What we learned

I’ve been meeting and talking with my Occu-buddies and while everyone is still tired, there seems to be some agreement about the lessons learned on May Day. Without presuming to speak for the movement as a whole, as ever, here’s my set of takeaways, for what it’s worth.

Get up! Get down!

  • The People’s Assembly was amazing and did not have a chance to get beyond its opening statements. Let’s have more!
  • Occupy now knows how to engage public space with disruptive and challenging non-violent direct action in ways that the police cannot prevent, like the 99 Pickets, the Guitarmy, street art and performance. Marches are great to emphasize our numbers but the actions are what we remember.
  • It may not be the best goal of the movement in New York City to aim for a permanent occupation in public space. Salon reported–whether accurately or not–that Marisa Holmes and others were frustrated at the way the People’s Assembly at Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park turned into a discussion about an occupation. I remember a series of challenges at the Assembly by certain self-styled leftists to live up to the legacy of the Zapatistas and so on. I’ve been to Chiapas. It’s a place with a 500 year-old history of resisting colonial occupation and an indigenous population with substantial reason to engage in personal risk to do so. Sleeping in a New York City park is not the same thing.
  • That’s not to say we give up on occupation! Pop-up occupations like that in Bryant Park on May Day are beautiful and energizing. A building might be another way to approach this issue, as Lisa Fithian has suggested. An outdoor occupation could be mobile, on the river (why not?), or in disputed space.
  • At the same time, the reason why such a strategy might not work is the incredible willingness of the NYPD to use overwhelming force on a basis that they know will later be held to be illegal. It’s important to know and make visible how spectacular police repression is in the supposed capital of the free world.
  • Free University! This was a fabulous success and was the part of May Day most reminiscent of Liberty Plaza in its day-to-day mode of permanent discussion. There’s already impetus to sustain the energy for more sessions. There don’t have to be full-blown courses, as OccU has already pioneered that strategy. It’s more about a place of intersection for academic and movement knowledges, a mutually reinforcing moment.
  • The connection to immigrant rights and movements is a vital step, as this excellent video shows:

Such coalition building is hard work but most positive.

The impetus now is given by the May Pole: all our grievances are connected. May 15 is the European day of action–May 1 being so “normal” a holiday–and with elections in France and Greece likely to increase pressure on the all-austerity-all-the-time program, we need to work in conjunction with their social movements. There is increased tension in Egypt and uncertain outcomes ahead in their presidential election that may generate further momentum in the Arab world revolution. This is and was always a planetary movement, in which one sector now leads, then follows.

On the march downtown, I measured the response to the chants launched across the varying crowds I marched with. Clear winner:

Get up! Get down!

There’s a revolution in this town!

Is there? Not yet, of course, in the sense of 1789 or 1917. Mostly social change does not happen like that, however, as the very few dates available for such citations suggest. It often happens unevenly in response to people changing their own circumstances or to external forces beyond local control. I wonder if that isn’t what’s happening now?

A May Day in the Life

After fifteen hours in New York City parks and streets, I’m tired in body, out of voice, but in good spirits. Occupy succeeded in visualizing itself to itself, in finding its strengths and its challenges. This is a long post because the media coverage that I have seen was so grossly unreflective of the experience I had. May Day showed Occupy has grown into a diverse, flexible and evolving movement backed by substantial numbers of people, who are not every day activists, but will turn out for events like this. And the NYPD continue to be the enemy of free expression in New York City.

So here we go. The day began at 8.30 with a picket of NYU, my own institution, in steady rain, which had been torrential an hour earlier, and soon eased off further.

NYU Picket. Credit: Max Liboiron

This “private university in the public service” has one percenters, like hedge fund titan John Paulson, on its board and is now planning a $4-6 billion expansion in the heart of Greenwich Village, which will be at least 60% (student) debt funded. This at an institution where 55% of students leave as debtors to an average of $41,000 per person, making it #6 in the nation–finally NYU makes the top ten! So a coalition of students, faculty, unions and local people have been protesting–a coalition never before achieved–and yesterday picketed the offices of the top administrators.

