THE GENERALLY INCLUSIVE and indefinite nature of the politics behind the Occupy movement has been both its virtue and vice. Or, to put it in less moralistic terms, the ideological flexibility of the occupations — in New York, and beyond — has generated extraordinary opportunities while at the same time presenting real limits to a serious challenge of capital's domination.
A mutation of both the university occupations of 2009 (where the slogan "Occupy Everything" was brought to life) and the "movement of the squares" in Egypt, Spain, and Greece, these American occupations have managed to draw forth a variegated crowd of generally anti-capitalist character in city after city: Anarchists and socialists, disenchanted liberals and trade unionists, teachers and teenagers, street kids and college kids, the entire motley crew growing rather than fading away, moving from novelty song to popular genre with a breadth and rapidity that would have commanded utter disbelief in August. And it is apparent that the refusal to decide in advance on the exact political content of this movement — and instead suggesting that such a content will emerge through the process of struggle — is very much part of what has allowed for this sequence's unfolding and brought so many people out into the plazas of our cities. The notion of the 99 percent is part of this inclusiveness, but it's also an emblem of the real limits here.
Central among these limits is the incoherent stance often taken toward the police by the occupiers, or, more specifically, the organizers of the occupations. It can only be of the greatest significance that this issue has emerged as the central matter of debate; it secures the suspicion that the question is at the center of the occupation movement's politics, and its fate.
But this hypersignificance remains opaque. Again and again, these occupations have featured scenes in which protesters beaten and pepper-sprayed by the police have insisted that their oppressors are also, in their way, part of the 99 percent. Occasionally, in New York, there is a more complicated fantasy in which the only truly oppressive cops are the supervisors — "whiteshirts," after the white (rather than blue) shirts they wear, but also because obliquely referencing class status — whereas the blue-collar cops are only reluctantly doing their jobs.
At the same time, there has been more and more criticism of collaborationist policies toward the police, and an increasingly acrimonious debate within the movement, initiated in many cases by its anarchist and anti-statist wing. Occupy Oakland, for instance, has refused to cooperate with the Oakland Police and its General Assemblies feature long lines of people who speak eloquently and bluntly about police violence in the city. So there is a debate within the movement, one that the brutal police repression of Occupy Boston, happening just as Occupy Oakland was getting under way, has in some regard brought to a head.
In an ironic turn, on the same day as the repression of Occupy Boston, n+1 published Jeremy Kessler's "The Police and the 99 Percent," a virtual compendium of the fallacies, apologetics, wishful thinking, and historical mis...read more