October 6, 2011 § 2 Comments
Attending planning meetings, preparing for tomorrow when Occupy Austin is to commence. In addition to posting about it here I may be helping out with video and running a discussion group on the 2008 financial crisis.
The website finally has General Assembly minutes and blogs – this one on Tuesday’s meeting I found ecapsulates both the good and bad things going on. What it seems like people are figuring out is that General Assemblies are good for deciding on actions and points of procedure but are terrible at discussion (which it forces into theatre or the shadows, it seems like). They are also figuring out that moderators have kind of a lot of power — the new rule to expand the moderator pool is a step forward. I’m nervous about tomorrow’s General Assembly because like the author of the post I don’t think we have any clue how to deal with the volume.
I still don’t care about ideological differences at the occupation; our individual opinions are, at this early stage, unimportant (though we do now have demands). More important just to show up and stand together. There are some currents in Occupy Austin I’ve noticed that may undermine this goal. Not differing opinions — even the noisy Ron Paul libertarians are pretty well neutralized by the effects of the direct democracy process. It’s difficult without devoting lots and lots of time for any individual to change anyone’s mind. Instead I mean how eager the most visible participants seem to be to collaborate with the police, and the automatic acceptance of the media’s view of Occupy Wall Streeters and members of other popular social movements — us — ourselves — as always on the brink of ‘violence,’ when it is always the police who provoke and respond the most brutally. I spoke with one woman who eagerly described her plan to create a ‘nonviolence team’ to surround and isolate anyone who seemed violent. Possibly she would also go as far as advocating physical restraint, but I couldn’t get a straight answer. I don’t expect anything that provocative to go down tomorrow and certainly favor nonviolence, but there was something really disturbing about this conception of readiness as self-policing. Why not surround violent cops instead?
I can understand both tendencies in two different ways: one sympathetic — fear of police reprisal is nothing to sneer at — and the other perhaps a bit arrogant — of course this is what we should expect from Americans and their revulsion at the very idea of politics or of confrontation with superior force. They — we — respond with cowardice, overreaction, self-policing, and, yes, maybe an insignificant minority respond with adolescent adventurism.
Here are the consequences: the whole thing was planned in contact with the police and City Hall, and the organizers who made those contacts were so emphatic that we follow the law and not be ‘violent’ that this was taken as consensus without (to my knowledge) going through any process. No honest discussion that might unpack the term ‘violence’ and come up with a definition that reflects our values, instead of guessing at the inconsistent application by police and media so we can apply it to ourselves, is likely to happen. The issue of police collaboration and legality didn’t come under open discussion until last night’s toss-up over the proposed ‘police liaison’; it was just assumed that of course we were going to follow the law. And that basically means no marching, though we also haven’t discussed that UPDATE (it turns out maybe this was discussed and I missed it — we don’t have permits though so maybe we also decided not to care about those laws?). Not discussing it because we assume that ‘of course we’re all going to follow the law’ just opens the field for breakaway groups to lead marches without any deliberation, irresponsibly opening themselves and others to police repression. We don’t even have an action or tactical committee. Finally, these assumptions meant that ‘we’ refused to even discuss a declaration of solidarity with the simultaneous “Tent City” initiative, which actually is planning to defy the police by sleeping overnight.
Instead of solidarity with those who choose to disobey the law, we seem to have decided — without really deciding — to look the other way. This is very much in line with the class prejudices of what looks to me like the majority of the participants: white, middle class, you know the drill. But let’s not be determinists. All one has to do is turn on the Twitter to see that the police don’t need any provocation to respond with brutal violence, no matter how polite we are and no matter how well we police our own dissent.
While I am worried about the consequences of these nondecisions, I’m still excited for tomorrow, and eager to see what comes out of this.
Though if Alex Jones shows up I’m going to throw community food.