From there I head up to the Free University (my pictures unless otherwise credited), which was organized by a group consisting primarily of graduate students and some faculty, in which I had a small hand. By the time I arrived a large crowd were already listening to David Harvey speak but I could not hear much of what he had to say.

Harvey is center with the white beard

So I took part in a Horizontal Pedagogy workshop for a while, which raised interesting questions about definitions of teaching and pedagogy. These were later enacted in a workshop on solidarity organized by Marina Sitrin and others.

Solidarity workshop. Marina Sitrin center.

In the background, I saw a large group gathered to hear Andrew Ross on student debt. This was a really engaged session, with people questioning Ross for over an hour after his presentation. He commented that he was surprised to the extent to which some of the key facts are still not well known even to those who are personally implicated.

Occuprint ran a workshop on their lovely posters, which they were giving away, but I didn’t take any because I knew they would be destroyed during the course of the day. There was food provided free of charge, although I confess I did buy an espresso but I chalk that up to medicinal needs, exempt from strike prohibitions. The Free U. was an all-volunteer, co-operative space that intends to carry on working after May Day in conjunction with OccU [Occupy University] and others to reconfigure learning in the city. It was an example of mutual aid at its best, a lovely experience.

Then it was time for the Occupy Student Debt Campaign performance of “Can’t Pay! Won’t Pay!” on the steps of the flagpole. We had a mercifully sympathetic small audience and a great time was had by all.

Can't Pay! Won't Pay! With Niki Kekos, myself, Andrew Ross and Clare Lebowitz. Credit: Fulana de Tal

Even as we were having fun, David Graeber was addressing a substantial crowd, when the convergence march from Bryant Park arrived. Bryant Park was the site of many more picket actions, Mutual Aid, the OWS Library and other events, led down towards Union Square by the Guitarmy, a huge group of guitarists co-ordinated by Tom Morello. The Guitarmy scooted past us at speed–who knew musicians could move that fast?–followed by the main march.

We poured out of Madison Square Park to join them, giving the combined marches enough presence to take the street on Broadway.

Broadway and 17th, about 3pm

OWS Direct Action were co-ordinating this stage of the day very well and had sufficient control to organize a sit-down, not as a protest, but to slow the march so that those further back could catch up. During this pause, I spotted David Graeber using the opportunity to take pictures:

Graeber in brown leather jacket

Nice to know that even the famous activists like souvenir pictures as well as the rest of us;) And I’m mentioning these well-known figures here as a riposte to the suggestion that Occupy is now a rump of Black bloc anarchists and homeless people. This was one of the most beautiful parts of the day. Occupy activists were everywhere, the chants were loud and energizing and when we got to Union Square there was a May Pole, poetry and arts, it was like an alternative festival.

May Pole in Union Square

This traditional May Day celebration had been re-purposed to activist ends (or more exactly un-depurposed because it was an activist tool in the 18th century). On the top it says: “All Our Grievances Are Connected.” Each ribbon of the pole has an issue written out on it and as the dancers process around the pole they are interwoven. The May Pole reappeared later in the day at the People’s Assembly with its slogan high above us in the night.

It was sunny, hot even, by now and there was so much good energy around this section. Something of a lull followed, as we waited for the union contingents to arrive and for the rally at Union Square South. My subjective impression was that when the SEIU 1199 march and other locals arrived, they seemed much smaller than expected. Later in the day, other activists confirmed that impression. I passed the time handing out copies of the (free) fabulous Occupied Wall Street Journal, which was simple because people were so keen to get it.

Finally (as it seemed), it was time to march and I ran into my group from Occupy Student Debt. Here the long police preparations came into play. Although we left Union Square on the South side, we were immediately routed back north up a tortuously slow kettle of barricades, through a narrow bottleneck into 16th Street going West, all the way over to 5th Avenue, finally going south, but then back into another bottleneck on 13th St. The police made their intentions clear: they were not going to arrest people and give us a headline like Brooklyn Bridge last October. But they were going to try and break morale, depress people and take the edge off our mood.

