It looks like I underestimated (in yesterday's blog) the number of cities where there are anti-capitalist camps - according to this piece in the New York Times. The Observer's version of this article estimates the number of camps as 900, not 600.
In Protest, the Power of Place
by Michael Kimmelman
THE ever expanding Occupy Wall Street movement, with encampments now not only in Lower Manhattan but also in Washington, London and other cities, proves among other things that no matter how instrumental new media have become in spreading protest these days, nothing replaces people taking to the streets.
We tend to underestimate the political power of physical places. Then Tahrir Square comes along. Now it’s Zuccotti Park, until four weeks ago an utterly obscure city-block-size downtown plaza with a few trees and concrete benches, around the corner from ground zero and two blocks north of Wall Street on Broadway. A few hundred people with ponchos and sleeping bags have put it on the map.
Kent State, Tiananmen Square, the Berlin Wall: we clearly use locales, edifices, architecture to house our memories and political energy. Politics troubles our consciences. But places haunt our imaginations.
So we check in on Facebook and Twitter, but make pilgrimages to Antietam, Auschwitz and to the Acropolis, to gaze at rubble from the days of Pericles and Aristotle.
I thought of Aristotle, of all people, while I watched the Zuccotti Park demonstrators hold one of their “general assemblies” the other day. In his “Politics,” Aristotle argued that the size of an ideal polis extended to the limits of a herald’s cry. He believed that the human voice was directly linked to civic order. A healthy citizenry in a proper city required face-to-face conversation.
A peculiarity of zoning law has turned an unexpected spotlight on the bankruptcy of so much of what in the last couple of generations has passed for public space in America. Most of it is token gestures by developers in return for erecting bigger, taller buildings. Think of the atrium of the I.B.M. tower on Madison Avenue and countless other places like it: “public” spaces that are not really public at all but quasi-public, controlled by their landlords. Zuccotti in principle is subject to Brookfield’s rules prohibiting tarps, sleeping bags and the storage of personal property on the site. The whole situation illustrates just how far we have allowed the ancient civic ideal of public space to drift from an arena of public expression and public assembly (Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, say) to a commercial sop (the foyer of the Time Warner Center).
Living in Europe for the past few years, I often came across parks and squares, in Barcelona and Madrid, Athens and Milan, Paris and Rome, occupied by tent communities of protesters. Public protest and assembly are part of the European social compact. Maybe the difference in America has something to do with our longstanding obsessions with automobiles and autonomy, with our predilection for isolationism, or our preference just for watching, more than participating.
In Europe, the protests were about jobs, government rollbacks and debt. That the message of the Zuccotti Park occupiers is fuzzy somewhat misses the point. The encampment itself has become the point.
“We come to get a sense of being part of a larger community,” said Brian Pickett, a 33-year-old adjunct professor of theater and speech at City University of New York. I found him sitting last week among the neat, tarpaulin-covered stacks of sleeping bags in one corner of the park. “It’s important to see this in the context of alienation today. We do Facebook alone. But people are not alone here.”
And as a result, demonstrators also reveal themselves to each other. Egyptians described this phenomenon at Tahrir Square. Tea Partiers have talked about it, too. Protesters don’t just show the world a mass of people. They discover their own numbers — people with similar, if not identical, concerns. Imagine Zuccotti Park, one protester told me, as a Venn diagram of characters representing disparate political and economic disenchantments. The park is where their grievances overlap. It’s literally common ground.
And it was obvious to me watching the crowd coalesce over several days that consensus emerges urbanistically, meaning that the demonstrators, who have devised their own form of leaderless governance to keep the peace, find unity in community. The governing process they choose is itself a bedrock message of the protest.
It produces the outlines of a city, as I said. The protesters have set up a kitchen, for serving food, a legal desk and a sanitation department, a library of donated books, an area where the general assembly meets, a medical station, a media center where people can recharge their laptops using portable generators, and even a general store, called the comfort center, stocked with donated clothing, bedding, toothpaste and deodorant — like the food, all free for the taking.
That’s where I found Sophie Theriault the other morning, sorting through loads of newly arrived pants and shirts. A soft-spoken 21-year-old organic farmer from Vermont, she had already spent many days and nights working as a volunteer. “We may not have all come here with the exact same issues in mind,” she told me, “but sharing this park day in and day out, night after night, becomes an opportunity for us to discover our mutual interests.”
“We meet every night to talk about how to keep this place clean and sober, to keep it an emotionally, physically safe space for everyone. Consensus builds community.”
Patrick Metzger, a 23-year-old sound engineer and composer, echoed the thought: “From Web posts, you never get information about race, class, age — who people really are. Fox News talks about flakes and mobs. But you can see how complicated the mix really is: students and older people, parents with families, construction workers on their lunch break, unemployed Wall Street executives.”
