What Ugliness Is

520 clinton on fire

520 Clinton on fire. Photo: unknown.

On the eve of the most important Christian holiday, someone appears to have set fire to the Church of St Luke and St Matthew at 520 Clinton Avenue in Brooklyn, which is one of the hubs for Occupy Sandy. I find this to be one of the saddest of all the violent images that have come out of the repression of the Occupy movement. A church. That is used for hurricane relief. Set on fire. There’s a violence in America right now that feels ugly.

Luckily, no one was hurt but it was a serious incident. According to the New York Times report:

Father Ballard said the fire had been fueled by a pair of gasoline containers donated to Occupy Sandy volunteers, who had used the church as a staging area for hurricane relief efforts. The gasoline was intended to be used in a generator for a Christmas party in the Rockaways on Sunday night. Father Ballard said the containers had been put outside when the church was cleared of most donated materials to make way for Christmas services.

Clearly, the minister does not think for a minute that this was an accident. Whoever was responsible, if this was an act against the Occupy movement, as seems likely if not proven, it seems yet another escalation of the violent end to 2012.

It also recalls another difficult episode in progressive history, the fire-bombings of churches during the Civil Rights Movement.


People remember the terrible bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham AL (above) in 1963 that killed four young girls but we should also remember the trail that led up to that event:

In January 1957, four Black Churches were bombed in Montgomery, Alabama. In April, two were burned in Bessemer, Alabama. In 1958, burned churches were reported in Birmingham and Memphis. In 1959, a church was reported to have been burned in Roscoe, Georgia.

There were more arson attacks on churches during the movement, especially in 1964 and 1968. A wave of 37 church burnings in 1995-6 led to a specific act of Congress that seemed to quieten the attacks. Two hundred and thirty-five people were convicted under the Church Arson Prevention Act. However, in 2006 nine churches in rural Alabama were attacked again.

Obviously we don’t yet know what happened in Brooklyn. Perhaps it will somehow turn out to have nothing to do with Occupy. But let’s be realistic. It will probably have been done by one or more young men. Their lawyers will tell them to deny any political motive, to say that it was a prank gone wrong. The echoes of the past tell us otherwise.

What to do? Donate to Occupy Sandy (again, yes). Volunteer again. If you are in New York, why not attend the service that will be held tonight at 10pm at the church? I’m the least religious person in the world but this sounds about right:

We are pressed on every side, perplexed, but not easily broken.

-Corinthians 4:8

The lesson of the past is simple: the resistance has to begin immediately and be very visible or there will be more attacks like this.

A Return to Violence

Even before I heard about the massacre in Connecticut, before I was even technically in the country, I was reminded of the intense peculiarities of the U.S. In the Customs area of American Airlines, every kind of traveler was greeted with an immense slow-moving queue. A tall, white US citizen began remonstrating with American Airlines staff about the lack of energy in helping people. They called in Customs officers as back up and for a moment it looked as if he would be arrested. In fact, after an explanation, nothing happened.

When I finally got to the front, the Customs person I spoke to pointed out that people will have gone home blaming “big government” for that. In fact, it’s American Airlines to blame for pushing 500 people into retirement and not replacing them as part of their “restructuring.” And then he added that he could get fired for saying that. So to keep airline debt-holders happy, thousands of tired travelers are inconvenienced, miss connections, lose luggage–and added bonus, the government gets the blame.

Then, of course, we heard about the shooting. It’s important to repeat, yet again, that these don’t happen in Europe because they don’t allow people access to guns. When we see it reported that support for “gun control” has gone down, let’s remember what this really means in the condensed meme that it represents. “Gun control” means “the African-American socialist president is going to take away your guns as part of his plan to institute a United Nations-run totalitarian society.” Gun sales shot up after Obama’s elections in both 2004 and 2008.

It’s no accident that nearly every shooter in these events is a white male. That’s not to say that the shooting itself was a racialized event but that the fact that white men demand to make it absurdly easy for people like them to get guns has a racialized motive. And then the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords and the “Batman” shooting in Colorado did involve political motives.

