Tag Archives: Occupy Wall Street

Spaces of Hope: Radical Movements Need Radical Spaces

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One of the murals on the Ché Café in San Diego (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

To build radical movements, you need radical spaces, argues Arun Gupta, who looks at the important roles San Diego’s Ché Café and Brooklyn’s Mayday Space play in their communities.

by Arun Gupta Telesur December 2, 2014

Standing outside the Ché Café, wedged in a hillside on the University of California San Diego campus, David Morales says “the radicals there terrified me” the first time he visited in 1987.

Just 18 years old, Morales was bewildered by the political and music scene there. It was alien to his experience growing up in conservative San Diego, a major port for the U.S. navy sandwiched between the massive Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton to the north and the militarized border with Mexico to the south.

Morales quickly warmed to the “incredible mix of cultural expression from students and youth,” and fell in love with the Ché Café’s eclectic music shows that spanned reggae to punk rock. He met his future wife at the shed-like cafe and it is a place infused with their familiy’s memories.

After graduating from UCSD in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in communication, the 45-year-old Morales’ focus shifted to his family, and he would only “show up now and then to an event” at the space.

Now he’s a fixture once more at the Ché Café, along with other old-timers and a slew of youths, because the UCSD administration is on the verge of booting out the collective, which has been running the cafe for 34 years.

Claiming there are safety concerns about the condition of the buildings, the administration is close to securing a five-day notice to vacate, after months of maneuvering to squeeze both funding and student support.

Café supporters dispute the claims, pointing out that in April the university’s own facility inspector concluded that that the space “is looking good in terms of safety” other than one minor item of concern next to the main building.

Monty Kroopkin, who started at UCSD in 1970, is the in-house expert on the collective’s decades-long battles with the administration. He says the three-building facility was established in 1966 and originally known as the Coffee House Express, or C.H.E. for short. In 1979, after the administration tried to turn it into a faculty club, the students gained control and established the Ché Café, changing the meaning of the acronym to “Cheap Healthy Eats.”

Since then, the collective has been fending off attempts by the administration to shut the cafe. UCSD officials have invoked health and safety issues repeatedly, going so far as to change the cafe’s locks in 2000, before supporters occupied it, forcing the administration to back down. That’s why Kroopkin, Morales and others are concerned about the looming eviction order, but are not yet hitting the panic button.

The threat of closure has generated an influx of supporters. Ché Café recently delivered a petition with 14,000 signatures asking the administration to halt the eviction and negotiate a new lease.

While the administration claims the facility is used mainly by outsiders (which is true of the high-profile and independently-operated La Jolla Playhouse on the UCSD campus), students occupied an academic hall on November 24 in support of the Ché Café. They were also opposing planned tuition increases of 28 percent over in the next five in the entire University of California system.

The Ché collective is growing, and members meet regularly to formulate responses to the administration’s moves.

When I popped by on a warm Sunday afternoon in mid-November, they were discussing a university decree that they halt the cafe’s programming; its cultural lifeblood and business model. Before the meeting a handful of us gathered outside, as Morales’ youngest daughter and two friends raced around the patio, past a stenciled painting of an AK-47 emblazoned with the slogan, “No Gods No Masters.”

To those who’ve found a home in the Ché Café, it represents radical possibilities. In 2003 Trevor Stutzman found in the Ché an all-age venue steeped in San Diego’s “rich music history.” He says at age 15 he was “exposed to a real alternative, a non-hierarchical worker collective. It affects you the rest of your life and how you see the world.”

While Stutzman attended college elsewhere, he has been a regular at the cafe that is “a bridge between the community and university.” The others nod in agreement. Kroopkin adds that the cafe’s existence raises the question, “Is the university’s role to serve its ‘clientele’ or is it to serve the broader community?”

The single-story wooden buildings are splashed with radical-history murals by painters like Victor Ochoa and Mario Torero, whose works are also found in San Diego’s famed (and contested) Chicano Park.

Morales guides me through the eucalyptus grove on the far reaches of the cafe grounds.He reminisces that it’s a place where he’s “watched owls make love,” to the organic vegetable garden in back. It’s also the place he and his wife buried our eldest son’s placenta.

There I meet Jeanine Webb, studying toward a doctorate in poetics at UCSD, who has been a collective member for three months.

Webb laments, “There are so few radical spaces left on University of California campuses.” She argues the administration’s plan is to remove “student spaces that provide a place where free thought and culture can exist because they don’t support the neoliberal profit motive and have ‘uncontrollable’ aspects inherent to them.”

Kroopkin says over the years the university has been hostile to the Ché Café and the three other student-run cooperatives on campus: the General Store Co-op, Groundwork Books, and the Food Co-op. He explains that they are the only student-run and cooperatively-organized entities at the university with their own revenue streams, bank accounts, payroll and insurance. “They are legally autonomous,” Kroopkin says. “Not even the UCSD student government is autonomous, unlike the UCLA or Berkeley bodies.”

That is the heart of the conflict, says Webb. Spaces like the Ché Café do not fit into the corporate university, which is why she says the administration wants to “sanitize” them.

It’s hard to disagree. What’s happening in the University of California system and the Ché Café is a microcosm of U.S. society.

Radical spaces

Over time, as the market has extended its tendrils into all parts of daily life, radical spaces have disappeared in much of U.S. society.

In the late 19th century, agrarian grange halls and entire utopian communities were commonplace. Decades later, labor temples, radical coffeehouses, theaters, publishers, bars and bookstores had their heyday along with socialist and communist halls and camps.

While you can still find radical spaces in many college campuses, union halls and cultural spaces, they are all under siege, save perhaps those hosted by progressive religious outfits.

Radical spaces in workplaces, public squares, churches, schools, and neighborhoods are breeding grounds for social movements of every stripe.

Factories have been a primary site of struggle since the industrial era began. Karl Marx argued capitalists would be their undoing, by bringing together laborers under one roof they would realize their common interests as a working class and overthrown the capitalist system.

While that prediction of solely a worker-led revolution seems unlikely to come to pass in an era when production has been outsourced through technology and fragmented around the globe, movements are unmoored without space to incubate, grow and survive.

Occupy Wall Street would never have existed without holding common space in dozens of cities, and it never recovered once it lost those spaces no matter how much activists told themselves, “You can’t evict an idea.”

Taking over public space enables everyday life to be reimagined. After Occupy took root in the fall of 2011, I would stand on the steps overlooking Zuccotti Park, just a stone’s throw from the New York Stock Exchange, and watch as hundreds of people clumped in knots exchanged ideas, food, books, technology, art, media, medical care, counseling, clothing, shelter, emotions and more. Not one exchange was mediated by money, which was in sharp contrast to the fevered consumption all around in Manhattan.

