why not have it for everyone?

2.You need to know where you're going if you're ever going to get there. Movements without a goal have no direction, and become easy to sidetrack or coopt.

3.Don't believe anyone who tells you the system can be fixed and the politicians can be pressured to do the right thing. Nothing is more dangerous in a crisis than wishful thinking. Read what Wall Street reads and you'll quickly see that the best case scenario is for a decade of economic slump and austerity, assuming there isn't an all-out crash. A decade! For young people this means being condemned to blighted lives – to never having a chance at a career, a steady job, a decent place to live. We have no stake in this system. We have nothing to lose – and everything to gain – by getting rid of it.

4.Don't believe those who have stakes in the system, especially Democratic politicians and business union leaders. The only people we can trust are those on the same side of the economic divide as ourselves – the working class.

5. We need to be organized. Our enemies are. Organization is not the enemy of democracy. On the contrary, democracy without organization means that the energy of the movement gets dissipated, reduced to a lowest common denominator. It means the movement will never pose a serious challenge to the system, will never get beyond being a political sideshow.

Police officers guarding the Wall Street bull

Some common posters
The media center

A view of the encampment

Table on Broadway

Meeting during a downpour

Symbolic flag
The New York Stock Exchange building two blocks away