I’ve had many occasions over the past year to write about people with unmet needs in this society. Many found their way to the occupations, when they were active, both here and in the U.K. Like most of them, whatever this young man’s issues were, he clearly did not get the help he needed. And he far more clearly received the message that this violent society sends most loudly of all, that violence is a good way to make a point, to resolve issues and to claim attention. And that it’s ok to use that violence on people weaker than yourself, whether women, children, the endebted, the homeless.

In order to make any kind of move away from the culture of violence, it’s obvious that there needs to be limits set on the possibilities that one person can attack another. But that is just a small start. The health care system needs to be able to help all those with needs. That requires more public revenue.

Women against Starbucks in the UK

Women against Starbucks in the UK

In Europe, they have ideas about that too. UK Uncut has shamed Starbucks into making some restitution for their tax avoidance by making these kinds of connections:

Sarah Greene, a UK Uncut activist said: “It is an outrage that the government continues to choose to let multinationals like Starbucks dodge millions in tax while cutting vital services like refuges, creches and rape crisis centres. It does not have to be this way.”

The politics of austerity is also a politics of violence. As the Greek Debt Audit Campaign has put it:

The link between debt, austerity and privatisation is clear. We consider it urgent to end the growing impoverishment of the people and ensure that all can cover their basic needs, as reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: housing, food, healthcare, education, employment and social services.

One way to summarize these rights is the formula “the right to existence” that comes down to us from anti-slavery organizing. A right to existence includes the right not to be subjected to physical or economic violence.

Staten Island today

Staten Island today

When I turned on my phone for the first time, one of the messages I received was from the Small Business Administration because I registered with FEMA after Sandy. It reminded me that the SBA loans were the “primary” form of government “assistance” for the disaster and that the deadline for applications was December 31, 2012. More debt, with deadlines, while people are still clearing up and finding out what their situation really is.

That’s the last official day of this project. Obviously, it won’t be over on that date.

On Legitimation

Throughout the course of the global social movement, there has been a serious question as to legitimacy and the place of violence. When Tahrir Square was filled with revolutionaries, it was clear that Mubarak was no longer legitimate. There has been an extensive, if not terribly productive, discussion in Occupy about “diversity of tactics.” Now the situation has become tragic and farcical at once with the absurd statement of so-called “Representative” Todd Akin concerning “legitimate rape.” Suddenly, Anglophone countries are immersed in discussions about rape.

Much of this centers around Julian Assange. George Galloway has made an idiot of himself as usual. However, Seamus Milne in the Guardian argues:

Can anyone seriously believe the dispute would have gone global, or that the British government would have made its asinine threat to suspend the Ecuadorean embassy’s diplomatic status and enter it by force, or that scores of police would have surrounded the building, swarming up and down the fire escape and guarding every window, if it was all about one man wanted for questioning over sex crime allegations in Stockholm?

That’s probably true. But so is this comment by Hadley Freeman in the same paper under the forceful headline “Rape is Rape is Rape”:

Assange is dodging rape accusations from two women. Not Wikileaks. Women. Same first letter. Different things. Also, while you can – contrary to other certain beliefs – become pregnant if you are raped, you cannot become pregnant from Wikileaks. Just to clarify.

When I posted on Assange a couple of days ago, I must admit that I was not fully aware of the details of the allegations against Julian Assange and seeing them discussed in Australian media as sexual harassment, I passed that on without checking, as some commenters pointed out. As the quotes above suggest, there was a gender divide on Assange that I fell into without thinking.

So the one “benefit” of Akin’s ridiculous remarks might be that we can have a broader discussion about violence and legitimation. There is obviously no justification or legitimacy in any act of sexualized violence. Equally, Akin did not “mis-speak” because the radical right believe in the legitimacy of their own violence. It is the counterpart of the violence that seeks to dictate reproductive choice, sexual orientation, marriage equality and so on. But also the violence that ends occupations, breaks strikes, and fires bullets. All are considered legitimate because that is the effect of the force of law.

One reason that I have said that the right to look is an exchange between two that precedes law is precisely this force of law. It has compeled slavery and legitimized violences of all kinds. In the modern era, such violence has often used secrets as a further justification. However, revealing secrets is no more of a justification for violence, if the allegations against Assange are accurate (and we should remember he has not yet been convicted). Nonetheless, we need to remain against heroes.