I’d have to say they somewhat succeeded until we finally got moving on Broadway and you could see how many people there were out. The Guardian‘s aerial photo gives you a sense of this:

Credit: Guardian newspaper: note OWS banner at the front

Estimates of numbers are always more of an art than a science. Twitter posts announced that there were still people leaving Union as we passed Wall Street. The free newspaper Metro, which, unlike the New York Crimes, actually put the march on its front page, estimated 15,000 which feels about right. Importantly, unlike October 15 and November 17 last year, most of those people were Occupy people. As I said, the unions did not turn out as many as was hoped and they seemed to disperse early on, with important exceptions like the health care unions, who were fabulous. From being an activist group that relied on existing organizations for numbers, Occupy is now a mass organization, which relies on older groups for permits and facilities like sound and stages.

As we got further downtown, carrying the Occupy Student Debt banner most of the way, the march became more of an Occupy celebration. I caught up with the main Occupy banner, which was a giant blue tarp, donated during the encampment. It had a long slogan painted on top but no one seemed sure what it said. Underneath the tarp, people discussed the day so far and plans for the upcoming People’s Assembly.

Direct Action discussion under the OWS banner

Again and again, though, we stood idly as police halted all marchers. As I passed Trinity Church, rumors circulated via Twitter that the police had broken the march in two. With the location of the Assembly at Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park on Water Street now circulating, people dispersed in various ways from the official route to find the park.

I entered the space with Andy from the Yes Men and it was one of those magic Occupy moments. Hundreds of people filled the bowl. A group of women from Occupy, led by Marissa Holmes, called the Assembly to order by People’s Mike that needed up to five relays to reach everyone. That sound, the murmuring of each phrase getting fainter as it retreated from where I was sitting close to the front, was very moving, exhausted as I was.

The People's Assembly, May Day, NYC

We were seated in between two towers, one belonging to the all-powerful ratings agency Standard and Poors, the other to mega-bank JP Morgan Chase. It was a good place for Occupy Wall Street, a good site as some began to think to occupy Wall Street. The bat-signal fired overhead.

99% Bat Signal

It was announced that this was the largest assembly held during the Occupy movement (I assume this meant in New York), and it was certainly the most extended I’ve seen, with dozens more sitting outside the main space, unable to get in.

Discussion turned to tactics. Whether planned in advance or spur of the moment, the proposal was that there be an attempt to occupy the park. Zach introduced a group from Veterans for Peace, who, appropriately enough given the nature of the park, were to blockade the police. Clergy arrived on a peace-keeping mission. Energy flowed.

At once, it seemed, Twitter and text feeds lit up with messages that hundreds of riot cops were outside on Water Street. It was announced that the park would legally close at ten pm and reluctantly, mindful of my green card status, I looked outside. I’ve never seen so many police anywhere, including during the miners’ strike in the U.K.

Police preparations on Water St

Those buses are empty, two of about six I saw driven up by the NYPD for mass arrests. Time and again, it has been pointed out that it is illegal for the police to use public transport vehicles as arrest wagons but the very point of their actions is to insist that there is only one authority in NYC.

Behind me, the Assembly took the decision to leave, rather than be arrested en masse. A few arrests did follow, inevitably, and some people found their way into Zuccotti Park. I’m not sure what happened overnight but I myself was very deeply asleep. Perhance, to dream of a better future.

 

Striking New Relationships

Why do we strike on May Day? What is that strike? We strike in solidarity with global labor, our own histories and with each other. The action of striking is not just a withdrawal of labor but what Marina Sitrin calls “striking new relationships.” The actions of refusal to play the part expected of us, in whatever way we can, and imagining other ways of relating to each other are what will constitute a day of generally striking, a striking day.

Let’s review the call for a Day Without the 99 percent:

  • No Work: for many there is no need to respond because they have no work. For others, refusing to work is legally impossible or would endanger them too greatly. Those of us who can do so will withdraw our labor in solidarity with the precarity and dangers suffered by those who cannot.

