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Re: <nettime> A Movement Without Demands?
Dean, Jodi on Sun, 8 Jan 2012 00:08:45 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> A Movement Without Demands?


Brian,

Thanks for your comments. I've been thinking about them for a couple of days now.

You say:

For instance, wouldn't it be better to start by identifying grievances
-- that is, unbearable problems experienced and named by specific groups
of people -- rather than by stating principles and emitting demands?
That has been done to some extent (one example is the famous tumblr
site) but doesn't the raw expression need some kind of objective
analysis and categorization, so that people can see where their own
grievances touch those of others? Of course the sociology of individual
grievances does not equal a vision or a political project. But it would
provide a reality check about everything the current system does not and
cannot respond to, so that the more daring and inventive groups could
make proposals, debate them and ultimately come to validate some new
principles that would be acceptable to large populations.

I think that's a good point. And, to a large extent the movement has been doing this. I spent a few hours last night reading
the webpages and blogs of different occupations in the US. Almost all of them feature a state of solidarity with OWS and
some kind of statement of grievances. Some use the September 29 statement from the NYC OWS GA. Others have more
general complaints against big corporations, money in politics, corporate greed, a broken political system, 
and the unequal political power of the 1%. So it seems to me like the work of formulating grievances has also been 
started in a pretty significant way. That is, a wide range of occupations--not just those in the big cities and on the coasts--
have expressed grievances. Now, how many people that has involved and how militant and invested they are in 
struggle remains to be seen. Yet, the websites and FB pages of occupations in the 10 largest cities in the US 
(which don't include active occupy groups like the Oakland Commune and Occupy Boston) suggest to me that the process
of consensing in a fairly general way on grievances has happened. 

Poll data (I'm thinking of that from Pew) also suggests that the "principles" of OWS are widely accepted in the US (also
there is less support for the tactics, according to Pew). So when you say wouldn't it better to start with identifying grievances,
I agree. And, the piece Marco and I wrote was coming from this sense, namely, that this has and is happening and that
placing these grievances within a larger setting of a vision of a better alternative ("what does winning look like"?) makes
sense now. 

Why now? Not just because we don't want to lose the moment(um) or just because "if not now when?" But because
energies can be dispersed rather than concentrated and because they can end up working against rather one another
rather than in ways that reinforce and amplify one another. This is why that the ideological and theoretical questions
the movement poses, the big picture of vision of a better world and strategy regarding how to get there, matter. 

For example, many of the occupy websites emphasize that they are against the power and greed of corporations. None that
I can recall distinguish between for profit and non profit corporations. Most use the terms Wall Street and corporations as
synonyms, suggesting that for most "corporation" is synonymous with capitalism. Or, better, the corporation is a synedoche for capitalism. 

This substitution of a part for the whole, of an element substracted from its current setting, can be useful. Right now it seems helpful in 
mobilizing people around a common enemy--although the enemy is not quite clear:  is it a condition, "corruption;" a practice, "campaign finance;" 
or a group, "corporations"? (the unclarity over the enemy is a big deal--some, namely Lawrence Lessig, want to see the Tea Party and OWS u
nite over corruption and campaign finance in a drive for a new constitutional convention, a move sure to be a disaster in our 
contemporary culture--it attempts to repress class division in a project of unity). Nonetheless, given the excessive power that some 
corporations have in contemporary capitalism, the rhetoric of stopping corporate power is a welcome change from our recent, more compliant past. 

But there are real dangers in focusing on corporations as the problem when the problem is the capitalist system. The inequality 
and exploitation driving OWS originates in capitalism--it's not that capitalism would be fine as long as corporations were regulated 
(early industrialists in the US didn't operate as corporations--they were limited liability partnerships). 
Corporations are already regulated in all sorts of ways. These ways are not enforced, insufficient, and ultimately in the service of capital, 
not of the proletarianized people. So, two points here--the anti-corporate rhetoric (particularly in the websites of occupations in the sand states)
blurs together in a contradictory way with a rhetoric against regulations, especially because it is against a corrupt government. But at the same
time, it nonetheless expresses a real grievance of people who have and are being proletarianized.

The current enthusiasm around resolutions passed to call upon Congress to enact an amendment that will redress the wrong of 
the activist Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United is myopic. It focuses on the part, not the whole.  The effect of this myopia is 
that the anger over the economy, joblessness, inequality, the power of the finance sector, and the top one percent's strategy of 
accumulation by dispossession is being channeled in the wrong direction, away from the capitalist context in which corporations operate. 