The tactic of consensus within the Occupy movement has been much questioned. It does have the virtue of finding another path to decision making than the 51-49 process that so dominates official politics. It has not prevented (or, to be fair, in any way caused) allegations of sexualized violence within the movement. It does not, however, claim legitimacy, sovereignty or authority and that is at least an important step in the right direction.

This is also a movement of bodies: placing bodies in space and claiming the right to be in our bodies as we choose. It shows how much there is to be done that a person’s right not to have their body used by another person is still the subject of international debate.



Mediating truAmerica

Like many New Yorkers, I’m in the middle of my summer exodus, a retreat to leafier and quiet parts of the state that many people still seem to manage for a while. It’s an unconscious homage to the former Jewish exodus to the Catskills, a legacy so apparently unappealing that the Catskills are trying to rebrand as the South Adirondacks. One of the things I do is see more broadcast media than usual. It’s not pretty. But you do get to see truAmerica, the country that brought you truTV.

Max von Sydow in Hannah and Her Sisters

In Woody Allen’s 1986 classic Hannah and Her Sisters, Max von Sydow plays Frederick a misanthropic artist. He too spends an evening watching television and describes it to Lee (Barbara Hershey): “Can you imagine the level of the mind that watches wrestling?” While funny, any good cultural studies undergrad can take this apart: wrestling is known to be “fixed,” so the pleasure for the viewer comes in a knowing engagement with the parodic violence that is not violent and so on, and so on, as Zizek would say.

There’s another form of inauthentic television now, which is what I call truAmerica. Let’s try and imagine the kind of mind that would watch golf. Yesterday at a spacious Long Island gym, I was confronted by a large flat-screen showing the British Open golf. It’s amazingly well-executed TV, with cameras tracking the tiny white balls through the air and an editor cutting live from one scene to the next so you’re always watching action. In between come repeated ads, clearly targeting middle-aged white men. There’s hair color, pills for erections and cars of course. Notably, there were also a lot of financial ads.

This one from Merrill Lynch, which you can watch in entirety on their YouTube channel, seems designed to provoke a snort of ironic scorn. Of course, it’s called “Belief,” knowing that the very last thing that anyone with actual knowledge of financial markets would have in Merrill Lynch is belief. It’s like a restaurant that indicates on its signs that it serves “Authentic Cuisine,” telling anyone with any sense that the food is utterly inauthentic and homogenized for truAmerican taste. Indeed, Merrill Lynch are forced to note at the end in a subtitle that they are now part of “Bank of America Corporation.” Perhaps the point of the ad is just to remind people that, despite all their corporate crime, Merrill Lynch did not go under.

Next up was an ad for AIG. Yes, that AIG. It was trying to sell the idea that an AIG policy was a good way to provide security for “your” family, using a graphic of a white roof over four little figures representing the traditional heteronormative family with one boy child and one girl.  Again, no-one aware of the events of the past five years would think that AIG would be a good place to get life insurance. This advertising targets people who think that they are, or hope to be, in the one percent but are not even close. The sales manager who thinks he’s getting ahead (no ads I saw were directed at women) and wants to make investments to show it but doesn’t know how. It’s malicious and deceptive advertising.

If this form tries to define the upper levels of what used to be called the middle-class, there’s far more to define the exclusion at the lower levels. Later, while scanning channels I found one called truTV. On the basis of the “authenticity” paradigm, we can say that nothing on truTV is true, as conventionally understood. Perhaps truTV is a mediated version of Colbert’s “truthiness,” showing the world the “America” that the politicians claim to believe in and speak for. The place where gun massacres are not the time for discussion of gun control is truAmerica.

I discovered here an episode of the hit reality show Hardcore Pawn, which I refer to in my debt talks but have never seen. Apparently, it just started a new series. It’s set in a big box pawn store called American Jewelry and Loan in Detroit. There are three plot scenarios used. First, staff fight among themselves or against the customers. Second, a customer tries to pawn something that is worthless. Third, someone brings in something interesting or valuable that the store wants to get. That’s about it.

The viewer is encouraged to identify with the store staff and to despise the clients, whether African American or (from the show’s truPoint-of-View) poor white “trash.” A typical segment shows a gay man trying to pawn a TV for $400 so he can move out from his violent partner’s apartment back to his mother. The store will only offer him $50. The character then acts out a parody of African American queer camp. Or a heavy-set white guy tries to pawn a much-worn computer with missing keys for $1000 and uses a tirade of obscenities at the long-suffering staff. “We” are supposed to laugh at “them” because were are in truAmerica, while they are not. The acting is transparent, the performances are wooden and the laziness ubiquituous: as is typical of the format, any quote with “bite” is seen over and over again.