Different political and social forms were fermenting, especially ones where the market held far less sway than is normal in daily life.

As powerful and widespread as the protests have been against the failure to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for killing unarmed Black teen Michael Brown, outbursts in the street can’t replace spaces where community and trust is built, leadership and organization developed, and vision and strategy debated and implemented.

The reason so many radical spaces have closed down is the same reason Ché Café is imperiled: money.

Recently one of the most storied alternative spaces in the country, New York City’s Brecht Forum, shut down. A popular education institute and theater, the Brecht cited financial difficulties as the reason for packing it in after nearly 40 years, but some sources within the organization indicated there was a political decision to turn down substantial funding that could have saved it because it would have likely meant shifting its organizational form or vision.

An activist space in Brooklyn known as The Commons is filling some of the needs met by a radical space, by providing classes in leftist history and politics. Its funding model is based on the investing savvy of its politically-minded owner, who purchased the building years ago in a depressed area that has gentrified, like much of the city. There’s nothing wrong with politically-minded philanthropy as the radical left needs all the help it can get.

Another space taking shape elsewhere in Brooklyn aims to be a comprehensive community resource while adapting to market realities. Ana Nogueira and McNair Scott are the principals behind the Mayday Community Space. I worked with the two for years at the New York City Indymedia Center, which got off to a roaring start in 2000, when a left-leaning hactivist donated a midtown office space to the group of media makers.

Noguiera is a former producer at Democracy Now!, and half of the team that made the award-winning film about the Israeli occupation of Palestine, Roadmap to Apartheid. She says her inspiration for Mayday comes from one of her formative experiences as a teenager, “seeing a show at the Wetlands Preserve and discovering a whole world of environmental activism.” During its 12-year run, Wetlands was located in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan and fused live concerts with environmental activism, but was steamrollered by gentrification in 2001.

Nogueira says she hopes Mayday Space “plays a similar role, drawing people to music shows and introducing them to movements,” while facilitating “affordable space for people to use in a city where rents are super high.”

To do that they’ve formed two separate entities: a for-profit bar, “where you come in, put down money, and get a drink,” and a separate nonprofit community space. The bar has investors who will receive a share of profits. Nogueira says up to 25 percent of the profits will go “to front-line activist groups who need quick infusions of cash.” She explains it’s meant for groups that don’t have the time to apply for grants, offering as possibilities they batted around a protest called on short notice or support needed after a nonviolent direct action.

“Our investors support this vision and mission of sustaining a community space in Bushwick and a rapid-response activist fund,” Nogueira says. The bar will also subsidize the community space. It got a test run this summer before the People’s Climate March after Avaaz and 350.org paid Mayday’s landlord $20,000 for three months use of the space.

Nogueira says, “It was amazing to see the place come to life. We couldn’t have picked a better inaugural event. People from across the city saw there was a space that could be a resource and it introduced us to the Bushwick community where we’re located. It introduced the space to movements we want to be connected to, and they got to see what the space could be. And it was a dry run on how to manage a dozen volunteers, create a safe space for everyone, and keep it open for 20 hours a day.”

They already have a well-known tenant in the form of Make The Road, an immigrant-focused workers center that has successfully agitated for workplace rights and against wage theft in many cases. Nogueira says, “Make The Road is going to host workshops on adult literacy, English classes, and citizenship education in the Mayday Space. We are going to complement that with Spanish classes, tenants’ rights workshops, and legal workshops such as workplace rights and know your rights workshops.”

The five-member Mayday collective is serious about serving the community, mainly comprised of low-income Puerto Rican and Mexican families. Tenants’ rights is one of the best tools to slow down the maelstrom of gentrification that’s been unleashed on Bushwick by the HBO show, Girls, which is set there.

Nogueira says local groups planning to do workshops in the space include Bushwick Copwatch and Families Against Police Violence. Other projects in the works include starting a rooftop farm with youth in the community and cooking classes

Nogueira says the project holds unknown potential, “We hope it will facilitate movement building across issues and be a neutral ground to meet where people can cross pollinate. We’ve seen that happen already through the climate organizing where people also ended up discussing police brutality, what’s happening in Ferguson, and NSA spying.”

That’s precisely the kind of role Ché Café has played through its history, says Monty Kroopkin. Its crowning achievement was serving as an organizing hub for the student campaign in the eighties that pressured the University of California to divest more than $3 billion of investments from companies doing business in South Africa. Nelson Mandela singled out the UC students’ role in helping topple apartheid when he visited Berkley, California, in 1990 after gianing freedom.

No one knows what the future holds for spaces like the Ché Café and Mayday, but their mere existence is a beacon of hope for new movements and activists alike.

To support the Ché Café and for the latest updates, go to checafe.ucsd.edu.The Mayday Space is holding a fundraising campaign to help them open successfully next year.

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Filed under Culture, Education, Occupy Movement, Political Organizing, Public Space

Make New York City Ungovernable: Lessons from the Anti-Apartheid Struggle in the Age of Bill de Blasio

If liberals drew the unambiguous conclusion that real power lies in the markets, with the corporate-owned media, and think tanks and universities endowed by the wealthy, then they would be calling for massive street protests to counter the full-court press Wall Street is placing on new Mayor Bill de Blasio, says Gupta.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.

by Arun Gupta truth-out.org December 31, 2013

Saints make the worst role models. How precisely can one emulate Nelson Mandela, a “supernatural human” who moved mountains of injustice, except by becoming him, which is impossible because he was a saint?

Saints stand above history, making choices based on internal moral struggles and exhibiting unimpeachable fortitude, faith and grace. This implies events were ordained and could not have been otherwise. We are afraid to see Mandela as captive of history because it may tarnish his memory. But that’s a mistake. The bitter history of post-liberation South Africa does not diminish the heroic and costly struggle to end apartheid.

The Afrikaner elite negotiated the end of apartheid after mass movements made South Africa ungovernable in the ’80s, and its military was defeated in a regional war. Mandela and the ANC (African National Conress) made a fatal miscalculation, however. They decided that political liberation for all people meant economic liberalization for corporations that propped up and profited off the racist system.

Consequently, argues political analyst and author Patrick Bond, “South Africa’s democratization was profoundly compromised by an intra-elite economic deal that, for most people, worsened poverty, unemployment, inequality and ecological degradation, while also exacerbating many racial, gender and geographical differences.”

