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Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Closing Down


Protestor arrested by police in riot gear, Oakland, California, Tuesday 25 October. Police used teargas, rubber bullets and flash bang to disperse the protesters
: photo by Kimberly White/Reuters

A message to the Occupy Movement: The occupiers of Tahrir Square are with you: by Comrades from Cairo, 25 October 2011 (via The Guardian)

To all those across the world currently occupying parks, squares and other spaces, your comrades in Cairo are watching you in solidarity. Having received so much advice from you about transitioning to democracy, we thought it's our turn to pass on some advice.

Indeed, we are now in many ways involved in the same struggle. What most pundits call "the Arab spring" has its roots in the demonstrations, riots, strikes and occupations taking place all around the world, its foundations lie in years-long struggles by people and popular movements. The moment that we find ourselves in is nothing new, as we in Egypt and others have been fighting against systems of repression, disenfranchisement and the unchecked ravages of global capitalism (yes, we said it, capitalism): a system that has made a world that is dangerous and cruel to its inhabitants. As the interests of government increasingly cater to the interests and comforts of private, transnational capital, our cities and homes have become progressively more abstract and violent places, subject to the casual ravages of the next economic development or urban renewal scheme.

An entire generation across the globe has grown up realising, rationally and emotionally, that we have no future in the current order of things. Living under structural adjustment policies and the supposed expertise of international organisations like the World Bank and IMF, we watched as our resources, industries and public services were sold off and dismantled as the "free market" pushed an addiction to foreign goods, to foreign food even. The profits and benefits of those freed markets went elsewhere, while Egypt and other countries in the south found their immiseration reinforced by a massive increase in police repression and torture.

The current crisis in America and western Europe has begun to bring this reality home to you as well: that as things stand we will all work ourselves raw, our backs broken by personal debt and public austerity. Not content with carving out the remnants of the public sphere and the welfare state, capitalism and the austerity state now even attack the private realm and people's right to decent dwelling as thousands of foreclosed-upon homeowners find themselves both homeless and indebted to the banks who have forced them on to the streets.

So we stand with you not just in your attempts to bring down the old but to experiment with the new. We are not protesting. Who is there to protest to? What could we ask them for that they could grant? We are occupying. We are reclaiming those same spaces of public practice that have been commodified, privatised and locked into the hands of faceless bureaucracy, real estate portfolios and police "protection". Hold on to these spaces, nurture them and let the boundaries of your occupations grow. After all, who built these parks, these plazas, these buildings? Whose labour made them real and livable?

Why should it seem so natural that they should be withheld from us, policed and disciplined? Reclaiming these spaces and managing them justly and collectively is proof enough of our legitimacy.

In our own occupations of Tahrir, we encountered people entering the square every day in tears because it was the first time they had walked through those streets and spaces without being harassed by police; it is not just the ideas that are important, these spaces are fundamental to the possibility of a new world. These are public spaces. Spaces for gathering, leisure, meeting and interacting – these spaces should be the reason we live in cities. Where the state and the interests of owners have made them inaccessible, exclusive or dangerous, it is up to us to make sure that they are safe, inclusive and just. We have and must continue to open them to anyone that wants to build a better world, particularly for the marginalised, the excluded and those groups who have suffered the worst.

What you do in these spaces is neither as grandiose and abstract nor as quotidian as "real democracy"; the nascent forms of praxis and social engagement being made in the occupations avoid the empty ideals and stale parliamentarianism that the term democracy has come to represent. And so the occupations must continue, because there is no one left to ask for reform. They must continue because we are creating what we can no longer wait for.

But the ideologies of property and propriety will manifest themselves again. Whether through the overt opposition of property owners or municipalities to your encampments or the more subtle attempts to control space through traffic regulations, anti-camping laws or health and safety rules. There is a direct conflict between what we seek to make of our cities and our spaces and what the law and the systems of policing standing behind it would have us do.

We faced such direct and indirect violence, and continue to face it. Those who said that the Egyptian revolution was peaceful did not see the horrors that police visited upon us, nor did they see the resistance and even force that revolutionaries used against the police to defend their tentative occupations and spaces: by the government's own admission, 99 police stations were put to the torch, thousands of police cars were destroyed and all of the ruling party's offices around Egypt were burned down. Barricades were erected, officers were beaten back and pelted with rocks even as they fired tear gas and live ammunition on us. But at the end of the day on 28 January they retreated, and we had won our cities.