Hardcore Pawn is a “breakout hit” for truTV, with 2.5 million viewers, close to the best numbers for Mad Men and many times higher than shows like Treme. The pleasure of measuring yourself against the desperate and seeing your higher status is clearly on the rise.

If this is the context, a self deceptive and highly mediated “middle class” that nonetheless knows that truAmerica is not real, why are we surprised when a sad, lonely man identifies himself as a superhero and acts out the Dark Knight message of one man against the world, dressed in a fantasy costume of black armor and a gas mask? Does he even understand that he’s not in truAmerica when he does this? Increasingly I think that the social movements’ mantra shouldn’t be “Another World Is Possible” so much as “You Need to Come and Live in this World, Not the One in Your Head.”

In short, the fantasy is not that there is an alternative. The fantasy is the world in which financial markets operate for the customer’s benefit, there’s a bold line between the middle class and the underclass, and it’s perfectly sensible to allow people to buy as many guns and ammunition as they want.


Mafia Capitalism

During the course of some back-and-forth discussions over the past two days about the OWS messaging in relation to debt, David Graeber coined the phrase “mafia capitalism” to express the palpable element of violent coercion at the heart of financial globalization. The latter phrase sounds technical, even clean. The reality, as we see around the empire, is that the debt machine has responded to mild setbacks with a dramatic escalation of force.

In Empire, Hardt and Negri reminded us that what Marx had called “primitive accumulation” was always part of capitalism’s process. This violent disruption separated the producer and the means of production, while also accumulating basic raw materials from colonies. There is, then, a

relationship between wealth and command and between inside and outside.

That is, in the case of England, the wealth came from outside (from the empire) and the command arose internally. This process was reversed outside Europe, so that wealth was created internally and command came from the outside.

In 2000, it seemed that this model was giving way to one of immaterial production. Today we might suggest that the new form is rather one where the command is internal in order to preside over a forcible transfer of what internal wealth there is to those in command. The form of that transfer is legalized violence and the end of state concern for the welfare of its population. In short, if this trend continues, we are no longer in the period of governmentality in which the management of population was the prime concern of government, so much as in a moment of internal colonization.

The debt crisis of the 1990s was a sovereign debt crisis in which Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (as the IMF rhetoric has it) [HIPCs] were compelled to borrow in order to repay their existing loans. Today, Heavily Indebted People are being forced to borrow more and more to survive. Or not. And the difference now is that, like the Mafia, authority no longer cares what happens to you, it just wants you to pay. Or else.

In the US, the Supreme Court, having presided over an electoral coup in 2000, has now become the legislative branch. It has enabled corporations to legally buy elections in the manner of mobsters of old. Yesterday, it authorized police to become immigration officers on the basis of mere suspicion. And tomorrow it will overturn a Republican-inspired health care plan because any concession from corporations to employees is now seen as being not just unnecessary, but illegal. The radical right don’t need to win elections: it can just rely on the Court. There is no solution for this dilemma  in the present constitution, whereby the Court invalidates laws it doesn’t like, and then legislates things that it does. Here, the force of law, backed by the simple violence of its enforcers, has become whatever the Heads of the Five Families (aka the 5-4 conservative majority) says that it is.

In the UK, where the Conservative government (technically a coalition with the Liberal Democrats) has been shown to be the creature of Rupert Murdoch, it has responded not by toning down but ramping up its attacks on the welfare system. Prime Minister David Cameron proposes ending housing benefit for young people and limiting child benefit to three children. These are deliberately nasty policies, aimed at pleasing the older (and racist) voter, who believes that hordes of (non-white) benefit “scroungers” are getting away with something, just as the tabloids have claimed for years. With not inconsiderable audacity, the Old Etonians that lead the government have denounced a “culture of entitlement” in those qualifying for benefits, just after they cut taxes for the rich.

Finally, it is worth noting that Israel, so often the paradigm-shaper for its purported dominant partners, has also turned its tactics on its internal population, cutting and privatizing services, reinforced with a police force well trained in violence.