  • No School: in Bloombergistan, only 13% of African-American and Latin@ students graduate high school ready for college. Those who make it find that the ticket to employment literally comes with a mortgage: one million people now have student debt of over $100,000 or more. We leave school to insist it is a right not a privilege and, for a day, those of us who can will offer classes freely to all who care to attend to prefigure the learning that is to come.
  • No Housework: domestic labor continues to make the world liveable, and as harmonious and possible as it can. The women, children and (some) men who perform that labor have to endure the insult of one percenters like Ann Romney claiming their dignity. We will not engage in this invisible labor for one day in order to reclaim it and to show solidarity with those who are compelled by neoliberalism to act as full-time carers without support, whether for elders, children, the dis/abled or  others in need.
  • No Banking: here we refuse to participate in the system of financial distribution and exchange that has so impoverished us all and yet has been allowed to carry on as if nothing happened. The financialization of everything and everyone has made it difficult to withdraw entirely from the banking system, as many used to be able to do. We can plan to move our money to credit unions and other co-operatives.
  • No Shopping: consumers dictate the success or failure of the one percent. By refusing to shop for things that we do not need, we can show how the concept of permanent growth is unsustainable.

What we will do is more important than what we will not do. We will share ideas, skills, food, music, art, friendship, solidarity and space. We will assert that striking new relationships is living, while working for life is not. Over the course of four months of planning, Occupy has become the autonomous, decentralized movement that was promised in September 2011. The combination of mutual aid, direct action, direct democracy, affinity groups and the free exchange of knowledge and ideas, enabled and facilitated by digital technologies, has changed many lives already. This “internal” process of transformation is now ready to reach out to many others.

Will capitalism fall on May 1? No. But it’s doing a good job of collapsing on its own at the moment. The more we refuse to come to its aid, the quicker that moment may come.

Will cities grind to a halt on May 1? No. Transport workers are not on strike, so that people can easily get to the events and so that those who have no choice but to work can do so.

Will there be more life, more laughter, more music, more creativity, more confrontation, more raising of awareness, more solidarity: in short, more love? Yes, she said, yes, yes, yes.

These new relationships will reconfigure our relationship to U. S. history and to the rest of the world. It was in Chicago in 1886 that May Day strikers called for the eight-hour working day. The demonstration ended with a bomb being thrown that culminated in the notorious Haymarket Affair and the execution of four people, none of whom had been shown to be responsible for throwing the mysterious bomb.

From that event, May Day has become the global festival of labor. For many years, unions in this country have refused to participate in May Day events for fear of being labeled Communists. Now, more than twenty years after the end of the Cold War, labor, immigrants and Occupy activists are coming together to act in solidarity with the global 99%.

Why post this today rather than May 1? Because I will be striking on May 1 in whatever ways I can and it’s not too late for you to think of some way in which you can as well. Please join us.

Vive la Rêve générale

In 2006 I was stuck. Could you really in that oh-so-sophisticated era of globalization or late capital write about the general strike? That Spring, students and other young people across France went on strike against the “precariousness” of modern life. Anglophone commentators ridiculed the term as showing the absurdity of the French. Somewhere online I saw this photograph:

Rêve générale: general dream

It was a student march in (I think) Marseilles. The banner at the front reads: (on the left): “Avenir: je t’aimais bien“–”Future: I really love you”. And on the right a pun: “gRêve Général(e). You can’t translate this exactly: it means general strike/dream–add or subtract the G and the E at the end to make “strike” or “dream.”

Out of nowhere, as it seemed, the general strike had returned and reimagined itself at once: a general strike, a general dream. It was a challenge to the idea of the future as permanent austerity. It represented the general strike not as a quantitative measure of how many people out of the working population were willing to strike but a qualitative re-imagining of the future.

The idea went viral in French politics and could be seen all over the 2009 demonstrations in the wake of the financial crisis.

General Dream

It was part of a broad-based anti-capitalist imaginary, derived in part from the Situationists and the revolution of 1968.

2009 Paris demo. Credit: HdeC

In this poster, carried by someone who looks so French it’s almost parodic, the call is “Down with the Consumer Society of the Spectacle.”

What does a “general dream” mean? One way to understand it might be to put together Walter Benjamin’s concepts of the general strike and the dream image. Benjamin saw the general strike differing from the standard political strike in that it began

in the determination to resume only a wholly transformed work, no longer enforced by the state, an upheaval that the strike not so much causes as consummates.

These strikes were “general” not because everyone took part but because their aim was a general transformation and renunciation of domination. Benjamin saw this vision of revolt as not being violent but rather as “deep, moral, and genuinely revolutionary.” The right to look. The invention of the other.