In short, racial apartheid was replaced with class apartheid. In 1993 a transitional government that included the ANC endorsed an IMF (International Monetary Fund) structural adjustment package. The roots of this policy were planted a decade earlier when leaders of the United Democratic Front, which coordinated the antiapartheid resistance, gambled that democratic rights should be secured before economic rights. Critics presciently argued that socialism delayed would be socialism denied. Because the defeat of liberation forces by capital happened rapidly in South Africa under a revered leader like Mandela and with the majority thirsting for economic and social justice, there are important lessons for our time. South Africa’s shift to class apartheid parallels US history in which Jim Crow was dismantled but eventually replaced by Reaganomics class warfare.

One lesson is to keep up the street heat. After being elected in 2008, Obama ditched progressive rhetoric for austerity policies: protecting banks, dithering on the home foreclosure crisis, calling for Social Security and Medicaid cuts and deficit reduction. It was only thanks to Occupy Wall Street that the national debate was flipped from austerity to economic inequality. Occupy has faded but its impact is still felt in low-wage worker organizing, minimum-wage initiatives, climate-justice organizing, and the elections of Kshama Sawant to the Seattle City Council and Bill de Blasio, who will be inaugurated on January 1, 2014, as the 109th mayor of New York City.

The 99% Mayor, de Blasio’s “tale of two cities” has resonated across the country because most Americans are locked out of gilded communities zoned by race and class. De Blasio is no Mandela, but his candidacy was propelled by low-wage worker movements, the grassroots coalition against stop-and-frisk policing, and anger over economic inequality. Rather than lead the charge against this soft apartheid, however, de Blasio will be another liberal enforcer for the 1%. Once victory was in hand, De Blasio moved to appease the markets by calling himself a fiscal conservative, tapping stop-and-frisk architect Bill Bratton as police chief and a Goldman Sachs exec to fight inequality, and signaling that mega-real-estate projects would be approved, if with less public aid. He and his officials will now move in a world of boardrooms, penthouses, Michelin-starred restaurants, and galas where they will hear the woes of the oligarchy. At least he won’t be as cartoonish as Bloomberg, who fantasized about every Russian billionaire moving to the city, police profiling minorities more, and poor neighborhoods hosting waste incinerators. But his policy-making will involve horse-trading with liberal bigwigs and union leaders who will agree to toss crumbs to millions of struggling New Yorkers and call it progress.

There is another option: Strive to make the city ungovernable.

Let me explain. What made Occupy potent was that it was a continuous, populist protest that rattled Wall Street and paved the way for de Blasio. His victory has raised hopes, but he will not address inequality unless movements from below disrupt the status quo, like the anti-apartheid movement did in South Africa. If movements can learn from Occupy’s failures and organize strategic protests and strikes that mobilize the public to confront de Blasio’s proposals as inadequate, which they will be, then there’s a chance to redistribute some wealth and power in meaningful ways to the 99%.

Learning From South Africa

The modern history of the antiapartheid movement begins with the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre. The killing of 69 peaceful anti-pass law protestors and subsequent repression left the public traumatized and led to the jailing of Mandela and other leaders, the banning of the ANC, and its turn to armed struggle. Organized resistance did not resurface until 1973 when about 100,000 workers in Durban went on strike, reviving politicized trade unionism. The 1976 Soweto Uprising by students opposing Afrikaner-language education baptized a new generation with “bullets and tear gas.” This was the coming of age for the Black Consciousness movement (influenced by Amílcar Cabral, Frantz Fanon, and the Black Panthers), which promoted an ideology of racial assertiveness and psychological liberation over racial inferiority. Anthony Marx points out in Lessons of Struggle that Black Consciousness was the main game in town as young activists saw the ANC and other foreign-based groups as “not only irrelevant, but wasteful.” (Much of the analysis that follows is based on Marx’s excellent history of South Africa’s internal resistance from 1960 to 1990.)

Despite months of organizing, a quarter-million students joining walkouts, and workers’ sympathy strikes, the state crushed the uprising, leaving hundreds dead and thousands jailed and tortured. The Black Consciousness movement’s emphasis on ideas as prior to physical liberation appealed mainly to students, especially those in universities, instead of the black working class it needed to win over. This limited organizational development and the chance to keep up the momentum from Soweto. The breadth of the uprising also showed the movement had achieved its aim of changing consciousness. This spurred a turn in the movement overall from a racial analysis to class and nonracial organizing. Additionally, events in mid-70s South Africa were influenced by liberation struggles that freed Angola and Mozambique from racist European rule similar to apartheid. Many youth gravitated to ANC politics after serving time in prison with senior leaders. Thousands of others fled the country and were recruited by the ANC, which alone had the resources, discipline, and organization to house, educate and train, allowing it to rebuild its internal network and popular stature.

Obviously there are huge differences with the here and now, but there are intriguing similarities as well. For example, Occupy Wall Street was also influenced by international events, such as the Arab Spring, learned the hard way that the movement behind the ideas can crumble, and succeeded in changing consciousness by popularizing the terms 99% and 1%. But after the state counterattacked in late 2011, Occupy groups failed to develop strategies beyond attempted re-occupations, solidarity campaigns and service work. Additionally, while Occupy’s power lay in its elegantly simple class critique, internal fissures erupted across the country between radical and liberals and over identity politics. The former led to splits over whether to work within the political system or build utopian models outside of it. Debates over identity politics often led to internal struggles that alienated many participants. These self-inflicted blows were compounded by Occupy’s disregard for strategy or even organization. Not surprisingly, liberal outfits, unions, community groups and workers centers picked up the banner of inequality. One exception is climate-justice organizing, which has attracted post-Occupy activists to its radical grassroots bent. But it’s also sundered by a class analysis, similar to what happened in South Africa. Radicals argue for an anti-capitalist strategy as it’s the main culprit in global warming, while those who call themselves realists contend system change is a luxury as the collapse of civilization is nigh, so we should pursue green solutions compatible with capitalism.

Marx notes Black Consciousness adopted a class analysis after Soweto to provide common values of resistance, and it could help build mass organization by overcoming an individualistic approach to fighting oppression. Many Occupiers went the other way, from collective politics to individualism by fixating on the abstractions of identity – fighting “privilege” – rather than the material effects of oppression linked to identity. Consequently, Occupy, as a movement, missed an opportunity to organize low-wage workers, who are disproportionately people of color and female. Just like the ANC attracted youth after the anarchic Soweto Uprising was quashed, unions have used their resources and organizational structure to attract Occupy activists looking to continue the fight against the 1%. Members of socialist and anarchist organizations have joined the campaigns as well, enabling them to collectively analyze strategies and debate and implement plans to radicalize the low-wage worker movement. But Occupiers rarely join as part of a group engaging in collective strategizing. Additionally, liberals and unions use dumbed-down class analysis for partisan or instrumental ends, instead of wielding class as a strategic tool to forge different social relations. During the 2012 election, they stole Occupy’s thunder by tarring Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch one percenter, playing a big role in the re-election of Obama, who has dutifully managed the interests of the 1%.