There might be a certain schadenfreude for Palestinians and their allies in watching (presumably) Jewish Israelis complaining about police violence. This is an old lesson: colonial authority will always use the force it develops in the colony, or occupied territory, at “home.”

Just as it has done since the 1970s, neo-liberalism responds to a crisis by intensifying its operations, as Gilles Deleuze would have put it. Indeed, the Israeli Defence Force now read Deleuze as a tactical guide to defeating Palestinian resistance. This resort to force is, then, not in fact a sign of strength but of the continued inability of capitalism to match its rhetoric of wealth creation with the reality of internal wealth transfer. Welcome to mafia capitalism.

Self-killing and (the) Depression

The subprime Depression of 2008 to the present has entailed a notable wave of personal depression. At the same time, neoliberal austerity presents itself as a required correction from the superego for the excessive “exuberance,” as Alan Greenspan notoriously called it, of the boom. Yet the formerly exuberant are not the depressed: we are. Depressed about debt, climate change, unemployment, you name it. All efforts to mobilize a political response, even the irreversible step of self-killing, have to be discredited in order to maintain the regime of credit. It is in every sense unsustainable.

A memorial for Dimitris Christoulas

These thoughts were prompted by the observation that the suicide of a 77-year-old man in Syntagma Square on April 4 has now provoked a wave of mitigating journalism. Feeling unable to survive on his austerity-reduced pension, Dimitris Christoulas left a suicide note that was a call to action (I don’t wish to edit this, so the quote is long):

The Tsolakoglou [1940s Nazi-collaborationist] occupation government literally nullified my ability to survive on a decent pension, for which I had already paid (without government aid) for 35 years. I am of an age that prevents me from offering a decent individual response (without of course ruling out the possibility of being the second person to take arms, should one person decide to do so), I find no solution other than a dignified end, before resorting to going through garbage in order to cover my nutritional needs. One day, I believe, the youth with no future will take up arms and hang the national traitors at Syntagma Square, just like the Italians did with Mussolini in 1945 [at Milan’s Piazzale Loreto[.

Not unlike Stéphane Hessel, the former French Resistance activist turned writer, Christoulas saw a parallel between the fascist occupation of Greece in the 1940s and the current decimation of social life by the Troika.

In the days following, pieces from Ireland to Italy, Jakarta and now New York have created a new syntagm “suicide by economic crisis,” traveling from newspaper to newspaper. The verb-less fragment gives agency to the economic crisis as the means of self-killing, just as one might say “suicide by hanging.” In today’s New York Times piece, Christoulas is neither named nor quoted. Instead, the lead goes to a debt-destroyed Italian contractor named Giovanni Schiavon with a more familiar message

Sorry, I cannot take it any more.

This “acceptable” message (for those not acquainted or related to the self-killer) is the regime of truth around depression, bipolar conditions and self-killing: it is an individual “tragedy,” which could and should be prevented by medication.

Yet the self-killing to provoke social change has a long history. It was a resistance to empire, as in the suicides of the enslaved, and also its tool in episodes like the suicidal attacks of the First World War. Recently it has been the weapon of asymmetric warfare, most notably on 9-11,  and the last resort of the oppressed, such as the self-immolation of Mohammed Bou’azizi in Tunisia in December 2010. Christoulas was clearly hoping to provide a similar inspiration to that of Bou’azizi and it remains to be seen what may yet happen in Greece.

Earlier in this project, I thought about Antigone as a figure for resistance. She might be said to have suicided by state, in the same way that people today are said to choose “suicide by cop” when they get shot by the police. For she knew that to bury her brother was to incur death at the hands of Creon, and she welcomes it as a path to what she calls “glory” in Sophocles’ play.

In Judith Butler’s telling analysis, Antigone’s story reveals that the carefully policed distinction between the social and the symbolic cannot hold. In the present crisis, it is notable how Antigone welcomes the grave as a “deep-dug home to be guarded forever,” as if suiciding wards off symbolic and social foreclosure. Butler concludes that what Antigone

draws into crisis is the very representative function itself, the very horizon of intelligibility.

Butler notes that those who disagree that the “law” (here as much the psychoanalytic law of the Oedipus complex as state law) must hold accuse her of “radical anarchy.”