That is to say, the general strike dreams the future that is to come (avenir), in what was to become Benjamin’s theory of the dream image. Dream images arise collectively when, says Benjamin,

the new is permeated by the old. These images are wish images; …what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation.

Just as the general strike creates “a general image” of social conditions that otherwise struggle to be known and understood, so does the dream image try to

overcome …the inadequacies in the social organization of production.

The general strike is the limit of the dream image, its enactment as social life. Benjamin thought of the “constellation” which these images form as something he called “collective consciousness.” This idea can be thought of as what Virno, appropriating Marx, has called the “general intellect,” a stage of social life “at which mental abstractions are immediately, in themselves, real abstractions.”

The “general dream” is, then, just such a real abstraction in which the activity of the mind has the value of material fact. A general dream/ strike is the materialization of the potential that is inherent in the (image) of social action not as violence but as means.

The general dream founds the possibility of a new politics. And here we are three years later and a new formation has appeared in French politics. The Front de Gauche, the Left Front, headed by Jean-Luc Mélenchon has a program that includes:

a 100% tax on earnings over $475,000; full pensions for all from the age of 60; reduction of work hours; a 20% increase in the minimum wage; and the European Central Bank should lend to European governments at 1%, as it does for the banks.

Now that’s not a dream, but it’s a long way from what you could propose in the Anglophone world. Mélenchon stands at 17% in the last opinion polls before the first round of the Presidential elections this Sunday. He has promised that the Left Front will not enter into coalition with the likely winner, the “Socialist” François Hollande. Hollande has made his intentions clear by saying that his first act if he wins will be to visit Berlin, the capital of Euro-austerity.

From ridicule and street demonstrations in 2006 to being a significant factor in national politics in 2012 by means of the general strike and its dream. It’s something to keep in mind over the next few weeks, as the negative reactions to May Day pour in from all sides.

OWS Spring Training

After spending a somewhat dreary week in academic salons, being told that there was no song and dance at Occupy or that there was no point to the General Strike, I chose to skip another round of conferences and head downtown for OWS Spring Training. These weekly Friday sessions have been happening since March but, for one reason or another, this was the first one I could attend.

Photo credit: Eva Destruction

It was an energizing relief after all the talk to be doing something. I was at once impressed with how much things have moved along in the street organizing. Following the influence of the excellent +Brigades, there’s a good deal of co-ordination, tactics and wit back in the actions. Extra energy came from last night’s successful Sleep to Protest, in which about a hundred people managed to sleep overnight on Wall St itself, despite the sudden desire of the city to clean sections of the street for hours on end. There were also lots of “new people,” by which I mean faces I didn’t recognize, and a noticeably wider age range.

After some tactical training by the +Brigades, we set off for a set of Bank of America branches where supporters were planning to close their accounts. Along the way, despite my academic colleagues, a nice range of old and new songs and chants kept the mood light. Protestors have identified the short-tempered white-shirt police officer assigned to OWS marches and when he appears, they set up a drawn-out mocking chant of his name. He didn’t seem to like it. OWS organizers were making sure that the marchers took up no more than half the sidewalk to deny police the pretext for arrests. The obvious good humor of the event and the interest of many downtown passers-by mitigated the chance for mass arrests.

When we arrived at the banks, those who closed their accounts were hoisted shoulder-high and spoke via people’s mic about how hard BoA made it to do so. After properly denouncing the vampire squid, they then ceremonially cut their debit cards in half to loud cheers. One closer was a Democratic official of some kind.

Then we dispersed in order to make our own way to the Stock Exchange. Just as well, because the police had placed a checkpoint at the Broadway entrance to Wall Street, permitting only those with workplace IDs to enter. Luckily downtown has many byways and it was a simple matter for those who wanted to do so to congregate on the steps of the Federal Hall National Memorial. At a signal, we congregated into a large cluster and sounded the People’s Gong, closing the Stock Exchange for violations against the people. Proceedings were closed with an exuberant chant of A-Anti-AntiCapitalista, with a new twist: after a couple of choruses, we went quieter and quieter, lower and lower, jumping up at the end in full voice.

