Protester shouting at police
The scene at Zuccotti Park was at once both tense and hopeful. The protesters were not demoralized by the loss of their encampment. They have once again shown their capacity for inventiveness and organization by reconfiguring their governing bodies so that they could continue their functions under the new circumstances. The kitchen was back in operation, this time from the back of a truck parked in front of the Trinity Church cemetery two blocks south on Broadway. Housing arrangement were being made for hundreds who need a place to sleep for the night. Most of the housing arrangements are in the homes of sympathetic New Yorkers but some might be going to other encampments in other cities. Whether the encampment reemerges at Zuccotti Park or elsewhere, the protesters are not going away. A statement from one of the speakers made it clear that they see their struggle as transcending the immediate symbol of an encampment in downtown Manhattan:
“Such a movement cannot be evicted. Some politicians may physically remove us from public spaces – our spaces – and, physically, they may succeed. But we are engaged in a battle over ideas. Our idea is that our political structures should serve us, the people – all of us, not just those who have amassed great wealth and power. We believe this idea resonates with so many of us because Congress, beholden to Wall Street, has ignored the powerful stories pouring out from the homes and hearts of our neighbors, stories of unrelenting economic suffering. Our dream for a democracy in which we matter is why so many people have come to identify with Occupy Wall Street and the 99% movement.”
Protesters clash with New York Police after being removed from Zuccotti Park Photograph: Lucas Jackson/Reuters
Today’s meeting took place as the square was surrounded by hundreds of police, many of them wearing riot helmets. It was also barricaded so that the police could closely monitor the one entrance point protesters were allowed to pass through. Dozens of police vans and news trucks surrounded the square.
One curious fact that I noticed both today and on previous occasions is the almost complete absence of any of the left groups. To be sure some of them are there as individuals and occasionally as Internet "journalists", but they hardly ever have any sort of organized presence. I did see literature tables from two small groups representing different factions of what used to be the “Militant” group in the UK, lead by the late Ted Grant. One would think that if a socialist political movement was interested in battling over its ideas among the Occupy Wall Street protesters it would have at least set up a literature table. But groups like the SWP, Spartacist, or the Socialist Equality Party are nowhere to be found.
The idea of the 99% comes out of America’s populist and radical traditions. But given the absence for at least two generations of a tradition of Marxism and socialism, and the quiesence of the labor movement, it was all but inevitable that the idea of the 99% would be articulated as an initial, if vaguely formulated stand in for the working class. Nevertheless the articulation of widespread sentiment against social inequality marks an important step forward in the American political psyche. It means that the myth of America as a society that has escaped the class systems of the older countries of Europe, and where anyone, as long as they apply themselves with hard work and energy, can become the next Warren Buffet, is once and for all put to pasture. The remarkable thing about the Occupy Wall Street movement is that despite all the political confusion its leaders evince, it has placed capitalism itself on the agenda of political discourse. That is no small accomplishment considering that the full weight of the ideological and state apparatus has worked overtime for decades to keep that question off the agenda. Suddenly there is an openness to a consideration of an alternative economic system the likes of which have not been seen since the 1960s.
The movement as it stands now is still far from being able to induce fundamental social change. That will require the entry of the working class onto the political stage and a break from the two party system that has trapped politics within the confines of capitalism. It will also require the conscious articulation of socialist policies and the development of a revolutionary leadership, something that is currently anathema to the anarchist-minded leadership of Occupy Wall Street. However, these are mostly young people who are still developing their political outlook. Whatever differences we Marxists have with them, we do not place them in the same camp as the professional political operatives and cynics who populate various left and liberal organizations. Outfits like the Nation Magazine and Moveon.org as well as the bureaucrats of unions like the UAW come to mind in this context. In short, what we have in this movement is just a beginning, but one that has already captured the imagination of millions and has the capacity to spread and mature politically.
The following are interviews at Occupy Wall Street that I conducted this past Saturday, prior to the eviction.
Alex Steiner, Nov. 16, 2011
Alex Steiner, Nov. 16, 2011