Perhaps it’s time to embrace that anarchy rather than foreclose it. Perhaps the crisis of the representative engenders a new horizon-tal, making intelligible what it would be to live in a sustainable social world of degrowth and chosen kinship. For Antigone’s choice puts pressure on all norms of gender, as she challenges the “manly” place of sovereignty. It is telling that all the people said to be affected by debt and depression in this recent flood of articles are men. It seems that the old binary that men work, while women care is still in circulation.

I do not wish to minimize the actual experience of depression and its cognate diseases. Each year there are said to be 30,000 suicides by bi-polar people in the US and an estimated one million attempts. For Franco “Bifo” Bifardi and others in the radical psychiatry movement known as “schizoanalysis,” these conditions are not random but actively produced by a regime that insists on the pure rationality of a market that is nonetheless out of control. Bifo sees a “bipolar economy” that insists on more and more stimulus, leading to the inevitable crash. Even the Harvard Business Review now accepts that there is no “invisible hand” guiding the market, which does not attain the mythical “general equilibrium.” Now it’s generally on Lithium.

What would be the resolution for those so depressed today? It would be literally to get outside, outside the depression but also into different spaces, as Félix Guattari puts it

to get out of their repetitive impasses and in a certain way to resingularize themselves.

As I said on Friday, being at Occupy makes me less depressed. I am certainly aware that the kind of unmet need that the Occupy encampments did much to reveal is not going to dealt with so easily. However, the statistics on suicide make it just as clear that the psycho-pharmaceutical regime isn’t working any better. The desire not “to be a statistic,” as the euphemism for suicide goes, is suggestive. It expresses a hope for the resingularizing of people as non-normatized individuals with a right to the pursuit of happiness that is not measured in consumption patterns.




Law? Or Theatre?

Another day, another few notches out of the right to assembly in Bloombergistan. A march against police violence was broken up  by–guess what? police violence. Learning from these repeated encounters, an action protesting climate change at the U. N. was a theater of the absurd of arrests, in which the cops had to arrest people claiming to be the one percent.

Cops playing their role at Disrupt Dirty Power

If you’re on the right kind of Twitter and Facebook feeds, you’ll have heard about the unnecessary use of force on the police brutality march. The use of some switchbacks by the marchers in NoHo seemed to irritate the police, who were themselves trying to prevent the march from reaching Union Square about a mile to the north. Of course, it’s not illegal to walk to Union Square but since the middle of this week it has suddenly become illegal to have a rally there, according to mysterious new “rules” that popped up overnight.

In a series of arrests was one of Messiah Hamid, a 16 year-old woman with her shirt lifted by the NYPD. Many present and looking at the photographs were reminded of a similar photograph, known as “the woman with the blue bra”, showing her being dragged away by the military in Egypt. I’m choosing not to reproduce the photograph of Hamid’s arrest because she’s a minor but there were many such scuffles (see below).

Just another violent arrest of a minor in NYC

The sustainability action called Disrupt Dirty Power was designed to force police to arrest participants as part of the action. A group dressed as business executives marched onto the grass at the United Nations and started proclaiming their adherence to free market principles and the pursuit of Big Oil, Big Coal and Big Nukes. A ridiculously disproportionate number of police were present and leaped in to make the arrests. However, they had forgotten to bring their van, so the performers had a perfect stage to expound their views to assembled photographers and live streamers.

"The One Percent" address the media

The Disrupt Dirty Power action had a strong narrative to it that was about more than reacting to recent events. It suggested a “join the dots” strategy, in which the connections between social and ecological crisis and the profit-first motif of neoliberalism are visualized. It begins to look as if non-violent civil disobedience with the presumption of arrest is emerging as the next stage of the American Spring. Perhaps it’s better than volunteers who have been trained in civil disobedience should be those arrested than random teenagers. At the same time, is this law? or theatre? If law is a set of agreed principles  y which a society is organized, what’s happening in New York is not the rule of law. It’s an improvised way to maintain law enforcement, which is altogether different.

The contradictions in what the police are doing need to be stressed even in the U. N. action that was designed to involve arrests. For their intervention was so rapid that the second part of the action in which the 99% celebrated the just arrest of the one percent had to be conducted from across First Avenue.