All quite silly in some ways but it prevented Mr White Shirt from the mass arrest he was clearly itching to orchestrate by catching a lot of public attention and not being demonstrably an offense, as no signs were displayed. There were just a lot of people there at the same time doing the same things. Needless to say, perhaps half-a-dozen were arrested for no apparent reason.This exercise has been going on for a few weeks now. It’s creating new energy, new songs, new ways of being in space. So much for academia.

 

A Day Without the 99%

A day without the 99% is the part of the slogan used by OWS for its May Day action that has not been discussed enough. While even the New York Times has run a plodding exposé of the low chances of a mass observation of the general strike (no, I’m not linking, you can make it up), the day without us is much more than that.

In 1974, the Italian activist Mariarosa Dalla Costa already saw that a general strike was in fact no such thing

Let’s make this clear. No strike has ever been a general strike. When half the working population is at home in the kitchens, while the others are on strike, it’s not a general strike. We’ve never seen a general strike. We’ve only seen men, generally men from the big factories, come out on the streets, while their wives, daughters, sisters, mothers went on cooking in the kitchens.

Perhaps today some male-identified activists might question that 50% figure: I suspect not many of the female-identified ones would do so.

Indeed, tonight at 16 Beaver, Ana Méndez de Andés from the Madrid-based Observatorio Metropolitano, a militant research collective, made an almost identical set of observations. She recalled discussing with the organizers of the Spanish strike what those who were unemployed or involved in domestic labor should do. The answer was simple: show solidarity.

In the U. S. context, the “big factories” are among the least likely venues to strike because they cannot call a solidarity strike due to anti-labor legislation. Manufacturing has been able to increase productivity while using fewer and fewer human workers by means of automation. So, as we all know, the workforce is susbtantially composed of dispersed individuals from the unemployed, part-time and casual labor, to those working as freelances, without documentation or on piece work, none of whom can visibly “strike.”

The OWS kitchen in action at Liberty Plaza

How, then, could a “day without the 99%” offer a visualization of the refusal to accept the neoliberal privatization of everyday life? Writing for the new Occupy.com aggregator site, Chris Longenecker suggests that the day should involve:

mobile street kitchens, free stores and free medical clinics, as well as occupy their schools and workplaces and make their goods and services available to all who need them.

Now that finance capital has withdrawn from the housing sector, it is eager to privatize health, knowledge, education, music and art (or to accelerate the existing tendencies to privatize). It is as if they will not be satisfied until no one can even imagine an alternative.

So a well-attended and highly visible union march and Occupy-style disruptions to the normal practice of expropriation and dispossession are excellent and important gestures. In Occupy-speak, these are “direct actions” and highly valorized, rightly so. What Dalla Costa, Mendez de Andes and Longenecker are calling for is usually known as “mutual aid.” It’s been crucial to those actually occupying space in providing food, health care and other services but it is less prestigious, if that’s the right word within an activist movement. There needs to be a leveling so that each form of action is seen as equally important.

So far OWS hasn’t been able to cater to all needs. A few days ago I remember a young woman intervening in a discussion about activism, saying that she can’t be active because there is no child care provision for her two-year-old. While efforts have sometimes been made (though not enough), there is a thicket of law around child care that makes such work really complicated. This is a recurring issue. The first radical event I was involved with in the U.K. called “Left Alive,” which took place just after Thatcher’s crushing second election victory, provided fabulous child care: which no one used because they hadn’t expected it to be any good.

So, no, there won’t be and can’t be a general strike on May 1. Certain duties of care will continue and should do so. Still more people can’t strike because they will be fired if they do. And many others have nowhere to withdraw their labor from, other than domestic situations.

So we need to become in Ana Mendez de Andés’s phrase “traficantes de sueños,” traffickers in dreams: what would make people’s day better on May Day that doesn’t involve work, housework, banking, or school? What do we have in common that we can share? How can we reclaim time from the compartmentalized day, just as we have struggled to reclaim public space? How do we make May 2 seem like a positive beginning to something for each and every day, rather than a return to the chores of the everyday?