It is not our desire to participate in violence, but it is even less our desire to lose. If we do not resist, actively, when they come to take what we have won back, then we will surely lose. Do not confuse the tactics that we used when we shouted "peaceful" with fetishising nonviolence; if the state had given up immediately we would have been overjoyed, but as they sought to abuse us, beat us, kill us, we knew that there was no other option than to fight back. Had we laid down and allowed ourselves to be arrested, tortured and martyred to "make a point", we would be no less bloodied, beaten and dead. Be prepared to defend these things you have occupied, that you are building, because, after everything else has been taken from us, these reclaimed spaces are so very precious.

By way of concluding, then, our only real advice to you is to continue, keep going and do not stop. Occupy more, find each other, build larger and larger networks and keep discovering new ways to experiment with social life, consensus and democracy. Discover new ways to use these spaces, discover new ways to hold on to them and never give them up again. Resist fiercely when you are under attack, but otherwise take pleasure in what you are doing, let it be easy, fun even. We are all watching one another now, and from Cairo we want to say that we are in solidarity with you, and we love you all for what you are doing.

Stare-down at the barricades, 14th and Broadway, Oakland, 25 October 2011
: photo via Huffington Post

occupy oakland clashes: Police officers with firearms confront protestors

Police officers with firearms confront protestors, Oakland, 25 October 2011
: photo by Stephen Lam/Reuters

Police prepare to enter Occupy Oakland's encampment, 25 October 2011
: photo by Noah Berger/AP

A masked demonstrator walks through a cloud of teargas, downtown Oakland, 25 October 2011
: photo by Stephen Lam/Reuters

occupy oakland clashes: A US Navy veteran peace campaigner in uniform

A U.S. Navy veteran peace campaigner walks through a cloud of teargas in Oakland, 25 October 2011
: photo by Kimberly White/Reuters

Occupy Oakland is evicted: protestors outside police barrier
: photo by yfrog/EastBayExpress, 25 October 2011

Hella cops, few protestors at 14th and Broadway
: photo by yfrog/EastBayExpress, 25 October 2011

Marching down Broadway again. "Whose streets? Our streets?"
: photo by yfrog/EastBayExpress, 25 October 2011

150 people still at 15th and Broadway
: photo by yfrog/EastBayExpress, 25 October 2011

Mini dance party in front of the line of cops
: photo by yfrog/EastBayExpress, 25 October 2011

51A attempts to reroute on the spot at 14th and Franklin: photo by yfrog/EastBayExpress, 25 October 2011

Here's what's left of 15th and Broadway
: photo by yfrog/EastBayExpress, 25 October 2011

Another trash can on fire: photo by yfrog/EastBayExpress, 25 October 2011


ACravan said...

From a Philadelphia point of view, this looks awful, but also abstract and disconnected from my own experience, which is about as disconnected and dislocated from everything anyway as I have ever felt. We all tend to learn the news through highly mediated sources; it's like being served a thousand variations of the same dish simultaneously when all you really want is the basic version, the Platonic ideal of the dish. Therefore, what my admittedly confused mind is able to discern from the reporting of various Occupy demonstrations is very little, except that discontent (which I understand and share) is being felt and that multiple parties with differing agendas (as usual) are co-opting the "movement", such as it is, for purposes that aren't immediately or entirely clear. What is clear, however, is the co-opting and the lack of sincerity that emanates from all corners of high places. I cannot see Occupy enlarging minds or fundamentally changing opinions because that usually requires rational argument or indications of sacrifice. This morning I was “un-friended” on Facebook by an old acquaintance who is a tenured full professor of English Literature at Amherst because I dared to question his actual personal commitment to redistributionist action. I thought I was pretty polite about it too, but I guess he lives behind a virtual lectern in a mirrored room with controlled lighting and I failed to ask for permission to speak. I suspect another friend will be taking the same action (it will be funny to see my “friend” level decrease) because I observed that it was President Clinton who signed the repeal of Glass-Steagall into law. Life has become very odd and, to a tragic degree, humorless. The only thing remaining seems to be mean sarcasm. Curtis

aditya said...

Some of these images are very disturbing indeed.
These protests are an expression of capitalism's fundamental contradiction, the contradiction between, as Marx and Engels said, the social nature of production and the private form of appropriation.