The 99 percent

It’s not even clear under whose authority arrests are made at the U. N. which has autonomy–as anyone who has tried to park in New York knows–but is also subject to local and Federal law. One U. N. security person was present but was about as important as a Vichy cop would have been to the Gestapo. No comparison intended of course.

The action was intended to end with a projection onto the United Nations building by the intrepid OWS projections team. Somehow the police got wind of this and warned organizers that any projection would lead not only to the arrest of those involved but the impounding of the vehicle from which the projections are now done. In what sense is it a crime to project light onto buildings? Vacant buildings at that. By what law do the police get to confiscate expensive equipment and threaten to do so before it is used?

The law is a theatre it is a singularly monotonous one. There is only one line: “order.” The scenes are all the same. So every night at midnight in Union Square when the police put up their new barricade, the Occupiers stage a performance. Tonight: Animal Farm!


How to Think During an Eviction

Once again, we reflect after an eviction. In the face of violence and violent speech, how do we respond?

The actions by the NYPD yesterday were plain old-fashioned violent (see below). They evicted people from a 24 hour park without stating any offense that had been committed. They erected a barricade around the park that is still up at the time of writing, in contravention of an earlier court decision. They refused medical care to a woman having a seizure. Public transport buses, brought up in advance, were used to take protestors to jail. The message here is very simple: no action that is or appears to be an occupation will be tolerated in New York, legal rationale to follow.

The political culture of New York is macho and violent. It takes its cue from its paymasters on Wall Street. Remember the “masters of the universe” on Wall Street in Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities? They became the “big, swinging dicks” in Michael Lewis’s Liar’s Poker and last week the hapless Goldman Sachs apostate Greg Smith described how traders like to “rip the eyes out” of their clients. No wonder there are few women at the top of these firms.

A week or so ago, I happened to be in an open meeting with a senior New York City elected official about a zoning issue where I live. In a clearly studied way, the man became incensed at what he deliberately took to be a provocation and talked about “tearing [us] a new arsehole.” In a more public example, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, when queried by the City Council over the stop-and-frisk policy that led to over 600,000 frisks of people of color last year responded with what even the New York Times called a “pugnacious assault.” Elected officials may not question the police in New York.

Such talk is supposed to indicate an awareness of reality, whether at the elite level of city planning or the street level of minority neighborhoods. To “get things done,” verbal and, if “necessary,” physical violence must be used–the metaphors are of knocking heads, breaking balls and so on.

After a few hours sleep, I headed to Left Forum at Pace University this morning, hoping to get some perspectives on the moment. I found three. My panel on “Environmentalism and Occupy” was, once again, all male. The next time this happens I will just have to make a public protest. It seems that the injunction to respect diversity, so prevalent in 1990s political and academic culture, has been forgotten, except by the Occupy movement. What I initially experienced as Occupy’s continuity with academia looks more like a bridge to past (not always successful, to be sure) efforts. However, at Left Forum  the all day prevalence of violent language, shouting, pointed fingers and so on served as reminder of how much remains to be done.

In a more positive vein, both on my panel and the following discussion about the general strike, it was stressed that the place of the global south was central. While the general strike question was mostly discussed in the context of the May Day action in the U. S., Gayatri Spivak stressed the need to think it in relation to the global south. Spivak’s train of thought was multi-faceted and hard to summarize. Her main points were that finance capital is digital so that it cannot be blockaded; further global trade is a relatively small component of gross global product; and that it no longer makes sense to speak simply of “the working class,” in a manner she derived from Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program.

All that would be to say, then, that the general strike is an impossible demand, not a quantifiable project, whose “success” can be measured by the number of strikers. It needs to “surprise” us (to quote Spivak again).

Certainly, there will be no surprise to find a vast array of police on May Day and every time we step out of the places allocated to us. The repeated representation of that injunction is the arrest of a demonstrator who steps, whether deliberately or by accident, into the roadway.

Claiming our own place will be interpreted as “violence” by the state because it is the language that they speak and understand. Prefiguring a horizontal world not configured by the command means adopting ways of acting and speaking that at once insist on our right to say what our place should be, rather than be allocated one, and to do so in ways that we understand as non-violent. That does not preclude non-violent direct action. It is to say that if another world is possible, we need to start living in it.