In South Africa, movements learn from history and their mistakes. When a brutal crackdown in the mid-’80s cooled mass rebellion that was destabilizing South Africa, activists did not blame the state. They took repression as a given, and instead criticized the United Democratic Front for what they saw as a lack of militancy. With Occupy, however, many still cling to the myth that police ended the movement despite copious evidence it disintegrated because of internal conflicts and strategic missteps like futile re-occupations. More recently, South Africa’s largest union, the National Union of Metalworkers, announced it was cutting funding to the ANC and would not back it in the 2014 elections. Outlining a strategy that would be unimaginable coming from an American labor leader, NUMSA plans to form a “new United Front that will coordinate struggles in the workplace and in communities, in a way similar to the United Democratic Front of the 1980s,” and launch a new labor party by 2015.

The South Africa of today was forged in the 1980s. Compromises made by the UDF, such as delaying economic restructuring and enforcing top-down leadership and the dominance of the ANC, left the liberation movement ill-prepared to counter the coming neoliberal regime. The ANC lost nerve on the international stage after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ronnie Kasrils, a storied leader of both the ANC and the South African Communist Party, is one of many who argues signing on to the IMF’s neoliberal program was a “Faustian Pact.” Kasrils says “the balance of power was with the ANC, and conditions were favorable for more radical change at the negotiating table than we ultimately accepted.”

The 99% Mayor in 1% Clothing

Under de Blasio, modest reforms are possible including strengthening a flawed paid sick leave act, boosting the minimum wage for those employed in city-subsidized projects and extending it to more than 600 workers a year covered by a 2012 bill, and creating a municipal ID to help undocumented immigrants access services. But this is tinkering at the edges, and wish lists are barely more ambitious. The Nation calls for implementing de Blasio’s proposal to tax the wealthy to fund universal pre-K. It’s a fine idea, which requires the approval of the state legislature, but it won’t begin to “reverse” the dramatic widening of the income gap, unless one has a timeline of 20 years to evaluate results.

Tellingly, de Blasio has steered clear of proposals to redistribute wealth downward instead of up. He’s been silent on the plan by his primary opponent, City Comptroller John Liu, to increase the citywide minimum wage to $11.50 an hour, raise $15 billion in new revenue through progressive fiscal and tax policy, and build 100,000 units of affordable housing in four years. De Blasio’s strategy is to be a better manager of neoliberalism to generate a little more tax revenue that can be spread around. He will replay the Obama era on a smaller stage. As soon as he surrenders to the rich and powerful, his liberal defenders will attack critics for being naïve about the power of the markets and the reality of governing a city with 448,000 government employees and a budget of $50 billion, which is greater than the GDP of 110 nations. However, the argument that his hands are tied contradicts declarations that “just about everything [is] at stake in de Blasio’s mayoralty.”

Supporters assume de Blasio can wrest concessions from the rich without any leverage over them. He won’t challenge the class apartheid suffocating most New Yorkers. He won’t be a reverse Bloomberg, re-engineering the city to make it the playground of workers instead of the gilded elite. Even if the overt racial profiling is rolled back, it will be replaced with class profiling of the homeless, panhandlers and street vendors that is defined by race, which is what Bratton did as Los Angeles police chief a decade ago. If de Blasio installs Bratton with minimal opposition progressives will embolden him to pursue Wall Street’s agenda, which is why it’s positive that opposition has emerged to Bratton, led by parents whose children were killed by the NYPD during his previous tenure as police chief.

Without organized opposition, De Blasio’s policies will not alter the 46 percent of city residents in or on the cusp of poverty or alleviate the extreme housing crisis that ranges from hedge funds and investors buying 70 percent of homes in Brooklyn to extended families of a dozen or more stuffed into two-bedroom apartments in my tenement building to the Lower Manhattan “human kennel,” where men pay $300 a month to live in squalid “chicken-wire cages” smaller than a jail cell. Any more social welfare is welcome, of course, but if de Blasio won’t commit to even an $11.50 an hour minimum wage, how will he address inequality? The wealth divide in the city is so extreme a household with two full-time workers earning $15 an hour would find its entire pre-tax income consumed by the average rent of $3,800 in Manhattan. And Brooklyn’s not far behind, with an average rent of more than $3,000.

If liberals drew the unambiguous conclusion from their arguments that real power lies in the markets, with the corporate-owned media, with think tanks and universities endowed by the wealthy, then they would be calling for massive street protests to counter the full-court press Wall Street is placing on de Blasio.

Now, nurturing an uprising is far from simple or even likely, but we do live an era where they are increasingly common because the political center is so slavishly devoted to capital. In the United States alone, since 1999, there’s been the global justice movement, the anti-Iraq War movement, the immigrant May Day general strike and Occupy Wall Street. If there are any illusions, it’s among the liberals who expect dramatic change from a de Blasio administration while they tell the left and workers to be quiet.

They would do well to remember the words of O.R. Tiro, who was killed by a letter bomb in 1974, two years after telling his fellow South African university students, “The price of freedom is blood, toil and tears . . . History has taught us that a group in power has never voluntarily relinquished its position. It has always been forced to do so.”

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Filed under Economy, Inequality, Occupy Movement, Politics

Moshed in the Pit of Capitalism

by Arun Gupta, truth-out.org, op-ed, June 16, 2013

Delighted attendee Gupta opines that while the Coachella music and arts festival “may be the zenith of hipster culture” – with extraordinary food choices, music, flamboyancy and release, drugs and friendliness – “It’s all Walmart economy.”

Fans listen to a set by Nicky Romero at the Sahara Tent during the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., April 12, 2013. (Photo: Chad Batka / The New York Times).

Fans listen to a set by Nicky Romero at the Sahara Tent during the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., April 12, 2013. (Photo: Chad Batka / The New York Times).

Within 20 minutes I had been clocked in the face, pummeled by flying bodies and stripped of clothing. It was the best mosh pit of the day, and I wanted more. Hundreds thick of body or reckless by nature were circulating in a blender of whirling arms and legs propelled by the freneticism of The Descendents. It was exhilarating not knowing if I would be the bat or ball next. There was little risk of death or injury that led the Smashing Pumpkins and Fugazi to ban moshing at their concerts. When I fell down, hands pulled me up, backslaps were exchanged, and the good times rolled.

