Posts tagged protest
Alongside the occupy protests there has been the ‘emergency meeting.’ The emergency general assembly, the emergency planning meeting, the emergency protest against police brutality. There is the sense that, because things have happened, we—whoever ‘we’ are—have to quickly regroup and respond to those things. The encampment was ransacked by cops, we need to regroup at the plaza as soon as possible and re-encamp.
Some students were pepper-sprayed. Emergency planning meeting TONIGHT on campus and we’ll figure out our tactics for the protest TOMORROW. And if you can’t make it to the planning meeting, be sure to come to the protest anyway, we’re doing street theatre of ‘cops’ beating ‘protesters’ with invisible batons.
There’s already a large literature on the state of emergency. How the State uses crises (or manufactures them) to enact policies that would run up against undesirable resistance under different circumstances. Could the PATRIOT Act be passed without 9/11 (leaving aside for the moment that it only applied to white Americans a legal regime that has applied to Blacks since before the country’s founding)? Could the 2008 bailout have happened without the bank failures that September?
However discomfiting it might be for folks on the Left to think of this, there might be important parallels to be drawn between how the State mobilizes the state of emergency and how protest movements mobilize the state of emergency. In a way, some Left movements are nothing more than mobilizing a state of emergency. We will, with a modicum of planning, take an action that will either A) provoke no response from the police, and so be roundly ignored, or B) provoke a reaction from the police that we will use to politicize and energize our movement, get more people to meetings and subsequent protests, hope for increasingly draconian responses from the police, and repeat.
It’s movement without movement-building. It leads me back to Fred Hampton’s critique of the Weather Underground as ‘anarchistic, opportunistic, adventuristic, and Custeristic.’ It relies on state violence to reproduce itself, and part of that reliance is the bad faith surprise at experiencing state violence. And how do we—whoever ‘we’ are—have a movement on these terms? We’re rushed into an action, a dangerous action at that, and the results of that action require us to ask fewer questions about the movement, and then rush headlong into more actions that may or may not be more dangerous than the actions we were rushed into in the first place.
The emergency prohibits critical thinking about radical politics. It’s a way of soldering-together community for people who don’t really understand community, or have no sense of what it might mean to belong to the type of ‘beloved community’ theorized by generations of Black theologians/political thinkers/organic intellectuals.* And this is another issue with the occupy protests and their offshoots, they don’t have a steady base for building community or for meditating on political problems, and so they rely on these emergencies to avoid the work of doing politics, or of doing them in new and better ways.
This is where I’ll cut this off now because I have a bus to catch.
*A great recent work on ‘beloved community’ is Joy James’ contribution to the inaugural issue of the online journal Trans-Scripts.
I noticed that the info page for Occupy Melbourne on Facebook has now added this paragraph:
Isn’t Australia being illegally occupied already?
Is certainly is. When European settlers first declared ownership of the continent of Australia, it was declared “Terra Nullius” or “land belonging to no one”, despite the fact that millions of people already sustainably occupied the continent for tens of thousands of years prior to European arrival and settlement.
Occupy Melbourne recognises that this demonstration will take place on the land of the Wurundjeri people, of the Woiwurrung language group, of the Kulin nation, who are the traditional owners of the land upon which Melbourne occupies. We encourage Melbourne’s indigenous community to join in our efforts to unite and share the common goals and grievances of all Australian peoples.
I’m happy it’s been added, especially as the Occupy Australia and other city pages don’t mention colonisation at all.
But it still doesn’t say anything about sovereignty or challenge the idea that democracy legitimates occupation, which is the stated justification for so many invasions and occupations around the world.
People keep telling me that I’m just taking issue with the word “occupy” but I think it goes far beyond that, to a general sense of entitlement and restoration of justice. As Felix said, a lot of the sentiments around OWS are more about the privileged losing the wealth and status to which they are accustomed.
The Occupy Sydney page is particularly yuck in that respect:
“It is time to take back whats yours, this is your country, your money, it is not the property of a private cartel and you will not be intimidated!”