What's at stake here? Well, the loss of the distinction between profit and non-profit corporations for starters. Move to Amend is pushing for a 
Constitutional amendment that will restrict union money in politics as well as money contributed by for-profit corporations. Labor and capital
 are not equally situated players in a level field. Far from it. Hurting unions will continue to erode the remaining achievements of a hundred years 
of workers' struggles. And the same holds for any other non-profit. This would disempower a wide range of issue organizations, organizations 
that have been primary vehicles for a variety of a interests--environment, health, education, etc.

You write:

I agree that in the absence of core principles, we will be condemned to
a repeated sequence where the smaller direct-action groups spark
transient mass mobilizations that subsequently dissolve -- not just
because only a few can maintain permanent militancy and a permanent
direct democracy, but also because the division of labor and the social
complexity it entails are just too advantageous to be abandoned. Only
trustworthy and verifiable principles can articulate a complex division
of labor, even if we decide to shrink it from the global proportions it
has attained today. The commons we need is also an organizational
commons, a way of articulating production and sharing its surplus. But
who is this "we"? So far, only the anarchists have been able to
constitute a collectivity in which the remanents of the Left can
momentarily recognize themselves. Kudos to the anarchists!

You are right: kudos to the anarchists! And I like the way you put it--they have been able to constitute a collectivity. This is absolutely crucial. It
has not been the individualism, no one can speak for another, we are all sovereign individuals (re-stated in the NY OWS GA resolution supporting
the call to abolish corporate personhood) that has been so galvanizing. It's been in the accumulation of bodies in places, over time, engaged in
active protest. What has registered politically, broken through our absorption in the regular circuits, is the collective power of people protesting
in the streets and squares. 

I like very much your point regarding an organizational commons. It has seemed to me that the occupations are like proto-soviets, forms of 
alternative power, like in Lenin's account of dual power? Jason Jones (artist from Not an Alternative Arts collective) recently noted in one of 
the striking features of OWS was the way it marks  the beginning of an institutional takeover. In a still nascent form, constitute new kinds of 
organizing power, taking over from, taking the place of the institutions that have collapsed, decayed, and/or been privatized. In many of the occupations, 
more or less all the working groups mirrored crumbling state institutions: library, town planning, sanitation, security, medics, finance. 
In NYC this is ongoing even as (or maybe because) the encampment no longer persists. More of the groups seem to engage the occupation 
as though it were a reframed institution or remade group of state institutions. As Jason says, people are seeing the significance of performing
the role of the failing state. When, for example, the call for went out for eviction defense people immediately took up brooms and dust pans and 
started performing the cleaning of the park. The significance of this spectacle can not be under estimated as was evidence by the fact that after
 the eviction Bloomberg installed a 24/7 sweeping crew. The occupiers participated in a similar kind of performance when they took over the
 building in East NY, when they wore helmets and went into the home with tools in hand ready to fix it up (well aware that the media was watching).

You write:

The great question, as fundamental as the one that inspired Marx long
ago, is how to forge a new, trustworthy and verifiable logic of social
organization that is both egalitarian and ecologically sustainable --
and how, at the same time, to create the agency that can gradually
impose the new logic against forces that will bitterly oppose it?
There's no way to answer through ordered stages. You have to leap into
the midst of it, with the beginnings of a conceptual logic and the
initial kernel of the social forces that could bring it into reality.

So where to begin? Many have observed that all around the world, the
current protests are driven by debt-ridden students and graduates
without a future. The precarious middle class, in short ("lost a job,
found an occupation"). At the same time, the numbers tell us that the
worst-hit are the working and marginalized classes, mostly across the
color line. The next big movements could easily look quite different. In
all likelihood we are headed toward an even more extensive social crisis.

It probably won't be surprising to hear that the poorest places in the US don't have active occupations going on (I say this based on looking for evidence
on the web, not from visiting). The more active occupations are in the biggest cities (not a surprise, but worth keeping in mind when we think about
the social composition of the movement in the US). Not exclusively, though, for example, although San Antonio has a larger population than Boston,
it's occupy movement is not as strong. Likely explanations for this: spatial lay out of the cities, concentrations of universities/media/technology, state/regional
political orientation (red state v. blue state). 

Liza Featherstone wrote an interesting piece for the nation a few weeks ago about movement around Occupy Education. This strikes me as valuable.
There have been and are increasing cuts to education because of pressures on state and local budgets. There is massive pressure on teachers unions.
Yet, education is a public good and that impacts everyone (a number of the occupations emphasize education and seem to be forming alternative
universities--Occupy Phoenix is interesting here). 

But if education is an possible point for coalition, a component of a coalitional politics, then it has to be addressed in ways that don't echo conservative
and neoliberal emphasizes on vouchers and school choice, much less their anti-tenure and pro-monetary reward union-busting approaches. And, it
can't be offered in the Clinton/Obama way as the solution to poverty: study hard and get rich. Here is a place, then, where the place of the actions
within a larger vision really matters.

In solidarity,
Jodi


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