Bill, my companion at Coachella, remarked as another surfer was catapulted on top of the crowd, “It’s a great way to let out your social aggression.” I grinned in agreement as we dove into a wave of slam dancers surging and crashing.

After scoring a free ticket to the three-day Southern California music-and-arts festival, I cruised to the desert town of Indio with scant knowledge of the 175 acts rotating through eight venues, hoping I wouldn’t be bored. As I entered the 2.4 million-square-foot polo grounds, my anxiety vanished because it was an ADD delight. I wandered from one act to the next, people-watched, self-medicated, and tripped out on colossal mechanical insects and wind-sculpted balloon chains painting the sky.

Star power like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Nick Cave attracted a record 90,000 pilgrims each of two weekends in April, but the real draw was the crowd itself. In the digital age, unlimited music is on tap anytime, anywhere, and music-discovery services have reduced the search for the new from prowling obscure clubs and rifling stacks of unknown albums to opening a browser. It’s the shared live experience and the chance to star in your own social media firmament – by posting obsessively to Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr – that’s elevated Coachella to the Superbowl of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

It’s revived the music-festival genre, along with events like Austin City Limits and Bonnaroo, for fans who treat concerts like iPods, shuffling from one act and genre to the next. Today’s festivals are far removed from the first rock concerts of the ’60s that were “beachheads of a new, ecstatic culture meant to replace the old repressive one,” notes Barbara Ehrenreich in Dancing in the Streets.

Now in its 15th year, Coachella is the highest-grossing festival in the world. For the region it’s a quarter-billion-dollar revenue generator, which outstrips Jamaica’s GDP on an annual basis. Tickets run up to $800, luxury Safari tents top out at $6,500, and everything costs: parking, water, showers, even charging phones. The dominant tribe is money-flush youth with the will to endure three sleepless days of being mashed in a delicious sound taco of Indie rock.

But Coachella is also the modern incarnation of medieval carnivals that revealed “another way of life that stood in stark contrast to the austerity and fixed hierarchy of the official order,” notes Al Sandine in The Taming of the American Crowd. We may imagine festivals like the original May Day, that celebrated the return of spring, to be as timeless as nature, but they are inventions, like Labor Day, Independence Day and Armistice Day.

Late 18th century French revolutionaries “invented a series of public events intended to furnish the novel and exciting world that had fallen into their hands with a revolutionary culture,” writes Sandine. These were solemn affairs with “maidens dressed in white” and ceremonies “marking brotherhood between rival villages,” but the desire for carnival could not be suppressed. On the first anniversary of the fall of the Bastille, the orderly military parade in Paris turned into a days-long celebration with “parties, dances and parodies.” In the town of Saint-Andéol, Sandine quotes a contemporary describing a “love-feast,” where ” ‘wine flowed in the streets, the tables were spread, provisions placed in common,’ and people joined hands in an enormous dance extending outward ‘into the fields [and] across the mountains.’ ”

Libidinous festivals still exist in the global south, such as Rio’s Carnival and India’s Holi. Our public parties, Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day, are associated with frat-boy culture or are sanitized like Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Libertine exceptions remain, such as Mardi Gras, Pride and Burning Man, but they have survived by adapting to the market. Radical noncorporate celebrations such as Rainbow Gatherings and Critical Mass tend to be squashed.

Because unplanned festivals are rare, they can be wildly popular. Tens of thousands joined Occupy Wall Street as it was a spontaneous outburst of history and living theater. Democratic, free, participatory, dangerous, unpredictable and open to all, Occupy was unlike the gated festivals that have colonized public space with pacified crowds.

While the elite used to fear the frenzy of the crowd, mega-festivals profit from assimilating the defiance and aggression of rock music. Coachella has successfully enclosed the ancient dance of joy and aggression around a bonfire. Bottling youthful rebellion draws devotees from Sydney, London, Tijuana and Hollywood for nostalgia and novelty, eros and excess. And it’s filling a primal need for mass, spontaneous revelry that’s largely disappeared from America.

Rob, 24, an expressionist artist who jetted in from New Zealand, said, “It’s the best music festival in the world.” Jane, a schoolteacher from Burbank had been dying to attend because her friends deemed it “epic.” “Was it epic?” I asked. “It was epic,” she replied with a delirious grin. “Teddy Bear,” a 20-something bro outfitted in more digital media than clothing, wondered how to optimally balance his intake of Acid, Mollies, and Sassafras with alcohol.

Cynics sneer at the vapid self-indulgence. Desperate-to-be-cool attendees gush about fake bands. Lindsay Lohan delayed her court-ordered rehab to after the festival, a smart move for the Adderall and Xanax-popping train wreck as drugs are cheaper and easier to score than food. There’s little nostalgia for rock’s muddy, tie-dye, bad-trip roots. Today’s hippie chicks buy fake flower headbands; music stars outsource their beats; and the 40,000 campers herded into the tent Serengeti eye the air-conditioned VIP quarters with envy.

But criticizing the base desire misses the point. Excess is the goal, and everyone is participant and spectator in the swirl of drugs, performance, fashion, art and above all, flesh. It could overwhelm, like the two sweaty groundskeepers who stood frozen with beer in hands as a flood of pecs and boobs, abs and butts coursed around them. One of the most popular spots was where the water guns were spraying overheated crowds dancing to DJ sets behind the motor-home-sized psychedelic snail oozing a foamy mucilaginous trail. Under the cooling jets, hundreds gyrated in slippery polyamorous frottage like wriggling spermatozoa building to a crescendo.

Without sex and drugs, attendance would probably dwindle to that of a minor-league baseball game. But there’s more to it than that. By feeding the need for human connection, Coachella’s revived the festival scene. The promise of an interconnected world on demand has turned out to be two-dimensional and alienating. Iron-fisted policing has scared most Americans away from political crowds. Shared intimacy is elusive – even though every form is on sale from baby making to funeral mourning. That leaves bars, shopping and sports, all of which lack genuine community.

Coachella is so immersive, it feels like its own universe, which makes it hard to imagine another way of life beyond its utopian consumerism, sustained by austerity. We were all atomized consumers whizzing in a giant particle accelerator to explosive energies, unable to escape the electromagnetic spectacle. If Coachella is a universe, the dark energy holding it together is the free market.

There’s little space for politics. Reggae and dub pioneer Lee Scratch Perry chanted, “I am a Black Man” and “Burn IMF.” Flea declared, “We don’t like guns, and we don’t like drones,” and the Sparks crooned the biting crowd-mocker, “I am a Suburban Homeboy.” The words felt out of place because political music is a product of social struggle by the poor, peasants and workers, not West LA stoners.