O.K., a few flakes, too, as at any political rally. But Mr. Metzger got it right. The protesters’ diversity, at least during the day, is intrinsic to the protest’s resilience. Not since 9/11 have so many people been asking “Have you been there?” “Have you seen it?” about anyplace in Manhattan. The occupation of the virtual world along with Zuccotti Park is of course jointly propelling the Occupy Wall Street movement now, and neither would be so effective minus the other.
That said, on the ground is where the protesters are building an architecture of consciousness.
What's happening in the USA is fascinating, given the total domination of USA politics by the neo-conservatives for past decades. But let's not forget that it was in America in the 1960s that the whole hippy/alternative society thing really took off. It's been puzzling that the Left in America has been so marginalised for so many years.
Check out The People's Forum:
This polemic is interesting:
Bay of Rage
Corporate Greed is the Wrong Target
Being “greedy” is what good corporations and businesses are supposed to do in capitalism. In this system, individuals can only get ahead by acting greedy, in their own self-interest. So while many recent city occupations in the USA have built themselves against “corporate greed”, “big business,” and “financiers on Wall Street”, we cannot forget that the most greedy corporations also donate the most to charity, that small business is just as much part of the system as big business, that productive industry cannot exist without finance. We must challenge the entire system. If we are really against “corporate greed” then we are against capitalism itself.
Yes, the 1% have been screwing us, for a long ass time. The 99% are reduced to working, serving and maintaining a system that makes us miserable and prevents us from realizing our potential. A growing number of us have been completely expelled from ‘society’ altogether—through homelessness, joblessness, an inability to get adequate healthcare, lack of access to education and other miserable conditions.
But the idea that there is something called society that we should all work together to defend is an illusion. Society is rife with divisions, conflicts and wars. Some of these wars are manufactured and waged by the 1%. Other wars, such as the wars conducted by indigenous peoples and people of color against racist colonization and the war conducted by women and trans people against patriarchal gender violence, are hidden and suppressed in the false name of society. Every year for these last decades, the casualties of society have piled up as the revolutionaries have been killed or jailed.
In recent years, many of the 99% have appeared to follow the rules. Many of us have been caught in the cycle of working and borrowing in order to continue working and borrowing, we have been terrified of speaking out against daily injustices and humiliations for fear of losing the tiny foothold we hope to protect, or for fear of getting jailed or beaten by the cops, or getting ostracized and criminalized by the obeyers (even though they know the rules are unjust). Many people who have recently lost their social standing are figuring out that the promises capitalism holds out to them are hollow. What the 99% faces, at best, is a life of debt, chained to shitty jobs and to shitty commodities.
The Occupy Movement is awakening to the fact that if we continue to follow their rules, they, the 1%, will win. The Occupy movement is a wake-up call to disobey their rules and to create new ways of living together.
The square occupations in North Africa unleashed revolutions that toppled dictators and those in Europe brought global stock markets to the brink of collapse. The difference here is obviously in the numbers; 50,000+ in Tahrir Square, 20,000 in Syntagma. Yet there was also something more.The strength of these occupations lied in their refusal to be removed, their commitment to physically resist any attempts to evict them from their liberated spaces. Remember the barricades around Tahrir? Non-violence made no sense during those long nights of fighting to protect the revolution. Here in the usa, we will also need to resist, in our own ways. By limiting the scope of that resistance right from the start, we undermine our potential strength and we let the state decide when we will be removed, when this explosion of resistance has gone too far and needs to be extinguished.
We need tens of thousands to take to the streets and build this movement into something greater. But if the past weeks have taught us anything it is that clashes with the state do not scare people away. In fact it is the opposite. The numbers on Wall Street have clearly grown after each round of escalation and scuffles with police.
The potential of this movement. What do we really want?
We don’t want shitty jobs. We don’t want to vote for politicians who promise to change things. We don’t want to waste our energies trying to change the constitution. We don’t want a few new rules for Wall Street. We don’t believe we can “affect the system” by just “being together.”
The 1% controls the wealth of the society. We need to take it back, and remake it in the process. But what comes after occupying the city squares? City Hall? Foreclosed homes? Supermarkets? And then—Liberating public transit? Free health clinics? Free education? Collective food production?
Everything is possible.
Anti-capitalist protest camp sets up in Birmingham city centre
Wall Street protest camp builds its own world order
Occupy London protest to 'camp at St Paul's until at least Christmas'
Occupy London protest camp prepares to become permanent fixture
Anti-capitalist base in the City grows to 200 tents as activists set up kitchens, toilet blocks and media centre