 

Order? Or Chaos? Love Rosa

Rosa Luxemburg as Cindy Sherman

Today is the birthday of (radical, disabled, Jewish) Rosa Luxemburg. She’s 141. Her idea for the mass (or general) strike is going strong. In 1906 she wrote:

The overthrow of absolutism is a long, continuous social process, and its solution demands a complete undermining of the soil of society; the uppermost part be placed lowest and the lowermost part placed highest; the apparent “order” must be changed to a “chaos,” and the apparently anarchistic chaos must be changed into a new order.

It was expressions like that which once got her expelled from the canon of orthodoxy but make her seem all the more relevant today. Substitute “globalization” for “absolutism” and it reads like something from an Occupy pamphlet.

Let’s once again try and make visible the chaos of financial globalization that undermines its own substrate, the oceans by which it delivers its goods in steel containers. Their purported order is creating natural and social chaos.

Design for the Olympic monument: the AcelorMittal "Orbit" by Anish Kapoor

The monument above is Anish Kapoor’s “Orbit,” designed to be the symbol of the London 2012 Olympics. It is being financed by ArcelorMittal and their chair Lakshmi Mittal, held to be the wealthiest man in Britain at about $23 billion or so. Readers of O2012 will remember this firm as one whose blast furnaces in France are currently under occupation by a threatened workforce.

Kapoor’s peculiar construct appears to be a capitalized deformation of Tatlin’s monument to the Third International, designed in 1919, the very year of Rosa Luxemburg’s murder at the hands of the forces of “order.” For Tatlin, steel was a modern material, forging a new way to see and understand the international.

Tatlin "Monument for the Third International" 1919

For Kapoor, it appears now to be a means to visualize planetary networks, as if seen from orbit, but rendered as a perhaps unintentionally revealing chaos. The point perhaps is to show how steel, the epitome of “strength,” can also be rendered flexible, neo-liberalism’s favorite word. “Flexible” means lower wages, higher profits, lower corporate taxes, longer hours and lower benefits.

And it also means flexible interpretations of data and what, in a naive way, one might call the truth. In this form of flexibility, steel furnaces are renewable energy now, once again at the behest of our friends ArcelorMittal:

AK Steel of Middletown wants to build a $310 million power plant that would use the foul gases from its blast furnace as a fuel rather than a waste gas that it must by law now flare. ArcelorMittal in Cleveland is interested in the technology, said a spokeswoman. AK Steel has already won a $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for this first-of-its-kind U.S. power generator…The proposal also has the blessing of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because it would produce something of value from a dangerous waste gas. The company therefore has asked lawmakers to amend Ohio’s green energy law and classify the electricity generated with blast furnace gases as “renewable energy,” even though the blast furnace itself is fueled with coke, a substance made from coal.

Coke by-products are now “renewable energy,” steel companies are getting “green” grants and their order is chaos.

Today a review essay in Science examines the dramatic acidification of the ocean as a result of the continued acceleration of CO2 emissions like, say, blast furnace waste gases. The process they describe is literally chaotic in the scientific sense of multiply interacting strands of causation. It’s visualized like this:

Diagram of Occean acidification

To follow the diagram: black is reduced carbon. Yellow represents reduced alkalinity. whereas blue is increases in alkanization offsetting acidification. Red is increased acidity. Simply put, the vastly increased CO2 in the air overwhelms all the feedback loops and acidifies the sea to a dramatic extent.

Their conclusions are clear:

the current rate of (mainly fossil fuel) CO2 release stands out as capable of driving a combination and magnitude of ocean geochemical changes potentially unparalleled in at least the last ~300 My [ie 300 million years] of Earth history, raising the possibility that we are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change.

That means a system in which the change cannot be predicted by anything that has happened for three hundred million years. Or so. Their order is creating insane chaos.

What can we learn from Rosa in response to this chaos? Let’s refuse to get depressed: that’s what Big Pharma exists for, to medicate us with its happy pills. Luxemburg wants us to act–through the act comes real education, she says.

No more corporate “order” visualized as giant, phallic monuments. Time for some anarchic “chaos,” from the chaos of the biosphere to those of lived relations. MayDay is coming, Rosa’s day:

 a festival [that] may naturally be raised to a position of honor as the first great demonstration under the aegis of mass struggle.