Moments did defy cynicism. For her finale, a white-clad Janelle Monáe paddled across a sea of hands. She hypnotically drew us in with our eyes and hands reaching skyward to form the surf to buoy her. After Monáe passed overheard, not before timidly clasping my left hand – which I eventually washed – the crowd returned to earth. With faces aglow, we hungered to share the joy. But the fire dimmed when I caught the eye of a stranger rather than a friend. Like a good drug it was transcendent, but not transformative. Collectively we created a fond memory, but we couldn’t connect to each other.

Coachella may be the zenith of hipster culture – food choices included Kogi BBQ, wood-fired pizza, espresso bars and a farmer’s market – but it’s all Walmart economy. Its sustainability program encourages carpooling, not to save the planet, but to help it pare parking and personnel costs. It extracts unpaid labor from concertgoers by providing a free bottle of water for every 10 empties turned in. The youth who worked the water stands pleaded for tips, explaining they were unpaid, apart from free admission. Two leathernecks from Camp Pendleton, who had ditched their security guard posts, also claimed they were unpaid, with their Marine Corps battalion receiving their wages. Other guards said they were paid less than $10 an hour to work fully clothed in 100-degree weather and dust and pollen so intense that many people acquired “Coachella cough.”

Coachella Valley is one of the “poorest, densest areas” in the country, with farmworker families contending with “arsenic-tainted water, frequent blackouts and raw sewage that backs up into the shower.” Latinos at the festival were more likely to be low-wage manual laborers than well-heeled partiers at the Rose Garden bar. The workers are hired through layers of subcontractors, notorious for skimping on benefits while violating labor rights.

On Monday, a few dozen workers cleaned one of the vast fields that had corralled tens of thousands of partiers. Ron, a security guard who works the festival circuit, gave me a glimpse of the underbelly. He indicated the official attitude toward drug use was “I know nothing!” While festival workers diligently advised, “Make sure to stay hydrated,” there was no attempt to curb the pervasive and open drug use. Ron claimed one camper, arrested after stabbing a man in the groin and neck after finding him with his girlfriend in his tent, was found with 5,000 doses of ecstasy to sell. “What about sexual assaults?” I asked. “That’s not a problem,” Ron said. “But some of these girls are asking for it.” He paused. “I mean, no one’s asking to get raped, but have you seen the way they dress?” Security’s main concern was jumpers hurdling fences to get in for free and busting rings peddling counterfeit wristbands. Ron said violence was minimal compared to Stagecoach, the country music festival the following week. He explained many guys would get hammered drinking all day and then “wail on each other.” Unlike Coachella, Stagecoach’s web site is blaring with warnings about excess drinking, violence and public sex.

At that point, Ron’s partner dragged him away. A backhoe had struck a water main and a geyser was turning the road into a lake. A gaggle of workers exited the cleaned field; the only remaining evidence of Coachella was rows of thousands of square patches of grass yellowed by tents. The workers grabbed a patch of shade, and each one foraged through a clear plastic bag, examining hauls of T-shirts left behind. After a few minutes they were rounded up to clear the next field. One worker was absorbed in examining his stash – nearly as big as himself. He looked up, grabbed his bag and struggled to run after his crew as they disappeared in the distance.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

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Occupy Wall Street: How We Surprised Ourselves

By Arun Gupta, September 17, 2012, The Progressive

At the top of the list of what the Occupy movement accomplished is, “We surprised ourselves.”

By “we,” I mean anyone residing on the left. To be on the left is to be intimate with defeat. Sometimes defeat is heroic, as with the Spanish Civil War. Sometimes it’s betrayal, as with the fate of the Russian Revolution. Defeat can be bewildering, as in, “What happened to that moment of Feb. 15, 2003?” Often it’s just depressing, like the delirious 60s that gave way to the tortuous 80s.

Occupy, in contrast, was a rocket ship of giddiness for nearly two months. Liberals squirmed, reluctant to criticize or embrace it. Conservatives yelled from rocking chairs that the dirty hippies needed a job. Every police attack gave Occupy strength. A bewildered media tried to grasp how a leaderless movement could shake the halls of power.

It helped that there were no expectations for success. There were no pollsters tut-tutting that the 99% versus 1% was divisive. No professional organizers corralling the herd into a single message. No revolutionaries hectoring that only the scientific terms proletariat and bourgeoisie would do. No Democrats demanding that lofty aspirations be pulverized into middle-of-the-road mush.

Occupy rejected all the rules and injected its own style of class politics into the body politic. Much of the center clambered aboard the 99% train. They got the idea because they had been getting the shaft.

Soon it was Occupy everything – the banks, the homes, the hood, the workplace, universities, cinema, food, healthcare, gender, music, philosophy. Nothing, even abstractions, seemed out of our reach to recreate after checking centuries of capitalist baggage at the door. Iconic images and deeds piled up: Shamar Thomas facing down a phalanx of cops, armed with nothing but fatigues and lungs; a pepper-sprayed but defiant Dorli Rainey; the silhouette of occupiers triumphant at the shut-down Port of Oakland.

The small things made the biggest difference. Occupy changed how we felt. We were the motor of history, not just its victims. The mic check gave us a participatory society, not just one of spectacle. We could have communities where food, shelter and care were available to all comers. We had a platform to share individual grievances and hopes and find unity. The homeless had names and stories. Lost souls found a purpose. The dispossessed were abundant in human kindness and connections.

Now, we know how the story developed. As much as the police repression smashed occupations and the mainstream media returned to snarky indifference, the Occupy movement fell into bad habits. Occupy made us want to be better selves, but pettiness, paranoia and selfishness stewed beneath. Donated money and equipment was stolen. Fights broke out over control of Facebook and Twitter accounts. Shady outsiders set up a national convention unaccountable to the movement. One power-hungry individual tried to grab all the money flooding into the Occupied Wall Street Journal by seizing control of the Kickstarter campaign. One labor organizer in Los Angeles attempted but failed to hijack the entire movement there by setting up a rival occupation. Liberals succeeded in co-opting Occupy through their branded “99% movement.”

At this point, many wistfully recall the heady days of Occupy’s youth, while wrestling with the cynicism of a premature old age. We comfort ourselves with taxonomic analyses, naming every social movement that has evolved from Occupy: a changed national debate; a move-your-money campaign from banks to credit unions; a slew of new and old media projects; a robust home-foreclosure defense movement; a grassroots uprising against coal, natural gas and oil extraction; labor solidarity from coast to coast; a debt strike. Or we describe the anatomy of the movement: the slogan of “We are the 99%” that gave us a voice; the target of Wall Street that gave us a reason to be; the tactic of mic check that gave us a body; the strategy of occupation that gave us the people.

