The San Francisco Bay Guardian‘s cover story this week is “Occupy America!” — a call to “take back the country.” It concludes:
the important thing is to let this genie out of the bottle, to move Occupy into the next level of politics, to use a convention, rally, and national event to reassert the power of the people to control our political and economic institutions — and to change or abolish them as we see fit.
It is important — vital even, I would say — to continue the discussion and movement that #occupy has begun, but I think that the time has come also for reflection on where that movement is going and where we want it to go. The Occupy movement has always been a big tent, with lots of different groups with differing agendas operating within it, but there have been some clear tendencies. And I don’t agree with all of them by any means.
Occupy Wall Street? It was a great idea, a great slogan and it really got things going, but do we really want to occupy Wall Street? Do we want to retake or reclaim Wall Street – that whole sick and perverse congeries of gamblers, shills and greed-heads that passes itself off as an “industry” – for something, for ourselves? Or do we want to abolish and/or abandon it? I think some of the activities that emerged around banking had the right idea: don’t “occupy” the bad banks and financial institutions with your money; abandon them, taking your money to more positive institutions, local credit unions and the like.
But couldn’t we push that logic further? What about a wholesale abandonment of the whole crappy, corrupt and dehumanizing system. Don’t occupy it, leave it. Leave the banks and stock markets, leave the malls and Wal-Marts, and as much as possible shift your money, your energy, your time, your production and consumption to spaces that embody values of human freedom and social and economic justice, of happiness. Find all the worker-owned collectives in your area and support them. Start your own collective. Start a co-housing community, a squat, a shared multi-generational living situation. If your family sucks, abandon them, too, and create a new family based on freedom, love and justice.
I could go on in this vein, and hopefully will, in greater detail, but for now let me leave you with some thoughts on another aspect of the Occupy movement…
on the Port Blockades
I was really pleased to see the Occupy movement expanding out from the Wall Street locus to address issues of globalization, and root itself or rhizomatically connect itself with the ongoing alter globalization movement.
But the port blockades were a bad idea.
Sure, the ports are a logistical choke point in globalization’s long supply chain, where a bit of work can cause a lot of disruption and economic losses for the entities involved.
But it’s a distraction and it hurts people we don’t — or shouldn’t — want to hurt.
Occupy Wall Street worked because it was such a powerful symbolic statement. Blocking the doors of local bank branches would not have been as effective, and would have brought a much more immediate police response. Now that the Occupy movement has captured a lot of attention, taking the struggle to the headquarters of offending Wall Street entities will work fine, but going after local branches still seems to me to be offer a small payout for a lot of stress, and to inconvenience average people in a way likely to turn potential allies into probable opponents. (Just as some of the stupider acts of vandalism around Occupy Oakland have done with downtown Oakland residents and merchants.)
“Occupying” the ports pissed off some members of trade unions that have historically been important supporters of progressive struggles — against US imperialism in Central America, for instance, on in the general strikes of the 1930s. Port workers, longshoremen and their ilk were some of the most radical activists in the Bay Area in the first half of the Twentieth Century. It’s stupid to piss them off, or to get into their turf, without working with them. (One of the reasons the events of May 1968 in France were so threatening and effective was the alliance forged between traditional, blue collar workers and student activists.) And the port “occupations” hurt local economies that were already hurting, probably more than they hurt the big nasty corporate entities we’d like to see suffer.
More than that, though, the ports are simply not where it’s at in any real sense. If you want to “Occupy” globalization, you need to go after the headquarters, the brain and heart of it; the ports are like the feet or the fingers, or maybe the lower intestine, pipes that things pass through that are not making any real choices.
And there are plenty of big, fat, juicy targets in the Bay Area. Lots of corporate headquarters for companies that are big players in globalization. Levi Strauss no longer makes jeans in the United States. They moved all that overseas. Apple doesn’t make any of its cool, fancy gadgets, so popular with hipsters and radicals alike around here. And both have been implicated in some really bad shit with their workers overseas. What about Chevron, right down there on Market St.?
If you want to move on globalization — and you should — don’t get distracted. Go for the commanding heights. And that isn’t the ports. It’s public perception, media support — and corporate hqs. All of which the port blockades miss.
You say you want a revolution? Well, we need to be smart about it.