I find the uncritical populism of “99%” problematic too. Even if “we are the 99%”, the income of most Australians puts them in the top 5% of the world according to globalrichlist.com (using a median equivalised disposable household income of $36000).
There have been countless reports of racism at the protests in the US as well (leonineclaire has been posting a few) and other stuff.
I also feel like the growing imperative for globally consistent branding on these protests and also Slutwalk kind of worrying - media attention is a tactic, not the objective. And even though it’s inspired by the Arab Spring protests, this movement now feels really centred on Occupy Wall Street and I fear that sometimes we’re too keen to make our activism legible to North America.
I feel like I have to emphasise that I support a lot of the things it’s trying to do and I am trying to articulate what I want to see it become rather than stop it. I also feel annoyed that I have to say that because some protests don’t like criticism.
Anyway, I’m in Malaysia and I will be at Occupy Dataran this Saturday.
1. I am stuck on the language of “occupation” as well, and I’m normally on the “don’t get too hung up on language” side of the fence. I think I’m stuck because the language of occupation is becoming more and more characteristic of the radical fringe of left social movements in the Anglophone world, particularly anarchists. see the popularity of the slogan “demand nothing, occupy everything” (also older slogans like “whose streets? our streets!”). it’s really necessary to critique the model of social movement that’s based on demanding concessions from outside authority, and it’s also necessary that that critique be well-grounded in, among other things, a consciousness of Indigenous sovereignty and resistance. the radical fringe being this reactionary is dangerous, although I hasten to add that it’s not unexpected. for example, at Occupy Brisbane a lot of people were arguing against an acknowledgement that the land belongs to the Jagera and Turrba peoples. this kind of acknowledgement is pretty standard lefty boilerplate in Australia, it’s often a mumbled rote phrase in the middle of housekeeping, and they didn’t even want to make that pathetic token gesture. because they had anti-border and anti-capitalist politics and “the land belongs to no one”. w h a t
2. I, too, really really don’t love the globally consistent branding thing, I think it’s a huge cultural cringe issue. and I think it makes rhetorical equations between the situation in the states and the situation in other places that are hard to sustain and hurt the credibility of the local movement. I would like to see locally relevant movements develop, and the drive for a globally consistent movement is not super compatible with that. on the other hand, it’s undeniably mobilised people who want to feel like part of what they’re reading about on the net. lots of the people in key organising roles at occupy melbourne have never been involved in a social movement before, never organised any kind of public space action. so there’s that.
3. in my view the 99% rhetoric encourages people who are losing their grip on material comfort they had felt entitled to to align themselves with people who have less, with the working classes and global poor, rather than attempt to get their class privilege back. sometimes it gets clumsy or cringe-worthy, but I think it’s been quite successful, especially in the US. In Australia I think it’s been less successful because there hasn’t been the same gutting of the middle classes and, as the movement has had a focus on being part of OWS gone global, there’s been less space to articulate how capitalism (or “corporate greed” if you like) should be an Australian concern.
forestfungus replied to your link: I Am The Blob: Today I was arrested at Occupy Melbourne
why put someone down for writing about their bad experience with being arrested, just because it was their first time? i think this is so powerful particularly because it was a first time, and conveys the reality shock that so many are sheltered from
I meant the general tendency in the Left to pay more attention to police violence against protestors than to other incidents of state violence; I definitely wasn’t intending to put down the specific individual who wrote that piece. I think she is really brave to write about her experiences, I really value her testimony, and I generally think it’s shitty and irrelevant to say “yeah, but you have X privilege and others have it worse” in response to someone’s story of a traumatic experience. I was hoping that that would come across without the need for a lengthly and flow-disrupting disclaimer but obviously not — I have got to stop prioritising style over clarity, or spend more time/energy editing my posts, or something.
witless babble on the occupy melbourne eviction today and police violence
first: I am critical of the Occupy movement in Australia. I don’t think the paradigm they’re running with really fits here (see here for a good outline of some reasons why), I don’t understand the Australian Left’s need to play follow the leader with North America, I agree that the language of “occupation” on already occupied Indigenous land is suspect. On the other hand, I hate capitalism, I love social movements that take place in public spaces, and it’s mobilising a lot of people who’ve never been involved in social movements before, which is amazing. so: qualified support, but I wasn’t necessarily going to go in today to defend them against eviction by cops, it wasn’t a priority for me. I ended up going on a whim because I got off work early and a couple of friends said I should go and I wanted to see them.