But none of this captures the heart and soul of Occupy. The sensation of surprising ourselves. That we could overcome juvenile bickering. That we could master history. That we could speak to, and not just of, the people. That we could let secret fantasies tumble from minds to mouths to a circle of people that breathed life into them and gave us a glimpse of a future we thought we would never see.

It would be easy to let acid disappointments etch away memories of dreams made real. But they were real if fleeting. And holding fast to the importance of that experience can propel us to new heights still.

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The 99% Take on the Republican National Convention

Despite mixed feelings about Obama, protesters fight Mitt Romney, the ‘King of the 1%’

August 28, 2012  | by Arun Gupta | Alternet

Politics is an elaborate chess match, and in St, Petersburg one small strike was staged against the Republican National convention on Aug. 26 that revealed the thrust of President Obama’s 2012 re-election strategy.

As panicky Republicans cancelled the first day of the convention on Monday because of Tropical Storm Isaac, the focus on Sunday was the “RNC Welcome Event” at Tropicana Field. These days no major convention event is complete without a counter-protest, and in downtown St. Petersburg nearly 500 people gathered Sunday to march to the sports stadium and voice their displeasure at what they derided as “the world’s largest cocktail party.”

Given the spitting rain and gusts, the turnout was better than expected. And given the months of police and press hype that a mob of mayhem-wreaking anarchists would crash the RNC, the protest rally around Mirror Lake seemed more like a festive Sunday in the park.

A couple of hundred people milled about as Dave Rovics belted out crowd pleasers like “I’m a Better Anarchist than You.” A handful of buses pulled up and disgorged more protesters who came from far away as Miami, New York city and Wisconsin. The rally and protest was organized by the Florida Consumer Action Network, a local grassroots organization focused on public policy issues.

Few anarchists were in evidence, apart from a scrum of fidgety black-clad youth who melted into the rally after drawing stares. It felt like an Occupy-related event with a giant puppet of Romney tagged with a “King of the 1%,” and chants of “We are the 99%.”

Grabbing attention with his preacher’s cadence, Rev. Manuel Sykes, president of the St. Petersburg NAACP, announced, “I’m here to stop the corporate takeover of America.” Sykes castigated “our leaders [who] want to privatize Social Security, Healthcare, Education and Prisons.” He blasted Mitt Romney for wanting “to enrich the 1%.” And he described the November presidential ballot in epic terms: “We’re not just fighting for the 2012 election. We’re fighting for the future of America as we know it.”

On the fringes off the rally, next to a pack of camouflage-clad sheriff’s deputies, a pungent, hippie-looking gentleman with a Ron Paul 2012 sign dangling around his neck and a video camera taped to his helmeted head, taunted the crowd. “Do any of these hippies here supporting Obama know that Obama has dropped two times as many bombs as Bush?”

His words stung one observer who yelled back that “Obama has to do the bidding of Washington.”

The exchange captured the conflicting mindset of the Democratic base. Romney, Ryan and the right are painted, not unfairly, as extremists who will hurtle America back to the dark ages. But Obama, despite sitting in the Oval Office, is seen as powerless.

The weather and fear mongering no doubt cut down on the turnout, but one community organizer clued me in to another factor. The organizer, who wished to remain anonymous, said “A lot of people I work with don’t have hope in national politics. There was an element of fear about the RNC, ‘Can I even go outside with all the street closures and restrictions?’ There is definitely animosity toward Republicans, a lot of ‘Fuck these guys,” but my members also questioned what was going to be accomplished by going out in front of the barricades. I heard a lot of ‘It’s not going to change nothing.’”

The anti-RNC event was labeled a “community vigil,” and it was strikingly diverse. There were anarchists, socialists, libertarians and unaffiliated radicals. Mostly it was white middle-class liberals, working-class African-Americans and a collage of poor people. There were numerous tee shirts and signs indicating support for Obama. What united the crowd was the 99% rhetoric.

That was by design. The community organizer said, “The word from on high was, ‘Don’t say working class, don’t say poor. Say middle class or 99%.’” Why 99%, I asked. “Because it polls well” the organizer explained.

The Occupy Wall Street movement lives on from student-debt campaigning and labor solidarity to home foreclosure defense and anti-fracking organizing. But as a national force Occupy has been reduced to a bogeyman police and politicians dangle in front of a lapdog media that dutifully report every outlandish allegation as stone-cold truth, and it exists as a mobilizing force for the Democratic Party.

You see, Obama is running a re-election campaign using Occupy Wall Street’s language. He won’t say the 99% or 1% outright. That would be too divisive, or so the media owned by the 1% say. But the attacks on Bain capital outsourcing and Romney’s secret tax returns are tapping into the volcano of anger that Occupy gave life to. Late last year an official in the AFL-CIO’s national office told me that Romney was their “dream candidate,” and in April Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn told me that Mitt Romney was “Mr. 1%.” Unions like SEIU and liberal groups such as MoveOn and Rebuild the Dream carry the water in flogging the message that Romney will be the president of the 1% who will turn the screws even harder on the rest of us.

That assessment is not untrue. The right would unleash a world of pain on most Americans. But the nature of our endless electoral process, which sucks all the oxygen out of the brain, blinds most Obama supporters to how the Democratic Party is complicit in pushing our politics to the right.

With close to one third of the population in or on the cusp of poverty, 46 million on food stamps51 million uninsured, a “real” unemployment rate stuck at 15 percent, millions of families doubled up and millions of homes still entering foreclosure, Obama can’t run on his economic record. Sure, much of the fault is the guy before him, but that excuse wears thin after four years. Particularly because Obama rode into office with a congressional super majority and a road paved with political capital.

But just as Clinton turned Reagan-era extremism into a bipartisan consensus, Obama doubled-down on the “war on terror,” and endorsed cutting Social Security and Medicare and enacting austerity policies within a year of taking office. Obama thus helped enable the next stage of right-wing extremism that he is now running against.

So it’s not really ironic that Obama has swiped the language of Occupy, even as his FBI and Homeland Security have made Occupy’s anarchists into Public Enemy #1. That’s how politics work.

Local organizers in Tampa know the deal. When I mentioned that liberal groups have co-opted Occupy by creating the 99% movement and are using the fury against the whole political system for partisan ends, two different activists agreed and went further. They said there was an astroturf element to the anti-RNC rally in St. Petersburg. One said of liberal groups and unions, “You see a lot of their tactics that amount to astroturfing. They see the Super PACs employ this strategy and they think they have to do the same thing. That’s what I find most troubling.”

