OWS is a miracle. It’s also exiting. About a month ago, I jokingly referred to Zuccotti Park as a kind of refugee camp from Hampshire College’s better days playing host to a wide variety of political activists and performers. Radicals, liberals, freaks, Marxists, anarchists, Ron Paul trojan horses, occasional saboteurs, and the honest-to-god-just-curious were there all on display. While Zuccotti Park has also become a haven for homeless people and various drifters attracted to the free meals and a place to stay, the site has over time also attracted some unsavory characters and become more dangerous as well as a little less exciting. There already exists in the park an informal band of security personnel which has been undoubtedly busy of late. One person today openly queried whether some form of ID should also be required, perhaps “wristbands” handed out and worn at least by those sleeping and eating in the park. “What constitutes a member and a non-member?” Another activist told me that “women don’t feel safe, and its’ not simply a media representation.” (There’s also this report from Salon.)
Insofar Zuccotti Park gains a sticking reputation for being an unsafe cesspool, deservedly or not, the broader effects of this development could be irreparable. Most onlookers in the general public will probably not confuse the political cause behind OWS, (“the 99%”) with criminals and drug users. But city authorities can only relish some additional ammunition to discredit it nonetheless. So even if the overall perception of OWS in the public seems to be a work still in process, rifts will grow between those in the park as well. (So much for “autonomy” I guess, and all that “non-hierarchical” utopian flapdoodle!) More disturbingly, I sense “the Occupation” at least in NYC is imploding – and starting to get lost. That it has had to seriously ramp up its “policing infrastructure” in light of these Lord of the Flights awakenings is indeed the most depressing irony coming out of Zuccotti Park to date.
Truth is, I started getting queasy with all the petty bureaucratic mechanisms and manners weeks ago. Grassroots political activism is fucking hard enough. Frankly, it can bore me to tears. I can understand people trying to get high on “process” by injecting a little self-expression through histrionic hand gestures, working groups ad infinitum, and the-will-to-mic-check. I also understand the importance of putting together a political movement with lasting potential – and that kind of thing requires some degree of hierarchy and organization even if Occupiers prefer not to admit it. But as formalities these activities can also become distractions which sap precious energy and resources. I sat in on one particular “working group” and encountered droves of petty diversions and disagreements about “facilitating” simple courtesies and common sense. There was also some talk of “paradynamics.” I don’t remember such “experiments” going down @ Tahrir Square when Egyptians were continually staying on message and continually demanding that Mubarak resign. I wonder why OWS @ Zuccotti Park had to turn so inward, and so procedural? Is there too much aversion and indifference to coordinating explicit demands? To direct action? What happened to the antagonism? (More exciting things are happening outside of Zuccotti Park.) Can we get it back?
To give you an idea as to the thorny issue of “making demands,” one observer writes:
The GA actually laughed out loud when the facilitators suggested that the group take thirtyfive minutes to discuss the proposal. After an hour has passed, they had not even made it through the Clarifying Questions surrounding the proposal.
Some of Occupy’s original organizers are furious that the Demands Working Group was able to make this proposal to the GA. They say that Demands can’t even be a working group because on the third day of the occupation of Zuccotti Park, the GA came to consensus that the occupation would not make demands.
All of this reminds me of something someone else wrote centuries ago – and it’s not exactly a note of optimism.
For an emerging people to be capable of appreciating the sound maxims of politics and to follow the fundamental rules of statecraft, the effect would have to become the cause. The social spirit which ought to be the work of that institution, would have to preside over the institution itself. And men would be, prior to the advent of laws, what they ought to become by means of laws. Since, therefore, the legislator is incapable of using either force or reasoning, he must of necessity have recourse to an authority of a different order which can compel without violence and persuade without convincing.