I’m glad I went because it was fucking educational. holy shit it was terrifying there. there were literally hundreds of cops. I’ve never seen so many together before. I should clarify that I’ve been to countless street protests where there has been police intimidation and brutality. but I didn’t even see that many cops at the g20 summit protests in 2006, which had like twenty times as many protestors and at the time marked a new high in police brutality at protest in melbourne. here, cops were bashing people up for literally doing nothing. not even the usual mass protest thing where people get bashed up for backtalk or passive resistance, where there’s a disproportionate response. people getting punched and beaten and pepper sprayed and thrown to the ground just because they were in the way, people who were going out of their way not to antagonise the cops. people who were running away, even.
the police were generally stomach-turning and I can’t actually think about it for too long without feeling a bit sick. but here is an interesting and instructive tale. two of my friends were arrested at the same time and place while just standing around. one, a white cis dude who looks fairly hetero and middle-class, was taken behind the divvy van and then released, and while they were assholes to him, he wasn’t cuffed or physically harmed. one, a butch woman of colour, was slammed to the ground sustaining head injuries, cuffed, bullied and misgendered, taken away to the police station in the next suburb, and released a couple hours later with no charges, without even being processed — pure intimidation. it was a really classic example of how fucking racist and also homophobic and generally fucked the cops are. I heard a number of other reports of protestors of colour being treated much more brutally than white protestors.
also, I don’t know what’s happening everywhere but I’ve heard so much about really constant and full-on harassment of people of colour by police in the last year or so. this has coincided with the election of a new conservative state government. I’m not a Labor apologist by any means but it’s clear that things are worse now. it’s becoming super obvious that the police in Ballieu’s Victoria are on a huge power trip and getting away with more and more and I feel really powerless and really frightened for my friends and my communities and I wonder what’s happening where I can’t see it.
If you want to get arrested for your cause, you should rob a liquor store (And why no one should ever listen to Naomi Wolf about “protests”): Two brief notes on the alleged occupations of streets, Wall and otherwise.
this is a bit anarchy-snob, but funny
Third World Protest as US Spectator Sport
I’m not a fan of the US cultural habit of turning political turmoil in faraway lands into a gawkworthy spectator sport. I came to this realization in the aftermath of the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square, as it gradually dawned on me that sheltered, largely clueless people who had no stake in what was happening had little business pushing their intrusive, hungry gaze into such multi-faceted, multi-context, volatile, dangerous matters.
The most disturbing aspect of this habit is, in my opinion, the undercurrent of bloodlust, which of course underlies all US “news reporting”, best summarized by the cliche “if it bleeds, it leads”. In the 1989 protests in China, organizers explicitly stated amongst themselves that the world’s eyes were watching and those eyes wanted blood. Protesters knew that if the demonstrations simply ended peacefully, the previously enthralled Western media would be disappointed. They knew that they had to push matters to the point of violence in order to make a lasting point. The Western gaze got what it wanted. As usual, it wasn’t Westerners who paid the price.
I’m not making any particular statement about uprisings in Tunisia or Egypt or Yemen or Lebanon or Xinjiang or Tibet or Myanmar or Thailand or Kenya or South Africa or Indonesia. And I’m definitely not saying that people should not be paying attention to important world events. As I often make clear in all my writings, I vehemently believe that US Americans need to pay much, much more attention to political events throughout the Third World — but not just when there’s a media melee to gawk at and cheer on, in the manner of kids rushing toward a crowd standing on cafeteria tables shouting “Fight! Fight! Fight!”
just say no to riot porn