The much publicized 'right to freedom of speech' in so many different constitutions of so many different countries actually works .. when someone listens to you.

Is anybody in there?

ACravan said...

Yes, Aditya. I'm in here (or at least will be on-and-off most of the day). I should get out and rake the leaves, though. Curtis



Thanks for text, great photos -- videos in NY Times (, all over facebook, the world is watching. . .


grey whiteness of fog moving across top
of ridge, shadowed bird landing on post
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

sliding into present mental
picture of day, there

subject to writing about it,
in terms of, which is

grey white of fog against top of ridge,
wingspan of gull flapping toward point

Anonymous said...

I was there last night, from 4 pm to midnight -- longer than I was at my full-time job, oddly enough -- and rarely have I been as proud of a group of protesters. There were some knuckleheads, yes. But it's hard to have a dinner-party and not have at least one, let alone a protest 2000 strong. I'm not going to vilify the police (they do that well enough on their own) except to say I suspect they might've successfully radicalized the next generation of kids whose heads they'll bash. The key is to insure that none of this becomes about the police, as much as the images implore us to make it so. They have declared themselves an enemy, but the protesters would be wise to insure the police remain only this enemy's outward symbol (whose destruction is as useful -- if, nevertheless, vaguely satisfying -- as burning a flag).

TC said...

There's something about the son et lumiere spectacle of hovering police helicopters flooding the chemically hazed urban night with beams of very bright and penetrating light, while grenade guns pop and sound cannons roar, that's... well, not quite as invigorating as the smell of napalm in the morning, that stimulant of an earlier mythology.

(One waits, often in vain, for the moments "when someone listens to you," as Aditya puts it -- which acts, both listening and speaking calmly, become a real challenge when the loudspeakers and
rotorblade decibels and fear levels begin to mount.)

Still there is the odd feeling, shot through all this, of having been here before,

Along with the feeling of never having been here before, and of things teetering at the brink of spinning out of control. On both sides of the barricades.

And of total powerlessness,

and abjection,

and not much of the old It's Great To Be Living in the Greatest Damned Country on Earth.

There are medical and house repair issues of significant orders of magnitude currently rendering public events largely abstract.

But being out on the streets these nights -- confusion, disorientation, fear, yes. Abstraction, however, no, not really. The events are too physically immediate (and incoherent) to be abstract.

On the one side (authority), there are signs of plans having been put in place, and executed.

On the other, much seems random, and the prevailing plan hardly more specific than summoning a readiness to react.

But... I'm too old for this.

(Oh, and Curtis, though this place bears little/no relation to Facebook, I can assure you no one would ever unfriend you here. Beamed up affectionately, yes, unfriended never.)

So, the long day closes...

sliding into present mental
picture of day, there

subject to writing about it,

and Brad, it's reassuring to think that, were one to have collapsed on the spot, there would at least have been a friend about.

Anonymous said...

Tom, I'm under no illusion concerning this readiness to react -- it is, often on its best days, merely exhausting (& on its worst, counterproductive). But there is, I think, or at least hope, something to the power of a learned improvisation. A reaction, as it were, that somehow upsets some manner of the other side's planning, if not always or necessarily the inevitable results of these plans. There is something to the moment, at least, that at least become memory of something that never quite was that might sustain you in the days that never quite will be.

Nin Andrews said...

The images here bring to life what sounded as if it were far less dramatic on NPR--
thanks for this post.

ACravan said...

I just wanted to say that this place bears no resemblance to Facebook whatsoever. Curtis

TC said...

The lurid light and sense of a "fog of war" in those Oakland eviction night shots do capture the hazy, dangerous reality of a fluid historical moment.

Tonight there were 1500 people again peacefully on the march in Oakland, but no camping permitted.

BART stations were closed, alegedly to prevent people moving across the bay to support the imperiled Occupy SF site.

At 1:30 this morning about two hundred Oakland police massed at Treasure Island. "Something was in the air," reported radio KCBS newsman Steve Melrose. "They were not there to drink beer and tell stories."

Prisoner transport buses gathered at a staging point in SF. Rumours circulated that the Occupy SF site was about to be raided.

But then, rather shockingly, five San Francisco superintendents held an impromptu two a.m. meeting. And the rumored raid did not occur.

It seems SF may have wisely decided to avoid the sort of bloody scenes that happened last night in Oakland.