I got down to Westlake Park last evening to see what was going on at Occupy Seattle. Not terribly much, initially (there were several dozens of people around, many with signs, but not much was happening), so I went to find something for dinner.
When I got back from my meal, the evening “General Assembly” was in full swing. In general, it was pretty impressive. From what I could tell, anyone was free to join in and participate in its decisions, and there seemed to be a pretty strong effort to prevent a leadership and power hierarchy from arising. A fair amount of the meeting seemed to be focused on dealing with the problem of people autonomously going off and trying to speak for the Occupy Seattle movement in general, even though no Assembly had ever agreed to give them such power.
Some of the discussion related to the thing the Establishment media keeps talking about, the demands of occupiers. It’s clear from visiting the Occupy Seattle web site (link: http://occupyseattle.org/demands) that no such firm list of demands has yet been decided and agreed upon.
Which is not necessarily a bad thing. The most powerful thing that is happening right now is that a bunch of people, many of whom don’t really have any background in activism, are acquiring one. And they’re using techniques which are decidedly non-authoritarian to organize themselves.
Those techniques are somewhat different from what many of the current crop of self-identified anarchists use. This has caused a measure of dismissiveness amongst some of my comrades about it. Which is not to say they never have a point — there is a measure of bourgeois naïveté to be found, as well as (particularly amongst some older folk there) plain old pro-Establishment bias.
However, that’s no reason to write the whole movement off. Expecting people to become committed anarchists within moments of their first exposure to anarchist propaganda is itself a naïve attitude, as well as an authoritarian one that devalues the other’s own judgement and experiences. It typically takes time to make a significant shift in one’s weltanschauung; wanting people to quickly agree with you is tantamount to a desire for them to outwardly cave to your reasoning (probably because you have brow-beaten them) while still doubting it inside. I’m optimistic that the Occupy movement is going to end up being a enlightening (and therefore, radicalizing) process for many if not most of its participants.
For one, whether its participants realize it or not, it is already a fundamentally radical movement, since it is denying the Establishment’s legitimacy to pronounce rules about camping and traffic. In the eyes of the law, the cops are actually in the right when they have used force against Occupy movements, since such events at the least are camping in parks the law says are for day use only, and often embark on unpermitted marches in the streets in violation of the traffic code.
(Digression: Yes, that means the Egyptian government was in fact legally entitled to try and forcibly break up the occupation of Tarhir Square. The landscaped area around the Square was a park, not a campground, so erecting tents and staying there overnight was in fact illegal, as was blocking traffic in what is a major Cairo intersection. That latter act was making Cairo’s already legendarily bad traffic even worse. Which in turn shows how much the domestic right-wing “law and order” crowd shares with unsavory thugs like Mubarak.)
In that, it’s rather a brilliant strategy, since it is leading the Establishment to act like jack-booted thugs when faced with a bunch of nonviolent people assembling and trying to hash out what to do as a result of the growing economic and social inequality in society. If they don’t do that, then the Establishment ends up caving to those who are directly challenging its authority, and Establishments absolutely hate to do that.
And when the Establishment acts like jack-booted thugs when faced with a nonviolent group of concerned young people, many of those concerned young people will end up being lessoned by the School of Hard Knocks that the stuff us radicals keep saying about the Establishment actually has validity.