The 99% are truly suffering. And it’s a no-brainer that they will suffer even more under Romney than under Obama. But under darkened skies sprinkling rain, no one at the rally spoke of brighter days ahead for the 99% if Obama does win.

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The Philadelphia national gathering reveals Occupy’s law of entropy (Guardian)

A disappointing turnout of true believers this Fourth of July week exemplifies how – and why – the movement has lost its mojo

Arun Gupta

guardian.co.uk, Thursday 5 July 2012

Betty Beekeeper, an activist affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement, at the 4 July national gathering in Philadelphia. Photograph: Brynn Anderson/AP

Judging by the Occupy national gathering in Philadelphia this week, the Middle Ages is making a comeback. In the shadow of Independence Hall, America’s secular Bethlehem, hundreds of pilgrims gathered here for a five-day festival of democracy culminating in night-time procession around the manors of power on the nation’s high holy day, 4 July.

By day, in downtown’s Franklin Square, an Occupy burgh popped up, complete with jugglers, acrobats, dancers and poets. Minstrels from the “guitarmy” belted out Occupy ballads. Itinerant preachers of socialist, liberal, conservative and anarchist faith spread the Occupy gospel. The “mic check” acted as the town crier. Colored banners signaled to the commoners where to join their humble village of origin – the Southwest, New England, Mid-Atlantic and so on. Activist nobles such as Medea Benjamin and Lisa Fithian circulated among the unwashed. Artisans crafted signs and peddled T-shirts, buttons and stickers.

The colorful semi-mystical gathering – among the faithful, Occupy has near-magical powers – recalled why it captured the imagination. There is no public space in which Americans of all types, income and opinions can talk, play and live together. The carnival spirit of Occupy flourished and the night-time curfew kept the decay and drugs at bay that burdened so many other occupations. The “king’s men” kept a low profile in Franklin Square, but police materialized the instant a procession exited the park.

Months earlier, word of the gathering spread throughout the land, but barely 500 people made the journey from distant realms. Some confided they were disappointed by the turnout, but the true believers still see Occupy as their and the country’s last, best hope. Alexis Terry, a homeless and unemployed transgendered African-American woman from New Haven, home to Yale University, says Occupy “has given me tangible hope for the first time in my life”. Billy Lolos from Tucson, whose stage-three emphysema didn’t deter him from puffing on cigarettes, says he was “unemployed, living in his sister’s house” before the movement appeared. Jeanine Molloff, a speech pathologist from St Louis, passionately called on Occupiers to work for universal healthcare and education, explaining that her 49-year-old brother “died a hideous death last year, and I think the system murdered him.”

Nonetheless, the hundreds of thousands who participated in Occupy protests last fall did not trek to Philadelphia. There is no one reason why it has submerged back into the middle-class discontent from which it sprang, but this Philadelphia scene does reveal why the movement has faded.

On Monday afternoon, I entered the park with two friends and we were greeted by Sage. Bare-chested, sitting on the grass, he yelled out to us, “I don’t like you.” His object of anger was Gregg, one of the nicest people from Occupy Wall Street. Sage continued, “Actually, I like you just fine. You taste sweet. It’s the effects of what you do that I don’t like.” Mild words were exchanged and we quickened our pace. But Sage was not to be denied. Flying in from our left flank, he planted himself in front of us, babbling about “double sarcasm”. Gregg asked to be left alone, but Sage deftly claimed he was being denied his right to speak.

It’s unfair to blame Sage, who claims he was “born in a mental hospital”. Virtually every occupation was beset by the same types, though New York seemed to have a surplus. Nonetheless, one seasoned Occupy organizer, by way of the Middle East, does blame the wayward behavior of a minority for “destroying Occupy as a functioning entity”. He claims after the eviction of the Zuccotti Park occupation last November, there would be meetings of up to 300 people groping for a path going forward, but constant disruptions would “suck the energy out of the room”.

The Middle East organizer mentioned that in Tahrir Square, Egyptians would surround provocateurs and disrupters (both of the voluntary and involuntary kind) chase them out of the square. If they came back, then a beating was in order. He said, “While it’s a different political culture, the Egyptians and Syrians have had to deal with people shooting them from windows. Occupy Wall Street couldn’t even deal with a few crazies.”

That moment in Franklin Square encapsulated why Occupy Wall Street crumbled. It was not – and still is not – able to negotiate between conflicting rights. Occupy’s child-like view of politics – how consensus and participatory democracy will free the angels within every one of us – was a big reason for its success because it offered a palpable alternative to our cynical, acquisitive society. Yet it apparently hasn’t dawned on the hive mind that it is impossible to satisfy all rights, every time, everywhere.

It follows that democracy is not just about compromise; it’s also about conflict. Politics is about picking winners and losers according to higher principles like justice and equality. Occupy is still present in campaigns, from labor and immigrant solidarity to home foreclosure defense, student debt and the environment. But, for the idealistic core of Occupy, its original flowering was like a Fourth of July firework display: something dramatic and beautiful, but ultimately ephemeral.

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Cleveland Occupy arrests are the latest in FBI’s pattern of manipulation (The Guardian)

The FBI says the five arrested before May Day are terrorists, but friends in Cleveland say they were goaded on by informant.

Connor Stevens, one of the five Occupy Cleveland members accused by the FBI of plotting to blow up a bridge. Photograph: FBI/AP

by Arun Gupta

Like real-life Avengers, the FBI and 23 separate police agencies joined forces and pounced on a band of villains hell-bent on sowing chaos in a sleepy Midwest suburb earlier this month. The FBI reassured the world that thanks to the “swift collaborative action” of law enforcement, it had rounded up five “self-proclaimed anarchists … intent on using violence to express their ideological views” by attempting to blow up a bridge near Cleveland on May Day.

Now, the Cleveland Five look more like bedraggled punks than diabolical geniuses, but surely doom was averted in the nick of time. In fact, the G-Men admit the exact opposite: “At no time during the course of the investigation was the public ever in danger.”

So if there was no threat, what really happened? This case was a familiar set-up in which the FBI fishes for dupes it can manipulate with informants and agents who stroke their marks, plant ideas, suggest the plans, provide money, weapons, vehicles and then heroically foil a terrorist act of the FBI’s own design. Since September 11, scores of these entrapment cases have been sprung on Muslims in America. It appears the Occupy Wall Street movement is now worthy of the same treatment.

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